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The Podium Sound Model 1 arrived in two card box boxes. On the outside there was no indication that the contents were fragile and should be handled with care. Upon inspection of the boxes, we found one triangular hole with sides of about 5 cm long. After removing the three professional straps, we found the panels cushioned between pieces of packing foam.

Measuring 200cm by 78cm and with a maximum depth of 10cm yet totaling a weight of a mere 15 kilos, the speaker is not hard to handle at all. The size makes it just a little awkward. Although one box was punctured, there was no visible sign of damage to the panel itself.

We received the Model 1 finished with an acoustically transparent, impossible to tear, fire retardant, man-made black cloth fiber cover. Combined with the blond Oak of the frame, it makes for a calm, non-obtrusive appearance. Though not small, the geometry and color scheme make the loudspeakers appear not quite as large as they actually are.

On our first encounter with these loudspeakers in Munich, we saw a different finish. There, the back of the panel was open and showed the honeycomb panel naked. The speakers we received were fully clad. The black cloth covered the front and back completely, sealing off any peeks of the panel itself.

Most of the 15 kilos of weight derive from the English Oak. This wood was careful air dried without hurry. The cabinet maker first cuts the wood and it is left for a few days to settle. Only afterwards is the frame glued together. With the long vertical bar being only 6cm wide and 2cm thick, it should never bend let alone crack under any condition. Loudspeakers end up in various countries and with various heaters or air conditioners so the outer rectangular frame is put together meticulously by a master woodworker. When looking at the front joints, they seem to be nothing more than 90º dowel or even mortise and tenon joints. However, looking at the back of those same joints, there is an extra angle where the two parts meet.

Still around back, there is the backbone in the form of a 7.5cm wide beam that tapers from 2.5cm to 7cm thickness. This backbone connects the top horizontal part of the frame to the bottom. Here another piece of cloth covers the area where the motors sit, starting 30cm from the top and running down to 20cm from the end of the beam. At this point the two 5-way binding posts attach. Finally, there is the hole where the 45cm Sheffield steel rod is inserted, forming the third footer together with two adjustable screw-in cones at the ends of the vertical frame section.

The cloth of the final production version covers both front and back of the panel as part of the construction rather than being a mere cover. It is stretched by means of inserting the edge of the cloth into a groove that is later filled with a rubber cord. This puts the whole Oak frame under tension.

When shining a strong light at one side of the panel, it is possible to see through the cloth down to the honeycomb structure. With less than half a centimeter of space between the honeycomb panel and the frame, fitting exactitude is critical. Also, the rounded top and bottom edges are visible with backlighting. Where the prototype and the first models of the largest Podium Sound panels shown at the Heathrow show in 2006 and at Munich in 2007 used 100% free-floating honeycomb panels, the final production model we received had a modification in this respect. Shining the light through the panel revealed four non-symmetrically placed braces or sound bridges where the honeycomb panel was connected to the Oak frame. What kind of braces these were was not intuitive nor was their placement self-explanatory - at least not at that juncture.

Behind the strip of cloth in the backbone is where the exciter motors are located. Podium Sound's Model 1 sports five of them and the locations are easily found as the holes they are mounted in run through the backbone which also contains the silver hookup wire.

The whole panel makes a sturdy, rigid and very well finished presentation. Compared to other large flat loudspeakers, they are rather friendly and 'English' in such a way that they can very easily become part of a living room and not remain big black or dull grey monoliths.

For a mutual getting to know, we put the two panels in the same spot the Avantgarde Duos just vacated such that the middle of the slightly reclining panel was at the same distance from the front wall as the Duos' tweeters were, 90 cm. A single run of Crystal Cable was sufficient to connect the panels to our Audio Note Meishu.

Coming from the straight-in-yer-face German horns to now experience a completely different approach to music making in the house required some adaptation on our side. From a total of four horns and four large woofer cones to two full-range single drivers is a transition that takes some cerebral recalibration as the perceived sound is, yes, very different.

First we had to run the speakers in for a little and we took this time to sort out what they were capable of. By playing some music at low levels, we continued our daily chores and business.
After a day, we put in Eelco Grimm's Checkpoint Audio test CD. Eelco is one of the four collaborating Dutch top audio engineers -- Bruno "class D" Putzeys, Guido "DIY" Tent and Peter "tubes" Van Willenswaard are the others -- and he put together a really worthwhile pair of test CDs, unfortunately though the accompanying book is in Dutch. While playing some of the test tracks at serious volumes, we found that one of the panels rattled at a certain frequency. At around 90Hz the rattling started and it stopped when descending to about 50Hz. Below this to a very distinguishable 30Hz, all was clear. This finding was quite shocking. What could it be? Was it the panel? The amplifier perhaps? Tubes have a mind of their own. We found out by tapping on the central spine that the rattling was mechanical and could be pinpointed to one of the five exciter motors. This was certainly the time to contact Shelley Katz for help.

A few days later we picked Shelley up from Rotterdam airport, his bags loaded with parts, tools and sundry secrets. When we got to the apartment and before even taking off his jacket, Shelley was already touching and handling his misbehavin' offspring. It was like a manual healer the way Shelley went over the panel - only this time touch healing was not sufficient. A serious operation was needed.

Dr. Katz's diagnosis was bad news. What was wrong with the left patient was a severe case of voice coil damage. Initially Shelley thought and hoped that the bond between voice coil and panel was broken, a symptom that some gentle massage therapy could mend. Now Shelley calculated that at least 6 hours were needed on the operation table. That same night Dr. Katz
started prepping the patient by putting her supine and taking off her front cover, revealing her denuded honeycomb panel beneath.

The next day started early. It was first necessary to take off the honeycomb from the still attached remaining exciters. First the four braces that form the connection between frame and panel needed removal. This meant slicing the glued-together pieces of white spongy material in twain. While operating, Shelley shared story after story about his never-ending quest for materials that could help him create this loudspeaker. The marshmallow-like putty now dissected was one of these special materials. Even the putty used to seal the speaker wire into the spinal groove is special. It is easy to work with, does not harden, is gentle to the insulation and prevents the cable from vibrating.

With the four braces off, the panel was to be detached from the voice coils without damaging more of them. With a long flat knife, Shelly cut the glue that holds the top of the drivers' voice coils attached to the honeycomb panel. Carefully tilting the panel again to avoid voice coil damage, he managed to cut them all clear. Then the panel itself could be removed. Now we were able to actually feel and hold this remarkable material. The roughly 187cm by 65cm panel is extremely light and hard. The honeycomb inside the transparent polyester sealing is made of a phenolic paper and there is only one Euro supplier capable to produce it to Shelley Katz's specifications.

Without the panel itself, there were only the outer frame and backbone left. Now clearly visible were the five 3cm motors, with the faulty one staring right at us. As there was no damage to the panel itself, the cause of the voice coil severance wasn't impact but a continuous force. Upon closer inspection, even a second driver was damaged.

From one of his bags Shelley took a box full of drivers and showed us one. These small exciters are just strong magnets with protruding voice coils. There are four screw holes to attach the driver to the backbone and the soldering points. A hole runs through the
middle of the motor, giving space for the compressed air when the panel seals off the voice coil at the top. This way the motor can breathe.

After desoldering the faulty exciters and removing them, the new ones were put in place and electrically connected. With a piece of cardboard and some music, the newcomers were tested while being temporary connected to the amplifier. Then the most critical part of reconstructing was to start. First the old glue from the remaining voice coils and some residue on the panel had to be removed and the areas thoroughly cleaned. Then the custom-manufactured glue stickers were applied to all five voice coils. After peeling off the protecting paper on both sides, just a ring of glue remained that fit precisely on the edge of the voice coil. Now the honeycomb panel needed to be lowered onto the five sticky surfaces, perfectly centered and all in one go. Here two hands proved insufficient. Some anxious aiming and positioning followed before the panel was properly floating on the five voice coils.

At this point some test tones were run to check on all motors and that the panel was attached properly. Next was reattaching the severed braces between frame and panel with another type of glue. When that was done to the master's satisfaction, the cloth had to be restretched, fixed into the groove and the rubber cord had to be pushed into the groove and any excess cloth cut off. It was an amazing sight to watch the pianist, composer, conductor, speaker manufacturer and inventor do this all by hand using specially developed equipment and tools.

After quite a few hours of work, the Podium One could be put back in her original spot and the first serious listening test with the new drivers commenced. The surgery took a little longer than estimated but the results were good. With two fully functioning panels now, the overall impression was of a much more coherent, tighter and far more satisfying bass response.

With a smile on his face, we could take Shelley back to the airport. He promised to redesign the packing to withstand any carrier's abuse. With Shelley safely on the plane, our heads full of impressions, we sank into the couch and listened for a few hours to these truly special loudspeakers.

Following a few days of background action, all suspensions were compliant enough to get started with serious listening. We swapped the Avantgardes again for the Podium Sound Model One in the same place for reference. The last track we played over the horns was Avishai Cohen's "Remembering" from his latest live album As Is recorded live in the Blue Note New York. On the coned loudspeakers, the acoustic bass covered a great deal over the self-powered woofers, went deep and excited the couch. When switched to the Podium Sound panels, we no longer sat front row. We were moved into the Blue Note but at the door. It took about 10 minutes to really get into the new venue perspective and become part of it. It was as if our brains had to adapt to a changed acoustic environment. Boston University's Dr. Barbara Shinn-Cunningham studied this intriguing subject. We changed from the near to the far field. When we skipped back to "Remembering", there was a real acoustic bass playing - not an electrified bass but a thing made of wood, spreading sound all around and not just forward. Moving the panels by adding another 10cm from the front wall -- 1 meter total now -- and toeing them in made the envelope complete. There was no pin-point razor sharp depiction of the stage but the necessity to sit in the sweet spot was gone, too. Simply put, there is no sweet spot. You could walk around the room and still have the impression that we were there with Avishai and his group rather that the band being with us in the room. The diffuse sound coming from the chaotically moving panel creates the illusion that You Are There, not they are here.
There is another aspect to the music that Podium Sound panels make that is unique. They do not cut off at high frequencies as almost any other speaker does. When first encountered, they seem to sound sharp and bright. After just a few minutes, this impression disappears and a sensation of naturalness and realness takes over.

Part of this sensation is the ultimate coherence of sound. With the concept of one single panel excited by multiple drivers, there is no room for beaming. A conventional cone loudspeaker needs multiple cones to overcome the problem of excess beaming. A single full-range driver capable of producing deep bass is not able to reproduce the high frequencies without beaming. From a wide dispersion, the sound will get narrower and narrower with the rising of frequencies. By splitting the frequency bands to be recovered between numerous drivers of various diameters alleviates beaming but doesn't eliminate it. Additional crossover electronics are needed in the signal path which is unnecessary with a single panel loudspeaker.

Another problem of multi-coned speaker systems is phasing. A single panel loudspeaker is always in phase with itself. The Physics of exciting a stiff, hard panel into a multitude of (almost completely) chaotic movements creates some waves which enhance each other while others cancel out. A panel properly designed can work as a discriminatory notch filter. Another phenomenon here is that when you are standing at the edge of the panel, other flat loudspeaker like Quads and Magnepans exhibit a null because the waves from the front cancel out the ones coming from the rear and vice versa. At 90 degrees, there's silence, hence you can place them close to the sidewalls. Podium Sound panels emit sound at almost 360 degrees for a near omnipolar dispersion.

While comparing speakers, did we like the Podium Sounds more than for instance the Quad ESL 2905? It's hard to compare apples and pears. The Quad is a point source and a good one at that. It has its SPL limits and needs some input power as well. The Podium Sound is a diffuse source and you're out in the far field but it has no sane SPL limits. Also, the Podium Sound designs can do very well with a small output amplifier. We played with the modest 8wpc 300B-based Meishu and had plenty of power reserves. At the other end of the spectrum, playing with
the Avantgarde Model Three integrated in preamp mode and the 300wpc capable Moscode 401HR, our ears gave out before there was any hint of overwhelming the panels. With the ESL and the Model One being in the same price league, we personally would opt for the Model One.

We learned that there is an adaptation curve for these speakers as well. When you arrive from a coned loudspeaker, you must get used to the diffuseness. Next is the sound level. When listening to these speakers, you should begin at low SPLs and gradually turn it up to below hearing damage. Don't start listening at an elevated level but build up. Remember, the panel is no point source. With its large surface, it excites a lot of air. Loudness fall-off is very small when you move away from it. A nice analogy is that of a violinist. His instrument is almost in his ear though it doesn't deafen him - yet the audience is able to hear him at large distances. Also, a flat panel loudspeaker with its decorrelated phase behavior is contrary to a cone loudspeaker that emits phase-correlated waves like a pebble in a pond. The room the panel is playing will cause a consistent evenness of sound in that room. Again, think of an instrument played in a room.

Is this a speaker for all purposes? Definitely not. The speaker has a strong mind of its own. It is an absolute killer with classical music. With most recordings -- try the ones from the 40s and 50s and not only the 'corny Kralls of Classics' -- the ability these speakers have to convey the emotion of the music is unique. Probably due to its diffuseness of sound, the sense of listening to a mechanical speaker is completely transcended. You listen, feel and breathe music and you're part of it. The same goes for jazz where big band arrangements are produced with such involvement and small trio settings are playing just for you. Voices too are a strong point of these bending-wave transformers. Single voices like the mother of Roberto Fonseca in "Misa Popular" on Zamazu are so realistic just as are the male voices of the Hilliard Ensemble on Jan Garbarek's Officium. These are all genres where acoustic instruments are involved. When switching to rock, blues or electric jazz, the Podium Sounds hold to their character. When the recording has embedded emotion, it will be released into the listening room. If the recording lacks this ingredient, the reproduction is not worth listening to. A maker or breaker of loudspeakers is Pat Metheny's "The Roots of Coincidence" from Imaginary Day. The only genres not suited for these loudspeakers are those that are based on electronic bass. Techno, house, rap and that kind of music should be played back over different loudspeakers.

Second Opinion
During my recent visit to Siltech, I visited with Marja & Henk before flying out of Amsterdam Schiphol. This gave me an opportunity to hear the panels for myself. They are indeed a suffuse far-field transducer which lacks the dynamic kick of - well, dynamic speakers. Being critical, I also heard some nonlinearities by way of certain hot notes that would jump out of the fabric as it were but not as planned by the musicians. Lastly, massive low bass of the sort eight 10-inch woofers produce in mi casa are plainly not the panels' forte. However, classical music due to its innate spaciousness is truly well served in the far field and -- as a teaser of things M&H will report on later -- the real hammer is combining the panels with dynamic speakers for a Layered Sound experience.

As a fancier of dynamically charged world music, I personally couldn't live with the panels' soft focus and lack of traditional attack if they were to be my only transducers. However, as a polar-opposite alternative to my usual setups, I'd enjoy them a lot for large-scale symphonic, classical piano and chamber music. Plus -- and this is meant as a serious compliment -- if your household is the sort that has music going on most of the time while its inhabitants go about their various things, these panels are uniquely capable because of their diffuse, non-obtrusive, non-sweet spot character which, at levels very high or very low, is ideal for enjoyment listening rather than the traditional sweet-spot hoggin', brow-furlin', pen-toting' critic's nonsense.

At first, the Model One sounds washed-out, tipped up, pale and lifeless. However, the ear/brain truly does "switch" and what seemed all wrong suddenly begins to make a strange kind of holistic sense which then has you question conventional speakers. I'm personally not trusting my first encounter during a mostly social occasion to decide what it all means - break-through or interesting oddity. However, M&H who have lived with these transducers far longer feel them to be award material for offering a very unique, "like in the back of a club or hall" perspective. With more Podium Sound models coming their way to compare, we might add an award to the Model One in due time - or bestow it on one of the stable mates.

Srajan Ebaen

While living with these Podium Sound Model 1 panels for a while, we have discovered a few things. First we learned that there exists more than stereo in its classic sense. When a loudspeaker has so much clarity, transparency and resolution while being ultimately coherent and phase correct, the concept of a soundstage as a result of pin-
point imaging from stereo cues transports you to the scene of creation instead. Classic stereo brings the scene to your room. The consequence of the panels is that you are in the far field of the scene but nonetheless, you are there.

Next we learned that the Podium Sound Model 1 is an instrument and not a speaker per se. This came to us as Shelley talked about tuning the loudspeakers. It is as though he were tuning and maybe even voicing his Steinway for a certain performance. To stick to the piano metaphor, is it tuned European of American (443 or 440 pitch) and how mature is the instrument regarding brightness? Placement is very important to extract the most from these
speakers. A fair distance from the back wall is helping to open things up further; however, placing the speakers as far against the wall as possible but closer together has its own benefits as well. Just as with a musical instrument, listening to it does not require a hot seat simply because there is no sweet spot. Music is everywhere and you can walk around in it like you can at the venue.

It must be clear that we are very charmed with this loudspeaker. We fear that when the Japanese audio lovers get word of these creations, Shelley Katz has to expand his production capacity. Is the Model 1 the perfect loudspeaker? No, it is not but it has so many strong points that the few weaker points like the way the extreme highs are dealt with are no objection to the possibilities the speaker shows when it comes to revealing the inner core of the music played - the emotion.

Quality of packing: Thin card box with some foam blocks. No internal or external bracing. Reusability of packing: Better not.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of components received: One loudspeaker proved to be damaged during shipping. See review for details.
Completeness of delivery: Complete, two panel loudspeakers.
Quality of owner's manual: N/A
Website comments: Has all the necessary specs and lots of photos. The site is regularly updated and contains a fair amount of information. Includes many contacts.
Warranty: 5 years.
Human interactions: Outstanding. Personal phone calls, quick e-mail response and almost next day home visit to repair a damaged loudspeaker.
Pricing: Steep but fairly priced. Other large full range bending-wave loudspeakers are not available.
Comments & suggestions: Packaging will be changed so that shipping damage will be as good as eliminated. The large Model 1 has in-house competition from the smaller Model 2 and 0.5 which offer the same benefits.

Publisher's comment:
Layered Sound as demonstrated at Marja & Henk's during my short visit consisted of running their Avantgarde Duos and the Model Ones simultaneously, the former inside at dominant volume, the latter outside as fill-in ambience providers. Varying the relative volumes of course shifted the percentages of point-source and omni-polar, direct and reflected sound. Muting the panels completely collapsed the sound by comparison to having them fill it in. The sound was unquestionably superior with the added panels. It made traditional two-speaker stereo obsolete by comparison. Muting the Avantgardes fully disembodied the sound to become more distant, less immediate, less focused and less dynamic.

A participant in a forum had, previously to my visit, made an appointment to hear the Model Ones at M&H's. During his time there, he commented very favorably on the presentation only to subsequently slaughter it online. This left my writers aghast trying to understand the motives and what really had transpired. By way of my own experience, I can perhaps suggest that coming from traditional dynamic transducers, the Podium Sound panels, just like Quads, initially seem for the pipe'n'slippers brigade. Unlike the Quads however whose lack of frequency extension and dynamics never got out of my own way, the Model Ones don't suffer those limitations in a way that made their perspective on things innately incomplete. Theirs was a complete rendition, albeit a very different one.

It only took minutes for my perceptional focus to shift and fall into their presentation. By the same token, conventional "hard stereo" returns to utter dominance just as quickly once you expose yourself to it again. Since for most, that return will equate to home -- i.e. what you've been listening to all your life -- the panel presentation can seem wrong once you leave it behind. Possibly, that's exactly what happened to that poster.

Certain mature listeners for years have advocated passively matrixed 4-channel sound whereby the rears act as nearly subliminal filler to avoid any kind of overt directionality cues. Those listeners pronounce conventional stereo 'castrated' by comparison, something perfectly ruined to be appreciated again. Others have experimented with 3-speaker setups to pronounce two speakers insufficient. This by way of suggesting that one very interesting application of especially the smaller Podium Sound models, for listeners habitually hardwired to dynamic speakers and incapable of appreciating Shelley Katz' presentation on its own merit, will be their use as ambient fillers behind and outside of the main speakers.

This allows custom tailoring of the balance between direct and reflected sound as a doorway to jump the acquired habit that relates to 2-channel stereo as the only germane way of music playback in the home. The simple fact that one slips into the podium sound like a new stiff shirt that quickly warms to one's body to become very comfortable proves how habits are learned - and as such can be unlearned or replaced by others. Whether you'll want to is an entirely different matter. My short exposure to Layered Sound -- frontal quadrophonics if you will -- certainly challenged my stereo assumptions in a big way. There are more ways to skin this katz than just one and Marja & Henk will report on their ongoing experiments in due time - Ed.
Podium Sound website