Music in the Round #57
I'm writing this in the dog days of a hot August. Over the past few months, a couple of interesting devices have accumulated, but were bumped from the column in favor of bigger things, as it should be. So this column is an end-of-season close-out.
Atlantic Technology WA-5030 Wireless Transmitter/Amplifier-Receiver System
Its name is a mouthful, but this useful device is based on a simple concept. Atlantic Technology has added a power amplifier to a wireless audio transmitter and receiver and called it the WA-5030 Wireless Transmitter/Amplifier-Receiver System ($399; additional WA-5030-r receivers are available for $199 each). It's not the first such product, with or without an amplifier; I reviewed the amp-less AudioEngine AW-1 in my September 2008 column. The tiny AW-1 did the job, and while it sounded okay, I found it acceptable for use only with a subwoofer or, in a pinch, the surround channels. AudioEngine has since replaced it with newer models.
The WA-5030 is another story. It comprises the WA-50-t, a transmitter module with USB and two-channel analog inputs; the WA-5030-r, a chunky receiver with two-channel speaker terminals; a remote control; and miscellaneous connectors and power supplies. These products are small. The WA-50-t measures 3¼" (82.6mm) H by 1½" (38.1mm) W by ¾" (19mm) D, the WA-5030-r is 4½" (114.3mm) H by 4½" (114.3mm) W by 1½" (38.1mm) D including terminals, and the remote is a tiny 3 3/8" (85.7mm) H by 1½" (38.1mm) W by ¼" (6mm) D.
I connected the WA-50-t transmitter to the analog RCA outputs of my Integra DHC-80.2 preamplifier-processor and used the USB AC supply to power it. Alternatively, I could have connected the WA-50-t to a source with the provided cable. Had I chosen to run the WA-50-t from a PC or other USB source, the power would be drawn from that source, and the external supply would not be required. The only control on the transmitter permits the selection of one of three zones. This allows for the operation of multiple WA-5030-rs sending the same signal to speaker pairs in other rooms by mating them with a single WA-50-t (one zone), or sending different signals by pairing them with multiple WA-50-ts (for up to three zones). It also permits the implementation of a fully wireless multichannel system in a single zone or room.
The WA-5030-r receiver is no bigger or heavier than it needs to be to include the necessary wireless electronics and a pair of 30Wpc (1kHz, 8 ohms) power amps and four substantial multiway binding posts. The actual IR receiver element is at one end of a 1m-long wire cable that plugs into the receiver, and although I originally thought this unnecessarily fiddly, I came to appreciate that it allowed me to place the WA-5030-r out of sight. There are no line-level or USB outputs, as this device is dedicated to powering loudspeakers. I hooked it up to pairs of Paradigm's Studio/60 and Studio/20, Celestion's MP-1, and, from out of the past, Realistic's Minimus 7.
The third component of the WA-5030 is its minuscule remote control. This has buttons for On/Standby, Volume Up/Down, and Mute, in addition to some very useful programming options. With the transmitter sending two channels of information, the remote can set the receiver to output stereo (as I used it), mono (useful for remote background listening), or only the left- or right-channel signal (allowing two receivers to power a widely spaced stereo pair). After syncing transmitter and receivera trivial matter of pushing a button on the remote and observing both components' LEDsI was able to set the volume and listen.
Now, 30Wpc isn't what it used to be. The sensitivity of the typical loudspeaker has declined over the decades as amplifier power has become cheaper. As a result, the WA-5030's success varied with the sensitivity of the speakers used, and with my expectations. Through my Paradigm Studio/60s (89dB/2.83V/m) the sound was pleasantly balanced and clear, with decent bass extension, but the WA-5030 struggled to get them to fill the room.
Surprisingly, the WA-5030 drove Paradigm's smaller Studio/20s, which are of similar sensitivity (88.5dB/2.83V/m), to subjectively higher listening levels with clean, extended sound. Bass was lacking compared to the larger speakers, and perhaps that reduced the load on the 30Wpc amps. However, using the Studio/20s as my surround speakers, the power demands should be even less, as all the sub-80Hz signals are bass-managed and rerouted to the subwoofers. This proved to be so, although, even with the WA-5030's volume control turned all the way up, the sensitivity was still about 3dB less than the Bryston 9B amplifier. The wireless transmission also introduced a time delay of about 10ms, which is equivalent to having the speakers some 10' farther away. The Integra's channel-level and delay adjustments handled both of these problems with ease. Indeed, I was perfectly happy using the WA-5030 for the surrounds under almost any conditions; in multichannel recordings of classical music, most of the musical performance is in the front channels, the surrounds primarily providing ambience. With some "onstage" mixes, in which the performers are arrayed around the listeneras in Albert Lee's Tearing It Up (Blu-ray, AIX 85054)I noticed slightly less punch from the surrounds with the WA-5030 than from the fronts, with their larger speakers and more potent amps. But even then, it took a high output setting and some concentration to hear the difference.
Connected to the Celestion MP-1s or the Realistic Minimus 7s, the WA-5030 drove the music with aplomb. The intended role of the WA-5030 is for wireless music distribution to other rooms, but, as I've described, it's more than capable of filling other needs, particularly easing the addition of surround speakers without having to run wires all around the room or through walls.
DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core digital room equalizer
Readers may recall my January 2009 report on DSPeaker's Anti-Mode 8033, an automatic and effective subwoofer equalizer. DSPeaker, a Finnish audio company using DSP technology in products ranging from a microphone amplifier to a servo-controlled loudspeaker, has expanded the 8033 line to four models with a range of features, and now introduced the Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core ($1099) as a room/system equalizer for full-range loudspeakers. The "2.0" in the product's name refers to the fact that, unlike the single-channel 8033, this is a two-channel device; "Dual Core" refers to its use of two VS8053 IceDragon chips as processors. There are XLR and RCA analog inputs/outputs; digital audio (TosLink S/PDIF) input/output, a USB connector for USB audio mode, firmware updates and data downloads, and a datalink connector for linking multiple Anti-Mode 2.0s. The product's small color display and remote control proved particularly useful, because this is a remarkably flexible device.
Although the Anti-Mode 2.0 passes a full-range signal through each of its channels, its range of correction is limited to the lower frequencies. By default, it measures and automatically corrects from 16 to 150Hz, but can be configured to work from 16Hz to an upper limit ranging from 80 to 500Hz. However, this is not a really important limitation, for two reasons. First, as I have said many times, the most important acoustical corrections will be in the low frequencies, where room modeswhich are determined by room dimensions and speaker placementimpose wide frequency and time-decay variations on your speakers' presumably flat response. Correcting these modes often requires bulky and aesthetically unacceptable physical room treatments, while above the critical or Schroeder frequency (the frequency at which rooms stop resonating and become reflectors/diffusors), the room's acoustical influence becomes stochastic or random, and treatable with furnishings and panels. So using an equalizer only for the bass is an attractive prospect that has been successfully pursued by DSPeaker and others. The second reason the limited range of automatic correction is not critical is that the Anti-Mode 2.0 includes a 16-band, user-configurable parametric equalizer with a center frequency range from 20Hz to 24kHz, each band assignable to the right, left, or both channels.
That's only the tip of this Finnish iceberg. The Anti-Mode 2.0 has an almost bewildering array of filter and configuration options. The filters include an adjustable bass curve (called House), an adjustable treble curve (Tilt) reminiscent of the classic Quad preamps, an adjustable infrasonic filter, and a configurable high-pass/low-pass function. The last function permits the Anti-Mode 2.0 to be configured to correct the outputs of a pair of subwoofers, a summed-mono sub, a single speaker/sub combo, or a stereo pair of full-range speakers. With the promised activation of the datalink and the addition of a second Anti-Mode 2.0, you can also use the two Anti-Mode 2.0's to implement the crossover and EQ for a pair of speakers mated to a pair of stereo subs.
Given all that, it's only fair that the Anti-Mode 2.0 also can store up to four different sound profiles. Each includes every option and setting in effect at the time of its creation, as well as any changes in configuration made while that profile is in play (as long as the user stores them by cycling the Anti-Mode 2.0 through standby). Also, given the range of inputs/outputs and the DSP engine, it should be no surprise that the Anti-Mode 2.0 is also a simple but capable D/A preamplifier with analog and digital outputs, and remote-controlled volume, balance, and bypass adjustments. (All that's bypassed are the EQ and filters; the A/D/A remains in circuit.)