The Talon Audio ROC Subwoofer: A Follow Up
The Talon Audio ROC Subwoofer: A Follow Up
|Two Channel Music Lovers: There's A Sub In Your Future|
21 August 2002
Depth: 18.75" (19.75" w/ binding post)
Shape: Rectangular cube
Weight: 93 lbs.
Talon Audio Technologies, Inc.
5175 S. Green Pine Drive
Murray, UT 84123
To tell the truth, I haven't been a big fan of sub-woofers. I've heard them do nice things on occasion, but more often than not, they introduce issues that make you aware of their presence. At one time I owned the Carver Sunfire True Subwoofer MkII. This unit is no slouch, and offers very good value at $1,495. However, I couldn't integrate it with my main drivers; its sonic quality was distinct and audible. The Carver would be a better match in a home theatre setup, where overall integration is less critical.
Now along comes the Talon Audio ROC sub-woofer. This sub has opened my ears and mind concerning two-channel music reproduction. Understand I'm not a bass freak. I consider the mid band of paramount importance, followed by the treble. Bass comes in a distant third. The music I enjoy usually has little info in the lowest octave. But I can't tell you how nice it sounds now when there is support in the low overtones present, even with male voice.
I bought the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Singt Lieder Von Franz Schubert [Electrola STE 91024] LP because it was an early German pressing and, I figured, most likely it would be a fine performance. Schubert songs by Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Karl Engel on piano - what's not to like? On first listen, I was captivated and put the LP in my keepers file. The question was whether it would continue to hold my interest the second time around. The day after the ROC arrived, I sat transfixed as I played it again. My attention did not waiver for the entire first side. Fischer-Dieskau seemed intimately present with new energy and power, not to mention vocal color and subtle dynamic shadings, which all contributed to a heightened emotional communication. The wimpy piano I remembered also seemed energized and fleshed out. The sound now reminded me of some "big" (i.e. costly) speaker systems that had impressed me in the past. You know, the unattainable ones in terms of physical mass and expense.
Henry Purcell's Odes a Sainte Cecile [harmonia mundi HMC901643, CD] was about ready for the thrift shop. I love Mr. Purcell, but this CD was not rocking my boat, either performance-wise or sonically. Director/conductor Philippe Herreweghe had chosen adequate singers, but nothing more than that. I'm very glad I gave it a second chance. Since the ROC arrived, it's become a demonstration disc. The voices are still not it's strong suit, but the opening trumpet voluntary now commands your attention with its power and vitality. The trumpets soar high above, with perfect treble extension that properly evokes a regal-ecclesiastical mood. Somehow, the sub has freed up the mid-range and treble. They seem more pure, and even image better, although nothing really has changed in those bands. The electronic food chain into the main speakers hasn't altered. Track 8, "Wondrous Machine!" features a pair of baroque oboes and a bassoon accompanying the bass singer Peter Harvey. There's much fun here. Each wind group lends accents and supporting melodies that adorn this trifle of a tune with musical colors. The bassoon especially benefits from the extra weight. Plus, an organ has appeared lurking underneath.
Stravinsky's Petrushka [Decca re-issue LP SXL 2011], performed by Ernest Ansermet and the ODSR is a muscular and very dynamic interpretation. The 180-gram re-issue kills the original London Blueback LP. It is even more dynamic and, most importantly, the tonal balance has moved into the midrange. Some of those Bluebacks are bright, as in this case. With the sub in place, it is also apparent how much more low-end energy is on the re-issue. That bass drum lets rip a percussive volley that you hear and feel, as it should be heard and felt. Again, as on the Henry Purcell, the treble instruments have increased clarity and separation.
What I'm hearing on these recordings is so far beyond my expectations that I can't offer a good explanation. Sure you get the ability to dial in just as much bass as you want. This is expected. But there are significant improvements in the midrange and treble, not to mention a bigger, more defined soundstage. The silly grin on my face lasted for several weeks. If I had any idea a sub could effect these improvements, I would have explored this avenue a long time ago. Or maybe I had to wait for a sub at this performance level.
The speed and clarity of the bass line are excellent. Overhang? I don't hear any. These three virtues, speed, cleanness and lack of overhang probably account for the easy integration of the sub with the main drivers. When I first contemplated where to place the sub it was based on convenience. In it went alongside my main component rack, a little to the right of center. Within two hours and maybe six adjustments, I was enjoying the sound described above. The volume control was set to approximately 9 o'clock, the frequency cutoff all the way up to 140 HZ. This gave me a continuous dB level and sound quality into the midrange. (This was not the optimal placement or settings. I just want to note how easy it was to start getting benefits). Not one of my audio buddies has complained about being able to localize the sub as a distinct sound source.
The ROC has given me unequivocal confidence in the bass register. This is akin to the confidence I have achieved in the midrange and treble. I know the treble has extension, purity and sweetness. I already fought that battle. I also know the midrange is warm and supple. Both treble and midrange have dynamic expressiveness from the smallest to the biggest event. But the lower register has always been a weakness. My reference EgglestonWorks ROSA speakers spec down to 32hz. It's true there is some energy down there so you can get a taste of those frequencies, but I always knew it was not present in equal proportion to the other frequency bands. On crescendoes I would wonder, "Is it going to handle it convincingly this time?" Often it didn't. Then I would tweak something to yield more bass, but invariably this would compromise the midrange or treble. And it still would leave you questioning the authority in the lower register. With the ROC, when a crescendo is called for, I have no doubt I'm hearing it as the engineer mixed it. This kind of confidence building is what it's all about.
Question: The combined cost of the ROSAs and the ROC put you up near the price of EgglestonWorks next model up, the world renowned ANDRAs. How would the combo fare against the ANDRAs? I have not heard the ANDRA in a long while so this is purely an indulgence in armchair speculation. The ANDRA has the benefit of a well-tuned crossover network and therefore seamless integration; also, it has a stereo pair of woofers. On the other hand, the ROC has a dedicated 350 watt amp. It's volume and cut-off frequency can be adjusted to fit your room. It can be positioned wherever you want. Finally, system integration is its strong point. I imagine the combo would give the ANDRA a run for the money and may well come out on top.
SETUP AND INSTALLATION
Since other reviewers have written in depth appraisals of the ROC, I wont go into a lengthy description or specifications in this article. Please see Clement Perry's articleand interview with the designer Tierry Budge.
All sub-woofer literature talks about the omni-directional nature of the long bass wave. Placement is optimized near room boundaries. I positioned the ROC using those guidelines. The result was a full and powerful bass. But it was also spread out and fat, kind of lumpy. This caused an overall softness to the presentation. Leading transients were dull. So I went back to my original placement, front and center, alongside my main component rack and adjacent to the main speakers. This was better. Coherency and timing are much improved in this unorthodox location. Keeping in mind that this sub is forward firing. Doesn't it make sense to have the sub driver the same distance from the listener as the woofers in your main speakers? That way all bass frequencies arrive at the same time. For that matter, it makes sense to have the sub time aligned with the mid and treble drivers. Try both locations - corner placement not closer than 18" to the wall and a time aligned location.
It may come as a surprise to you but wires matter on a sub. Talon recommends the new and very affordable Analysis Plus Sub Oval. This cable is designed specifically for sub-woofers. It has a full coverage braided shield on both the signal and return cables to reduce EMI. Solderless 360 compression connections are used on a heavy AWG wire. This becomes important on the long runs sub woofer interconnects often see. With the volume kept constant, this wire had louder bass. The bass quality was focused and tight. Resonance and smearing were reduced; consequently, the mid and treble regions seemed cleaner. No need to look further: the Sub Oval does the job.
The Talon recommendation for AC power delivery is the affordable Shunyata Sidewinder. The ROC has a dedicated digital amp that requires high current, and the power cord needs to deliver. Similar to the Analysis Plus Sub Oval, I had to turn down the sub's volume when using the Sidewinder in comparison to other power cords. Bass response was powerful, clean and linear as it descended. The low register gained a freedom and independence that made it distinct from the other bands.
Don't laugh, but AC conditioning also yields dividends. The digital amp should be isolated from the rest of the system, not only to protect it from the power company, but also to contain digital artifacts from spreading to other components. Buy something that doesn't limit current and can be dedicated to the ROC. A good choice would be a low-end model from API. I acquired an API model 110 for this purpose. It did add to the clarity described above. However, there were the usual power conditioner tradeoffs: I needed to turn the sub's volume control up and there was some dynamic compression and loss of immediacy. In the end I used the Sidewinder straight into the wall.
Use the supplied spikes to isolate the sub from the floor. I settled on a trio of Mapleshade Heavy brass cones, Isoblocks and one of their large maple platforms for this purpose. The maple platform functions as a sounding board, similar to the wooden platform that orchestral soloists sit on to reinforce their sound.
It seems to me that this hobby is all about confidence building. We tackle each shortcoming in turn, hoping to get beyond our present limitations. The bass region has always been problematic for me. I had some low end and I could get more if I tweaked for it, but this would have fallout in the mid and treble bands. I wasn't willing to do that. And so, I lacked confidence in the bass.
With the addition of the Talon Audio ROC sub-woofer I have achieved that confidence. A major shortcoming has been exorcised. This sub offers totally satisfying, world-class bass reproduction, and, what's equally important, convincing integration with the main speakers.
In sum, unlikely as it seems, a powered sub can be a wonderful addition to a full range speaker system. I find myself enjoying the system more in areas that have no obvious connection to the enhanced bass. Two channel purists -- re-visit your assumptions regarding sub-woofers. The Talon Audio ROC is a fine example of a new breed of sub that can do wonders for stereo reproduction.
The ROC has been revised and updated. It is now available as the ROC 2002. The new model is downward firing and preliminary reports indicate performance is MUCH improved. And, get this. The list price has been reduced to $2999!
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