The room is undoubtedly a major factor in any sound system, you only have to visit a hi-fi show in a hotel to realise that regardless of the hardware it can be very difficult to make a good sound in a ‘bad’ room. We can over time filter out some of the anomalies that the shape and construction of the room introduce but others cannot be ignored, some rooms are bright and ‘loud’ because of too many reflections, others overdamped with limited openness, and plenty have bass boom problems that are very difficult to overcome.
Many manufacturers have come up with so called room correction systems in an attempt to reduce the impact that room has on the sound but in my experience few have been particularly successful. The main issue is that when you use DSP and a microphone to even out the frequency response things like timing and imaging are affected in the process. I remember a much vaunted system from a certain British manufacturer in recent times that looked great on paper and produced a much flatter response on the laptop but it seemed pretty plain that it sounded better when you turned it off. A baby/bathwater situation that one company seems to have found a solution to.
Last year Chris Kelly reviewed Lyngdorf’s TDAI-3400 integrated amplifier which features the company’s RoomPerfect system that has been in development since the early 90s. That was when Peter Lyngdorf bought US speaker company Snell Acoustics because of the work they were doing in digital room correction systems, which lead to a full bandwidth system in 1993. Lyngdorf essentially focussed on digital audio technology from that point on, launching the TaCT digital amplifier in 1996 and now producing a range of electronics under his own name.
The RoomPerfect system does not initially seem all that different to other correction systems inasmuch as it uses a microphone to capture tones emitted by the system and applies DSP to calculate exactly what changes are required to produce the desired result. But it’s the desired result that apparently differs, most systems aim to produce a target response which is generally flat but there are usually alternatives to choose from. RoomPerfect is said to create a target curve that is unique to your room and speakers. The supplied graphic does not indicate a flattening of response but it is presumably just one example of the result that this system produces. RoomPerfect requires that several mic positions across the listening area and beyond are included, the standard set up process requiring a minimum of five positions atop the ‘focus’ position that is taken from the listening seat. The sounds it uses for these measurements do differ from the norm and consist of electronic burbles, a bit like Kraftwerk on one of their less inspired days in the bunker. But they aren’t uncomfortable and you don’t need silence to make the measurements, which given that it takes 15 minutes or so is a bonus. You can carry on making measurements but the six initial ones provide 90% of the room’s character.
My studio is a timber framed structure with a lot of insulation and fairly heavy cladding but it doesn’t reflect bass the way that bricks or blocks do so I don’t get bass problems, which made me wonder whether RoomPerfect would be all that beneficial. But that’s not all there is to room acoustics of course and the Lyngdorf proved this quite clearly, the main benefit of switching it in was enhanced projection of the sound into the room, the image became larger yet remained focused. And this was with PMC fact.12 Signature speakers which have very wide dispersion and produce a full scale image in the first place, RoomPerfect gives that image more depth and three dimensionality. It also focuses the bass, giving it extra solidity and apparent weight in a rather appealing fashion. On the less than plush recording ‘The way young lovers do’ (Van Morrison, Astral Weeks) which can easily sound thin and messy it subtly reinforced the double bass and toned down the rather sizzly cymbals without undermining the perfect timing of the piece. Of course this is what it does to my system in my room, in your room it may do something different.
What Lyngdorf are aiming for with RoomPerfect is to iron out the peaks and troughs introduced by the room without affecting the sound of the speakers themselves and they seem to achieve that, or at least whatever they do makes the music more controlled and well defined. On a more modern track with plenty of low end (Wesseltoft/Schwarz Duo) it takes some of the weight out of the bass when used in Focus mode, the more precise of the two RoomPerfect settings, and here I preferred the juicier sound of the Global setting. As well as these two there are a lot of EQ or voicing positions to be chosen from and the screen shows responses for all of them, I went perhaps predictably for ‘music’ which seemed to work with nearly all the music I played and the speakers I tried. Neutral on the other hand gives a more 3D presentation and some might prefer that, it’s nice to have the choice. You can make these changes with the remote handset and display or via a web browser if the Lyngdorf is connected to the local network, I found both easy but the remote is perhaps quicker.
I tried RoomPerfect with several other speakers including the Node Hylixa and Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3, and in both instances the results were similar, stronger imaging with greater focus and no apparent change to the character of the speaker. With the big 802s tracks that had a lot of bass on them greater speed, power and dynamics without sacrificing extension. The Michael Wollny Trio’s live album Wartburg sounded positively visceral with this combination of amp and speakers, those after a live sound in the home will find a lot to like with it. I also tried a separate power amp with the TDAI-3400, my trusty ATC P2 brought more subtlety and better timing to the result and added a bit of grunt that was rather enjoyable. The overall effect of RoomPerfect seemed not to change. Interestingly going back to my regular Allegri+ preamp made the sound seem mid forward, indicating that the Lyngdorf was providing a more even response than even a preamp with very little character of its own.
My final session was in a different and more conventionally constructed room that I call the living room but is in fact where a fair amount of sitting goes on. Here a pair of PMC twenty5.22i (review coming in June) speakers were placed four or five metres from the chair with the wall close behind my head. Here the sense of the room being filled with solid sound was even more pronounced, perhaps because of the extra distance to the speakers. The bass also benefitted significantly especially when playing the Mad Professor’s Massive Attack remix album No Protection, here the speakers totally disappeared when switching to the Focus setting, leaving the sound and the bass to make itself very clear in the room. The bass retaining its power and extension but losing a slight vagueness it had without RoomPerfect.
In a room with boomy bass this will be a godsend I have no doubt and even in rooms that are fairly even the benefits are very easy to hear indeed. That said it won’t have the same effect on all rooms and speakers, which is the point of the tech, it doesn’t try to make your system sound different but to allow it to produce a better result in the room. Whether the character of Lyngdorf’s digital amplifier is to taste is the only real question, I found it worked well with the smaller PMCs but seemed a little dry with the big and very revealing fact.12. As I generally use more expensive amplifiers this is hardly surprising, Chris Kelly on the other hand has bought one of these amplifiers to use with his Harbeth P3ESRs so clearly he likes what it does. Lyngdorf’s preferred approach is to use smaller satellite speakers with a pair of subwoofers placed in the corners of the room, an approach that without RoomPerfect would result in horrendous boom, but they use the reinforcement it provides to deliver a more powerful result than you would expect of compact loudspeakers. I visited the UK distributor Gecko to hear some of these systems with wall mounted satellites and subs and have to say that the results were impressive. Clearly Lyngdorf have come up with a very clever system that avoids many of the problems inherent with speakers in rooms, for those who have to put their loudspeakers in less than optimal positions this technology could be the answer to many a prayer.