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.