June 1, 2006
What We DoThe Aerial Acoustics 10T loudspeakers sounded horrible. They werent imaging properly, they sounded slow and plodding, and their upper frequencies were rolled off. I had them placed in the exact locations where I normally have the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria X-2s, precisely marked with tape to preserve the locations. It just wasnt working. Back to the drawing board.
I had brought over fellow SoundStage! Network writer Randall Smiths 10Ts in order to provide another subject for comparison for some upcoming loudspeaker reviews I would be conducting. I placed the Aerials in the Wilson speakers prior coordinates, the same locations where a pair of Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.3 speakers had found their own sweet spots a few days before. Having heard the 10Ts on countless occasions over the last decade -- at Randalls house, in dealers showrooms, at trade shows -- I knew their potential was far greater than what I was experiencing. And so it began: the long, arduous process of moving, listening, moving, listening, measuring with a tape, moving some more . . .
After about two hours I had the 10Ts placed just in front and to the inside of where the Wilsons and Paradigms sound their best. Out came the masking tape, and another set of marks went down on the floor. Over the next two days I listened to the 10Ts, and further optimized their toe-in (yes, I adjusted the tape as well) and the angle of their head units in relation to the bass cabinets. I was again impressed with the speakers -- and, more important, satisfied that I was getting the best they had to offer.
This process would play out again, later that same week, with both the Sound Fusion Luna and Audio Acoustics Sapphire Ti-C SE speakers -- both in for review. Each of these speaker systems staked out its own real estate in my room -- locations different from each other and from both the Wilson/Paradigm and Aerial spots. My room was beginning to resemble a road map, lines of tape going every which way. All five speakers -- the Wilsons, Paradigms, Aerials, Audio Acoustics, Sound Fusions -- best locations were confined to an area about three feet square, but within that fairly small chunk of room the sound varied tremendously from speaker to speaker and from spot to spot. Toe-in, rake -- even where the other speakers in the room were placed when not in use -- mattered to the sound of each.
After a week of this optimization ritual, Randall and I set aside an evening to listen to all of these speakers to suss out just what each pair was doing in my room, noting strengths and weaknesses, comparing them with each another. Once these comparisons were done, it would be time to sit back and listen critically, over a period of weeks, to both sets of speakers under review to gather my impressions of them over a longer period.
The ritual Ive described above is nothing new, nor is it confined to reviewers. Most audiophiles, and all good dealers, go through the same process over and over. Its what you have to do to ensure that youve obtained the best possible sound from a component. You have to sweat the details. You have to know your room, the associated equipment, the recordings -- everything matters.
Recently, Ive read a number of "reviews" in which the writer auditions a component under unfamiliar circumstances, often at the manufacturers facilities. For the record, and as a member of the press, I can promise you that, in my book, these are not product reviews. At best, theyre feature articles; at worst, something else altogether. In a recent e-mail thread, SoundStage! Network writers discussed this new trend in product reviews, and we were all embarrassed for the publications printing them. But we were more than just embarrassed -- we were outraged.
For the record, this type of methodology is not what we do. Our reviews are conducted in our own environments, carefully and thoughtfully. Thats what we do, and what you should demand from anyone youre going to trust to provide a competent product review.
Ultra Audio is part of the SoundStage! Network.