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Reviewers: Marja & Henk
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC, Audio Magic (Peter van Willenswaard) DAC [on loan]; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Moscode HR401; Trends Audio TA-10; Avantgarde Acoustic Model Three [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Audio Note AN/Jsp silver-wired
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC’ CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable; Virtual Dynamics Revelation power cords [in for review], Harmonic Technology Magic Woofer, Magic Tweeter & Pro AC11 [in for review]
Power line conditioning: Omtec PowerControllers; PS Audio Quintessence [in for review]
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotech Nespa #1; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks
Room treatment: Acoustic System Resonators; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Review component retail: Approximately € 9,600/pr
At the recent High End show in Munich -- lucky for them and us -- a small booth in the big Zoo-like hall became the event's revelation for many. Tucked away between all that makes an open exhibit hall an open exhibit hall were a few sound booths. One of the least flashy ones, in as plain white as they come, housed Podium Sound. During our final round through this cavernous expanse -- you always miss things when the amount of stuff shown is so immense -- we discovered the surprise of 2007 quite by chance.
From our coverage of the show, we quote: "Upon entering [the Podium Sound booth], we were the only visitors and took a seat facing two fairly large flat loudspeakers clad in a shiny copper disguise [Model 0.5]. Some classical music played and the flat panels produced an exceedingly pleasant sound. As we were unfamiliar with the music, there wasn't much more to say. Luckily the gentleman running the exhibit offered to play some of the CDs we had brought along. We chose a lengthy Vicente Amigo track that features plenty of fiery transients, deep bass lines and male and female vocals. Well, some eight minutes later we had tears in our eyes and a warm feeling in our solar plexus. Admittedly, bass extension was not exactly stygian but the remainder was so bloody natural. Above all, things were so intensely musical that it was downright scary."
Later we listened to the big Podium 1 panel. They topped the Podium 0.5 with more bass extension. Hadouk Trio's synthesized tripping bass lines were no problem. From this initial encounter with these truly amazing loudspeakers, things developed in a hurry. We made an appointment to review the largest panel, the Podium Sound Model One. It took a few weeks and then two boxes arrived on our doorstep. Unfortunately, shipping had damaged one speaker. This became cause for an urgent repair. It happened that Shelley Katz, owner and designer of Podium Sound, was on the continent and could visit us in Rotterdam for a personal repair.
Inspection of the faulty speaker made it clear that it would take considerable time for the repair. As all things have two sides, we took the opportunity to get to know the designer and familiarize ourselves with his ideas. Next, we could witness Shelley working on the speaker and see the panel full Monty style. From extensive vis-à-vis and follow-up e-mails with Shelley Katz comes the following. We think it is important to know as much as possible about a designer's background, his ambitions and ideas.
Who is Shelley Katz?
At the ridiculous age of two and in Montreal, Canada, Shelley much to the consternation of his parents discovered that a piano was the most effective toy for making noise. His ability to conjoin whacks and thunks in a unique manner led to early success with recording on national radio at the age of six. It went downhill from there. Throughout his teens, Shelley determinedly refused to chose sports over music. Does this sounds like Glenn Gould revisited? For his sins, he was interned for five years as a scholarship student at the Juilliard School in New York where the best efforts of teachers and counselors did not succeed in dissuading Shelley from continuing on the mad career path of a musician.
Now take a deep breath for what's next. After a brief two-year attempt at normalcy (in which he renovated a Victorian appartment house and completed the science requirements to apply for med school), he had a total relapse and escaped to Germany where he turned his frenetic energies to any and every musical endeavour possible, from conducting and coaching singers to accompanying, solo performances and composition.
|The Germans were relieved -- and some started to reconsider the involvment of the UK in the EU -- when Shelley finally moved to England where he completed a multidisciplinary|
|PhD; multidisciplinary because the music, psychology and mathematics departments in question were so generously inclined to offer each other the privilege of primary responsibility for Shelley's research that it left the question as to who actually supervised Shelley a conundrum for the departments of Philosophy and Religious studies.
Interestingly, Shelley's thesis is expected to have a major impact on sleep disorder. Negotiations are under way for a worldwide licence agreement with GlaxoSmithKline to issue small vials that contain the abstract of Shelley's PhD to put children to sleep, a full synopsis to put adults to sleep, and the first chapter for crowd control during prison riots. At last, Shelley settled down (sort of) with his magnificent wife and two children in Cambridge, UK. When not poking around in piles of electronics and destroying loudspeakers, he works as the lesser half [the other being his wife the coloratura soprana Diana Gilchrist] of the two Musicians in Residence at the ISC. This is the International Study Centre at the Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex. The ISC is a faculty of the Queens University of Ontario, Canada.
From this quick biography, the man is a multi-disciplinarian, a sort of Homo Universalis, frantically pursuing his goals on various terrains but with music the leitmotif. Why is Shelley Katz building a loudspeaker?
I have a life-long obsession with sound and in particular, with the sounds of Western classical music. In 1987, when working at an Opera House in Germany, SK was among the first individuals to arrange for a digital piano to be used in a classical orchestral pit. Although the digital piano was better than the in-house harpsichord (which could never make it through a performance without going badly out of tune), the digital piano sounded very unnatural and electronic. I then decided that I would find out why. After moving to England and while working toward a PhD in the area of Cognition of Expression in Music, I took advantage of the academic environment to also conduct research into acoustics and sound propagation. By 1998, I had successfully built an electronic piano which did indeed approximate closely the sound and behaviour of an acoustic instrument, and soon thereafter reduced the technology to loudspeakers alone.
In short, SK was not satisfied with the sound from any loudspeaker he heard and consequently had to develop his own. This is a story similar to many. However, many or most of the people who seek to develop the ultimate loudspeaker do so on the basis of the quality of the components or the performance of the loudspeaker. The target or goal which I sought was to match a particular sound, the sound I was most familiar with - an acoustic instrument heard in a concert hall.
What is the relation to Layered Sound anyone who Googles your name will find?
Layered Sound is the name given by me to the method of designing a loudspeaker which most closely approximates the air disturbance patterns of natural sound. It is the term I applied to a discovery which became the subject of several patents, some of which are now granted and in full force. Natural sound (for example, an acoustic instrument) propagated in a given acoustic space will generate sound waves that are perceptually both binaurally correlated and binaurally de-correlated. The sound waves are processed by the mind into directional and non-directional (i.e. reflected) sound.
Binaurally de-correlated sound is sound which enables us, with our two ears, to cognate the size of room we are in, our location in the room, our distance from a sound source in the room, our proximity to a perimeter of the room and various other pieces of information. This type of sound is classified as reflected sound..
Conventional loudspeakers are actually a machine which propagates binaurally correlated sound waves. So the question arises, how can conventional loudspeakers truly reproduce reflected sound? The answer is that they cannot. Any other answer is fooling around with the truth. For example, suggesting that it is possible to reproduce the diffuse qualities of reflected sound by using multiple conventional loudspeakers as in surround sound is nonsense for many reasons, only one of which is the destructive interference created by the multiple transducers. One can attempt to approximate the effect, but it is important to accept that one starts with some fundamental limitations imposed by the nature of the technology, and which cannot be overcome by other means, for example, through processing or other effects. This is one of the main reasons why conventional loudspeakers always sound like loudspeakers and never like an acoustic instrument. To create sound waves which are binaurally de-correlated, the best method to date is to use a sound radiator which propagates sound waves that are mostly binaurally de-correlated. And among others, the panel loudspeakers I design do exactly that. So, to answer the question, my research into panel loudspeakers was a result of my research into Layered Sound, and the Podium loudspeakers are a spin-off of the Layered Sound technology.
Why panel loudspeakers?
One could answer by saying:
Or one could answer by saying: Why not?
Within the next two months, I designed the Podium 1, began the design for the Podium 2, planned and organized production through to packaging and shipping, raised funds, dealt with the creditors and then launched Podium Sound Ltd. by December 1, 2006.
It is simple enough to write, "I designed the Podium 1" etc. But the simplicity of the sentence entirely belies the complexity and difficulty of that first design. A given design is always a balance between at least three major factors: cost, looks and technology. Under cost resides the entire panoply of elements which include complexity of manufacturing, materials, availability of resources, packaging etc. Looks are exceedingly complex and of course, the functionality of the technology is supposed to be paramount (which it rarely is). Consequently, the design process is usually exceedingly drawn out as one goes through multiple iterations to get it right.
Achieving a satisfactory, reasonably successful design through production and delivery in under two months while doing many other things at the same time required an investment of time and effort which is virtually indescribable. Suffice it to say, an average of three hours sleep was only part of the sacrifice needed.
Here Shelley is a bit modest. One of his associates reports that three hours is a generous rounding up of 'less than two'.
When the company was launched, we took the approach of selling directly to the end user. However, in spite of the benefits to the customer, there is an interesting paradox which arises. The fundamental benefit to the customer is a significant saving in cost of ownership and for the manufacturer, a significantly better margin. But the drawbacks are the issues associated with customer support, availability of demonstration facilities, ancillary equipment and the entire panoply of benefits which come with a traditional network of distribution and dealerships.
Furthermore, in terms of growth for the business, there are issues associated with awareness, trust, reach, history and others. Perhaps if we had the time, we could have very slowly built the company by continuing to sell direct. However, I decided that I wished to grow the company quickly and the only way to do that was to change our strategy from direct sales to the traditional distribution and dealership. And that is exactly what we are doing. Here's to the future!
Bending wave, Distributed Mode, can you explain these terms?
These are terms, which I believe were first coined to describe the loudspeaker technology now licensed by NXT plc under their granted patents. It seems a 'Bending Wave' loudspeaker is meant as a generic term to describe a loudspeaker which propagates sound as a result of transverse waves flowing through an element which is free enough to vibrate in at least some directions. The Distributed Mode loudspeaker or DML is the specific instance of this kind of loudspeaker which is built according to the principles published under the NXT patents.
Can you describe the Podium 1?
The frame is solid English oak. It consists of a single vertical spine down the centre of the back and a seemingly simple rectangle (similar to the stiles and crossbars of a door), to which the spine is glued. The final frame design was established only after many trials. Some of the factors which had to be considered in the design of the frame were:
These issues are not to be underestimated and the cabinet maker whom I use, Jeff Powell, is certainly a gifted man. It's not surprising that he is a third-generation cabinet maker and owner of a family business which goes back many decades. In fact, the final cabinet design is a wonderful example of English understatement. From the front, the joints seem almost crudely simple. It's only when one examines the back of the frame and sees the perfectly angled bend at each joint that one begins to suspect there is some very serious joinery taking place. There are absolutely no screws of any kind. The frame is both rigid enough to resonate and vibrate constructively yet supple enough to give and flex as needed, either for safe transportation or more importantly, so as to provide exactly the right timbre to the sound.
There are a few other benefits as well but this is primarily to give an idea of the complexity and subtlety of designing the vibrating element. The vibrating element is fundamentally rectangular in shape, with rounded corners. The purpose of rounding the corners is because empirically, it was discovered that pointed corners simply do not provide as good a sound. This may be due to the nature of the internal reflections, and/or the physical movement of the panel through the air.