Saturday, 8 May 2021

REVIEW / MEASUREMENTS: Dekoni Blue ("Approved" Fostex T50RP Mk 3 mod). And the importance of the room for hi-fi reviews (Wilson Chronosonic XVX speakers in Stereophile).


As you can see in the image above and might know already, these are essentially Fostex T50RP Mk 3 headphones which have been out since 2015. In 2018, the Dekoni company (which makes aftermarket headphone pads and accessories mainly) decided to make a licensed version of the Fostex with their own earpads and blue esthetics - hence the Dekoni Blue (~US$250). If you want a little more background, here's Dekoni's "Short Essay..." on the product.

If you've used Fostex headphones before, I think you'll appreciate that the stock ear pads are thin and rather uncomfortable so upgraded earpads are mandatory for long-term use. When I got these, it was less expensive that a new Fostex + upgraded earpads.

In the box, the product comes with the standard Fostex wires which are a little stiff and there are 2 pairs of Dekoni earpads, the "Elite Hybrid" which are installed on the headphones by default, and the "Elite Velour" as an alternate you can put on.

As usual with the Fostex T50RP, the headphone cable has a locking 3.5mm 90° TRS connector on one end (left ear cup). You can see the locking plastic nub in the image below:


I know people have criticized the stock plastic cables. Yeah, not the nicest cable I've ever seen but it's non-microphonic, gold plated, and the ~6' length is good for me on the computer desktop. Many Fostex users like the V-Moda cable with 45° angle as an alternative. 

Here are the 2 sets of earpads. The default attached Elite Hybrid is angled whereas the Velour is a flat pad - both with reasonably large cavity for the ears. Both are quite comfortable with thick memory foam. You can see the shiny sheepskin on the outside of the Hybrid with fenestrated sheepskin inside.



Just in case you're unclear. The thinner part of the Hybrid pad is at the front of the ear so the driver is tapered inward medially when worn.

My preference for comfort was actually the Elite Velour earpads (I hear that they stopped shipping the new Blues with these?). I found them to fit my ears better with what seemed like a slightly larger size opening. However for soundstage and "outside the head" perception, the angulation of the Hybrid helped make the sound more like it's coming from the front (like the angulation of the Sennheiser HD800). I didn't have any issues like warmth or sweating with either. Here's the planar magnetic driver (Fostex calls it the RP "Regular Phase" driver) exposed when doing the pad switch:


Notice the foam baffle surround basically resting in the ear cup and around the driver. The drivers in these Fostex headphones are relatively small compared to many planar magnetic headphones these days, measuring around 1" x 1.25"; or ~1.5" (~40mm) diagonally. Compare this to some of the more recent planar magnetics like the Monolith M1060 with specs of 106mm (4.2") drivers, or even their lower end Monolith M570 with 97mmx76mm (3.8"x3") drivers.

Admittedly, these Fostex cans are not going to be winning any beauty contests in the headphone pageant but looks are a subjective thing:

Yup, while not the best DAC, for the money, the inexpensive SMSL M100 Mk II is all I need knowing the distortion and noise levels in the rest of the audio chain!

Construction is plastic except for the metal earcup slider for size adjustment. There's a slack wire connecting the right earcup to the left where the locking cable comes in from your amp. The light blue color will be a matter of preference. It's certainly distinctive compared to the more typical black / white / silver.

Comfort is pretty good for me. The earphones are relatively light (330gm without cable) and assuming you don't have an extra-large head, clamping force is fine for average head sizes I think. The main comfort issue is with the moderately padded headband. I could feel some pressure spots over time that can be relieved with a little shifting. Not a problem listening to music for hours. I see that Dekoni sells their Audio Nuggets for pressure relief if needed.

As you can see in the pictures, the L and R designations are on the lower outside earcup. I might put some red and blue tape over the Fostex name to make it easier to identify the sides at a glance.

Here is the measurement summary for these headphones with the stock default "Elite Hybrid" earpads out of the box:

Note: The waterfall plot showing R channel.

As you can see, the frequency response indeed has a bit of a "V" ("U") shape with accentuated bass hump at 100Hz and elevated "brilliance" above 6kHz. The drivers are not as precisely balanced as the Sennheiser headphones discussed last week, but still not bad, not really an issue when listening to music.

Electrical impedance is very flat (I've accentuated the graph to just 10Ω on the Y-axis to show the peak at 93Hz); basically the impedance ranges within a tiny amount from 50.5-52Ω across the audible frequencies! Phase is flat. Even with higher impedance headphone amps, there should not be much fluctuation in the frequency response.

The 10ms, 40dB range waterfall graph is not great in that there's still quite a bit of residual energy below 1kHz over 10ms. Given the relatively large hollow headphone cups, at least some of this is likely the result of cup resonance. Harmonic distortion at around 95dB SPL is still <1% except in the bass below 40Hz. Distortion is a bit higher than the "standard" AKG K371 headphone previously measured or the Sennheisers last week. As usual, I don't believe humans are all that sensitive to harmonic distortion so no worries IMO below 1% like this.

Switching out earpads then, here is the summary diagram with the "Elite Velour" which as I mentioned above are the pads I preferred:

Note: The waterfall plot showing R channel.

With these pads on, I measured the voltage sensitivity. Like the Fostex T50RP Mk 3 these are based on, they're rather insensitive headphones. Notice the 0.25Vrms 1kHz signal measures only a low 89dB SPL. This means we're looking at 101dB SPL/V (this works out to an efficiency of 88dB/mW, the official Fostex T50RP Mk 3 sensitivity spec is reportedly 92dB/mW). Compounded with a low-medium impedance of 50Ω, I would highly recommend pairing these with a powerful headphone amplifier like the Drop + THX AAA 789 (the +10dB gain setting will be useful). Portable electronics like smartphones, tablets, laptops just are not going to work well especially if you want to experience the bass on these headphones.

The main difference between the pads is that the Velour is less bassy compared to the Hybrid. We can see the difference if we overlay the frequency responses (average of left and right), using 1kHz as the reference amplitude:


There might be a slight accentuation of the treble with the Velour pads but I didn't find this as consistent or noticeable as the lower bass. At 100Hz, the Hybrid pads have a +1.8dB accentuation over the Velour. I have read some people describing the Dekoni Blue sound as "dark". Certainly not to me; these are nothing like the "darkness" of the HD650 discussed last week.

The Fostex T50RP Mk 3 is described as a "semi-open" headphone. It's just slightly different compared to the T40RP ("closed") and T20RP ("open") - all the same price. The only difference as far as I am aware is the density of the foam behind the vent above the L/R label. The Dekoni Blue (T50RP) will have a "semi-open", semi-dense black foam behind those horizontal vents:

Isolation isn't great:

Notice that the outside noise is unattenuated until around 900Hz. By 5kHz, the attenuation is around -18dB which makes it a bit better than the Sennheiser HD650 (and significantly better than the HD800). You'll still hear most of what's happening around you with some muffling of upper mid and treble sounds.

The sound leakage is quite full-spectrum and again better than the "open" Sennheiser HD650 and HD800 headphones:

That's an average of 64dB SPL between 100Hz to 10kHz measured at 1" behind the headphone vent, the loudest part of the leakage. This works out to 42dB SPL at 1' - compare this to 33dB SPL @ 1' for the AKG K371, 61.5dB @ 1' Sennheiser HD650, and 67dB @ 1' Sennheiser HD800. The slight down-sloping average amplitude line indicates that the leakage will tend to sound tonally more mid-range than bright (unlike the Sennheisers).

Finally, let's have a quick peek at the impulse response:

Looks about the same in terms of the general morphology of and duration of the waves with either earpad. No surprise since the frequency response did not change too much. Alas, I had started modding the headphones and neglected to capture the 100Hz square waves; we'll look at this another time.

So how do these sound?

Yeah, the "V" frequency response is quite obvious. The bass is strong and IMO overpowering especially with the default Elite Hybrid earpads. Coming from say a Sennheiser HD800 to this, the bass on the John Wick OST and Malia/Boris Blank's Convergence gave me a mild headache after 30 minutes! I listened for a few days then decided to switch over to the Elite Velour pads which were a bit better but I still felt the bass bump was too heavy. Clearly each listener will have his/her own preference. Listening to This Is Dubstep Anthems with these headphones was quite an experience and the track "Adrenaline" lived up to the name.

The other part of the "V" curve is the accentuated treble which didn't bother me as much, perhaps because I'm used to the inherent brightness of the Sennheiser HD800. The guitar work on Los Angeles Guitar Quartet's LAGQ Latin was clean, precise, had tons of detail. The natural reverb of each note was rendered with a nice "air" around the instrument. Plenty of subtle nuances coming through with a good, wide soundstage. It's not subjectively as spatially "large" of a sound compared to my Sennheiser HD800 but with the comfortable soft and deep earcups, it sounds more spacious than closed headphones like the AKG K371 that confines most of the sound except hard L/R pans to a narrower space inside the headspace.

Overall, I think these are good headphones for rock. Loved Saskatchewan-born Colin James' eponymous album from 1988, DR13. Although the mix/mastering isn't the most detailed or cleanest, the Dekoni Blue retrieved the music masterfully. Punchy drums, excellent retrieval of the details in the mix even during some of the "thick", congested portions of songs like "Five Long Years". Wonderful energy on tracks like "Chicks 'n Cars (And the Third World War)" and the sweet ballad of "Dream Of Satin" sounded great as the song transitions from slow/sentimental '80s sax-pop to percussion rock/pop portions. The tonality of this album has a tendency to be mid-range heavy; a more "V"-shaped frequency response like with these cans enhanced the excitement (great example is the guitar solo on "Why'd You Lie?"). 

One unexpected surprise I had was just how well these headphones played binaural audio! The classic YouTube video "Virtual Barber Shop" which I mentioned last time with the HD650 sounded remarkably natural and "3D" through these, the extra bass "body" added to the sense of realism over the HD650. The expansiveness of Explorations in Space and Time (Chesky, 2011), also a binaural recording, was simply excellent and the realism of "Wood and Metal" was at times eerie with me checking a couple times to make sure I wasn't hearing my wife or kids making noises in the other room. The subsequent track "War" is a nice test of how well the headphone is able to separate instruments in the soundfield as drums, xylophone (?), cymbals, among other instruments at times swirled around with a sense of vertical height to the instrument placement. Compared to this, typical audiophile female vocals like Norah Jones and Diana Krall just didn't seem as challenging to reproduce. ;-)

Let's wrap up...

While I have more headphones than I really need, a reason I bought these was because I liked how the Fostex RP family sounded back in RMAF 2019. Here's a picture from the headphone area of the show where I had a listen to the T50RP Mk 3 and Fostex T60RP:


After the show, I made a note to at least grab the T50RP when I had a chance because I was impressed by what I heard given the asking price (even though the earpads did not impress). The T60RP sounded very good and tempting with that beautiful mahogany sculpted earcup, but knowing that there was a large "modding" community, and the likelihood that at some point I would open the thing up, I figured that something like this Dekoni Blue was overall a better deal if I could find it at a good price with the 2 pairs of earpads.

I was tempted by some of the larger-driver, open planar magnetic headphones like the Monoliths I briefly noted above (or maybe the Hifiman Sundara). However, I already have fantastic-sounding open headphones in the form of the Sennheiser HD800 and AKG Q701 so aiming for "balance", the semi-open Dekoni/Fostex was more interesting and at a lower price. When it comes to noise isolation and leakage, it certainly sits in between the open Sennheiser HD650/HD800 and the closed AKG K371 I've already reported on.

Bottom line: While the Dekoni Blue sounds overall quite good, be mindful of that "V"/"U" type of frequency response which will not be to everyone's liking. In particular I personally find the accentuated mid-bass hump (around +9dB at 100Hz with the Elite Hybrid pad) excessive. For the most part, I'll be sticking with the Elite Velour pads. We're not done yet with the Dekoni Blue. Let's open this baby up and see what simple mods we can do to improve performance, along with a few more measurements to document changes in a follow-up post in the next few weeks.

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This past couple of weeks, Wilson Audio's Chronosonic XVX has been making headlines again and Stereophile's recent review by Michael Fremer has been an interesting read. At 6'4" tall, close to 3-feet deep, 1.4' wide, and >680lbs each when assembled, these are serious monsters. The asking price of US$329k is also serious, even for multi-millionaires - comparable to other luxury toys available. Back in the pre-pandemic days of RMAF 2019, I was at the unveiling of the at-that-time static display of the XVX and can attest to the impressive workmanship of the speakers. Whether one likes the look, or if one believes the price tag reflects value is not for me to judge. Maybe at some point in the not-too-distant future, a dealer nearby will have one in for listening at which time I'll happily bring a few CDs over. ;-)

From RMAF 2019. Behind the XVX is the Wilson Subsonic subwoofer: 3-drivers, front-ported, passive. Price $40k. 5' tall, 600lbs.

I found it interesting reading a comment on Fremer's review by justanotherhifienthusiast on Steve Hoffman Music Forums and the discussion that followed. I think that the OP certainly makes a valid observation. Basically: (and I'm paraphrasing) "What business does that huge luxury ultra-high-end speaker with an asking price of a third of a million dollars have sitting in that crammed basement?" (See this 2017 video for context.)

It's not unreasonable to wonder if the review conducted in these circumstances might actually be highly inaccurate. Imagine a prospective buyer walking into a showroom like that. Intuitively, would one be impressed that adequate thought was put into the system set-up?

The follow-up questions in the thread are also important... Are we sure the darTZeel NHB-468 monoblocks (apparently Wilson is making a claim about correcting for amplifier group delay, but has not tested the darTZeel) really up to the task of driving a speaker with impedance dipping down below 2Ω at key frequencies like 200-500Hz and 2-3.5kHz, with even lower EPDR? Then there's the question of that strong 50Hz bass resonance, and ~180Hz null in Fremer's room given that he's a professional reviewer who claims to be able to hear exquisite details?

I find it interesting that magazine reviews like these rarely show off pictures of a product like this in the actual room where the listening was conducted. Instead we see manufacturer-supplied stock photos and "model" pictures of unconnected speakers in a generic show home. In a day and age where we have the resources to show pictures and videos easily, that's an inherent lack of transparency. Certainly in 2021, most audiophiles know that the room itself is one of the most important "components" in a sound system and we really do need to spend more time considering and optimizing our soundrooms. Over the years, we have seen Fremer's room as per the 2017 video with the Wilson Alexx speakers in there, already appearing quite imposing in that space. Note that the Wilson Alexx is more than a foot shorter, has 6" less depth, and thinner than the Chronosonic XVX.

Imagine if this was a professional review of other expensive adult toys. Imagine if a flagship digital camera body was tested only with inexpensive consumer zoom lenses. How about the latest high-performance sports car reviewed without even a few hours at a race track? Whether it's some high resolution lenses, or a race track, or a decent sized room that's not forced to have the speakers right against a corner, these are the essential associated conditions for proper evaluation of the device. Conditions which readers can appreciate as doing justice to the spirit of aspirational gear.

I would consider the room as the single most important piece of "associated equipment" essential to get right, commensurate with the price point of the speakers! Only in a well-sorted room can a reviewer convey confidence that the device is truly being used to appreciate the strengths and comment on weaknesses. Seriously, in the absence of a decent room, who cares about all those "Cables" and "Accessories" taking up almost half of the Associated Equipment list?

As speculated in the Steve Hoffman thread, Fremer likely would have been listening to these 6'4" speakers at a "nearfield" distance; here's the XVX manual - notice on page 60-62, the set-up tables start at 8' listening distance; is the listening seat even at least 8' away? Did Wilson design these speakers to be listened like this? Wouldn't this lead to poor integration of the sound from all those drivers (4-way, 7 drivers)? Isn't this important especially given the "Chronosonic" name and the stated intent of the speakers being able to maintain "the synchronicity of the leading edge of each note"?

Hmmm, given the trouble of going through "micrometer" adjustments, notice the absence of any time-domain measurements. A step response from the listening position would have been interesting.

"Audiophiles" speak as if the most important thing they care about is good sound quality. Audiophiles generally want to believe that we come from a legacy of "high fidelity" audio reproduction and companies like Wilson Audio are quick to portray their products as scientifically researched and engineered, made to sound accurate, with all kinds of adjustments down to micrometers, achieving a level of "chronosonic" coherence. But in practice, is Fremer's set-up truly achieving what audiophiles aspire to either broadly in terms of high fidelity, or specifically in this case Wilson Audio's intent? While I appreciate Wilson's drive for excellence especially given their legacy of good products (wonderful evening of listening to the Sasha DAWs a few years back), it's hard to have faith in Michael Fremer's evaluation of the sound of these speakers under such conditions. Likewise, it is hard to imagine people who have money to buy such speakers using it like this.

Fremer writes well and I find that his insights into the music and various pressings can be very interesting at times. His experience with vinyl hardware is also amazing and he should really stick with that strength/niche IMO. Beyond that, as time goes on, given his age, the room, the tendency to use vinyl as source, it's hard to believe in his ability to adjudicate sound quality, particularly for flagship products like this. Certainly Stereophile can use some younger blood among its stable of reviewers.

Seriously folks, was it ever in doubt that these expensive Wilson speakers would have received anything less than stellar reviews from Fremer and Stereophile in general? One last thing... For Fremer to drag his wife and some non-audiophile friend's purported testimonies into the review comes across as silly. At best, this perpetuates old audiophile clichés, at worst it comes across like an insecure plea from a supposedly professional reviewer to "Please love this product - even wives and non-audiophiles do!". Yeah man, sure. 

BTW, I'm wondering about this guy's installation and sonic impressions of the XVX. At least the space appears to be much more reasonable.

Stay safe friends, and hope you're all enjoying the music!

Addendum: Fremer's room - listening seat to Wilson Alexx speakers...




27 comments:

  1. I found the review of the Wilson's very troubling as the in-room response was something I would not have shown, but I appreciate the honesty. It is a speaker that Mr. Fremer can buy, but does not fit his room at all.

    I am becoming more troubled on another front of all commercial speaker manufacturers after viewing numerous videos from GR-Research and have come to the conclusion that all too often bean counters are running these speaker companies and use the cheapest of parts and bad engineering of crossovers and use marketing to fool all of us. High prices, marginal performance, and pretty cabinets are not enough.

    If any amplifier or CD player or DAC measured this poorly much would be said, and yes, I know, the room matters, but clearing this Wilson review should shake all of us up. At $300K one should expect near perfection, and maybe it should come with a room sound technician to fix the room. What is another $25K at this point. Mr. Fremer does not flatter himself for liking this sound. I will not be renewing my subscription after reading this.

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    1. Hi Jim,
      I agree, it's good that at least they were open enough to show the frequency response in that room. Even though the Wilson XVX showed less variation than the Alexx and Sonus Faber Aida ($130k), the room is not doing any favours for any of these speakers, coloring them all in ways that makes already-subjective opinions even harder to understand.

      Just like listening ability, auditory acuity, for a major magazine like Stereophile, I think reviewers need to have some basic level of adequacy in terms of the room they'll be using and major associated equipment like the amplifiers for these flagship-type speakers. Esoteric amps like the darTZeel monoblocks make for an odd choice. I think it'd be even more appropriate to use a well-regarded "standard" amp like the Benchmark AHB2, dual bridged mono perhaps, to drive these with likely better resolution.

      I still have my subscription to Stereophile. There's some entertainment value in there and the music recommendations are interesting. Less and less do I care about the hardware reviews other than look over the measurements these days.

      Delete
  2. I find it interesting that JA1 uses the small, LS50's and the other reviewers use speakers that are totally dissimilar; and even the late, great Art Dudley loved his Valencia's and also the DeVore's. We spend all this time worrying about minute details in our other gear, and then the room and our speaker choices mess it all up. It is one of the reasons I listen more on headphones daily.

    When I bought my first real hifi, my dealer in BelAir, MD did a show at a local college and on the smaller performing arts center he had 2 pair of Bozak Concert Grand speakers on the stage that was about 50 ft wide. There were set up about 15 feet apart in a L R L R configuration so no matter where you sat in the "arc shaped" seating area you could get a stereo perspective and the speakers were driven by Phase Linear 700 amps, a Phase Linear preamp, and a R2R recorder.

    It sounded like a full concert was taking place with real performers. It was pretty amazing, but the key was the speakers were not dominating or over powering that room and it was acoustically treated for live music. It was clear in the review of the Wilson XVX that was what was happening there as you point out.

    Thanks for the great work you take time to share with us.

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    1. Wow, awesome background set-up Jim with that system! Nothing like enjoying a big system in a big space while maintaining excellent resolution.

      Yeah, the highly variable use of gear for reviews is certainly understandable. The problem is that from the perspective of utility for readers, the "circle of confusion" is very large and it makes it near impossible to know almost anything about the quality of the product!

      Indeed, headphones will certainly take much of the room out of the equation... With caveats of course when it comes to how the headphones "interface" with our ears.

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  3. Doesn't listening nearfield (like Michael Fremer does) take the room out of the equation to a significant amount?

    And suggesting a Benchmark AHB2 as an amp for these speakers seems like an odd choice. Nobody buying XVXs is going to power them with an amp costing 1% of the speakers. Jason Victor Serinus of Stereophile reviewed a $8k Yamaha integrated and said very unfavourable things about the amp because his Wilson speakers are too revealing and laid bare all the shortcomings of this "affordable" integrated. In this review he even asked Jim Austin (editor in chief of Stereophile) whether it is appropriate to review gear in a system with vastly different price tags. This article can be found here: https://www.stereophile.com/content/yamaha-s3200-integrated-amplifier

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    1. Near field is fine, but the back wall behind him must be further back to not have reflections. I sit nearfield, but my back wall is over 12 feet behind me. The in-room response graph tells all.

      Not many amps will do well with loads of 2 ohms or less at some frequencies. I am sure there are many McIntosh owners who are quite happy not using Wilson speakers. As far as the Yamaha amp goes, HR liked it. Others have reviewed Wilsons, but did not buy them or own them already.

      Delete
    2. Hi schnesim,
      Right, to some extent nearfield listening can be good in that some of the room characteristics will be mitigated, like Jim mentioning with headphones.

      However, the measurements at the listening position certainly is showing that room effects are still evident below the Schroeder frequency. Variation between the different speakers likely has to do with speaker position as much as anything else.

      The issue is that I cannot imagine these almost-6.5-feet tall speakers are meant to be listened to at close range. Frequencies of the different drivers would not be integrated into a coherent intended frequency response. In the review, there is the mention that the image was "higher than I'd like" at times for example. Imagine watching a movie sitting too far up front... Sure, the sound could be huge and one could see all kinds of details, but there will be portions of the image obscured or seen at an unusual angle, so too all the sounds coming from the drivers all spread out like this sitting at close range.

      Then there's the "chronosonic" time-domain performance and whether this is any good at that distance!

      As for the Benchmark amplifier. The reason I bring that up is that I suspect it would power these speakers just fine and would be a nice reference if one were serious about reviewing how speakers sound and removing the amplifier variable. They can handle <2Ω loads. Have a high damping factor as well.

      Yeah, I know the ultra-wealthy will not likely be using these (or they actually might!) but if we are testing out speakers to know whether they're truly of high fidelity, then it's best to use an amplifier that can deliver the goods! Cost is not the issue and it doesn't cost much. Actually, I wonder if Wilson has the Benchmark amplifier in their database of "time-domain signatures".

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    3. Hey Jim,
      Yeah, there was that Yamaha A-S3200 amp reviewed by Serinus paired with the Wilson Alexia 2 back in August 2020 (similar sensitivity ~92dB/2.83V/m as XVX but minimum impedance at least >2Ω):
      https://www.stereophile.com/content/yamaha-s3200-integrated-amplifier

      The Benchmark AHB2 would be superior to both the Yamaha and the darTZeel for a more predictable amp with better power and lower distortion IMO.

      Delete
  4. Yes, it’s silly but irrelevant. Nobody is going to buy a $330,000 Wilson without a audition any more than anybody is going to buy a $330,000 Ferrari without a test drive. A review of this caliber gear is just entertainment.

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    1. True Anders... Or at least one might hope!

      Never know, there are probably many folks out there who just wants "the best" = "most expensive" in Ferrari Red and asks to have it shipped ASAP sight unseen, ears unheard ;-).

      Delete
  5. Archimago,

    You certainly bring up a bunch of valid concerns about Fremer's Wilson review (which others have raised as well, as you indicate).

    I don't think the concerns can just be waved away.

    That said, I have followed Fremer's speaker reviews since the 90's and having heard a great many of the speakers he's reviewed, from bookshelf size to full range, I have found him to be a very perceptive. Sometimes I've heard or auditioned speakers after reading his review, other times I've listened to the speakers before reading his review. He's done a stellar job of capturing the essential characteristics. Among the many speakers I'm thinking of, the Audio Physic, MBL and Joseph Audio speakers I've owned have pretty much precisely the characteristics he so accurately captured in his reviews. And it's those characteristics that I loved in the speakers.
    Perhaps this is a case of finding a reviewer that "hears things as I do" but, there it is. I have a hunch that he's likely also done a pretty good job of describing what most listeners would hear in terms of the essential character of the Wilson, at least in his place. (Though in that case, I'll never know).

    Reminds me of some reviews by Art Dudley, like the Devore O/96. He raved, but some pointed to the "mess" of the inroom measurements and the "crappy design." Yet I found his review absolutely nailed the character of those speakers, what sets them apart from others. He described just the features that I love in that model.

    So I certainly understand the reasons for skepticism, but I nonetheless find some subjective reviews accurate and even useful, especially once you get a sense of a particular reviewer.

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    1. Yeah, nothing wrong with that perspective Vaal.

      I think that once we reach a certain price with a reputable company, it's actually going to sound pretty good. Since good companies must be using some measurements, for the most part I think it's fine.

      For a smaller speaker like the Joseph Audio in that room, it might be pretty reasonable still. But I think it just stretches credibility to have a monster like the XVX.

      Reading the Fremer review, it seems that he's saying there are no drawbacks to the sound at all. Not hard to say for a $300k speaker and certainly something Wilson and any prospective buyer would want to hear as well. Might as well have said:

      It's expensive, big and heavy. Some dudes had to come set it up since it's complex. It sounds amazing in all ways. My non-audio buddy and my wife also said it was good and worth buying. So I bought it. The end.

      Did I miss anything else Fremer said that I should look for in that review!? Obviously little in there to warn me of the kind of amplifier I should use, the kind of room I should have, or anything unique about the sound other than "you are there".

      I can't speak of the Devores, but I have heard various Zu speakers over the years which people like Herb Reichert have reviewed positively... Yeah, no thanks ;-).

      Delete
  6. Hi

    my experience with very rich peoeple is that very few if any are really interrested in the real perfomance. What counts is presitge and the look. If it is prestige and looks goood they buy regard less if its really good :)
    The shine and glitter is all.

    And yes if you want to sell an amp costing few like Yamaha or Hypex they refuse.

    The amp must have a price tag of for example $100'000-150'000 to be good. How it sounds or measures is irrelvant.

    Such a speaker could be driven to highest quality by an amp of $2000-4000.
    Shure no gold nor diamonds included,just electronics :)

    Strange world however.

    I have heard a lot of very costly speakers like Vandersteen ($70'000) in some homes and in trade-shows like Munich High End. I was very disappointed. They did not reveal a realistic soundstage at all I am used with my speakers at home.

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    1. Hey Dipolaudio,
      Not surprised at all.

      I think this also speaks to the target audience of a magazine like Stereophile. For the ultra-rich like those you describe, Wilson Audio might as well just make sure their speakers are prominently displayed on Robb Report, Luxe Digital, Lifestyle Asia, Haute Living, etc...

      I would hope that ultimately, Stereophile is targeting the enthusiasts in this hobby. The audiophiles who actually do care about the technical performance beyond the looks and the luxury "non-utilitarian benefits" (like impressing the rich guy next door who also has everything). I assume that those rich enough to house such a beast actually do care, and will not be silly enough to set them up against a corner in a basement.

      Surely there must be many rich folks with nice rooms and the money to house them who can write a good subjective review! Might even be cheaper for the magazine/sponsor company to fly Fremer over and put him up in a hotel for 3 nights and let him review the product all day with whatever music he wants to hear; you'll get just as much value I think from what he says.

      (I know, Fremer will complain about not having his "better than sex"-as-per-wife Caliburn turntable... I'm sure arrangements can be made so he won't mind. ;-)

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  7. If more people would buy a decent omni mic and measure their own speakers at 1 meter they might be surprised. There are discs with pink and white noise on them for good use. Affordable NCH WavPad has an FFT display and even Sony Sound-Forge 12 has an EQ display that seems to be almost as accurate as the NCH WavPad FFT, but it would tell you something about what is going on in your room. Then do the same measurements at your listening position. It may not be the most accurate, but it will tell you something.

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    1. Agree Jim,
      In general, if people would do something like that and experiment themselves with what they can actually hear and what they can't, I think their attitudes will be very different... It'll be much more realistic.

      Minutiae like "jitter" effects would be better appreciated as essentially irrelevant. Psychological effects from stuff like $$$ cables would be teased out. Salesmen with remarkable claims like Caelin Gabriel (Shunyata) or Garth Powell (AudioQuest) would be contextualized with reasonable skepticism.

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    2. It has become clear to me that I am the biggest problem in my systems. I do try and minimize problems when I can. I own a pair of JBL P305 powered monitors and they have been reviewed and have a very flat power response near field. I do use them to master music, but I don't think that most people really want to hear flat, although I do think that the JBL's are a great buy. With those what I am trying to hear are flaws in the recording, not for enjoyment. Most of my cables are affordable Hosa cables in RCA or 1/4" format. They came in 2nd place in a phono stage shoot out at Fremer's place to a cable that was crazy money. I do use the cheaper Audio Quest USB cables for my DACs, until I hear someone say there is something better and affordable. Better gear and less on cables is a good way to go I think.

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    3. So I did measure with Pink noise off a Sterephile test CD both of my speakers: the Bookshelf AR-17 which is a front ported titanium dome with a 5.5" woofer & my larger AR 58's with a 12" woofer, 4" Audix midrange, and a 3/4" cloth tweeter.

      Both speakers had a smooth, gradual roll off into the HF region out to 17khz. Although the 58's went much deeper the also rolled off faster in the HF (cloth vs. Titanium I am guessing), but the 17's still had good energy under 50 hz I could still hear, but down in level, certaily less than the AR 58's.

      In looking at the FFT display plots for each there were no dips or peaks in the graphs which would tell me the cross-overs are of a pretty good design. I know they use air core inductors, but cheaper sand-cast resistors. The caps were all of good quality. I knew that as I wanted to change out the spring loaded connectors on the AR-58's, but once I got inside the cabinet that was well packed with white fiber insulation, the cross-over board was a fiber like peg board material that was totally stapled to the back panel and had pin like headless nails bent over to keep the board in place and the connector plate was attached to the underside of that board. I was not going to risk tearing up the cross-over board to get to that. It will remain "stock" in my life time. lol

      The measurements made me feel better about them as I have seen some pretty rough measurements off of the GR-Research YouTube channel for some pretty pricey speakers. He does a good job of fixing all of them.

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    4. Neat Jim,
      Ouch. Sorry to hear about the crossover board and the relative difficulty it would take to rip that sucker out and upgrade!

      Indeed, I generally don't worry about the cables these days. And unless I'm doing a review, I just love listening to the music itself with the occasional asking of myself "Does this sound good?". After all these years and generations of products, I would argue that a product that doesn't sound good will be obvious within a few minutes!

      "It has become clear to me that I am the biggest problem in my systems." - wise words man. I think it's important to maintain that perspective and humility before audiophiles rush off and assume that buying a new $$$ cable, or power conditioner is going to make much of a difference (or even indeed any difference whatsoever!).

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  8. Only a few speaker manufactures indicate the recommended room size for a particular speaker, it is left to the user to figure it out. And the room is one of the most important part of the sound we experience. I've experimented with large speakers (mirage, waveform, maggies, ohm, psb) in my smallish room and some worked well and some did not, but my listening position was always > 8'. I also have a very good acoustically but small studio room for listening to speakers in near-field mode. I can't imagine listening to a giant speaker like Wilsons in a small room near field. It may sound ok but it is not designed for that room so it is not an accurate depiction of the speaker's sound. You might as well put a 100 piece orchestra in your living room. But this is not the first or last time audiophile mags have done this - remember Bob Harley's review of the 7' tall Infinity IRS V speakers from his tiny long island room? These reviews are for entertainment purposes only (advertainment?) and provide very little useful information for the rest of us.

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    1. Well said gnickers.

      I think readers can see the "importance" of advertising of a product like these. Not like I hold great regard for Fremer's opinions these days. But dang, why does it have to appear so obviously questionable!? Optics matter.

      Maybe listening distance is a specification which speaker manufacturers should look at publishing somehow. Not necessarily insisting that the listener *must* sit at such and such a distance, but at least recommend a "suggested" listening range based on how the wavefronts from the drivers combine for a coherent sound... At least that might help the Stereophile editor pick an appropriate reviewer based on their soundroom resources! Obviously the Wilson manual didn't give enough of a hint this time. ;-)

      Based on the Wilson XVX manual with actual recommendations for spike length, and driver array settings, I think it's not unreasonable to say that a minimum 8' is needed assuming reasonable ear height with calibration parameters up to 24' distance. Given that wide range, if Fremer isn't able to achieve at least 8' distance, it's hard to imagine a decent "test drive" of these speakers, much less a professional test drive! A pity given how much hassle it must be to ship the speakers and time needed to setup. I'm sure Fremer got some kind of good "industry accommodation" for the purchase. Surely Wilson could have gotten a more appropriate, less ridiculous subjective reviewer to show off the product if it's to be a "permanent" set-up that will be mentioned in future reviews in the magazine.

      Oh well... Entertaining I guess.

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    2. I think that Fremer is the only writer at Stereophile that would spring that kind of money on those speakers. He has way more money in his system than anyone else there. To me, Dr. Kal could, so I look carefully at his system make up.

      I have, as I am sure you have, experimented with what is the right listening distance for your system and tried to accommodate that into your living situation if you can. I am lucky in that I took a room(s) that no one else in my family wanted.

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    3. Having a room to call your own for music!

      One of the great blessings in life Jim ;-)

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    4. I have to admit that it is getting harder and harder to enjoy music with the way the world is right now. I never thought I would see the USA that way it is today in my life time. It is depressing to me. It is harder and harder to block it out anymore. I can't put my head under the covers and make it go away.

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  9. "if Fremer isn't able to achieve at least 8' distance, it's hard to imagine a decent "test drive" of these speakers,"

    I seem to remember in an article (or video) Fremer stating his room looks deceptively smaller than it really is, that he has more seating distance from speakers than many infer. I don't know what that distance is, though.

    Video of rooms tend to make rooms look smaller. Paul McGowan of PSAudio has massive IRS Infinity speakers in a small room that apparently work very well there. And McGowan on his forum wrote about Fremer's room:

    "His room is actually quite large, bigger than mine, though his ceiling is lower. It seems small because it is absolutely jammed with thousands of albums from floor to ceiling."

    Numerous people who've been in Fremer's room over the years have commented on how surprisingly great the sound is, even with is large speakers.

    I myself have a not very large room, 15' at it's deepest (bay windows) 13' wide, and I have had a great many floor standing speakers in there (some that go down to low 20s) all of which sounded wonderful, and "in character" to when I've heard them in larger rooms.

    FWIW...

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    1. Hey Vaal,
      I think it's fair to infer that the room's listening space is quite small from that video back in 2017. Yeah, the room looks like a good size but look at all that stuff in there.

      Often what isn't shown is just as important as what is. Notice in that video, we only have a brief pan of the listening position. We probably can appreciate the hot water boiler room better than the main listening space. ;-)

      I've attached a still capture of his listening seat to the Wilson Alexx speakers which are of course smaller than the XVX. We can see the Cecile McLorin Salvant LP sleeve there (typically 12.4" square) for some concept of size/distance.

      Regardless, it doesn't matter. If he likes it, he likes it, but I still contend that this is far from the best space to evaluate top-of-the-line >$300k very large speakers.

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    2. Good photo Archimago.

      I still find the distance hard to infer accurately. Part of it comes from my own experience doing videos and photos of my room. (I often document whatever speakers I own with video and photos). When I photograph the speakers with the listening system in view the speakers seem so much closer. It's even worse when I try and do so with video, either panning from my speakers to show the seating area or trying to capture both in the same shot. The spatial relationship just doesn't translate.

      But I agree of course that you want a larger room for big speakers particularly if you are a reviewer, to ensure maximum flexibility and ensure you are hearing everything they are capable of.

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