Monday, December 19, 2016

The Copper Saga Continues: Getting More With Less.


It's sub zero in Denver today, and I am no way going outside for anything. Even the dogs don't linger outside. They go out, do their business, and run right back in. This is the perfect day to experiment and publish more findings on my copper room treatments.

I've actually not stopped experimenting, and learning about copper and it's effects on the room. Much like the Frank Tchang's and Synergistic Researches acoustic resonators, copper seems to have an effect on the way one's speakers work in the room. The simplest way I can put it is this: Even with conventional acoustic treatments placed very carefully, the audio system seems to fight with the room. One can literally sense this as congestion, veiling and pressure. You can "hear" the room that the system is in.  One can make the speakers disappear with judicious placement, but making the room disappear is another matter altogether.

With somewhat careful placement of differing sizes, gauges and configurations of copper, the room seems to depressurize and let go of the music at all frequencies. You can hear it and feel when you listen to recordings with a good sense of space (artificial or real). One is more convincingly transported to the venue, right in the middle of the stage at times. Clarity is improved without increasing brightness, decays go on forever, dynamics improve, extremely low level detail emerges, and all is done with a naturalness that appears to the listener as a more "real" sound.

What Have I learned?

So what has changed since my last posting? Quite a bit has changed, and I have learned quite a bit as well.  Let me cover what I have learned first.

There is no one size fits all 
As much as I tried to simplify implementation, there is just no one size wire/rod, one length or concrete placement that works for everything. Here are the variations I have worked with:

- Copper rod: Size (awg) matters. Don't even mess with wire thinner than 6 awg. Wire thinner than that tends to over emphasize high frequencies, and gets ugly pretty quickly. The thicker the wire/rod, the lower the frequencies it works on. I have used up to 1/2" thick copper rod with wonderful results, and have larger diameter on the way. I have heard positive effects as low as 250hz with the larger rods. 2 18" segments do wonders for midbass/lower midrange issues in a room.
1/2" copper rod in a cedar block. Placed to the side and
behind the plane of the speakers. These are VERY
powerful!
The 1/2" diameter 18" tall copper rods are extremely powerful. I have kept them near the floor, near the level of the midbass drivers. They seem to be able to manipulate the soundstage, pulling it towards their location. They also add body / texture to vocals, and tighten up midbass.  I have 2 more rods coming, they are slightly larger at  .625" in diameter. I plan on placing the next two behind and outside my listening position. About where I have 2 of the 4 Harmonizers. It should be interesting...

- Copper Sheet: I hung 2 - 1/16" thick x 4" wide x 24" long pieces on the wall behind my speakers, and about 2 feet apart. It helped focus the center image, and created an expansive soundstage across the entire back wall. I have a feeling they might work well on side walls  too. I will be experimenting with that in the future.

- Copper cups: The Sertodo Copper cups, specifically the shot glass, and the 12 oz cup, work well. The shot glasses are the ambiance makers. Good at ear/tweeter level and in corners, or first reflection points. The larger cup I tend to put centered on the wall behind my speakers, but can go out in the room as well.

- Letting it ring vs. damping: I use a combination, but can tell you that when you let the copper ring, as in hang or stand a copper rod up so that most of it is not touching anything, you increase the chances of accentuating certain frequencies and getting narrower coverage of a room. Meaning you can only have so much copper freestanding and free-resonating before it gets out of balance sonically. That may mean you have more spotlit areas of your room, rather than a diffuse coverage. A little goes a long way.

Where We Are At Right Now

I titled this section "Where We Are At Right Now" because this is an ongoing journey. It was a good stopping point today because I am getting better sound than I was with the freestanding copper rods. I only use the large 1/2" copper rods now. I found that using smaller sections of copper rod, and attaching them to the walls and ceiling made significant improvements over copper rods placed about the room, plus it didn't take up floor space. 

Random Placement & The Rear Wall
It started when I removed all the copper in the room, and began randomly placing 6" sections of copper over each wall in the listening room.  After listening for awhile and determining it was worth pursuing, I started removing pieces of copper to determine which ones were more effectively placed.  I found that the upper left & right quadrants of the walls behind the speakers benefitted most from this. I also found after further experimentation that I could use even shorter segments of copper.
The right corner behind the speakers. Note the
sunburst patter of copper on the wall directly
behind the speakers. Note also the copper rod
sitting atop a Stein Harmonizer.

This made the soundstage clearer, and with more width and depth behind the speakers. The center image focus was still in tact, as were instruments placed to the left and right of the soundstage. Detail improved greatly as well. Height is a factor in placing these small bits of copper. Placed at tweeter height or above seems to enhance the soundstage, placing them at woofer height seemed to warm up the sound, but narrow the soundstage. The takeaway: Height and amount of copper are important. If the sound starts getting bright or hollow sounding, back off the amount of copper placed at tweeter/ear level and higher. To warm things up, a few pieces of copper placed along the side walls at woofer height can add warmth and more midrange richness too.

The Ceiling
I then took to the ceiling. In my listening room there is a drop in the ceiling of about 1 foot where the system sits. It drops from 8 to 7 feet right over my listening area, and I can hear it affecting the sound, particularly the image height. 
Note the pieces of copper placed on the low section of my  ceiling. This is the
area where the system and speakers reside. The 1" pieces of .1875" copper rod
cover this entire area of the ceiling.

To attack this issue I staggered 1" pieces of .1875" OFC copper rod and secured them to the ceiling with Loctite Fun-Tak (the hardware store version of Blu-Tak). I covered the entire ceiling in my experiment, and that is the way it remains for now. It definitely helped to restore image height, but also added more depth and detail to the sound. While the sound was now filling the space, with the speakers and the room "disappearing", the image stopped about where my listening position was. It makes sense because my listening chair sits about 4 feet outside of the "low ceiling" zone, and there was no copper placed to the sides or behind me yet.

The Ceiling, Part 2
Taking lessons from what I learned on the low ceiling, and the wall behind the speakers, I decided to try using the "sunburst" pattern of copper pieces that I used so successfully on the wall behind the speakers on areas of the higher ceiling. I placed three sunbursts on the ceiling behind my listening position. One to the left, one centered behind me, and one off to the right.
Not The "sunburst" of copper pieces on the ceiling. 
Why the Ceiling and not the wall behind my speakers? My room is rather long, and the rear wall is too far back (rougly 20 feet) for the copper to have as dramatic an effect. I opted to place three sunbursts about 6 feet behind my listening position. 

After placing the sunbursts on the ceiling, Image height was further enhanced, as was the "wrap around" effect of ambience.  I was immersed in sound, and it was good.

Where Will This Go?

My next experiments will go to heavier copper rod, more copper sheet, and perhaps even to copper plate. From what I have learned recently, I think more mass and a shape with more surface area may have a greater effect. I think a lot of magic is yet to be discovered. Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reference Tweak Alert: Bybee Active Room Neutralizers

A single Bybee Active Room Neutralizer (ARN)

Does Jack B. Sleep?

It would seem that he doesn't. Perhaps, like our president-elect, he survives on very little sleep. All I know is with the prodigious amount of tweaks that he produces, he can't have much time for sleep. For every one tweak that actually makes it to market, dozens are tested and tossed. Jack has been developing cutting edge, often controversial (to those who never hear his products, but authoritatively pontificate on forums) tweaks longer than I have been the Tweek Geek.  I met him in 2000 and was "converted" when I tried a set of his Purifiers on my Legacy Audio speakers. I remember the moment. It was jaw-droppingly good sound like I had never experienced before. I had good equipment, B&K, Legacy audio, Kimber Kable, but the Bybee Purifiers were the icing on the cake. I was so excited about them I had to tell everyone, so on to the forums I went. Wow, that was another experience I won't forget, but don't care to discuss because it's irrelevant, and Jason Victor Serinus' most recent Stereophile article covers the topic in a positive, very well worded way.

The Active Room Neutralizer

The Active Room Neutralizer (ARN) is a white rectangular shape about 2" wide, by 6" long and 1/2" thick. A thin, 10 foot long white AC cord  eminates from the bottom and is terminated with pretty standard 2 prong AC plug. Inside the plastic cover is a proprietary blend of materials that when activated by AC, resonate with the air molecules in the room, enabling the transmission of sound without the usual time misalignment of frequencies. They work well with other room treatments such as the Steinmusic Harmonizers, Shakti Hallographs and Stillpoints Apertures.

The instructions say to attach them to a wall with blu-tak or similar adhesive. They need to be around 5 feet off of the ground. Where you place them in your listening room depends on how many you have. Experimentation is always key. 

Break in is also key. Although you will hear something almost immediately, they will continue to improve over several days. Give them at least 48 hours of being installed and plugged in before evaluating, and another 48 before rendering judgement.
ARN Installed on a wall using blu-tak.

Listening

I knew it would take awhile for the ARN's to acclimate/break in to the new listening space, so I unboxed them the afternoon they arrived, plugged one into the wall behind the speakers, and the other into a position behind my listening seat. Being the holidays, there were plenty of activities to occupy me for the next 48 hours, so it was easy not to "peek" at the results.

Two days later, we came home late from one of our holiday activities, and I went downstairs to unwind a bit while listening to some music. Unwind I did. So much so I fell asleep! Usually a good sign that the system was not suffering any ill effects from the newly installed tweaks. Alas, the critical listening would have to wait until tomorrow morning. 

With the next morning, I headed to the listening room, with coffee, pad, and pen. Below are a few tracks I listened to while evaluating the ARN's.

Patrick O'Hearn, I Could Live Here - Slow Time: This opens up with some bongo drums lightly played in an acoustically ambiant space, with a backing synth track. It's good for checking soundstage. A piano starts playing single keys, adding to the sense of ambiance. About 2 minutes into the track the bass line comes in low, giving a great feeling for bass depth of the system. The tune swirls around the room, behind the listener and enveloping one in the space of the recording. With the Active Room Neutralizers in the system, I forgot about the room I was listening in, and felt transported to the actual venue. I had also picked up on some small details within the track. Synth lines that floated around the room, very low level but more noticeable with the ARN in place. This was a familiar effect that occured over most recordings.

Jennifer Warnes, Ballad of the Runaway Horse, (Unknown version): This opens up with an acoustic bass and jennifer's vocals in an ambient space. I listen to the acoustic bass for the artist's fingers plucking the strings, for the tone of the instrument, and for the sense of space it resides in. I look for the naturalness of tone and texture in the bass and Jennifer's voice. I look for the layering in the vocal harmonies by the accompanying singers. There is also some interesting playing by a cello in the background at a very low level. Only a very resolving system can get every nuance of the cello. With the ARN's in place I felt like I was in the recording space, not my room. There was a sense of naturalness that lent to a very realistic portrayal of the bass, cello and voices. The low level information was more evident than without the ARN's in place, the tone and textures were simply amazing. The best I have heard my system sound.

Trentmoeller, Evil Dub, The Last Resort: Recorded in Q Sound, it offers up a huge, wrap-around 3-Dimensional sound on a well set up system. The bass is deep, pulsing and nuanced. Believe it or not, the little bleeps and blips on the song can either sound flat, or have a bit of decay on them, depending on the resolution of your system. With the ARN's in place the decay was clear, as were many other fine details in the mix.

Stop Swimming, Porcupine Tree, Porcupine Tree: A Haunting, sad song that is fairly well recorded. The song opens with drums that are dynamic with a sense of space around them. It continues with piano, solo vocals synth and a bit of orchestral backup. It draws you in, and relaxes you at the same time.
ARN peeking out from behind a Stillpoints Aperture

Tradeoffs?

I have heard tweaks that produce a holographic effect at the expense of losing image focus, this is not one of those tweaks. It creates a huge sense of width, depth and holography without the loss of image focus. I can literally find no tradeoffs with the Active Room Neutralizers. At least for my sonic tastes and in my system. Everything is clearer, more natural, more spacious with microdynamics, textures and low level resolution.

Conclusion

This relatively simple looking device has rocked my world, and being the "Tweek Geek" that is saying quite a lot. I am surrounded by tweaks and have been for nearly 14 years now. For at least 7 of those 14 years, the Stein Harmonizer system has been my absolute reference, desert island (provided there is AC) tweak. Whenever a new customer would ask "what is the best tweak you offer" I always replied "Hands down, the Stein Harmonizer system". Now I have to qualify statement in light of the stellar performance of the Active Room Neutralizers. If you don't have a minimum of $2k to plunk down on a Stein Harmonizer system, the Active Room Neutralizers are absolutely the best tweak I have to offer and have heaard in quite some time.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wireworld Hits A Home Run With Cat 8 Ethernet


I've never really heard a sonic difference in Ethernet cable. That being said, my experiments with ethernet cables has been using only what came packaged with products, having some made up off of a spool of Cat5 or 6, and buying some inexpensive ethernet cables from the local megamart. I've wrapped them in Stillpoints ERS, used Shakti On-Lines, still no audible differences.

I recently received a shipment of Wireworld's new Starlight Cat 8 ethernet cable and decided to give it a try in a few key places within my network.

CAT7 vs. CAT 8

Starlight Ethernet is the first production cable that meets the proposed requirements for Category 8 networks. The proposed standard for Category 8 networks will extend speeds to the staggering rate of 40 Gigabits per second.

The current standard is CAT7. Category 7 cabling was created to satisfy the demands of 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Even though most media networks now run below that speed, cables that support higher speeds have been found to improve the quality of audio and video streaming.

One of the reasons why CAT7 cables do not meet the proposed CAT8 specifications is that they allow too much crosstalk (mixing) between the four signal channels. To control crosstalk, conventional CAT7 cables use four twisted pairs of conductors with one foil shield on each pair. An overall two-layer shield reduces outside  interference. The problem with twisting is that it makes lengths of the conductors uneven, which causes timing errors called skew.

To support the higher data rate transfer speeds of CAT8 the Starlight 8 ethernet cable incorporates Wireworld’s patent-pending Tite-Shield™ Technology. Wireworld's Tite-Shield technology isolates the four channels with a three-layer shield on each conductor pair. Those shields are so effective that twisting is no longer needed and conductor length differences are eliminated.

Starlight’s unique flat design provides greater physical separation between the four conductor pairs to provide lower crosstalk, supporting higher transmission speeds than conventional designs. The cable also utilizes Wireworld’s proprietary Composilex® 2 insulation to minimize triboelectric noise. The refined transmission properties afforded by these technologies ensure uncompromised performance in the next generation of streaming applications.

Why Do Ethernet Cables Matter In Streaming Audio?

A fantastic question, and one that I have been asking for awhile. Many argue that ethernet cables cannot possibly make a difference, and they are half correct. If using what is called TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) for sending data over a network, then it is very difficult for an ethernet cable to make a difference because the packets of information sent via TCP are guaranteed to be received in order. TCP is all about this reliability — packets sent with TCP are tracked so no data is lost or corrupted in transit. Unfortunately, audio streaming to your DAC or streamer is not sent this way. It is sent via UDP.

UDP stands for User Datagram Protocol. This is how streaming audio and video are sent. — a datagram is the same thing as a packet of information. The UDP protocol works similarly to TCP, but it throws all of the error-checking out in favor of speed. All the back-and-forth communication and deliverability guarantees of TCP slow things down.

When using UDP, packets are just sent to the recipient. The sender won’t wait to make sure the recipient received the packet — it will just continue sending the next series of packets. If you’re the recipient (streamer) and you miss some UDP packets, too bad — you can’t ask for those packets again.

If you experience just a minor packet-loss, the video or audio may be distorted for a moment as the video continues to play without the missing data. We've all seen what poor UDP does to a video signal. That's what it can do to your audio signal as well.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, let's get to the review.

My Network

Currently, the modem that connects to the internet resides upstairs in the opposite corner of the house from my listening room. There is a long run of Cat 7 ethernet connecting the modem directly to a switch in my basement workshop. From that switch, I run an ethernet cable to a wall jack which is then connected to another wall jack in my listening room. It's a 15-20 foot run. From the wall jack in my listening room another ethernet cable connects directly to my AURALiC Aries streamer. A more visual representation looks like this:

Cable modem ----> Switch in the basement ----> Wall jack in shop ---> Wall plate in listening room ----> Streamer

I was able to put the Wireworld cable in two locations, so it looked like this:

Cable modem ----> Switch in the basement >>CAT 8>> Wall jack in shop ---> Wall plate in listening room >>CAT 8>> Streamer

Before we get to the listening and results, let's take a look at why ethernet cables matter when streaming audio.

Listening

With the Wireworld Cat 8 cables in place, I began to listen to some familiar tracks.

Track 1 - Ballad of the Runaway Horse, Jennifer Warnes
The vocal textures were more lifelike, and the plucking of the string bass had more....Pluck. I would call it microdynamics.

Track 2 - Roadhouses & Automobiles, Chris Jones
Chris has a big voice, and the vocal textures with the Wireworld in place were deeper, which lent itself to a better sense of realism. The subtle sounds of crickets in the background were a little more noticeable, and the decay/reverb on the background singers seemed to hang in the air a little longer.

Track 3 - Trentmoller - Evil Dub
I use this track to listen for low bass reach, as well as the 3 dimensionality and high frequency smoothness/deliniation. The album is actually recorded in Q-Sound, and has some very interesting 3D effects if your speakers are set up properly. The sounds can quite literally be projected from behind you. The bass was strong and the tings, pops and other effects were very 3d with good attack. About 1:15 into the song the symbols come in quickly. I listen for speed, emphasis, and attack. Most of the time the attack can sound spitty when done wrong. The highs here remained smooth, fast and with good microdynamics.

Track 4 - Muddy Waters - My Home Is In The Delta
A great demo track. Despite the simplicity of the recording, there is a lot going on here, and a lot to listen for. The Subtle movements on the guitar for one, the incredible dynamics of Muddy's voice captured on the recording, and the ambience/reverb. Listening at moderate levels can be immersive, and it was with the Wireworld Cat8 in place. Again reverb and decay seemed to hang in the air longer and ambient cues were abundant.

Overall, two things were immediately apparent. The possible lowering of the noise floor and lower distortion in the high frequencies. What I mean by that is that I heard more low level information. Air, space and texture seemed to improve and be more realistic. The highs were more defined, delineated but withought being exaggerated or brought to the forefront of the musical presentation. It sounded cleaner, and clearer.

Upon further listening, my previous impressions were confirmed. Regarding texture for instance, an acoustic guitar had a more wooden tone to it. When fingers strummed strings, and glided acrossed frets is was more like the live sound of hearing fingers strumming strings and moving up and down the neck of the guitar. The same went for double bass. Vocals also had more emotion due to hearing more of the microinflection. The enunciation of lyrics was clearer as well.

Conclusion

The Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 ethernet cable is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to help lower noise and distortion your streaming audio. Whether it be from your own music library or from the internet, you simply get more information with the Starlight ethernet cable in place. Even if you cannot do an end to end run of Starlight ethernet, every little bit seemed to help. In my system I was able to replace 2 runs of standard issue Cat5 and it made a significant difference.

I give it 3.5 tinfoil hats!