SHAKTI HALLOGRAPH SOUND FIELD OPTIMIZER
$1,199 per pair
What is an accessory? Do you need accessories to make music? If so, who should use them? Why do they seem so popular and prevalent in the current audiophile market? All of these questions I want to explore before we talk about one particular accessory; the Shakti Hallograph Sound Field Optimizer.
By definition, an accessory, if used as a noun is a subordinate or supplementary part, object, or the like, used mainly for convenience, attractiveness, safety, etc. Accessory used as an adjective is defined as contributing to a general effect; supplementary; subsidiary. You can build an entire system that works fine without a single “accessory”. Nothing that is classified as an accessory is necessary to make music in your home system. Do you need speaker wire between your amplifier and speakers? You sure do (unless your wireless) and therefore the speaker wire is not an accessory.
Who should use an accessory? Essentially anybody can try accessories and anybody can incorporate them into their system. The incorporation of an accessory into your system can be fun, entertaining, educational, and sometimes, even make your system sound better. Notice that I said your sound system might sound better; not just different. This is the biggest problem with accessories! Most all make your sound system sound different, but there are always those charlatans who try to make big bugs by selling snake oil and voodoo. We abhor such practices and do our best to expose them. The difference some accessories make might be especially fun in the sense that it makes one aspect of the sound different enough that it stands out and you really enjoy the change. An example might be that an accessory creates the illusion of more depth in the soundstage. This added depth is very fun and makes you want to listen to favorite albums again to see what affect the accessory had on the sound.
The real question you have to answer is whether the accessory actually made your system sound more realistic or if it only created a fun illusion. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. We all hear differently and cherish different aspects of the sounds we listen for. A friend of mine is a bass freak. Any accessory that emphasizes or highlights the bass in a song would be viewed by him as a fantastic addition to his system. On the other hand, I might think the affect was too much, out of proportion to the rest of the spectrum of sound or balance of his system and declare the accessory as detrimental and not complementary. This really can be a very personal choice.
I have always adopted a process of adding an accessory and living with it for a couple of months. I don’t focus on the accessory or even pay much attention. I just listen and try to decide if the change to my system is positive or negative. After a few months, I have formulated an opinion and then decide to rip the accessory out and see how I react to the change over the next couple of weeks. I have found this approach to work well for me. All of us can be fooled if we don’t listen carefully. We can concentrate on an aspect of the sound and miss the fact that the overall presentation is actually slightly worse. I might get so focused and enamored with the particular “aspect” of the sound that I lose track of the bigger picture.
An analogy might be in order to illustrate my point. Picture a very attractive woman with an elegant dress, shoes, and bag. She might be impressed with the look but notices that something is missing. Now picture the same woman with the same outfit but now accessorized with a necklace, broach, bracelet, earrings, and a sequined handbag. In this illustration, the lady with the accessories can really stand out and be much more striking.
The basic package is the same but the accessories made the difference between just being attractive to striking. A stereo system can often be seen in the same light. The basic system is sound in design, properly matched, and extremely competent by any standard. The addition of the right accessories might raise the ultimate sound experience to where it goes from competent to extremely musical and closer to your vision of the absolute sound. Publisher’s comment - Absolutely true Brian, but you can put all the accessories you want on a pig and it is still a pig. If your system is not well constructed in terms of synergy and proper impedance matching, all the accessories in the world aren’t going to help and will only mask the fundamental problems. Also, I know some guys who think a well-dressed beautiful woman IS an accessory...
Reviewer's comment - I am not responsible for ANY of the above pictures...!
Although I spent a lot of time giving you my perspective of what an accessory is and whether they are worthwhile, I wanted to lay a foundation before I told you about the Shakti Hallograph Sound Field Optimizer. This is one of those accessories that falls into the category of hard to explain scientifically but, seems to work wonderfully. Ben Piazza, the man behind Shakti, seems to provide many products that are very effective to the sound but often hard to explain. His products seem to make a difference that people recognize and fall for very quickly.
The Hallograph Sound Field Optimizer is a large, free-standing, rotatable tuning fork shaped wooden sculpture that is claimed to clarify the soundfield by masking or changing chaotic wall reflections. I could spend a couple of paragraphs trying to explain how they look but instead suggest that you look at the enclosed pictures. I believe you will quickly get the idea behind the design.
With Hallographs in place, the soundscape is appropriately broader, deeper and more layered. I even found that the height of the soundstage seemed taller and more expansive. On David Lanz, Return To The Heart, the song, Variations on a Theme from Pachelbel's Canon In D Major has a bird a couple of times that is very high and situated back in the soundfield. I always envision a bird high in a tree set behind the piano. While this is just manufactured into the soundscape, it can sound very real or very fake depending on your system and setup. The Hallographs seem to emphasize the height, depth, and realness of the bird within the overall soundscape. Also note that if properly adjusted, the scale and focus of the performances are maintained; a string quartet does not get as wide as an orchestra, and there is no huge or oversized solo violin.
Once the Hallographs are dialed in, the audibility of small adjustments is illuminating. Toeing the arrays slightly in or out alters my perception of not only the spatial, but also the tonal balance of the system. A quarter-inch of toe-in produces a slightly narrower but deeper soundscape, with a greater sense of warmth; toeing out the same distance makes the soundscape wider but shallower and more forward, as well as slightly brighter. The trick is to find the right balance of sound. Patience in adjustment of the reflector/diffuser array can pay great dividends in natural and musical sound. The Hallograph can be overdone in either direction and while providing some fun, they can detract from the sense of real instruments and music in a real acoustic space. If you want a wall to wall drum set, the Hallographs will allow you to adjust the soundscape to accommodate your desire. Just realize this isn’t right and you will probably tire of the over indulgence with time.
This is an easy accessory to adjust and play with the sound. Once properly set-up and dialed in, you can carefully lay them down and see the difference with or without the reflector/diffuser array in place. You can play one song and then hit pause, put them back in the same location as before and sit down and hit play again. Thirty seconds and you can compare back and forth. Many accessories are not this easy to use or compare. The difference can be striking and undeniable. Whether it sounds more like the real thing is a personal decision. Bottom line, do the Hallographs clarify the soundfield and make the music seem more real? You be the judge.
I find the Hallographs visually appealing, with warm wood tones, and the graceful shape of the diffuser/reflector array seeming like a sculpture. In households where décor is a high priority, I think the Hallograph's lack of visual bulk and delicate, sculptural shapes may find acceptance where large tube traps would never make the cut.
At twelve hundred dollars ($1195), the Hallographs are relatively pricey. As you can see and hear, value is a personal thing. If you have an $8000 system and need a new amplifier since your 20 year old Pioneer receiver is having issues, I would opt for the new electronics. As our Publisher correctly pointed out above, accessories are to complement and balance a sound system that is already well assembled. I would never suggest that you skimp on a key component in order to try an accessory. There are also many accessories that border on “questionable” from a return standpoint.
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware. While accessories can be a lot of fun, they can also be a relative waste of money and take you down the wrong path from a sonic standpoint. Only add one accessory at a time and spend months listening to decide if it is a positive or negative addition to your system.
The return on investment for me was a positive proposition. They really work and they “improved” the sound in my system. If I take them out of my system today, they leave me wanting that additional glow, clarity, and openness within the soundfield. In the context of my system, the $1,200 investment was not cheap but musically compelling. I would spend the money again. I could also share about many accessories that not only didn’t work but actually had an overall negative impact in my system. Most of these accessories have found their way into the home theatre or whole house background music system.