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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 1TB iMac with WAV/AIFF files, Weiss DAC2, Burson Audio HA160D as DAC
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03, ModWright DM 36.5, ModWright LS100, Bent Audio Tap X
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5, FirstWatt J2, ModWright KWA100Se
Speakers: ASI Tango R
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF2, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
System Retail Breakdown: $4.795/pr Emerald Physics CS 2.3; $3.995 Spatial StudioKonnekt 48 system; $3.295 ModWright KWA 100; $1.495 Wryed4Sound ST500; $375/ea. Emerald Physics 1m interconnects (x 3); $250/10ft/pr Emerald Physics biwire speaker cable - total system price $11.990

Get in line. Cross over. As a religion, high-end audio is really rooted deep in snobbery. One central commandment condemns pro audio. Perhaps that's envy. After all its practitioners actually create music for a living. Not only has pro audio the better connectors, it has embraced superior solutions. Think active monitors with electronic crossovers for example. Invariably, pro audio gear is also cheaper than hifi equivalents. The average audiophile however gives such products a wide berth. Only a few firms like Benchmark Audio and Weiss have crossed over successfully. If Clayton Shaw and Walter Liederman have anything to say about it, more are about to. Cross (yourself). Get in line.

Correct correction. Since the beginning, Emerald Physics open-baffle speakers have relied on pro-arena Behringer active crossovers and equalization. Then Clayton Shaw sold his speaker company to top dealer Walter Liederman of Underwood Hifi. That makes Cullen Circuits of Wyred4Sound the current manufacturer. It freed Clayton to tackle a new project. Under Spatial Computer, he now packages comprehensive phase, time and room-correction software inside iTunes, the hottest audio platform ever (Apple recently sold its 250.000.000th iPod and iTunes users vastly exceed that number).

The Clayton makeover turns any Mac into a state-of-the-art front end from which the listener streams uncompressed files via Firewire to pro-audio converters from Apogee, TC Electronics or Prism. The top options of these specific devices include phono stages, analog inputs and multiple headphone sockets. This gives full preamp functionality in one box. The goal is an iTunes-on-Apple platform that does ultra audio and nothing else. Most customers will ship their existing iMac, MacBook or Mac Mini to Clayton; or order new units online and forward them directly to him. What does Spatial Computers do then?

"Unlike hundreds with Windows-based computers, a Mac runs very few background processes. Defeating redundant computing activities for superior audio is not really an issue. Certain system preferences such as sample rate and iTunes preferences need to be changed of course."

Simplification. "What we do is install and configure our software on the customer's Mac. For $2.995, we also sell our software separately. This includes the measurement system, ongoing maintenance (soft- and firmware updates as they become available) and a remote installation. The latter requires that the customer physically connect the hardware/cables and supply a high-speed internet connection. Then we can log on and configure the Mac computer for him.

"This involves downloading the software modules from our cloud server and making individualized configuration changes like crossover frequency, channel routing and such as they pertain to that system. Afterwards we enter acoustic measurement mode and acquire room and speaker data. From that we create a correction file and store it in the system. The last step walks the customer through how to use the system and answers any remaining questions. After installation, we leave open several Spatial modules on the screen for operational verification. We also enlarge iTunes to cover the display area. The idea is to provide a non-technical customer experience. Everything but iTunes remains in the background. Updates and additional features are added remotely such as our new valve emulation software module.

"Spatial really is aimed at the non-technical audiophile whose focus is the result, not the process. The Computer Audiophile site and others like it appeal to computer tekkies and DIY types. Those tend to focus on Windows-based servers since they're most familiar with that platform. We are not chasing them. Incidentally, two of our customers—one with the Prism Orpheus Spatial system, the other with the Apogee Ensemble—are bona fide software engineers. They feel very comfortable with our value proposition. 

"That's because unlike Amarra's file player application for example, our Spatial system is a group of around 15 applications and plug-ins which handle signal routing, automatic measurement, equalization, channel levels, valve emulation, noise generation, FFT analyzer, crossover networks, Firewire interface control, file format conversion, remote access and more. The weekend DIYer is unlikely to figure all this out such that it actually works correctly. He'd have to copy our system or spend months or even years experimenting. Music-focused audiophiles want the end result in a system that's easy to operate and dependable."

The Spatial software is a combination of 3rd-party code (the room correction system) and open-source self-authoring (the signal routing for example). Once Spatial is installed and embedded in iTunes, it can be bypassed with a keystroke. To configure compensation settings for different speakers afterwards requires nothing more than running a new data acquisition session and storing the results. Or, multiple configuration preferences may be stored for a single pair of speakers. "We have built in a studio-grade software equalizer. You can trim the speaker response post correction and save optimized versions for classical, rock and such. You can quickly change EQ settings by loading a file on the desktop. If you have ever wondered whether 1st-order crossover slopes are better or worse than 4th-order Linkwitz-Riley, you can quickly save the virtual versions of the speaker in both types and compare."

The real reason to embrace PC audio? Many are excited about 24/192 high-resolution files. In my mind however, what a software package like Spatial demonstrates is a far more profound advantage for streaming audio. By starting with stored digital files, very surgical room and speaker corrections can occur in the digital domain before any data streams via Firewire into one of the chosen pro converters. Forget redundant A/D/A conversion, processor loops and outboard black boxes once required. Doing it all just once at the very source in software rather than hardware is the purest such solution. From Clayton's present component menu—Apogee Duet (1.995) or Apogee Rosetta ($5.495) for 2-channel/single-amp use; TC StudioKonnekt 48 ($2.995), Apogee Ensemble ($4.995) or Prism Orpheus ($7.995) for bi-amp/multi-channel setups—the Mac transport and pro converter with mastering-quality software are merged into a hi-tech source. The customer need only supply amplification and speakers for a complete system. Obviously Spatial isn't exclusive to Emerald Physics speakers. It works with any speaker. Emerald speaker models simply must be actively bi-amped. This requires four channels, hence multi-channel rather than stereo DAC/processors.

Essential correction.
Unlike headfiers who take the room out of the equation, speaker listeners generally do little with admittedly unattractive conventional acoustic room treatments. They suffer whatever punishments their rooms dole out. Here the Emerald Physics approach to loudspeaker design borrows again from pro audio with a wave guide for controlled directivity. Then there's dipole bass which energizes a room more evenly. While it seems counter-intuitive, open-baffle bass is less problematic to integrate in a room than monopole bass.

Dual-concentric with velcro'd d grill removed

Naturally, three-quarter measures don't do the job completely. The full Monty has to mean room correction; amplitude, phase and time linearization beyond crude passive filter networks; and tight driver matching all in the digital domain right inside the music files. The Spatial/Emerald contention is that using good but non-exotic drivers and amplifiers, a systemic approach with sufficient computing power far exceeds anything conventional piecemeal high-end audio could ever hope to achieve in a normal room without comprehensive Rives-type acoustic treatments.

Dual-concentric from rear, tweeter not yet installed

"You can take pride owning a very expensive, universally admired amplifier. It'll sure look impressive. Or we can set you up with electronically bi-amped channels of solid non-esoteric amplification and our comprehensive corrective software to make far superior sound."

The Brazilian Selenium D220TI tweeter ships uninstalled to reduce depth