Marty’s System – for the best room, slams, bangs, and jumps with DRC

Pipedreams, Spectral DMA 400, JL Gothams

This post aims to direct you to the best approach to set up jump, speed, slam, and the infinite rise during orchestral crescendos without overloading your room

I am an accidental reviewer. My long haul trips started with a flight to New Jersey. On one of the WBF threads, I read that Steve Williams, co-founder and co-owner of WBF, rated Marty’s room as one of the top three he had been in. But Marty had DRC (digital room correction). And then I did not believe in DRC. So why would someone like Steve, with 50 years of audio experience, rate a DRC room? And looking at the pics of Marty’s room, why would he have DRC in such a high quality room in the first place?

The journey that started taught me how easy it is to get my backside on the plane, fly over to challenge my beliefs, and re-learn. After I reached Marty’s in New Jersey, I realized that the level of gear was mixed – some was quite expensive, some was relatively low priced. Spectral DMA 400s, VTL 7.5 MkII, Pipedreams that once retailed at 85k USD and which he had owned for 15 years, and JL Gothams. Not the F112, not the F113, but the big Gothams G213. But the analog was Goldmund Studio, not reference, and the ASR Basis phono. So what made the system sound so much better than its parts?

The key was set up, and getting the fundamentals right. Since that visit I have been to many SMT rooms, a Rives Audio room, and other well treated rooms, but Marty’s room had both size and treatment. Along with Mike Lavigne’s it still is the best room I have been in, showing that size and the planning of the room cannot be beaten. He had an identical room in Texas, which he transported to NJ. He had the most dynamic amps that could address the midbass of the Pipedreams, and giant JL Gothams to address the bass below 80Hz. He used the modded TacT to set the frequency curve, and also adjusted tone with the curves. The TT has been tweaked with a power supply and vibraplane. 

Unlike Mike who sits nearfield, Marty sits outside of the equilateral triangle. In a 35 * 25 room, 7 ft from the front wall to the speakers, 9ft between the speakers, and 14ft from the center line to the seat. Interesting that while most owners put the tweeter array inside as recommended, he swaps the L and R speakers over to have them outside, to generate a much bigger soundstage.

Pipedreams, Spectrals DMA 400, VTL 7.5Mk IIPipedreams, Spectrals DMA 400, VTL 7.5Mk IIPipedreams, Spectrals DMA 400, VTL 7.5Mk IImarty-5

I asked Marty more than a year after this visit:

Marty, you owe the audiophile community an explanation. I have heard systems with subs, I have heard great bass and slam from other speakers. But your speed, slam, and jump – that jump, and bass control, is ten-fold better than what a speaker can achieve on its own. Also there is a rise that happens on orchestral crescendos, where I can see the music rising. I can see a drummer bang away in your system in a circular radius without overloading the room, as if he has the drums set up in a circle rather than in a flat plane, and it appears he is drumming away without fear of making the owner reach for the volume remote. 

Can you, in the interest of audiophilia, experiment with the variables to isolate them as far as possible?

  1. Room – How much of that signature on slam, speed, jump, and that rise, do you see in Russ’ system (a local friend of Marty’s who has Spectrals with JL subs)
  2. How much of that did you have with the VTL Siegfrieds which you had before the Spectrals
  3. Without the TacT curve, but with that CR1, what has changed. I can see other benefits to taking the room correction out, but what about in relation to the above points?
  4. Would that jump still stay if you brought the subs closer to the towers? Does it have anything to do with the distance?
    I can see that it is a combination of things, but would be good to breakdown factors

Marty’s reply is here, and is brilliant, a combination of the subjectivist and the objectivist. A must study for audiophiles

Important to note that since, the TacT broke down, Marty changed to Analog, and then got new JL woofers with JL Audio CR-1 crossover, documented via a link in the above WBF thread. He since repaired the TacT, sold it, and is now getting in new speakers. However, the JL subs and Spectrals are in place. Marty is a concert goer, and tries to get that last bit of dynamic impact and bass in his system that pushes the music over to realism. 

I don’t know if I will be able to address your query satisfactorily, but I’ll try my best. To begin, one good reason I’m not sure I can provide a completely satisfactory response to your query is rather obvious; namely, I’m not of the exact answers myself!

You’ve kindly referred to one aspect of my system in particular that you find compelling, which is that of speed, slam and jump. You also refer to bass control and the failure of the room to overload with orchestral crescendos, much as you’d hear in a good hall. Although these are related, I think they are probably due to different things. The control of the dynamics and failure to overload is probably more a function of the room than anything else. It’s a large room (25 x 35 x 14 =12250 cu ft or about 350 cu meters) that is fairly well damped but not excessively so. In addition, buried behind the fabric of the ceiling alcove (see 2nd pic of the OP) are Helmholtz bass resonators in each corner of the oval that probably account for the good bass control you’ve noted. I think that part of your query is therefore the most easily explained.

Now as far as the speed, slam, jump, I think there are several factors taken together that might help us understand that particular aspect of the system’s performance. The electronics certainly have a good part to do with that. I’m fairly convinced the Spectral 400 amps contribute mightily here because as you rightly assumed, that characteristic was not there to nearly the same degree with the VTL Siefrieds driving the Pipedream towers. If we consider that I crossover the Pipedream towers to the JL Gotham subs at around 82 Hz, and speed, slam, jump was not there in spades with the VTLs but is with the Spectral, this suggests that attribute is derived mainly from reproduction of the midbass and upper bass and not the deep bass which goes mainly through the Gothams. However, the deep bass certainly contributes in part, so I have to give credit to the VTL 7.5III preamp here as well for both its deep bass as well as mid bass performance. Although the VTL has a tube front end, it has a MOSFET output stage that can drive the crap out of anything over any interconnect distance by delivering gobs of current with a low output impedance.

I’ll also share with you at least one I thing that I believe has nothing to do with the speed, slam, jump factor you noted and that is power cables. I spent a year going down that rabbit hole and my results are posted here on WBF. (post 169). In fact, the modestly priced PCs that I am currently using do every bit as fine a job in this department as my previous cables that looked like tree trunks and were priced more like a small car.

At this point, the relative contribution of two additional key factors need to be mentioned. The first, is the issue of time arrival at the listening position between the sound coming from the subs and those of the mains. There is no question this contributes to speed, slam and jump. The second is the relative smoothness of the frequency response from the low bass up through the critical midrange. Let’s talk about time alignment (impulse response) first. This has been discussed at length in some of my other posts; most recently in my comments as it pertains to using DSP correction for timing and crossover function (i.e TacT 2.2 XP) as opposed to an all analog approach using the JL Audio CR-1 crossover. That thread is here on WBF
Not to repeat my thoughts in detail, but the bottom line is this- DSP offers something that no analog crossover can accomplish which is the ability to have the wave fronts from the subs and the mains arrive at the listener position at the same time (if and only if the subs are placed behind the mains) by retarding the timing to the mains by a small increment (i.e. 4-8 msec depending on subwoofer location if placed behind the mains). DSP also allows for a more precise frequency response and careful tuning of the system’s bass frequencies to a level of precision that is to be envied, but may require a great investment in time to achieve. More on that in a minute. That said, what the analog CR-1 crossover delivers is a more transparent and less colored sonic palette most notable in the upper midrange and top end that allows for a easier re-creation of the air of the orchestra, or as I have called it, the orchestra’s penumbra (roughly translated: an area that lies on the edge of something; a fringe; related to, connected to, and implied by, the existence of something else that is necessary for the second thing to be full and complete in its essential aspect). Bottom line, that’s some fancy bullshit way of saying I like the top end of my system better with the CR-1 crossover than with the TacT.

So now let me try to answer the question Ked is getting at- if I think the TacT was so critical to time alignment between the subs and the mains, and if that contributes in a major way to speed, slam, jump, what happened to that precious attribute when I substituted the CR-1 for the TacT? Did my system’s “get up and go” simply “got up and went”? Surprisingly, for the most part, no! Conversely, is it as absolutely spot on as it is with the TacT? Well, no to that as well. However, this is the key- are the benefits worth the liabilities? Did I gain more than I lost by going from a DSP to an analog crossover?

After a few months of listening, I think the answer is a hearty yes. First, its hard to ignore the beautiful benefits of going all analog from the midrange on up, especially when using a turntable. (Yes, I can hear all my good analog LP die hard friends now: OK, so he’s not crazy after all!). But here’s the real shocker. I have had some wonderful conversations on this very issue with JL Audio’s main technical engineer, Barry Ober, who admits that ideally, it would be great if we had a way to retard the timing of the mains to match the subs for perfect time alignment between the two, but concedes that with careful use of the phase control and proper set up of subs, the modest timing error we are talking about would hardly be missed at all by most listeners. He pretty much came right out and said that you’d have to be essentially nuts to even notice the error at all. To which I proudly say: finally, someone understands me!!

But let’s get back to Ked’s inquiry, as there is one final item to be discussed. I may lament my loss of absolutely perfect time alignment between the subs and the mains with the CR-1 crossover, but as Barry Ober said, I don’t think most people would really notice any significant loss of speed, slam and jump at all in my current system. However what I do notice, and what I don’t think requires golden ears to hear, is that simply put, the overall frequency response is just not as smooth as when I could tweak it very precisely with DSP. And so, in order to get back some of what I have lost, I recently sold my Gotham subs and have the Gotham v2’s on order which are due to arrive shortly. What the Gotham v2’s employ is a digital automated EQ system for the woofers that can provide a much flatter response than was possible the original Gothams. Whereas the original Gothams allowed one to dial out the main room resonance frequency, the V2’s allow for a multipoint frequency adjustment that I think will be far closer to what I was able to achieve by using the TacT in conjunction with the original Gotham subs. We shall see. If the changes I anticipate with the Gotham v2’s combined with the level of speed, slam and jump I currently have using the CR-1 crossover offer an overall improvement from what I am experiencing now, I’m sure the smile on my face will be a good one. “

For more detail on why Marty selected Spectrals over VTL Siegfrieds, please read his notes on his own system here

I concur with that view, having myself compared the Spectral DMA 400s with the VTL S400 on the Wilson Alexandria XLF

The above link also details the whole previous set up, and many links you can follow to other  Marty musings. 

I heard this system a second time a year later. Marty is now replacing his speakers, and it will be very interesting to hear, after they are fully set up, how a non-DRC  system does, albeit with a different speaker in such a magnificent room.


1 Comment on "Marty’s System – for the best room, slams, bangs, and jumps with DRC"

  1. marty says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written comments. My only comment pertaining to sitting “outside the triangle”, is that my experience for years has always been that is often the case with line arrays in comparison to speakers with more standard driver configurations. Whether this is due to simple horizontal plane power radiation of the drivers in a line array or other factors, I cannot say. The important thing is the end result. Do you achieve a believable sound stage or not? I’m sure there are many ways to get there as you have surely heard by listening to other superb systems such as Mike’s and Steve’s. (Setting up the new mystery speaker is a project that is unfortunately taking far longer than I anticipated, but I hope to have something worth listening to eventually!)

    I’ll say it again- Ked, you really are the Anthony Boudain of the audiophile world. Keep those reports coming as you continue to rack up your frequent flyer mileage. 🙂

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