It seems these days that everybody and his brother is doing something about room equalization. Sure, we had the old-time graphic and parametric EQs—now we're seeing much more sophisticated and dedicated devices, from the TacT and Z-Systems standalone products to the auto-setup and EQ systems found in many A/V receivers. I was impressed with the Audyssey MultEQxt in the Denon AV-4806 receiver—see my "Music in the Round" column in March, p.50—and a standalone AudysseyPro unit was demonstrated at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show.
It doesn't take much to read between the lines of Sony's discontinuation of the TA-P9000ES analog preamplifier and their introduction of the SCD-XA9000ES SACD player with IEEE1394 digital output at Home Entertainment 2003. (A similar feature from the DVD-Audio camp has been promised.) Surely, we will at long last be able to have external digital processing and DACs in our preamp or control units. In addition to the freedom to mix and match components, this opens the door to having a single digital component manage bass and channel balance for all sources, and room/speaker correction without redundant redigitization.
Bryston describes its SP2 multichannel preamplifier-processor ($4995) as consisting of a stereo analog preamp with a volume-controlled 5.1-channel analog pass-through plus a full-featured multichannel digital audio processor, and claims that none of those functions compromises any of the others. The analog preamp is fully equivalent in features and performance to their BP26 preamp. The digital processor includes all the latest Dolby Digital, DTS, and THX modes, and is based on Texas Instruments' powerful Aureus DSP chip, which can be updated via an S/PDIF input. The digital and analog sections have independent power supplies, and there are no video inputs or functions other than a control port for the optional, external SPV-1 video switcher.
I've been tweaking my weekend multichannel system for years, but with my city system I've kinda faked it. I now realize that I listen more actively to the weekend system, and not only because that's when I have the time for it—the sound of that system is simply more engaging and psychologically immersive. So, with the growth of my library of SACD and DVD-Audio recordings to almost half the size of my CD collection, I told my wife that it was time to transform of "our" city stereo rig into a full-blown multichannel system.
California company Now Hear This (NHT), which has been around since 1986, has always taken a no-nonsense route based on good engineering principles and innovative thinking. Two of their strikingly good ideas were the use of side-firing woofers, and integrating an active subwoofer with a pair of small monitor speakers. Both philosophies culminated in the Xd series of DSP-EQ'd active loudspeakers, which I had the pleasure of reviewing in the November 2005 issue. My first reaction to the concept was "Why hasn't anyone done this before?" The results completely justified an approach that, I believe, points loudspeaker design in a new direction.
My reviews of the TacT RCS (Stereophile, September 2001) and the Rives PARC (July 2003) are ample evidence that I've been fascinated with room equalization for quite a while. This is because I don't have a dedicated, purpose-built listening room in either of my homes, and having experienced what such rooms can do for recorded sound, I've always been somewhat dissatisfied with what I do have. Sure, I've got lots of great equipment, and a wife who understands enough to let me install some acoustic treatments (as long as she approves their appearance). Still, I'm sympathetic to those audiophiles who, when I suggest acoustic treatments to resolve their particular problems, say that it's simply not possible for them, either because of the Spousal Acceptance Factor or the need to accommodate other activities in the same room. Room equalizers seem to offer the hope for a panacea for what ails such spaces.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.
I've been reading and sometimes participating in a number of Internet discussions that begin with something like "Is SACD (and/or DVD-Audio) Dead?" Regardless of your one-word answer, it seems that the issue is still quite lively. I won't address the question here (you know where I stand), but it almost doesn't matter. Many high-resolution multichannel recordings are still being made. It's just that they may be distributed in different ways.
The great format battle of our time continues to rage between the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps. For many reasons, some discussed in the July installment of this column, this battle may be the last one waged over physical media formats. But whether either or neither format wins, the outcome will be decided on the basis of video quality—issues of audio quality are being ignored. This is unfortunate for audiophiles for two reasons. First, we have a big stake in whatever will be the standard medium for movies and music, but second, this battle makes it apparent that the major forces in the marketplace are ignoring what matters most to us.
Back in October 2001, when Larry Greenhill told us about the Sony TA-P9000ES multichannel preamplifier, it seemed the best thing since sliced bread. This affordable ($700) analog controller had two six-channel inputs, a six-channel bypass input, level controls for all channels, and a stereo bypass input. For those of us just dipping our toes into multichannel, it was welcome. Though no longer manufactured, the Sony is still a unique component, and one highly prized in the second-hand market. The TA-P9000ES was not, however, the answer to all our prayers—made to complement a digital processor, it basically has only two 5.1-channel inputs, if the TA-P9000ES is used independently.