Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This Hobby is Getting out of Hand

Reading the story of a guy who started loving Magnepan 3.6s and Martin Logans, and then discovered Apogee's, now his favorite of all.  And just a few years into his Apogee kick, he has a whole "forest" of Apogee's, and remarks... "Man, this hobby is getting out of hand."

Back at the AcoustatAnswerMan thread at DIYAudio, poster Kouiky writes incredibly dense, condescending and essentially content free prose relying on marketing buzzwords and inuendo about how Acoustat lovers are fooling themselves into believing Acoustats are the best speakers ever.  Sound Labs are the real deal he claims, but while criticizing others for fantasy he also hardly backs his claims up with any evidence, just rationales.  Blowhard!

This kicks off a certain amount of somewhat less content free arguments (though, from what I've read so far, no one except for me is really explaining why a 'flat' line source speaker like the 1+1 is so wonderful, then I get to my comments on page 106 where I don't do such a good job either).  The bottom line is that flat gives you choices, curved does not, if the speaker is curved what's the point of angling it?

Of course the big thing is price, I got my 1+1's for $600 plus $300 shipping, and a pair of Sound Lab Ultimate 1's go for $45,000, that's 50 times more money and approaching the appraised value of my home a few years ago.  (Since then, to be fair, I've spent another $1000 or so on Acoustat replacement parts, and my home is now appraised at $70,000.)

[Oh, there are cheaper models?  How can I again live with a small speaker shouting up at me from the floor?  I've gotten used to tall towers making waves throughout my little cottage.]

I'm perfectly open to believing the Sound Labs might be better based on reputation and the fact the company is still a going concern continuing to do R&D.  Though I should mention that several of the very experienced audiophiles I know think the Sound Labs aren't very good and the good ole Acoustats are probably better.  But they could be very wrong--by all accounts Sound Labs have gotten better and better and what I consider the best Acoustat product, the 1+1*, hasn't been made in a long time and even then was only created by combining panels that had been designed in the 1960's and 1970's.  I myself haven't heard Sound Labs at least since 1979 when I saw them at a store and I'm not sure I even heard them then, but they looked nice.  It's ultimately true that everything is a compromise, and anyone might like this or that better for unpredictable reasons.  So behind the curtain, some chose the Acoustats, and others would choose the Soundlabs.  Even technically there is some issue with using lots and lots of small electrostats in a big curved frame, as compared to big panels.  Little panels are indeed more subject to things like comb filtering.  Now, I am not saying Sound Labs hasn't solved this problem well enough for most people, and quite possibly me too.  But there might be some who like the other approach.

(*I can't say I've systematically heard all the others.  I only heard 2's and 3's once, and that's it.  But many people who have heard them all, such as Mr. Acoustat and E-Stat, have also settled on the 1+1 as the best model as well as something essentially unique in audio: a 1-way narrow and flat and tall line-source speaker.)

I used to believe I had to have 1+1's instead of anything similar (even Magnepans) for several reasons, one being I have such a small room the speakers need to be narrow (and also to provide viewing area for the TV for my parties).  Now I hope to have projection screen TV system soon, so then I could have significantly wider speakers, but it might still be hard to fit in the biggest Soundlabs, even if I had the money with no other pressing needs.

Poster E-Stat (who can also be seen at other blogs) seconds the notion that Sound Labs are better, but emphasizes the incredible value of the Acoustats...he still has 1+1's in his garage system.

E-Stat (possibly in another website I saw today) tells a microscopically short story of being at HP's house: three incredibly transparent systems.  Will we ever see pictures?  Apparently not that kind of transparent.

One point that is made in the Sound Lab vs Acoustat argument is how the Acoustat has quite an enormous resonance in the bass.  But it turns out that virtually all dipolar speakers do this going back the Peter Walker's Quad ESL 57's.  This is how they overcome the natural bass cancellation that a dipole would otherwise see.  WRT Sound Lab, in the 1980's John Atkinson remarked about the very large bass resonance they had.  Kouiky snorts that since then things have changed, Sound Lab now uses 'distributed resonance' (which he does not define).

The alternative to having a bass resonance is an electronic correction--which is precisely what Linkwitz does with his dipole speakers.  Along with Linkwitz most expensive designs like Orion, you must use a very complex electronic equalizer/crossover and multiple amplifiers.

I've always thought of Linkwitz as the greatest, but when I last heard a friends pair of Linkwitz latest top shelf design...the one that replaced Orion...I thought it was outstanding for a dynamic speaker system, and possibly slightly better than my 1+1's in immediate transparency, dynamics, and good soundingness (though I have equalized my Acoustats to sound equally good by adding in the 'Linkwitz dip')...but not enough so for me to bother with it and concurrently lose the Acoustat advantage in utility in my current nearly near-field 'electrostatic headphones' listening configuration.  I wasn't blown away, though possibly a better configured Linkwitz system would do so (better room, better source--it was a chromecast, and better electronics).  If I were to go to a better electrostatic system--assuming there is one--I'd want to be blown away by it, not just a small step up but a transformation.  And I think a tall line source makes a better 'whole house' system for background music and parties.

One very well heeled audiophile I knew in 1980 who could buy anything he wanted thought nothing had better bass than Acoustats, so he used Model 3's and 4's together as the substitute woofer for his Hill Plasmatronics.  He also had Magnepans but didn't think they're bass was nearly as good.

Anyway, some of my testing in the past couple weeks has been running the Acoustats full range (to see if that would make the amplifier shut down quicker--couldn't tell) and I was shocked, shocked at how good the bass sounded.  I've been equalizing and measuring and re-equalizing over and over since 2009 and still not attained the amazing bass clarity of the Acoustats in my room down to at least 40 Hz with no room equalization at all!  My thinking has run along the lines of snapping up two pairs of the now easily attainable 2+2's to use as subwoofers which would take no more floorspace than my two monsterous SVS PB13 Plus Ultras.  But the SVS are also useful tables in my small room, and I think the sub+electrostat matching thing is a great challenge.

In that other blog somewhere I read that yes, the Acoustats and most other dipoles have large bass resonances.  However, they don't excite the room in more than one direction, thereby avoiding all the room modes associated with the two other directions, which is in most cases FAR more important than the bass resonances in the speaker itself.  I concur and this is the essential part.  This is when the questions about HP's listening room came up because E-Stat said he was there hearing the Sound Labs and said the room was fairly small, but others said the room was supposed to be 25 feet long which eliminates much of the room mode problems.

BTW, here is the page which shows a pretty good guess about Roy Esposito's Air Mod.

From the description of what it does I'm not sure I'm interested, but I'm thinking some similar kind of re-working could deal with the problem I experience (the 100 Hz boom and the 120-200 Hz suckout) and if I could deal with it there it would be better than electronic, because it's a huge waste or impossible to fix a suckout with EQ.

Anyway, back to content free reviewing, the review of the Acoustat 2+2's in 1986 in The Absolute Sound by William T. Semple comes close to that (though, the Manufacturer's reply wasn't any better).  And much of what Semple does say is way out wrong, or just twisted to make it sound worse than it is, such as this, which strangely appears among the list of the speaker's strengths:

"JN wrote that the Acoustat was 'relatively neutral', a sort of backhanded compliment, which is, in fact, equivalent to calling the speaker colored."
Funny I don't recall seeing Mr. Semple reporting in any other issues of The Absolute Sound, and he writes a lot like HP.

But there are a few bits of truth.  The Acoustats are not seemingly as transparent as some speakers somehow, and they don't have the most extended high end.  Andy Szavo says if you find inadequate highs you can adjust the control.  But sadly the HF control doesn't increase the extension of the highs, it merely increases the volume of the highs (update: in the C mod, it may actually increase the extension a tiny bit, but it is already at diminishing returns, and making the adjustment requires messing inside the interface box not just turning a knob...I have never done it myself)  and I can report to you that the volume of highs from the Acoustat 1+1 is not only sufficient, it is slightly excessive, especially on the beam.  Only about 10 degrees off the beam is the quantity of highs not in excess, and that (circa 10-15 degrees off the beam) is precisely where to sit, because most of the alleged problems, such as head-in-a-vice beaminess, go away there.  At 10-15 degrees off axis, you can move around a bit without changing the balance.  And then you also have the opportunity to add a omnidirectional ribbon tweeter, as I have, which is pure magic, and adds back every quality the Acoustats were supposedly missing.

But I think the Acoustats are nevertheless sufficiently transparent to be moreso that 95% of all speakers, including about 95% of high priced (over $10,000) speakers.  Only a select few, such as Quad 988's, and Maggies that have ribbons, are more transparent.  Cones and Horns can forget it with very few exceptions (such as Yg).

And the way to deal with the tiny lack of high extension, is to add a super tweeter, which is not a curse it's an opportunity.  Of course dealers and manufacturers want you to believe your $2400 speakers are all you will ever need.  But if you are a real enthusiast, you will never believe anything like that about anything, and will add some kind of super tweeter, be it ribbon, plasma, or a specially made electrostatic.  As I usually do (right now I'm running the Acoustats w/o supertweeter because everything is a mess because of testing, and I can't actually say I'm missing much).

The slightly imprecise imaging of the 1+1's is actually The Absolute Imaging you will find in concert halls.  The pinpoint imaging of speakers with tiny tweeters is not at all like the real thing.

It is so unusual to have a full range speaker that radiates full range from most of the front.  When you walk up to it, it doesn't get 'closer' like speakers with tiny tweeters.  That makes you think it's less transparent, has less highs, etc.  But again, let me tell you, when you walk forward a few feet in a concert hall nothing much changes either.  So once again the Acoustat presentation is actually surprisingly like the real thing.

I have got to dig up the actual TAS review of the 1+1's, which Semple reports is in the Summer 85 issue.  Thanks him for that bit of info.  Semple makes that sound like a much more positive review, though they had not apparently heard the "C" mod.  Then Semple goes out of his way to actually put down that earlier review, comparing it to something that Julian Hirsch might write.  (That sounds a lot like Harry's writing to me.)

It wouldn't surprise me if Strickland had not kissed HP's butt.  They had a fundamentally different view of where audio was going and should go, with Strickland more sympathetic to the relatively (here we go again) affordable, and HP siding more with the no limits side.  And Strickland more (but not entirely) on the audio objectivist side, along with his friend David Hafler (who was not getting very much attention in the pages of TAS at all).

Problem was, however, electrostatic dipole speakers are not intuitive to most people, and they are much more dependent on proper setup (as in, you get nothing until you get there) than most speakers (which can be fairly good even without the intensive setup).  So Strickland needs high end audio dealers, but the dealers are siding with the more and more easily profitable 'no limits' audio, the kind that lets then get by selling 5 $50,000 speakrs instead of 125 $2000 speakers.  The rest of audio retailing sinks to the Best Buy model which demands easy price-based sales with no support needed.

HP's destruction of Vendetta Research was soon to follow.

Now though I've never seriously considered buying the $50,000 speakers, you can blame me for part of this.  Despite what I'm saying above, I've always enjoyed reading HP and the other high end magazines.  I've been a long time subscriber.  It doesn't bother me so much I'm reading about the unaffordible.  It's like reading a gossip column.  And eventually, things I never imagined having, things such as the Krell FPB 300, became available to me.

But then you could say for me the magazines weren't serving the dealer trade--as I imagine their primary purpose, and I remember when TAS and Stereophile blew past their original concepts and started publishing advertising.  At first and for some time, it was only Dealer advertising.

No, for me the magazines are serving as a gateway to the endless amount of re-cycled audio.  So they really are the 'racing forms.'

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