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M U S I C A L F I D E L I T Y A 3 0 8 P R E A M P L I F I E R A N D P OW E R A M P L I F I E R

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Robert Harley checks out a pair of separates from one of England's most respected brands.

T L 7 . 5 : V T L' S G R O U N D B R E A K I N G L I N E S TA G E A N D C O N T R O L C E N T E R 113

Senior reviewer Art Pfeffer on VTL's first flagship linestage in over a decade-- a two-chassis beauty that refashions the role of the audio preamp.

T H E C U T T I N G E D G E : A C O U S T I C R O O M S Y S T E M S R O O M T R E AT M E N T 119

While equipment may be more fun, room acoustics are just as important to the sound of our systems. Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley's room gets a full makeover from a brand new company.

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music

2 0 0 2 M U S I C G O L D E N E A R AWA R D S

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For 2002's Golden Ear Music Awards, each music writer, giving equal consideration to musical and sonic merits, chose three of his favorite records released between October 2001 and 2002. We invite you to use these as a guide to some of the year's finest.

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Tom Petty: The Last DJ The Soft Boys: Nextdoorland Beck: Sea Change Bright Eyes: Lifted & Rilo Kiley: Execution of All Things Neko Case: Blacklisted & Alice Peacock: Alice Peacock Jurassic 5: Power In Numbers N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton & Living Colour: Vivid The Flaming Lips and The Replacements: Reissued and Remastered

CLASSICAL: CAPSULES 165

Renée Fleming: Bel Canto Bach: Goldberg Variations (Glenn Gould) Vermeulen: Symphonies No. 2, 6, and 7 The Major Film Scores of Summer/Fall 2002: Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones; Minority Report; Road to Perdition; Simone; Signs

JA Z Z F E AT U R E RECORDING OF THE ISSUE Sarah JA Z Z C A P S 168

Vaughan: The Complete Roulette Sarah Vaughan Studio Sessions

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Anthony Braxton: 8 Standards Mario Pavone: Mythos Arthur Blythe: Focus Branford Marsalis: Footsteps of Our Fathers Bill Evans: Consecration: The Final Recordings, Part 2

N E W F O R M AT S : S A C D 174

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra. The Miraculous Mandarin

finale

W H E R E TO B U Y T H E A B S O L U T E S O U N D AD INDEX 175 173

TA S R E T R O S P E C T I V E : THE MAN WHO MADE A PIANO APPEAR IN HIS LIVING ROOM

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In the debut of a new column, Jonathan Valin reflects on his most memorable hi-fi experience.

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ur Golden Ear Awards are traditionally given to products that our review staff has lived with over an extended period of time-- a recognition of the tried and true. And while this year's awards encompass many such components, it also contains exciting new gear that we've reviewed over the course of the past year, including in the pages of this very issue. Although one may question the relative importance of high-end audio in times of international unrest and a sluggish economy, the reason that the high end exists in the first place--a love of music is arguably more important now than ever. It's also worth noting that, despite the state of the world, audio's state-of-the-art marches on. There is a remarkable level of high-quality components out there, and the passion that our writers bring to their subjects--be it a $200 factory-produced phono cartridge or a $25,000 hand-built record player-- reflects the enthusiasm we share for the worthy manufacturers included in this year's Golden Ear Awards.

Winners At-A-Glance Anthony H. Cordesman Theta Citadel Amplifiers Lexicon MC-12B Controller Polk LSi-15 Loudspeakers Anna Logg H-CAT Model P12 Preamplifier Van Alstine OmegaStar Digital-to-Analog Converter Dan Davis Wyetech Opal Linestage Ayon Reference 52B Monoblock Amplifiers Paul Seydor Audio Physic Minos Subwoofer Musical Surroundings' Phonomena Phono Preamp Ortofon OM20, OM30 & Kontrapunct B Cartridges Scot Markwell AtmaSphere M 60 Mk II.2 Amplifiers Atma-Sphere MP-1 Mk II Preamplifier Jonathan Valin Kharma Reference Monitor 3.2 Loudspeaker Walker Proscenium Gold Signature Record Player Tenor 75Wp OTL Monoblock Amplifiers Neil Gader Plinius 8200 Mk 2 Integrated Amplifier Nordost Valhalla Speaker Cable Nordost Valhalla Interconnects Shane Buettner Vandersteen 3A Signature/2Wq Speaker System Theta Dreadnaught Power Amplifier Arcam FMJ DV27 DVD Player Wayne Garcia Balanced Audio Technology VK-300X Integrated Amp MartinLogan Descent Subwoofer Naim Nait 5 Integrated Amplifier Robert E. Greene Harman DOD 231QX EQ Device Ocellia Tilia Loudspeaker Bryston 14B SST Amplifier Robert Harley Musical Fidelity A308 Preamplifier & A308 Amplifier Acoustic Room Systems Room Treatment Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Loudspeaker Arthur S. Pfeffer VTL TL 7.5 Linestage

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2002 Golden Ear Awards

Anthony H. Cordesman

· Theta Citadel Amplifiers: $15,800/pair · Lexicon MC-12B Processor: $9,995 · Polk LSi-15 Loudspeaker: $1,700/each

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t's hard to be a great amplifier in a world of so many good ones. The Theta Citadel [review, Issue 138] achieves greatness even by today's demanding standards. Superb dynamics and dynamic contrasts at every level. Remarkable transparency and extended highs without any element of hardness or the touch of over-etched highs common with even some of the best transistor amplifiers. Extended, well-defined, and deeply powerful bass. Much in common with the best, most neutral tube amplifiers but with the ability to control the woofer and define the bass that only the best transistor amps can provide. A pleasure to listen to! The Lexicon MC-12B Controller, too, is in a highly competitive field, and a few of its top competitors may be a bit more transparent. Meridian, in particular, poses a major challenge with the first true state-of-the art processor with a direct digital link to a DVD-A deck. The Lexicon MC-12B, however, offers excellent six-channel analog input performance and features equally excellent reproduction of DTS and Dolby surround music, very good CD performance, and upgradability to direct DVD-A and SACD inputs if the industry ever agrees on a standard. It also offers a superb and musical-

ly realistic range of set-up and processing features, making it one of the best surround music controllers available, as well as a superb home-theater product. The stereo-bypass features makes sure you can handle all the complex balancing and adjustment problems necessary to perfect mix and balance surround-sound music recordings and still get excellent stereo. The Polk LSi-15 loudspeaker was also another really hard call. I'd choose the Piega C-40 for the most innovative, state-of-the-art ribbon hybrid I've seen in years, the Dynaudio Craft for the best bargain speaker at the vast sum of $42.50, or the Legacy Whisper for the most innovative advance in soundstage. But the Polk LSi-15 [review, Issue 135] gets this year's nod for a moderately priced speaker whose innovative ring tweeter and overall sound quality are a real breakthrough in affordable high-end productds. Upper octaves and midrange are outstanding in comparison with many speakers costing more than twice as much, and the bass is very good. I have found the LSi-15 to work equally well in stereo and surround setups, and to reveal an amazing amount of musical detail without becoming fatiguing, putting an edge to the highs, or altering the character of the midrange. Remember the days when the high end was still affordable enough to be fun? Well, they are still here!

Theta Citadel

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Robert Harley

Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Loudspeaker

· Musical Fidelity A308 Preamplifier & A308 Power Amplifier: $3,795 each · Acoustic Room Systems Room Treatment: price varies with room · Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Loudspeaker: $11,700

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usical Fidelity's new A308 preamplifier and A308 power amplifier deliver an extremely high level of sonic performance for their price. Both are built like tanks (the preamp weighs more than 40 pounds), use high-quality parts (WBT jacks and posts, for example), and represent an amazing value. The A308 preamp's most salient characteristic is its extremely clean treble and ability to resolve treble detail without sounding bright, forward, or etched. So many products make the tradeoff between resolution and smoothness; they either give up some detail to sound musical, or sacrifice some smoothness to gain resolving power. With the A308, treble resolution and a musical, unfatiguing presentation aren't mutually exclusive. The A308 preamplifier is also adept at preserving accurate tonal color by virtue of its low coloration and transparency. All preamps have some coloration that overlays instrumental textures with a common signature; the A308 simply has less of this editorial effect than many preamps at twice the price. The matching A308 power amplifier (250Wpc) has plenty of power to drive virtually any loudspeaker, and has a sense of authority and control in the bottom end. The power amplifier excels at preserving the textures of individual instruments, rather than allowing them to blend into a synthetic sameness. The midband is a bit warm, and the treble a bit on the forward side in absolute terms, but this doesn't detract from the A308's engaging musicality. The build quality and fit and finish are extraordinary for the money. [Review, this issue.] If you're ready for the ultimate step-up in sound quality, there's no sub-

stitute for having first-rate acoustics in your listening room. Even good-sounding rooms like mine (which I designed) treated with freestanding acousticaltreatment products cannot match the performance of an acoustician-designed, professional-level acoustical treatment package. That was my conclusion after having Acoustic Room Systems (ARS) install its system in my room. The sonic improvements went far beyond any component upgrade; there was a wholesale change in the sound that dwarfed equipment changes. Specifically, the ARS system removed midbass bloat, which conferred several advantages. First, bass articulation was vastly improved, both tonally and dynamically. Even on familiar recordings, I heard nuances in bass playing that had before been smeared and colored by the listening room. Music had more bounce and rhythmic drive when I could hear the bass' dynamic envelope. Second, cleaning up the midbass allowed the extreme bottom end to become more apparent. Third, midrange clarity increased simply by reducing colorations in the register just below it. The ARS system also had a profound effect on the spatial aspects of music. The soundstage was significantly deeper, wider, and much more delineated. I could more easily hear the spatial relationships between instruments because the images were more focused, compact, and had a sense of air and bloom around them. Unlike most acoustic-treatment products, the ARS system actually enhances the room's appearance. In my experience as a reviewer, the ARS package rendered the single most significant improvement to my system. [Review, this issue.] I'd never really warmed up to Wilson Audio loudspeakers, perhaps because I had such limited experience with them. The mid-priced (for Wilson, anyway) Sophia at $11,700 per pair is the first I've lived with, and it

was worth the wait. This relatively compact loudspeaker sounds much bigger than its size would indicate, going lower in the bass than many larger systems, throwing a wider and deeper soundstage, and possessing the wide dynamic contrasts one associates with much bigger multidriver arrays. Although I generally prefer the tighter bass and superior articulation of sealed enclosures to ported ones, the Sophia's bass quality didn't call attention to its ported design. The bass is so extended and dynamic that a visiting experienced listener mistakenly thought the massive Wilson Watch Dog subwoofer ($10,000) sitting in my room was connected. Despite the bass heft and weight, the tonal balance is very slightly tilted toward the treble. The Sophia excels at resolving transient detail and music's dynamic structure. There is a suddenness to transient attacks, and lack of overhang in decays, that goes a long way to conveying the sense of life we hear in live music. Quick and clean are descriptions that come to mind. Although the Sophia doesn't have the huge soundstaging and pinpoint imaging of the Avalon Eidolon (but what does?), it nonetheless presented a credible sense of depth and resolution of spatial detail. Finally, the Sophia's build and finish quality are extraordinary; the loudspeaker is available in a variety of genuine Ferrari paints.

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Arthus S. Pfeffer

· VTL TL7.5 Linestage: $10,000

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lending traditional tube virtues with digital technology, VTL's new upscale linestage [review this issue] delivers luscious state-of-the-art twochannel sound plus home-theater audio management. A tube-solid-state hybrid, a first for VTL, the handsome, massively constructed 7.5 ingeniously restricts all switching, control, and display functions to a separate power-supply chassis, guaranteeing a short, uncontaminated signal path in the "clean" audio chassis. Quiet relays and resistors stand in for noisy rotary pots, and software replaces

switches. The result is exceptional neutrality and purity, imaging precision, and dynamic freedom--gain without pain. Harmonic texture is relaxed and ingratiating, top-to-bottom consistency striking. The unconventional two-chassis engineering results in tube-like sweetness, effortless dynamics, and a brightly illuminated soundstage. The 7.5 has the subtlety to handle chamber music and the dynamic clout for heavy rock and heavy Wagner. Superb speech and soundtrack reproduction for home theater. The 7.5 mates superlatively with VTL's own MB 1250 and MB 750 amps but, with its very low output

impedance, easily drives virtually any other amp as well. Myriad features include a dedicated power supply for each fully differential gain stage, trigger AC control of connected components, remote balance control and input selection, input volume offsets, signal polarity reversal, fully balanced operation, dual-mono circuit design, and a receptor for AMX, Crestron, and other control systems. Programming and setup are a little tricky and require attention to the manual, but normal operation is fairly straightforward. The 7.5 is destined to become a classic luxury preamp for very serious music lovers.

G O L D E N E A R AWA R D S M A N U FA C T U R E R / D I S T R I B U T O R I N F O R M AT I O N

Acoustic Room Systems Room Treatment Acoustic Room Systems Phone: (541) 942-7668 www.acousticroomsystems.com Arcam FMJ DV27 DVD Player Audiophile Systems Phone: (317) 849-5880 www.aslgroup.com Atma-Sphere M 60 Mk II.2 & MP-1 Mk II Atma-Sphere Music Systems Phone: (651) 690-2246 www.atma-sphere.com Audio Physic Minos Subwoofer Immedia Phone: (510) 559-2050 www.immediasound.com Ayon Reference 52B Amplifier Acoustic Dreams Phone: (618) 847-7813 www.acousticdreams.net Balanced Audio Technology VK-300x Integrated Amplifier Balanced Audio Technology Phone: (302) 999-8855 www.balanced.com Br yston 14B sst Amplifier Bryston Ltd. Phone: (705) 242-5325 www.bryston.ca Harman DOD 231QX EQ Device DOD (Division of Harman International) Phone: (801) 566-8860 www.dod.com H-CAT Model P12 Preamplifier North American Products, Inc. Phone: (732) 739-0909 www.h-cat.com Kharma Reference Monitor Loudspeaker GTT Audio Phone: (908) 850-3092 www.kharma.com Lexicon MC-12B Processor Lexicon Phone: (781) 280-0300 www.lexicon.com Mar tinLogan Descent Subwoofer MartinLogan Phone: (785) 749-0133 www.martinlogan.com Musical Fidelity A308 Preamplifier & A308 Power Amplifier Kevro International Phone: (905) 428-2800 www.kevro.com Naim Nait 5 Integrated Amplifier Naim Audio North America Phone: (773) 338-6262 www.naimusa.com Nordost Valhalla Speaker Cables & Interconnects Nordost Phone: (508) 881-1116 www.nordostflatline.com Ocellia Tilia Loudspeakers Apex Phone: (415) 382-8077 www.2000apex.com Or tofon OM20, OM30, Kontrapunct B Ortofon, Inc. Phone: (631) 979-5828 www.ortofon.com Phonomena Phono Preamplifier Musical Surroundings, Inc. Phone: (510) 420-0379 www.musicalsurroundings.com Plinius 8200 Mk 2 Integrated Amplifier Advanced Audio Technologies Phone: (716) 741-6063 www.pliniusaudio.com Polk LSi-15 Loudspeaker Polk Audio Phone: (410) 764-5201 www.polkaudio.com Tenor 75Wp Amplifier Tenor Audio Phone: (514) 938-5556 www.tenoraudio.com Theta Citadel Amplifier Theta Dreadnaught Power Amplifier Theta Digital Corporation Phone: (818) 597-9195 www.thetadigital.com Van Alstine OmegaStar DAC Audio by Van Alstine, Inc. Phone: (952) 890-3517 www.avahifi.com Vandersteen 3A Signature/ 2Wq Speaker System Vandersteen Audio Phone: (559) 582-0324 www.vandersteen.com VTL TL7.5 Linestage Preamp Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL), Inc. Phone: (909) 627-5944 www.vtl.com Walker Proscenium Gold Signature Record Player Walker Audio Phone: (610) 666-6087 www.walkeraudio.com Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Loudspeaker Wilson Audio Specialties Phone: (801) 377-2233 www.wilsonaudio.com Wyetech Opal Linestage Preamp Wyetech Phone: (613) 526-5390 www.wyetechlabs.com

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Acoustic Room Systems (ARS) Room Treatment

Robert Harley

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've long been surprised by the relatively scant attention given by the high-end audio community to room acoustics. We upgrade components and tweak our systems while often ignoring the massive effect our listening rooms have on the quality of the reproduced sound. The room in which music is reproduced exerts a profound effect on the sound. An extreme example is how poor first-rate equipment often sounds in hotel-room demonstrations. Even in larger rooms that have been semi-treated, the sound is distorted by several mechanisms. The room's size and ratios of length to width to height determine the severity of bass peaks and dips, and their frequencies. The room acts as an equalizer, and can introduce frequency-response aberrations as great as +/-15dB. Acoustic reflections (particularly first-order reflections from the sidewalls) can color the tonal balance, degrade imaging, and shrink the soundstage. Energy stored by the room can smear transient detail and reduce articulation. I've had more than a passing interest in acoustics; I studied the subject to design my first recording studio 20 years ago. I've nearly always had a purpose-built, dedicated listening room during my 13 years as a full-time equipment reviewer. These rooms have had good dimensional ratios, solid construction, and freestanding acoustic treatments. I'd been in my current room for five years when Acoustic Room Systems (ARS) approached me with an offer to install its acoustic-treatment package. I'd been extremely happy with the sound in my room, as had many designers who have set up equipment here (including Richard Vandersteen, Arnie Nudell of Genesis, Kevin Voecks of Revel, Neil Patel of Avalon, Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio, Keith Johnson and Rick Fryer of Spectral). Still, I was curious what the ARS package could do for my room, which had optimum dimensional ratios and extensive treatment with Tube Traps. Founded in 2001 as a spin-off from fiberglass giant Owens-Corning, ARS specializes in designing and installing acoustic treatments in highend music and theater rooms. Owens-Corning is reported to have one of the most advanced acoustics laboratories in the world; it developed the fundamental technologies on which the ARS treatment is based. ARS works in association with A/V RoomService, an acoustic-design firm that also has its roots at Owens-Corning. A/V Room Service performs the computer-based acoustic modeling of your room, specifies the location of the acoustic panels, and as an option, will come during the installation to acoustically measure your room, compare it with the model, and make onsite adjustments. (Fig. 1 is the reverberation-time model.) I had several concerns about letting ARS treat my room. First, it's been my experience that most acoustic-treatment packages include far too much absorption, deadening the room and killing dynamics. You can spot such a room instantly by the eerie feeling you get seconds after walking inside. (Anyone who's been in an anechoic chamber can tell you it's not a pleasant experience.) Second, I was skeptical that the thin ARS panels could absorb low frequencies. In my experience, low-frequency absorption

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tic with a convoluted surface to scatter sound back into the room in a semi-hemisphere. (The diffusers are the shiny areas on the rear wall and ceiling in the third photo, previous page.) Every square foot of wall and ceiling is covered by a panel or diffuser. After a fabric retainer (the framework most easily visible in the first photo) has been mounted to the walls and ceiling, the panels are Fig. 1: Reverberation-time model (shaded blue background) attached to the walls. Fabric is then stretched requires thick materials or deep strucbetween, and tucked into, the retainer to tures (quarter-wavelength bass traps, create a seamless appearance that compolycylindrical diffusers, perforatedpletely hides the acoustic treatments panel absorbers, etc.). Third, the instalbeneath. Indeed, my room looked nicer lation would be semi-permanent; after the installation. removing the system would entail refinFor an additional fee, acoustician ishing the interior walls. Fourth, my Norm Varney will voice the room after room sounded quite good as it was. the panels and diffusers have been After allaying these concerns, ARS mounted, but before the fabric is and A/V RoomService went to work. installed. (A/V RoomService is a subNorm Varney of A/V RoomService contractor to ARS; its design and modasked me for a detailed layout of my eling fee is included in the ARS packroom, a description of the construction age, but not its on-site measurement and and furnishings, and my music-listening voicing.) My components and loudhabits. From that information, his comspeakers were put back in place. Varney puter model produced a map that identhen measured the room and compared tified the optimum orientation of the the on-site test results to the computer ARS panels and diffusers, and the best model.1 He also listens to the system playing reference music recordings, and loudspeaker and listener positions. may suggest flipping some panels to The ARS panels are 1.25-inch thick reverse their absorptive/reflective charfiberglass with thin sheetrock on one acteristics. After this process is comside. With the fiberglass facing the plete, the electronics and loudspeakers room, the panel is absorptive above are again moved from the room so the 300Hz. With the sheetrock facing the installer has room to work with the fabroom, the panel is reflective above about ric. (My installation took five days.) 300Hz, while simultaneously acting as a The majority of ARS installations diaphragmatic absorber from about are in new construction, which doesn't 100Hz­300Hz. (With diaphragmatic provide the opportunity for "before and absorbers, sound striking the panel causafter" listening or measurement compares it to flex, converting acoustic energy isons. Fortunately, I have five years' of into mechanical energy, dissipated as a critical-listening experience in the room minute amount of heat.) Although the through a variety of loudspeakers amount of diaphragmatic absorption at (including the Genesis 200, Avalon low frequencies is small, the large surOpus and Eidolon, Revel Gem and face area has a cumulative effect. A secStudio, Aerial 7B, Vandersteen Model 5, ond, diffusive element is the same thickand Wilson Sophia). This allowed me to ness as the panel, but molded from plas1 The on-site measurement normally includes at least 21 tests. Among them are: reverberation time, noise criteria (an indication of the room's background noise), laser alignment of loudspeakers, Speech Transmission Index (STI), Music Articulation Test Tone (MATT), in-room frequency response, and complete electro-acoustic calibration.

perform direct comparisons with and without the ARS installation.

Listening Impressions

Comparing the identical system before and after treatment, I was taken aback by the wholesale change in the sound. The best general description I can give is that the sound was more precise in every way: bass definition, dynamic articulation, spatial resolution, and tone color. The overall impression of control and clarity was startling. This global view was fostered by the various specific sonic attributes improved by the ARS system. First, the character of the bass was substantially improved, with less mid-bass energy and more apparent low bass. The impression of deeper low bass is no doubt the result of less smear and bloat in the bass and midbass, which had previously masked the lowermost notes. (I noticed a similar phenomenon when experimenting with the TacT RCS 2.0 room-correction system several years ago.) The reduction in midbass heaviness conferred a large increase not only in accuracy of tone color (as would be expected), but also in bass dynamics and sense of rhythmic drive. The attacks and decays of bass notes were startlingly clear. In fact, listening to familiar jazz recordings revealed a wealth of detail in the bass I hadn't heard before. The most striking example was a jazz-quintet recording I'd engineered (mostly tube mikes, live to two-track). With the ARS system, I heard a whole layer of nuance and expression in bassist Isla Eckinger's playing that had been smeared and obscured by room colorations--and this was a recording I know intimately. Another good example is Victor Wooten's electric bass playing on Bela Fleck's albums. His bass goes extremely low, has very wide dynamics, and his playing is infused with interesting flourishes and inventive melodic excursions. Listening in the treated room, with its greater tonal and dynamic resolution in the bass, I gained a renewed appreciation of his artistry. In addition to hearing more bass detail, I found the music lighter, freer, and more agile, which contributed to an impression of rhythmic drive and energy. The music was more interesting and compelling when I could hear more of what the musicians were doing.

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midbass weight and an apparent increase in power in the lowermost octaves. The midrange and treble balances were identical, which I took as a good sign. The ARS's effect on the soundstage was as profound as the improvement in the bass from a sonic perspective, but less important musically (to me). The soundstage snapped into tight focus, with much clearer image outlines and the space that separates them. Instruments became more compact, which heightened the feeling of bloom and air around them. Soundstage depth increased, Fig.2 (top): MATT test before (red trace) and after (blue trace) with depth reproduced ARS installation along a continuum Fig.3. Measured reverberation time vs. frequency after rather than in discrete ARS installation layers. In addition, my room has always had a The sound of double-basses in slight soundstage asymmetry, with the orchestral recordings was similarly right channel not extending as far improved, with less thickness and beyond the right loudspeaker boundary greater dynamic articulation. For examas the left. The ARS system fixed this ple, the basses on Keith Johnson's specanomaly. The overall result of this pretacular recording of The Rite of Spring cision in resolving spatial information [Reference Recordings RR-70CD] had was a greatly improved rendering of the a sense of punctuation and dynamic physical relationships between musiattack that contributed to this piece's cians, and between the musicians and primal urgency. the recorded acoustic. It was as though The reduction in midbass thickness instruments and voices existed in space, and bloat also produced a significant separate from the acoustic, rather than increase in midrange clarity. Vocals being woven from a single fabric. seemed to become free from the speakers, Finally, the ARS heightened music's unfettered by the heaviness we have transient nature, both on a small scale become so used to in recorded music. This and a large scale. Low-level transient impression of vocals and solo instruments information was quicker and cleaner, seemingly becoming detached from the which made it seem more prominent in loudspeakers had nothing to do with loudthe overall presentation. Large-scale speaker colorations, but was created by dynamics were affected to a greater reducing the room's tonal distortions. degree, with seemingly louder peaks, Attenuating these frequency-response deeper silences, and quicker decays. aberrations was like taking off VaselineSounds seemed to start and stop more coated glasses; I could suddenly hear exactsuddenly. Consequently, music's dynamly what the loudspeaker designer intendic structure--which contains so much of ed, and consequently, what the musicians the expression--was better resolved, had created. creating a greater sense of immersion in Significantly, I heard no change in the the musical performance. tonal balance, other than the reduction in Added together, the ARS system's

specific sonic attributes took my system's sonic performance to a new level, and with it, my ability to become more deeply connected to the musical expression.

Measured Performance

One of the advantages of having Varney voice the room was the measured data he collected, which could be compared to the computer model (and to the untreated room). In addition, Christopher Klein of ARS had performed the MATT (Music Articulation Test Tone) test in my room with and without Tube Traps, then again after the full ARS installation. Let's first look at the MATT results. The MATT is a special test signal of a swept sine wave, spanning the range of 20Hz to 1950Hz, and interrupted by silence every sixteenth of a second. The signal sounds like a series of blips of ascending frequency, as the signal is on and then off for that duration. As this signal is reproduced through the loudspeakers, a microphone picks up the signal at the listening position, and the results are plotted graphically. This test shows how the room modifies the signal, specifically the frequency at which the room stores energy, and how severely the transient nature of the test signal is distorted. Acoustic energy "hangs" in the room during the silences between blips, filling in the gaps on the chart. This translates musically to bass muddiness, loss of articulation, and smearing of music's dynamic structure. The deeper the nulls in the trace, the flatter the peaks, and the more regular the trace's shape, the better. Fig.2 shows my room before (red trace) and after (blue trace) ARS treatment. (I've selected a representative band of frequencies.) You can see how the nulls are deeper, indicating less stored energy in the room, as well as the flat tops. Fig.3 is the room's measured reverberation time plotted as a function of frequency. This measurement is an average of six taken at and near the listening position. The smooth, continuous slope is ideal, as is the 0.3-second Rt60 (reverberation time). Fig.1, shown earlier, is a model of the room's Rt60 without treatment, along with curves showing the ideal and the model after treatment.

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(Varney estimated an Rt60 of 0.32 seconds including drapes and fabric. In the model, he aimed for an average Rt60 of 0.25­0.35 seconds, and was pleased by the measured result of 0.37 seconds before the fabric and drapes were installed, which brought the Rt60 down close to the ideal.) Other measurements showed that the Speech Transmission Index (STI), a measure of intelligibility, was greater than 0.75 at all frequencies (overall STI Rating was 0.89 measured from

63Hz­12.59kHz, an outstanding result). Varney's measurements of background noise indicate my room is an NC 20, which suggests an amazingly low level of background noise. (I live in a semi-rural area, which helps.) An NC 20 rating is a minimum criterion for a dedicated listening room and would normally require special shell and HVAC construction to achieve.

preamp and monoblock amplifiers and no room treatment, or a $2,500 integrated amplifier and the ARS package, I would choose the lesser electronics in the treated room. Room acoustics are that important, and the ARS package is the ultimate realization of the goal of minimizing the room's effect on music reproduction. &

Conclusion

A S S O C I AT E D E Q U I P M E N T Mark Levinson No.31.5 CD transport and No.360s digital processor, Sony DVPS9000ES DVD/SACD player, Wilson Audio Sophia loudspeakers, Classe CAV 180, Theta Dreadnaught, and Musical Fidelity A308 power amplifiers, Classe SSP-75 and Musical Fidelity A308 preamplifiers, Nordost Valhalla interconnects and loudspeaker cables

With a price starting at $11,500 and going up to $45,000 (depending on room size--my room treatment with on-site voicing cost $33,000), the ARS system isn't for everyone. But before you sink that much money into a component upgrade, consider upgrading that distortion-introducing element between you and your loudspeakers-- the listening room. If given the choice between listening to $40,000 worth of

M A N U FA C T U R E R I N F O R M AT I O N A/V RoomSer vice, Ltd. (740) 924-9321 [email protected] www.avroomservice.com Acoustic Room Systems 32402 Riley Lane Cottage Grove Oregon 97425 Phone: (541) 942-7668 www.acousticroomsystems.com Price: $15,000­$45,000

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THE ABSOLUTE SOUND s DECEMBER 2002 / JANUARY 2003

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