S t r i n g s ...A t t a c h e d !

A Personal Evaluation of a Demonstration

 

 

AMSTERDAM HIFI KLUBBEN

On March 27, 2012 a second evening of demonstrations of Steinway Lyngdorf loudspeaker systems was organized at HiFi Klubben-RAF, Rijnstraat, in Amsterdam. The main demo was of the Steinway Lyngdorf Model D systems which had been brought to Amsterdam for the ISE (Integrated Systems Europe) fair at RAI exhibit center, held from 31 January - 2 February 2012. So demonstration in the RAF shops in Amsterdam and Hilversum was a practical consequence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEMONSTRATIONS AND THE HUMAN ABSORPTION FACTOR

Experienced visitors of consumer shows or exhibits for professional audio know that demonstrations vary from booth to booth, from room to room. The equipment on display differs from brand to brand and the way it is positioned in the room or booth may not always be the best. Participating in a consumer show generates a lot of work in a just a few days . The quality of demos do vary. One can hear visitors say that this or that performance was no good and the easy conclusion is that the products were of lesser quality. Every audio enthousiast and music lover knows that the circomstances are different from listening to a well optimized demo in a room of a shop with just a few interested people, or if you yourself have invited a few friends to listen in your home. The intensity of listening for a short while during a consumer show is very high. Listening to a system in a shop or at someone's home is generally more relaxed because there is more time, also for discussion. The most significant factor that kills demos at fairs is that people are going in and out and the number changes constantly. Not only the materials of sofas, carpets, drapery and walls do absorb sound. The actual trouble is that people have a rather high sound absorbing coefficient. The more people are attending, the worse the quality is. The exceptional aspect of the Lyngdorf systems is that they have to be calibrated and in this demonstration it was hopefully done in relation to enough absorbing surfaces, of objects, and of people. Yet, the quality of the demos varied. It takes some courage to demonstrate. But every designer knows the system he built. He knows what it is capable of. And that is another factor that has to be taken into account when judging the quality of a system. Check this interesting page: Absorbtion Coefficient

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAIN SPECIFICATIONS
OF THE SYSTEM

DRIVERS:
Low: 4 x 12"
Mid: 2 x 5 1/4"
High: 1 x AMT

POWER RATING:
2 x 400W / 2 x 800

DIMENSIONS:
(H x W x D)
205.8 x 46.4 cm

81.02 x 18.27 inch

WEIGHT:
174 kg
383.6 lb

HEAD UNIT:
CD Player
Control Unit
Volume wheel with display
RoomPerfect™
Connection panel

DIGITAL INPUTS:
3 x S/PDIF
1 x AES-EBU
1 x Toslink (Optical)

ANALOG INPUTS:
3 x single ended
1 x balanced
1 x Input for microphone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASSIGNMENT

What are you going to do when your assigment is to recreate the sound of a Steinway Model D Concert Grand? What are you going to do when you are asked to design a loudspeaker system that reproduces fully and completely, and entirely and lifelike that complex sound in whatever surrounding you may put those speakers in.
Are you going to compose the equivalent of the sound of that Grand Piano by using all the right materials and choosing the best drivers that are available, connect this entity to the best amplifiers, thus creating a mirror image, if it were, of the characteristic nature of that deep glossy, black casing?

ELIMINATING MATTER

Or do you want to recreate that body of sound only by using the most modernistic electronics and let a computer program decide how membranes, mounted in heavy yet slim looking and inert panels, have to behave? Are you merely creating a Gestalt that emerges from stiff membranes, from a moving surface that projects the sound in two directions, at two points in the listening room to create the spacey stereo image, to create a sound image projected via a anamorphic lens as it were?
Well, Peter Lyngdorf chose for - let's say - the phantom approach. He and his team worked on eliminating practically all untrue, interfering physical elements that influence and determine the working of a conventional loudspeaker system so drastically: traditional materials, shape, size, mass, damping, common driver units, all in conjunction with the behaviour of amplifiers, cables, filter sections, and in relation to the source and what more you can think of in a conventional system.

FULLY DIGITAL

The important trait of Lyngdorf's design is to remain in the digital domain entirely, literally from front to end. That also includes going for digital amplifiers with the least feedback or with no feedback at all. And these amplifiers would be fed the signal provided by a clever DSP (Digital Sound Processor), including tailoring it to the room with the unique RoomPerfect software.
Remaining in the digital domain fully has its advantages as far as technique goes. The outcome can be calculated, and if done well, is predictable. The RoomPerfect programming sees to it that every sound performance available on CD or DVD can be controlled, no matter what the format is: PCM, SACD, DVD, and even MP3 and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files I suspect.
The disadvantage however is that the best high end amplifiers have to remain, unpacked, in the store room. It also means that it is never possible to escape the restrictions imposed by whatever digital format you choose, unless the system has the facility of exchanging circuit boards with better DACS, and in case of amplifiers - Peter uses actually 400 Watt per channel - more elaborate digital specimen would eventually be available.

104 MHz.

When I asked him at the end of the demo what developments he was expecting over the coming period, of five years, he did not expect improvements and so there was no need of developing the system further. He considers the Steinway-Lyngdorf Model D - that is what we are talking about - as the ultimate system. It can not be bettered. It can process signals encoded up to 104 MHz. That is many times higher than what current formats need. That is quite something.
Remaining in the digital domain did not need audiophile cables or tweeks. So Lyngdorf said that ordinary CAT 5 (Category 5) cable would suffice, indifferent of length, the same sort of cable you are connecting your PC with. As I know by experience that there are many variations of digital when transmitted and when duplicated, I suggested that the use of Ethernet Cables of Audioquest could probably have a positive effect on the transmission of the data. Simple CAT is sufficient? Any audiophile who is used to get the most out of a system would wonder if the system can be physically optimized. And what of any improvement by placing the panels straight on the concrete floor and what about not letting cables hang in the air but use supports? Digital does not equal digital.

FOUR WOOFERS PER PANEL

The panels are of thick aluminum, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) thick, if I listened carefully to the explanation. These large panels were not cast in molds but were sculpted out of blocks by a CNC cutting machine. The "acoustic" properties of aluminum are foremost determined by the amount of lead in the alloy. The lead is necessary to make machining easier. But the influence of lead counts in practice more for light weight applications, not for thick and heavy panels. This means that the "speakers" will not be influenced by whatever acoustic feedback generated by the room they will be positioned in, as long as the floor is sturdy enough to prevent horizontal movement. But probably spurious vibrations would as well be compensated for by the program. Four woofers with light, stiff cones, two medium chassis based on Scan Speak units and one Heil Air Motion Transformer are mounted in a d'Appolito configuration. The filtering of the complete system and the movements of the transducers are completely controlled and therefor the electrical and mechanical parameters of the woofers may deviate from electrical and mechanical values which are chosen when designing a conventional dipole system (with added subwoofer). Conventional does mean a Qts of 0.5 or thereabout and a Fs of 50 Hz. In the Model D the fundamental resonance of the woofer units do not need to be low. Even a high fundamental resonance can be chosen deliberately. Frequencies below any Fs can be amplified and the curve can always be corrected for good measure like in Bose 802, 901 and 902 systems..
Four 12 inch woofers make a piston area of some 2000 square centimeter (310 square inches) or say 28 cm by 70 cm in total, roughly 13 by 23 inches. The woofers have rubber roll surrounds which permit large excusions for the extreme low frequencies. Yet generally only relatively small excursions are necessary, and correction by the computer can take place 4 times faster if compared to one big woofer. This aspect also facilitates the transition to the mid range drivers.

MID AND HIGH FREQUENCY TRANSDUCERS

The mid range drivers are a special development of existing 5 inch Scan Speak units. I do not know what type the original driver is.
For the high frequencies a single Heil Air Motion Transformer is used. It is the Aulos with the flat, slightly ribbed membrane and a relatively small radiating surface area if compared to the tall systems of more than two meters high. The Heil AMT is also a dipole transducer otherwise it would not have been eligible for being incorporated in the Model D. As far as I know, the AMT is the only real dipole high frequency unit around. Efficiency is 89 dB. Lowest X-over frequencies are 1200 Hz. (18 dB slope) and 1500 Hz. (minimal 12 dB slope). The crossover frequency in the Model D is probably somewhat higher.

Personally I have always considered the Heil AMT loudspeakers a bit smooth and too friendly, not chiseled in the top, not very strong in detail because of the dipole principle. Any dome tweeter can add more dynamics in the top. The functioning of the Aulos also depends on what the basis of the system does. If the bass speakers are well kept in control, the rest of the frequency characteristic is controlled too. In this respect it is important to know to what measure. The extent however is clearly heard in the demonstration. High frequencies do not stand out in particular.

SERVO CONTROL

Belgian professor T.S. Korn of Servo Sound devised a system of preamplifier and small loudspeaker boxes with integrated amplifier. The boxes were servo controlled. His name is also connected to the firm Korn & Macway when he went a step further by introducing A.I.R. which means Acoustic Inter-modulation Reduction. His electronics were analog of course and no RoomPerfect calibration existed. Similar applications of corrections in loudspeakers were incorporated in the Motional Feedback (MFB) systems of Philips in the 1970s, and later also adopted by Cabasse in the Galion and Albatros designs. The Cabasse active loudspeakers had a very high efficiency and could easily attain a sound level of 120 dB. Whatever the make, these speakers behaved extremely well but they were somewhat robbed of their spontaneity, depending of course how severely the feedback signal was calibrated. Large excursions were restrained and measurements showed that the sinus was topped off, so to speak.
One note on the appearance of the Model D. The panels have of course the exact finish of the Grand Piano. Furthermore they have long black strings functioning as a sort of see through grille that disguises the "ugliness" of the units at the back of the panel. It also shows that, if you have an agreement with Steinway & Sons, you cannot say "no strings attached".

DEMO

As I had taken a few CDs with me that I knew well and they do contain well recorded material, I asked before the demo started if some of "my" music could be played as well. My selection would interfere with Peter Lyngdorf's standard program which consists of a specially prepared CD with selections. The label says Dali, obviously meant for use on other systems designed by the man as well. Lyngdorf's demo started with a track of Dire Straits and from there we went to Bob Marley, Erik Satie, Michael Jackson's Earth Song and a female jazz singer who initially would make us believe that Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass were in front of us but then the voice became somewhat inarticulate in the mid band. So it was a different affair. The recordings were of a mixed quality, naturally, because recording engineers and producers have their own ideas of what sound is all about, and "each technician has his own signature" as is shown in an uncanny way by different issues of the same material available in shops and on the net. This goes for LP reissues as well.


Ron Losby, President-Americas, Steinway and Sons tells the viewer in a YouTube video:

"(...) I think, as we all know, that the soundboard of the piano is perhaps the heart and soul of every piano. And Steinway & Sons, in 1936, had an innovative breakthrough. We developed what is known as the Diaphragmatic Soundboard that essentially allowed the piano to vibrate more freely creating a warmer, richer, resonant sound for a longer sustained period of time."

 

 

 

 

 

 

TANDBERG RECORDER

Peter Lyngdorf told the audience that, when he was about 10 years of age, round and about 1963, the Beatles appeared and became quite a phenomenon. They were on the radio every day. As a kid he owned a stereo Tandberg Model 5 taperecorder and he listened to the songs via the built in loudspeakers. He soon found that the quality of the sound could be improved upon by connecting better loudspeakers. He decided to build some himself. And it was then and there were he was bitten by the bug and, when still in school, already built speakers for relatives and friends. When he started his own business, he sold Cerwin Vega loudspeakers and built enclosures with Cerwin Vegas for the Danish market. His hi-fi business was prospsering benefitting from the hi-fi boom in the 1970s and eventually owned a chain of audio shops in Denmark, HiFi Klubben, covering today 97 percent of the Danish market. He is best known for the Dali range of speakers marketed by NAD of which he became the owner in the early 2000s controlling 93 percent of company stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MULTI BIT

During the coffee break I got my chance. Lyngdorf gave me the permission to have a quick listen to the beginning of Crumb's Haunted Landscape (New World Records 80326-2), the Helsinki University Chorus singing Rakastava (Finlandia CD, FACD 205 S), and pianist Byron Janis's Pictures at an Exhibition (Mercury 434 346-2). The first two are recordings from the 1980s, using strict multi bit converters and no or hardly any compression applied. All three recordings gave a more refined, clearer and a trifle more slender sound, showing the importance of how the recordings are made and what the compression in modern CDs does. This also indicated - at least to me - that older CDs would probably need a different calibration of the systems if that would be possible. But probably the main reason for the clearer sound was that I was closer to the speakers with less interference by other listeners.

THE HUMAN FACTOR

Yet this made me reflect on how the system had been calibrated. In the end the RoomPerfect software is written by humans. The mathematics may be correct, but is there also the human influence? And what about the sensitivity of the human ear when it is educated, what about its ability to hear the myriad details and of focussing into a complex sound pattern, and what about the brain's memory function storing and retrieving listening experiences at the same time when listening to a recording? These are capabilities that differ from person to person, they are qualities that should develop in every human being starting with the earliest years in life. Important is to what sounds and music one is exposed to. It is difficult to assume that children that have continuously been listening to nothing else but house and rap will easily develop a taste for the symphony, the piano trio, or the violin sonata later in life. Exposure is one important keyword. Another is variety. On these topics Peter Lyngdorf should be interviewed. He grew up with The Beatles.

NATURAL SOUND

Any designer who wants to create the best loudspeaker wants to arrive at creating a mirage of the actual sound, a sphere as it were that shows what the original recording is and how it was made by the recording technician, the way he perceived it and monitored it in his studio or in a auditorium?
When we go to the supermarket there is this teenager standing next to the entrance playing the guitar, a hat in front of him, slowly filling with coins, so he can survive the day, can continue his studies, or maybe he is even hoping to be discovered because as an artist he is very good at his trade. Of course he was not invited to attend the demo, yet what I missed was the distinct and detailed sound of the plucking of a guitar string as if it were live. Dire Straits could not deliver that. Just an acoustic guitar, well played.

IN DEPTH

I also missed a recording with a skillful pianist performing fragments of "Sunt lacrymae rerum" and "Marche funèbre" from Franz Liszt's "Troisième année de pèlerinage", which could have demonstrated so dramatically the miracles of both Models D, i.g. the grand piano and the loudspeaker system respectively, and should have revealed the true capabilities of the instrument with open air membranes and its digital source. Or any other piano fragment with deep bass, provoking rich overtones in high frequencies to resonate. I missed just a small specimen of a symphony played by a large orchestra, the playing of a brass band, and a jazz combo that would have projected itself neatly in front of us. Yes, jazz was played in another space with the Model S surround sound system while watching a big screen with pianist Chick Corea playing in a somewhat Monty Alexander style, and when he was done a giant flute with exaggerated embouchure followed with far too much and not detailed lower frequencies. And finally there was this sequence of the movie "Master and Commander" with overloud audio which was difficult to grasp.

CINERAMA - CINEMASCOPE - WIDESCREEN

Before the movie sequence started, Peter Lyngdorf pointed out that while viewing the scene below deck, we would be able to hear sailors walking over our heads. He later asked if we had the experience. Well, not clearly. I told him that after Cinemascope had been introduced with the movie The Robe (1953) with the multi channel sound track to create surround sound in the movie theater that had to be adapted specifically for the new system, the format was considered too expensive and was graded down to what was simply called widescreen, often reduced to black and white. See for more info about stereo sound recording and surround sound in the early days of the cinema It's Trinaural.
Movies like The Young Lions (1958) and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) had 4 track surround sound. At one time in The Young Lions the audience heard airplanes emerging from the back of the auditorium, flying over their heads towards the projection screen in front and disappearing there. That was impressive and had not been heard in a movie theater before. Impressive also because these were warplanes, and most moviegoers had experienced World War Two themselves. It was also striking because the complex sound from lows to high frequencies was so lifelike. It was not a heavy, rounded sound making your seat shake like in today's movies.

RECORDING

Experiencing that the reproduction of the Models D and S (stereo and surround sound) varied much from source to source, from format to format, from recording style to recording style, I asked Peter Lyngdorf if he had thought about producing recordings himself so he would be in control of the entire process. He said that he had thought about that. The first thing to do, he said, would be that the recording technican uses Lyngdorf S systems with RoomPerfect software to optimize his control room for monitoring the recording process of any recording.
I also noticed that the surround sound system had difficulty if the room had an open space at one side as was the case in the HiFi Klubben shop in the Rijnstraat in Amsterdam where the demo took place. The asymmetrical room could have made the calibration somewhat difficult and thus the volume had to be turned up too much. To arrive at a good performance it became evident that a more or less symmetrical room should be chosen.

CONCLUSION

The technology of all Steinway-Lyngdorf models is entirely digital. That is its strength because the outcome, the performance, is always the same or at least rests within a well defined sound frame. For certain people this may be an assett to others this may be a drawback. Used in a home theatre system, the Lyngdorf designs follow the trend of today’s cinema sound where the slamming of a car door is a heavy, overly loud and disproportional boom and the music of the soundtrack played by a large orchestra shakes the seats. If you want that experience, OK.
And what about the Model D specifically? Is it what we would call a Hi-Fi system? Is it capable of recreating the sound of not only digital instruments but also all sorts of acoustic instruments and voices, in the highest fidelity? I regret that I have to say "No". Unless my experience was hampered by the more or less disproportionate rooms of the RAF HiFi Klubben shop in Amsterdam were the demonstrations took place and the less fortunate calibration because of the large audience.

REFERENCE

The quality of the sound is foremost determined by the conceptual design. It is justified to compare the outcome to the real live experience. If we attend a concert in the Concertgebouw, we never have a seat in the back of the hall, but always in one of the first dozen of rows. Number 6 or even 11 are two of the best rows. Row 30 definitely not. Row 30 means that the high frequencies have been attenuated too many dB and the orchestra displays a mere low and mid band sound. It all depends on what you are used to and what you want to experience. One can often read in a magazine that this or that person prefers his hifi at home instead of attending a live concert, a live experience. Maybe he or she sat too far away from the orchestra or the chamber music players or the performing recitalists. The exciting thing about a live concert is that it touches your soul. The excitement is brought about by a transient, a sudden peak, it is about slam, and tutti. There is also a physical aspect which is part of the emotion. And of course there are melody, and refined and detailed harmony. What if you could give transients more freedom in the Model D, for example by changing the parameters with which the Room Perfect software measures the room?


Reflecting further on the system it became even more clear that there is a possibility that the Room Perfect software - though clever and right in concept - was the culprit in the (at times) less well functioning "Steinway-Lyngdorf-Digital-System". I began to suspect that the Room Perfect software would be optimally working in a acoustically well shaped listening room were the distances between the speakers and the side walls would be equal and were the wall behind the speakers would be flat and straight and have no openings like a door and would have no obstacles (a book case, etc.). I guessed that the irregularity of the space in the HiFi Klubben shop in Amsterdam made a high quality demonstration in fact impossible. Yes, with Room Perfect the optimization of the Steinway-Lyngdorf speakers is possible, but only - and this is my personal opinion - as far as a particular given environment allows you to. I do not know if there is a led that lights up to indicate "in this room the loudspeaker systems can not work to their full potential". I also do not know if the manual gives indications when and where you should make physical alterations and adaptations to the room yourself with absorbing panels, tube traps or by a different placement. I do not know by hearing experience what the software utimately does with other systems in other environments. The only thing I perceived was that it is working hard and that you could hear, even if the time delay would be one millisecond.

FOOLING THE SYSTEM

During the demo held in the RAF-HiFI Klubben shop in Amsterdam on February 8, Peter Lyngdorf apologized for the fact that the calibration of the Model D systems had taken place before many people came to sit in the demo room and that now, because the acoustic properties of the room had changed, the system would not reveal its true capabilities.
This means that you can fool the system. Example. If you find that the high frequency content of the sound would be less prominent, you could for example calibrate the system with two small damping panels on the side walls and after calibration remove these. Naturally the design is not meant to be used in that way. And on top of that it would need much experience to adept the system in a slightly different way. And, there is another point to make. The system might not like it.
Whether you like the system is a personal question. It depends of what you are striving for. Most people do not have to worry about the performance though, because the prices are far beyond what most people can afford.

Rudolf A. Bruil

Page first published on the www on April 10, 2012.

Audio&Audio&Music Bulletin - Rudolf A. Bruil, Editor - Copyright 1998-2013
by Rudolf A. Bruil and co-authors