The Waveform Loudspeaker Manufacturer's Comment

Sidebar 2: Manufacturer's Comment, from December 1989 (Vol.12 No.12):

Editor: The refrain from Don McLean's "Vincent" of some time ago—"They're not listening still"—interesting. I suppose if I had a low enough IQ I'd be able to appreciate your sense of humor. Frankly, I don't care for your acoustic taste in reverberant rooms, Larry; however, your taste in wine is excellent—thanks for lunch. Rather interesting the comments you and John shared openly with Robert and me about the Diva and the Beta not belonging in "Recommended Components" because of the deviation so far from flat response. If I didn't know better one might think you were ganging up on Peter Aczel's love for the Waveform just to further discredit his return to audio journalism.

It is no secret that Waveform Research hasn't paid its way within the pages of Stereophile. Ken Nelson [Stereophile's primary ad representative] can now save his monthly postage, but I'm sorry to disappoint him that there will not be any going-out-of-business sale.

One bad review, one rave review, and one mucous discharge smeared as a footnote. I believe the fallout for this thing began in issue Nos.52 and 53 of The Absolute SoundS, and opened fully in 54 as Pearson hinted of a new direction. It is clear to me whose speaker he was using to base his judgments on. Obviously, from No.57 on someone had got to him and forced him to change his way. Look for a burnt-out editor within a short period again. So here I am down for the count but far from out. You haven't exactly killed the goose which laid the golden egg, yet you make it extremely difficult for goosey to get poked so more can get laid.

On the specification side, the mid to tweeter crossover point has been 2kHz since 1987, with the passive crossover slopes all 24dB/octave, Linkwitz-Riley. One can expect 92dB/1W/1m in a room, that's if you need it. The new address as of Thanksgiving is R.R. #4, Brighton, Ontario K0K 1H0, Canada. Dwelling and studio now share the same 12-acre site, with the completion of the new home under construction by the family these past four years.

One need not read too far along to realize a body slam is approaching. You pull every trick in the book to discredit this state-of-the-art speaker by focusing on the small size of production, limited resources, and the newness of the company. There are other low blows not worth mentioning. So much for high-end audio being the domain of small manufacturers. The smallest appear to be only monthly filler to justify the big boys, and are rarely heard of again.

The Waveform loudspeaker was introduced in 1986 at SCES, not 1987. Except for the DEC, the system shown was production, and not prototypical at that time. The first pair was sold to David Johann of Whitby Audio in August 1986, who liked them so much he promptly took them home.

The design criteria were to produce the flattest speaker, in all key frequency-response measurable parameters, that could be engineered without regard for price or acoustic compromise, capable of playing in small and large rooms, with full frequency extension—whether people wanted to hear them or not. In short, to fully explore the forward-firing loudspeaker from a serious acoustic and enthusiast point of view. Within this framework, there would be no room for trendy theory such as 6dB/octave slopes, driver material, baffle composition or thickness, capacitor color, or the direction of the AC current coursing through the interconnects. I can assure you that copper was used throughout.

The point to make about a dynamic transducer is that it is a loudspeaker, not a softspeaker. If it is accurate, it has the ability to not only play dynamic music at reference levels, but to render the diminuendo and ambient decay effortlessly as well. An accurate loudspeaker is by definition neutral, showing the difference in recordings, mike positioning, equalizing, and monitor control-room behavior. If it is successful, one gets lost in the musical presentation and performance, or uninvolved at a conscious level. The involvements you allude to are fatiguing because music is intrinsically a language of emotion.

Going to the heart of the grand slam, I do not specify, nor did I ask for, corner placement. More correctly, sidewall placement is mandated to further aid the smooth, flat early reflections. This is no horny Klipsch. Neither is it a JBL boom box, even though you have attempted to color your readers' perception of the speaker by suggesting that it is bass-heavy and we know more about these things, being full-time reviewers, so that's why we rolled off the bass nearly 8dB! Your diddling has contributed to a total imbalance spectrality and an even greater perceived subjective brightness. I didn't spend much time with the set-up because I knew you would take matters into your own hands and do as you like, which you did. What am I supposed to say, Larry, your room stinks; I don't trust the RIAA fudge in your favorite preamp, the tube CD player is bloating my midbass and rolling off my air. A properly reproduced cymbal has the light and delicate sound of sss, not shh as I heard.

Many companies supply OEM drivers. Some of these firms even market speakers. The major point here is that the engineers who create the drivers aren't always allowed to design the speakers. The JBL 2235H happens to be the finest subwoofer available, with the least amount of distortion of any we've seen, at all playback levels. This is well known in serious acoustic circles. You obviously have attested to this by the clean and prodigious levels you heard with low organ notes.

About the owner's manual: shown to you at the 1989 SCES was a pictorial hardcover, encased ring-binder album, nearly completed. The looseleaf sheets have always only been temporary. With witnesses present, your exact phrase captured on pocket miniature tape recorder was, "Oh, that's nice; it's about time someone did something for the audiophile." You were also shown the enlarged expanded version for dealers. So much for the golden-eared reviewer's vivid memory and powers of immediate recall.

With regard to the amplifier-matching chart, both of you have displayed scorn and derision with arrogant disregard for the correct set-up of this speaker. Using the controls on the dedicated electronic crossover as rudimentary gain levels is just about preposterous. Serious dealers have commented that Waveform is the only manufacturer to supply such a chart, and they, along with all owners, have always found the settings accurate and useful. They should be set once upon amp-matching, then left alone. Room coupling can and should be used to diminish excessive low-bass boost from poor recordings usually monitored on speakers which don't reproduce these fundamentals properly. Poor John [Atkinson], so lost in his 'cross-the-pond mini-monitor idolatry he appears to have never experienced real bass from a decent speaker before.

Dr. Claude Fortier of State of the Art Electronik in Ottawa is responsible for the design, engineering, and manufacture of the DEC. He is an important third member of the design team and, like Paul Barton, is a vital, indispensable link in the success of this design. Claude, being a wily Francophone, comes from a different tradition. In Canada our melting pot is not so far advanced (some might use regressed); I respect his French heritage. Larger numbers mean more coupling and hence less bass. I am truly amazed that, considering Tom Norton had all this information and spec updates given him in March, when the speaker was originally set up at his home, he neglected to relay this to you. Where are Tom's opinions, based on over 10 weeks of listening in his room in Las Vegas?

The speaker was set up and worked flawlessly, both of us listening for 5½ hours uninterrupted. Conversation centered solely on the different character of each recording heard; as it should be with a neutral transducer. No mention of brightness or an unlistenable character.

Time and time again I've demoed at dealers only to see them use their favorite rolled-off CD player, most cherished preamp with its greatly fudged presence boost in the RIAA curve, rising-coil cartridge of the month, and "mellow" amp, then pronounce on the character of more than 15 years of acoustic endeavor. The high end has never been concerned with accuracy, let alone neutrality. As long as hot items are promoted by taste in the magazines, the party faithful will only ask for those products. And in spite of what dealers would wish to sell, they'll be trapped, treat this only as a business, and become even more cynical and distant.

Tom was sent standard production with the high-frequency balance set for normal rooms with a balance of absorptive and reflective surfaces. Your room happens to be abnormal, and the most live room I've ever been in. I decided to wait until you complained. I suggested to Robert to inform me early if there were problems as suggestions could be offered. It later became apparent that that was too late, they had already been packed up and warehoused. Sitting 25' back in your echo chamber places you squarely in the reverberant soundfield. If you are comparing loudspeakers, surely one might expect you to place them in identical positions as with your sweet seat and employ the same level of gain. How loud must manufacturers scream for fairness and impartiality?

The problem with subjective reviewing is that the character of components is judged by people based on hearing in one room, be it at a dealer or magazine. By all means listen and judge and pass "findings," but do it in a neutral room where the sound heard at the place of judgment (sweet seat) is free from standing waves. Such rooms can easily be built on different measurements. Happily, one model does exist at the NRC, and it has been adopted by the IEC as a standard listening room—hooray! This last comment is part of my response to Mark Block ["Letters," September 1989]. Such a test, sir, does exist and has been utilized by people interested in making real contributions to the reproduction of music in the home for several decades. At a whisper now—it's called a double-blind listening test.

In your live room, 8' away is not nearfield listening, nor would 1" be either. A ¼" might approximate anechoic conditions. We hear reflections whether we wish it or not; why not make them flat? Even the most beamy electrostatic or ribbon eventually bounces reflections back to the listening position, and usually quite colored at that. We call this wide dispersion. Dispersion affects tone, which impinges on dynamics. Good dispersion elevates the soundstage vertically, broadens the stereo image, thereby increasing the general good listening area. The best loudspeakers all have wide dispersion. These are also the most dynamic, just like real music. The Waveform loudspeaker happens to have the most dispersion all through its bandwidth and, as my young daughter is fond of saying, "It makes for more better music, right Pop?" This speaker, with its unnerving dynamic range, has changed the way some vinyl addicts think about digital. It proves once and for all the superiority digital has over noise-laden and compressed analog.

I find the attempt to understand the acoustical behavior of this speaker shallow even with the accompanying technical measurements. No phone calls were placed by you during the obviously short "test," and when I phoned one week after the visit to follow up serious problems, none were mentioned. If observational journalism is not qualified by serious investigative reporting, then the primitive measurements John employs in the frequency and time domains are next to useless.

Waveform Research
Brighton, Ontario, Canada
No longer in existence (2006)