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 Jim Bookhard's visit to TuneVilla

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Michael Green
Michael Green

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Join date : 2009-09-12
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Jim Bookhard's visit to TuneVilla Empty
PostSubject: Jim Bookhard's visit to TuneVilla   Jim Bookhard's visit to TuneVilla Icon_minitimeTue Apr 16, 2019 10:30 pm

Jim Bookhard's visit to TuneVilla M2085

Jim Bookhard Visits The Tune

Below is a copy of a review I wrote about my experiences with the Tunable Room which I visited whille Michael was in Ohio. This review was written on September 20,1999. While the Tunable Room construction has undergone many changes since that time, including the latest "wooden" version pictured above, my comments in this review are still applicable and relevant:


For the entire past week, 9-11 thru 9-18, I had the opportunity to visit the MGD facility in New Philadelphia, Ohio, primarily (I thought) to experience the Tunable Room which is installed at the facility. What I found though was very disillusioning. Nothing at the MGD facility was even close to what I expected, except their commitment to reproducing music at it's finest. If you walk around the grounds or through the facility, the first thing you notice is that there is classical music playing, at a low level, continuously 24 hours a day, around the clock. The music is just background music, creating a pleasant atmosphere for the entire facility, and is not for breaking in any new speakers.

I was given a tour of the grounds which consists ground breaking for the new construction of a tunable open air amphitheater which will seat about 2,000 attendees, a variably tunable recording studio for recording, mix down and media production in it's own separate facility, administrative offices for staff, the next generation variably Tunable Room (it will differ in technology than the current room described here, but is a logical progression upward from the current technology in use and actually does not obsolete the current technology). A wild life preservation area is also mapped out for local and imported wild life. The local area's wild life seem to have an instinctive level of comfort here, because if you just observe, you will notice that any animals roaming around on the property (deer, raccoons, birds, rabbits, etc.), have little to no concern for the "humans" they encounter while they are moving about and will actually come quite close to you with no apparent fear of danger from people.

The most disillusioning, but enlightening, part of my visit was simply observing the MGD staff go about their daily routine. I thought the facility would totally revolve around the Tunable Room, with this as the main area of interest and attention. On the contrary, I found that this room is actually more a part of the company's R & D than what I thought would be primarily a demo room for audiophiles. I was there from a Saturday to a Saturday (flying is cheaper on Saturdays) and what I saw was a staff that was constantly busy working on commercial (not retail audio nor audiophile) projects for recording studios, various types of performance centers, music schools, musical instrument companies, CAD applications running on two computers, a staff constantly passing pieces of a project back and forth depending on a particular staff member's expertise and a work schedule that started about 8 AM and ended every night I was there until 10 or 11 PM (there were actually two nights I stayed until 1:30 AM with the staff there).

I thought I would find a manufacturing facility concerned with wholesale and retail orders, inventory management, etc., but it was quite the contrary. The activities in the previous paragraph dominated the work day. It was almost as if audiophiles, who called on their hot line, were given courtesy treatment and servicing their orders or answering their questions a "break" from their normal daily routines. One evening I was there at midmight; the phone rang and one of the staff members went over and answered an inquiring customer's quesitons! They did have a retail operation at one time, but that has been shut down due to the growth of commercial projects which dominate the better part of every day and the amount of out of town travel involved in these projects. It was amazing to see them go through a process of selection of acoustical "danpening/isolating/" techniques and materials (i.e., floating an entire room) for a commercial application (usually MGD is only associated with mechanical grounding techniques, but this is not the case -- they apply the technique which the application requires).

After meeting all of the staff and Michael Green, I was first shown the area under the floor of the Tunable Room so that I could observe the construction and the "surgery" the staff was performing on the In Floor variable tuning devices -- they were drilling out holes in the tuning mechanisms which grip under the floor joists to reduce the mass in the aluminum. Between each adjacent floor joist, threaded rods (with tension bolts on either side of each joist) were placed. There were so many, in a staggered pattern, that I could not count all of them -- suffice to say there were more than 50. Then, I was led upstairs into the Tunable Room and this was the most disillusioning part of my visit. First, I expected to see ("hear") a room which would be "neutral" sounding, but what I heard and saw was a room which in fact "APPEARED" to echo. But, as I have learned subsequently, this room did not echo. All it was doing was telling me the natural harmonics of the room itself. An "echo" is a sound that continues after you finish talking -- in this room, the sound stopped immediately after talking. To top this, the room was rather "squarish" in dimensions -- about 12 ½ feet wide by l6 feet long by about 8 feet high. I didn't think that this room could possibly produce "Great" sound and I don't think any audiophile nor acoustician nor reviewer would either. The room walls and ceiling are composed of sheet rock and OSB (but I can't describe the technique for preparation due to non disclosure and proprietary techniques). The floor was bare, finished wood with a small centrally located area rug consisting of polyester with a woven fiber core -- the only reason I know this is because I asked. There was only one (inexpensive) leather chair with an open bottom ottoman for the listening position (I was told this particular chair was one of many that were tested and it "sounded" the best in the room and sells for less than $100! On each side wall, I counted six In Wall Tuners and six additional In Wall Tuners across the front wall. The rear wall (behind the listener) contained an oddly shaped pattern which encircled the listener's head area and consisted of 8 In Wall Tuners installed in a symmetrical pattern. In the ceiling, there were six In Wall Tuners. These In Wall Tuners are designed to mount between the studs (I believe "16 on Center", but I know little about construction and have just started learning its terminology the past three years or so). In the floor, there were 5 In Floor Tuners which mount between and grip under two adjacent floor joists. Once the Tuners are installed throughout the room, all you see is a nice shiny brass wall plate with a central round cutout for the brass tuning bolt. If any of you have the MGD PZCs, then it will be easy for you to understand how these In Wall and In Floor Tuners work, because an entire wall, ceiling or floor section becomes the tuning board through the adjustment of the bolts. In addition, there was a full array of Corner, Mini Echo (vertical and horizontal) PZCs mounted in the corners of the room. At the front of the room, there were two Floor Standing 48 inch tall PZCs forming a "V" with the pointed end of the "V" facing the listening position. I asked Michael Green what the purpose was the these Floor Standing PZCs and he told me that it was to "build up energy" in that area of the soundstage. The speakers in the room were the MGD Chameleons with their outboard crossover racks. All equipment is in an adjacent room.

Now comes the oddest speaker placement I've ever witnessed. If you could imagine the speakers being about 15 inches from each side wall of a 12 ½ foot wide room, very (very) slightly toed in, with the mid point of the plane of the drivers only about 4 to five feet from my head at the listening position! That leaves about 10 feet plus from the drivers to the front wall of the room. I had no idea as to what to expect in terms of sound, but everyone (but me) left the room and Michael played Sarah McLachlan's "Angel". Even though there are a minimum of instruments on this recording, what I heard was the development of the largest, deepest, most coherent soundstage I have ever experienced from an audio reproduction system. Sarah was clearly centrally focused along the front wall, while the accompanying piano produced the harmonics of a live piano as close to live as I have ever heard a piano being played. Also, the piano was located at the rear (near me) of the room, in front of me, to each side of me, above me, behind me, and below me. It was pretty obvious that they had placed an omni directional mike right inside the piano. As other instruments played, you could clearly hear them in their respective parts of the room and soundstage. There wasn't even the slightest hint that speakers were even in the room! The harmonic structures were so real that it was just like you were a part of the performance. After hearing the entire song, Michael reappeared in the room and asked what I liked, what I wanted changed and how I wanted it changed. I told him that I would like to have Sarah's voice more focused and some of the piano energy removed from overhead. Michael made the adjustments with an Allen wrench in about a minute and replayed the same song. And, just like I wanted, Sarah's voice was so well focused and "real" that I could not have asked for more in a vocal recording. On the other hand, the harmonics, that were so "live" and full that were created the first time, diminished slightly. While Michael and I and his staff discussed why this change in harmonics, other members of the staff were busy removing the In Floor Tuners in their project of finding the optimum amount of mass for them to resonate to produce the precise sound (accurate) that they were seeking.

While the Tuners were cooling from the drilling out procedure, Michael held an impromptu staff meeting to discuss the next phase of their ever on going "work in progress" on their technology. I was told that I would be welcome to sit in and I did. What I was not told was that I was going to be asked specific questions for candid answers. They video tape each step of their R & D efforts to keep a record of progress, procedures and results. I was asked if I thought that the technology that I just heard (which has been readily received by the music and now, recording industries), would be accepted in the audiophile community. My answer was direct and to the point -- NO! I gave this answer not because audiophiles are unable to comprehend the technology nor because they would just reject it out of hand, but because describing the phenomena I had just heard in that listening room was as difficult as describing any human emotion to someone who had not experienced such an emotion (or even to those who have). How do you describe love, sex, sadness, joy, a musical note being created? These are things to be experienced and are not easily described with words. On the contrary, I told them that my experience was that there were many audiophiles out there who are extremely competent (much more than I) at probably designing equipment as good or perhaps better than even some manufacturers. The problem with this technology is that you must experience it first hand and it cannot be fully comprehended over the phone. Most people, when they hear the term "Tunable Room", think such a room is "tuned" to some "standard". This is not the case -- the "standard" is what you, as a listener, like. Some people prefer fuller bass, some prefer leaner bass, some prefer shimmering cymbals, etc. You can make instruments sound like what you perceive as "real" because we all hear differently because the outer and inner structures of our ears are all slightly different.

After the In Floor Tuners had "cooled" from the drilling, I was led back into the room and given another listen. Now, the vocals were fully focused and tonally correct; and the piano had all the rich harmonics that I know a piano sounds like. Also, the size and space of the piano became more focused, but without diminishing the harmonics produced. All instruments in the song became better focused and localized in their respective positions in the recorded (or mixed down) soundstage. The entire week, I saw R & D changes implemented and with each change came a further refinement of the music. Then the moment came that surprised me the most -- Michael Green took his tuning wrench (he never gives out his "magic" stick that he adjusts the MTDs in the tuning process though), handed it to me, and said "Do whatever you want and make it sound the way you want it to", and then he left the room. Since I do own a full array of PZCs, I had some idea as to what adjusting the side wall, ceiling and front In Wall Tuners might do, but I had no idea what adjusting the In Floor tuners would do. As I made small, methodical adjustments to all the Tuners (I, as neither did Michael, did not touch the PZCs nor the speaker adjustments), I was able to create more "soundstage fill" where I wanted it and refine the amount of harmonics to where I really wanted them in about 15 minutes or less. My adjustments were crude to what Michael could do, but it really was not that difficult to get the hang of the adjustments. Now, the floor joist threaded rods are a totally different story and all I know is that loosening them will increase the bass harmonics and tightening them will reduce the bass harmonics, but these I did not and would not dare touch.

Then I was taken into the equipment room, which I was most interested in seeing as to exactly how the components were tuned. The source components consisted of a standard CD player and two mono block solid state amps, all components had their manufacturer supplied feet removed and all "tuned" (I avoid the word "clamping" here because people visualize clamping as "squeezing" the chassis of a component when this is not the case at all) in a Deluxe Tuning Rack. The CD player was "tuned" using two hardwood shelves. The mono block amps were "tuned" using the standard 1 ½ inch MDF shelves that come with the Deluxe Tuning Rack. Now was the time for the implementation of the next phase of their R & D -- the amps would also be tuned using hardwood shelves instead of the standard MDF. During another staff meeting, the staff decided to prepare and implement the hardwood shelves for "tuning" the amps. But, curing time for the preparation had to take place for the prepared wood, so the minimum curing time was established along with placing the boards in an optimum "curing environment" for the quickest curing process before they could be used. When finished, the new boards were installed on the rack and every member of the staff took a listen (as is the case after every new change is implemented) and I also was given an opportunity to take a listen. The sound got even better than any of the previous listening sessions (each change elicited more realism from the playback of the recording), but Michael (from another room!!!!) could hear something "not quite right". The culprit? The racks were not perfectly level! Michael instructed the staff to perfectly level the rack and all shelves, as well as carefully centering each component on each shelf. I was later told by Michael was that uneven shelves or racks cause improper (or uneven) transfer of energy through components and through the racks. You could actually hear it in the soundstage, although I could have never guessed the reason for "something very slightly wrong" because the racks were not that "out of level". But, you could hear it in the soundstage, especially after they got everything level to Michael's satisfaction. He later told me that the most finely tuned component in his entire system is his rack!!!! And, that the first thing visitors want to do when they visit his facility is to touch the rack to test its stability and this is a definite no-no. So, I think you can imagine the first thing I did when I returned home to my own system -- finely and patiently level adjust my racks and move my speakers as far forward as my room will allow.

What was the most astonishing thing about my experience at MGD was, and I told this to Michael Green, was the similarity of the "quality" of sound between my listening system/room (which has no In Wall Tuners, but does have a full compliment of PZCs) and the quality of sound produced by the Tunable Room. I was told that this similarity was due to similar construction materials of the two rooms (sheet rock walls and wood floors). The Tunable Room just takes these "qualities" and amplifies them by a factor of anywhere from 4 to 10. What I didn't tell you was that the source components (Michael's references) are a $250 manufacturer discontinued 18 bit CD player and a pair of solid state mono block amps which were designed for home theater and cost only $500 each retail. As I said, a very disillusioning trip and experience, but this kind of disillusionment, I wish I could experience every day. If you are looking to build your own room in the future, put the RTA aside and, instead, invest in a plane ticket to New Philadelphia, Ohio. All the Tuners can also be retrofitted into existing rooms. Designs are all by custom quotation, but tuner prices are fixed and are user installable. Coming back to my own system was not a let down at all. I have that vivid picture of what I heard in my mind and that's a reference I won't ever forget. If you think you've heard the best of high end and what it has to offer, you might be pleasantly surprised as to how much better things can get with a room like the Tunable Room and properly tuned, relatively inexpensive components. This room is as appropriate for home theater as it is for dedicated listening for audio only. I hope to return after the tunable recording studio has been built, if the weather, health and finances allow. But, even if I can never visit again, this was the experience of a lifetime for me to hear music reproduced so effortlessly and so realistically. And to see dedicated professionals, so commited to making a positive contribution to the music industry, was more than heart warming. I saw that high end does have a future after all and does not have to die, as predicted, but that will be for the entire industry to decide in the direction they take with their products and technology.
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