Baby got back

Brodmann Acoustics VC-7 and BMC Arcadia
Most speakers you see have an arrangement like the eyes of ours with which we see them. For the most part, speaker drivers face directly toward us, and we lie in the viewing window of their gaze.

This works, generally, until you get up from your chair to get another beer or check on the roast. As you stand up, the sound changes, particularly in the treble region. As you move further away from the speaker window, the sound changes and you lose more and more definition and musicality. When you’re standing at the kitchen sink, it sounds like you’re living next to a dance club — all that’s left to hear from that spot is bass and midbass.

Does this matter? Obviously it sounds great in your listening chair, so why should you expect better sound outside of the view of the speakers?

The fact is, losing the upper frequencies as you exit your music room is not the largest tragedy.

BUT. When you hear what a bipolar speaker does in the same position, or an…

Size matters

 B&W ASW855 15" Powered Subwoofer Sometimes in life, we have to find things out the hard way. We all hope to have a perfect track record of learning from others’ mistakes or heeding the advice of the experienced, but something about the human spirit spurs us to trust only what we can measure and analyze.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I tried for the longest time to get an 8” subwoofer to make enough bass in my listening room. And like asking grass to not be green (Purple Hulls reference), I was expecting the mighty little wonder to do things he simply couldn’t. My measurement and analysis of my own happiness about my system was that I was not happy about it.

I could have paid attention to the myriad articles, forum posts and conversational advice online about subwoofers, and I could have enjoyed benefits of using a large driver for the task.

I don’t know what it is about me. I guess I’m pretty stubborn with some things. I thought that if I tried an exotic design or imp…

Is it on?

Jeff Rowland Model 8 Stereo Power Amplifier

When you turn a mega-sized amplifier on, you expect to hear or feel something. Relays clicking, house lights dimming, maybe a tiny thump through the monkey coffins*.

But see, that’s what I would expect from most mega amps out there. In the case of the Rowland Model 8 I’m listening to right now, when I didn’t hear any of that, I had a brief moment of anxiety thinking that something was either wrong with my power, or this amp.

The huge, shimmering amp takes up more space than four of my speakers piled together. It’s got a 20-amp input, with massive breaker switches for each channel. When I connected it and flipped each breaker, I heard nothing. Saw nothing.

I punched the button on the front… still nothing, although the button lit up immediately. Hmm…

Before getting too verklempt, I pressed play in Roon. Something over my right shoulder immediately made me turn my head. Who is hitting a percussion triangle back there in the photo area?

Oh no, …

Tug of war

Pass Labs X150.8 Stereo Power Amplifier

Speaking with my audio buddy about speaker driver linearity last night, I found myself asking a basic question that sprung to mind.

We’re making speakers lately, and the new design is more right and honest, he says. A hi-hat strike sounds like you’re next to the kit.

Which prompted me to pose the query: how is it that we chase our tails so much to hear that hi-hat as sounding actually realistic, when the recording / mastering side of things likely had the signal running through hundreds of feet of stepped-on, budget cabling? The mic used is likely colored by heavy use in the 10 years the studio owned it, including (for the sake of argument) a good 10 drops, plenty of plosives and lots of spit.

The mixing engineer maybe had a small room with a subwoofer that was just good enough to get the job done. But did he ever hear all of the detail and harmonics on the recording? When we can hear what we hear only with world class electronics and the b…

In the details

Audio Mirror 45 Watt Parallel SET monoblocks

When I’m trying to test a component’s handling of high frequencies, personally, I go first to The Funky Knuckles’ New Birth and the track “Wise Willis.” This album is recorded crisply, and is not short on detail. In fact, on components or speakers known to be bright or “digital,” this album can get fatiguing quickly.

In contrast, on excellent speakers, the detail rides right to the edge of what’s comfortable and the result is a very exciting. The amount of available texture within the many layers has this feel of being state-of-the-art in digital recording of a large band.

I’ll also fire up Nathaniel Smith’s wonderful Arrhythmia, which is a masterful solo cello album you must know if you’re not familiar. As it is only cello, the natural high frequencies are rolled off compared to something with a drum kit.

If I can hear nice detail on Nat Smith’s work and not be fatigued by the highs of the Funky Knuckles joint, I’m feeling good about t…

Lone wolf

Boulder 850 Balanced Mono Power Amplifier Pair

Monoblocks. Overkill, right?

The use of conjoined-channel, “stereo” amplification is so ubiquitous, most folks look at two big separate mono amps and say “Nope!”

Nonetheless, the discovery and development of amplification began as a mono endeavor. Actually, if you think about it, the stereo amp is the strange bird.

An amplifier does one thing: it takes power from the wall, processes it, and then whips it up and down in big volt swings to represent the music signal fed into it. Amplifiers turn our wall power into music, and music is a wildly complex thing. They have a tough job.

When you consider that speakers in a room perform the task of re-blending the left and right signals in front of you, you can see what a massive role in the eventual stereo image that they play.

So, question: Would it be better to keep those signals separate until they get to the speakers?

You’re damn right it would. That’s why we have monoblocks and dual mono amp…

What’s in a shape?

QLN Signature 3 Bookshelf Speakers; Walnut Pair
One of the best hifi forum pejoratives I've seen is the term “cone-and-dome monkey coffin,” used to denigrate a standard mini monitor type of speaker design.

If you’re presently looking at a set of these, as I am, you can try to imagine an old monkey who lived a long and happy life, laid to rest by his monkey descendants and lowered into the earth entombed in an adorable, BBC-licensed, LS3/5a cabinet.

Why is a BBC monitor shaped the way it is? Why are these mini QLN monitors shaped like a trapezoid instead? Did the BBC scientists miss something that QLN did not?

I’ve noticed trending waves of unique looks, each of which seem to concern a group of companies for a period of time, all throughout the history of audio. First you had Electro Voice and the giant cabinets like the fridge-sized Patrician dominating homes. Years later, Klipsch popularized the corner horn approach, and by the end of that trend, Klipsch had some healthy compe…