Speech Intelligibility

Many people notice their hearing declining as they grow older. 

Hearing loss does come with age but that is no reason to abandon music. Reduced speech intelligibility can be disconcerting but musical appreciation does not suffer with age. In fact, music can add a great deal to the enjoyment of life. 

High resolution audio is a weapon against middle age hearing loss just as a good workout is a good defence against heart disease. 

The cleaner music is, the less stressful and more satisfying it will be to listen to.   Like moving from a crowded, noisy room to a quiet environment, a well setup high end audio system will delivery a relaxed, intelligible, and highly musical experience. 

Ways to improve intelligibility include elimination of noise sources and reduction of strong and discordant reflections. Strong slap echo becomes more disconcerting as age increases so take extra care to reduce, damp or break up bare walls or glass surfaces. 

LineSources (line arrays) and Ribbons dramatically reduce the ceiling and floor slap echo to which conventional dome tweeter based systems are prone. 

Listening fatigue and intelligibility are inversely proportional.   In a public forum poor intelligibility results in loss of focus of the audience and a much less effective presentation.   In a home environment, lack of clarity results in progressively less time spent enjoying music and movies.

Our hearing changes over the course of our lives and so does our sensitivity to certain types of noise and response anomalies. We can’t fix, but we can re-adjust effectively. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems

 

Loudspeaker Reviews

Unless backed up by methodical and appropriate measurements, loudspeaker reviews can be very unreliable.

Acoustic measurements which reliably represent human perception of loudspeaker performance have yet to be developed. The basics are clearly in place though. Smooth frequency response both on and off axis, low driver distortion, low speaker cabinet colouration are all well established prerequisites for excellent performance. 

The variables from there however are many. Clearly some speakers perform better in some rooms than in others and some are designed for specific placements. 

Dispersion patterns and driver placements on the baffle have a dramatic effect on measured response at different microphone positions and distances. Reviewers who insist on a standard measuring position or distance that the speaker is not recommended for, can seriously mis-represent a loudspeakers performance. 

Distortion is something we have always assumed was a critical indicator of sound fidelity. However, once it drops down to a certain level, it ceases to be a reliable indicator. Note the Panasonic digital amp receivers which Newform has so often endorsed. The distortion on the original XR45 model was 0.9% at its rated output of 100w/ channel. On this basis alone, the receiver would be laughed out of any room populated by audiophiles. However, upon hearing the receivers, many experienced audiophiles dumped their much more expensive, better measuring and well reviewed amplifiers for these cheap little lightweight receivers. 

Ditto tube amplifiers which also add, in many cases, alarming departures from flat frequency response. But many rational people still love them! 

Everyone hears differently and everyone listens for different things. Be very careful when a reviewer waxes poetic about a loudspeaker (or other audio component) whose measured response looks highly flawed. 

Ditto for reviews conducted in poor listening rooms. Rooms that are highly unrepresentative of the average room have to be viewed as Distorting the review. If the reviewer doesn’t describe his room, and you are seriously considering the speakers based on his opinion, by all means email him and ask about his listening conditions. 

Loudspeaker reviewing, whether in print or on the web, is a highly variable process so get as much background as possible on the reviews of loudspeakers which really interest you. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems

Loudspeaker Merit

SPEAKERS OF MERIT

There are over 3000 different hifi stereo and home theater loudspeakers on the audio market at any one time in North America and Europe. 

Of those 3000, only a very small proportion hold any interest for audiophiles. Once the models designed to hit a low price point are taken out along with units whose aesthetics were more of a consideration than their acoustic design are eliminated, the list gets a great deal shorter.

Drop the cheapies and the throw-together from available parts and you have maybe a few hundred speakers which are well designed and well executed.

Of those few hundred, only a few score are exceptional. Loudspeaker designs have been improving steadily and there are quite a few excellent implementations of classic designs and a handful of novel designs which actually work well. 

However, some speaker designers and more likely their marketing departments keep on dredging up well known failed concepts which should have been left behind decades ago. Anything which produces a specific effect or adds character should simply be left in the archives. Loudspeakers whose cabinets resonate like a violin or other instrument should never see the light of day. Ditto speaker diaphragms with cones of some “natural” material which reproduces certain instruments with sympathetic resonances. 

Driver alignments on the baffle which create all kinds of interference and comb filtering and a host of other well known speaker design sins keep on being repeated. But not by the designers responsible for the speakers below. There may be better lineups of speaker designs out there but these are the ones we can vouch for in no particular order.

VANDERSTEEN

Vandersteen has dealt with minimization of baffle bounce, diffraction and phase alignment for many years. Add quality components, very solid cabinets and well honed design and you have loudspeakers which stand up well in any company over the long term. 

www.vandersteen.com

WILSON

Wilson has occupied the upper end of the loudspeaker market for many years. Obviously their design philosophy is far removed from Newform’s but we can’t ignore their dedication to quality. Their pricing may be over the top but they aren’t all hat. Quality of components, construction and finish plus installation service justifies their stratospheric cost. Also, we have to applaud David Wilson’s down to earth endorsement of affordable but superb electronics. Unique openness for a high ender. 

www.wilsonaudio.com

TOTEM

One of the few remaining pillars (totems?) of the once great Canadian loudspeaker industry, Totem makes very well designed and quality speakers with fine finishes in the mid-priced audiophile area. 

www.totemacoustic.com

MAGNEPAN

One of our favourite sounding speaker lines and the longest lasting panel speaker manufacturer, Magneplanars offer the transparency and detail that have made the classic panels favourites of audiophiles for decades. Apogees, Quads and Dayton-Wrights round out the first wave of truly great and groundbreaking planar loudspeakers. 

www.magnepan.com

ANTHONY GALLO

Innovation and a deep understanding of acoustics meets clever industrial design. 

www.roundsound.com

MBL

Basic physics re-defined in a design one would think would be impossible to make work. But it does work and very well. Industrial art and function nouveau. 

http://www.mbl-germany.de/Reference_html/101_e.html

PIPE DREAMS

A large line array design among the first to clearly demonstrated the advantages of the line source in home music systems. 

www.nearfieldacoustics.com

DR. BRUCE EDGAR’S EDGARHORNS

Although horns really should be relegated to the pages of history, Dr. Edgar’s horns manage to offer the advantages of horns - dynamics, efficiency and impact - while minimizing virtually all of the horns’ inherent flaws. Horn loudspeakers a Newform Research owner could live with. There can’t be any higher praise. 

www.edgarhorn.com

PARADIGM

Mass market without the hype - sound engineering and attention to detail shine through in a lineup which spans a wide price range. Their staying power is a tribute to their quality and sound for the $. Paradigm also deserves a gold star for their valiant attempts to maintain as much production as possible in North America. 

www.paradigm.com 

Although Newform feels its dynamic, wide dispersion Ribbons and Coaxial LineSource speaker arrays betters the competition in many areas, the above companies are solid audiophile citizens and deserve full credit for the excellent products they produce. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems

Loudspeaker Aesthetics

AESTHETICS

 Newform Research loudspeakers are extremely high performance audio designs. But often life interferes with the pursuit of pure high fidelity. 

The dreaded WAF or SAF (spousal approval factor) can quash a music only decision and turn it into a lifestyle decision. 

Where a dedicated room is involved, the audiophile may have complete acoustic freedom. When musical performance is not the only factor in the purchasing decision, then both the looks of the loudspeaker and it’s placement in the room have to work with other considerations. 

Our loudspeakers look technically unique because they are very technically focussed. The cabinetry can be very handsome but for us, form follows function. Although Newform loudspeakers have a unique look, they can be integrated into room decor as well as any tall loudspeaker and considerably better than many of the $50,000+ behemoths which are widely available. 

We do custom speakers and grills so there are a few aesthetic options that are open to you when you come to the conclusion that Newform Research loudspeakers can deliver the audio performance you have been waiting for. 

 

Speaker Repair

Loudspeaker repair is generally quite simple if you have the right replacement woofer, midrange or tweeter and a soldering iron on hand but first we should say a few words about why speakers fail. 

Whether it is hifi stereo, home theater, sound reinforcement, automotive or PA loudspeakers, the most common cause of failure is too much of the wrong kind of power. Not too much available power. 

When overdriven, an amplifier “clips” the top off the sine waves it is trying to produce because it reaches its maximum voltage ceiling. This clipping effect produces a large amount of high frequency energy which goes straight to the tweeter. Tweeter burnout is the number one type of loudspeaker failure. 

A 200w per channel amp is less likely to fry tweeters than a 50w amp because it has so much more headroom and can produce a cleaner wave at higher power. 

Low power amplifiers can burn out any tweeter and low power amplifiers are more likely to be overdriven. If you hear the sound becoming hard or distorted, that is the sound of clipping. Back off!! 

The next is woofer burnout or overdriving which causes scaping or rattling. Crossover components rarely fail except in extreme cases. If you can see the woofer cones moving, they are being driven fairly hard. Use common sense. 

Once you have diagnosed the problem, you can call the dealer or service centre and decide if the speaker is worth repairing. 

If you can’t get any support or if you would like to tackle the repair yourself, here are some steps to consider. 

1. Pull out the defective driver. 

2. Do the battery test on it. A volt meter impedance tests works as well. Don’t be alarmed if your 8 Ohm speaker tests as low as 4.5 Ohms, that is a dc reading and the 8 Ohms is only nominal. 

3. If it is “dead”, time to track down a replacement. 

4. If it is live, then the issue is inside the enclosure (very rare) and you’ll have to pull the crossover.

A FEW TRICKS

How do you know your speaker has failed? Could it be a connection? Apply the voltage of a small 9 volt or smaller battery across the binding posts (with the amplifier speaker cables disconnected) and see if you get a lick or pop. If you do, the speaker is working to some degree. Check your wiring to the amp. 

If there is no sound or distorted sound, press gently in on the cone of the woofer with your fingers spread across the diaphragm. If it doesn’t move, it is fried with the voice coil melted and jammed in the magnetic gap. If it does move but scraping and scratching is audible, it may not be as bad but it probably indicates the driver still must be replaced. 

If the scraping goes away when you push on only one side of the cone, a mickey mouse fix is possible if you can’t get a replacement woofer. If this is a nothing to lose situation, take a piece of masking tape and stretch it over the baffle and over the side of the cone so the tape slightly presses on the rubber or foam surround. This can equate to your finger pressure. If this works, you can try something more permanent with duct tape. 

Note this is a last resort and the frequency response of the speaker will be affected. Also, taking off the tape may well rip the woofer surround. 

If it is difficult to pry the woofer or tweeter out of the baffle without damaging it, here is an option.  

Find a screw slightly larger than the screw hole on the frame of the driver. Turn the screw into this so it becomes jammed. No need to really force it in, just make it snug. 

Take a small wood block, place it on the baffle beside the screw and use a hammer to pull up the on the head of the screw. The driver should come up with it. 

Repairing Newform Research speakers is a little different. If a Ribbon fails, call us first. Absolutely do not take off the faceplate as this will result in further damage. Our Ribbons are extremely robust so failure is very unlikely. Our Ribbons require no maintenance. If you detect a problem of some kind, if the Ribbons are making sound, they are almost certainly working to spec. Look elsewhere for the problem and talk to us! 

Where can you get replacement speakers? The number one source in the USA is Madisound (www.madisound.com ) who is also a large supplier of loudspeaker kits for DIY projects. 

In Canada, Solen Electronics is the source (www.solen.ca). 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems 

 

Custom Home Theatre Installer

The custom home theater installer has to blend the conflicting issues of video and audio excellence with complex electronics into a simple to operate, aesthetically pleasing package.

Newform Research Ribbon systems can make the installers acoustic job a great deal easier providing the home theater room design allows for speaker placement clear of the front wall. Let’s be frank. Putting Newform Ribbon speakers inwall will work well enough but it is a huge waste of their potential. Rears and sides can be installed inwall as those channels are far less critical and sound field ambience may even benefit from the delays and reflections inherent in inwall placement. 

Given their high impedance, dynamics, broad horizontal dispersion and modularity, Newform Ribbon systems are configurable to virtually any application. Control of vertical dispersion is also a very useful characteristic of these Ribbons. Needless to say, their sound quality is also superb. 

Custom designs with a variety of high end midbass drivers in custom finished enclosures can be a great help in meeting high customer expectations for world class systems at realistic prices. The Coaxial Ribbon LineSource designs will allow you to offer your customer an unsurpassed acoustic experience. 

If you have a home theater or high end audio project which calls for ultra system musical performance, contact us to discuss it. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems

Home Theatre Room Setup

The audio setup for a home theater system is very much the same as the ideal audiophile setup for stereo. The trick is to not allow the video screen to interfere with the acoustic performance not to allow the addition of rear speakers or subwoofers to detract from the key goal, overwhelmingly delivered by the front speakers, - the ability to play music. 

There is another complicating factor in home theater design. That is aesthetics. Very often high end home theaters are pictured with inwall speakers - virtually invisible. 

From a high fidelity audio point of view, this a huge compromise. In order to set up a natural soundstage, loudspeakers - any loudspeakers, not just Newform Ribbons - have to have space around them. Place the speakers as far out from the wall  as possible without blocking off part of the screen from any seating position.

Inwall speakers simply generate more baffle bounce and front wall reflection. Although they may be able to blast large amounts of sound at you and the center channel speaker might be able to help anchor the audio images, the overall effect is more like an acoustic assault from several points rather than a naturally rendered 3 dimensional soundfield. 

There is no reason a home theater room cannot do as good a job with music as a dedicated high fidelity room. As long as the screens are flat and the loudspeakers are well placed, acoustically speaking, home theater rooms and high end audio rooms can be identical. 

If the front speakers aren’t set up to reproduce music well, then they will do a poor job on home theater as well. 

With just the same toolbag of tricks you developed in your pursuit if high end audio, you can make create your own audiophile home theater. 

Home Theatre Design

If you are starting from scratch on a home theater system and can basically control everything from room dimensions to seating positions and loudspeaker placement, then here are a couple of points to keep in mind. 

Please design out inwall speakers.  The further out from the wall the speakers are, the better the soundstage will be and the less need there will be for a center channel speaker.

Scale the musical image to the visual image. If your video image is 50" tall and 2 feet off the ground, make sure your loudspeakers put up a similar sized and placed image. 

Allow for multiple subwoofers placed optimally in the room.  For subs with one in the middle of each wall, is probably going to result in the flattest response and the greatest dynamics.

What are you going to be sitting in? The top of a stuffed chair protruding above your head dramatically reduces the effect of the rear channels. 

If you have wide dispersion speakers in the front, the centre channel will probably be doing more harm than good with the majority of program material. Try the sound system without a centre channel. 

Numero uno in making the home theater room the equal to a great audio room, the video display has to be flat and non-intrusive. Large cabinets for rear projector TVs or cabinets housing the display are acoustic negatives. Keep the front of the room flat and clean. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems.

 

Loudspeaker Design Strategy

There are a great many instructional articles on loudspeaker design and speaker building from do it yourself manuals for audio hobbyists to the nuts and bolts of dome tweeter and woofer design for professional engineers. Speaker crossovers, capacitors, inductors, wiring and cabinet construction all figure in clean sheet speaker projects but the comments below look beyond the nuts and bolts of speaker building. 

Loudspeaker design strategy has to do with how the speaker is going to be used. What kind of room will they be placed in and where in the room will they be installed? Who and how many people will be listening to them? Where will these people be sitting? 

Different loudspeaker designs have different dispersion patterns and these work for specific rooms and listening positions. A D’Apolito speaker configuration is meant for the seated listener and won’t do for people who like to stand up and move around a great deal. Ditto short Ribbons. 

Dome based systems will bounce a great deal of sound off the ceiling while linesources and panel speakers won’t. Is that an issue in your installation? 

Taking the long view, recognize that room correction and digital crossovers are practical and affordable now.  Some receives and pre-amp processors even have both capabilities built in.   You may want to keep passive crossovers external or allow for their easy removal from the cabinet. 

Digital signal manipulation will not cure everything but it can help immensely in specific areas of phase and amplitude. Design your loudspeakers and the room setup to allow these devices to fully apply their strengths. Keep your designs simple and go with drivers with broad and smooth frequency response. See that the radiation pattern is similar for all drivers. And don’t try to squeeze the last bit of output from the bottom end by porting the speakers. Ported speakers have resonances that will always be heard no matter how skillful their implementation or how sophisticated the digital correction. 

Digital correction cannot compensate for poor drivers, disparate radiation patterns and hopeless placement. 

If your room has a particular acoustic “character”, make sure your chosen design doesn’t exacerbate it. Are you willing to acoustically treat the room for a more even response? 

Lastly, design in lots of dynamic headroom. As higher resolution recordings are now the norm (SACD, DVD audio, True Digital etc. and high res downloads) dynamic range has increased dramatically. Also, good, cost effective amplifiers are becoming more common. Design your speakers and your system to take advantage of these factors. 

Obviously Newform feels that tall, wide dispersion Ribbons and LineSource midbasses offer the best design approach for most home music systems but tall loudspeakers aren't practical or affordable for every application. 

Whatever your audio project, it is best to stand back and apply some strategic planning before buying components and cutting wood. Design your speakers for your room, your audience and to take advantage of cheap and acoustically transparent digital signal processing. 

Good speaker building!

 

Audiophile Upgrades

 

AUDIOPHILE UPGRADES

 Quote “ .. In the 5 years I’ve since I got the 645s and the Behringer/Panasonic package, I’ve spent all of my money on music. I’m off the audiophile treadmill!” 

Get off the audiophile treadmill! 

Experimenting with different components, system configurations and room layouts has always been part of the high fidelity hobby. But the core of the hobby is music and enjoying listening to it regardless of the state of your system. Stereo and home theater sound systems always have a number of weakness in them. These can stem both from the music reproduction chain behind the speaker diaphragms and from the listening environment in front of the diaphragms. 

The electrical chain starts with power cords and ends up with the loudspeaker crossovers. Keeping noise out of the system and avoiding format changes (digital to analog and visa versa) are the main issues here. The old concept of matching components, so important in the days of tubes and analog devices, is something for the scrapheap as finding two digital components with offsetting design problems is highly unlikely. 

Where the electrical response stops, the acoustic response begins and room/speaker interactions are paramount. 

So the first order of business is identifying a problem and the second is reducing it. In the audiophile world, anything less than perceptually perfect can be described as a problem. In reality, it is simply sub-optimal. Improvements are always possible. Perfection is unachievable. 

There are those who will purchase $20,000 cd players to improve their systems. Hopefully they will have dealt with the major listening room/speaker interactions first. Very, very close to the same sound quality can be had from a good $400 DVD player as long as the digital outputs are used. In some cases, the most expensive products lag the cheaper mass produced units as demonstrated in a number of carefully conducted lab tests. The last 2% of high fidelity can be hard to nail down and trying is very expensive. 

But even assuming top $ means top performance, the digital differences are small. Analog outputs are another story - generally the high end gear is way ahead of the cheaper stuff - but do you really need to use analog outputs? The $19,600 difference can be much better spent on room treatments, amplifiers, loudspeakers and digital crossovers - the areas with the largest errors and where the greatest improvements can be made. 

Upgrading your system to accommodate the playback of higher resolution formats will also produce a large improvement although these formats are anything but convenient or consistent at the moment. Improvements are being made however and now upsampling high resolution format music servers are dropping in price. No surprise, they are digital and the price/performance ratio and the friendliness factor are moving in the audiophiles’ favour. 

Read our pages on Acoustic Room Treatments and Audiophile System Strategy. The key is to recognise where the opportunities for the largest improvements in sound can be derived. Understand your room and it’s fundamental acoustic properties and then pick loudspeakers which will best complement those properties. 

At some point in time, all systems will incorporate room correction and digital crossovers. Understand what a digital crossover and room correction can do for you in your room with your loudspeakers. Digital correction of room issues and some loudspeaker flaws can provide very large benefits with few acoustic drawbacks. 

But room correction and digital crossovers will not cure all ills. Dispersion mismatches with the room, dynamic limitations, diffraction and high levels of distortion are fundamental problems which will simply not be cured by digital means. 

However, there is a price to be paid in system complexity when installing a digital crossover. Double the amplifier count is required and, once you get into home theater, the system becomes basically unmanageable for the less than technically devoted. We have great things to say about the Behringer DCX 2496 digital crossover and the DEQX in a stereo system but these are awkward to incorporate into a multi-channel setup. 

The Tact Audio amplifiers with digital crossovers built in are an obvious solution to this complexity (one stereo amplifier per channel would be required) but they cost over $4000 each. However, a Tact amplifier ( or other world class amp with digital crossover) in every corner is something which will do a great deal for any audio system. And it is possible to spend a far more money on far less effective approaches. 

The sonic advantages of digital crossovers are very substantial both in terms of eliminating the inherent shortcomings of the passive crossovers (large inductors, capacitors and resistors) in loudspeakers and in extremely fine tuning speaker response. They offer precision and flexibility that passive crossovers simply can’t approach. 

Digital crossovers also offer some basic room correction with no loss (to our ears) in transparency. Rather than complete spectrum treatment, digital crossovers, by taking out the 2 or 3 worst bumps or dips, can dramatically improve system spectral balance. 

Room correction devices flatten response and possibly also add phase correction at the expense of some transparency. Transparency loss - very noticeable in early systems - has been dramatically reduced in recent years even in the cheaper receivers. However, some still remains. 

Basically, the less processing the better but if you have room problems and lack the means to tackle them directly, room correction can be a very large overall plus. 

On the electrical end, every component performs better when fed clean power and when static is reduced and grounding is properly done. Ground loops result in a loss of dynamics and transparency which can be fairly dramatic but it can sneak up and be hard to identify. 

Special electrical circuits and power conditioners can deal with many problems but listen to the power conditioners in your system before buying as some can actually degrade sound quality. High end power cables actually can offer audible improvements but they are expensive. 

Expensive digital cables are highly questionable as are extremely expensive speaker cables. Some of these can cost more than the digital crossover/extra amplifier route which offer vastly higher fidelity returns. 

Last but not least, many systems built up over the years have become very complex. Try simple. Unplug and disconnect the unnecessary, particularly processing and switching devices, and see what you can hear. 

Most home theater systems with Newform Ribbon systems sound better without centre channels. We also hear this from other high end speaker manufacturers. Try your system without the center channel. 

Less can be more and higher profits for the equipment vendors do not automatically mean higher fidelity for you. You got into this hobby for the music didn’t you? Experiment on faith. Buy on results. Relax. The latest and the best won’t be the latest by the time you walk out the door and it won’t be the best for much longer. 

Don’t allow fascination and then frustration with various components to interfere with your connection to the music. 

Loudspeakers Unsurpassed in Soundstage, Transparency, Detail and Dynamics in High End Stereo and Home Theater Systems 

 

 

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