Real ailments require real medicine

Akiba-San of Infra Noise Labs is reputedly Nippon's most notorious tweaker. Under the Ortho Spectrum banner, his products from Toyonaka City in Osaka carry mysterious nomenclatures. They suggest cures for ailments you may never before have considered were plaguing your beloved audio system. Analogue and Digital Reconstructors. Today's Musicalizers. Incidentally, the two former boxes have already arrived for pending reviews as well. We'll transform our lunar abode into tweaker's paradise for a few moons.

The raison d'être for the $598/pr ML-206? To make Gangsta Rap's misogynist and cop-killin' thug lyrics more palatable? Just kidding, homes. While arguably the result of a seriously distorted world view (but beyond the purview of subtle tweaking), Yoshihiko's small boxes -- you need two unless you do mono -- address a more readily measurable kind of proposed distortion: Back-EMF, counter-electromotive force. Per textbook definition, electromotive force is synonymous with voltage. Voltage is the quantitative expression of the potential difference in charge between two points in an electrical field. The greater the voltage, the greater the flow of electrical current through a conducting medium for a given resistance to the flow. One volt will drive one coulomb of electrons (6.24 x 10 to the 18th power) through a resistance of one ohm in one second.

As referenced in this audio application, EMF is the specific charge as kicked back by your speakers' voice coil motion to the amplifier where, according to theory, this charge may produce unwanted interactions with the amplifier output stage. The Musicalizer's stated purpose? To filter or absorb this retrograde energy, a task deemed important since back-EMF, unlike dither, is correlated with the original signal. Left to operate normally, voice-coil motion induced counter-EMF is claimed to cause a signal blurring similar to an echo or ghost image overlaid on a television image.

Here's the conceptually confounding part.

  • Whenever a conductor (in this case the voice coil) is allowed to move inside a magnet field, it generates a voltage.
  • If a voltage is applied to a conductor inside a magnetic field, it creates a force that causes said conductor to move.
  • According to 1, if allowed to move, this conductor generates a similar voltage or counter-electromotive force to the one that set it off.

The only way to cancel this so-called back-EMF? Prevent the voice coil from moving in the first place. Don't play music. Put differently, if you could successfully absorb the back-EMF, your speakers wouldn't produce any sound whatsoever. A bit counterproductive to our audiophile endeavors, ne ç'est pas?

Without this naturally occurring counter-charge, a loudspeaker's input impedance would approximate to just the overall voice coil resistance and inductance. The back-EMF is the main cause for loudspeaker impedance variations, the main rationale for amplifier feedback loops which, unlike today's device, can distinguish between original signal and back-EMF to compare and correct. Inserting the "blind" Musicalizer into this equation? It has to alter the loudspeaker's input impedance as seen by the amplifier. Consequently, the amplifier's output impedance as seen by the speaker changes. That alters the operative damping factor which expresses the relationship between source and load impedance. This change could be claimed to somewhat compensate or equalize for the effects of the back-EMF. However, it could certainly not be claimed to cancel it outright while keeping a straight face and listening to music.

Tersely described as "a coreless coil of extremely high-gauge wire suspended in a tuned sealed enclosure", we understand that the Musicalizer is a series or parallel air-core inductor. According to an engineering friend, its absence of a magnetic core suggests that it is not aimed at introducing non-linear compensation effects. Used in series, it would lower the damping factor and limit high-frequency extension, the negligible inductance of such a device indicative of an active pass band outside the audible range - an ultra-sonic filter whose corner frequency hinges on the variable impedance of the load which the ML-206's designer doesn't know. If used in parallel and possessed of high resistance, it would tend to reduce resonance peaks in the inductance plots at low frequencies while raising the damping factor. Regardless, the Musicalizer clearly isn't a load-specific compensation network. Its filter values would have to be carefully matched to the speaker whereas this is a one-size-fits-all approach. But enough of second-guessing Yoshihiko Akiba. How do you musicalize your system?

The ML-206s are passive in-line devices. They attach to the speaker ends of your high-level cables, the signal then reaching your otherwise now disconnected transducers via 5-foot leads of 14-AWG cable exiting the 5.5" x 4.25" x 1.8" devices. Those are clad in Audio Magic-type plastic casings. The input end with its plastic-capped 5-way terminals is sealed with a wooden fascia. The opposite output side with the pigtails is capped with black plastic. Bi- or higher-wire acrobats like yours truly? They face a potentially tough di- or trilemma: The Musicalizer box is designed for single-wiring only. To go porcine in full-hog fashion with discrete multi-way networks requires more than one box per channel. Outfitted with a review pair, this meant I'd use them in a partial application on my tri-wire Avantgarde horns.

Hence I inserted these Musicalings with their gold-on-green renaissance-book covers between my AUDIOPAX monos and DUO midrange horns (themselves jumpered to the tweeter horns so the ML-206 effects would spread to four transducers total) while the self-amplified woofers didn't allow actual insertion between their voice coils and the internal amps anyway and were thus ran as usual - unfiltered.

In Olde England, queer plungers weren't askew toilet bowl suction cleaners. Rather, they were cheats who'd throw themselves into the river faking to drown. Their comrades-in-crime would pretend to save them and carry their wet hapless buddies to one of the charity houses, established by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons. The saviors would be rewarded with a guinea each, the victims, claiming how terrible distress had driven them to attempted suicide, often sent onwards with a little contribution as well. Would Ortho Spectrum's invention reward real or faked distress? Would the payout be in genuine hard currency - or merely in theoretical while prettily colored paper?

Only a listen would tell. Considering the affront to audiophile "common knowledge" -- thou shalt insert nothing extraneous into the signal path -- I was eyeing these thingmalings in a somewhat unfriendly manner. Mental ping-pong between my deluxe HMS Gran Finale cables and these cheesy-looking black'n'red wires predicted a quick and merciless game of sudden death. But practiced reviewer etiquette diligently silenced such rebellious thoughts. With a stoic grimace, I parked myself in the customary sweet spot and hit play.

Verdict: On his AUDIOPAX reference amps, our uncivilized barbarian-cum-scribe preferred the setup au naturel - nude and unmusicalized. The ML-206 smudged and homogenized the presentation, as though dulling leading edges with a fine round-over router bit. This -- pun intended -- shaved off directness to replace crispness with a touch of soft-foucs. That effect held true across the band. What's more, these devices also somewhat fattened up the 150Hz-up transitional upper-bass/lower-mid band. Such editorializing, when combined with subdued transients, could be the perfect antidote for inherently bright, steely or undernourished systems. Unfortunately for the designer of the Musicalizer, none of these qualities plague my system. Nor is this all-important frequency spectrum, chez nous, at all on the lean side. However, consider the output impedance of 3.5 ohms on my single-ended pentode amps. This is a far cry from the ultra-low-impedance credo of most solid-state amps that, after all, constitute the overwhelming majority of amplifiers on the road today. Hence into the garage went les toobs, in rolled the transistors: BVaudio's PA300 for traditional Class AB architecture; Bel Canto's eVo 200.4 for Class T topology.

eVolutionary response? Same same. I flashed on the infamous veil audiophiles are so keen on lifting but far less in a hurry installing. Granted, here I'm talking a very gossamer veil, not at all of the severity common notions of additional boxes might have predicted, and thinner than on my tube monos. Still, the Musicalizer undid a few small steps that this audiophile had labored long and hard to have snap into focus - driving against traffic, not with it.

Thankfully, this misdirection was far less scary than on the real autostrada. All I had to do was take out the boxes and be legit again. Still, I was scratching my head. Having inspected the humongous motors on my Avantgarde horns -- one reason they're so darn efficient -- I would have thunk that concomitant magnetic field strengths and oversize voice coils would conspire to an advantage for the ML-206's confessed mission, not handicap. If there were back-EMF to be conquered, these speakers oughta throw up plenty. Not living in a vacuum, I was also familiar with the over-the-top praise these Musicalings had engendered in no less than three writers on StereoTimes, even the forth being appreciative if not outright aglow like active plutonium and his colleagues. Was my hearing miswired perhaps?

Inserting the BVaudio amp didn't change my deck o' cards but did have me spot a potential trump card. This affordable, fully-balanced transistor amp is what I'd refer to as ruthlessly neutral. With the ML-206's softness in the chain, certain tracks -- especially with female vocals at full boogie -- became more pleasant to listen to, the minor weight gain in the middle quite becoming, the buffering of the leading edges counteracting potential for occasional stridency. On balance though, I must confess that the Ortho Spectrum ML-206 behaved like a fancy limousine - it drove right past me without bothering to throw me a single glance. I thus revert to my old plebeian excuse which, like a well-worn hat, hangs on a crooked hook close by in case it should rain: What I can't hear won't cost me that pretty penny. Or, to grab our header by its horns of implication, this is some medicine I won't have to swallow seeing how I don't suffer the malaise it professes to cure. Does that mean the disease proper is just imaginary?

PS: Incidentally, a speaker designer I spoke with afterwards did briefly measure a Musicalizer on his LCR meter. He found negligible inductance and capacitance as surmised earlier but high resistance - about 2 ohms. Perhaps that explains my lack of "getting it"? After finalizing the review, I sent it, as customary, to the person that had dispatched the review product, in this case the distributor. He suspected that the direction of the custom coils (their input and output ends) might be reversed inside the units. Would this entail cracking the units open to rewire them or simply using them out-of-phase on both their i/o ports? I was told to try them in reverse phase. If I'll obtain better results that way, I'll post a brief follow-up commentary soon.

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