The listening experience is what it's all about, isn't it? For years,
that has been my goal. Not the cosmetics, or the frills, bells and whistles. I just wanted
an accurate and dynamic sound system, not a movie prop for a sci-fi series. I kept that
design goal in mind as I constructed.
Through ten iterations
of speaker system designs, I learned a lot about what sounded real and what didn't. I
learned to set aside a lot of hype and misconceptions about high end audio. I auditioned a
lot of drivers and amplifiers. Many were mortally wounded in the process. However, after
more than a decade of serious construction, testing and listening, the system shown here,
resulted. And all I can say is that the basic form-factor has not changed
significantly since 1984, I have left it mostly as-is, adding only
subtle refinements. I felt no further need to change anything. The musicality is, well,
like real life.
I don't want to compare
it to any high end loudspeakers because to me, they don't fool me into thinking I'm
hearing a live performance. Delicate piano solos, strings and just general
"ambiance" in fine recordings send shivers down one's spine. When I'm playing a
recording in which there is a solo vocalist (I'm thinking of a particular Arai Akino
album), at times when I forget myself, my subconscious suddenly believes there is a person
singing 8 feet in front of me, and then I realize that's impossible. It's often startling.
In 2005, I had the
opportunity to create some of my own symphonic high end recordings with the Danbury
Symphony Orchestra, conducted by a friend of mine, Kurt Anderson. The recordings represent
the pinnacle of faithful reproduction of music and ambient sound and were sampled in
24-bit/96KHz digital, using pristine converters and mic preamps and a wonderful set of
eight large-diaphragm condenser microphones. The whole recording setup driven by my Sony
VAIO laptop computer, running Vegas 4.0 as a multitrack hard disk recorder. We recorded
two rehearsal sessions and a concert in June. The sweet part was when I convinced an
orchestra member to turn off the air conditioners in the reheasal hall for the first 50
minutes of the session, giving us a beautifully low noise floor. This became one of my
benchmark high fidelity recordings for demonstration purposes. For me, it is a great
benchmark, because I actually stood by the conductor and heard exactly what my 8-mic array
heard and can easily compare it with the playback here. With the Sonic Hologram engaged,
one can literally stand there and point out first violin, second violin, viola section,
trumpets, trombones, woodwinds, cellos, basses, timpani, etc. and they are all in the
right places as they were during the session. Somehow, I managed to get these monstrous
speakers to produce uncolored sound that one would expect from an electroctatic or ribbon
But I didn't build such
a large system so I could listen only to delicate solos. There's a whole 'nother side to
my personality, a side that likes rock, pop and reggae-style music, as well as an avid
I'm particularly a
percussion freak. I like sharp, accurate, but louder-than-life transients. The music I
like best has a wide dynamic aperture. Constant loud volumes cause the ears to tire and
engage protective mechanisms, dulling one's senses. So I prefer music that has loud
persussion, but open, mellower midranges with not too many harmonies going on. In this
manner, using a dbx 4bx Expander with Impact Restoration, I can increase the
"pop" of the snare drums to ear-shattering levels.
As a gun owner, I can
attest to high SPLs, and I like my snares to be about 30dB above the rest of the music on
the louder hits. I'll admit that this departs from high fidelity strictly because I am
exaggerating the dynamics, but then audio is about enjoyment, and I built this system to
provide both accuracy and exaggeration to larger-than-life proportions as well, to cater
to my many moods.
Recently, I purchased a
Cel 241/1 Sound Level Meter, as the Radio Shack one was useless beyond 115dB,
even though its scale goes to 126dB. On the Cel,
I have a scale that goes to 140dB and the meter can actually get up there, as I found out
while measuring the SPLs at the listening position in front of the array. Scary stuff!
One of the challenges I
tackled last year was to increase the dynamic range by getting rid of most of the noise.
For years after integrating the amplifiers into racks, I lived with a 45dB ambient 60Hz
hum. While not audible on conventional loudspeakers, this high efficiency array made the
noise loud enough to penetrate walls.
I got to work on the problem, solving it with four major tactics: gain
structuring, segregating power amps from preamps, isolating the power amps magnetically
and electrically from the rack rails, and switching over to a single digital loudspeaker
management system. A lot of tweaking and balancing, some preemphasis/deemphasis to reduce
preamp hiss and careful setting of power supply polarity of each amplifier until minium
hum was attained, yielded a noise level that I had to strain to measure, at around 10dB,
which is inaudible from more than a couple feet away. Once I finished this latest
refinement, symphonic music now emerges from a blanket of silence. It's like a whole new
Okay, so what about
I may have given my hand
away by mentioning 140+dB SPLs above, but anyway, I'll convey the story:
I always find myself
reflexively lapsing into laughter whenever an audiophile talks about "incredible
bass" from audiophile subwoofers, as I've not heard (or more correctly, been injured
by) what I consider outstanding bass from the many audiophile systems I've listened to,
bought, auditioned over a 30-year period. That's why I went this route.
I always get a kick out
of the first showing to a new audiophile visitor, as I launch into a Japanese recording
that has almost no bass, albeit very thin bass, way down, in the intro, and almost always,
the first comment blurted out is "Holy sh** -- I can't believe the BASS!" ...and
then the bassline actually starts moments later and they practally fall over.
You have to have come
close to having your leg blown off by a mine in WWII to appreciate the transient response
of this system. Many people talk about "explosive bass." This system actually
delivers it and, might be classified as a weapon, if such classification existed for sound
Such crisp transients
are made possible by the long-throw and highly linear magnet motors in the
highly-efficient woofers, extremely high power, low intermodulation distortion in the
drivers themselves and good phase/time alignment. Time alignment between multiple woofers
is achieved by the new Loudspeaker Management System, the Behringer DCX2496. It really
makes a difference. I find I get the same impact with MUCH less amplifier power after
aligning all the speakers.
I'll elaborate about
linearity. Most conventional woofers have a very short overhang of the voice coil winding
in the gap. When they move a little, the coil exits the magnetic field and the cone is now
coasting. Not only does this result in tons of harmonic distortion, but the transient
attack is gone, as there is no power behind the cone once it leaves the gap. That was the
driving force behind some of the woofer upgrades here. Longer gaps, different voice
coil/gap geometry to allow one woofer to move the amount of air that normally would
require two 18" woofers. The important performance issue is to keep the coil within
the magnetic field at all points in the excursion. Electro-Voice's new EVX-180B does a
nice job with increased linear displacement and power handling. Now selling at over $500
wholesale, the 180B is the most bulletproof driver in my array. And whether the Kevlar
cones have anything to do with that is another story, but certainly does make for the most
rigid cones I have ever touched. These are like steel and they don't flex at all.
The system has taken on
a distinctly more visceral percussion quality with well-recorded music. Of course, when a
kick drum hit fills the room with over 140dB of instantaneous SPL, it's quite unnerving to
all but the most experienced Bass Pig. Folks, this is an acquired skill, learning to
endure this much bass. One takes one's breaths between bass notes, as it were.
Being into pipe organ
from the old days, a potent, pure output at 16 hertz is essential and, to pun a bit,
fundamental. This is a system you can FEEL as you pull into my driveway, long before you
reach the front door. It's this kind of headroom that insures the most distortion-free
delivery at "normal" listening levels of 116dB.
I recently had the
opportunity to audition a pipe organ at a large cathedral. The organ is a 1962 Austin with
32' pedal stops. Naturally, being up close to a beast this size, one tends to expect a lot
of sub-bass. Well call me spoiled, but the real thing was a huge let down! After hearing
good pipe organ recordings on this system, the 'real' thing sounds really anemic.