We now offer the Stereo Everywhere option, which is signified by an SE in the model name. This converts the Valentina A8 into perhaps the ultimate expression of what this loudspeaker is capable of.
For those who are already familiar with both directive and omnidirectional sound, there's not much to explain. This is the most practical and cost-efficient route to getting both without sacrificing the electrostatic's unsurpassed clarity and vision into the recording, yet remaining able to switch instantly between omnidirectional dispersion and the controlled dispersion that JansZens have always been known for.
To the standard A8 we add:
All A8's have three presets that can be selected using the remote. Whereas the presets on the standard A8 are calibrated to compensate for a range of wall distances, the SE replaces two of the presets with omnidirectional presentation selections. All three presets are calibrated for placement at a 20" [50 cm] distance from the front wall in a small to medium sized room. In large rooms, the speakers may simply be placed closer to the front wall to compensate.
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.
When switching between modes from the sweet spot, you'll notice omni operation adds a sense of air around the center image. Among other benefits, this takes the stereo image of a dryly recorded, overly close singer or instrument and moves it out into the room.
It also expands the soundstage heard from the sweet spot to include the whole room. In addition, it widens the sweet spot and lets you stand up and walk around while retaining some of the stereo imaging and most of the treble, whereas the directive mode is primarily for seated listening.
The main benefit, however, comes with the Concert Mode preset, which we developed for music lovers who want the closest thing possible to attending a live concert when seated at home.
In addition to the front facing electrostatics and cone woofers, there's one full range driver 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 fairly uniformly in all directions.
You get three forms of sound presentation:
Direct: Front emission only; maximal rejection of room acoustics; intimate presentation
Linear Omni: Side and rear drivers tailored to flat frequency response, with the frontal sound modified to retain our target frequency response in the sweet spot
Concert Mode: Side and rear drivers tailored to match the lateral frequency response of Boston Symphony Hall, with the frontal sound modified to retain our target frequency response in the sweet spot
Our target frequency response accounts for how a microphone records sound equally from all directions, but in the midrange, our ears hear sound more loudly from the sides than the front. This target response eliminates the extra brightness of a truly flat frequency response which makes the sound more true to the sound of live musical instruments.
To prevent image blur, despite the added local ambience, there's a very brief delay applied to the indirect sound. This practically eliminates the blurring that is common to passive omnidirectional speakers. It works by giving the ear time to locate the positions of the instruments in the stereo image before the omni sound arrives, much as in a performance venue. A cymbal tap remains the width of a drumstick tip, and a cello remains the width of a cello.
In case you're wondering how drivers that only produce sound from 200 Hz up can be effective at generating omnidirectional sound, the sound from the woofers is emitted across at least 180° at 200 Hz, and by 100 Hz is omnidirectional, so adding more side and rear sound below 200 Hz wouldn't have been helpful.
In the late Winter of 2020, one long time Valentina owner decided to replace his Valentinas with omnidirectional speakers. I wondered, how could this be? Why would someone ever prefer a sonic gestalt that's the complete opposite of what he's liked for years, and which 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, although the imaging suffered.
Then I added an outboard delay unit for a quick try, and found that the image degradation was nearly eliminated by delaying the indirect sound very briefly.
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.
Initially, the two omnidirectional modes were going to be for different sized rooms, but after months of noodling on this, I got the idea of tailoring the indirect sound in one mode to match a large hall, preferably one that's internationally renowned. When I tested this out, along with a little bit longer delay, I wound up enjoying it for all sorts of live acoustic music, not just orchestral, although it does really shine with orchestral recordings. The Linear Omni mode seems to work best for popular music, especially when is seems to have been recorded for headphone playback.
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 music lovers. Their preferences tended to match mine, and were pretty strong, so that was that -- it would be a production item. Mode selection using the remote makes it easy to get any of the three presentations in real time, with only about a half second of silence in between.
BTW, initially, I was going to use tweeters for the indirect sound, but they didn't sound terribly good, and only really went down to 800 Hz without distortion. I spent a month evaluating many of what should have been suitable full range drivers, and found only one that was good enough not to wreck the sound of the electrostatics. It's also pretty -- a 3.5" driver with a white cone and black dust cap.
Indeed, until now, the JansZen brand has been a strong proponent of controlled dispersion. The main purpose is to minimize local ambiance, while leaving enough of it to avoid the sense that the center image is inside your head, as happens with headphones. By letting recorded ambiance predominate, this tends to create a convincing you-are-at-the-venue experience. Secondarily, less room space is required than for dipoles.
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 recordings 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 to which tracks.
Most studios work with wide dispersion monitors during the mastering process. These produce local ambiance in the mastering room, deadened though these rooms tend to be. It's sensible for mastering engineers to assume that similar local ambiance will be again present during playback, because playback is usually done on similarly wide dispersion speakers. This affects their decisions about how much reverberation to add. If the mastering engineer's studio ambiance is missing during playback, however, the center image in particular can feel overly intimate and unrealistically dry.
Omnidirectional loudspeakers not only present the expected local ambiance, but add a sense that the space is both copious and natural that's missing from merely wide dispersion speakers. So . . . we have adapted to this not-so-new reality, at least partially.