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After I received the devices, I asked my better and wiser half to help me set them up. I won't go over the sugar-cube installation procedure as it has been accurately and amply covered by M&H already. As we progressed, I could hear a change in the room's sonority, subtle at first but getting more pronounced as we worked our way up the back wall. I refrained from saying anything and it was my wife to bring it up first: "I don't know how it works but it seems the echoes are mostly gone." She was right. I was actually a little scared as the room had gone completely dead. Hand claps died off almost instantaneously. Yet I left it as it was and added the three resonators where recommended, then left the room alone for two days to let things settle.

As expected, the first listening session was absolutely dreadful. The room had gone from echo box to vacuum. Between the cube array, I had picked a distance far too small assuming that the room needed so much damping that it would require the most radical possible setup (cubes about 60cm apart). With Franck Tchang's stuff, it is a very common misconception to equate size with possible efficacy. It's just not possible to fathom how radical effects can be until one experiences them directly. These devices are actually so potent that it is possible to make a room sound worse by using them wrong or too many of them (more on that later).

The next three weeks where weeks of tuning, mostly by moving cubes around, 5cm at a time first, then 1cm and finally by millimeters. As time went by, it seems that I became more sensitive to the subtle changes and was able to refine the cube positioning. I did learn a few things that may be useful if you decide to explore the resonators and sugar cubes yourself. I am sure it helps to have Franck do it but I could not afford to fly him to Pennsylvania for a private consultation.

Cube number 17, the one resting between the two central columns of cubes, is extremely critical. Placed too high, the sound dries up tremendously. Placed too low, it becomes fat and slow. A good place to start with this cube is right at tweeter height. Then move it up or down from there for the desired outcome. In my room the central round diffuser actually ended up setting the height of the image more than anything else. Turning it ever so slightly to the right or left blurred imaging and added too much woody resonance. Its effect on tonality is far more subtle than cube #17 but it impacts imaging far more radically.

As reported by M&H, the upper cubes tune treble extension and actually seem to behave better the higher they are placed. At some point I started getting HF aberrations like a very high-pitched wind noise. That's when I knew I had gone too high. Otherwise the higher I went, the freer and more refined the treble became.

In my room, the second horizontal row of cubes from the top became the most critical and tricky to set right. For over two weeks, I fought with excess energy in the lower treble that made the room too bright. I tried and fought it by adding more cubes on the 1
st side-wall reflection points and window. I quickly came to realize that the more cubes I added, the worse the problem became. Instead of attenuating the energy, it was piling up at those frequencies. I then tried to move those cubes up or down and although I was able to change the tonal balance somewhat, the peakiness remained.

One of the key lessons with Franck's devices is that you do not fight a problem. You spread it around, minimize and blend it in to reduce its overall impact on the room's sonic fingerprint. It is a fundamentally different approach from traditional room treatments. I eventually solved my issue sufficiently to bring the FJ OMs back into the room and removing all the extra cubes I had added in a vain attempt to eliminate this peak. I played with speaker positioning and toe-in to minimize side wall reflections (which seems silly for an omni but the tweeter here is actually front-firing, hence toe-in is far more critical than I initially suspected).

Why the FJs? I don' know except that once the room was treated, their strengths came on very strongly, with most of the midrange and bass blurring completely banished whereas the Rogers exhibited a strong case of lower treble harshness.

One thing I learnt from this experience is that old-school optimization methods like speaker positioning, toe-in and rake angle etc. become an even more important part of the process since the reduced room interactions actually allow those differences to be heard far more clearly [amen, too - Ed.].

I am now the 4
th person on our staff to be convinced of the reality of Franck's voodoo but like the magic of the olden days, it does not necessarily come easy. It is very easy to overdo the treatment and get frustrated by unpredictable effects. If you take time to learn and feel the changes, you will acquire a progressive intuition into what direction the cubes need to be moved to gain what desired effects. My only guidance would be to go as lightly as you dare at first, even at the risk of not initially getting the full benefit until you hit upon compression or tension in some frequency ranges. Then back off a little and refine things.

The solution proposed by Acoustic System is not perfect. Installing the cubes and resonators and moving them around is child's play. Understanding what they do and how to make those changes work to your advantage takes weeks, perhaps more. Once mastered, these effects are more subtle and flexible in many ways than any classic room treatment and don't impose their visual obstruction. But, it is almost impossible to completely mess up bass trap and echo buster installations while it is easy to mess up a room using Franck's stuff. If you want a quick mindless fix, this is not your solution. If you are willing to take your time and work at it, it becomes plain fun and enlightening.

This acoustic system is a learning experience and my room sounds tremendously better than it did before but also better than my previous room in many ways, with much better low-level resolution and a pristine treble. As I am typing this, I am listening to a recording of Frescobaldi's Toccatas for Harpsichord by Scott Ross. This disc from the early 1980s was unlistenable due to upper treble harshness until I finally got the upper row of cubes just right. Now it sounds beautiful, extended, undistorted and lifelike.

Bass is also well damped but I reserve final judgment until after I get a chance to hear fullrange speakers in this room (two are scheduled for review later in the year). Soundstaging is not quite as good as what I could achieve in my much larger old room, especially depth of stage. But on great recordings like Beethoven's Overtures SACD directed by Sir Colin Davis, I manage a wall-to-wall stage with surprisingly powerful and tuneful bass coming out of those diminutive FJs.

Vocal music is truly stunning, the best I have been able to create in my system ever but that is also partly due to the Esoteric C03 preamplifier that arrived a week ago. Yet the cleared-up midrange revealed levels of details I could not hear before, adding life-like texture to voices. Call me insane or deaf or discard all I previously wrote. Or just take this report at face value for what it's worth. I hear the effects, my wife hears them and we do not have a scientific explanation at all. But we like Franck Tchang's poetic way for describing the phenomenon. To him placing the cubes in the room is like fine-tuning the soul of a violin. Small changes in position will dramatically alter the way the violin vibrates and change its sound. I think that describes very well the effect that 17 small cubes no more than 1cm in size can have on the sound of a room. They tune its response to the musical waves.

On an anecdotal aside, I also use my room on occasion for late or early conference calls to Asia. Prior to treating it, I could not use the speakerphone. It made conversations hard to understand and blurred. Today I can follow discussions on the speakerphone without a problem. It's all in my head, I know.

I don't know how classical room treatments would compare. Perhaps they would allow even better results? I can't exclude that possibility. What I do know is that they would not look as benign, leave permanent wall marks and would not possess the fine-tuning ability of the sugar cubes. On the other hand, they would not trigger weeks of agony over a 1cm move up or down, left or right. You pick your poison.

I may still end up having to fall for hidden cost #3 and get a pair of speakers better suited for a small room. For now though, I don't need to change anything for things to work. That feels very good, so good in fact that I am actually catching up on my music reviews instead of suffering at the hands of tonal imbalance and boomy bass. What could be better than that?

Oh, I forgot. I got word last week that I may have to move anyway in the near future but I am not going to worry about it right now. I feel ready for whatever a new room might throw at me. Yeah, right...
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