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October 2012
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 155
Summertime savior plus the Smyth Realiser A8.

Article By Bill Gaw

 

  What does concern me though is how this warm weather was decreasing my enjoyment of my media room. (Is that selfish of me to think more of my comfort than the poor drowning polar bears?) Of course with my system running, I'm probably one of the major causes for the process. While we do have central air, running several tube and multiple solid state amplifiers and an old fashioned but still serviceable Electrohome 9500 LC  9 inch projector, the air conditioner just can't keep up with the load when the temperature outside is still in the upper 80's.

So before the room becomes unbearable, and to save the planet, of course,  I've been shutting down  all of the amplifiers, running only those pieces of source equipment necessary, and using my Smyth Research Realiser audio processor with Stax 407 Headphones and amplifier, previously reviewed at this link and given our prestigious Product of the Year Award.

First, during the summer I can listen to my music in relative comfort as the room is not in the sauna range.

Second, this allows one to listen to music with a realistic soundstage rather than the normal headphone between-the-ear effect.

Third, the unit can realistically reproduce any music system's soundstage for any listener up to 7.1 or 8.0 channels. Since the unit can play back through two separate headphones with different algorithms, one other person can enjoy the same effect at the same time.

Fourth, one can transport the sound of one's system anywhere in the world with 110 volts using the unit, headphones and a source.

Fifth, one can reproduce any other sound system one has access to, thus allowing someone else to pay for the equipment.

Sixth, using the Realiser's processing ability, one can use either one or two exceptional speakers and reproduce a virtual 8 speaker surround system soundstage.

Seventh, with the tactile output one can use either a subwoofer or tactile stimulator, to replace that feeling of bass lost with normal  headphone reproduction.

Eight, and something new I never thought about before, being able to check out previous sound of the system to compare changes. This is easily done by loading the old and new measurements into the Realiser and then switching back and forth between them.

Ninth, instead of outputting the analog or digital signal to headphones, either can be recorded and stored for playback later through headphones and any portable playback source. Just think, being able to listen to your system while jogging or even on an airplane using noise canceling headphones. No more having to listen to the stewardess safety instructions!

Tenth, just think of all the polar bears you may be saving by decreasing your energy usage. For all the tree huggers out there, you can significantly improve the environment by being able to shut down all your electronics except the source, the Realiser and possibly the headphone amp. That's got to be a kilowatt of electricity per hour of listening saved. How about it?

 

At $2910 for the unit and $850 if you purchase their recommended headphones, the Stax SRS 2170, at the same time, you can have some of the best sound possible. Plus you can also order the better Stax headphones if you wish (and what audiophile wouldn't.)

Finally it has allowed me to find a minor flaw, at least for my system, with the Classé CT-SSP Preamp-processor, as previously reviewed at this link. About six months ago, Smyth added an HDMI input and output to their unit which allows it to decode up to 24-bit/96kHz, eight channel PCM, but not Dolby or DTS encoded material. Thus you have the Dolby or DTS decoding done by your source component. This is great as it allows the signal to stay in the digital realm right up to the D-to-A conversion, which the Smyth does superbly. Previously the Realiser only had analog input so the signal would have to go through an extra A-to-D and D-to-A conversion.

So here's my problem. Unlike most units with two HDMI outputs, one or both of which will carry the full 7.1 channel audio, the Classé CT SSP engineers thought that all processing would occur in their pre-pro, and most people, if they used the speakers built into their televisions, would only want a two channel decoded signal to be transmitted through the HDMI outputs to their television sets. Thus, both HDMI outputs carry only the front left and right channels of sound. This is fine for stereo audiophiles, but not so good for surround sound freaks as the signal will have to go through an extra A-to-D then D-to-A conversion.

I had made several changes to my system over the year and therefore decided this month that I should update my system's measurements on the Realiser. What drove me crazy, and cost me several hours of experimentation was that the Classé puts the front left and right speaker channels through all eight HDMI channels. The Realiser picked that up and gave a weird surround aspect which made everything sound as if I was in the middle of the group. I thought something was wrong with the Realiser and emailed Lorr Kramer from Smyth several times with my misgivings. Happily he was busy and couldn't answer my messages for two days, during which I emailed Classé, who confirmed the HDMI output of their unit was the cause. Thus, I only looked like a half-idiot to Lorr, when I sent an email negating the previous three before he had a chance to read them.

Luckily I've found a solution to the problem; an HDMI switcher purchased several years ago. All of my sources are connected to the HDMI switcher, then on to the Realiser, then finally on to the Classé for decoding of DD and DTS, DSP room and speaker correction for listening through my 7.1 speaker system. The Classé is also connected by 7.1 analog output to the Realiser for those times when I want to use some signal correction and for the DirecTV signal which is usually Dolby encoded which the Realiser can't handle correctly.  While somewhat more complicated, the sound through the headphones in a cool room more than makes up for it.

I've used the headphones with the Realiser without even turning on my main system for three weeks now, and am so happy with the sound that I'm thinking of selling the 7.1 horn setup with tube amps. I've even put in an order for the top of the line Stax SR 009 headphone with a second Realiser to take with me in retirement to the Caribbean. Just think, I'll be able to hear my system, and any other I‘ve been able to copy, in all its glory while sitting on my balcony overlooking the ocean. What could be better than that!

So for anyone thinking of purchasing either the Smyth Realiser A 08  or the Classé pre-pro, remember that they don't mate easily. If you want the best headphone reproduction, get the Realiser and a processor with direct HDMI pass-through of the PCM signal. If headphones aren't your thing, the Classé CT-SSP should be on your short list for processors.

By the way, I've compared the sound of my system from one year ago to that at present, and am happy to report that there has been a significant improvement in both sound-staging and clarity. Thus I guess that at least some of my findings published here over the year were correct. Now if I can get around to my audiophile friends' houses and copy their systems, they'll all follow me to the Caribbean (not the friends, just their systems unless that's part of the deal). WOW!

Finally a very few words from Lorr Kramer of Smyth research:

Dear Bill,

Great article.  I must say I have never thought of the Realiser as a planet-saving device -- a whole new sales pitch.  And those who think green is unmanly can purchase tube headphone amps!  By the way, it's been really hot here too. -- Lorr Kramer 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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