Automated room correction system
Normally when approaching a new piece of kit, one has a reasonable idea of the scale of the difference one might expect to hear. With speakers the potential scale of the changes are massive; with cables the changes are more subtle and aimed at fine tuning with most other component falling between the two. With a room correction device I really was not sure what to expect. I have spent a reasonable amount of time operating mixing desks for bands and have heard efforts on EQ that ranged from incredible through to people trying to flee the building. All of these efforts of course had a human being in charge of these efforts, and this was my first experience of anything automated in the EQ field so this was going to be something of a learning experience.
A quick features list shows the Anti-mode is very well specced device indeed. It’s not that large, being only about half-width for a standard hifi component and only about two inches tall, so the back is packed with connectors. It features Toslink, RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, plus a USB port for both audio input and exporting data to a computer for analysis. It also comes with a nice little remote which is clear and easy to use. The remote is the primary source of interaction with the unit as it does not have controls on the front facia at all.
Considering how complicated the internals of the device are, setup is a remarkably straightforward experience. The unit comes with a small linear microphone that you plug in to run the automated setup process. The manual gives clear directions on the requirements for positioning the microphone and running the tests. In fact the manual is really very good overall, its explanations are clear and concise without being overtly technical and are definitely a triumph of substance over style. There were two minor niggles with the setup process that I encountered. The first is to do with the microphone placement:
“The microphone should be positioned at ear height, with no reflective surfaces near the tip and fixed in place Do not hold the microphone or the microphone cable in your hand during the measurement! Rather find a secure position where the microphone stays intact throughout the whole calibration process.”
The microphone itself is scarcely wider than the cable it is connected to and neither offers a huge amount of traction. I ended up with a rather Heath Robinson affair involving a dining chair being wedged up against the table at a jaunty angle to get the microphone into the right place, away from the reflective surfaces and held in place. With a rather crushing sense of inevitability I realised afterwards that spot of Blu-tack would have made live considerably easier. Doofus boy. The secondary issue is the length of the cable attached to the microphone. In my rather diminutive listening room this was not a problem, but I’ve seen enough pictures of other’s listening environments to wonder if it’s quite long enough to reach the listening position. Having said that, if you can afford a property with rooms that large you can probably afford a small spot of additional cabling to extend the range! These are pretty minor quibbles as well. Something that the manufacturer might want to look at for the next revision, but certainly nothing close to putting me off the product.
The second issue related to actually taking the readings themselves. This is a rather straightforward process of simply setting the machine off on its pre-set program of pre-recorded test tones that it uses to build up a sonic picture. At this stage there’s not really a lot to fiddle round with which is nice. In total the setup program takes about 5 minutes to run. To be honest, it’s not the most listenable to of noises (unless weird minimalist compositions are your thing), just a series of tones that start off low and get gradually higher, so I decamped to the other room whilst it hummed and whistled away. About four and half minutes into the program, the phone rang. The phone that was sat right behind the microphone on the table. Needless to say, the graph from that plot looked rather jumpy in the higher frequencies and the ensuing noise was decidedly peculiar. After removing the phone and any other potential noise sources from the room I left it to run again and got something a little more reasonable.
So, what are the results of this little box of tricks? Bass. Lots of bass, and then a little more for good measure. The manual was most misleading in this regard, noting:
“After Anti-Mode gets rid of the room resonances, it may appear the result sounds good but is lacking some bass. One possible reason for this is that the listener has grown used to the exaggerated bass response previously caused by room resonances.”
Whilst I had got rather used to a fair amount of ‘bloom’ from my setup due to its proximity to a rather large built-in cupboard, I really wasn’t ready for the immense quantities of incredibly taught, tight bass that came forth with such phenomenal punch. My Triangles are renowned for having incredibly quick and tight bass, but I’d no idea to quite what degree they did until the Anti-Mode did its thing. Suddenly the largely neglected dance section of my music collection was back in vogue and away we went. The Prodigy, Red Snapper, Massive Attack and CJ Bolland were all present and in a partying mood, and I’m pretty sure I did my hearing some damage that first afternoon. There’s nothing quite like realising that every volume control on the system is at maximum volume without a hint of looseness or flabbiness in the bass department. Even now as I write this review I have to wrestle with the desire to crank the volume up for fear of waking the baby and the ensuing aftermath of needing to sleep on the couch.
The other area that the difference is most pronounced was with bass drums. The sensation of a bass drum note at a large stadium sized gig is a phenomenal kick in the guts it has so much power. My setup, even with appropriate recordings, was a long, long way from that intensity. The Anti-mode cannot of course replace the effect of a hundred or so 18” drivers all firing at once, but for the first time some of my live recordings gave a not unreasonable approximation to the real thing.
It’s also good to hear that there Anti-mode doesn’t make changes where they aren’t required. Change for change’s sake has always struck me as being a rather stupid concept and simply asking for trouble. The middle through to the top end has never been an issue at all in this room (indeed, resonant frequency issues do tend to only feature in the lower registers), and the Anti-mode leaves them well alone, which still allows the natural qualities of the Unico and the Triangles to shine through.
The Anti-mode also contains a number of other options that you can change. It’s got a variety of different manually alterable equaliser options to allow you to customise the sound on top of the room correction changes. Going from a fairly hefty mixing desk to this does feel somewhat restrictive, but the results are good and the manipulation is a lot more straightforward that a full parametric EQ is. For those so inclined towards measurements you can export a range of plots to your PC for more detailed analysis than the graphs presented on the device itself allow.
So, in answer to the original question mentioned at the beginning, the changes wrought by the Anti-mode are massive, on a pair with a substantial change in speakers for how much it can change the end product of a system. There will I am sure be some that feel the Anti-mode should always be surplus to requirements and that the same results should be achieved by suitable selection of components and careful positioning of speakers. For those of us without the philosophical hang-ups on this front, and in particular those that do not have the budget / free time / domestic arrangements to allow such a journey of tweaking and changing to derive that ideal sound, the Anti-mode is a phenomenally good and unobtrusive way of getting very close and without any of the downsides of hours of frustration, empty bank balances and enraged spouses. It’s certainly with a heavy heart that I’m now going to unplug it from my system to send back to its owner.
Discuss the review here