It is the merry month of March as I write this, and the weather is starting to show some promise. Here in New Hampshire, it actually got above 50 today, and at least here on the southern seacoast, snow has turned to rain and ice. I'm sure our poor editor Steven R. Rochlin is still fighting the snow drifts at his homestead in the western part of the state. However, just think Steven, being shut in by several feet of snow gives you more opportunity to tweak your system, or maybe even listen to some music. Soon it'll be time for Mud Season. Oh Joy! At least here the winter give us much time to appreciate the work and effort that has gone into our hobby. (Editor Steven says: Bill, it is still snowing here and must have about a foot or two of base. So much snow falls that one foot, two feet… it is just snow. As for mud season, living on top of a mountain has benefits. By the way, you forgot about the nasty Black Fly season, gosh I hate those little buggers!)
I was going to continue this month discussing my building of a computerized home music server, to match or better everything else out there costing megabucks, but I've gotten waylaid by a finding that has destroyed my confidence in my ears. This caused a relapse of Audiophilia Nervosa, the need to redo a perfectly good sounding system when someone finds a fault in it. My speaker crossovers have been found to be out of whack.
My seven speakers are self-built three-way horns designed by Bruce Edgar, who recommended crossover points of 400Hz and 3000Hz. When I built the left and right main front speakers, I decided to special order preamps from Alan Wright of VacuumState Electronics before completing the speakers, and had him build in these crossover points to the preamp circuitry, thus saving a piece of equipment and interconnects. The system sounded great to just about everyone who ever came here for a listening session, or at least nobody ever complained and most enjoyed the sound.
About two months ago, just before the CES, I met fellow audiophile Maurice Schmir who is owner of Dyana Audio. He lives about 30 miles from here in southern Maine (audiophiles are few and far between in this part of the state for some reason) and he asked me to evaluate a couple of speakers while I was at the show as he had dropped his previous line for business reasons. To make a long story short, after much evaluation he had decided to carry a new speaker line called FlexSpeakers, from a company called WAM Engineering,of which I had never previously heard . Of course, with the several thousand high-end speaker manufacturers out there, it's impossible for anyone to keep up with all of them. I was a little concerned for his sanity, as he had been offered the distributorship of another speaker line from one of the largest and best audio companies in the world, but he insisted that the WAM speakers were excellent and reasonably priced.
To make a long story short, he invited me up to listen to them while they were being set up by the developer in Minnesota, a place that probably has even worse weather than here. His name, Wally Malewicz, sort of rang a bell. Then I realized on looking up his website that he was the developer of the WallyTractor, VTA Gauge, Scale and Skater, superb tools for setting up a turntable.
Wally had semi-retired from his regular engineering job, and being the typical Type A personality with time on his hands, and with audio in his heart, decided to put his engineering experience to use and build a new speaker line. Having graduated from a university in Poland and worked there for several years before escaping communism, he had many connections to the European audio community. After several years of experimentation, he came up with the present model.
As the speaker hadn't been completely tuned while I was there, I will not give it a formal review today, but only say that it is one of the best sounding units I have ever heard at any price. Why I mentioned it today is that Wally needed a ride to the airport the following morning and as my house was closer than Maurice's, I offered to have him sleep at my place. Of course, that evening we sat down for a listen to my system, and Wally who owns superb ears, right away noticed what he thought was an anomaly in the sound. Being the experimenter he is, he immediately opened his case and took out his computer, mike and CLIO MLSSA measurement system and did an evaluation; at 10 P.M. the night before a full day of office for me.
By midnight we were exhausted, and I was distraught, as the measurements showed a large dip in frequency response between 500Hz to 800Hz and another at 2000Hz to 3000Hz with a rapid drop-off above 10,000 Hz. To protect my high-end audio reputation it must be mentioned that this had been overcome somewhat by my Lexicon pre-pro, which while doing room correction, had boosted the signal in these areas, but the speakers and crossovers together didn't produce the flattest frequency curve in existence.
As he had to leave for home the next day, and I had to work, we could not complete the evaluation, but he needed to return to complete the tuning of his speakers at Maurice's in a few weeks, so through emails and phone conversations, we developed a plan to cure the problem.
1. The Vacuum State preamps were removed from the system, to be sent back to Switzerland for correction of the crossovers once we had settled on correct numbers. Cost: Unknown
2. We discussed several options for active crossovers, including an analog system from Rane, which he uses on his speaker and a digital one from Behringer, but finally settled on an excellent 24 dB crossover from Marchand Electronics the XM-44, one of which I had previously owned in the early 90's (reviewed here). Unhappily, it had been sold years ago before the VacuumState units arrived. Luckily, Mr. Marchand still produces them and has updated them over the years. Cost: $2000.
3. Wally suggested that I purchase the 140-15D tweeters from RAAL to replace my TAD 500A Mark II units as his experimentation had shown them to have the flattest frequency response of any he had tested out to way beyond what dogs can hear, and would be a great match for my horns. We decided to get three so that all of the front speakers would match. I probably should have gotten 5 so all of the speakers would match but my banker (wife) nixed that. Cost: $1800
4. As the RAAL tweeters were about 10 dB less sensitive than the mid-horns, we decided to go with a four-way Marchand XM-44 to allow separate adjustment of the tweeter as it could be built with four crossovers and volume pots per channel. The Marchand also has the ability to set separate crossover points for the low and high side, thus allowing better overlap of the frequency bands and notch filters for any annoying spikes at narrow frequency bands.
5. This will require another stereo or a pair of monoblock amplifiers; during the experimentation phase I'll be using a Magnum Series 500S stereo ICE Digital amplifier from D-Sonics (which were going to be reviewed this month but will hopefully be completed next) which has a 5 to 80 kHz frequency range. Wally will be bringing a single ended tube amplifier with him to see which better complements the RAAL tweeters. Cost: Unknown yet.
6. He also suggested that I start doing some experimentation by reviving a program purchased several years ago from Dr. Jordan Design called WinAudio MLS. The little USB dongle that activates the program was missing, so an email went out to Dr. Jordan and within a week thanks to the wonderful service by DHL, it arrived with an updated program disc direct from Germany. Cost:$100
It is funny, but when someone points out a problem with an audiophile's system, that audiophile's ears immediately focus on it no matter how good it sounds otherwise. Such was my case. That suckout in the 800Hz range gnawed at my brain. Thus, work began immediately.
First up was getting the WINAudioMLS program up and running to confirm Wally's measurements. Of course the only microphones available were excellent measurement units that came with the Lexicon but didn't seem to work with the phantom power supply from M-Audio's Firewire 410 computer sound card. Then the wiring was incompatible with the varying inputs of the units, some with XLR and others with 1/4 and 1/8 inch phono plugs. Thus several new interconnects had to be built. Cost $600. I finally found an old set of over-the-ear microphones which were placed into service, but they didn't have the flattest frequency response. Up I went to Shopzilla, Froogle, etc., and found an M-Audio Unit hopefully compatible with the soundcard and microphone. Cost $160.
The Marchand XM-44 arrived and after construction of further interconnects was placed in the system, replacing the Wright Preamps.Cost $400. The D-Sonics amps were placed on the tweeters and a pair of Pioneer 500 watt amps were used on the subwoofers as my Crown Macro-Reference amp started making unusual noises in the middle of all of this. Cost for repairs Unknown.
During the measurements, a very loud pulse was mistakenly sent through one of the tweeters, which gave a nice loud pop and died. A quick call to Madisound Audio confirmed they had a replacement membrane for the TAD driver, but the unit had to be sent back to them. With shipping the total cost came to over $200. Oh well!! The TAD 500's were replaced for the time being with TAD 900 horn tweeters from the rear speakers.
Happily, the measurements went fairly well once I relearned how to run the program, but once I got the speakers to be as close to flat as possible (+/- 4dB 20Hz to 20kHz) they didn't sound right to my ears. While one can go to any show or someone else's house and immediately hear anomalies compared to a live event, one seems to learn how one's own system sounds and must relearn how it actually should. I had theoretically set mine to sound like what one would hear in the front third center of Carnegie, or Symphony Hall or the Musikverein. Since I primarily listen to orchestral music, this actually suited the recordings, as they tend to be closely mic'ed that accentuates the highs. With the speakers now flat, they sounded too bright for my listening preference in my room.
Thus, the old argument as to whether one voices a system for absolute correctness or for absolute concert hall sound came to the fore. If one sits five feet from a musician and hears primarily the original sound, the experience is completely different from sitting further back in a concert hall and mixing in the hall reflections with the decreased high frequency information that lessens compared to the bass the further one is from the instrument. This is why closely mic'ed and multi-mic'ed recording sound brighter or edgier than what one usually hears in a concert setting.
So which is correct? Whatever floats your boat as far as I'm concerned. You've surely seen the many reviews in magazines where a piece of equipment sounds wonderful to the reviewer but measures poorly. Anyway, Wally will be over again in a couple of weeks, we will get the speakers voiced properly and I'll report on it in the future, along with the other four projects that have been started. So far the cost for my recent attack of Audiophilia Nervosa has come to $5200 and climbing. Wish they had insurance for this. Oh Well!!