The Test System

Before we go on to look at some of the PC software and hardware out there, I'll offer up a quick overview of the test system. Some of the components used really are out on a limb with price tags that are not for the faint of heart. In audiophile currency, I probably have what amounts to a mid-budget system. If your interest is in low budget products, be warned that the rest of this page will probably make your stomach churn. However, you've not been forgotten and we will add a few suggestions here and there should you have champagne tastes on beer budgets - as most of us probably do, especially in this time of credit crunch.

Speakers


Real Hi-Fi owner and Supravox distributor Matthew Jameson was kind enough to provide us with a pair of test speakers based upon Supravox Signature Bicone Drivers known as the Transparence from a company called 3D Sonics. The Bicone Signature driver is a high efficiency (claimed 96dB sensitive) wide bandwidth design featuring a whizzer cone to supplement high frequency reproduction while the main cone takes care of the rest. The parameters of these drivers make them eminently suitable for an open baffle design like the Transparence.

If you keep your ear to the ground in loudspeaker circles, you'll know that open baffle loudspeakers have made a marked resurgence over the last five years or so. One of the chief perpetrators of this revival was a fellow named Throsten Loesch. Thorsten publicized his build of the Supravox Bicone Sig's using the very design that went on to become the 3D Sonics commercial venture. The remarkable simplicity was just what many in the DIY audio community were looking for: an easy to build high performance loudspeaker that could use a variety of drivers according to budget. I had the pleasure of listening to these speakers around five years ago at Thorsten's house; needless to say, it was an experience I never forgot. The absence of a walled cabinet allows the sound to fly out in all directions creating a soundstage that simply makes the loudspeaker drivers disappear.

All good things come with a slap around the cheeks and here's the part that the standard "boom 'n tizz" audio loving public won't like: the price tag is around £2400 UKP for a pair of these beauties. In audiophile markets, a price tag like this is hardly sweat inducing as there are plenty of high-end designs that cost multitudes more. If you are worried about the price, there's no reason to fret as DIY'ing a pair yourself that should get within 95% of the commercial model is not out of the question.


3D Sonics makes an in-house change to the drivers that involves coating them with a few layers of C37 lacquer to humanize the sound.

Stock signature Bicone drivers are available for DIY endeavors from Supravox USA, Supravox France for the EU, and direct from Real Hi-FI for the UK at around a third of the cost of the "ready to go" Transparence. If that's still too much for you, another door is open by using the budget friendly Visaton B200 driver with suitable baffle adjustments to suit its parameters.

The Transparence design is fiendishly simple: a single driver in a 6'x4' acrylic baffle that uses an aluminum L-bracket as a stand and as a means of providing additional rigidity to the baffle. There's no crossover as the driver covers the range of 50 Hz to 15 KHz on its own. That's most of the audible range covered by a single point source. While the top-end extension is enough even for super ears, the low-end obviously needs augmenting with a subwoofer for bass heavy music. For this purpose I use a Linn AV 5150 subwoofer crossed over at around 48 Hz that integrates very well with these speakers, especially when we use DRC to level some of the room response abnormalities.

Whether or not you have the financial clout to buy the fully fledged 3D Sonics Transparence, it's certainly worth investigating the sonic landscape that open baffle designs can create. The availability of drivers for just about every budget leaves the onus of their use squarely in the hands of the DIY'er. Don't pass up the chance to try them out.

Index The Test System, Cont'd
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  • notanakin - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Generally I found the article interesting, but why on earth was Vista 64 used for the review? The author admits he couldn't find USB-ASIO drivers, and that ACXO doesn't support Vista 64 properly. Surely first you check what would be interesting for the review and then choose an appropriate OS? Also, I'm pretty sure that Vista 32 or Win XP are far more likely to be used by most readers of the article.

    Thank goodness he wasn't running Win ME on his PC.
    Reply
  • milosz - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Single Ended Triode amps add a considerable - and DEMONSTRABLE- amount of low number even-order distortion to reproduced sound. To their devotee's, this sound is "full," "rich," "harmonically complex" - etc. But what they're hearing has been ADDED by the electronics. If you listen on speakers like the single-cone types used in the review, adding some additional harmonics to the overtone structure can compensate for the lack of upper treble and poor transient presofrmance of these single-driver systems. These single driver systems store a LOT of energy in the low treble- just look at their waterfall plots. When the signal stops the cone keeps moving, from the high mass storing energy. A ribbon tweeter has a moving mass of 0.01 g while a single-driver speaker like these has a mass of about 10 grams. You tell me which will be able to faithfully folow the motions demanded of complex high frequency reproduction, and which one will have some much inetria that it will keep moving long after the signal has stopped. But if you use a SET on these things, it generates a lot of extra low order even harmonics to sweeten things up - it masks the problems introduced by the speaker to some degree.

    I think it preferable to use electronics that add as little of their own coloration as possible. That's why I try to use the best electrostatic or ribbon speakers I can afford, with the best class-A amps (tube or solid state, a good amp is a good amp) I can afford, as well as high-slope digital crossovers and top-notch D-to-A converters. I've also tried some SACD and DVD-A audio and frankly it doesn't sound any different to me from CD. Vinyl also has a lot of good music in it if you can tolerate the light hiss and crackles that even the best vinyl playback has. Of course the thing I've spent the MOST money on is the MUSIC. For a n old guy like me who has made a little dough, $75,000 for CDs and LPs, $25,000 for a 2-channel audio system is about the right ratio.
    Reply
  • Carnildo - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I noticed one word missing from this review: "double-blind". To evaluate something as subjective as audio quality, you need to do double-blind testing to make sure the results aren't being influenced by your expectations of what the sound should be like.

    One thing I'd like to see is an all-digital sound system: the sound is read off the disc, converted to 64-bit floating point, processed for playback (mixing, volume adjustment, room compensation, frequency separation if you're not using full-range speakers, etc), sent out over the wires still digital, and then converted to analog just before it hits the coils in the speakers. Keeping it digital will avoid most noise sources, 64-bit floating-point will give you a noise floor far below what anything analog or integer digital can manage, and you've got the full processing power of a modern computer to adjust for things like an imperfect room layout.
    Reply
  • RagingDragon - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Floating point leads to rounding errors, and processing the floating point signal would increase those rounding errors. Todays top DAC/ADC are mostly 24-bit (unsigned) integer, so using 32 or 64 bit integers would be a more than sufficient, and without the rounding errors inherent to floating point math.
    Reply
  • headbox - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    So you tested audio in a bare room with hardwood floors. Hardly a room for an "audiophile." Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    IMO that is the kind of thing they should focus on - what can be done with computers to get the best sound possible in normal rooms? Kinda like Anand's home theater, music rooms are interesting tech but not something most people have the time, money, or space to implement. So what can be done to get the best sound in a dorm room, or multi-purpose family room, etc. Reply
  • pcfxer - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    "One of the chief perpetrators of this revival was a fellow named Throsten Loesch. "


    You mean Siegfred Linkwitz, yes?

    Reply
  • ccd - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Sigfired Linkwitz has been a major proponent of dipole speakers, not open baffle speakers. Reply
  • ccd - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link


    Like many here, I think the DRC discussion is best suited for a website like Anandtech. As for some of the other issues, I highly recommend that you visit www.linkwitzlab.com Not only is the Orion the best speaker that I have personally heard, but Sigfried Linkwitz is an engineer who designed a line of very well reviewed commercial speakers. At his site, you will find a number of papers written by him on speakers and how we hear. You will find some good science there, not snake oil or myths passed among audiophiles as truth. You will find that the speakers he offers at his site as well as the literature there runs counter to many of the assumptions made by this author.
    Reply
  • royboy66 - Tuesday, December 02, 2008 - link

    Now to the meat of this audio is not something we know everything about -battery power isolates all power line noise if done properly, tube amps and tube microphones and recording equipment -when properly maintained have made magnificent lifelike recordings -i have many of them -close your eyes and you are there! I have a large hifi collection and had 19 amps at one stage -i got sent over a mint 1966 Fisher X10D valve amp owned by a guy who looked after it -original box, valves everything and maintained by a valve technician –it had not had a hard life – i never ever thought it was going to sound any good hooked it up and nearly fell over the sound was alive –i sold almost all the amps i had after that experience –they were sterile crap! I still had some very fine solid state though eg Electrocompaniet for example and it too made beautiful music .Now you guys who just blast your ipods at 120db in your ears have no idea about sound quality –if you know anybody passionate about audio go listen to their setup –chances are it will sound great because they have put the effort in to make it so. I do not believe in voodoo or bullcrap –but never underestimate power line noise and rf contamination etc
    Also i can comment on speakers and dacs –they all make a difference –if i ever have to listen to a tda1543 again it will be too soon !the cymbals sound dull because that dac is barely 15 bit in quality –would you use a commodore 64 now to surf the net – of course not. This dac is so far outdated it is not funny –listen to cymbals on a good record they do not sound like the tda1543 reproduces them –it simply does not have the resolution in the mid to upper frequency to sample properly the lifelike sound of a cymbal –but the other did because it was a better computer for those same frequency
    I have as one of my system the NHT XDA digital active system –are we supposed to believe it is the last word in audio because it is digital and has one of the flattest responses irrespective of room –it basically does not need that. I asked a few friends how they thought it sounded compared to my 20 year old Infinity Kappa9 and not one of them liked it over 20 year old speakers driven by valve or solid state. what does this mean? –there is more to audio than we think –so guys keep an open mind and hopefully through these articles we will end up with great computer sound –i personally at the moment use a squeezebox with lossless Flac and or digital out to it or a city pulse dac11 for computer audio –amongst other options
    Pc noise is definitely the big problem – i live in the country it is quiet so my background noise is lower and the pc is loud –totally silent or in another room is the go –but my power is crap due to being in a rural area –hence i say if everything could be run off battery or solar it would make a big difference –listen to Jack Johnsons solar powered album –how good does that sound –awesome! Lastly guys I am no audio snob –i have no car but plenty of audio equipment and cds ,records, dvdaudio, sacd, upsampled music etc – i get given bucket loads of mp3 and use that to find music worth listening to –the pc can and is going to be the source of quality music for the future so let the articles continue
    Reply

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