Archives for 2004

Axiom Millennia M80 Tower Loudspeakers: Sound Comparisons

AudioWorld Rating:

How do they sound?

I tested the M80’s in a variety of contexts, focusing mostly on their role as main front speakers in a 5.1 surround system, both for music and for movies. With the M80’s replacing the smaller M22’s in the Epic Grand Master package, the system is similar to Axiom’s top-of-the-line Epic 80 package, but with a smaller center channel speaker (VP100 instead of VP150) and subwoofer (EP175 instead of EP350).

I also made direct A/B comparisons of the M80 vs. the M22. I was interested to find out how much of a difference the upgrade to the M80’s would make in various settings, given the $700 (US) per pair price differential.

Diana Krall: Love Scenes
(Impulse DVD-Audio)

This DVD-Audio disc is a great romantic jazz listen, as well as an ideal way to evaluate the essential characteristics of a speaker system in both stereo and surround. The ensemble of bass-piano-guitar plus vocal is beautifully recorded, with distinct mixes for each format: the stereo version (96kHz/24-bit) is up-close and intimate, the surround version (44.1kHz/24-bit) a little more spacious and reverberant. In both cases, the instruments are captured with realism and detail that reveals all.

Listening to Love Scenes in advanced resolution stereo through the M80ti’s alone is a delight. The acoustic bass, in particular, sounds sumptuous and natural, right down to the bottom. No hint of resonances or imbalances of any kind. As you would expect, the bookshelf M22ti’s are no match for the big speakers at reproducing the lower bass. Putting that obvious difference aside, I found that the M80ti’s present a slightly better defined soundstage, with the phantom center more stable and the whole stereo field a little more enveloping.

In surround, the M80’s again sound spectacular. The characteristic Axiom sound – transparent, open-ended, detailed – is evident, and the tower speakers fit together tonally and spatially with the rest of the speaker ensemble, to perfection. With this recording, there is little to say about the bottom end, since the mix directs the low bass to the LFE subwoofer channel rather aggressively. With or without bass management switched in, the end result is an accurate reproduction of the bass instrument, without any crossover glitches between registers.

Insane Clown Posse: The Wraith – Shangri-La
(DTS Entertainment DVD-Audio)

For something completely different, I turned to this extravagantly-produced hip-hop/rap attack, which offers a riotous surround mix and multitrack aural manipulations by the jugful (note: definitely not recommended for family listening, highly abrasive lyrics).

What I was after here was a fix on how the M80 would handle an extreme challenge in the low frequencies, with the heavily-processed bass lines and layers of chunky beats often found in current pop recordings.

The advantage of full-range speakers for the main front pair is evident in this situation. With the bass management crossover set at 40Hz, the deep – almost sub-sonic – fundamentals throughout this recording issue forth with appropriately furniture-rattling weight, courtesy of the subwoofer, while the M80ti’s bring definition and clarity to the mid-bass drum, percussion and synth elements. With the sub taken out of the picture, the M80’s still put this music over with substantial impact, but entirely lacking the profound bottom end on tracks like Murder Rap and Blaaam!!!

The big Axioms also have a clear advantage over their bookshelf siblings through the midrange of the spectrum, with this recording. The music is densely layered and frenetically busy, and I found that the M80’s are able to articulate and lay out the complex mix with greater clarity. Not to mention that cranking the amp up to deliver dance-club sound levels, the M80’s ramped up without breaking a sweat: really loud, and really clean.

Black Hawk Down
(Columbia Pictures DVD-Video)

The soundtrack of this modern war flick (Academy Award for Best Sound, 2001) is a showcase of complex, nuanced sound design – everything from crushing explosions and chopper fly-by’s, to subtle ambient details in the quieter scenes. The M80’s handle everything this movie throws at them with ease. These speakers, in common with all of the Axiom models I have auditioned, are masterful at creating a surround soundscape that is utterly realistic – enveloping, detailed, and accurate. I can’t really say that there’s much advantage in having the larger Axioms this time around, as the standard Epic Grand system with the smaller M22’s is equally proficient in this context.

Philippe Herreweghe J.S. Bach – Leipzig Christmas Cantatas
(Harmonia Mundi Hybrid Multichannel SACD)

A fine performance and recording of Bach choral-orchestral works, with lovely, naturally-reverberant acoustics. The M80ti’s sound spectacular here, all by themselves in the stereo version, or carrying the main effort in the surround mix. Perhaps it is tellling that listening to the stereo tracks provides an enveloping surround-like experience that is almost indistinguishable from the full surround – the Axioms really are that good at recreating a vibrant soundstage, given an excellent classically-engineered recording.

The low frequency response of the M80 handles the full range of this recording without any difficulty: in fact, they sound better with the subwoofer switched out altogether, producing accurate, tight bass that is a tad compromised when the sub is involved.

MartinLogan Introduces New Voyage and Passage In-Wall Loudspeaker Models for High-Performance Home Theater

MartinLogan has introduced two new in-wall loudspeaker models using the company’s trademark Advanced Thin Film (ATF) transducer technology.

The architecturally-inspired Voyage™ ($1,995 each, US) and Passage™ ($749 each, US) are designed for high-performance home theater installations. They represent MartinLogan’s premiere offering in the rapidly-expanding in-wall loudspeaker market.

Both new loudspeaker designs feature:

  • Quick, Trouble Free Installation
  • Unbreakable, Constant Control, Die-Cast Aluminum Mounting Locks
  • High-Resolution ATF™ (Advanced Thin Film) Transducers
  • High-Excursion Aluminum Element Woofers
  • Massive Audiophile Grade Crossovers
  • Ultra Rigid, Wall Stiffening, Extruded Aluminum Chassis
  • Paintable End Caps and a Selection of Grill Color Options
  • Highly Adjustable Tweeter Alignment Sphere
  • IR Repeater Ready

Quick, Trouble Free Installation
To provide an extremely quick and trouble free installation, MartinLogan’s passionate engineering and design team created an extremely robust mounting lock system. When not in use the unbreakable, constant control, die-cast aluminum mounting locks are held firmly in place within a self-contained housing. When the mounting locks are moved into place during installation they firmly couple the loudspeakers rigid chassis to the drywall. If for any reason the speaker should be removed from the wall the mounting locks retract and lock themselves out of the way within their self-contained housing.

Every Voyage and Passage loudspeaker is provided with a rigid, full size installation template featuring a handle, quick reference installation instructions, and die cut guides for marking the cutout hole. To minimize installation site clutter, both speakers are boxed so that parts are removed from the shipping container in the order they are needed for installation—first the template, next the speaker and finally the grill covers.

ATF™ (Advanced Thin Film) Transducers Provide Clarity, Detail and Resolution
ATF™ (Advanced Thin Film) transducers, based on RADIA planar technology, consist of a micro-thin, low mass diaphragm with an ultra-light, etched conductive aluminum surface suspended between two high field strength neodymium super magnet arrays. When an electrical current (audio signal) passes through the etched aluminum on the diaphragm’s surface it is simultaneously pulled towards one of the neodymium arrays and pushed away from the opposing. When the direction of current is reversed the diaphragm is simultaneously pushed and pulled in the opposite direction, thus producing sound. This concept is called push-pull and is a major contributor to the linearity and sonic superiority of both ATF and electrostatic MartinLogan thin film transducers

ATF diaphragms are constructed of extremely low mass Dupont Kaladex® PEN (polyethylene naphthalate) — a material chemically similar to the low-mass PET (polyethylene terathylate) film used in MartinLogan’s Generation 2 electrostatic transducers, yet capable of handling the high thermal requirements needed for stable magnetic thin film operation. Full surface drive capabilities allow this durable, low-mass diaphragm to remain discretely sized, yet achieve extremely low-distortion levels with superior resolution.

High-Resolution Woofer for Accurate Bass
Utilizing high-excursion, high-resolution state-of-the-art woofers specially designed for accurate in-wall bass performance, Voyage and Passage deliver a precise low-end with accuracy, authority and extension uncommon to traditional in-wall loudspeakers.

Massive Audiophile Grade Crossover for Ultimate Clarity
State-of-the-art audiophile grade Vojtko™ crossovers found within the Voyage and Passage are designed and manufactured with the same meticulous attention, care and precision as those found in MartinLogan’s ultimate loudspeaker products. To maintain the integrity of the original audio signal throughout the filter, all high-performance crossover components, including massive air-core coil inductors, are carefully mounted to 1/8-inch thick high-rigidity circuit boards with ultra-wide traces.

Ultra Rigid Extruded Aluminum Chassis and Baffle Stiffens Wall
Extruded and milled, the Voyage and Passage aluminum chassis exhibits rigidity capable of stiffening the wall in which they are installed, thus minimizing acoustically destructive vibrations. Additionally, an extremely dense and rigid, one inch-thick front baffle further minimizes acoustically destructive vibrations.

Flexible Aesthetic and Performance Features Allow High Levels of Integration
Paintable end caps and a selection of grill color options endow the Voyage and Passage with the flexibility to complement any decor. The Industry’s most highly adjustable tweeter alignment sphere (featuring 20° pan and tilt and 90° degree rotation capabilities) allows incredible adaptability in any environment. Horizontal and vertical installation options make the Voyage and Passage ideal for 2-channel stereo and multi-channel home theater listening in left, center, right or surround configurations.

IR Repeater Ready for Custom Installations
Voyage and Passage feature locations and predrilled pilot hole where IR repeaters can be installed allowing custom installers even more flexibility when integrating an audio/video system into a home.

MartinLogan's Voyage (left) and Passage In-Wall Loudspeakers deliver audiophile high-performance for premium home theater installations

Summary of Key Features and Benefits

  • ATF Transducers: Efficient output with detail, clarity and resolution.
  • High-Excursion Aluminum Woofers: Extended, accurate low-end.
  • Audiophile Grade Crossovers: Maintain purity of audio signal.
  • Extruded Aluminum Chassis: Minimizes acoustically destructive vibrations.
  • Rigid, Dense Front Baffle: Minimizes acoustically destructive vibrations.
  • Unbreakable Constant Control Die: Allow quick, trouble free installation. Cast Aluminum Mounting Locks
  • Detailed Installation Template: Allow a quick, trouble free installation.
  • Paintable End Caps: Voyage and Passage match any decor.
  • Selection of Grill Color Options: Voyage and Passage match any decor.
  • Highly Adjustable Tweeter: Incredible adaptability in any environment. Alignment Sphere
  • IR Repeater Ready: Integration flexibility for custom installations.

Voyage Specifications

System Frequency Response 40–20,000 Hz ± 3 dB
Sensitivity 91 dB/2.83 volts/meter
Impedance 5 ohms
Crossover Frequency 350, 3000 Hz
Components Audiophile grade air core coils, polypropylene, metal film and low dissipation electrolytic capacitors
Woofer Type Two 8” (20.3cm) magnetically shielded high rigidity aluminum cones with extended throw drive assembly
ATF Mid-Range Drivers Two 1.5″ x 6″ (3.8cm x 15.2cm)
ATF High Frequency Driver 1.5″ x 2.25″ (3.8cm x 5.7cm)
Tweeter Sphere Range of Motion 20° tilt in all directions. 90° rotation.
Power Handling 200 watts
Weight 25.5 lbs. each (11.6 kg)
Overall Size (HxWxD) 35.875” x 10.5” x 5.625” (91.1cm x 26.7cm x 14.3cm)
Required wall opening (with tolerance) 9.125″ x 34.3125″ (23.2cm x 87.2cm)
Projection from wall surface 1.875″ (4.8cm)
Depth required behind wall surface 3.75″ (9.6cm)

Passage Specifications

System Frequency Response 45–20,000 Hz ± 3 dB
Sensitivity 90 dB/2.83 volts/meter
Impedance 6 ohms
Crossover Frequency 2200 Hz
Components Audiophile grade air core coils, metal film and low dissipation electrolytic capacitors
Woofer Type Two 6.5” (16.5cm) magnetically shielded high rigidity aluminum cones with extended throw drive assembly
ATF High Frequency Driver 1.5″ x 2.25″ (3.8cm x 5.7cm)
Tweeter Sphere Range of Motion 20° tilt in all directions. 90° rotation.
Power Handling 150 watts
Weight 16 lbs. each (7.3 kg)
Overall Size (HxWxD) 24.5” x 8.9375” x 4.9375” (62.2cm x 22.7cm x 12.5cm)
Required wall opening (with tolerance) 7.5″ x 22.9375″ (19.1cm x 58.3cm)
Projection from wall surface 1.75″ (4.4cm)
Depth required behind wall surface 3.1875″ (8.1cm)

New Royer SF-24 Phantom-Powered Stereo Ribbon Microphone Offers High Output Level and Low Noise Floor

Royer Labs is now shipping its SF-24 Phantom Powered Stereo Ribbon Microphone. The new mic, priced at $3,795 (US), is a a phantom powered version of Royer’s popular SF-12 stereo ribbon microphone.

Royer says the SF-24 combines the SF-12’s high quality audio performance, outstanding stereo separation and imaging, with Royer’s exclusive active electronics system for ribbon microphones.

Designed as a premium instrument for stereo and distance miking applications, the SF-24 provides extremely natural, uncolored recordings of choirs, pianos, harp, stringed instruments, and is particularly well-suited to miking large ensembles such as an orchestra or the various sections within—including brass and woodwinds.

The SF-24 is also perfect as a single-point stereo overhead drum and percussion mic.

The SF-24 represents a significant improvement over the SF12 for many ambient and critical applications, due to the inclusion of Royer’s exclusive active electronics system for ribbon microphones.

Featuring two fully balanced, discrete head amplifier systems utilizing ultra-low noise FET’s, each delivering an output sensitivity rating of –38 dB, the SF-24’s sensitivity is on par with that of phantom powered condenser microphones—facilitating use with any preamplifier with average gain characteristics.

The impedance matching circuitry provides optimum impedance to the ribbon elements, preventing overdamping of the elements and assuring consistent performance. This capability translates to ultra-quiet operation with self-noise lower than 18 dB, making the SF-24 ideal for recording quiet sound sources with enough gain to drive any recording medium.

Housed in an ingot iron case that forms part of the magnetic return circuit, the SF-24 consists of two matched ribbon microphones placed one above the other, each aimed 45 degrees from center in the classic Blumlein configuration. The magnet/polepiece structure of each ribbon transducer allows a wide, uniform frequency range with no substantial peaks or dips, and the two 1.8-micron pure aluminum ribbons produce superb transient response. Frequency response is excellent, regardless of the angle of sound striking the ribbons, with negligible off-axis coloration. The SF-24’s cable incorporates a Y adapter that splits into separate 3-pin male XLR connectors labeled “Upper” and “Lower” for the instrument’s upper and lower capsules. The SF-24’s package also includes a shock mount, a mic sock, and an elegant protective case.

“The SF-24 represents an unheard of level in ribbon microphone performance,” says John Jennings, Royer’s VP of Sales and Marketing. “With its ability to accurately capture the most subtle performance nuances from a distance, the SF-24 is perfectly suited for orchestral and small ensemble recording. With the gain and impedance matching issues out of the way, the SF-24 greatly expands on the SF-12’s stereo recording capabilities and becomes a drop-dead gorgeous mic for critical, lower SPL applications. And it’s smoking on drums and percussion.”

The SF-24’s output of -38 dB is a full 14 dB more sensitive than Royer’s non-powered SF-12, putting its sensitivity on par with that of phantom powered condenser microphones. The unique electronics and custom designed FET’s used in the SF-24 allow for ultra-quiet operation, with self-noise of lower than 18 dB.

This allows you to use almost any mic preamplifier or board pre (even those of nominal characteristics). Conventional ribbon microphones average 15 to 20 dB lower sensitivity than condenser mics, necessitating the use of high-quality, high-gain microphone preamplifiers for recording softer sound sources like acoustic instruments, vocals and room ambiance.

The electronics in the SF-24 provide a perfect load to the ribbon elements at all times, allowing the microphone to deliver 100% of its full sonic potential regardless of the input characteristics of the following mic-pre. Due to its low-impedance output, SF-24’s can also be used on extremely long cable runs with minimal signal loss.

A good impedance match is critical to ribbon microphones. Impedance mis-matching loads a ribbon improperly, resulting in loss of low end, diminished body, lowered sensitivity and an overall compromised performance. With our Active Series ribbon mics, the ribbon element lives in a perfect world. It sees an optimum impedance match at all times regardless of the following equipment, so its performance will never be compromised by the effects of improper loading. In addition, the ribbon element cannot be damaged by phantom power, electrical glitches or miswired cables.

Royer Labs Web Site

‘The Ribbon’ Line-Array Modules by Alcons Audio Provide High-Performance Sound Reinforcement for Audio One and Toto

The “Tallships Festival” in Larvik, Norway, saw the inauguration of the first Alcons “The Ribbon” line-array system in Norway.

Rental company Audio One took delivery of a large rig of Alcons line-array modules, bass systems, sub systems, amplification and processing and put it into action immediately on rock band Toto’s Norwegian tour stop.

With more than 10.000 fans on hand, the system underwent its inaugural performance, with 48 LR16 line-array modules, 12 LR16B bass systems, 12 sub systems and ALC controller-amps.

Audio One is a national PA rental and sales company with offices in three cities. The company was established only three years ago and in this short time has already secured the position of one of the top audio rental companies in the country.

Stuart Mørch-Kerrison, head of the Oslo department and sales at AudioOne and veteran FOH engineer for artists such as INXS, Allison Moyet, Erasure, Kim Wilde, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Paul Weller; “The main reason for the success is that we are a company of sound guys rather than businessmen. We have extensive experience in our field and we are proud of the service we provide. Audio quality is the number one reason for us to use a product and that is why I became so interested in the Alcons system after hearing it in Frankfurt in April. Considering there was absolutely no EQ whatsoever on that demo system, it was probably the most natural-sounding PA I had ever heard. With our intention to change our rental inventory, it was clear there was only one direction to go; Buy The Ribbon line-array!”

Alcons Audio Line-Array Modules frame the stage as Toto performs at the "Tallships Festival" in Larvik, Norway

Mørch-Kerrison continues: “The system at the Toto concert was a bit overspec’d, but because it was the first time we used this system, we wanted to find out the limits of the system. During the show, the average level at the FOH position (@ 30m/90ft.) was around 116 – 117db (C-weighted), but during set-up, the peak reading was 127 db without any clip indication.”

“The throw of the system was phenomenal. We had a flat SPL response up to 80metres/240ft. and then a slight roll-off in SPL down to 150mtr./450ft, but the sound was still very much intelligible!. We could never have done this gig properly with our old system without additional large delay systems.”

Colin Norfield, the FOH engineer of Toto (as well as Pink Floyd and others) was very pleased with the system as well: “I was knocked-out by the crystal clear response. The vocals were absolutely “in the face” and the overall sound was very crisp and natural sounding. If I couldn’t make a good mix on this system, I’d better go home! Only after the show I heard the system works with ribbon transducers. It’s an amazing system”.

Mørch-Kerrison adds: “Much to our surprise, the Alcons system also seemed to be very efficient power-wise. The current draw was at least 35 to 40% less than with our “old” system. I can truly say that I have never been so impressed with the combination of audio quality, output and coverage from a PA system. Alcons sets definitely new standards in the world of live sound reinforcement.”

Tom Back, MD of Alcons: “It’s fantastic to get this reaction, which is typical for the response we have been receiving on our The Ribbon line-array since its launch 7 months ago. Because of this, the Ribbon Network is expanding globally every month.”

“We’re very proud to have Audio One on board as latest Ribbon Network member. It is surprising to see the similarities between Alcons and Audio One: Recently established and experiencing success because of quality, teamwork and dedication. We talk the same audio language and this will strongly support the development of both companies.”

Alcons Audio Web Site

Majority of Americans Oppose Music Industry Lawsuits Against Internet Music Downloaders, Says New FindLaw Survey

A majority of Americans say the music industry should not sue people who illegally download music off the Internet, according to a new poll by the legal Web site FindLaw. Still, legal experts say the industry’s suits have legal merit and urge consumers to be aware of copyright laws and their legal rights before downloading from any Web site.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major recording companies, filed copyright infringement suits last week against 482 people in St. Louis, Denver, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., who allegedly downloaded music illegally from the Internet. Since last September, more than 3,400 people have been sued by the recording industry for damages of up to half a million dollars each. At least 600 of those cases have been settled for approximately $3,000 each. None of the cases has yet gone to trial.

According to the national survey by FindLaw, 56 percent of American adults oppose the lawsuits. Thirty-seven percent support the industry’s legal actions. Seven percent of those surveyed had no opinion. One thousand adults were surveyed, with results accurate plus or minus three percent.

“Although the RIAA’s lawsuits are unsettling to many, they are based upon sound law because it is a clear violation of copyright law to make a verbatim copy of a protected sound recording,” says Prof. Sharon Sandeen, who teaches intellectual property law at the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. “The underlying public policy at work is the notion that without copyright laws, musical artists would be less inclined to create music and, as a result, there would be fewer sound recordings. So the individuals who complain about the lawsuits should ask themselves: ‘Would I rather live in a world with freely distributed but less music, or pay for the music I enjoy so that there will be more of it?'”

“I suspect that many people, when educated about the purpose of copyright law, support the law,” Sandeen continued. “Public opposition to the lawsuits may be due, in part, to what some people consider hard-handed tactics by the RIAA.”

The survey found that opposition to music industry lawsuits was much higher among younger people. Nearly two-thirds of those between the ages of 18 and 34 said the music industry should not sue people who illegally download music. Many of the people who have been sued are college or high school students and their parents. The RIAA has been pressuring colleges and universities to limit students’ ability to download large files through campus computer networks. Opposition to the lawsuits was also higher among people with lower incomes.

Legal actions to combat illegal music downloading may increase. Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently introduced legislation that would allow artists to sue the makers of file-sharing software used to illegally download music.

“In the end, there is no such thing as cost-free music downloading,” says Professor Marci Hamilton at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “The freewheeling early years of the Internet led adults and teenagers alike to believe that whatever came across their computer screen could be and ought to be downloaded cost-free. In many ways, downloading is like shoplifting: an exciting and slightly risky diversion, a seemingly petty vice in an otherwise law-abiding life. But like shoplifting, illegal music downloading violates the law and exacts a cost on society.”

Consumers concerned about their rights can find the latest music industry lawsuits, copyright laws, analysis by legal experts and a searchable directory on lawyers specializing in the Internet and copyright law at a special section of FindLaw, the leading legal Web site.

FindLaw Web Site