Involve Audio Surround Master

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by dnewma04, Apr 6, 2013.

  1. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    I have been a long believer in the potential superiority of multi-channel music playback and have taken a few paths down that road over the years with a nice Sony ES SACD player, a lesser quality but still nice sounding DVD-A/SACD player (SONY DVP-NS999ES), with various pre/processors, home theater receivers, stereo and multi-channel amps. Each of the travels ended in various degrees of success. For the most part, I have gotten to the point where I still believe it offers more potential than stereo, but the implementations have been flawed in one way or another, especially in the attempts to convert 2 channel programming to multi-channel.
    When I had the opportunity to review the Involve Audio Surround Master, I jumped at the chance for a couple of reasons. First, while not the best writer, I do enjoy playing around with anything audio related and discussing audio on forums like Audiokarma.org. Second, I was interested if a new attempt at 2 channel to multi-channel conversion would be more successful than prior attempts.
    I implemented this in two systems in the house with a couple of different approaches. First, in the family room system with an older HK AVR 80 mkII HT receiver and also in the living room with a couple of different 2 channel front ends and various amplifiers.
    Equipment used:

    Family Room System:
    • Harman Kardon AVR 80 mkII Receiver
    • Sony DVP-NS999ES SACD/CD
    • NHT SuperTwos, NHT SuperZeros and NHT SuperCenter and a NHT Sub2 subwoofer.
    • Nintendo WII (Just for fun)
    Main Listening Room System:
    • Amplifiers: Parasound Halo A52 (borrowed from a friend), Adcom GFA-535 (x2), Fisher 500C (x2), Sima W-2002.
    • Sources: Yamaha YP-701 turntable with a Grado Gold Cartridge, Roksan Kandy MkIII CD Player, Onkyo ND-S1 with iPhone 3GS playing through an Entech Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC.
    • Speakers: DIY Speakers with Unity Horns and Lambda TD15M woofers, DIY Adire Audio HE10.1, and DIY Murphy Blaster MBOW1 2 ways running active with HiVi W12 12” woofers.

    I received the Involve Audio Surround Master a couple of weeks back and my first reaction was surprise with how small it is. It come well packaged with clear instructions and a large assortment of various power connectors. There are no frills with the Surround Master, I hoped that this would be a situation where the focus was placed on the sound rather than the packaging and we’ll find out more about that later.

    I decided that it would be easiest to get it connected to the family room system. I’ve read in other reviews that the Surround Master excels with 4.1 channel and decided that would be as good of a starting point as any. I arranged the speakers as advised in the manual and grabbed the stack of CDs and a couple of SACDs that I had set aside.

    The Shins – Port Of Morrow: This is one of my favorite CDs in recent memory and I was looking forward to hearing what the Surround Master would do to add or subtract from the performance. My first reaction…wow. The Surround Master is *not* subtle. This is total immersion into the recording. One of the tracks that never ceases to make me tap my toe is ‘Simple Song’. Guitars were coming from everywhere and unlike some surround formats I’ve heard, it wasn’t losing any of the detail I normally would expect.

    Mad Season – Above. The immersion I sensed in Port of Morrow made me grab Mad Season’s Above, next. I skipped right to November Hotel. It’s one of the great unknown rock instrumental tracks with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready going on what seems like an endless solo on his guitar with drummer Barrett Martin putting on a drumming exhibition. Since I was looking for that being in the music feeling, I wasn’t disappointed.

    To be continued in a day or two with more impressions of the Surround Master.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2013
  2. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Saving for future post
     
  3. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    And again
     
  4. I.R.Brainiac

    I.R.Brainiac Super Member

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    Very interested for sure.While I love my stereo rigs,the shear versatility of my multichannel setups is wonderful too.

    Tell us more.:) (I sleep in a 7.1 cocoon) :)
     
  5. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Super Mod Subscriber

  6. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    I'll add more details later, but if you seek subtlety in your surround music, this thing isn't for you. :)
     
  7. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    I have been listening to it in two channel mode for a few days since returning from vacation. While I don't hear the rear surround effects that others have in 2 channel mode, it does make a significant impact in increasing the soundstage seemingly without losing detail or losing focus with imaging. In the NHT system, one thing the SuperTwos don't excel at is imaging/soundstage. While they aren't bad in the area, they sound pretty 2D compared to the MBOW1s. With the Surround Master, they provide far more of the disappearing act that the MBOW1s manage.

    With the MBOW1s, the effect isn't quite as dramatic but it's still there. I've some notes written down with music I've played in 2 channel mode but not with me currently.

    If you are a listener with speakers that are noticeably present in that you hear distinct sounds coming from speakers rather than coming from spaces outside of the speakers, I'd certainly encourage you to have a listen.
     
  8. I.R.Brainiac

    I.R.Brainiac Super Member

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    :) Sounds fun. I balked a little when I saw the price...but then I am a poor person. :(
     
  9. Frankfurt

    Frankfurt New Member

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    Hi Dav

    Thanks for the review and all the positive comments. You said "... if you seek subtlety in your surround music, this thing isn't for you." Can you explain? Being a very biased person (I am the CEO of the company) I think the exact opposite in that the Surround Master brings out all the subtle and previously unheard images in a recording! Most people want to listen to their entire music collection again for this very reason.

    Again thanks for the review and I very much look forward to further updates.
     
  10. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Hi Frank,

    When I said it's not subtle, I mean in it's abilities. Going from 2 channel stereo without the Surround Master to using 4 or 5 channel surround using the Surround Master is not a subtle difference. You are right on when you say that it seems to bring subtleties in the music to the forefront.

    It's good timing that you posted. I decided to hook it up to my computer system in my office for fun. I have a Boston Acoustics 5.1 system which isn't anything particularly special but sounds decent and by computer speakers they are very good. My computer setup only has 2 channel output so it was the first time I really heard my computer setup in surround. It felt like I was in the middle of the action in the game, it was really superb. I had similar results playing the Wii. My daughter got a huge kick out of the effect.

    I still have a bunch of music pieces I listened to that I need to write up.

    I think I am leaning towards preferring discreet 5.1 channel formats like SACD and DVD-A at this point, but I prefer the Surround Master, to a pretty significant degree, over any of the stereo to surround converting formats I've encountered.
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2013
  11. I.R.Brainiac

    I.R.Brainiac Super Member

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    If it were too subtle it wouldnt be any better than the ProLogic stuff.(which I like already)

    Still sounds like something I would really enjoy. :)
     
  12. bangsezmax

    bangsezmax Turntable Whisperer Subscriber

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    I got mine in December, right when they released it. There was a lot of talk on Quadraphonic Quad about it because it's based on (and an improvement on) the old QS matrix format. They're currently working on a version that will do SQ as well, and offering a free code update (you have to ship it back to them) to anyone who has the current model. Pretty cool.

    Depending on the recording, it does some AMAZING things with stereo inputs to create a 4.1 soundfield (I tried the 5.1 mode, but I like 4.1 better). Some mixes sound merely expanded, while some sound positively revelatory. I can tell you it's almost worth the price of the unit to hear Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland through it. It's a swirling psychedelic roller coaster ride through the SM.

    What the SM seems to be really good at is pulling individual instruments from a mix and sticking them in the back speakers. This gives the effect of really opening things up. On a song like "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" from Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, you realize there are layers upon layers of guitar lines that were mushed together in the stereo mix and now have room to breathe. The phasey rhythm guitars on Joni Mitchell's "Amelia" (Heijira) seem to wrap themselves around the room. Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sounds great through it too (try "War on War"). And just about anything engineered by Alan Parsons has some cool stuff happening, especially I, Robot.

    That's part of the fun of the SM -- you throw recordings at it and you never know what kind of surprising things that you've never heard in a mix will make themselves apparent.

    If you like surround sound music at all, this is pretty much a must-have as it's the best stereo-to-surround processor yet. It does remarkable things but never pumps or make anything sound too processed or non-musical. I'm pretty thrilled with it.
     
  13. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Suround Master

    Hi All

    I am the Chief Technical Officer of Involve Audio. We have published quite an amount of technical detail on the quadraphonicquad forum in the past year. For all those more technically minded I have attached a few test reports on the performance of the Surround Master.

    As they were conducted internally I give my assurance that the results are correct and believe it or not, impartial!

    If there are no objections I can publish more detail as time permits.

    Enjoy

    Chucky
     

    Attached Files:

  14. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Thanks for the measurements!
     
  15. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Surround Master

    And furthermore......

    Just observing the comment on the comparison of Involve decode vs discrete. We find the preference varies with listeners considerably.

    Attached is a mini internal test appraisal we did a while ago of - Discrete material encoded into Involve and then played back via the Involve decoder VS DISCRETE.

    This is not a comparison of straight stereo downmix decoded by Involve.

    The results showed a slight preference to the Involve encode / decode. We believe this is because the Involve decoder extracts surround or ambient information missed by the recording engineers. (Yes this is a controversial statement )

    We have not detailed to the forum our Involve Encode format - suffice to say the encoded stereo mix is indistinguishable from a straight stereo downmix but the result is a discrete sounding surround.

    Regards

    Chucky
     

    Attached Files:

  16. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Chucky, just to go a little further with my comment about preferring discrete. My preference for discrete 5 channel formats in the past have been a preference based on a small number of recordings that got it right. At least 50% of the time, I found the surround material on such recordings to be a detriment to sounding natural and preferred the 2 channel sound.

    I'm still listening to various recordings as time allows and I have to admit I'm enjoying it for a couple of reasons. First, it's like listening to music I've heard for years for the first time. Sometimes, I find it very good to listen to. With some recordings, I haven't liked the effect. Even in the times when I haven't preferred it, it's still doing some interesting things grabbing out details I hadn't noticed before. When turning it off, I was able to hear the details, but they hadn't stood out prior to listening to the SM's presentation.

    Thanks for the additional links to information. This has been a very fun experience for me. I'm planning to have some friends over sometime soon and will try to get them to give their impressions, as well.
     
  17. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Tried something interesting in the last couple of days. I've borrowed some higher end Stax headphones for the last week or so from a friend. I've got the surround master running in 2.0 mode to a Toshiba SC-M15 amplifier driving the Stax headphones. I tend to find most headphones pretty closed in, imaging in the head type of experiences rather than feeling like you are listening to a good set of stereo speakers coming from in front of you. Of course, some headphones do a nice job with imaging/soundstage, even in the best cases, it's not as good as full size speakers in a nice room, at least in my experience. That said, this could be in my head, but the Surround Master in 2 channel mode does an exceptional job of expanding the perceived soundstage with headphone listening. If there were a headphone amp on the market with this technology, I'd likely buy it.
     
  18. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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  19. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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  20. Frankfurt

    Frankfurt New Member

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