Music in the Round #45 Page 3
Even more remarkable was the Realiser's ability to create a two-channel soundstage from two-channel sources. No longer was the CSO clustered inside my head, but arrayed from left to right and, apparently, some 30' behind my main speakers. Coupled with the head-tracking function, which kept the image stably in place when I moved my head, even the phantom center-fill of instruments or soloists remained centered between the (now silent) B&W 802Ds. My wife, a casual listener, was amazed by the Realiser-Stax. "The sound is not coming from the headphones," she exclaimed. "It's out there."
With extended listening, I uncovered a few small lapses from perfection. First, the Head Tracker handles ±30° but, with its set-top LEDs for feedback, I felt compelled to look straight ahead. Listening was more enjoyable with my eyes closed so that I could ignore the LEDs. Second, the Stax 'phones were of course incapable of providing the physical sensation conveyed by my large subwoofers. For that, the Realiser A8 system offers the option of driving tactile transducers. Third, I felt that the Realiser-Stax didn't track large dynamic shifts as precisely as did the speaker-room system. That's not to say that one was superior to the other, but while the 'phones system could get equally loud, somehow it didn't get equally BIG. Finally, the Realiser A8 did nothing to prevent the Staxes from making my head and ears sweat, or free me from their cord.
You can take it with you! My New York City system now successfully emulated, I moved the Realiser-Stax setup to Connecticut, where I installed it between my Integra DTC-9.8 A/V processor and Bryston 9B power amp. With this arrangement, I could compare the sound of my Manhattan system via the Realiser-Stax to the other via the Paradigm Reference Studio/60 speakers. What was surprising was not that switching between 'phones and speakers offered different views of the music, but that those views were so little different. The Manhattan view had a deeper, wider frontal soundstage, while the Connecticut view was more immediate, with greater wraparound of ambience and musical voices. Also, at very high levels, the Paradigms' high frequencies were less smooth than the B&Ws', at least as portrayed by the Staxes.
This successful relocation conjured up some interesting thoughts. Once the Realiser A8 is calibrated to a particular system, one no longer needs access to that system. Imagine turning off the main system and still enjoying it without disturbing others. Imagine just taking it to another room. Imagine taking your Realiser-Stax on the road and having a great system in your hotel room. And for all you two-channel guys who say that size and cost prevent you from going multichannel, imagine a Realiser A8 calibrated in Bob Ludwig's main room at Gateway Mastering (it's possible)you don't need to buy any of his bulky amps, speakers, and room treatments!
The SVS Realiser A8 has successfully countered every theoretical objection to listening via headphones to standard music and movie sources, whether in mono, stereo, or multichannel. If you're a regular headphone listener, you absolutely must hear this. Even if you aren't, perhaps, for all the reasons I've enumerated, you'll change your tune. The SVS Realiser A8 changes our expectations for the reproduction of music by headphones. (I imagine a killer product: a stereo DAC/preamp/headphone amp with a simplified SVS function.)
Do I still hate headphones? Yes, but now with no vehemence.
The Classé CT-SSP goes to the City
As promised in the July "Music in the Round," I recently installed in my Manhattan system the Classé CT-SSP surround-sound processor (footnote 2), which displaced the Meridian HD621/861 preamplifier-processor combination. Setup was easy, as the experience I'd gained with the Classé in Connecticut let me breeze through the procedure. I fed it with the Logitech Squeezebox Touch music server via S/PDIF, the Oppo BDP-83SE universal Blu-ray player via HDMI, the Ayre Acoustics DX-5 universal Blu-ray player-DAC via HDMI and XLR, and my trusty Pioneer F-91 FM tuner via RCA interconnects.
Crossovers were maintained at 40Hz for the front three B&W 802D speakers, and at 80Hz for the B&W 804 surrounds, with the JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer handling the bottom end. All the Meridian Room Correction filters were transferred to the PEQ in the CT-SSP.
I immediately perceived the Classé as sounding clean, tight, and powerful, with no audible veiling or noise. Its tonal balance was similar to the Meridian's, but for some greater low-end weight and impact with the Classé. The CT-SSP's soundstage wasn't as wide or as deep as the Meridian's, but it did offer slightly more precise placements of voices and instruments. Where the Classé really scored was with analog sources; it has a really good analog path and control circuit, while the digital-only Meridian must digitize all analog sources. I particularly appreciated this with the Ayre DX-5 player-DAC (to be reviewed next month by Michael Fremer; my comments on its multichannel performance will follow in January).
The Classé CT-SSP has become the focal point of my main system, endowing it with newfound clarity and power, and, for now, there it will remain.
Footnote 2: Classé Audio, 5070 François Cusson, Lachine, Quebec H8T 1B3, Canada. Tel: (514) 636-6384. Fax: (514) 636-1428. Web: www.classeaudio.com.