World Premiere Review!
Jolida Foz SSX -- Sound Stage Expander
Have fun experimenting with the sound!
Review By Ron Nagle
if I told you your listening space was made out of a virtual elastomer? The
walls the ceiling and even the floor could be reshaped. Could you use a larger
sound stage sitting in your parlor or listening with your headphones? If that
were an option would you chose to sit in an orchestra seat in the center of
Albert Hall? Or maybe you would place yourself sitting at a table in a small
jazz club? Well now it's possible, and there are other options available too!
Let's say you have a favorite CD but the recording you have is not what it
should be. Imagine you could smooth out the nasty bits and make it more
palatable? Maybe even warm up the low end a trifle and smooth the overall
presentation. Or, conversely, you have a bit too much bass energizing your
listening room. Well now you can control these elements by as much, or as
little, as you want!
described these very same capabilities of the SS-X to a recording engineer
friend and his comment was, "that sounds like an old tone control." My reply
was, "Hell no not like that". In ancient audio days most every audio receiver
had a tone control sometimes called a contour control to alter the perceived
amount of treble and bass. The old effect was odd, like pasting on a dollop of
bass at the bottom frequencies or a glued on chunk of treble on top. The older
method never seemed to blend in or be part of the performance. Today there is a
clever audio control in the Foz SSX, which is actually an Audio Sound Processor.
It is a clever and affordable way at $400 to address any or all of these issues.
The SSX is offered by the Jolida Audio Company based in the USA. The name Foz is
used to honor the SSX's designer, Jim Fosgate. Jim (Foz) Fosgate's life long
career in audio design represents decades of work on every possible circuit
approach to surround processors, tube amplifiers, preamplifiers, phono
preamplifiers and other component designs. His wide array of innovative circuits
have been built and proven by Mr. Fozgate. Also you may know him in relation to
his company Rockford Fosgate and his collaboration with Ray Dolby in the ground
breaking development for Audio Video surround sound systems. This is the third
stereo audio invention I have sampled that was designed by Jim Fosgate. A few
years ago I purchased his Vertical Azimuth cartridge alignment tool called the "Fozgometer".
Back in April of this year I auditioned the Foz XT-R a Cartridge Crosstalk
Objet D' Article
Fozgometer and XT-R the SSX is yet another very specific standalone device. It
has a threefold purpose. You will find it housed in a small black box measuring,
9.5" wide, 6" deep, and 2.5" high. On the top surface there is a round gold
colored plate. This disk holds four (blinking) amber LED's. They are arranged at
quarter hour clock intervals at 12, 3, 6, 9. The 3 and 9 LED positions indicate
the right and left channels activity. The 12 and 6 positions are for channel
phase. The 12 o'clock LED indicates an in phase condition and the rarely
illuminated LED below that at 6 o'clock is an out of phase indication. Also on
the top panel farther to the right is an ECC81/12AU7 miniature dual triode.
There are two
switches at the front panel and two control knobs. The first left side switch
has three positions. Pointing upward at Twelve o'clock the switch applies mains
power and activates the four LED display on the top cover. The center switch
position has power turned off. The Lower switch position applies mains power but
leaves the LED display turned off. Another toggle style switch at the center
front selects one of the three line level input sources. Two control knobs
remain. The first knob varies the amount of apparent bass and to the right of
that is the sound stage Dimensionality/ Panoramic control, based on Jim Fosgate's
United States of America patent. Turned anti-clockwise the sound stage between
the speakers' narrows focusing more at the center. Rotate the control clockwise
and the stage expands both the width and depth. The audio signals are out of
phase when the control is rotated clockwise, and in phase when the control is
rotated anticlockwise. The left LED is reading the left side of the stage, the
right LED is indicating signals on the right side of the stage. The LED at
twelve O'clock is reading the signals in the center of the sound stage which are
mono "same signals in both channels that are in phase". The LED
closest to the front panel at six O'clock is reading the "out of
phase" ambiance signals. When using the unit in front of an audio video
surround decoder this signal will be directed to the back channels. On a stereo
system this signal increases width and depth while adding more space.
Around back the
rear panel has an IEC style mains socket. Also four unbalanced RCA jacks, three
are for the line input and the fourth is the device output. The Design and
purpose of the SSX is thus threefold. To reiterate, the input first passes
through the ECC81/12AU7 dual triode (buffer), the effect is to smooth and
slightly warm the three input line sources. The bandwidth is an amazing "ten
times" the threshold of human hearing, 2 Hz to 200 kHz (-3dB). As described the
SS-X can control bass content. You may increase bass by 9dB or the bass
equalizer can reduce (plummy) bass by 9 dB. And of course the last tertiary "Panoramic"
function will alter the dimensions of the stereo stage.
Before I go any
farther I must tell you that no matter which speakers were in my small room, at
the shorter wall (11' 8" wide). I have never been completely satisfied that they
were truly optimized and performing at their best. Consequently I never stopped
moving them about. I would try toeing them in or out a few millimeters. Move
them away from my room boundaries, sideways, back and forth a bit more or a bit
less. I might just as well be dancing the Conga clutching my monitor speakers.
All this has been a many years long Conga marathon. My listening space is my
parlor/living room which is full of furniture and it happens to support a large
55 Hz bass node. My Spouse will not let me throw out the offending acoustic
altering devices. The TV on a wall unit, the leather sofa, a coffee table etc:
Consequentially I never play music very loud and so I am not about achieving
deep bass response.
I placed the SS-X
at the output of my preamplifier and then the SS-X output was sent to my power
amplifier. All of the connections at the SSX can only be made with unbalanced
RCA jacks. I did not experience any insertion signal loss, the SSX has unity
gain. This is the hookup I used to evaluate the SS-X, but you certainly could
connect three line level components directly into the SS-X then use the front
panel source switch to select a particular input. The following observations
relate all my line high level inputs. The separate Phono stage preamplifier
characteristic description will follow. More specifically my final conclusions
are based on my reference DSD, Nils Lofgren
Acoustic Live [Analogue Productions reissue 2016]. As much as
possible I try to not refer to test recordings I used or the components I own.
Because I do not believe it is relevant. Chances are your kit will be something
entirely different. However I can tell you what you can expect with the SSX. The
first thing that you should notice is the influence it has on the midrange and
Nils Lofgren's voice. Undoubtedly It is the effect rendered by that ECC81 input
buffer. Note: To all of you stuck in single minded inflexible solid state land.
No, it is not a darker sound. It is a far more natural and Organic quality now
with more flesh placed on your bare bones transistor powered preferences. Valves
do something that until now has totally eluded even those expanded bit
resolution digital devices. Valves are very simply continuous;
they allow a complex musical cord structure or even a single note to decay
gradually in a very natural way into silence. This organic quality was apparent
when listening to DVD, CD, Blue Tooth, Wi-Fi and my digital AM/FM Radio. The
Nils Lofgren DSD recording conveys the transient speed, the metallic bite of the
guitar strings and the guitars resonant body all thrown right into your lap.
This is possibly one of the greatest live acoustic guitar recordings ever made.
I have a six valve
Tavish Design Phono Cartridge Amplifier made by a small USA company. I reviewed
and purchased the amplifier because I have come to the conclusion that vinyl
recordings and valves have a natural affinity, they belong together. The
combination of my valve phono amplifier added to the SSX valve's input stage. Is
at the same time good and a bit bad. The transient speed, that micro second of
attack on a guitar string is slightly muted. However using the bass control it
is possible to dial down a bit of that effect. The amount of warmth imbued to
the sound is not at all bad just a matter of personal taste. (A solid state
phono amplifier should echo my line stage observations). It is important to
understand that the bass controlling feature works in a unique way. The range of
control is plus or minus 9dB. The control is subtle, you can increase the bass
content without over driving the room. Even the voice of Nils Lofgren is
enhanced by altering the midrange, the effect is broad reaching and effusive.
Also that same subtle audio taper can exist to remove perceived bass bloat. The
third control alters stereo stage dimension. This is actually an ingenious and
innovative method to control an audible phase related phenomenon that seems even
more effective with a vinyl source. The circuit is configured so that audio
signals from the one channel cannot couple to the other, preserving soundstage
width and depth.
I have rarely had so much fun reviewing anything audio. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Experimenting with three dimensional sound using the bass control and adjusting the stage between my speakers. Switching between different sources, bad recordings and wonderful recordings. All the time anticipating what I would hear if I added a little more warmth, a bit more bass or widened the stage of a live performance. My years long battle with the uneven acoustics of my small listening space has ended. The futile addition of sound shaping things on my walls, some reflective and some absorptive, black Argent Helmholtz pipes. Sticky backed foil things on speakers even a block of clear acrylic on top of my system to focus sound. If you can relate to the fight I fought and the money I wasted then you owe it to yourself to give the $400 Dollar SSX a try. I’m keeping it.