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


WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
Okay, I think I now have finally figured out what is going on with the Air Layer tweeters and how to get the best out of them. I'm frankly surprised it took me this long, but, as Robert Greene noted in his review of the passive version of this speaker, the side-firing Air Layer tweeters add another layer of adjustments to the speakers which must be dialed in to get the absolute best performance from them and the speakers as a whole. Another problem is that, for me in my small room listening quite close (55 inches) to the plane of the speakers, the Air Layer tweeters fall into the "gilding the lily" category. While the Air Layer tweeters have been improved since Greene's review, the basic performance of the speakers for an extreme sweet-spot, near-field solo listener like me is so good with the Air Layer tweets turned off that getting the Air Layer tweeters set just right does not usually seem like a high priority. Evaluative listening sessions very frequently turn into let's-just-enjoy-the-music-and-the-great-sound-of-the-music sessions.

A number of other speakers currently or formerly on the market have tried the "auxiliary tweeter" thing. Usually, such tweeters are mounted to fire backwards, however, as opposed to the side-firing arrangement of the Janszen's Air Layer tweeters. Reviews of such speakers often notice trade offs with such auxiliary tweeters; typically, while they may enlarge the presentation in some pleasing ways (e.g., perceived added depth, width, or height), they may also reduce imaging specificity and change the high-frequency balance of the speaker.

When you think about it, the change in frequency balance is almost inevitable if the auxiliary tweeters are played at a level which even remotely matches that of the main, front-firing tweeters. To my knowledge, none of these auxiliary tweeters, when activated, reduce the level of the main front-firing tweeter. Thus, turning on the auxiliaries adds high frequencies to the room sound. If the speaker is already perceived as well-balanced without the auxiliary tweeters, turning on the auxes will create at least the possibility--if not the inevitability--of changing the overall perceived sound balance in favor of more high frequencies.

Now, as Robert Greene's review noted, with speakers like the Janszen which are quite limited in high-frequency dispersion, adding highs to the room sound could be beneficial. Most recordings certainly aren't made to be optimally heard via speakers which put as little high frequency energy into the room sound as the Janszens do. Many recordings will sound a bit dead or muffled through the Janszens when heard from normal listening distances, particularly if you are not in the sweet spot. The imaging and staging will be precise, but the presentation can sound a bit small and airless.

That is, UNLESS you--like me--only listen to the speakers from the sweet spot and that sweet spot is quite close to the speakers. In my set up, the perceived frequency balance from the sweet spot is very fine indeed. And, my measurements showed the spatial presentation should be pretty fine as well; the impulse response shows the driver pulse, then a lot of nothing much for at least the first 11 milliseconds, and very little even later. Early room reflections are minimal indeed, as shown by the fact that clap track tests sound almost as they do via headphones--just the clap, with very little trailing reverb.

For a small speaker whose high-frequency driver is mounted so close to the floor, the Janszens sans Air Layers do an outstanding trick of floating the images and stage to a height just above the top of the speakers, which, from my sweet spot, is basically straight ahead, not down in any way. Still, I could wish for at least a bit more image and stage height in the presentation.

Enter the Air Layer tweeters. It makes sense that since the Air Layer ring radiators are mounted high up on the side of the box, activating them would tend to further elevate the images/stage. And that does in fact happen in a very pleasing manner.

But that is not all that happens when the Air Layer tweeters are turned on. Above a certain level of the Air Layer volume control, the overall response of the speakers gets a bit toppy, as Greene put it. I am particularly sensitive to over-emphasis of high frequencies. The Janszens without the Air Layer tweeters in operation, are balanced just right, I think. But unlike some other speakers with a richer midbass through lower midrange region (my Harbeth M40.1s, for example), there is really no leeway for additional highs in the balance. Any additional high frequency emphasis sticks out, to my ears, in an objectionable way.

In addition, above a certain level of the Air Layer volume control the pleasing expansion of the images and soundfield carries with it a softening and defocusing of images and the stage. This problem never reaches the point of obvious image misplacement or jumpiness, but the aural picture is still impaired just a bit, I think, if the Air Layer level is too high.

My goal was to find a setting of the Air Layer control which added a bit of image/stage height and size enhancement without changing the perceived just-right high frequency balance and without softening/blurring/defocusing the imaging and staging. As it turns out, there IS such a level, at least in my set up.

Finding that just-right setting is another matter. Please refer to the image of the Air Layer volume control at page 18 of this link to the Janszen Valentina Active users manual. My speakers have the outer dial, where the numbers run from minus infinity (off) to zero (fully up). I have previously determined that setting the Air Layer tweeter level control higher than about the minus 3 dB marker defocused the imaging and staging too much for my tastes. I had also found that setting the level control straight up and down (set at the -dB marker on the dial) totally eliminated that problem but still caused a bit of toppiness in the presentation, particularly on recordings with strong upper brass, such as big band jazz.

Sure, I could have diddled endlessly with the volume settings for the Air Layer tweeters listening to music and evaluating these parameters for every small movement of the controls of both speakers. But fortunately a little experimentation with the right type of pink noise as a test signal proved to be a great shortcut.

Many online sources of pink noise are not suitable. For one thing, they really are weighted rather strongly away from the high frequency content, perhaps at least partly to save file size for the typically hours-long tracks one finds. A long online pink noise track is very convenient--much better than the minute-or less-tracks frequently found on test CDs--but it has to have a neutral sonic character to begin with to help evaluate speaker frequency balance.

In addition, many online pink noise tracks are rather decorellated between left and and right channels, tending to produce a rather phasey sound in stereo with a lot of sound as a result appearing to come from positions left and right beyond the physical location of the left and right speakers, as well as up above the speakers. This is not the best type of test signal with which to evaluate image/stage expansion produced by turning on the Air Layer tweeters since the signal is rather "diffuse and directionless" to begin with. I did locate what sounds like wideband correlated pink noise here and indeed there is an article rating this source as the best evaluated online.

Using this two-hour pink noise as a source (streamed via AirPlay from my iPhone to my AirPort Express and thus through the Janszens), the Janszens sounded well balanced from the sweet spot with the Air Layer tweeters turned off. I determined in seconds that, compared with the Air Layer tweeters turned off, turning the Air Layer tweeters all the way up produced an obvious high-frequency hiss "tone" (pink noise, when reproduced by speakers with a flat response, should sound smooth, with no obvious specific tones, kind of like high-pressure air escaping from a valve, or a high-pressure shower running in the next room) placed a bit above the rest of the soundfield and centered between the speakers. I tried adjusting the Air Layer tweeter level controls downward and the hiss "tone" gradually diminished as I did so.

That method would have been enough, but serendipitously I discovered a further shortcut which allowed me to set the correct level in about a minute of listening to each speaker. I noticed that each time as I approached one of the speakers to reset the level control, at certain positions I could hear the sound of the Air Layer tweeter of that speaker "detach" itself from the physical location of the speakers and appear to come from the wall beside the near speaker. There are diffusors mounted in the first-reflection spots of the Air Layer tweeters as viewed from the sweet spot. When I moved to stand inboard of the speaker and faced the diffusor mounted on the wall beside that speaker, the sound of the Air Layer tweeter appeared to be coming from the diffusor, not the speaker.

I thought, what if I try lowering the level of the Air Layer tweeter until that apparent reflection goes away? As it turns out, in my set up, at least, that has proved to be the magic setting and it only took a few seconds to move the level control up and down and zero in on the exact position where the apparent reflection just disappeared and the sound of the Air Layer tweeter was back at the side of the cabinet where the tweeter is mounted. This "magic spot" is at about the minus 9dB position of the level control, about midway between the -10 and -8 markers on the dial.

Subsequent listening from the sweet spot, both to pink noise and especially to music has shown that this position of the Air Layer tweeter level control does in fact produce a pleasing expansion of the perceived vertical height and width of the presentation, while adding no high frequency emphasis and certainly no blurring of images or stage. So there the control will be set until further notice. The lily has been gilded!



WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
Janszen Valentina Active vs. Gradient 1.3, 1.5, and Revolution Active

An interesting question came up in the REG Forum the other day about how the Janszens compare with the Gradient speakers some of us there have also owned. The inquiry honed in on the degree to which these speakers aim to present what is actually on the recording, as opposed to the second venue effects caused by the interaction of the speakers with the listening room.

Having owned both the Janszen Valentina Actives and Gradients 1.3, 1.5, and Revolution all for at least a year, I'd say that the Janszens are more directive than the Gradients for the range covered by the stat panels, but less so as to the woofers, at least the dipole woofers used in the 1.5 and Revolution.

The Janszen woofers are of the omnidirectional acoustic suspension type. I've always liked the sound of acoustic suspension bass (from vintage ARs forward) and the Janszen bass definitely sounds and measures smoother from this design than from most others, perhaps because of DSP tweaking of the bass response in the active model I had. The dipole bass Gradients measure as smoothly but, as REG and I agree, dipole bass does not have quite enough punch, whereas the Janszen bass has plenty of punch.

In the range of the stat panel, I'd say the Gradients, while somewhat less directional, are more satisfying if you want to have balanced sound outside a very small sweet spot. While the Janszen AirLayer tweeters help this somewhat, they are difficult to turn up high enough so as make the sound fairly well balanced outside the sweet spot without over-brightening what you hear in the sweet spot. It can be done, but not without a lot of experimentation and proper room treatment. And the Janszens will still never sound really well balanced outside the sweet spot the way the Gradients easily do.

The Gradients just sound fine and focused anywhere you put them and from wherever you sit or stand, regardless of room arrangement or treatment. From the sweet spot, the Janszens are extremely focused, moreso than any other speakers I've ever owned.

Akin to the large flat stat panels of the Sanders 10C I owned, the Janszen stat panels beam highs like a laser. The Sanders are much worse, however, since the larger panels are even more directive and laser-like, plus there is the backwave to contend with in terms of damping its reflections. The Janszen's beaming is relatively easy to scotch with absorption, even in a small room like mine. It is quite helpful to damp the area of the wall/ceiling behind your listening spot in the area where those beams are aimed. Doing that further improves the spatial aspects of the presentation without much affecting the tonal balance from the sweet spot.

What I'm trying to say is that if you care only about the sound in the sweet spot, the Janszens are the most focused and about as well balanced from the sweet spot as the Gradients. Both tend to lack warmth in the midbass through lower midrange area. The Gradients, while not as ultimately focused as the Janszens, are still plenty focused compared to most other speakers and ignore the room around them quite well enough while still able to "fill the room" enough to not sound disconcertingly dull outside the sweet spot.

As far as presenting what's on the recording versus secondary venue effects produced by your listening room, from the sweet spot, the Janszens are king. While they have omnidirectional bass, at least in the active version, that bass has acoustic suspension quality but still is very smooth without any additional equalization, the equal in measured smoothness to the Revolution's dipole bass and with subjectively greater punch, if not as much subjective or measured bottom-octave extension.

Addicted to hifi

Sep 8, 2020
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.

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Looks amazing.great stuff.

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