Hardware - Speakers
Ahhhh.... the nitty gritty. Yes, we have to make the room look nice AND sound nice, but to get the "sound nice" part, you need to start off with some hardware. It's like a car. It's one thing to make it look nice, but to make it fast, you have to throw hardware at it. 🙂 Just like the weather, there are a lot of pieces that go together to make a good system, and along with the hardware, one of the most important pieces is the room itself. That is a whole other post as it gets complicated, so I'll save that for later.
I'm sure that some of you know, there is unlimited money that can be thrown into home theater rooms. Millions of dollars is not uncommon. Take a look at these speakers, there are considered to be the most expensive (and maybe the best sounding) speakers in the world. So home theater is really it's no different than anything else. You can spend a ton of money on a car that goes really fast and looks really good, or you can spend less and get something that may not run quite as good, but you are either willing or forced to take the trade off. Usually it's forced thing. 🙂
The plan until the designers change it is a 5.2.4 system but I have no idea what the system designers will come up with. I can't do 7.2.4 as I can't use side speakers due to the configuration of the room. In case anyone is wondering what those numbers mean, the "5" is for the three front channel speakers and two rear channel speakers, the "2" is for two subwoofers, and the "4" is for four ceiling speakers. The processor I will be using can mange 16 channels of sound, and I'll talk about that in a totally separate topic, but I could add an additional 5 channels of sound if I had a location, and right now the ceiling might be the only location. This Trinnov Altitude 16 processor is the key to making this sound awesome and nothing like what you can imagine. 🙂
Every time I start to think about what equipment I want to use in my room, it changes. Not everything mind you, and really it's just one piece, and arguably the most important piece of all the hardware... the speakers. No matter what other equipment you use, as good or bad as it may be, the speakers are responsible for reproducing the sound coming from the amplifier as accurately as possible without adding any of their own sound or coloration to the music. Speakers have gotten much better over the years and it's not hard to find good sounding speakers in most any budget category. But when you start stepping up in price you begin to enter another realm in sound that starts to make you go "wow". Ask anyone that has listened to music where the music has brought an emotional response to them. As a matter of fact, go to YouTube and look up "Hallelujah Pentatonix Reaction" and tell me how many are brought to tears. That is what quality music can do to your soul, and I have felt it myself with my current system (but not hear at this house). Version 2.0 is coming, and I'm going to do my best to bring tears to your eyes if you come to listen. 🙂 You should and will feel in awe, and not because of massive volume, but because of the realism, presence, and dynamics. I've felt it, heard it, and want it in my room. You no longer are just listening to music, it surrounds you and places you there with the performers. I really think it's something you have to hear to understand, and when you do it's a earth moving moment.
I think one thing that makes choosing speakers so difficult is that there is no way you could ever possibly listen to every speaker system to compare. Sure, for low end speakers you go in a showroom and they have 20 pairs of speakers setup and they can flip back and forth no problem. That's not the case with higher end speakers. In many cases, you might not ever hear the speaker you are going to buy because the closest place is 500 miles away. Some companies like Ohm Acoustics don't have resellers anymore, they sell direct. At least they give you 120 days to try the product, but most manufactures don't. So you have to rely on reviews, electronics shows, and word of mouth from those that have been in the business for 40 years. I don't really have much of a problem with that, although it would be nice to hear the speakers before buying. I will caution that when you go to listen to speakers, just know the room is changing the way they sound, so when you get them in your home your results may be different. I cannot emphasize enough how important the room is to the sound and why the room will be a separate topic.
I've loved my Ohm Walsh 5000 speakers, and I have seriously considered using the newest Ohm speaker, the F5015, for my two front L/R speakers. I don't think that for the money, you'll find a better speaker. To replace mine with the Ohm F5015 it would cost about $5500 each which is a GREAT price for what you get in my opinion, but this time around, I don't think I want floor standing speakers. I've started with a budget but that seems to be a moving target as the design process starts. The person doing the design, Shawn Byrne, suggested I don't lock anything in until the design gets going. He will work with the room calibrator to make sure the speakers I want will be a good fit for the room and room volume. What I want might be overkill and if so, I want to know that since it would help to save money.
Without getting into all the different speaker types, I'll talk about a type that I want to use in my room. You can break speakers into two different categories, although there are some that don't fit neatly into either one, point source and line source and it describes how the sounds radiates from the speaker. I'll do some copying and pasting so you don't have to go look it up... 🙂 I want to use a line source speaker.
When you have a line source (especially if it is mounted in or on the wall, eliminating the reflection from behind the speaker), things get much simpler.
Because the driver is extremely tall and narrow, the sound radiates outward in an expanding cylinder, as though from a line in space. Thus the sound is spread widely through the room from side to side, but not vertically. In fact, because the sound is concentrated where your ears are, it does not “thin out” nearly as fast, and you have surprisingly uniform SPL throughout the listening space. People sitting near the speakers and far away hear pretty much the same volume. This fact alone opens up the “sweet spot” significantly, since you no longer have to be on the center line between the speakers to hear them at the same volume.
The sweet spot gets even bigger because there are many fewer reflections confusing your ears. All those ceiling and floor reflections essentially disappear from about 530 Hz up. This range of frequencies include almost all the information our brains use to determine spatial cues (imaging, depth, a sense of space, etc.)
Since true line source arrays effectively eliminate floor and ceiling reflections, they are especially valuable for large rooms or those with architectural challenges including cathedral or coffered ceilings, hard floors, etc. But their singular benefit is heard in any room: you hear more of the speaker and less of the room. Everything is significantly clearer.
It is rather uncanny, but line sources do not seem to get much louder as you get closer to them.
Most speakers in this world are point sources, whose sound expands away from the speaker as an ever-enlarging sphere. The reason for this is that the vibrating diaphragm is small compared to the sound waves it is producing. The sound spreads out like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond, except in three dimensions. When the vibrating diaphragm approaches the size of the sound wave it is producing, the sound becomes more directional, moving away from the speaker like a spotlight instead of a floodlight.
When you have an extremely tall and narrow driver like those in our tallest speakers, the sound radiates outward in a cylindrical fashion. This is because the width of the diaphragm is small compared to the sound waves (wide dispersion), while the height of the diaphragm is large (resulting in controlled directivity in the vertical plane). Because more of the sound is being focused where your ears are (somewhere in the horizontal plane of the speaker, not up on the ceiling or down on the floor), the difference in volume as you move away from the speaker is significantly less. In technical terms, it falls off in a linear way rather than as the square of the distance.
In more common language, the perceived volume is quite uniform throughout the listening area. This is a big advantage when entertaining, since even in a large room you can set a single volume that supports conversation for all… even those close to the speakers.
Less Propagation Loss
Now, let’s talk briefly about how speakers deliver sound into any room.
Line sources suffer from half as much “propagation loss” as point sources, regardless of whether these point source speakers are horns or domes. This means that at a reasonable listening distance of 4 meters (slightly over 13 feet), a line source will be only 6 dB down in volume from their 1m SPL (Sound Pressure Level). By contrast, the point source will be 12 dB down.
So, to make a fair comparison of 1m sensitivities at this reasonable listening distance, you need to add 6 dB to the line source’s measurement. As an example, the 95 dB SPL 1m sensitivity of the Sage Series L75 line source is equivalent to having 101 dB SPL in a “normal” point source speaker.
Uniform Sound Pressure Level
Let’s take a look at the SPL requirements often considered when designing large theaters or listening rooms.
This chart shows the same speakers, but with the equivalent of 400 watts (26 dBW). This yields 115 dB at the listening area 4 meters back from the speakers, but notice that people who are closer to the speakers are less likely to damage their hearing in the case of the line sources.
More uniform SPL throughout the listening area is hugely beneficial, at any volume. Imagine a cocktail party where the host can set a single volume for the entire room, without getting in the way of conversation.
In summary, because line sources are able to more efficiently deliver sound into a space, the desired intelligibility and volume level are easily achieved with less strain from the electronics in the system. In applications where high SPL is required, line sources are able to deliver the results at real world listening distances, without having to live with the earsplitting (and potentially damaging in terms of your hearing) volumes associated with close proximity to horn-loaded point source speakers often used in these installations.
Why are Line Sources so Tall?
In a typical home environment, a true line source must be on the order of five to six feet tall (or more). While this setup isn’t for everyone, the result is a level of realism that few people have experienced. It is genuinely like “being there,” whether that means attending a great concert or feeling as though you are there in the action of your favorite movie or TV show. Both musical detail and dialog intelligibility are significantly improved, and you can expect more consistent results since the nature of the way the speaker radiates sound into the room allows you to hear more of the speaker itself, and less of the room.
One other thing about these speakers is they use a special type of driver called Planar Magnetic drivers.
Why Planar Magnetic Drivers
There are numerous advantages to the use of Planar Magnetic Drivers (PMDs):
- Highly Detailed
- Planar magnetic drivers are like electrostatic speakers (ESLs) in that the moving mass of the diaphragm is extremely small, lighter even than the air it moves. It can therefore be driven with both delicacy and accuracy, without the blurring effects of excessive inertia.
- More Reliable
- Planar magnetics have a huge advantage over traditional dynamic drivers, in that the “voice coil” is spread out over a large area rather than squeezed into a narrow gap within a massive chunk of metal. As a result, planar magnetic drivers can dissipate heat effectively that would otherwise build up in a traditional voice coil. Planar magnetic speakers can handle a lot of power without undue stress or audible strain. In fact, for a given surface area, they can handle many times the power of a traditional dynamic driver.
- Easy on Amplifiers
- Well-designed planar magnetic speakers present an almost perfectly resistive load to the power amplifier in the system, since the voice coil is essentially a very long, thin wire. It acts like a simple resistor. This is the easiest possible load for the amplifier to drive, and comparable to the one electronics manufacturers use during measurements designed to show how terrific their products perform. As a result, you can count on your amplifier sounding its best.
- Either Dipole or Monopole
- The nature of planar magnetic designs make it relatively easy to design them to either be dipole (radiating equally and in opposite phase in front of and behind the speaker, like ESLs) or monopole (radiating only in the forward direction, more like a traditional dynamic speaker). This presents some interesting possibilities for on-wall or even in-wall designs that could combine exceptionally high performance with relatively little impact on a domestic environment.
Our Planar Magnetic Drivers
While it is impossible to claim that any speaker is perfect, some do get significantly closer than others and Wisdom Audio leads the way. Here’s how:
Wisdom Audio planar magnetic drivers use costly “rare earth” or neodymium magnets, which provide a vastly stronger magnetic field than conventional magnets, while using fewer and smaller ones. This vital difference yields a number of critical improvements over what was possible only a few years ago:
- High Sensitivity—The higher field strength of these remarkable magnets means that your amplifier does not have to work nearly as hard to deliver a satisfactory listening experience.
- Plays Louder and Lower—Since the magnetic field is so much stronger, it becomes possible to open up the space between the front and rear magnet arrays, giving the diaphragm more room to move. Since it can move further, it can move more air for its size and therefore play both more loudly and lower in frequency than a comparably sized ESL panel, or older-style planar magnetics. (In fact, an ESL panel must be between ten and twenty times larger than the equivalent Wisdom Audio planar magnetic in order to achieve comparable performance.)
- Tighter Control—Since the force acting on the lightweight diaphragm is so high and spread uniformly over its surface, the motion of the diaphragm is strictly controlled. Advanced methods of diaphragm resonance suppression damp out motion of the undriven portions of the diaphragm (near the edges). Spurious motion due to inertia or resonances is vanishingly small as compared to traditional dynamic designs, and on a par with the best ESLs.
- Reduced Coloration—The arrays of older, bulkier bar magnets got in the way of the sound that the diaphragm was creating, coloring the sound that was otherwise so detailed and remarkable. Since the neodymium magnets are a fraction of the size, there is dramatically more open space on either side of the diaphragm and the colorations disappear. In particular, the magnets in front of the diaphragm are extremely slim and offer virtually no interference with sound.
- Controlled Directivity—When you can make a diaphragm in virtually any shape and still have its entire active surface operating as one (in phase), it becomes possible to design drivers with extremely specific dispersion patterns that have direct performance benefits. For example: musical detail and dialog intelligibility are both enhanced if you can minimize spurious reflections in your listening room. With a tall and narrow design, you can provide wide dispersion to support a generous seating area, while minimizing the energy bouncing off ceilings and floors. In short, you hear more of the speaker, and less of your room.
Advanced Thin Film
Wisdom Audio is one of the first companies to abandon PET (Mylar™) in favor of more advanced materials that have superior dynamic and temperature characteristics. Of these, the polyimide family of polymers is the most promising, some of which can handle temperatures in excess of 725°F (385°C) — far in excess of what even the most advanced adhesives could hope to withstand. Fortunately, this is also a temperature range unlikely to be experienced by any planar magnetic driver, except perhaps in the most demanding professional applications.
Note that larger planar magnetic drivers are never subjected to such a high power/area ratio, and their larger surface area also creates higher sound pressure levels with ease. Thus the added cost of the adhesive-free approach is neither necessary nor warranted in larger drivers.
Wisdom Audio thin film diaphragms are pleated using a proprietary, high pressure process that enhances the thermodynamic stability of the diaphragm while increasing its overall excursion capability. Sensitivity is improved, while standing waves on the surface of the diaphragm are all but eliminated. As a result, these planar magnetic drivers manage to best even other strong planar magnetic designs in terms of both detail and dynamics.
The difference is not subtle. Compare these speakers to any other high performance design: dynamic, ESL, ribbon, or planar magnetic, and you will hear the music come alive in a way that speaks directly to your emotions. They are incredibly engaging. They must be heard to be appreciated.
Front Channel Speakers
You might have noticed a reference to a speaker called a Sage Series L75 in that quoted section... and that may be one of my target speakers along with the Wisdom Sage Cinema Line 2, but it will really come down to what the designers of the room determine to be the best speaker for the room. Keep in mind I'm only talking about the L/R speakers at the moment. Wisdom Audio is the company that makes the L75 and Sage 2 as well as other line source and point source speakers. The L75 series can be free standing, surface mounted, or in-wall mounted.
This is the floor standing L75 with and without a cover. The two top sections are the planar magnetic drivers.
This is the flush mount hidden version of the Sage 2. The hidden versions are framed into the walls which is likely the route I will take, but again, I have lean on the designers of the system.
Rear Channel Speakers
The rear channel will also by line source speakers from Wisdom, most likely these L8i models. These share the same pair of 24" planar magnetic drivers as the front L75's and Sage 2 speakers. These would be mounted in the wall.
Center Channel Speaker
This will also be a Wisdom speaker but just haven't identified which one yet.
I had these picked out, but I'll wait on these as well. I'm sure a lot of this will change and I might have to throw it all out of the window.
As mentioned earlier, due to the design of the room I will not be able to use side channel speakers so nothing to pick for these. If I had 4 walls I'd use the Wisdom's for those as well. I think that's enough for now. I'm tired. 🙂
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