Surround master, from Involve Audio

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by hjames, Mar 24, 2013.

  1. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    First things first.
    Some folks feel the only proper way to listen to music is in 2 channel.
    I'll counter that with saying that in life, sound comes to us from all around -
    bounced off walls and objects around us - we get a sense of our place in the world from those reflected sounds.

    The recording industry understands this and over the years has provided releases with additional information encoded in the recording for that expanded presence,
    From the RCA Living Stereo 3 channel recordings on the mid-50s,through the Quadraphonic recordings of the 70s, and the multichannel techniques of
    newer technologies such as DVD-A and SACD, all wrap us in music

    I've tried a number of those releases but it can get pricy buying additional copies of music you already own, and sometimes the newer remasters suffer or don't sound the same as the recordings you've had along.

    The AK mods had read some of my posts on pushing my surround system further forward over the last few years,
    and offered me a chance to review the new Surround Master from Involve Audio. They told me the Surround Master
    takes regular 2 channel recordings and extracts positional information from those recordings and takes them to 4, 4.1 or 5.1 channel mode.

    [​IMG]

    First – Some notes on my gear –
    my multichannel system can do 7.1 audio, but in 5.1 mode it consist of

    Integra DTC-9.8 Preamp/Process
    B&K ST-202 Plus Stereo Amp for the Front mains
    B&K AV5000 Series II 5 channel amp - (Center, Sides and rear Surround).
    Vandersteen 2CE front mains
    Vandersteen VCC-1 Center speaker
    DCM TimeFrame TF-600 Rear Surrounds
    Harman Kardon Citation 22 amp, Bridged Mono for sub
    JBL 4641 Subwoofer


    I have a large collection of music in lossless form loaded on a Mac Pro computer upstairs in my office - and I can stream it via wifi to an Airport Express unit on my downstairs system, usually directly to the AUX input on a pair of stereo RCA cables. For this test I am running that 2 channel feed into the Surround Master, and running its multichannel output to the Integra DTC-9.8 preamp. I run the system flat, with no tone controls, no EQ and no spatial effects on the Integra. Source and volume control is all I use.

    The Surround master comes with a 12 page manual in english (other languages available on their website), 2 3 wire RCA interconnects, and a wallwart power supply with 4 twist and lock adapters to match wall sockets in various countries.

    [​IMG]

    I read in the manual and that the unit did 4 channel mode, so we ran it that way for a few days, and while we enjoyed the way that sounded, the manual also says it does 5.1 mode.

    Since I figure most folks have a surround system set up for 5.1 mode, I switched the RCA cables around, on the rear of the unit to connect it to the Integra preamp's RCA connectors for 5.1 mode. The manual shows 5.1 as front mains, center, rears, and Sub - so that is how we used it for our testing. For that reason, I did not use my side channel speakers for this test.

    [​IMG]

    I enjoy all kinds of music and folks here have no doubt heard me say "Its all about the music" - well, the Surrround Master is nothing short of amazing. Listening to music with the Surround master in place really engages you with the music – its immersion – like swimming in the music.

    It took me a while to write this review because once I heard some of my music through this gear, I wanted to go through my whole music collection and listen to everything again, hearing nuances and subtleties in the music I had not noticed before.

    Its really like that, like putting a great new pair of speakers or a new amp in your system.

    I didn't know what to play? Should I try newer recordings, old music, only classics that were well recorded?? I wound up jumping all over the place – and although I played a lot of albums in full, here are some of the tracks that really impressed me:

    Dusty Springfield in Memphis - Son of a Preacher Man - wow - for a 1969 recording, it was amazing - she's front & center with you, horns and gospel choir behind you. For another older cut, I popped on The Guess Who's Greatest Hits & played American Woman - the quieter intro section was nice, but when the main theme that everybody knows from hit radio way back when kicked in - a great, room filling rhythm sound - the guest we had at the time was REALLY impressed - and so was I!

    James Brown - 1971 Live at the Olympia, Paris: Love, Peace, Power -
    A classic lineup of James Brown in concert - this one features an early Bootsy Collins on bass - track 14 - Super Bad - James is front and center, Bootsy's funky bass

    Jump to Funkadelic Cd – Maggotbrain – the title track Maggotbrain is a psychofunk classic – guitar wailing in and out from different parts of the room

    Grabbed some older jazz – Dexter Gordon – Ballads, & Miles Davis – In a Silent Way, not quite the revelation some of the newer recordings are. But still a nice listen.

    Shifting the mood, I chose John Hammond's album of Tom Waits songs - "Wicked Grin" - track #1 is Heartattack and Vine - big thumpin' fun all around me!

    Then to Tom Waits himself - Swordfishtrombone – title track has vibes behind you, with Tom front & center. Then, from The Mule Variations, the creepy “What’s He Building” has all kinds of ambient atmospheric sounds around you – I nearly jumped when the pipe fitting dropped behind me on the left!

    Next - Hugh Laurie (House, M.D.) CD - "Let Them Talk" is a great steaming pot full of rhythm and blues I played track 1 - St James Infirmary, and then #12 - Whinin' Boy Blues – great stuff and more immersion within the band space.

    For another take on that song, I grabbed Hot Tuna's 1st album and played #1 – Whinin’ Boy Blues - followed by #10 - Mann's Fate very quick guitar picking
    Very compelling – excellent sound from that early trio.

    Jumping to something older, since we've been talking about James Bond movies on AK, for a hoot, I put on the Casino Royale Official Soundtrack - hey, kitsche can be fun too!
    Track 1 - Casino Royale Theme by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass - The band is in the rear of the room, Herb's blowing away in the front of the room. Nice!

    The Highwaymen - Track 1 - Highwayman - its old but fun - Johnny Cash as a Starship captain always get a smile - very great sound filling the room.

    The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers - Brown Sugar,(of course), Wild Horses, You Got to Move, and Moonlight mile - the band is in the back, Mick's front and center, other instruments placed around the room woah - this is great ... played a LOT of this album.
    All of the Stones I played had similar mix – band behind you, Mick in front

    More classics – Santana Abraxas – Black Magic Woman – Conga drums behind Carlos’s guitar out front, brushes washing over the front right

    Jethro Tull 40th Anniversary CD of Aqualung – Locomotive Breathe – opens behind you- when the volume swells the band swells forward to envelope you, with Ian front and center.

    Pulled some Zappa – very nice immersion in the older recordings - from Hot Rats – Peaches en Regalia , from the Waka/Jawaka – Big Swifty , dabbled in The Grand Wazoo
    All nice, but I went for broke with the posthumous WAZOO Live album – that’s got some astonishing positioning of instruments around the room – wow!

    I could go on and on and namedrop more albums I’ve heard hundreds of times that just opened up for me, connecting me so much deeper with the music and tempting me to spend more time immersed in music I had only listened to before.

    I had a Yamaha Surround receiver with all kinds of room modes that added echo and ambience, my Integra has similar settings for concert hall and beer garden and small club – I’ve tried them and just didn’t care for them, and turned those effects off pretty quickly.
    The Surround Master is different and really brings you into the music in a new way.

    All in all, I’d say highly recommended - with any luck, its staying in my system for keeps! That’s how much we’ve enjoyed it!

    Oh, one last note - the manufacturer says its not just for music - feed it 2 channel audio from your TV or movies or whatever and it will expand them into surround mode as well.
    I couldn't try that with my system as all my video sources are either HDMI or optical feeds.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  2. luvvinvinyl

    luvvinvinyl Nikki's gone to the Rainbow Bridge. Staff Member Admin Subscriber

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    Thanks for the review!
     
  3. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Hi

    Thank you for the review Heather. I am the Chief Technical Officer of Involve Audio. I would be happy to answer any technical questions or provide test data on the Surround Master.

    My question to the forum administrators is where should such a thread go? Any ideas?

    Regards

    Chucky
     
  4. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    It took me a while to get my sample to review and I will be posting it in the next couple of days. In some respects, my experiences have echoed Heather's. I've been comparing it to various 2 to 5 channel surround formats (new and old) for a few days while I've been home with my daughter (who is sick) and it seems to be more immersive and less gimmicky sounding than some of the others I've compared it to. Pretty interesting stuff.
     
  5. Frankfurt

    Frankfurt New Member

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    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    Involve - Surround Master

    I really look forward to the soulful Mr Newman's review.

    As the CEO of Involve I would also like to thank HJames for her review. Both these reviews are fully independent of us. I look forward to other members providing their views once they have a unit.

    If anyone has any questions they would like answered please do not hesitate to ask.
     
  6. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    The Surround Master is still very impressive.
    Last night I listened to some old Little Feat - Sailin' Shoes and Dixie Chicken.
    "Willin" was quite nice - brought a smile again, after all the times I've played it,
    enjoyable, as was "Dixie Chicken". That got me in the mood for some Byrds - first -
    Sweetheart of the Rodeo, then Byrds - Live at the Fillmore (Jan'69).
    When I played "Medley - Turn Turn Turn, Mr Tamborine Man, 8 Miles High" -
    I was immersed in the music again, from those old recordings!

    Wow, just flat-out Wow ...
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2013
  7. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Surround Master

    Hello Heather

    Have you had any time to check out the Surround Master out from movie sources such as DVD's/ cable TV etc??

    Regards

    Chucky
     
  8. Frankfurt

    Frankfurt New Member

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    Location:
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    Hi Heather

    Dnuma04 has reviewed the Surround Master on this forum also and I think its fair to say he loves it too. Hope we hear more from others in the near future. I would love you or Dave to let the forum know what it does for Television sound including movies, sport etc. We have had some fabulous feed back here but I cannot say its from truly "independent" reviewers such as yourself so we can't reasonably publish it here.
     
  9. hjames

    hjames Nabbed ... Subscriber

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    As I've said - the SurroundMaster is highly recommended for the absolutely lush way it takes 2 channel music sources and fills the room with surround sound from old or new media. My family loves the way it works.

    The surround master only has a single source - multiple inputs might be a nice upgrade for future models, but the way I have my current surround rig set up, TV signals come in via FIOS/CATV aand are connected to my TIVOHD (a DVR), then is fed over HDMI to the Intergra DTC 9.8 That preamp feeds discrete 7.1 line level signals on RCA connectors to the various poweramps (B&K for mains and surrounds, HK Citation 22 for the sub).

    Likewise, for DVDs and Bluray, my OPPO BDP-93 feeds HDMI direct to the Integra.

    I have no source of discrete 2 channel TV or DVD sound to run into the SurroundMaster, so I have no way to test such sources.

    That said, I can imagine that if you had a nice 2 channel system, ran the preamp out into the Surroundmaster and then fed its outputs
    into discrete power amps and surround speakers, it would be a very affordable and quick way to some gorgeous surround
    without the high expense of the typical HDMI type HT preamp/processor.

    Gotta scoot!
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2013
  10. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Special release INVOLVE QS/SQ decoder

    Hi All

    Please note that due to popular request on another forum "quadraphonicquad.com", we will be releasing in a week time a special edition INVOLVE Surround Master that is switchable from INVOLVE/ QS/ SQ format encodes.

    For those who have records in the SQ format and did not possess a Tate decoder this will enable full surround as it was intended. For more information please visit:
    http://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/showthread.php?17525-INVOLVE-SQ-IS-COMING

    Regards

    Chucky
     
  11. maybe it's just me but i think $400 is waaaay too much for such a simple device. a hundred would be more like it and that would be a stretch. the rear channel adjustments aren't even included.

    i like the non fussy dynaquad and it only requires a stereo amp (not monoblocks) that are compatible with common ground.
     
  12. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Hmmm..........................

    Simple device, lets see 4 years research and development, dual very powerful Digital Signal Processors running at their limits, 30 Integrated circuits, multiple patents. OK I personally do not like the plastic box (that we paid $50k).

    Sorry if I am a bit snotty but your head would spin reading the software algorithms - many times more complicated than say PL2.

    Just follow the links to our website www.involveaudio.com and chase some of the 100's of independent reviews, they are not so shabby.

    Regards (in a mild foam)

    Chucky

     
  13. just as the qol box at 3-4k bux isnt worth it to me, nor is the 400 for this item. dynaquad is much more rewarding in a $/bang. that.s just me i guess.

    ...t
     
  14. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    The last couple of comments remind me of a recent interaction with a customer. They wanted to enhance our software to meet their business requirements. We estimated the work at 25 hours of time and materials. Without any understanding of the effort necessary to complete the enhancement, they arbitrarily decided that 8 hours was sufficient and asked our management to change the estimate.

    We all have our own individual sense of value, but because I'm not willing to pay an items selling price has no bearing on the items value. Now, if no customers are willing to pay the selling price, then the market has decided the price is too high. I have no idea how sales are going for Involve Audio, but I have no doubt that they aren't going to get rich selling audio gear if they are like any other audio company.
     
  15. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Hi All

    So far we have not had a unit returned with "please refund". May I suggest that people consider our policy of a 14 day return with full refund if unhappy. Be the first to not like it, and then critique it appropriately with knowledge.

    Regards

    Chucky
     
  16. dnewma04

    dnewma04 The Healer Super Mod Subscriber

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    Chucky, just to be clear, I wasn't suggesting it was/wasn't worth the cost, just suggesting that someone arbitrarily deciding it's worth 100.00 probably isn't considering all of the business decisions that go into setting a price.

    I'm still quite content with my Surround Master.
     
  17. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Hi

    Actually I totally agree with your post. Some audiophile's are happy to splash out $1000 on cables or spend buckets of loot to get the THD on their amplifier down to 0.0000000001% and in the words of Sheryl Crow - If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.

    Speaking of that, I remember a "Wireless World" test done on about 10 "high end" audio cables some costing $1000 per meter - and the winner was Woolworth's lawnmower cable at around $2 per meter!!!!!

    One HiFi law I have learnt over the years is if you have just spent $10,000 on something it WILL SOUND BETTER, at least psychosomatically.

    All I am saying is for $395, I do not think you will find a more powerful experience on your system.

    I have attached a partial list of reviews below for your entertainment.

    Also if you want to hear my dulcet tones on an interview with " Dwight" from the Quadraphonicquad" forum regarding Involve encode/ decode and our new Total Perspective" technology, please go to:

    http://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/showthread.php?18329-Involve-Total-Perspective-interview

    And click on the 4 audio "blue" links on the top of the page.

    Regards

    Chucky

     

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  18. it sounds like a fun thing to try but i don't have any plans of disrupting a good thing that i have going with dynaquad. i still can't get past that the unit has no rear level attenuation on board.
     
  19. chucky3042

    chucky3042 New Member

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    Hi Hifitommy

    Yes my first experience in the 70's was with the Dynaquad connection and frankly it was very impressive. At the time I considered the cost of the box to do it was "highway robbery" as it was basically a left minus right wiring connection.

    I like most other Hi Fi nuts returned back to stereo when the quad confusion muddled the market. When Dolby united the formats to PL1 in the mid 80's, I enthusiastically tried it only to stay with stereo as the system was little better than Dynaquad with the horrible addition of the center channel that put the sound UNDER the screen.

    I can fully understand your skepticism on surround sound advancements as I was one of the biggest skeptics- and one that hates the center channel. We developed Involve as an attempt to get around the sonic issues of prior matrix decoders such as pumping, poor separation, blurred image, image wander and most of all the Involve encode format is indistinguishable from a normal stereo master (this is unique we claim). So far reviews support our claims. I have included an early image of the PCB of the Surround Master decoder.

    I have not provided details to this forum of our system "Total Perspective" that we claim gets rid of the need for a center channel and facilitates the elimination of the sweet spot in a room. We claim that this plus Involve encode / decode is a stereo compatible replacement for 5.1/ 7.1, again all that have auditioned it here (In Australia!) have walked away agreeing with this statement.

    I agree it is a bit of a pain in the arse that we did not include level sets but cost and our attempt to keep the box size down were a dominant consideration. In addition we started to cross the line of it becoming a surround pre amplifier. In the images below I have included a preview of our soon to be released Involve encoder/ Decoder/ preamp and yes it has level set adjustments!!!!!!!! We are targeting around $2k.

    I have included pictures of our soon to be available electrostatic/ Involve decode/ Total perspective surround sound bookshelf systems.

    Regards

    Chucky

     

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  20. bangsezmax

    bangsezmax Turntable Whisperer Subscriber

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    The very definition of threadcrapping -- "I haven't heard it, don't want to, don't like it, it's too expensive, blah blah blah."

    Read back what you're saying as if you were a neutral observer. Are you really offering anything of value to the discussion of THIS piece of equipment?

    I own the SM, the version that has QS and SQ decoding. Great little unit. Well worth the money if you have a good surround or quad system (you know, the kind with BALANCE CONTROLS to adjust your rears as necessary). Does some stunning things on the right recordings. The mixes have space to breathe and you get separation that lets you hear things you've never heard before. The fidelity is great, AND it has a subwoofer out (and my sub has an adjustable volume knob too!)

    Bottom line -- it does things to stereo recordings that Dyanaquad owners can't even imagine.:thmbsp:
     

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