AXPONA 2012: Smyth Research’s Realizer

It was a while back that I first ran into the Realizer, from Smyth Research. I’d wandered in to my not terribly local dealer, Command Performance A/V in Falls Church VA, when a gentleman had just been measured for a Realizer by Jeff Fox. I had no idea what it was and wasn’t curious enough about the product to sit through a 5 minute recalibration. Jeff just slapped the ‘phones on my head, then, and went through an abbreviated demo.

It was the most amazing thing I’d heard.

In short, what happens is that the little Realizer measures sound as it hits your ears, records the responses of the speakers and their in-room performance, and then maps the two together for playback over headphones, no speakers required. What that means is that, when it’s fully calibrated, it sounds exactly as if you’re main rig is now playing back over your headphones. It’s freaky. It’s uncanny. It’s brilliant.

Why? Well, think of the possibilities. I, for one, hate headphones. They just never sound (or feel) quite “right”. But I do so love my stereo, yes, yes I do. But those late night sessions are entirely out of the question when you’ve got little monsters in bed upstairs. Enter the headphone rig! Well, maybe. My patience with the experience usually lasts about an 10 minutes and then I’m off to read or goof around on the Internets (all of them). But with the Realizer, it’s not the headphones I’m listening to. It’s my Maggies. Or my Totems. Or the new Joseph Audio Perspectives that Jeff Fox has on display in his show room. Or the Marten Django’s he’s supposed to be getting soon. Or TAS reviewer Jacob Heilbrunn’s stunning Wilson setup. Or the mastering lab at Lucas Arts or Abbey Road. And I can switch between them.

I can go from two channel to multi-channel and never have to buy five giant full range speakers and still, I’ll get the full benefit of the sweet glory of those new multi-channel discs from AIX (more on them later). I can go from the intimacy of a near field monitor setup to a big ass panel array. I can listen from my chair yet hear the celestial acoustics inside of an airy cathedral or the totally damped mastering studio used by the very best engineers — and flip between them whenever the heck I want to.

There’s some caveats here, of course. Total response depends on the headphones and the amp you use to drive them. The Realizer will support just about any amp/phone combo you want, but will you ever get the last word in bass response from headphones? No. That’s why the Realizer has outputs for “shakers”. I didn’t get to try them, but it sounds fun. Personally, I didn’t miss the lack, though I expect your mileage may vary.

Another issue. To get the ILM Mastering Studio sound into your very own Realizer, you’ll actually have to take it with you to ILM and do your measurements there. Ditto with any venue or system — the Realizer will capture everything, but it won’t invent anything. The limits will be your wallet and patience. But I can only imagine how many systems you could capture … I’m practically giddy with the very thought.

I can’t explain how precise the capture is. After the gent in the pic below, I got in the hotseat myself and got some measurements done on the hotel room with the Genelecs that Lorr Kramer had brought with him. I expected a repeat of my experience at Command Performance A/V, but no. It was way more exact. If I hadn’t just seen that gentleman go through the demo, I never would have believed that the sound coming from the headphones was actually coming from the headphones. Taking the phones off and putting ‘em back on again, I was forcibly struck by the seamlessness in the transition from headphone to speakers and back. Totally, completely, seamless.

If you love headphones, this will probably feel a bit gimmicky. If you’re an high-res computer audio purist, you may balk at the idea of adding an extra analog-to-digital conversion, with another conversion back to analog after being heavily processed by a DSP array. Your loss. If you hate headphones but sometimes need to not blast your neighbors, and love the idea of zooming through an entire galaxy of potential listening systems without actually having to own any of that gear, the Realizer may just blow your mind. It did mine.

The Realizer A8 package costs about $3,000. The dealer network is somewhat limited, but will be your best bet if you want to bundle some headphones on top of the base system and limited headphone options that Smyth Research has on offer.

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8 Responses to AXPONA 2012: Smyth Research’s Realizer

  1. Pingback: REVIEW: Smyth Realizer

  2. K. Collins says:

    There must be some way to get say, 80-90% of the personalisation. Would it not be possible to take ear moulds and send them to Smyth who could insert them to a dummy head and get measurements done at a high end set up (Aix or Mi Casa in LA?). They could do this in batches saving time and money.

    I have a Realiser, but living in Irleand have no access to a high end system. A few Head-Fi’ers were kind enough to e-mail me their measurement files (PRIR’s). One was a pretty good match and was better than the personalisation I made from my own relatively low end system. The others didn’t work well, generally being far too bright and harsh to my ears. I’m happy with what I have, but a bit frustrated that I’m not maximising what the Realiser can do.

  3. Pingback: AXPONA 2012: AIX, B&W, Bryston | Confessions of a Part-Time Audiophile

  4. Bill Domeika says:

    Ok, so help me understand if this is a breakthrough idea or just completely lame. First off, let me say that I’m not buying the idea of brining home this Realizer contraption in order to calibrate the sound of your own $35K Magico’s into some little black box so that you can strap on a pair of $1k headphones and enjoy your Magico’s without ever actually turning them on again. Yeah, yeah…the late night, I can’t listen to them thing… Nonsense, if you have a $120K pair of YG’s you’re going to listen to those babies regardless of who complains… but I digress.

    Now for the idea. How about if you take your Realizer with you to your favorite dealer’s showroom or the listening wing in your Mitt Romney-like rich friend’s mansion who happens to have the most incredibly expensive and massively amazing speakers on hand. Take your pick, a pair of Pearl2s, Wilson WAMMs, Accapella Sphaeron Excaliburs, Peak Consults … let your mind flow free and explore the possibilities. Now you either talk your dealer or bribe your rich friend into letting you calibrate your little Realizer, scientifically following all the directions to the letter in order to store the “virtual experience” the dream speakers that you’ll never in your life be able to afford…AND BRING IT HOME WITH YOU! It’s the ultimate in leveraging SEM (someone else’s money).

    Are we on to something here? For $3000K and the cooperation or bribery of a dealer/friend, you now allegedly have as close to the full experience of your object ‘d lust speaker as you’re ever gonna get…all for the cost of a Realizer and a bleeding edge pair of cans. Now this sounds a deal that could even get the 99%’ers to stop occupying Wall St and head over to Stereo Exchange/NYC. Extreme high-end for the common man. Obama could run on this platform.

    But there’s more! What if the Realizer had the ability to store a half dozen “virtual speakers”? Ah, I can see it now. “Hmm, tonight, i think I’ll strap on my headphones and listen to a pair of Magico M5′s doing Pink Floyd…tomorrow, I’ll cue in the Accapella’s and head for the New World with Dvorak. I’m getting a audio woodie just thinking about this idea.

    Of course, I’ve likely totally missed the point on how the Realizer works…but I can dream can’t I?

    Cheers,

    Bill

    • Bill Domeika says:

      Um…Note to self.

      Dear Bill,
      Next time, remember to read the entire post before flying off the handle with your next wild-ass creative breakthrough idea.

      In other words…Nevermind.

    • Part-Time Audiophile says:

      You can store as many other systems as you have memory space on your SD Card for. I think that’s wicked-cool.

      Lorr was telling me that “the point” was, originally, for those pro-audio folks interested in taking the mastering studio on the road with them. Audiophiles only came in later.

      I may have to get one of these. ;-)

      • Bill Domeika says:

        If I were this guy, I’d go sign up every high-end speaker manufacturer on the planet and offer the Realizer as a marketing tool buy selling high-end speaker calibrated modules on SD cards for like $25 so that audiophiles could “try out” a pair of Acapella’s or some other exotica before they “buying” them.

        I know myself and after some extended time listening to something magical but none the less headphone driven, I’d been killing myself trying to figure out how the buy the real thing.

        Cheers,

        Bill

      • Part-Time Audiophile says:

        I suggested something similar to Lorr last year. The problem, according to him, was that there’s no way to pull apart the room and system from your ears — both need to be physically present for the measurements to be exact enough to complete the illusion. Or rather, there might be a way, but they haven’t hit on it yet. So, for now, the SOTA is to buy your Realizer, hop on a plane, and seek out these exalted temples to audio goodness, get yourself all measured there, and then move on to the next temple and do it again for that one. Repeat as necessary. Not elegant, but it’s the only way to ensure effectiveness — and you’d only have to do it once for each system you’d want to “revisit” with your Realizer.

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