Option, Sound Everywhere

We now offer the Sound Everywhere option, which is signified by an SE in the model name.

For those who are already familiar with omnidirectional sound, there's not much to explain. This option is how to get it, while remaining able to switch over to the usual JansZen, controlled dispersion operation at the touch of your remote.

What it sounds like

In short, the addition of plentiful local ambiance makes the speakers operate similarly to live instruments. As a matter of musical listening taste, this provides a more convincing musicians-are-here experience.

Technically, when switching between modes from the sweet spot, you'll notice omni operation adds a realistic illusion of air around the center image, and expands the soundstage to include the whole room. It also widens the sweet spot and lets you stand up and walk around without losing the treble spectrum.

What's lost in this mode is the sense of intimacy and the conservation of recorded venue ambiance that puts you in the performance hall, but you can get that back any time with the remote.

How it works

The system comprises three silk ring-dome tweeters on each speaker, in addition to the front facing electrostatics. There's one tweeter on each of the two sides, and one in back. These are driven together by a third amplifier in each cabinet. Sound is thus emitted in all directions, namely omnidirectionally.

The additional amplifier is what makes it possible for you to control whether the tweeters are on or not using the remote control. You get three settings: direct-only, small room omni, and medium-to-large room omni. For our part, the extra amplifier and DSP lets us tailor the sound of the SE tweeters and the electrostatics, so that when the SE tweeters are on, the frequency response in the sweet spot is unaffected. 

You might initially doubt that using only tweeters to add the off-axis sound will be effective, but here's how that works:

Firstly, the tweeters are producing sound down to 500 Hz, which is the same as the crossover frequency of the electrostatics. Secondly, the woofers produce at least 180° dispersion where they take over below 500 Hz. With the the woofers already producing at least 180° sound and the extra tweeters wrapping the treble around the speakers, full spectrum sound is thus available throughout the area ahead of the speakers. Of course, the spectrum isn't flat behind the speakers, but hey.

What inspired this

In the late Winter of 2020, one long time Valentina owner decided to replace his Valentinas with omnidirectional speakers. I (David Janszen) wondered, how could this be? Why would someone prefer the complete opposite sonic gestalt of what he's liked for years, and that I've been basing all my designs on?

Of course, being how I am, I didn't ask this person, or even think of asking. I set out to hear it for myself.

First, I ginned up an apparatus with some wide-range tweeters we had lying around to check whether the sound would be ruined by adding omnidirectional emission, and it wasn't. Then I wanted to characterize the difference using instant A/B comparisons.

The experiment was made relatively straightforward by creating a special pair Valentina A8. Once I ironed out the peculiarities of what happens to the frequency response, it turned out that the differences were so obvious that the speed of A/B comparisons was unimportant.

For the most part, studio-made recordings like pop/rock/blues/hip-hop/country/dance sounded better with the extra tweeters engaged. Two mic and binaural live acoustic recordings sounded good both ways, but different. The direct sound mode provided more of a you-are-there experience, and the SE mode provided more of a musicians-are-here experience.

Then I had to decide whether it was a big enough improvement to offer as an option on the speakers, so I played it for some other people. They tended to prefer it for some recordings, and not others, as did I. This meant that it had to be selectable, or the speakers would be holding back a good portion of listening experiences.

Why do this, when it goes against 65 years of JansZen tradition?

For many decades, our brand has been a strong proponent of controlled dispersion. The purpose is to minimize local ambiance, while leaving enough to avoid the sense that the center image is inside your head, as happens with headphones. By letting recorded ambiance predominate, this creates a convincing you-are-there experience.

When played back on the Valentinas as they were originally designed, classical, jazz, folk, and other live recordings are impressively immersive, intimate, and natural sounding.

This was the only type of recording that was available when JansZen was founded in 1955, and the approach continued to make sense as long as this was the type of music people were listening to. Things changed quite a long time ago, though, and it took losing a customer for me to finally get the idea that other types of recording might benefit from more local ambiance.

The difference is that popular music recordings tend to be mixed from tracks that are performed individually in an acoustically deadened sound booth, or are recorded direct from a synthesizer or instrument pickup. The original sound is thus bone dry.

Reverberation is added electronically at a later point in the production process. This presents recording engineers with a difficult decision about how much and what type of reverb to add.

Most studios work with wide dispersion monitors during the mixing process. These produce local ambiance in the mixing room. It's sensible to assume that similar local ambiance will be again present during playback, because playback is usually done on similarly wide dispersion speakers. This affects the decisions about how much reverberation to add. If the engineer's studio ambiance is missing during playback, however, the center image in particular can feel overly intimate and unrealistically dry.