If It's Spring, It Must Be Time for New Speakers (and More): Janszen Valentina Active

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
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Chicagoland
[FONT=&amp]First, let me emphasize that I find nothing wrong with the Stirling LS3/6 + AudioKinesis Swarm Subwoofer System I've been using. Each of the parts is still a great bargain and together they make a great truly full-range bargain speaker system, in my opinion. My decision to move on is strictly a personal one based on audiophile itch, my personal perceptions of my listening space, and my evolving listening goals. That said, I think the changes have produced a system which provides the best sound reproduction I've yet achieved in any system and that again the speakers are a bargain. [/FONT]

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[FONT=&amp]Several factors played into my decision to move from the Stirling LS3/6 + Swarm to the Janszen Valentina Active as speakers for my upstairs small stereo room system:[/FONT]
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  • I've hinted at my small upstairs room being a bit claustrophobically crowded with equipment and furniture.

  • I've also mentioned my new-found interest in headphone listening. I've discovered that, spatial presentation aside, modern high quality headphones can present a combination of tonal rightness and real musical detail which approach much more closely what one hears in a concert than what is possible with most speakers. What you lose by not hearing left and right channels with both ears is compensated for somewhat by the total lack of listening room coloration.

  • In my experience, adding subwoofers to any speakers tends to defocus the presentation a bit. This was true even when I attempted time alignment, such as with the TacT RCS 2.2XP. With the four Swarm subs well distributed around the room to minimize low-bass coloration, time alignment really isn't possible since the two woofers assigned to each channel will not be the same distance from the listening position. You may not think this is important if the subs are crossed over at a fairly low frequency (43 Hz in my case) and the mains overlap with the subs since the mains are run full range in my case. But A/B comparisons with the subs on and off always showed that while the Swarm added space, size, and bass extension to the presentation, that presentation was always a bit blurred spatially and dynamically compared to the LS3/6s alone. This was always true with other sub/main combos in my prior room as well. I lived with it because I liked the bass extension and added size/space with the subs. But headphones give the bass and the rest of the spectrum in perfect focus. This led me to conclude that it sure would be nice to have truly full-range main speakers and ditch the subs.

  • Ditching the subs would remove a lot of "equipment clutter" from the room: four subwoofer boxes, two amps, and lots of cables.

  • My recent positioning (see Rule of Thirds 29% Version at http://noaudiophile.com/speakercalc/) for the main speakers, at least with the Stirling LS3/6, removes the need for electronic equalization. That means that the Z-Systems or other EQ box could be removed from the room.

  • This is a single-listener room. Thus, I don't need to worry about how the speakers fill the room with sound for demos/parties/group listening, etc. In contrast, in my downstairs music room, group listening is commonplace. My wife and all our relatives are thrilled by the sound of the big Harbeths in that room.

  • I do like the relatively small size of the Stirlings, especially for this small room. Bigger boxes like the Harbeth M40.x would look big in this room and panels are probably out of the question since I can't get both them and me far enough from the walls behind us.

  • Several hereabouts have found satisfaction with the Janszen Valentina floorstanders. I, too, had found these excellent sounding two years running at AXPONA. REG's review, as well as other on line comments by reviewers and owners, have been uniformly very positive. The review by the Part-Time Audiophile was what convinced me, however. The reviewer is an admitted headphone listening lover and found the Janszens unique among speakers in giving him the type of musical detail which comes easy for headphones, while still having very accurate tonality and doing exceptionally well all the spatial things which make listening through speakers both a real kick and sounding more like a concert hall presentation.

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[FONT=&amp]In December I decided to pull the trigger. Three months later, I had my Janszen Valentina Active powered speakers ensconced in my upstairs room. The Janszens actually look smaller than the LS3/6s on their stands did. The angled back position of the Janszens, together with all the sculpting of their cabinets and plinths makes them look smaller than they actually are. And the further back I angle them (since I listen from fairly close up, I angle them back a bit more than usual), the smaller they look even though the floor space they occupy increases.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Other Changes[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Benchmark DAC-3 DX Replaces Lyngdorf TDAI-2170[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]But the Janszens are not the only change I've instituted. I've decided to move the Lyngdorf TDAI-2170 to the downstairs system. Its digital output will feed the digital input of the Lyngdorf SDA-2400 which currently powers the Harbeth M40.1s there. I will then add either my current Z-Systems rdq-1 or the paid-for-but-still-coming DSPeaker X4 to that system to provide electronic equalization. The Harbeth midbass could use some taming. Other listeners to this system don't seem to mind, but as usual in my experience, unless the room is rather larger than the one where they are, the midbass is a bit or more rich with most reasonable positioning of listener and speakers. The combination of the Lyngdorf's EQ options and the separate electronic EQ will allow me to fix all the problems, including any actual measured midrange projection.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Again let me stress that, other than this unit's implementation of RoomPerfect, I find no flaw with the TDAI-2170. Its sound is truly outstanding and its feature set makes it a unique Swiss Army Knife of digital preamps/integrated amps. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Upstairs, in the Lyngdorf TDAI-2170's place, I've added the tiny-by-comparison Benchmark DAC3 DX, which is the latest model with digital-only (AES/EBU, coax, toslink, USB) inputs. I did not want to give up the ability to deal with "intersample overs" which the Lyngdorf had and the Benchmark is one of the few other games in town on that front. See the discussion of this issue in the Benchmark Application Notes: https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/intersample-overs-in-cd-recordings. I have the Benchmark's pro-audio-level XLR outputs padded down by 20 dB through movement of internal jumpers so that the volume controls on the Benchmark and Valentina amps operate in their sweet zones and so that the Benchmark's XLR balandced outputs do not overload the Valentina amp inputs (such overload was clearly audible with the Benchmark's balanced outputs unpadded). The DAC-3 DX manual with instructions and measurements is at https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0321/7609/files/DAC3_DX_Manual_Rev_A.pdf?2145142760822039914[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Electronic Visionary Systems, the modifier of the Oppo BDP-105 and 105D I use in my two systems, has now given up modifying those machines in favor of Chinese DACs which use the new ESS chips. EVS says they have not been able to modify machines using the older ESS 9018 chips used in the Oppos I have to sound as good as the stock versions of machines using the new ESS chips. Thus I decided to get a DAC which uses one of those new chips. The Benchmark DAC-3 DX uses one of the new family of ESS Sabre DAC chips, the ES9028 Pro. Three such are used for each channel of the balanced main output, while one is used per channel for the unbalanced auxilliary output.


Now I will be able to deal with intersample overs in both my systems, with the Lyngdorf in one and the Benchmark in the other. It's difficult to directly compare the sound of the DACs in the two (actually, I really haven't figured out how to do that) since the Lyngdorf is basically a power DAC which also directly drives speakers. I hear nothing amiss when either is in use. If pushed, I would guess that the Benchmark has a bit better bass definition and wallop, as well as a yet-more-analog-like, yet more "relaxed" sound due to yet smoother, more filligreed, and more extended highs. But this is just a guess, absent direct comparison.


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[FONT=&amp]Kanex Pro Audio HDMI De-Embedder
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Since the Benchmark, unlike the Lyngdorf, does not accept HDMI output from my EVS-modified Oppo BDP-105D, I've also added the very tiny Kanex Pro Audio De-Embedder. Note that the picture of the Kanex at that link actually shows two of the units stacked on each other so that the same photo can show both the input and output sides of the box. In addition to this tiny box, the Kanex has a wall-wart power supply. This $70 unit works like a charm, accepting up to HDMI-based 24/192 at its input and outputting bit-perfect same format on SPDIF coax or toslink at its output. In my system the de-embedder's HDMI input is fed from the Oppo's HDMI output via Blue Jeans HDMI Belden Series FE cable and the de-embedder's coax SPDIF output feeds one of the Benchmark's digital audio inputs via coax Blue Jeans Belden 1694A digital coax cable.
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[FONT=&amp]I like to use the HDMI output from the Oppo because the Oppo's HDMI port outputs full resolution PCM signals from SACD and high-res PCM sources like the Reference Recordings HRx discs and Blu-Ray Audio discs. The Oppo's coax output will not put out any signal for SACD or high-resolution PCM sources. Using the HDMI out eliminates the necessity of another D/A - A/D conversion for SACD and PCM high resolution sources which would otherwise have to come out of the Oppo's analog outputs.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]For CDs and other non-high-res digital sources, I can directly A/B the sound of the Oppo's digital coax output directly feeding the digital coax input of the Benchmark against the Oppo's HDMI output into the Kanex de-embedder and thence to another Benchmark digital coax input. All cables are Blue Jeans. The Kanex seems to be quite transparent. Occasionally, I think I hear slight differences between the two signal paths, but if the differences are real, they are very small and not always in favor of bypassing the Kanex.[/FONT]
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Headphone Listening
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[FONT=&amp]The unbalanced auxiliary analog output of the Benchmark feeds the unbalanced analog input of my SimAudio Moon Neo 430ha headphone amplifier, now bypassing the DAC in that headphone amp. The Benchmark's headphone amp is fine sounding, but the SimAudio is in the very top class of such devices; the superior sound is instantly audible.[/FONT]
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Downsized System, More Open Room
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[FONT=&amp]All the electronics for my upstairs system now fit on or under the small Ikea Lack table, further opening up the space of this small room. The Sonex floor pads are not necessary or even helpful with the Janszens. With all these changes, I'm able to move my other large CD rack to the back of the room, out of my vision and out of the first reflection point of the Janszens as viewed from the listening seat. Presto-chango, my small room now looks and feels a lot more spacious.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Sonics[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]So, how do the Janszens sound? Well I wouldn't be writing this if I weren't very pleased with the sonic results. In summary, though, I'm sorry I waited this long to acquire the Janszens! They are all that other owners and reviewers have said they are. For a single-listener system, these are wonderful. They almost instantly unmask all the problems with other speakers I've heard, problems which were not all that obvious before, but which are easily recognized now that they are gone. That was so even with my initial very casual plop-them-down-roughly-where the Stirling-speaker-stand-impressions-in-the-carpet-are set up. Refining that set up just allows the Janszens to sound yet better.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Here's an audiophile rundown of what sets these above the rest, even with the initial casual set up:[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]1. Overall very neutral tonal balance from deep bass to high highs. This quality is at least as good as the Stirling and Harbeth, and neither of those handle the bottom octave as well as these do. Absolutely no electronic equalization is needed as long as the set up of the speakers and the listening position is adjusted for neutral tonal balance, and that is not hard to do, as evidenced by the fact that even plopping them down casually produced not obvious tonal problems needing correction.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]2. For a small speaker, the bass is extraordinarily deep, tuneful, powerful, impactful and does not get stressed even at high levels. This is at preset 2 of the 4 built-in bass EQ settings, the manufacturer's recommended starting point. This setting clearly sounds best in my room--just right, in fact. This is better bass than the Swarm/LS3/6 was giving me in the same room and that measured at full level and quite smooth to below 20 Hz. Getting the bass level correct for any given preset with the Janszens is merely a matter of adjusting the distance from the wall behind the speakers, or, alternatively, choosing a different one of the speakers' bass level presets.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]3. The clarity and low distortion, as with fine headphones, is extraordinary. And like great headphones and live unamplified music, the distortion does not subtly (or not so subtly) increase as you turn up the volume. The sound just gets louder. That's a danger, I suppose, since these will play totally cleanly to very high levels, louder than you should listen for any length of time. But, boy, do these sound clean at high levels. The Janszens are better at this than any other speakers I've owned. The Quads have the same feeling of staying low in distortion as you turn them up, but their bass limits intrude on a lot of material before you get to 90 dB. The combination of the Janszen's drivers and internal amps are clean to 108 dB, claims Janszen. I believe it.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]4. Once the set up of the speakers is tweaked for toe-in, tilt-back, and other positioning aspects, the feeling that everything is time-aligned is extraordinary, even better than with Quads, Vandersteens, and a few others where on impulse tests, the sound from the drivers arrives at nearly the same instant. This mimics what single-driver, wide-range headphones sound like. The lack of smear on transients is extraordinary, especially since, in contrast to headphones, you are hearing not only the direct sound from the speakers, but at least some (but not much--the clap track on the XLO/Sheffield test disc is remarkably free from slap echo, almost like it sounds on headphones) reflected sound from your listening room surfaces. This quality is quite superior on these since there is no back wave from the stats, as there is with Quads, Sanders, and other dipole radiators. The bouncing back wave of dipoles smears out the transients, spoiling, at least in a smallish room, any built-in time alignment.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]5. Differentiation of the spatial aspects of different recordings is again extraordinary--better than any other speakers I've experienced.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]6. There is no discernible grit, grunge, spit, etc. in the highs. They are better than either the Harbeths or Stirlings in this respect, and that is saying a whole lot. And this is with the panels aimed right at my ears in terms of toe-in angle. You can get the highs to sound rolled off or up in the top two octaves if you mis-adjust the tilt-back, but this is a relatively mild effect. The highs still sound pretty fine indeed. The critical 2 kHz to 5 kHz range is never exaggerated. With too much tilt-back the top octaves are up a bit and there is a mild depression in the presence range, but this does not sound bad, just adding extra sheen to the sound. With not enough tilt-back, the highs roll off gently in the top two octaves, but are very pleasant and non-offensive, sort of a vintage AR-speaker high-frequency balance.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]7. Like the Stirlings, these have a lively and punchy quality which seems to make them enhance dynamic contrasts compared to other speakers without any tonal emphases.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]8. I cannot hear the crossover between the woofers and the electrostatic panels.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]9. As most other reviews of the Janszens have mentioned, the ability to hear out what each individual voice and instrument is doing when the music gets complex/layered is extraordinary, far better than any other system I've owned. The voices and instruments blend musically, yes, but not into an amorphous glob. No artificial high-frequency etch accompanies this ability. In this way the system sounds more like a real unamplified concert in a good hall.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]9. In this system there is a very slight amount of hiss audible from the speakers with their amps on but the sound muted if I am within about a foot of the drivers, but nothing is audible from any further back. Quiet enough, certainly, especially considering how loudly the Janszens will play cleanly.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]By the way, the amp heat sinks on the back of the speakers do not run cool, but are warm to the touch. I was surprised by this given David's comments in the manual about how "green" the amps are and how little power they draw at idle. The heat sinks on both speakers seem about the same temperature to the touch, so I doubted that they were both faulty from the get-go. In talking with David Janszen at this year's AXPONA, he confirmed that the heat sinks should in fact be warm to the touch.
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[FONT=&amp]Set Up Considerations[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]As far as set-up goes, I have not found the set up daunting, at least after carefully reading the owner's manual and corresponding with David Janszen a bit. Just follow his directions and you won't go too far wrong. I agree with those who thought REG's review of the passive version of these focused too much on the difficulty of getting these set up just right. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]That said, if like me, you are used to being able to position your speakers via direct measurements from the baffle, you will have to get used to other methods. The tilt-back, plus all the angles and scoop outs of the cabinet shaping makes measuring from the top front center of the baffle to the walls, for instance, much more difficult. But, again, just follow David's suggestions and you can get the two speakers positioned as you want them with good precision. And I would not sweat the Air Layer adjustment. The response of the Air Layer tweeters has been modified since REG reviewed these speakers. In it's current incarnation, It doesn't make a hill of beans difference from a tonal standpoint anymore, at least if you are following the manufacturer's suggestions as to the level setting of the side-firing tweeters. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Aiming the speakers right at my ears sounds best to me. Yes, if you want a listening spot where two people can sit side by side you can aim them so that the speakers are toed in a bit less, such as aimed at your shoulders. But for a single seated listener, aiming the speakers at my ears seems to provide the very best focus with no significant downsides. The speakers definitely are not too bright or otherwise toppy that way, as long as you get the tilt-back correct.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]As to tilt back, I've been using 3/16"-thick heavy duty felt pads (the kind meant to go under furniture legs to protect hardwood floors) below the front feet to adjust the tilt-back angle. The amount of tilt-back which is ideal is totally dependent on how far you are from the speakers and how far above the floor your ears are. I found that adjusting the amount of shimming necessary to yield the best response was easy once I listened to some a capella choir music. I listen for maximum natural tonality and focus on such material. Leaving the front feet as delivered, for my situation, I found that four of the felt pads under the front feet was not quite enough, while six was too much. Five sounds just right. No reasonable amount of tilt-back sounds "bad," (the Janszens have sounded wonderful from the first note) but when it's right, the tonal balance, space, and the feeling that all the transients are arriving simultaneously snap into sharper focus, the apparent distortion level seems even lower, and clarity further improves with no hint of over-brightness or edge at all.
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[FONT=&amp]David Janszen and I independently arrived at the conclusion that the audibly correct tilt back can be viewed by placing a 2" circular mirror centered horizontally on the stat panel cut out and centered six inches up from the bottom of the cut out. With the mirror so placed, the tilt back is correct when, with your head pointing straight ahead, you can see your right ear with your right eye in the mirror on the right speaker. For the left speaker, you look with your left eye. I had figured out the amount of tilt-back I subjectively preferred. I told David about the mirror method and David then used the mirror method and was able to confirm that he had his office pair tilted back to provide the same result from his listening position. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]As to bass balance, I totally agree with David Janszen's recommendations. You can either use the bass level presets to adjust to taste, or, for any given preset, move the speakers nearer or further from the wall behind them to adjust to taste or measurement goal. Audio masochist that I am, I prefer moving the speakers. That is certainly a lot more time consuming to get just right. However, keeping the preset at 2 avoids overloading the amps/woofers at high volume levels on material with a lot of bass and provides great low-bass extension. Presets 3 and 4 boost the bass at the expense of bass extension and amp and bass driver headroom. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]The instruction manual (clarified per David J) says to place the speakers so that the rear-most top corner of the speakers (after adjusting the tilt-back and toe-in) is between two feet (24 inches) and three feet (36 inches) from the wall behind the speakers. I tried about 35 inches and that was too light-weight a bass balance. Next I tried 30" and that was much better, just a bit on the too light-weight side. I tried 28 inches, but that was too heavy/thumpy, as was 29 inches, but less so. I've now settled on 29.75", which seems to be the sweet spot for bass in this room. With the speakers so positioned, the plinths of the Janszens are just about exactly centered in the footprint of where the stands for the Stirlings were when they were tilted back and adjusted per the Rule of Thirds (29% version) that I used at the end with the Stirlings. Imagine that.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]The distance from the wall behind the speakers does not seem to much effect the depth or other spatial aspects of the presentation. The ability to keep the speakers fairly close to the wall behind them for best bass balance is a boon to users with small rooms like me. The speakers don't totally dominate the room when so placed, even in a small space, and you can get the speakers far enough from you to maintain reasonable time alignment of the bass and stat panels while keeping your head far enough from the back wall to prevent audible splash from that surface. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]As to the Air-Layer side-firing dome tweeter option, I do recommend getting this option. It doesn't add much to the overall cost of the speakers, considering their basic price without it. In my situation and to my way of hearing the presentation, I deem that turning on the Air-Layer is basically neutral in terms of the resulting sound quality. There are pluses and minuses, in other words. Turning them on and adjusting the level half way between the minus 12 and minus 10 levels opens up the soundfield a bit, making the presentation a bit larger and decreases the change in tonality from sitting down to standing up. Turning off the Air Layer usually sharpens focus, further clarifies, reduces perceived distortion yet further, but makes the presentation just a bit smaller in terms of width and height in my set up. I have 4"-thick Sonex pads covering the first reflection areas of the Air-Layer tweeters as viewed from the listening position.
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[FONT=&amp]I don't need Sonex floor pads with these speakers. Putting Sonex on the floor in fact seemed to add a bit of coloration the sound. The pads on the walls are still somewhat helpful, even with the Air Layer tweeters off. I have not experimented with the ceiling pads; I've left them in place. Overall, the Sonex pads have less effect on the sound of these speakers than with any speakers I've owned since I started using Sonex in the 1980s. The Janszens really do pretty much seem to ignore the room surfaces as long as the Air-Layer tweeters are off or turned down to the level I mentioned, even more so than the Gradient Revolution Active did in a larger room.[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]The one thing I worried about before getting the speakers was whether the low position of the stat panels with respect to my ears in the listening position would make the stage appear to be low, as in listening from the balcony. And, indeed, with only a single Janszen speaker playing, the sound, as with most other speakers, seems centered on the physical position of the high/mid drivers, which in this case is quite low. But in stereo replay, this has not proved to be a problem at all, even from my fairly close listening position. The center of the electrostatic array of the speakers and my ears form a roughly 60" equilateral triangle and my listening height is about 37", far above the center of the stat panels. With both speakers playing, as the manufacturer claims, the stage and images on it usually appear to be straight ahead, not down, thus appearing to come from a bit above the top of the speakers. High frequencies, like cymbal shimmer, appear to be a bit or more up, as they are in unamplified concerts. The stage is not gigantically tall as some taller speakers (especially panels) can make it appear, but it is tall enough to satisfy me, and I'm quite tuned in to this spatial aspect of music reproduction. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Summary
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[FONT=&amp]Summary score card: Positive 100%, Negative, 0%. Wonderful speakers, indeed, especially for the price which includes bi-amping, a very attractive form factor, and obviously very high-quality construction![/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]What's Left to Improve?[/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Could they be better? Well, David Janszen plans to bring a new taller model to demo in a bigger room at next year's 2018 AXPONA in Chicago. This year, he isn't bringing speakers at all, but will only be demonstrating his working prototype electrostatic headphones which can play from the built-in electronics of mobile devices. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]I think one reason (among many) for the planned larger model is to avoid tilt-back and make it a true line source at seated ear level. That will enlarge the presentation yet further and maybe sharpen the focus yet further by allowing the stat panels to face straight ahead rather than angling them up or down by three degrees toward the floor and ceiling--there would be yet less floor and ceiling bounce. David really likes the big sound of the old and tall dipole KLH 9 electrostatic panels he has been refurbishing/updating. I hope he sticks with a sealed cabinet on his new ones, though. For dipoles, you really need a room large enough to get the panels seven feet or more from the wall behind them to avoid strong reflections. That said, he claims that the old KLH 9s physically block most of the treble bounce off the wall behind the speakers for a centered listener in front of the speakers since the "point-source" electrostatic tweeter in the KLH 9s is so small compared to the rest of the panel--unlike most panel speakers which have line source treble as well as bass. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]If you really like to listen in the extreme near field, the current Valentina is probably not for you unless you can arrange things so that your ears are very low, say 34" from the floor. For my 37" listening height, I estimate that if I wanted to listen from a distance of about four feet or less from the center of the stat panel, the needed tilt-back would result in them tipping over backwards in their stock form. You would need to tilt them back so much that you'd have to put some sort of outrigger on the back end of the plinth or weight the front side of the plinth somehow to prevent the speakers from toppling over backwards. [/FONT]
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[FONT=&amp]Listening that near to the speakers degrades the time alignment of the woofers and panels anyway, according to Janszen, and, yes, they do sound more coherent from a bit further back. And unlike most other speakers, moving your listening position back from the speakers a few feet does not seem to degrade the focus due to room effects--the Valentinas have very limited vertical dispersion and quite limited horizontal dispersion, preventing much splash off the room walls (as long as the Air Layer tweeters are off or kept low enough in level). [/FONT]

 

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Last edited:

Folsom

VIP/Donor
Oct 26, 2015
5,585
1,180
375
Eastern WA
I'm going to have to re-read through this but...

I literally don't believe you at all about subwoofers. The problem you had would have been phase, not time alignment. I'm going to go as far as to say you're flat out wrong about the time alignment. I've heard the swarm and bunches of other subwoofer setups and what you describe has been solved each and every time by phase adjustments. From a technical point the operating range of the subwoofers is so low that they can be a huge distance from the midbass and still appear as the same source; this is knowledge used by every speaker manufacturer I've seen. The difference between it being good and bad is phase.
 

tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
719
241
395
68
Chicagoland
You could be correct, Folsom, about phase being the real problem. But, again, with the four Swarm woofers well distributed around the room and only two channels of phase (and time delay) adjustable amplification available, you can't get phase or time delay correct for both woofers powered by the same amp. I'm just reporting my subjective experience with the Swarm and all the other subs I've used in the past in other systems (not too many--Gradient, JL, Legacy, ACI, B&W, Totem).

Over the years when I've had subs, including the Swarm, I have measured the frequency response of the entire system as I altered the phase of the subs or time delay of the main speakers. The primary effect of either of these adjustments is a change in the overall system response in the crossover region. I have adjusted phase for smoothest response in the crossover range. Oftentimes phase adjustments or time delay can make a response difference of plus or minus 6 dB.

I've also noticed, however, that when these phase or time delay adjustments are made, there are also response alterations way above the nominal crossover frequency, well up into the lower midrange. These variations are not as large, but are clearly visible on frequency response graphs where the resolution is about 2 dB per graph division. My guess as to why this should be so is that because the sub crossover is not sudden (usually no steeper than 24 dB/octave), there is some phase interference from the subs up to a few octaves above the nominal crossover frequency.
 
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Folsom

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Why not just get a second amp for the swarm? Then you should be able to adjust phase on each.

For the ear to hear a single source at 60hz the distance between midbass and subwoofer can be 18ft, 30hz is about 36ft. So you can see how time aligmnemt basically because a moot point due to wavelength distance. This is why the swarm works so well; the wave lengths are so long that it's too easy to create high and low nodes from a single sub, so you correct it with assymtry distribution that minimizes nodes by filling in the blanks. The problem is when phases don't align because for instances the subwoofer amp at 0 phase won't match the change of phase the fullrange speaker crossover has. In other words despite the amps receiving the same phase, the speakers change it so the subs have to be adjusted to compensate. Sadly this is best done by ear, so it's a fussy thing to arrive at, since placement also affects phase.

Now upgrading from a LS3/5a is noteworthy since it was designed to be up against a wall mostly, and has a emphasis in the midband anyway. So I'm not surprised you were inclined to find a more rounded speaker that opens up a better variety of music.

BTW I like that mirror trick, could come in handy for many things.
 

tmallin

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I was not using LS3/5a speakers before. I was using the much larger LS3/6, which is a two-cubic foot box with an 8-inch woofer crossed over at 3 kHz to a lower tweeter which is supplemented by a super tweeter mounted higher in the box and rolled in around in the top octave.

The LS3/6 is not intended for use mounted against a wall; it works best mounted well out into the room. I have discussed the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 and AudioKinesis Swarm Subwoofer system and their set up at length at other threads here here and here.

I do have two of the Dayton Audio SA1000 subwoofer amps. The standard Swarm comes with only one amp, but I bought the optional second amp. Since these are strictly mono amps, I would have needed four of them to individually control each of the four Swarm woofers.

In any event, other than the phase control on those amps, I bypassed the crossover circuitry in the amps, preferring the sound of the digital electronic crossover circuitry in my Lyngdorf TDAI-2170. The left and right line level analog outputs of the Lyngdorf drove the LFE inputs of the subwoofer amps. Those analog outputs are by default time aligned with the speaker level outputs of the Lyngdorf which drove the main LS3/6 speakers. I did use the phase controls of the amps occasionally to experiment with driving the subs in "phase quadrature" by making the phase of the right channel subs 90 degrees different from that of the left channel subs.

If the phases of the subs and mains don't match near the crossover frequency, when you measure the system you will see the response take a dip around that frequency. I measure the SPL level at the listening position from the mains at the crossover frequency with the subs turned off. I note the frequency at which the bass response is rolling off and is minus 3 dB from the reference 1 kHz level. In my set up, that is 43 Hz. I then set the Lyngdorf's low pass crossover for its analog line level outputs to that 43 Hz frequency.

Then I measure the SPL level of the subs from the listening position at the 43 Hz crossover frequency with the mains turned off. I adjust the subwoofer amp volume control so that the subwoofer levels match the level I measured at 43 Hz from the main speakers. Finally, I measure the SPL from the listening position at the crossover frequency with both subs and mains playing. If everything is phased correctly the level at 43 Hz should now roughly match the level at the reference frequency of 1 kHz. If the level at 43 Hz is lower, there is some significant phase cancellation going on. With the Swarm woofers well distributed around the room, the measured frequency response with both mains and subs playing was very smooth around the crossover frequency and matched closely the reference 1 kHz level. Thus I concluded that there was no significant phase interference going on.

This is the correct way to adjust subs plus main speakers, in my opinion. You use measurements, not your ears. At low frequencies, it is simple dimple to measure from the listening position and what you measure matches what you hear from the listening position. Trying to adjust phase by ear is problematic since what you are reacting to is the change in frequency response, not the changing in phasing. Frequency response effects swamp everything else. You may "prefer" the sound of a dip around the crossover frequency. Many folks find that this sort "disconnected" low bass sound makes the low bass subjectively stronger and cleans up the response at higher frequencies. But what they actually hearing is a decrease in midbass. The same thing applies in the 100 to 300 Hz range where many people are so used to the sound of "the usual floor dip" that they find the sound overly warm when those frequencies are filled in to provide proper weight and power in this "power range" of lower brass instruments, for example. Simple measurements will show when the response is correct. If anything, the entire range from 300 Hz on down should gradually increase in level by 2 or 3 dB and the range above 2 kHz should gradually roll off by about the same amount to approach a natural sounding (as in unamplified acoustic instruments from a good seat in a good concert hall) frequency balance.
 
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Folsom

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Your ability to measure would be very useful. You've prevented phase cancellation but that is not necessarily optimal phase. Subwoofer wavelengths are so long that you can adjust phase without causing dips; especially with a crossover. And we are pretty sensitive to phase.

I'm sure you are right that people often cause problems when adjusting subwoofers. It's not hard! And 4 amps would be a lot. I guess it's a pretty big jump in.
 

tmallin

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David Janszen suggested that I move the Sonex pads behind the listening seat upward to intercept the sound closer to where the treble is loudest when it hits that wall. I have tried this and it is an excellent suggestion! This makes a further, instantly audible improvement in three-dimensionality of the imaging and staging, as well a warming up the perceived tonal balance a bit. I aimed my Leica Disto laser measuring device at that wall with the rear side of the device flat against the thin edge of the baffle surrounding the electrostatic panel cut out to make sure I knew how high to put the Sonex panels. The Sonex panels now cover the portion of the wall where the beam hits vertically, as well as somewhat above and below that area to account for the three-degree up and down angling of the two electrostatic panels.

I have found that adding too much Sonex up too high on that wall deadens the sound too much and also causes the perceived position of the stage to go lower, down below the top of the speakers. I am experimenting with two additional narrow bands of Sonex placed above what is shown in the picture below. These would take the Sonex up almost to the top of the door frame, about another foot. Certainly applying Sonex any higher than the top of the door frame deadens the sound too much. The amount and placement of the Sonex in the picture does not deaden the sound too much or move the perceived stage position down at all. And, yes, I can still open the closet door covered by the Sonex because of the way I attached the Sonex to the door.

David has also suggested placing diffusors on the side walls by the speakers in place of the Sonex I now have there, and then turning up the Air Layer tweeters. I have ordered the AQD diffusors from PI Audio recommended by David, painted to match my Sonex. I'll try that suggested set up tweak next.

IMG_5056.JPG





 

tmallin

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Upon further listening, I've determined that the sweet spot for the amount of 4-inch-thick Sonex used to treat the wall behind the listening seat involves adding another 11 inches of Sonex above what is shown in the previous post, so that the Sonex comes up to just below the top of the door frame. The block of Sonex then starts about 25 inches above the floor, is centered on the room width and thus directly behind the listening seat, is 4 feet wide and 4 feet 11 inches high.

This treatment seems to maximally enhance the width and depth of the stage as well as maximally stabilize and enhance the three dimensionality of the images on the stage. There is no decrease in the perceived height of the stage or images on the stage as long as the Sonex is not placed any higher.

This amount of Sonex behind the listening seat also adds a bit more warmth to the presentation, moving the presentation a bit closer in perceived balance to the lower frequency balance which was typical of the BBC-inspired Stirling LS3/6 in this room. I think the Janszen Valentina presentation is yet more neutral, but others might feel it still is a bit "cool" or "thin." For them, a remedy not involving electronic equalization would be to simply move the speakers a bit closer to the wall behind them. I have found the overall low frequency balance of these speakers, at least in this room, to be remarkably responsive to small movements toward and away from the wall behind the speakers in a very straightforward, predictable manner.


 

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tmallin

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Hold the phone! A significant further improvement of the realism of the musical listening experience resulted from my changing the internal jumpers on my Benchmark DAC-3 DX from minus 20 dB to minus 10 dB. The macro dynamics of the system got a big kick in the pants, the subjective noise floor is yet lower, and the three-dimensionality of the presentation seems yet further improved. I'm running the volume control on the Janszen Valentinas at about half way up--noon on the volume control setting.

That's proper gain structuring for you. It's the most overlooked factor in audiophile audio systems, something pro-audio folks are quite aware of. In very simplified general terms, for proper gain structuring, you should run each component at its maximum gain or the highest gain you can so as to avoid clipping the input of the next downstream component. You thus take as much gain as you can as far upstream in the system as you can. Then, you set the volume control on your amplifier to as low a setting as possible to allow your speakers to play as loudly as you'll ever need with the quietest source material you have. This gain structuring set up process is why pro audio amps almost always have volume controls on their inputs. In this set up process, you also want to allow the primary system volume control (in a home audio system, that's the one on the device you are using as your preamp) to work in its sweet spot for serious listening SPLs. With the Benchmark, that's from about 11:00 to 3:00. This maximizes subjective dynamics and measured signal to noise ratio at the amplifier output, as well as minimizing measured and subjective distortion.

In my initial set up of this system, I had been running the Benchmark's balanced XLR outputs at full gain, zero dB attenuation. That level, intended to work optimally with pro-audio studio equipment, unfortunately overloaded the inputs of the amplifiers built into the Janszen Valentinas. I could hear the clipping distortion and compressed dynamics at SPLs well below what I knew the speakers to be capable of. I then rearranged the internal jumpers for the minus 20 dB setting. That sounded great on most material, but I did notice that the volume control on the Benchmark occasionally had to be run at or near its maximum with some material. Now, I could have just turned up the volume controls on the Valentinas, but I knew that would not be optimal gain structuring. Thus, this minus 10 dB setting of the Benchmark's XLR balanced outputs is apparently much closer to optimal for this system.

The improved playback quality on "quiet" CDs--ones which are recorded at a lowish average level so as to leave lots of digital headroom, such as the Sheffield Harry James discs--is amazing! Those Harry James discs sounded a bit polite and a bit distant before with the gain at minus 20 dB. Now they sound like a real big band from a close-up seat--there's plenty of punch and drive.
 
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tmallin

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In a prior post in this thread I mentioned that, on the advice of David Janszen, I'd ordered the AQD Diffusors from PI Audio. I have now received and installed that set of four diffusors. PI Audio custom painted the diffusors for me in their paint booth to match the color of my Sonex panels. The Sonex is a charcoal gray color. The paint I chose from Home Depot is Behr Intellectual PU18-19. PI Audio picked up the chosen paint at their local Home Depot and painted them before shipping them to me. They are painted on all sides. The color match is excellent, even better to my eyes and those of my wife than it appears in the attached pictures. The total delivered cost for the custom painted set of four diffusors was under $300.

The diffusor panels each measure about 2 feet wide by four feet tall, which is about the same size as the Sonex batts I've been using. They also weigh about the same, maybe three or four pounds each. They seem to be made out of stiff, non-bendable polystyrene foam, similar to the "hard" padding material sometimes used to protect delicate items within an outer carton.

Again on advice from David Janszen, I'm experimenting with replacing not only the side wall Sonex panels with the diffusors, but also the Sonex panels on the wall behind and between the speakers. David also recommended that I position the Sonex panels I had behind and between the speakers toward the room corners for reverberation control. He further recommended that with these changes I should try turning up the loudness of the Air Layer side-firing tweeters to about the minus 3 dB level.

Both the Sonex pads and the new diffusors are placed against the walls at the first reflection points. That means that, using a small flat mirror taped to the walls, I center the width of the Sonex or diffusor panel on the point where I can see the reflection of the speaker centered in the mirror when sitting in the listening position. For the absorbing/diffusing panels on the side walls, I look for the reflection of the Air Layer tweeter and center the width of the panel on that reflection.

Before installation of the diffusors, I either ran the Valentinas with the Air Layer tweeters turned off or at midway between the minus 10 and minus 12 dB level. With my previous strictly Sonex wall treatment, raising the level of the Air Layer tweeters was either inaudible or just smeared the imaging a bit. Turning them off produced the sharpest imaging, apparently lowest distortion, and with only a small overall contraction of the width and height dimension of the stage, while seeming to enhance depth of field.

After a few hours of experimentation, I ended up with the pictured set up. The diffusors come in two male/female mated pairs. (The sex designation of the diffusors is somewhat arbitrary, but refers to the protrusion or recession near the center of the panel.) I used the two similarly shaped male diffusors on the side walls and the two female diffusors on the wall behind and between the speakers. I moved the Sonex panels which had been behind and between the speakers to cover the corner area behind the speakers, more or less spanning an equal length of wall area on the side walls and the wall behind the speakers. I have the Air Layer tweeters running at about minus 4 dB--the control is straight up and down and is between the marked -5 dB and -3dB positions.

What does this do? Well, for some reason the bass is further strengthened a bit as well as sounding yet smoother in response. Macro dynamics seem subjectively a bit greater. High frequency response is relatively unchanged. Apparent distortion seems to remain as low with the Air Layer tweeters on and turned up as with the Air Layer tweeters turned off.

The big change is in the apparent position, size, and openness of the presentation. The stage lifts a bit further up which is subjectively pleasing to me. The width and depth of the apparent stage are also increased, especially the width. This stage size enhancement comes without any blurring of apparent image positions. There is also an increased sense of wrap-around envelopment in the presentation. What was wonderful before is yet more wonderful now. This is a huge positive change for a relatively minor investment! The subjective increase in the apparent size of the presentation is not minor. It is an apparent significant and substantial expansion of the presentation, accompanied by a significant and substantial increased feeling of openness. The sense that the speakers have disappeared as the source of any sounds is further enhanced.

The level of the Air Layer tweeters is really a matter of personal preference. My goal was to expand the stage size without any other adverse effects. In my set up, turning the Air Layer tweeters up any higher than minus 4 dB begins to create a bit of a "hole in the middle" and "hot spots" on the extreme left and right of the stage, as well as blurring the imaging precision a bit. Yes, the stage further expands laterally with higher-yet levels, but the hole, hot spots, and slightly decreased imaging precision were distracting. The minus 4 dB level seems to me to be the sweet spot in my set up.

I don't know how translatable the positive changes I'm experiencing are to other speakers and rooms. In the past, I have strongly preferred absorption to diffusion in terms of acoustical room treatments. But the Janszens are quite directional in the higher frequencies and perhaps don't need absorption so much, at least for the room surface positions where I've deployed the diffusors. I strongly recommend than other Janszen owners try out these diffusors for themselves! There is much to gain and little to lose, given the size of your speaker investment.

IMG_5218.JPG IMG_5219.JPG IMG_5220.JPG

 
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Ric Schultz

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Tom,
Looks like you are having fun and getting better sound. Some suggestions:

1. Better HDMI cable
2. Better coax cable
3. Super duper linear power supply for Kanex and you need to remove the toslink output connector (it is an led and will mess up the sound) and also the ON indicator (most likely an led)
4. Modified IFI spdif Ipurifier on input of DAC. Mods include removing the leds (toslink connector and frequency indicator), hardwiring one power supply connection and damping the unit and damping it to the DAC. Info on my site. I charge $65 for the mod. I could also do you Kanex for free at the same time.
5. Get all you cables off the floor/rug. I use cardboard triangles I make for nothing.....works great. If one of my power or signal wires fall off its riser and is touching the rug for even one inch the whole soundstage is off.
6. Better signal wire to speakers.

Digital is so touchy everywhere. This is why it has taken so long to get good digital.....every single thing everywhere effects the sound. I don't have a recommendation on cables as I have never played with HDMI and I make my own ten inch long wire for coax. But, I will tell you this: the connectors and how I damp them, the wire polarity and how I damp the wires.... on my tiny wire make a serious difference.

Have fun!

Ric Schultz
tweakaudio.com
 

tmallin

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Tom,
Looks like you are having fun and getting better sound. Some suggestions:

1. Better HDMI cable
2. Better coax cable
3. Super duper linear power supply for Kanex and you need to remove the toslink output connector (it is an led and will mess up the sound) and also the ON indicator (most likely an led)
4. Modified IFI spdif Ipurifier on input of DAC. Mods include removing the leds (toslink connector and frequency indicator), hardwiring one power supply connection and damping the unit and damping it to the DAC. Info on my site. I charge $65 for the mod. I could also do you Kanex for free at the same time.
5. Get all you cables off the floor/rug. I use cardboard triangles I make for nothing.....works great. If one of my power or signal wires fall off its riser and is touching the rug for even one inch the whole soundstage is off.
6. Better signal wire to speakers.

Digital is so touchy everywhere. This is why it has taken so long to get good digital.....every single thing everywhere effects the sound. I don't have a recommendation on cables as I have never played with HDMI and I make my own ten inch long wire for coax. But, I will tell you this: the connectors and how I damp them, the wire polarity and how I damp the wires.... on my tiny wire make a serious difference.

Have fun!

Ric Schultz
tweakaudio.com

Ric, thanks for the suggestions. I may well get around to trying some of them as soon as I become less than enthralled with the sound of this system as it now stands. Three plus months in and I'm still thrilled most every time I sit down to listen. You know I respect your work. I currently use your fully-modified Oppo BDP-105D in this system and use your fully modified BDP-105 in my other system based around Harbeth M40.1 speakers. I remember well that the analog out sound from your modified BDP-105 clearly bested the analog out sound quality of the stock BDP-105 I also owned when I took delivery of your modified unit.

But, to put things into my current perspective, digital things are changing for the better. I think that at least with the Benchmark DAC-3 DX I'm using, digital sound reproduction is no longer "so touchy everywhere." This was also true with my Lyngdorf TDAI-2170 I previously used in this system and now use in my Harbeth system. As an example, strain though I might, I really cannot reliably hear any difference (much less a difference that I can easily classify as "better" or "worse") between the Oppo HDMI out feeding CD sources through the stock Kanex into one input of the Benchmark and the Oppo's coax digital output which bypasses the Kanex entirely and directly feeds another digital input of the Benchmark. These two signals are instantaneously A/Bable without any time interruption with a single click on the Benchmark's remote control. I thus seriously doubt that anything you or anyone else could do to the Kanex would "improve" its sound. It basically has no detectable sound in my system in its present stock form.

While the Blue Jeans Cables HDMI, digital coax, and analog cables I use are inexpensive, they have bested all comers I've used over the years. Most other cables are rather obviously colored tonally and seem to be engineered to be crude tone controls for those looking for a bit of EQ but who can't stomach the idea of active electronics to do that job. The BJCs are neutral tonally, quite clear, and display no spatial oddities I can detect.

While I agree that cable lifters are worthwhile on a carpeted floor (carpets have nasty static electricity), none of my cables except those from the DAC to the speakers touch any carpet. They touch only air and wood flooring. I have never heard any problems from cables resting on wood.

The Benchmark already has a bunch of LEDs and LCDs in it. Those are necessary to tell which input is operating, as well as the bit depth and sampling rate. I would not want to be without any of these indicator lights. The DAC-3 DX is already undoubtedly the finest DAC I have used.

The BJC signal wires from the Benchmark to the speakers carry only balanced analog signal, not digital. The star-quad balanced Canare cable BJC uses has extreme resistance to EMI and RFI effects and is the specific type of cable Benchmark recommends for connecting its DAC-3 to downstream components so as to avoid compromising the Benchmark's extremely high signal to noise ratio at its outputs. This kind of cable is great for resisting pick up of environmental hum and noise, even from the Benchmark DACs themselves. See: https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/117842759-star-quad-cable-demonstration-video

The IFI spdif Ipurifier seems to get high marks from most users even in its stock version. I may well give the stock unit a try before seeking your mods for it. However, I can't help wondering whether this unit, like so many other purifiers and filters I've used, makes a difference only because it intentionally or unintentionally alters the frequency response just a bit. Or, perhaps users are using DACs which are still "touchy everywhere." At present, given the Kanex A/B example I gave, I tend to believe that the Benchmark DAC-3 really is pretty close to the mythical "bits is bits" device we've all been seeking since the dawn of the digital age. It seems to ignore all sorts of digital nasties (jitter and whatever else may matter) presented to its inputs.

I can easily and repeatably hear the sonic differences made by physical set up of speakers, listening position, and room treatments. Such things tend to swamp small electronic differences these days since the digital electronics have gotten better. For example, I can easily hear the sonic difference (and easily classify the difference as "better" or "worse") caused by insertion or deletion of a 1/16"-thick felt spacer below the front feet of my speakers. I tweak such things because they make significant, repeatable better/worse changes to the sound reproduction. As indicated in my previous posts, that's where I've spent my efforts on this system up to now. I'll start further tweaking electronics when I start to become disenchanted. For now, however, the enchantment remains very strong.
 
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Ric Schultz

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Jun 22, 2013
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Tom,
One cable can move the resolution to its level.....for instance....say the Blue Jean digital cable has a resolution level of 80 on a scale of 100. If you use that cable then you will never get any higher level.....so maybe adding the Kanex and HDMI cable keeps it near 80.......but what if you used a better digital cable of say 95 scale.....then maybe you would hear the degradation of the Kanex/HDMI thang.....and so it goes. Maybe a modified Kanex plus better HDMI cable even with the Blue Jean digital cable would raise the level much higher because the HDMI thing is actually a plus. One person emailed me that using the Kanex from his Oppo was mucho better than straight coax....that is what he heard. What I do know is that everything you do makes a difference but the lowest level transparency thing in the system sets the basic level. There is no way to know anything unless you listen. I cannot imagine Blue Jean cables being totally neutral or transparent. In fact, Belden has just brought out a "high end cable line" (Belden Iconoclast) that sell for tons of money and all the "Belden fans" seem to think they are way better than the "ordinary" Belden's. All DACs are still "touchy everywhere".....even the $100,000 MSB Select 2 needs the best cables and feeding. Same with line level cables.....no way Canare balanced cables will sound as transparent as many others. All cables add noise and distortion.....this is the problem.....which one is neutral? Blue Jeans?......hard to believe....specially knowing all I do about connectors, solder, damping, directionality of wire, purity of wire, etc. But if you are happy with the current sound of you stereo, then that is really all that matters......its not ignorance is bliss......because bliss is the highest knowledge....but what you want with your stereo really has nothing to do with bliss. Real bliss is eternal.
Enjoy,
Ric
 

tmallin

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Ric, it makes little sense to say that a cable limits the transparency of the system to upstream events. We all listen for transparency of anything through loudspeakers or headphones. Even the worst serviceable cable is far more transparent and has less measurable distortion of any kind than the best speaker or headphone and yet you and I can clearly hear cable and many other upstream changes through speakers such as the Janszens or Harbeths. This is so even for fairly mediocre speakers like vintage AR-3a. And most program material itself was recorded with hundreds of feet of less-than-audiophile grade cable and connectors and yet we can hear the effect of changes in short lengths of downstream audio playback wire. If what you say is true, changing any cables downstream from the recording studio should be inaudible since all the fine detail would have been filtered out in studio.

I have not heard anyone claim that the HDMI output or HDMI cabling is in any way sonically superior to coax digital outputs or cabling. If HDMI were a superior format, expensive DACs (expensive enough to make the HDMI licensing costs a non-issue) would have HDMI inputs. The fact that most don't means that manufacturers have concluded that for audio signals there is no advantage. Note that one of the things Oppo claims for its new UDP-205 is reduction of jitter in the HDMI output.

Belden is free to grab part of the audiophile cable market. The company owners can laugh all the way to the bank and justify their good fortune knowing that many audiophiles may well enjoy spending their money for new "better" Belden cables. To a good share of the audiophile audio market, higher price automatically equates with higher quality sound. The same is true in DACs and every other audio component. Listeners must listen for themselves with open minds and some sort of valid reference points for better and worse sound versus just different sound.
 

tmallin

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[FONT=&quot]With more listening and experimenting, I have found that the Janszens sound very fine with the Air Layer tweeters turned off--at least as good as with them on--now that I have diffusers rather than absorbers at the reflection points on the side walls and behind the speakers. That's true even from outside the room. I still need the Sonex in the corners behind the speakers, on the ceiling and behind the listening seat, however.

Using the diffusers raises the stage height a bit even without the Air Layer tweeters turned on. Turning off the Air Layer tweeters increases focus a bit and changes the overall tonal balance slightly in favor of the lower frequencies. As I said before, however, at least in my set up, using the Air Layer tweeters and what level to set them at seems to me to be a matter of taste rather than a right/wrong or even great/a little less great decision.[/FONT]
 

marty

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I always enjoy reading your posts and have admired your approach for several years. As you (we) have learned, expensive does not always equal best and encourage you to continue to fight that battle against the machine!
 

tmallin

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With the PI Audio diffusers in place as shown above, I am now once again settled on having the AirLayer tweeters turned off. This makes the high end balance maximally natural, as in less bright and the imaging and staging seem most accurate this way, truly morphing from recording to recording. With decent recordings, I am continually astounded at how wonderful the spatial and tonal presentation can be.

One new discovery is that since the diffusers seemed to bring up the bass and warmth areas a bit, Preset 1 on the built-in amps of the Valentinas is now a real alternative for best balance with this system. In this set up, Preset 1 provides maximal bass extension and further smooths out the midbass response, allowing bass lines to be followed more easily while still providing nice weight and better punch. The bottom-octave foundation, while by no means absent with Preset 2, is with Preset 1 now yet more in evidence, providing truly astonishing low bass from such small speakers. Preset 1 also provides maximum clarity and lowest distortion at high SPLs on power music such as the larger Romantic period classical works and big band jazz.

The honeymoon continues. Man, these speakers sound wonderful! Even when I KNOW that the program source can't be the highest fidelity, the presentation can be truly bewitching. Last night, just for example, I heard a bit of a Grateful Dead live concert recording from 10/21/78 in San Francisco on Sirius/XM's Grateful Dead channel, cast from my iPhone, through my Apple TV, into the HDMI input of my Oppo BDP-105D, thence to the Benchmark DAC-3 and the speakers. Now the bitrate of that stream is only about 100 kbps, so you know it's not the true sound of that tape. But the speakers and listening room walls disappeared and I was THERE, enveloped with very natural sounding voices and instruments from deepest bass to highest treble placed within a large space, with realistic and very enthusiastic audience sound thrown in.
 

tmallin

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68
Chicagoland
Update time: I now find myself using Preset 1 almost exclusively. In my set up, this preset yields the best bass balance.

Also, I never use the Air Layer tweeters anymore. They stay turned off all the time now. The focus and frequency balance is best this way and the stage height is scarcely diminished.

Both the toe-in and tilt-back angles have proved VERY important both for best imaging/staging and for best frequency balance. In my system, the electrostatic panels must be precisely aimed at their respective ears. To do that, both the toe-in and tilt-back of the speakers should be adjusted as precisely as you can do it. The mirror method I explain for doing this in my first post in this thread has now been officially adopted into David Janszen's user manual for these speakers. To repeat:

David Janszen and I independently arrived at the conclusion that the audibly correct tilt back can be viewed by placing a 2" circular mirror centered horizontally on the stat panel cut out and centered six inches up from the bottom of the cut out. With the mirror so placed, the tilt back is correct when, with your head pointing straight ahead, you can see your right ear with your right eye in the mirror on the right speaker. For the left speaker, you look with your left eye. I had figured out the amount of tilt-back I subjectively preferred. I told David about the mirror method and David then used the mirror method and was able to confirm that he had his office pair tilted back to provide the same result from his listening position.

Here is some further refinement of that method to make sure you place the mirrors as precisely as possible. Find the center of the mirror and place a small dot with an indelible ink marker at that center point. Use that center point of the mirror to position the center of the mirror precisely 6 inches up from the bottom of the cut out and 3 3/8 inches from the left or right side of the cut out.

If the mirror is circular, one easy way to find its center is to use a compass or calipers, not the directional kind, but the architectural drawing kind. Position the compass/calipers so that one point traces the exact edge of the mirror when the tool is rotated. The other point should be at the center, which you then should mark with a pen.

Another way of finding the center of a circular mirror is to put the mirror on a flat desk, position your head over the mirror and then using just one eye to look at the mirror, position the pupil of your eye over what appears to be the center of the mirror. With your eye in that position, bring your pen into place and mark the center of where you see your pupil reflected.

If you have a square mirror, finding it's center is simply a matter of bisecting its opposite sides. The intersection of the bisecting lines is the center.

I use thin circular mirrors which are a little less than two inches in diameter. With this size mirror, from any reasonable listening distance, you should be able to see your entire ear reflected in the mirror when the speaker positioning is about right. The precise aiming you are trying for is to get the reflection of the opening to your ear canal centered on that ink spot you made in the center of the mirror.

I cannot stress enough how much difference this degree of precision in setting the tilt-back and toe-in of the speakers makes to both the spatial presentation and frequency balance obtainable with these speakers in my system. If this is done correctly, the reproduction can be uncanny in realism and involvement.

The honeymoon most definitely still continues!!!
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Now, whether this degree of set-up precision is as important in other systems built around the Janszen Valentina Active, I cannot say. I know that I listen to these speakers from closer up than most. In my experience, near-field listening of the type I generally employ is more sensitive to positioning and angling of the speakers. I believe that this follows from both simple geometric principles as well as the ratio of direct to reflected sound. It follows from geometry that the nearer you listen to the speakers, the more small changes in the physical position of the drivers matter since any given physical movement of the speaker drivers with respect to your ears encompasses a greater angular change of the drivers with respect to your ears than from further away. And the closer to the speakers you listen, the greater the ratio of direct-to-reflected sound you hear, making any change in the direct sound caused by change in the angle of the drivers with respect to your ears more apparent. Still, even if you listen from further away, the set-up hints I've shared here will help ensure that your set up is precise.



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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
719
241
395
68
Chicagoland
I finally got around to making my extreme tilt-back angle "permanent" by removing the felt spacers from under the front feet of my Janszen Valentina Actives and replacing those with additional washer/spacers between the bottom of the supporting plinth and the top of the rubber feet. I found that the sticky goo atop the felt pads was actually a bit liquid, allowing the feet to move a bit atop the felt, changing the toe-in angle a bit over time and thus reducing the ideal lateral focus which comes from precise lateral aiming of the speakers at their respective ears when I sit in the sweet spot.

To use this many spacers, I had to change out the machine screws Janszen used to mount the feet. The screws, at least on my units, are metric M6, about 1.5" long. That length is not long enough to allow the addition of enough spacers to get the required tilt-back angle at my relatively near field listening position of just over 55". On the left speaker I used M6 80 mm long and on the right M6 70 mm long since the drilled holes in the right speakers were not quite long enough to accept the 80 mm screws. I found these metric screws at my local Ace Hardward, but Home Depot did not have them.

As spacers, I used English stainless steel 1/4" SAE washers, which are each considerably thinner than the washers/spacers Janszen provided, but the same outside diameter. This allows finer tilt-back angle adjustments. To get things tilted back just so, I did find that I could see the difference (using my mirror arrangement) made by just one washer/spacer difference.

To make this "permanent change" I took out the thumbscrew adjustment nuts Janszen had fitted the feet on my speakers with, but used all the other "stock" feet parts, just adding extra enough of the 1/4" stainless steel SAE washers to get the tilt-back just right.

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tmallin

WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
719
241
395
68
Chicagoland
The "permanent" adjustment of tilt back ended up stiffening the positioning and thus tightening the bass enough to swing my preference back to Preset 2 for its bit fuller sound.

For the first time I broke out my OmniMic V2 set up to check the bass balance. The measurements seem to agree with my perceptions. The overall most pleasing response is now Preset 2, with the overall bass level hovering about +2 dB above the 1 kHz reference level from 200 Hz down to 40 Hz. Preset 1 moves that bass level down about 2 dB, as Janszen's manual claims. I have generally found that the best subjective bass balance requires the measured bass range to be elevated a few dB above the reference 1 kHz level with the highs sloping off a bit above 2 kHz. That's exactly what Preset 2 looks like in the measurements. There is no power range suck out between 100 and 300 Hz with either Preset 1 or 2, indicating that the Janszens handle the typical floor bounce problem very well.

Also, with this new "permanent" tilt back, setting the AirLayer tweeters at the -3 dB level sounds dandy. For now I'm sticking with the AirLayer tweets off, but I'll switch back and forth over time to see which I really prefer again. Certainly I could see how many could prefer the sound with the AirLayer on at this level. Using them creates a trade off between greater openness versus a bit of extra brightness and a bit of image smear. This has remained constant during my time with the Valentina Actives. It's great to have such choices since both ways sound very real indeed.
 

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