Sooo . . . what do parenting, feral humans, and magic have to do with a deeply satisfying listening experience? Honestly, it's just a romantic notion, and because to me, music is all heart, no brain, there's at least a loose connection there. Also, in one of his reviews of JansZen speakers, Robert E. Greene of The Absolute Sound did write about our speakers that, "There's magic in those boxes."
At any rate, the photo you just clicked shows a glimpse of my (David Janszen's) latest creation, the Valentina A8-SE. This compact floorstander includes something special and unusual in addition to being an advanced, non-dipole, active, electrostatic hybrid.
It can be switched from presenting a direct, you-are-there experience to an omnidirectional musicians-are-here experience at the press of a button on the remote control. And one of the omni modes has a feature that practically recreates the sound in Boston Symphony Hall in any typical room.
As a matter of background, if you're unfamiliar with our long pioneering brand, JansZen specializes uniquely in electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers optimized for playback in normal rooms. Physicist Arthur Janszen invented and successfully marketed via JansZen Laboratory the first practical electrostatic speaker in the mid-1950's.
Consequently I, his son David, understand the arcane details required to maximize the naturalness and transparency of this superior means of making sound, and to do so without dominating the room aesthetically. And I think electrostatics are the most transparent way of reproducing music not just because I loved my dad. They really are. Physics and ears agree.
What is pictured here is a pair of Valentina A8, but with the new Stereo Everywhere option, signified by the SE in the model name and the little white driver on every side. This option enhances the Valentina A8 into the ultimate expression of what a JansZen loudspeaker is capable of.
The basic speakers are compact at about 1m [39"] tall, yet the soundstage floats above them. In this example, the baffles and bases are solid maple. Also available are solid walnut, cherry and ash.
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 two rather wildly different types of presentation from one speaker, and without sacrificing the electrostatic's unsurpassed clarity and vision into the recording.
With these unique loudspeakers, you can switch instantly between omnidirectional dispersion and the controlled dispersion that JansZens have always been known for. Why switch? I don't know. Mood? Type of recording? Type of music?Just for fun? Your decide.
To the standard A8 we add:
All Valentina 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 in the omni modes makes the speakers operate similarly to live instruments in a large room. As a matter of musical listening taste, this provides a more convincing musicians-are-in-the-room 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 for concert goers, however, comes with the Concert Mode preset, which we developed for music lovers who want the closest thing possible to attending a live concert while seated comfortably 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 that could be caused by 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.The delay also makes your room feel larger than it is.
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, it's omnidirectional. Adding more side and rear sound below 200 Hz wouldn't have been helpful, since the woofers already take care of that.
In the late Winter of 2020, one long time Valentina owner decided to replace his Valentinas with omnidirectional speakers. I wondered, how can this be? Why would someone 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 forever?
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 kicking around to check whether the sound would be ruined by adding omnidirectional emission, and it wasn't, although the imaging certainly suffered.
Then I added an outboard delay unit for a quick try, and found that the image blur was nearly eliminated by a very brief delay of the indirect sound.
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 seriously noodling on this, and reading a forum where large hall ambiance was being discussed, I got the idea of tailoring the indirect sound in one of the two omni modes 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. It happens that the 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 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 based on specs, and found only one that nifty little 3.5" unit 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 still makes sense for a wide range of recordings, depending on taste.
On the other hand, starting quite a long time ago, many recordings have been engineered in a way meant to be played back on speakers that create plenty of local ambiance. It took losing a customer for me to finally get the idea that people might not only like the clarity of an electrostatic, but at the same time also enjoy considerable local ambiance.
One big 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, generally 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 if the indirect sound is delayed, as with JansZens, they add a sense that the space is both copious and natural. This something that's missing from merely wide dispersion speakers. So . . . we have adapted to this not-so-new reality, and gone well beyond expectation.
If you've read this far, thanks for your fortitude and attention. Please explore the rest of the site for more about the active interface, how electrostatics work, other models, our long history, and what makes JansZen speakers special.