Maggies vs. JansZens
These are two very different sorts of speakers, and the sound they make and the experience of hearing them are thus quite different in some ways. Interestingly, we have one customer who was going to replace his 3.7's with zA2.1's, but then realized he likes the sound when he plays them both together, photo attached. I've not tried anything like this myself, and probably should, but it's not a practical arrangement for most people.
One prime difference is that the Maggie is a dipole and the JansZen is enclosed. When as much sound comes out the back as the front, then this adds a sense of spaciousness that some like, but at a cost. (1) Loss of phase information cases image focus become more diffuse, rendering players harder to separate within the soundstage. (2) Dipole radiation and relatively wide dispersion activates the ambiance of the room, i.e., lots of the sound you hear has bounced of walls and around the room. This is what creates the spaciousness, but it also means the recorded ambiance is swamped by local ambiance, so everything sounds like it is happening in your room, rather than like you are being transported to the performance. (3) The rear sound waves need space, so the speakers have to be placed far from the walls to avoid collapsing the cardioid bass radiation pattern, and creating comb filtering artifacts that color the frequency response.
Another prime difference is that the Maggies are line arrays. This makes their sound vary very little when one stands, sits, or moves about the room, but they have a tendency to make some instruments sound much taller than they really are.
The JansZen's have controlled dispersion that concentrates the sound ahead of them. This, along with having very well conserved phase, keeps the local ambiance down to a minimum and produces a precise image while giving the impression with closed eyes of being at the performance.
Not having a back wave, they can be placed close to walls, which saves space.
Another prime difference is that although Maggies are also planar speakers, they operate completely differently -- they are magnetostatic, not electrostatic. This means there are metal conductors on the planar membrane for conducting the current, much like the coil in a cone speaker, and this adds mass and interferes with the "speed" of the response. Also, when the conductors heat up at loud volume levels, this changes the tension on the membrane and thus changes the sound. It is also possible to melt the membrane. An electrostatic is just a membrane with no mass loading. It is impossible to get the accuracy of an electrostatic any other way.
Ah, the hazards of smart, curious clients. You've done a commendable job of looking into this. You may be right that the DSP-4 will sound better, but I have my doubts. Although a digital input and higher data rate would appear prima face to be inevitably better, my suspicion is that this product is mainly the outcome of a marketing arms race.
I think moving the DSP for room EQ into the DAC would be good as a general rule, but for speaker EQ, it's best to do it in the speaker. Frankly, I'd like to put both DAC and DSP in the speaker, and have made intermittent inroads toward this goal over the last couple of years. What do you think of that? Or is this what you meant in the first place?
As you have no doubt noticed, the redigitization issue is a bone widely contested in high end audio, with most opponents being the boffins (I'd never heard that term before -- great) at the high resolution DAC makers. My position is that once a high grade analog signal has been created, then if it is redigitized and kept within the confines of a single circuit, and used directly to create a speaker level signal, then the result will be indistiguishable over a wide range of data rate in that single circuit, even as slow as 48 kHz, as long as bit depth is high, which it is.
Here is the key to why it shouldn't matter: There is not going to be any phase skew from trying to make an analog signal from that 48 kHz data stream with a brick wall filter, because there is no brick wall filter -- the data is used to create a much faster PWM-PPM signal that is demodulated to a power level signal, instead. Having an analog input does add a bit of risk from the interconnects, but I think not much.
A high resolution DAC maker whose name shall remain occult, who is an absolute purist when it comes to this issue, has told me that some of his customers, who have ignored his advice and bought digital or other switching amplifiers for use with his company's DAC's, have reported that such amplifiers with inferior resolution sound better than even the best analog amplifiers, regardless of the file resolution. He experiences some cognitive dissonance as a result, and has said he is interested in hearing it for himself, but has yet to visit me. (He and I have other things to discuss, like cooperating on a built-in DAC for a possible new line of speakers, so maybe I'll see him later this Summer.)
There are some side issues:
There is a range of file quality and recording quality, of course, and even reasonably high quality files can still mask improvements in resolution. Few recordings are good enough to benefit from high resolution playback in the first place. The benefits can only be present in the hopefully audible results of better phase accuracy, but to gain them, there are very tight constraints on the recording process to encode accurate phase in the first place.
High resolution in the recording studio, as opposed to playback, has its place mainly for reducing the level of difficulty in matching the signal level from the microphones and preamps to the recording gear, where great bit depth provides extra headroom. Also, although inapplicable to DSD, high data rate and bit depth provide more flexibility in applying heavier forms of digital processing transparently, such as convolution with hall impulse responses.
As with anything, price is not necessarily an indication of DAC quality. It's very easy for the maker of expensive gear to poo-poo competitors or any arrangement that might not utilize the purported benefits of said gear. Of course, I will be suspected of this, myself, and can only hope a reputation for integrity can deflect doubts.
If after all you would like to be a guinea pig for a DSP-4 upgrade, let me know, and I will begin investigating what will be involved and eventually generate a price for you.
From: Cosmo Wisniewski [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, July 15, 2016 6:04 AM
To: David Janszen
Subject: Idea / Question / Future proofing active Valentina...?
This is nothing to do with the speakers working as they are now... Just an idea and to get your thoughts at some convenient time. I'm having a great time listening to all my stuff. The system is all digital sources and have so I have been investigating better DACs than my current modified Oppo 105d (Audiocom Signature edition).
I tried a Chord DAVE at about $10k for the DAC and was surprised it didn't make much difference in my system. Having thought about the way the actives work and sneakily doing some of my own research I have found out a good deal more than I knew before about the Powersoft D-Cell504 DSP IS modules that the actives use. And my mind has been exploring upgrade paths for the future... I hope you don't mind me asking some questions as you have almost certainly thought all this through... The boffins at Chord suggested that the DSP in the active speakers would be influencing and even limiting the final sound and DAC options.
Firstly, with my uneducated mind I have found that there is what looks like an upgrade DSP unit available for the D-Cell that seems to take a digital input as well as the analogue. Called DSP-4 from Powersoft and they even show how to switch from the IS (ADAU 1702 based ADC/DAC) to the DSP-4 (SHARC based DSP) in a helpful technical note. Do you think this might offer any improvements as the 1702 doesn't seem to be the latest and greatest?? Just wondering. Or maybe you are already employing the more powerful SHARC in your implementation?
Secondly, is there any point in considering swapping the DSP from within the speaker to within the DAC to avoid an extra route in and out of the digital domain? Ie. at some point either bypassing the DSP in the D-Cell504 or replacing with a D-Cell without DSP and putting all equalisation processing in the DAC?
I am finding this whole thing fascinating and realise how much rubbish is spoken in the audiophile world and keen to ensure I can get the best out of your wonderful speakers as external DACs improve. I do realise that at some point the 1702 at 48khz has to be a limiting factor despite sounding pretty good to my ears!
As mentioned at the outset this is purely for interest and I am very happy indeed with the sound coming from the speakers!
If there is an upgrade I would be pleased to pay for it!
Many thanks, and very best wishes,