Surround Sound: Up and Running (Second Edition)
by Tomlinson Holman. Published by Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier (footnote 1) (Oxford, England, UK; www.elsevier.com). 2008. Paperback, 248 pages, ISBN 978-0240808291. $44.95.
For years, I have espoused the use of the same speakers (except subwoofer) in all positions for multichannel music. To have no speaker in the system contributing a different voice to the choir seems as intuitive as having the room acoustics not color the sound. Of course, this still doesn't guarantee perfect timbral match—positioning and room acoustics usually impose some unique characteristics under all but the most perfect and symmetrical conditions. You can hear tonal imbalances even between the left and right speakers of most two-channel systems simply by switching pink noise between them. On the other hand, there's no reason to superimpose on these unavoidable differences the additional imbalances inevitable with using different speakers in a multichannel array.
This is my fourth review of a Revel loudspeaker, and I was even more excited by the arrival of the Ultima Studio2s ($15,999/pair) than I was when their predecessors, the original Ultima Studios ($10,799/pair when first reviewed; $15,000/pair when last listed in "Recommended Components"), were delivered in 2000. (See my review in the December 2000 Stereophile, Vol.23 No.12.) After all, the Studios were my reference speakers for years and, along with the larger Ultima Salons, were statement products that were the product of the talented designer Kevin Voecks and the considerable resources of Harman International, parent of Revel as well as of JBL and Infinity. Over the years, I've also reviewed Revel's Performa F30 (May 2000, Vol.23 No.5) and Concerta F12 (July 2006, Vol.29 No.7), each outstanding at its price point. If, after all these years, Voecks and his team were ready to reconsider their statement products, they should be something special.
I had planned to feature a few intriguing new products I saw at CEDIA's Expo 2007 held last September in Denver, but I did that on the Stereophilewebsite. Instead, I'll just tell you about the only big audio trend I saw there: HDMI.
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.
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.
All of us have excuses for why we cannot acoustically treat our rooms but a lot of the underlying reason is that many are not convinced that they should make the physical or financial effort. I’ve discovered what I think of as training wheels for room acoustics. Tom Gorzelski of mytheater acoustic panel showed me his simple and inexpensive kits; these are enough to get anyone started. The panels are only 1" thick and, with their polyester filling, light enough to hang with a single nail. Don't expect them to work into the bass, therefore, but Tom acknowledges that they are most effective at 1–2kHz. Also, they come in packages of four 24x40 panels ($120) or two 24x24 panels ($45) because you cannot expect just one to make a difference. Still, hanging a 4pack of the bigger panels should reduce reflections if placed at ear level and, especially, at the first reflection points on the side-walls. It's likely you'll like it enough, perhaps, to do even more.
MartinLogan showed some enticing and very reasonably-priced two-ways with real electrostatic drivers. The Purity (left) and the Source (right) are similar in size and appearance (at least so far as the electrostatic elements are concerned), but differ significantly. The Source ($2000/pair) uses an 8” woofer and has a wedge-shaped base that allows you to tilt the entire speaker to suit the needed vertical listening angle. The Purity ($3000/pair) has a pair of 6.5” woofers and a 200W digital amp, which permits it to be driven by a CD player or preamp or, even, by an MP3 player.
Just a short note to tell you that the smaller brother of the affordably priced but high-performance Pioneer Elite S-1EX loudspeaker that I enjoyed so much last March has made its way to these shores. The S-3EX is slightly shorter and narrower, with 7" woofers in place of its bigger brother's 8" drivers. Retained are the CST Driver technology, the Aramid/Carbon-composite–shell woofers, the clean design and construction and, presumably, all the sound except at subwoofer levels. Not retained is about a third of the cost with the S-3EX estimated at $6000/pair instead of $9000.
That's a pretty snazzy new pre-pro from NAD, the T-175 ($1999). It sports four HDMI inputs, lots of analog and digital audio inputs as well as "legacy" video sources. Of special note is the inclusion of Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction, with a custom response curve option developed with PSB's Paul Barton. In addition, this is one of the first of a new generation of AVRs, pre-pros, and processors that are compatible with the potent Audyssey Pro Audio Calibration intended for professional installation. Others capable of Audyssey Pro include NAD's T775 and T785 AVRs, and Denon's AVR-5805CI, '5308CI, '4308CI and '3808CI AVRs. Also on Audyssey's lists are the Denon AVP1HD pre-pro, the Integra DTC-9.8 and OnkyoPro PR-SC885 pre-pros, the Integra DTR-8.8 AVR, the Crestron Adagio Media System, the Phase Technology dARTS system, and, of course, the Audyssey Sound Equalizer.