As of yesterday, everything about my stereo system's sound has improved. It now sounds as if I had spent thousands on new components but I have not added or subtracted anything in the stereo. Nor have I changed any system settings or switched my musical sources. It was already sounding excellent. What, then, accounts for this new verve I hear in the music?
Instead of just the usual fiddling with my stereo and sources, I started off in a whole new direction. I’m working with room acoustics for the first time. This morning, a new audio world opens up as I listen and write. I have come to understand how much the room itself contributes to the music we play.
I'm a novice with acoustics, as many audiophiles are. I’m also a thorough skeptic but I can follow simple directions and experiment. Then I believe what I hear. I have reached an insight after the few easy steps it takes to install passive room correction, followed by a couple hours of critical listening.
Unless you correct and tune your listening room’s acoustics, you could be missing quite a lot – much of the native fidelity of your stereo and also much of the fun in being an audiophile. I did not understand this until big improvements came to my music from a few small listening room changes.
You simply cannot hear the best sound possible by continually throwing ever more money at exotic hardware and denser digital files. Conversely, if you have not tuned your room, you may have a big treat in store if you really want the most from your system.
It may not be cost effective to invest in "room correction" electronic boxes . . .
But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Yesterday morning, a package I had been eagerly awaiting arrived from Paris. Inside I found six small wooden blocks about two inches square and a half-inch thick. Four of these blocks have one spherical turquoise bead pressed into the front and a hole and a copper stud on the back. This set is a Phase Corrector.
The other two blocks have a pair of smaller turquoise beads and a tiny inverted tripod mounted on the top. See the first photo above. A pair of little metal bowls about five eights of an inch across are included. One has a copper color and the other looks silver. These bowls each have four pointed triangular fins around the rim. The bowls sit on the tripods. This set is the Resonator.
Really? Can stuff like this actually make a difference in how your music sounds? I can’t say how, just yet, but I can say it definitely improves the music and you can easily prove this for yourself. The differences these sets make are instantly and dramatically apparent and I love this part – further fiddling may squeeze out even more performance with this passive room correction kit.
I'm told this invention is far from new. It became available 12 years ago. Since then over 20,000 pieces have sold. That kind of long term success would not be possible if it did not work. Besides, you often see these little resonators at booths in audio shows where conditions are bad acoustically but exhibitors have a lot at stake. They need their systems to sound good in all circumstances and these devices save their bacon.
The wooden blocks are all marked “Acoustic System TM.” This trademark is the banner of Mr. Franck Tchang – a guitar-loving musician of Chinese origin, an audiophile, jeweler, diamond merchant, and inventor. Mr. Tchang manufactures this passive room correction system of his own design. I read about his magical inventions on 6Moons.com and was captivated by the notion of using sound energy from music playback to auto-adjust and improve acoustics in the listening room.
I also found other seriously positive web references. So I emailed Mr. Tchang about his system and a conversation began.
Instead of very expensive and complex electronic boxes that mess around with the music signal before the music is even reproduced, the passive approach to room correction uses sound physics and sound energy itself to make music more realistic as it plays. I think of it as Sound Shui, or let's say Feng Shui for sound. It seems mystical but it’s pure acoustic expertise at work.
I am using it. It really works. It makes a large improvement in the fidelity in my cottage. The cost is reasonable compared to results. I have just begun with a basic configuration but there’s more to come as I grow in skill.
I spent 2 hours carefully setting up the Acoustic System components. It was late, so when all the pieces were in place, I went to bed for the night without really listening. This morning I fired up the music before breakfast. My jaw literally dropped at the sound. It was like hearing a whole new, more expensive stereo playing higher quality digital files.
This is the stereo system under test (costing roughly $1500 plus shipping) –
iPad 3 Music Server >> Teac DS-H01 Dock/DAC >> Bravo Audio Ocean Tube Preamp >> Audioengine A5+ Powered Speakers and S8 Subwoofer
The music being played is an eclectic mix of jazz, ambient/electronic, rock, and softer vocals.
All observations are being made listening to 320 Kbps CBR Mp3s streamed from MOG.com and from Qobuz.com. These now sound every bit as good as true CD quality 16/44.1 files did before room correction.
A troublesome dry echo in my overly-hard room is almost gone. Note the tile floors and masonry walls of this cottage in the photos. I have to really try hard to create even a slight amount of that echo now. I believe music played at normal listening volume levels was acoustically overloading this room before correction. Too much sound in too small a space that is too hard causes blurring and distortions.
Generally, the overall sound resolution, musicality, and fidelity are much greater. It not only sounds like I'm listening to thicker files on a more expensive, higher-end stereo. The music is just more like real performances. Good live recordings are astounding. Gifted voices sound like the singer is in the room.
Lower volume settings generate more audible sonic energy in my room yet the sonic overload is gone. I can comfortably listen at higher volume levels. The music is more directional, coming more from the speaker area rather than filling the whole room.
Soundstage is both deeper and wider with more space. There is better separation between instruments. Each instrument now stands alone. For the first time I hear some instruments “appearing” outside the area between the speakers. Eerie at first but great once I got used to it.
Highs, midrange, and especially bass are all more articulate and clear. Attack and decay are easier to discern and more vivid. Subtle tonalities are more apparent. Each instrument’s sonic signature is true to type. Individual sound sources in the recording are each more timbrally rich and accurate.
Instruments that are difficult to resolve correctly now sound more as they should – piano, vibes, French horns, saxes, cymbals, etc., each have their own rich voices. Percussion is especially improved. With cymbals, vibes, and piano, there's no more smeared fuzz to confuse the ear.
I feel no sense of fatigue after hours of listening. None of the usual criticisms of digitally sourced music apply. It does not sound etched, cold, grainy, harsh or any of that stuff. It sounds neutral, transparent, clear, energized, and uncolored.
The bottom line -- the net effect of passive room correction is an overall increase in the drama and emotion the music conveys. That's a significant payoff for manageable cost and small effort. Wherever your system sits on the performance curve you could make worthwhile gains easily by correcting your room. You don’t need more electronics to get this done.
My mind is racing with more experiments to try but I really want to get this post on the blog before it gets too long. I will follow up with more results from changes like removing the tube buffer and playing with the special organization of the acoustic components.
What will 16/44.1 Flac files sound like? How about 24 bit files? What happens when I start adjusting the blocks' positions and orientation? How much different will it sound with some run-in hours? What other kits and parts are available. . .
For now, I’ll close saying I feel privileged to bring this information to you.