I walked into BSG's room at the Newport Beach Show in June 2012 unsure of what I was going to hear. I was well aware of this new company's qøl Signal Completion Stage ($3995), but didn't know if it was a genuine step forward in audio reproduction, or just another example of the hokum found on the fringes of our hobby. I took my listening seat, and BSG's CEO Larry Kay, cofounder and erstwhile publisher of Fi magazine, performed A/B comparisons with the qøl's processing in and out of circuit.
Although most audio perfectionists look down with scorn on equalizers, there are times when the benefits of such devices can outweigh their disadvantages. I discussed the pros and cons in my review of the Accuphase G-18 in Vol.11 No.4, but a brief recap here won't be amiss.
A true story: I got tagged for doing a howling 90mph on the way back to New York on the Jersey Turnpike late one night and got off with a warning.
I was pulled over by a beefy young Trooper, lights blinking furiously. Oops. [heh heh]. He saw Kathleen and I weren't nuts, checked the papers and my license, then checked out the Lexus very carefully with his flashlight. There was much oohing and ahhing.
Erick Lichte mentioned Totem Acoustic's Beak, which costs $125/pair, in his follow-up review of the Totem Forest loudspeaker in January 2010. The Beak is a bullet-shaped device, about 2" high by 1.5" in diameter, that's intended to be placed atop a speaker to control "parasitic resonances." I was given a pair of these more than 10 years ago, and have tried them with various speakers. While Erick didn't find the Beaks to make any difference to the sound of the Forests or any of the other speakers he had to hand, my experience was different.
I've been enthusiastically tracking the development of Bel Canto's class-D amplifiers, from their original TriPath-based models to their more recent designs based on Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower modules. With each step, Bel Canto has improved their amps' sound quality and reliability.
Last time in "Music in the Round," I wrote about the fading presence of SACD in the hardware and software markets. However, the enduring interest in LPs seems to tell us that where there is a demand for high quality by discerning audiophiles, there will be a supply.
"Crossovers? We don't need no stinkin' crossovers!" Most Stereophile readers probably feel this way when it comes to third-party electronic crossovers. In this day of proprietary "soup-to-nuts" speaker systems, nearly all manufacturers supply complete systems. Nevertheless, some brave (or foolish) souls still choose to sail in uncharted crossover waters. Most do so because they're insanely in love with their current speakers, and have an irrational desire for that last bottom octave. Others have "orphaned" speakers that are not readily upgradeable to the next level of performance. I fall into the second category.
Last January, the Stereophile website conducted a poll asking readers what they thought was their audio system's weakest link . The results indicated that 24% thought that their room was the most problematic component. What this says is that, though often accused of being obsessed with hardware, we audiophiles are aware of what a potent effect the speaker-room setup has.
I have been a proponent of methodical modeling and room analysis as aids in setting up audio systems and rooms. They work hand in hand: Modeling predicts a feasible room arrangement, and analysis, along with careful listening, determines how close the outcome is to that predicted. Of course, there should always be another round of modeling to see if the current setup can be improved with more work. The spiral continues, toward, one hopes, perfection.
Because I'm suspicious of just twiddling knobs to make the sound "nice," I didn't rely solely on my ears when I used the Z-Systems rdp-1 that I review elsewhere in this issue for speaker and room contouring. Instead, I used the ETF speaker/room-analysis software from Acoustisoft to help me manipulate the equalizer properly. This program can measure the first-arrival, on-axis speaker response, as well as the room response with its early and late reflections and its resonances.
In a sidebar to his review of the B&W DM302 speakers in the October 1997 issue (Vol.20 No.10), Wes Phillips mentioned a handy tool he uses for speaker setup—a laser level. The one Wes used was originally intended for construction work, not tweaking one's speaker placement, but now there's one available specifically for that purpose: The 770 SA-S Laser Sound Alignment System by Checkpoint Laser Tools.
Lars recently received a device that looks and works like a $25 digital alarm clock and is said to subtly improve the overall sound of one's system. It's the ElectroTec EP-C, from a company called Coherence Industries.