Our Large Audio Note, Emm Labs, Nordost, HRS room at RMAF 2009

So, I would like to talk a little about the sound in our large room.

As a reminder (it has been a few weeks now. Time flies when buried in 1800 page show reports) we had the Emm Labs XDS1 single-box statement player driving the Audio Note M9 Phono preamp and Gaku-On amps. All cables were Nordost ODIN and all components were on M3 HRS platforms and we also used an HRS SXR rack

We had a little hiccup when one of the 211 tubes arrived in a non-working condition. Phil (thanks Phil!), a local audiophile, loaned us a 211 tube [and the next day Nick Gowan shipped us another pair. Thanks Nick!]. Neli arrived back with the 1st relief of 211 tubes and then left to pick up some HRS platforms we needed for under the Gaku-On amps.

All to say that I was left alone to position the speakers. [Yes!]

So, here we have 20+ feet of front wall space minus the 2 feet or so the rack occupies [also up against the front wall] – and the speakers will probably be fine anywhere.

Then Fred Crowder and Paul arrived. OK good. I moved the speaker and their comments and the expressions on their faces told me if it was for the better or worser. Every so often I would step back into the room and listen for myself. Surprisingly enough, this resulted in at least a locally optimized position for the speakers that was pretty decent. It was surprising to me because we seemed to flail around quite a bit, the sound getting a wee bit better or wee bit worse – but all of a sudden they were both nodding their heads a lot and when I stood back it really had snapped in to coolness. With only a few minor mods it became much more fun to just listen to music than it was to play with the speakers anymore.

—> Position 1.

After Fred Crowder, Paul and I positioned them, about oh, 3 feet from the side walls, and oh, 4 or 5 inches from the front wall. Angled in fairly severely to cross in front of the nearfield listening position.

This worked really pretty darn well. It was very engaging, quick, harmonic, with good soundstaging and imaging. There was enough bass reinforcement to be quite satisfying. And I would have been happy showing the system like this. Several people came and went and they all liked the sound.

Then Neli returned with the HRS platforms and we put them under the Gaku-Ons.

The added separation and tighter bass of the sound now wasn’t quite as engaging. It was ‘better’, but the speakers now had to be repositioned because, essentially, we now had a different [sounding] system and the sound coming out of the speakers reflected that fact.

So, I’m thinking… where are Fred and Paul when ya need ’em? 🙂

Then Mario from the Audio Note factory just happened to show up at the door, and I remember that these guys do shows every couple of weeks in Europe [seriously] and they must have run into largish rooms before.

So we start moving them radically this way and that. What I really wanted to know was: What kind of sound does Audio Note go for with their speakers when they do a show in a big room like this?

I mean, I was pretty sure we could get back to the sound that we heard previously, in setup #1. And it really was quite good. But, hey, we got some time, let’s experiment.

We put them closer and closer to the corners – each time hearing no overtly deleterious effects, and each time hearing slightly more room engagement. They eventually ended up just about as far into the corners as we could get them.

—> Position #2.

The sound was very big, pressurizing the room. No lack of bass, let me tell you. In fact, more bass than we let the Coltrane Supremes have in that room [the Supremes could probably do real damage to the hotel fixtures. I mean 2000 watts, 12 9 inch drivers, very efficient speakers. Give me a break]. Perhaps we have been too shy with the bass on the Supremes [trying to differentiate ourselves from the big boom box systems elsewhere in the hotel – you know, the ones that win all the awards from the newbie and want-free-equipment show reporters], because the Audio Note speakers with their more present bass worked pretty well.

The bass and the dynamics was all hitting the big time [all the components in this system are world-class dynamic champions]. The harmonics were like those never heard before [thanks Gaku-On!]. The soundstage was the width of the room. Huge. The musicians were life size. It was like they were really there in the room. Standing in a line across the stage.

Which is also to say that the soundstage depth was not very deep. It was more shallow than it should have been for many people’s tastes. In some ways, this made it more realistic, but perhaps not as much fun. We think the problem had to do with the fake side wall we made on the left, and the big curtained window on the right. Certainly position #1, away from these less-than-optimal side walls, had no problem with achieving great depth of field.

We stayed with position #2, in large part [from my point of view] to further differentiate it from last year and invalidate any direct comparisons. This was a different system… evaluate it as it is, not as last year’s system with different speakers. This is also part of the reason we did not put the system over on the side of the room: to make the system and room look different than last year [the others being 10 meter ODIN is hard to come by – 10 meters is needed to reach the rack when it is on the rear/side of the room – and we were tired of lugging tons of equipment to the show and back].

It really worked and most everybody liked it a lot, in fact everybody except those people who really do prefer a sophisticated and very accurate sound [about 5%, this show is not very kind to these people] – and those [my guess about 20% of the people [NO, I really do not think it is as high as 95%, though an argument could be made… :-)]] who have no ears anyway and pick rooms they like more or less at random [using a algorithm, in any case, that has zero, nada, zilch to do with the sound. No, I do not think this is criminal – but when you read about what someone thinks about a show, keep these people in mind].


Compared to our room last year, this was a completely different sound.

Last year’s sound, the Marten Coltrane Supremes speakers with the Lamm ML3 amps, was a very, very sophisticated sound. The delicacy and detail, the preciseness of the harmonics, the shade and shapes of the images in a seemingly infinite 3D space was unheard of. Of course, to really appreciate it you had to know what imaging was, you had to be able to hear the harmonic structures, likely being revealed for the first time ever [they were to us], and you had to relax and trust that the system, rendering difficult notes, was going to do it correctly and so you could relax into the music in a way that isn’t possible with most [which is to say all but one or two] systems.

And this years sound, this year it was danceable, approachable, rocking, boogieable [well, it SHOULD be a real word]. Harmonics were lovelier this year, but not as nuanced or delicate. This year the sound was enjoyable, emotional, impressive. Last year it was OMFG. This year it was “Alive!”.

It is very, very much like Leonardo DaVinci versus Picasso. Leo [can I call him that? He ain’t here so…] paints with excruciatingly fine detail, it is amazing that someone could do that. It is more wonderful than real life photography. Picasso [and I speak only of his ink and brush paintings] uses a half-dozen strokes and makes a woman appear who is so evocative of a real actual person it is just amazing that someone could do that. It is more alive than most people are in ‘real life’.

I love both artist’s work – and the bizarre thing is that some people just like one or the other [yes, now we can put this into the context of some people liking our room this year more/less than the room last year]. I, personally, love both.

I think it is too simple to say that one is of the mind, and one of the body. Or right brain versus left brain. But I think it is indeed something like that. Just not that.

Anyway, since the mind and body [according to most people] cannot exist one without the other – we are now trying to build a hybrid system sound that is OMFG Alive!

And I think, I think we came really, really close the other evening – when Kevin, Neli and I ODIN’d up the system, with the Emm Labs XDS1, Audio Note S9, M9 and Gaku-Ons on the Coltrane Supremes. Horn-like dynamics and ceramic and diamond driver preciseness!