ONLINE - ISSUE 6
The Hallograph - Soundfield Optimizer
as reviewed by Clay Swartz
The Hallograph soundfield optimizers are room treatment devices that come from the people that brought us the Shakti Stones and Onlines. I have looked forward to hearing the Hallographs because Shakti has a track record of marketing innovative products that work. Ben Piazza of Shakti has been telling me about these devices for over a year. The prototypes were first shown at CES 2002, and the finished product at CES 2003, where I first heard them.
Shaktis CES demo was simplea single track was played with and without the Hallographs. There was a big improvement in the sound with the Hallographs in place. A friend that was at CES was so impressed that he ordered two pairs on the spot. This is unusual for him, as he is a very careful shopper. Another friend, a well-known audiophile, also ordered two pairs. I then heard the Hallographs in both systems. Both were transformed. The Hallographs are ideally placed in the back corners of the room, behind the speakers, but both friends rooms have open areas to the left of the speakers, so both placed one Hallograph in the right-hand corner behind the listener and one between the speakers. The manufacturer does not recommend this placement, but it seemed to work very well. The soundstage in both systems was deeper and more defined. Images had better placement and were more solid. The improvements were immediately heard, even in rooms that were 90 degrees from the listening rooms. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear these two systems with the Hallographs behind the speakers, but the sessions made me even more eager to get the review units.
Finally they arrived. The Hallographs are sold in pairs, and require assembly. There is a pentagonal base, then a 47.5-inch high vertical support column, then a top unit consisting of two parallel, horizontal wood pieces with three wooden pillars between them. Each pillar has a square wooden post with a shaped wood facing, and is 22.5 inches high. The facing, which has a wave-like form, is about 0.5 inches thick and consists of two different types of wood. One appears to be something like ebony and the other is lighter colored. Each facing has a different ratio of dark to light colored wood. The pair has a right and left unit. The pillars with the greatest amount of ebony go to the inside. The sound can be tuned by rotating the top sections toward or away from each other. According to Ben Piazza, moving the outside edges back toward the wall increases detail and moving them away adds warmth. After assembly, the units look like wooden sculptures. I placed one in the corners behind each speaker, as recommended. Optional wall mount units can be obtained if you do not want to use the stands.
I presumed that my listening room would be a completely different test for the Hallographs than the other three rooms. My room is fairly dead, with lots of acoustic treatment. I have corner tunes, tube traps, wall treatments, mapingo dots, heavy carpeting, and a suspended acoustic ceiling. The room is 20 by 20 feet. On the back wall is a wall-mounted wooden case for CDs and DVDs. There is an open doorway on the back wall, near the left corner. The windows are covered with heavy wood blinds. The stereo is offset to the left of the room. The floor is cement under the carpet.
I first put in the SACD stereo disc of A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, a great sounding disc. I first listened without the Hallographs in the system. As usual, the sound was very good. I then installed the Hallographs and played the same cut. The soundstage was now wider, deeper, and higher. Dynamic contrasts were increased, and there was an improvement in fine detail. The sax took on more of the sound of the instrument. The images were more solid and more three-dimensional. The sound was not completely as transformed as it was in the other, less treated rooms, but there was still a very worthwhile improvement. I then played another disc, keeping the Hallographs in the system then removing them. This was to eliminate the listeners natural preference for the cut most recently played. I repeated this process numerous times, both with CD and SACD, and my initial impressions were confirmed. I then decided to try a multi-channel disc, Telarcs A Celtic Spectacular. With the Hallographs in the system, the same improvements were noted. There was also an improvement in the ambient soundfield, which seemed less confused and larger. This was confirmed on a number of surround discs.
When my friend Marv came over to listen, I played the same Coltrane album, first with the Hallographs, then without. After about thirty seconds without the Hallographs, he insisted that I put them back in, as he did not feel the need for any more switching. Later on, I got hold of a third top unit and decided to see what it would do. I first tried it on top of the tube trap in the right rear corner of the room. There was a small improvement in the soundfield, one that required A/B-ing to hear. I then decided to try it on the left rear tube trap, and there was a much more substantial improvement in ambient effect. There was also a further clarification of the soundstage, and some fine detail that had not been heard before became audible. Instruments had more sense of surrounding air. This surprised me, because this corner is to the side of the main soundfield. I hope sometime to try a fourth unit.
The Shakti Hallographs have become permanent parts of my system. At $1000 a pair, they are not cheap, but they can transform a system, even one in a highly treated room. A very strong selling point is that they look like pieces of art and not room treatments, so will be likely to have a much higher "roommate" acceptance factor. The improvements they make are essential to enjoying music to the fullest. Clay Swartz
Suggested retail is under $1000