The Smyth Realiser A-8 or How I Learned to Love Virtualization, Part 2

The Smyth Realiser A-8 or How I Learned to Love Virtualization, Part 2

The Smyth Realiser arrives as a bundle  that includes the A-8, headtracker modules, Stax SR-202 headphones and driver unit and the necessary connectors and cabling.

So what’s the difference between the Realiser and the Dolby headphone jack I have on my audio-video receiver? And what about that nifty loudspeaker setup program and microphone that came with the AVR? Aren’t these features effectively doing similar things? Good Questions. And the short answer is, not by a long shot!

Dolby Headphone does create an emulation of surround and attempts to widen the perspective outward so that the information is not planted in the center of the listeners skull but the effect is general virtualization, it doesn’t use any known space nor is it optimized for a specific user. And if you move your head the entire “virtual room” shifts accordingly–the most annoying aspect of headphone use.
I’ll grant you that the room calibration and setup feature that is often bundled with today’s AVRs can be enormously sophisticated, think Audyssey. However the majority of these are convenience programs that ask the user to place a microphone at the primary listening position and hit “start” and are designed to  release the user from measuring speaker distances to the listening couch and setting gain or in some instances EQ levels.

What the Smyth Realiser does is reproduce a known system (yours or anyone elses) in a known listening room. It permits natural head movements while retaining precise localization of each speaker in the system. For example, say you're listening to a dialogue heavy scene. Typically most information is coming from the center channel. With a normal setup and headphones that center image will move in the direction that your head swivels, an unnatural situation that doesn’t occur watching a movie in any “real” theater.  In fact the entire multichannel soundstage will shift away from the screen. With the Realiser, that same center channel ( and every other speaker) remains physically planted in the exact location where the system physically exists– for a center chanel that would mean most typically behind a perforated screen or above or below a flat panel display– and there it will be, just like in life.

Beyond it’s computational power, the reason the Realiser does what it does so well is due to the way it gathers its data. Rather than place a microphone on a tripod at the “so called” listening position, the Smyth Realiser package comes with a pair of ultra small microphones (Picture 1) that are inserted like ear buds into the users ear–not unlike producing binaural recording. When the remote controlled calibration setup begins (Picture 2), the microphones are not only gathering informatioin about the system/room character but also much more specific information about head movement and how your head and ear structure are affecting the incoming test signals sweeping through the speaker system. The last leg of the process has the user don the Stax headphones (pictured) over the earbud mikes and measurements are made that analyse the relationship of the headphone’s interior “soundstage” and the user’s outer ear or pinna. Two memory files are created–one for the room/system and another specific to that headphone/user interface.  The final results are completely personalized for that listener.

Virtually any number of rooms/systems can be placed into the Realiser’s memory files.  For example, if you had a small room system but really admired the sound of a friend’s much larger system, you could simply take the Smyth Realiser over to his or her’s home, sit in the sweetspot and in a few minutes take that system home and listen to it whenever you had the urge. Up to 30 memory room locations and 30 headphone files for different headphones are available plus an SD card slot for further expansion. Essentially unlimited.

During listening head movements are tracked (every nine milliseconds) via the small, rechargeable “head tracker” modules that sit within sight of each other, one mounted atop the headphones and the other clipped onto the top of a flat panel display is typical.  Further applications and my listening impressions will be in Part 3.