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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Yamamoto YDA-01
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03, ModWright DM 36.5
Amplifier: Yamamoto A-09S, Ancient Audio Single Six, FirstWatt F5, ModWright KWA-150
Speakers: Acoustic System Int. Tango R
Cables: Complete ASI Liveline loom
Stands: 4 x Ikea Molger with Ikea butcher-block platforms on metal footers
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2
nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls; short-wall setup against 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: £250/ea.

I live in a renovated barn wedged between two other homes on a short hill. The walls are very thick and utterly irregular. There's no right angles and perpendicularity of wall to floor mostly factors little for minimized parallel surfaces. This townhouse is a 3-story affair and my listening room is on the open ground floor on a raised platform facing the entry. The ceiling behind the speakers is at standard height for a kitchen with center isle. Behind that my office bulges

out into a short L. Above the speakers is a faceted 2-story ceiling. The listener looks into the open second floor landing of our living room. A spiral staircase connects that landing to the open third floor. Except for two small bathrooms and bedrooms, this dwelling acts as one big open 'terraced' space. The speakers see an eight-meter expanse behind 'em.

Ours is a living space, not recording studio or anechoic chamber. As you can see, the sound room is no tucked-away man cave. It does not lend itself to being transformed into something grotesque. It's in plain view. For two people working out of this home, my listening quarters must be nothing but an extension of the living space. I've thus avoided traditional room treatments due to the usual suspects of size and aesthetics. Instead, I commissioned Franck Tchang of Acoustic System International to personally oversee a mass installation of his infamous (and suitably tiny) acoustic resonators, sugar cubes and phase inverters. This worked on both general feng shui and improved acoustics.

Personally, I hate dry overdamped sound. I thrive on the liveliness and energy of a reverberant environment. Alas, moderation is key. With loudspeakers capable of hitting 20 cycles with little attenuation -- and a listener fond of ambient music with 'unnatural' infrasonics -- that becomes doubly true or McMud be thy name.

When Shaun Snaith from the UK solicited me for a review of their new range of Orbis room treatments -- think solid-core open-cell foam professionally shaped and covered in tight-fitting linen cloth in more than 40 color options, with small gloss-black plinths for stability -- I caved in. Live and learn. I was sent two wall panels and two corner towers.

Standard thinking would probably place the former at the halfway point between listener and speaker to absorb early reflections. In my setup, that was impossible. The triple Boltz CD rack is one solid unit and the Ikea equipment racks had to stay clustered for short cable lengths. Due to the already narrow layout imposed by the room, I also couldn't pull out the racks away from the walls to slip the Orbis panels behind them. I thus backed everything on the sidewalls up as far back against the rear wall as it would go, then removed the pictures on the side walls. This cleared up enough space on either side of the speakers, not at the half-way mark but closer to a quarter. The corner traps did fit into the corners with little adjustment of any furniture. Then it was 'play' to gauge the effects.

The results were immediate but not 100% desirable. On the sunny side, a gravitational heaviness in the bass cleared and lightened up. Though intelligibility and articulation had been good before -- Frank Tchang's devices are more potent at low frequencies than detractors give them credit for -- it was even better now. What's more, I no longer needed to remain in the center seat for that. Even the off-axis visitor's chair enjoyed bass equality. Better still, I could now listen to bass-heavy tracks in my office and not feel as though in the eye of a major node. While my office chair does sit on a geometry-induced response peak in the mid bass, the extent of the boom in this area, surprise, had been reduced.

In conjunction with the lightening of the bass -- less weight, more light -- there was a predictable loss of raw bass mass. Because it reduced masking effects higher up, this seemed a perfectly adequate trade however. While I secretly did wish to perhaps regain some of that weightiness -- I'm a bass slut -- I was prepared to pay in some quantity for an increase in overall transparency. So far so good. What I didn't fancy one wit was the sudden lack of upper octave energy. It sounded as though a spritzer had gone flat, all bubbly carbonation expired. I'd killed something. I clearly did not need this type of absorption in the midrange and treble.

Dead end
The only place left to employ the panels was the back wall. Everything fit just so. And poof, like magic, bass amplitude reverted back to normal yet the earlier gain in transparency wasn't disturbed. More importantly, harmonic pizazz had returned. Decays trailed off without premature suffocation again, voices and instruments had halos like tiny meteors that enter our atmosphere and spark off dying.

I was now in an acoustically dead(er) end facing a normal live end. The pressure zones of low frequency buildup in the corners behind me had been significantly bled. This audibly affected not merely the main listening seat. Even my remote viewing seat in front of the office desk 7+ meters away and around a corner benefited as already described. Plus, high-frequency reflections off the back wall had been seriously diminished. Due to the short distance of that wall to my chair, reflections reach the ears with very minor time lag to the direct signal. This causes fine blurring. Trapping those reflections really did open up the higher ranges without the earlier damped-to-death effect.

For my space, this ended up being the perfect solution. The finely tuned live vibe of a standard listening/living environment which we had decorated and treated to look and feel good to us was restored. In audiophile terms, the harmonic finesse of spiderwebby stuff had been resurrected. Nor was bass weight reduced as it had been with the wall panels close to the speakers. Yet the general air pressurization with bass-heavy material anywhere on that floor was far lower now. Good tonal balance was available also for the off-axis listener far closer to the side wall and someone on the other end of the room. Lastly, trapping back wall reflections reduced time smear in the all-important midrange and higher frequencies. Unlike the earlier sidewall experiment, utilizing the Orbis traps only behind this listener proved the unequivocal win/win. Learn and live well.

So, we've got two models in this range. The Corner Orbis is 18/46 (inch/cm) wide and 12/31 deep. It sits on a tear-drop plinth to snugly fit into the corner. The Wall Orbis is 30/70 wide and 6/15 deep. Both are 1.5m tall and free standing. Because they're solid foam, they pack significant absorptive mass. In this game, mass is king just like a liquid spill dries better with thicker paper towels. The professional can readily calculate the exact number of cubic inches needed for x dB of attenuation at a given frequency. It's why for big trapping expeditions, Rives Audio uses the ceiling to conceal a lot of absorptive materials.

Deader but very much alive
Again, this was the first time I let such devices into our house. Their efficacy of doing something was undeniable even in a house tricked out by Franck Tchang. That my Orbis results were compounded by the presence of his devices is beyond question. Advanced Acoustics didn't insert itself at ground zero. The back-wall reflections could be addressed also by Franck's sugar cubes but my inventory had gotten used up elsewhere. How the margins of improvement would compare between these devices for this particular application I don't know. I do know that while Resonators & Co. installed by the inventor did effectively calibrate the sound for the listening seat, the Orbis Corners in one fell swoop created a very noticeable wholesale bass depressurization for the entire space. This benefitted the whole audible range just like turning down, properly low-passing and phase aligning a runaway subwoofer fixes a lot more than just the bass.

No doubt products like these take up physical space. Regardless of color, they are monolithic uni-purpose objects one must agree to live with. Being freestanding does give the Orbis an edge. They need not become permanent fixtures and can be easily walked about without unsightly holes in the wall. How our felines will respond -- we have two of those lovely creatures and three proper scratching posts -- I don't know yet. Being tucked away behind my chairs at the very far end of the ground floor could have been a good idea on more than one front. We'll see about that...

In order of effectiveness, the Corner Orbis exceeds the Wall Orbis. Anyone dipping toes into these waters with reluctance ought to start in the corners. To completely eliminate all bass bulges requires a lot more cubic inches of course. But to get demonstrable results in the listening seat in my case required no more than two corner units. The two wall panels completed my dead-end attempts very satisfactorily. And because Advanced Acoustics picked two colors which match nicely with the general color scheme of this area in the house, even the cosmetics (such as they are) make the cut. At £1,000 for the 4-piece set, the price seems eminently reasonable not only considering benefits but remembering what I was charged a year back for a 6-inch high-density foam insert to tuck beneath a hardening futon. Add the very neat linen skins, color options and integral plinths of these Orbis models and even diehard DIYers who always do everything better and for a lot less than the pros (yeah, right) might think twice before they start hacking away at blocks of foam, then hit the sewing machine to hide the whole mess without wrinkles and crooked seams. Definitely recommended!

Advanced Acoustics website