We now offer the Stereo Everywhere option, which is signified by the 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 in one speaker design, without sacrificing the electrostatic's unsurpassed clarity and vision into the recording. In addition, you can switch instantly between omnidirectional dispersion and the controlled dispersion that JansZens have always been known for.
To the standard A8, each speaker gets:
All standard 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 of the speaker's rear corner at 20" [50 cm] 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, most of which radiate sound in all directions. 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 appropriate for seated listening.
We tailored the two omnidirectional presets specifically for music lovers who want the closest thing possible to attending a live concert when seated at home. We call it Concert Mode Listening. More about that in a bit.
In addition to the electrostatics and cone woofers in front, there's a nearly full range driver on each of the other three sides (200 Hz cutoff). Since woofing is inherently omnidirectional, sound is thus emitted fairly uniformly in all directions. These are driven together by a third amplifier in each cabinet.
You get two forms of sound presentation that are completely different from one another, yet both will immerse you in the clarity, detail, and nuance that only electrostatics can provide:
First is the usual JansZen presentation of relatively directive sound, with controlled dispersion out to about ten degrees in each direction off axis -- plenty of width for a comfortable sweet area. This preset gives you high rejection of room acoustics and thus a most intimate presentation, thanks to freedom from the distraction of local room reverberancy. This is the ultimate you-are-there experience.
The second is Concert Mode Omni presentation, which is in some sense the opposite of what we've always been about. The sound from the side and rear drivers is tailored to match the lateral frequency response of Boston Symphony Hall, and the frontal sound is modified to retain our target frequency response in the sweet area.
Our target frequency response is flat, except not quite. It 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. When a speaker's response is flat, this can sound harsh or overly bright.
Our target response reduces the perceived extra brightness of a truly flat frequency response, and this makes the sound more true to the sound of live musical instruments. In particular, if you've decided that you'll just have to tolerate stridency in many violin recordings, well, you can decide again. And maybe you've visited rooms at audio shows and thought, "Why are all these rooms so bright?" Now you know.
To prevent image blur, despite the added local ambience, there's a brief delay applied to the indirect sound, just a few thousandths of a second. This practically eliminates the image blurring that is common to passive omnidirectional speakers. It works by giving the ear time to lock onto the the instruments in the stereo image before the omni sound arrives, much as in a live 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, widening with deceasing frequency, and by 100 Hz is completely omnidirectional, so adding more side and rear sound below 200 Hz wouldn't have been helpful.
In the late Winter of 2020, a long-time Valentina owner decided to replace his Valentinas with omnidirectional speakers. I wondered, how could this be? Why would someone suddenly prefer a sonic gestalt that's practically the opposite of what he's liked for years, and which we Janszens been basing all nearly our 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 was blurred.
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. I even tried adding reverberation that supposedly mimicked large halls, but that just sounded artificial, so it was a big no thanks to that.
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 difference when adding ambient sound was so obvious that the speed of A/B comparisons was more or less immaterial.
Initially, the two omnidirectional modes were going to be for different sized rooms, then for Flat Omni vs. Concert Mode, and finally for two amounts of added ambient sound. This last arrangement applies to suiting different sized rooms or differently well damped rooms, namely with different amounts of sound absorption from rugs, furniture, or treatments.
When I tested this out, I wound up enjoying it myself for all sorts of live acoustic music, not just large venue orchestral and chamber, although it does really shine with orchestral recordings. The Flat Omni mode, intended for popular music and music that seemed to have been recorded for headphone playback, didn't sound any better than Concert Mode for these types of recording, so I saw no reason to include it, and instead have provided two-level adaptability to room acoustics.
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 very good, and only really went down to 800 Hz without distortion. I spent a month evaluating many drivers, any of which should have been suitable full range drivers, but found only one was smooth and flat enough to compliment the sound of the electrostatics. It's also a pretty little thing -- a 3.5" driver with a well damped, soft, white, fiberglass cone and black rubber dust cap. We can make the cones black, though, if you'd prefer.
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.
Acoustical music 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 there are other types of recordings that 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 at-home playback, because most people own 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 (a.k.a., in your face) and unrealistically dry.
Omnidirectional loudspeakers present the expected local ambiance, and also add a sense that the space is both copious and natural, which is missing from merely wide dispersion speakers. So . . . we have adapted to this not-so-new reality, at least partially. And we combat the image blurring problem of normal omni's by delaying the ambient sound.