If you have been following the story of Steve Smyth and his "Smyth Virtual Surround (SVS)" product (as well as my threads on the forum regarding progress in bringing it to market) for years, the long awaited arrival of the product has occurred.
In fact, I am now the proud owner of "serial #00001" of the Realiser A8 Headphone System! I drove to their offices today and paid my money!
Not having any 5.1 loudspeaker system of my own (I have been listening to things through Stax headphones and a Pioneer DIR-SE1000C Dolby Headphone processor for years) they were kind enough to let me calibrate (i.e. "personalize") my system using their demonstration room equipment. Recording the results on SD flash card (for backup) and storing in "preset 1" of the unit allows me to bring it back to my own home and recreate the precise sound of their demonstration room to my own ears.
I brought up my own Stax Omega-1 headphones and SRM-T1S amp, because I intend to use this equipment in lieu of the entry-level Stax 2020 system which comes included as part of the retail SVS system. So the calibration/personalization process included my own Omega-1 headphones instead of the 202.
And this brings me to the most amusing moment of the day... at what I thought was a next step in the calibration process. The Omega-1 headphones are "open-air electrostatic" and consequently you can pretty much hear everything in the room around you. Well the calibration process sends sweep signals to each of the various speakers individually, and as the process proceeded I thought I was still hearing those real loudspeakers all around me. I was waiting for the next step, I thought, which would be the playing of sound through the headphones (to be measured by the two calibration microphones which had been imbedded deep into my ear canals).
Well when the process stopped, or seemed to stop, I turned to Steve and asked him what I had just been listening to and what was next. He said I been listening to my headphones, not the loudspeakers!!! I could absolutely not believe this!
In other words, not only was the spatial cueing and 3D-sensation through the headphones precisely localized to duplicate the sound of the actual loudspeakers on the floor around me, but the equalization job performed by the process that made the sound played through the headphones EQUAL IN LOUDNESS to the loudspeakers themselves was so perfect that I absolutely could not tell I had been listening to my headphones!!!
Now I don't recall having that same sensation of a "perfect match" a few months back when I first had a demonstration, but using the 202 headphones and matching entry-level amp. Perhaps I'm so familiar with the sound of my Omega-1 and SRM-T1S amp that something came out different during today's episode. I really can't explain it, but the results were seemingly absolute perfection.
Essentially I had the 5.1 physical loudspeakers of the room conveyed perfectly to me through the headphones... as an exact duplicate. It's really unbelievable, and can only be truly appreciated by firsthand experience.
Now if you've been following this product for years as I have you know all about its essential functional design:
(a) 8 analog inputs (expected to be fed from the preamp output of an external receiver/decoder, as the box does not have any Dolby/DTS decoder software internal to it), which can support from 1 to 8 speakers. So it can support simple 2-speaker stereo, or 5.1/6.1/7.1 arrangements.
(b) 8 analog outputs, for pass-through to an amplifier (for listening to the loudspeakers attached to the amplifier if you want to bypass the headphones)
(c) head tracker, mounted to the top of your headphone band and which has an IR emitter picked up by a receptor that sits on top of your TV/PC screen; this combination allows the processor to sense when your head has turned left or right, as it then influences the sound presented to the left and right headphones so as to convince your brain that your head has rotated in the loudspeaker field.
Incidentally, the head tracker mechanism can be disabled so that when you rotate your head the speakers essentially rotate with you... as if they were mounted on poles emanating horizontally from your head (as is the case with normal Dolby Headphone). This is actually not what happens in the real world of external loudspeakers when you turn your head and your brain hears things differently and accepts this as the result of the head rotation, but it can be done if you want.
(d) appropriate cables, cords, extension cords, calibration microphones, ear pads (to wrap around the microphones), etc., to accomplish "personalization"
(e) SD flash card (and reader on the unit) for storing backup of all files, including unlimited personalizations which can be selected by the unit's menu and written into any of the four selectable presets
(f) full-function remote to control all setup and normal operation functions, including digital amplifier (e.g. typical setting at -20db) for "preamp" volume control out to the headphone amp (which has its own separate volume control).
(g) firmware updates enabled through SD flash card reader
(h) built-in charger on the unit for the head-tracker emitter gizmo that sits on top of your headphone band
I could go on and on, providing detail specs, pictures, etc., but if you're reading this thread you probably have a pretty good previous acquaintance with the concept here. And I'm sure that the Smyth web site (when finally finished) will provide much more in the way of useful information and photos than I could or need to.
If you'd like to buy one of these for yourself, or get more information, please contact Lorr Kramer (VP of North American Operations) via email at this address
. He requested email contact instead of phone because they're a small operation and frequently away from the office.
But the bottom line is that THIS EQUIPMENT IS NOW READY FOR RETAIL PURCHASE!!! They have an actual supply in their office (at least 20 units I believe) and can ship immediately.
All you need to own one is $3K.
Again... you will need a real loudspeaker system room environment in which to do your own calibration/personalization (which does not work with anybody else... since it reflects YOUR OWN EARS). If you don't own one, go to a friend (or stereo store) and borrow theirs. You won't let them hear the results for themselves using your personal calibration, but you can certainly let them do their own calibration and then listen for themselves. They'll likely be stunned. But agian, you will need real loudspeakers to do this.
And if you're a headphone listener, I am telling you this is the holy grail. And for someone like me, who has no 5.1 high-end loudspeaker system (and can't, because of my apartment building), it's really what I've always wanted.
NOTE 1: I confirmed with Steve that there IS a way to do the calibration using just one single speaker, moving it around the room to the appropriate locations, pausing and resuming the calibration process as you proceed. It's actually anticipated (but not really encouraged) that this might be the calibration method.
NOTE 2: I inserted my DBX 14/10 EQ between the SVS unit and the Stax headphone amp, to apply tone control to the 2-channel L/R processed output that was being provided to my headphones. I was relieved to observe that the neutrality of my EQ resulted in zero effect on the spatial nature of what I heard. Pushing EQ on/flat repeatedly I could clearly hear the difference in tonal quality of the music I was listening to (an Eagles concert DVD), but no difference at all in where the sound was coming from. I mention this because I still wanted to use my EQ for tone control, and was concerned it would interfere in some way with the SVS output. Turns out my fears were unwarranted.
NOTE 3: Not having a real loudspeaker system of my own, I've now purchased a modestly priced Onkyo TX-SR706B receiver. This unit supports all the latest HD codecs, HDMI 1.3, etc. and I'm really going to be using it simply as an external DD/DTS decoder with 7.1 analog preamp output to feed the SVS unit as expected. The 706 thread has lots of commentary, but it all relates to loudspeaker operation, etc. and I'm only going to be using it as my decoder/preamp. Thus I don't expect to have any of the problems noted by all of those 706 owners.
NOTE 4: I'm going to look into finding a high-end audio store that will let me "borrow/rent" their high-end listening room with zillion dollar equipment, to bring my little SVS box along and do another personalization in that high-end listening environment. I'll also let them do one for themselves, so they can appreciate the device and what it can provide, namely "teleportation of any listening environment to anywhere else, via headphones". That way I would be able to "bring back" the sound of that zillion dollar equipment to my own home.