Music in the Round #58 Page 2
However, to really enjoy multichannel sound in my half-cube of a listening room, I really need good room EQ in addition to the acoustical treatments I've installed. The T 187 includes a version of Audyssey MultEQ XT, which is just one rung below Audyssey's top room-EQ software, MultEQ XT32. The version of MultEQ XT used here is not compatible with the more sophisticated measurement and calibration suite of MultEQ Pro, although NAD's top-line Masters M15 HD2 A/V surround-sound preamplifier ($4500) is compatible. This means that the T 187's two subwoofer outputs are paralleled and cannot be set to different volume levels or distances. It also means that the improvements wrought by XT32 in subwoofer EQ and integration are not available.
That said, NAD and Audyssey have something else up their collective sleeve. Paul Barton's enhancement of MultEQ XT is a target curve that accounts for the difference between listening in a concert hall and at home. His and NAD's curve has slightly less treble rolloff than Audyssey's standard target curve, but more than an entirely flat curve. It also inserts a mild but relatively broad enhancement of the upper bass, presumably after MultEQ XT has calculated EQ filters for a flat response. This is based on the observation that removing all low-frequency room gain (not room modes) can be subjectively perceived as decreasing weight and fullness in the bass. Indeed, that is a common complaint from listeners exposed for the first time to a corrected room response, whether from Audyssey or other room EQs. The T 187 lets a user sitting at the normal listening position choose, via the remote control, among four correction options: NAD, Audyssey, Flat, Off.
Running MultEQ on the T 187 was a piece of cake. The on-screen and front-panel displays were useful guides, though they failed to inform me that the maximum number of measurement points is eight. That info is in the manual, but I could find no guidance about balancing the subwoofers before calibration, even though two subwoofer jacks are provided. After calibration, the user can choose a target curve and whether or not to implement Audyssey DynamicEQ and AudysseyVolume. I chose the Audyssey target curve, but didn't use the latter two.
Since I had earlier level-balanced my two subs with MultEQ XT32, I left their gain knobs untouched and let the T 187 run its full set of eight measurements. The level and distance results were identical to those calculated by other processors, and, as I've come to expect, the T 187 identified my front three speakers as "Full Range." After briefly listening to the results, I decided to obey my earsand an earlier recommendation by Audyssey MultEQ Proand instead cross the Paradigms over to the subs at 40Hz.
It's difficult to be precise about the differences between the sound of the NAD T 187 and other pre-pros because 1) I am not set up for A/B comparisons, and 2) any impressions are so greatly determined by the success of the particular room-EQ software. What I can say with certainty is that, using the standard Audyssey target curve, the T 187 did not disappoint, endowing my system/room with the familiar sonic balance, spaciousness, and envelopment achieved by other processors, some of them more expensive and/or elaborate. Characteristics such as smoothness, transparency, and warmth come to mind. Throughout a month of listening, at no moment did I find any fault with what I heard, and found myself slipping into the mode of paying attention less to the hardware than to the music. The ease of user interaction due to the T 187's swiftness in locking to a new program, the effectiveness of the user presets, and the convenience of the remote control, all allowed the equipment to get out of the way of my musical involvement.
As for any differences between Audyssey MultEQ XT and MultEQ XT32, they were hardly noticeable, and restricted to the 40100Hz range, just above the chosen crossover frequency. Depending on where I sat and the exact pitch of a timpani or electric-bass note, the soumd could be a bit louder or softer, but for me to even hear that effect required close, analytical listening and much repetition. My impression was that MultEQ XT32, with its ability to set individual distance and phase settings for each subwoofer, could do a bit better.
But what about Paul Barton's NAD target curve? When I switched to that, those small differences in the bass became completely undetectable, albeit in the context of a subtly richer overall bass sound. In fact, my impression was that the extremely low bass coming primarily from the subwoofers was now not only a bit stronger but tighter. That must have been an illusionthe EQ filters themselves are not, as far as I know, modified by the NAD curvebut, bottom line, the payoff in sound was entirely positive.
I didn't use the NAD curve all the time but it was a viable alternative to the Audyssey curve and, I thought, generally preferable to Flat. Those who've found the latter two target curves somewhat lacking in satisfying warmth will certainly enjoy NAD's alternativeand again, the T 187 lets you choose it, on the fly, from the comfort of your listening position.
Even if it doesn't do everything possible, the NAD T 187 does everything right. Though it lacks the most advanced version of Audyssey MultEQ, it does include NAD's unique correction curve; and though it lacks any streaming or Internet features, it offers the option of XM Radio. You could, of course, use one of its many analog or digital inputs for an external server, such as NAD's own Masters M50. On the other hand, the T 187 has a dandy remote control, and is not plagued by the switching noises and hesitations produced by other pre-pros. Most important, the NAD T 187 sounds great, and its modular design encourages the expectation that it will ride the cutting edge for a long time to come.
A New Ring
Although I've been remiss in not keeping up my reports on new and interesting multichannel releases, I couldn't let this one pass without comment. Deutsche Grammophon has released a magnificent Blu-ray set (5 BDs, DG 00440 073 4771) of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen: live performances from the Metropolitan Opera's widely praised production directed by Robert Lepage, and conducted by James Levine (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre) and Fabio Luisi (Siegfried, Götterdämmerung). I found the production engaging and impressive, the video direction superb, the singing almost uniformly excellent, and the playing of the Met Orchestra absolutely brilliant under both conductors. But that's not what I'm here for; undoubtedly, someone from Robert Baird's side of the editorial table will weigh in on those matters. Here I'll talk about the sound.
The orchestral sound, beginning with the prelude that opens each opera (a brief introduction in the case of Gütterdämmerung) and throughout the entire tetralogy, is of great clarity and immediacy. The soundstage is very wide and extends a bit into the surround channels, but is noticeably foreshortened in depth. There is very little contribution from the hall acoustic, and the orchestra does sound as if it is playing from the pit (which it is). Through both of my systems, I could imagine that the perspective was from the podium, down in with the playersnot a bad place to be to hear all the instrumental detail, which here is masterfully balanced.
The voices, too, are clear and immediateand, if anything, closer than the orchestra. They also seem to be bathed in a more lively ambience than is the orchestra. With the caliber of vocal performance here, tilting the balance in favor of the singers is grippingly dramatic. It is, however, not the sort of balance one hears at the Met.
This is easily contrasted with the sound of Zubin Mehta's recording of the Ring with the Valencia Community Orchestra (4 BDs, C-Major 703904), which I selected as one of my "Records To Die For" for 2011 and continue to enjoy. In fact, the sonic perspectives here are almost the inverse of the Met recording. The presentation of the orchestra is wide and deep, with much greater weight. It's surprising to think that this sound could be made from the pit, as it approximates what one might expect from a concert performance, with the orchestra up onstage with the singers. On the other hand, the singers' voices sound significantly farther away, and cloaked in a woolly stage ambiance that further distances them.
When the video image is relatively wide, the Valencia production matches well, but with close-ups there is a great disparity between the image and the distant vocal sound. Conversely, the Met production is breathtakingly realistic in close-ups, visually and sonically, and, strangely enough, still dramatically communicative in the wide shots, despite the disparity of the visual and vocal presentations.
Although I prefer the subtlety of Levine's and Luisi's conducting, and the Met Orchestra is nonpareil, the Mehta set is the way to go if you want to hear the sound of Wagner's orchestra in all its glory. However, granting the orchestra's major role as motor and commentator throughout, it is the singing that makes the characters who they are, and we hear them better in the Met production. And for that, it is the new DG set that I will listen to more often and without hesitation.