Lyngdorf Audio TDAI 2200 RoomPerfect Digital Amplifier and Room-Correction System

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Lyngdorf Audio TDAI 220 RoomPerfect Digital Amplifier
Lyngdorf Audio TDAI 2200 RoomPerfect Digital Amplifier and Room-Correction System

Lyngdorf ’s RoomPerfect TDAI 2200 is a digital amplifier with a built-in, stand-alone (no computer interface) room-correction system of a new and unusually sophisticated sort. Visually, it is elegantly understated and rather smaller than one would expect a 200Wpc amplifier to be. Functionally, it is simplicity itself: The roomcorrection setup is all but automatic, and the amplifier includes a volume control, so only a digital source and speakers are needed to make a complete system. Sonically, it has real magic. RoomPerfect designer Jan Abildgaard Pedersen has accomplished something remarkable here.

The RoomPerfect amplifier/roomcorrection unit, correcting as well as driving my Harbeth M40s, produced some of the most nearly neutrally balanced and spatially convincing sound that I have heard in my own listening rooms, and in fact that I have ever heard from any audio system at any price. There are tiny aspects of the system I would like to see changed in the direction of giving the user more detailed control over the treble balance. But the system, as is, is so fundamentally correct that one listens and just says, “Yes.”

Ever since my first article about the Sigtech in TAS in 1992, I have been enthusiastic about room correction but accustomed to having a lot of control over the corrections applied, as in the Sigtech, Tact, and other units. By contrast, the RoomPerfect makes its own decisions. Because of this automatic character, I approached it initially with some skepticism. But hearing is believing. The automatic RoomPerfect corrections sounded extremely convincing, and I found nothing to second-guess outside of tiny bits of treble-tweaking with my Z-Systems rdp-1.

In a way, I suppose I should not have been surprised. The RoomPerfect measures the speakers in-room, not only at the “focus position” where the listener will sit, but also over the room as a whole. With user-controlled systems that measure only in the listening position or nearby, people can spend a lot of time trying to pick exactly the right “target curve” because of the invariable need somehow to take into account the room sound. The RoomPerfect system does the work for you, balancing the role of direct and early sound versus room sound—automatically and remarkably effectively.

Let me tell you more specifically about how it sounds.

First off, the amplifier itself, with the room-correction bypassed, is superb. I shall go out on a limb here. The question to my mind and ears is not whether this is as good as amplification gets, but rather whether you could find an analog amplifier as good as this in dealing with digital material. (No D-to-A conversion is required for CD standard and 96/24 inputs; they are accepted and processed digitally inside the unit.) Grain-free, utterly black in background, absolutely linear in dynamics, completely smooth tonally, completely free of digital artifacts, the RoomPerfect amplifier simply leaves nothing to object to. Of course, there are analog amplifiers that for all practical purposes also transmit their signal without damage, but to my ears none does so better than this.

Incidentally, for analog enthusiasts, the amplifier accepts analog inputs by doing a 96/24 A-to-D conversion, which to my ears is again without digital artifacts.

Some digital amplifiers have a quite variable response into different loads because of the output filter needed to remove extremely high-frequency noise. In the Lyngdorf amp, this is a small matter, on the order (according to the manufacturer) of +0.8dB at 20kHz into a 16-ohm speaker impedance and -0.4dB into 4 ohms. The amp gave very flat response with the Harbeths.

But, good as the amplifier is, the RoomPerfect room-correction system is what moves one into a realm beyond the ken of ordinary audio. For purposes of description, let me divide it up into tonal and spatial terms, although actually these aspects interact here, as in all systems.

The Harbeth Monitor 40s are already very smooth and neutral speakers, with one of the flattest frequency responses extant. But, of course, as with all speakers, this neutrality will be knocked around by the room, even in the most careful setups. I typically run my system with a little broadband digital EQ, for the bass in particular, using my Z-Systems rdp-1 digital preamp/EQ device. So I am accustomed to the sound of the Harbeths with essentially neutral balance in the broad sense. Thus the RoomPerfect did not startle me with a radically different overall balance.

What the RoomPerfect system did do was smooth things out to very good effect. The corrected Harbeths sounded as frequency-to-frequency smooth and neutral at my usual eight-foot listening distance as they do in truly nearfield listening, perhaps even smoother than that—which is very smooth, indeed.

Well-recorded string quartet music, like the Tallich Quartet’s Beethoven Opus 95 on Calliope, positively stunned by letting one hear the true sounds of the instruments. Vocals were startling, too. Human voices acquired an almost hypnotic realism. A professional violinist and audiophile friend said of José Carreras in Missa Criolla [Philips], “His voice is like a Stradivarius.” And in its beauty and complexity, it truly was. The Harbeths are optimized for the reproduction of voices, but room effects diminish the sonic truth they are intrinsically capable of. The RoomPerfect system restored the speaker’s natural vocal truth.

The same thing happened with more massive instrumental music. A good orchestral recording could offer something very close to what I call “Row 9 sound,” my ideal position from which to hear an orchestra (this refers to the actual Row 9 in Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen). This ideal orchestral sound is not something one often approaches at home. Here, with the Water Lily recording of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic playing the Mahler No. 5, I got something very like my vivid memory of actually hearing that orchestra from that real Row 9 position in Copenhagen. And my old stand-by, the Mata/Dallas Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances [Audio Plus], sounded similarly real and ideal.

Considering that RoomPerfect is an automatic system, the extent to which I was almost totally satisfied surprised me. The one small exception, and small is the operative word, is that, while the system did a superb job of the bass and midrange, I would have liked to see a little more control in the treble. The six selectable “voicing curves,” seven counting “neutral,” are a bit too broadbrush to be uniformly useful for detailed modifications.

In my case, the “Relaxed” curve, with a 1dB dip centered at 4kHz, made the Harbeth treble come out much like the speaker itself sounds undoctored, except smoother. Also, with its small elevation of the lower mids, this curve tracked the Harbeths overall sound below the treble, too. Moreover, the voicing curves as a group were useful in balancing unbalanced recordings. But I still felt tempted to do, and sometimes did do, a little Z-Systems tweaking of the treble to lock things in absolutely, pulling down 5–6kHz, in particular. To my mind, it would be advantageous to retain at least some of the user-controlled parametric EQ that the previous Lyngdorf model had, as a final fine adjustment of the basically correct RoomPerfect automatic process.

Incidentally, the “Neutral” curve here does not means steady-state flat, but rather the balance that is natural to your speakers in terms of their power response combined with room gain, with specific room-induced errors corrected. In practice, it will, as do most user-selected target curves, have rising bass response; the “Open” and “Open Air” curves will likely be literally flatter. But flatter is not necessarily better. Many recordings are made with the expectation that room gain in playback will causes a rising bass response, and literal steady-state flatness through the bass into the midrange will sound lean on a great many recordings. This is one of the rationales for the “target curve” idea in user-controlled systems, the other being the need for a top-end roll-off of steady-state in-room response. The latter is controlled automatically in RoomPerfect, though the voicing curves allow variation if desired.

The automatic target curve is computed using a number of room measurements. First, a measurement is made at the “focus position” where one will listen. Then the system makes measurements—you move the microphone—at several other spots around the room which can be chosen arbitrarily as long as they are spread out a bit. When the system has what it calls 90% “room knowledge” or more, that knowledge is read to compute its program. The whole thing is automated: no computer interface involved, no learning curve, fifteen minutes or so out of the box to up-and-running.

Now back to the sound.

The impression of realism was further enhanced, beyond tonal neutrality, by the spatial behavior of the RoomPerfect system. In my case, this aspect was more spectacular than the tonal adjustments. RoomPerfect did a very convincing job of erasing the acoustic sensation of being in one’s own listening room, leaving only the acoustic venue of the recording.

Clean studio mixes are a surprising experience, albeit an intriguing one— the music materializes out of thin air, suspended in space. And on close-miked vocal material, like Ella Fitzgerald’s Let No Man Write My Epitaph [Verve/Classic Records], the voice floated, as of course it should, in a somewhat ambiguous frontto- back position.

As Gunther Theile, the great German expert in audio theory, once remarked, the attachment of the front-to-back positions of sounds to the positions of the speakers is a sure sign of a failure of the stereo process. Similarly, I might add, what sense does a “wall-to-wall” soundstage make, with your room setting the boundaries? None of this could be on the recording. With RoomPerfect, these thoughts become a living reality, not just a theory. One hears something very like the room-independent image positioning of highly directional speakers, such as the McIntosh XRT28, from speakers with a much less directional radiation pattern.

The experience can be almost overwhelming. The solo winds on the Lyngdorf Audio TDAI 2200 RoomPerfect Digital Amplifier and Room-Correction System Something very close to what I call “Row 9 sound” Reiner/Chicago CD reissue of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra [RCA/BMG] were suspended in a space totally different from the listening room—an almost ghostly presence had they not sounded so convincingly real. And stereo focus was tight to an extreme hardly ever realized, except in RFZ (reflection-free zone) setups. Be prepared, though, to be able to hear exactly what the microphone pattern was. The RoomPerfect system analyzes space to an extreme. Regular stereo seems blurry by comparison.

While I have been describing the system in operation with a two-speaker setup, the RoomPerfect can also operate a corner-woofer setup superbly, with all the bass benefits there that I described in an article on this idea back in Issue 158. I used Lyngdorf W210 corner woofers with amazing bass results, to go with all the other virtues already noted—this almost deserves another review unto itself.

It is easy to get used to a system and forget the extent to which the room around it is affecting negatively what (one hopes) is the really good speaker system one bought. The RoomPerfect sets out, not to change your speakers utterly into some pre-existing concept of correct sound, but rather to gently guide your speaker/room combination into the sound you would hear if the room wasn’t deforming the basic sound of your speakers.

I think most people will be quite surprised how much difference this makes, even though the measured changes might be fairly small. Indeed, the differences among the voicing curves themselves are far larger audibly than most people would expect, given that they typically move things up or down by a dB or so (above the bass, anyway).

One sometimes reads that frequency response is a solved problem. For speakers in the abstract, on-axis, anechoically, yes, many of them are quite flat. But for speakers in real rooms, this isn’t so. And once you understand how much difference a 1dB change can make, the whole claim that the problems of in-room response are solved without room correction seems just wrong, except perhaps for special speakers like the Gradients that are designed with the room interaction so very much in mind. Similar considerations apply to stereo: In room, most setups do not even have the channels matched closely in overall balance, much less in detail, with the cues that locate the speakers in the room erased.