This equipment review is a bit unusual. It is not my final impression of the product. This particular product is brand new. There are no other products like it. The manufacturer and designer are still learning about how to get the most out of it. I am still learning about how to get the most out of it in my listening room. However, I have now used it long enough and done enough experimenting with it to be able to present what I think is an 80% complete picture of the capabilities of the product. That 80% is significant enough that even if there are no further revelations or improvements, the product is noteworthy and is completely successful in its goal of improving the sound of your system. You may hear more from me later about the Room Lenses if, as I suspect, there is more performance to be had.
Most people are reading SoundStage! to find out about audio equipment and how to achieve better sound from their system. We all want the system to sound better so that we can enjoy music and movies more than ever. Readers relish reviews of great sounding audio components speakers, amps, preamps, CD players, wires, cartridges for LPs, racks, isolation & damping devices, etc. But there is one part of your system that never changes. It is a critical part of your system. It is also a part that you usually have very little control over. Everything you hear from the lowest frequencies to the highest frequencies are affected to a great degree. This part of your system is also probably the single most ignored and neglected part of your system. Were talking about your room. There are probably more bad rooms than good ones, but even good sounding rooms can be improved to a startling degree. Improving your room can completely change your opinion of the quality of your system. You may be dissatisfied with a little upper midrange harshness, for example. This could just as easily be a room problem as a problem with some system component or wire. Most people who do investigate room tuning find out their systems are significantly better sounding than they ever realized.
Room Tuning can be done several ways. One of the old ways came to be called "live-end dead-end." The philosophy was to heavily damp one half of the room and leave the other end undamped. Problem was people argued endlessly about WHICH end should be damped. Some believed damping the speaker end was important to stop rear and side reflections from confusing the image/soundstage. Some people believed these reflections were essential and that damping the rear half of the room produced a more lively and dimensional presentation. In either case, the results usually didnt do much more than sound different than the untreated room. "Live-end dead-end" room treatment is pretty much a thing of the past these days. More modern and well thought out room treatment devices have been developed in a range of different prices and sizes. There are at least 5 companies making room tuning devices aimed at audio enthusiasts.
I have had plenty of exposure to room tuning over the years having tried do-it-yourself (DIY) treatment of various types, sometimes mimicking commercial products. Ive tried commercial products and heard the results of commercial products used by others in their rooms. I even tuned my room with some popular products aimed at high-end enthusiasts and achieved a nice improvement in sound quality. But none of this prepared me for the Argent Room Lens.
Todd Laudeman (Argent Cable, Inc., manufacturer) and Ric Cummins (Rosinante, acoustic designer) delivered the Room Lenses on a brisk, late winter Sunday. They spent about 90 minutes placing 3 Room Lenses in my room and headed out to leave the fine tuning and bigger experiments to me. Right away I noticed a big improvement in the reality of the depth and width. There was no more width or depth than before, it was just a lot more real. I didnt hear too much else at that early stage. Before they left, Ric and Todd had me listen to one section of The Chieftans Long Black Veil CD. We started the track a 2nd time and Ric rotated the center Room Lens 90 degrees. The effect on the soundstage was dramatic it completely collapsed on itself, becoming much narrower, less deep and far less enjoyable to listen to. Hearing a component that you do not plug into the wall make that large of a change in the sound of a system was a first for me.
Over the next few weeks, I became more and more familiar with the capabilities of the Room Lenses. Yes, they have beneficial effects on soundstage presentation, but that was not all they did. Bass improved. Vocals moved into that elusive "spooky-real" zone that you dont often hear from audio systems. Highs got hmmmmm, less obscured is probably as close as I can get to it. The sounds were easier to hear and purer because they were not being masked to the extent they had been prior to the Room Lenses. The highs were not louder and they were not "better" in the sense that the source components still controlled the overall quality of the highs.
Then I got really serious about fathoming the "level of goodness" of the Room Lenses. I removed the Room Lenses from the room and listened to familiar music again. After 45 minutes or so of listening to the "bare" room, it was obvious that the Room Lenses were a significant improvement but I didnt yet know how to quantify the improvement. A 3rd point of reference was needed. I brought the 4 popular room tuning devices I had been happily using and enjoying back into the room and listened to about 30 minutes of the same music. The other commercial room tuning products (OK, I know you are screaming to know what they are Deluxe Room Tunes, the ubiquitous off-white obelisks you see at many dealers and shows) did, in fact improve the sound quality of the room. I arbitrarily gave the Deluxe Room Tunes a "+3" over the bare room. I decided to bring the Room Lenses into the room with the Room Tunes. That was even better, a "+6" on my arbitrary rating scale. Next I removed the Deluxe Room Tunes and kept the Argent Room Lenses in the room alone. YIKES!! A "+10"! That means the Deluxe Room Tunes made the room sound worse when the Room Lenses were being used. A startling and unexpected result.
So how much is this going to cost me?
I wish I could tell you they were cheap. But they arent. Neither are they far out. For most rooms you will need 3 of them, $990/3 or $395 each. Seems like a lot for something you dont plug in, but there are plenty of examples of high end products that are much more expensive and much less beneficial to the overall sound of your system. At $990 the price-to-benefit ratio of the Room Lenses is very good.
Where do you put them?
In the illustration you can see the most typical arrangement for 3 Room Lenses in a rectangular listening room.
Argent has some recommendations available for different room shapes and arrangements, including setups on room diagonals. The 3 Room Lenses are represented by the groups of 3 black dots. The center Room Lens needs to be moved forward and back in relation to the wall, but it should remain behind the speakers. The right and left Room Lenses should be moved closer and farther to the side walls and to the speaker. The angle they are turned towards the listening position should also be adjusted for best effect. So the best positions will change depending on room size, speakers, distance from the listener, etc.
So how do you make a Room Lens?
You start out with Ric Cummins resonator design. This incorporates 3 vertical tubes, each almost 6 long. These attach to a based made from Rosinantes proprietary "Dark Matter" material, a combination of different materials, each with different resonant properties all held together with a polymer. The base has 3 holes all the way through it to accept the 3 tubes. The open tops of the 3 tubes are joined together with a bracket. There is a mesh material on the bottom of the base covering the 3 tube holes. The whole thing is painted black, not too shiny, not too dull. 4 adjustable feet allow for setting the height of the Room Lenses from the floor. Set the feet for maximum clearance over carpet, and experiment with lower settings for hard floors. When setting up the Room Lenses, do take time to insure that they are vertical (plumb) in both directions. The base does not take up too much floor space, just a little more than a six pack of beer. The Room Lenses look easy to tip over, but the base is heavy and does make the Room Lenses fairly stable. Though a frisky retriever or 3-year-old will have no trouble knocking them over. Of course those of you with those kinds of concerns already own the necessary tethering hardware.
What about the appearance of the Room Lens?
There is always a concern that things you need in your listening room just wont cut the mustard with the interior decorator. The Room Lenses were well received here. The symmetrical appearance of the 3 tubes, even though their spacing is slightly non-symmetrical on purpose, has so far tended to strike people as being rather cool looking. They do tend to attract dust but a quick wipe down every month or two with Static Guard on a dust rag keeps dust well in check.
How the heck do 3 six-foot tubes change the sound of the room?
The Room Lens is a type of Helmholtz Resonator. These devices rely on the "spring" characteristics of air to do their work. The tubes are open at the top and bottom. Somewhere inside the tubes is some "stuffing" that has to have the correct top-to-bottom position inside each tube and has to have the ideal density and uniformity. If you do this correctly -- and this is one of the major tricks to designing this type of Helmholtz Resonator -- you get a device that, put in appropriate locations within the room, can have a significant impact on the sound you get at the listening position.
But how much improvement is there really?
Once you have the Room Lenses in your room and correctly positioned, you go though the typical honeymoon period where everything sounds fresh and wonderful. You pull out all your favorite recordings to hear the "new sound" then in days or weeks, you settle back in to your normal listening patterns and pretty much forget about them. After a while you may even begin to think that they arent really doing anything worthwhile. This has happened to me a couple of times. There is a quick way to reconfirm your initial impression take them out of the room again and listen to some of your favorite recordings. Eeeeeeewwwww, its awful. Put em back. Put em back! Im not fooling around here either. I have a listening room that does a lot of things a lot better than more typical rooms because I was lucky enough to be able to have it built specially to be a listening room. If there was going to be a room where the Room Lenses were not going to be a big help, this would be the room. They actually ticked me off a bit in the beginning how dare 9 black tubes show me how inadequate my special room sounds without them. If you tried other room treatments and were unimpressed, give the Room Lenses a try. They may be just what your room needs. If you are already using other room treatments, dont assume these cant do better! I almost blew off Todd Laudeman at the beginning because I was so sure that my special room was as good as it was going to get with my existing room treatment.
OK, we get the message they work. But tell us more about what they do for the sound
In my room, the most noticeable improvement is in how much more real the space in the soundstage seems. Theres no more width or depth than before, but now it is simply more real. Youve perhaps heard people talk about soundstages that seem so real you think you can get up and walk around between the musicians thats what I got using the Room Lenses. After you get over the initial goose bumps and giggles this wonderful soundstage provides, you begin to notice other things. That little lumpy area in the bass? It isnt lumpy any more. That recording where the harp just kind of sits there now you hear small inflections in the playing and the full measure of the harps shimmer. Those cool drums? Whoa! Now theres an actual vibrating head/skin on the drum and you hear it very clearly after the initial whack. Even on recordings where I could already hear the drum head/skin after the whack, the improvement in tonality whas such that the tuning and tautness of the head/skin were evident. No matter how great you think your system is at making realistic "space", you wont hear how good it really is till you get 3 Room Lenses in your room and position them correctly.
The Argent Room Lens is a unique room tuning device. The cost, while not inexpensive, is typical for effective high end products. The prices of some other room tuning systems could easily exceed the price of the 3 Room Lenses recommended for most rooms. You can expect the Room Lenses to deliver in any listening room, though results can vary from room to room and positioning correctly is important. Your room influences the sound of your system more then you realize. The Room Lenses are the most effective devices Ive encountered so far to improve the sound of a system by making the room sound/work better. I think youll like them a lot. Excuse me now, please. I'm going to go figure out what I have to sell to keep the Room Lenses,if I have anything left to sell. Maybe Todd will forget he loaned them to me (as if that ever happens!).
One last temptation... you can probably imagine that launching a new high end product isn't easy. You need some dealers and sales in order to get product moving. During this startup phase, Argent has a special offer for customers who do not have local dealers (and believe me Todd knows exactly who and where all his dealers are). Direct order customers can get 25% off the $990 list price ($742.50) for 3 Room Lenses. Direct orders will have a 30 day return/money back guarantee so you can try them risk free. Tell Todd that SoundStage! sent you. This special discount is only good during the time this review is "live" on SoundStage! (4 to 6 weeks total). Once this review is moved to the Talkin' Shop Archive, the special price will end.
If you aren't sure about the direct sale thing consider this... the Room Lenses aren't electronic components. They won't need service or upgrading, they won't break, they won't become obsolete and they won't ever wear out. These are truely a "safe" buy whether Argent remains in business for 6 months, 6 years or 60 years. They will always make your room sound better. To be perfectly honest... these Room Lenses are very cool. If you think you might want them, do not wait around. Get them now. The price is right and procrastinators could lose the opportunity to ever get them if there aren't enough orders to make it worthwhile for Todd to keep building them. I hope Room Lenses are around for a long time, but there are no guarantees. I would never urge you this strongly to go out on a limb for a speaker, amp, preamp or other electronic component. You really need to have those kinds of products from companies that are going to be around for the long haul. Something like the Room Lens is a completely different sort of product. It works, works convincingly and once built, it lasts as long or longer than you do. You don't have to be an acoustics expert to use the Room Lenses effectively, follow the guidelines in the owners literature for placement and you'll find the right locations within a couple of days. I don't want to hear any excuses. You can put the Room Lenses to work in your room without much effort. The results will make you very happy indeed.
|Argent Room Lens
Price: $990 USD per set of 3, $395 USD each