Several issues ago, I told you about Stein Music’s Harmonizer H2 room treatments—little black cubes with battery-powered crystal circuits inside them, which emit an electromagnetic signal that reduces ambient noise and broadens and deepens the soundstage, better disappearing your loudspeakers. According to the H2’s inventor, Holger Stein, this disappearing act is the result of a physical change in the distribution of air molecules in your listening room. How a set of vibrating crystals could bring about such a change—and why that change would result in a seeming expansion of the soundspace, as if the walls of your listening room had been pushed back several feet—is a mystery that even this old mystery writer can’t fathom. And yet…the thing works.
Comes now another room treatment from Ted Denney, head honcho of Synergistic Research, which effects an even more dramatic lowering of the noise floor and expansion of your listening space, with concomitant changes in ambient acoustics, soundstage/image size and focus, spectral balance, and transient response. Those of you who have attended hi-fi shows across the country—from Newport Beach to New York City—may have already witnessed a demo of Denney’s Atmosphere/UEF Panel and UEF Acoustic Dot system. For those of you who haven’t, here’s what the system comprises and how it is said to work.
The Atmosphere XL4 (the latest Atmosphere with “8 times the power” of the original Atmosphere XL) is a cubical pillar containing electronics, activated by a USB bus, that generate a “two-channel, multiwave” RF signal. This RF signal is said to be “modeled and shaped” to counteract the ambient “man-made and solar” RF that Denney contends degrades the sound of every hi-fi system, particularly during daylight hours—i.e., when the sun is shining. Denney’s reflections on the role that solar disturbances play in creating higher ambient RF are just about as persuasive as Stein’s explanation of how his crystal-filled cubes create denser air in your listening room; nonetheless, like the Stein Harmonizer H2, the Atmosphere is audibly doing something that not only lowers ambient noise but also changes the tonal balance and dispersion pattern of loudspeakers and the sonic signature of the room they are playing in.
Sitting on top of the Atmosphere XL4 is a small cylindrical object called an Atmosphere Tuning Module (ATM). There are two different kinds of ATMs included with the XL4—named “Red” and “Green,” after the color of their bottom plates. The modules rest, unattached, in a circular indentation on the upper surface of the XL4 pillar, and can be interchanged at will.
I have absolutely no idea what is inside either of these devices, or how they work with the active electronics in the pillar. What I do know, and what everyone who has heard them in my room or at shows knows, is that when the Atmosphere XL4 and the ATMs are linked via a free Synergistic Research iPad app to one of six sonic “base scene” programs (“Intimate Acoustic,” “Holographic,” “Grand Canyon,” “Amplified,” “Ethereal,” and “Expansive”—the first three for use with the Green ATM, the second three with the Red ATM), the character of your loudspeaker—its tonal balance, resolution, image focus, soundstage breadth and width and height, transient sharpness, bass definition and impact, etc.—changes, as do the acoustics of your room. What is equally startling—and a little appalling from an observational, much less a scientific point of view—is that these sonic changes are exactly the ones that Denney (or whoever wrote the copy for the iPad app) claims you’ll hear.
For example, here is how Denney describes the sound of the “Amplified” base scene: “Maintain[s] the energy of amplified music with sharp leading edges and powerful dynamics. Ideal for live and studio recordings like rock ’n’ roll, pop, and modern amplified jazz. In the default setting low frequencies are tight and punchy; midrange is immediate with high frequencies that are not overly smooth, or etched. Advanced Settings: ‘Crunchie’ removes any politeness from hard-driving electric guitars, horns, and leading edge transients, leaving nothing but the raw amplified event. ‘Stadium’ opens up the soundfield and is perfect for larger-scale venues.”