SOUND ALL AROUND
Other facilities at the Samsung Audio Lab include a transducer lab, where engineers use Finite Element Analysis to examine the behaviour of driver materials. There's also a section that gets finished products ready for production.
The first products to come out of the Audio Lab are the Radiant-360 R6 and R7. Individual Radiant speakers can be used on their own for mono playback, for example to play music from a mobile device via Bluetooth. They also have Wi-Fi connectivity, and can be controlled using Samsung's Wireless Audio Multiroom 2 app. Two speakers can be paired together for stereo playback. In combination with select Samsung TVs or Blu-ray players, multiple Radiant-360 speakers can be tied together for surround sound. The same app lets users create a whole-house multi-room system with Radiant-360 speakers, sending different music to different zones.
During our tour, we had three opportunities to hear the new speakers. The first was a blind listening test, conducted after a short round of training with Harman's How to Listen software. For that test, we compared the R7 with two highly regarded passive monitors, both driven by a 300-watt-per-channel amp from ATI. One of the competitive speakers retails for US$2,000 per pair, the other for US$5,000.
When she presented the results the next day, McMullin said the $5,000 speaker was "the clear winner." But it was striking how closely the five listeners ranked these speakers. Parenthetically, I wonder whether the closeness of the results says something about the methodology. Blind listening to clips of 30 seconds duration will reduce variables in a subjective test: the resulting data will have less "noise." But mightn't this way of testing make it harder to notice distinctions that would be audible in a more relaxed, more natural venue? A more casual approach would certainly generate more "noise," but it might also provide more data - more signal, if you like.
We also listened to a single R7 playing music in mono in the large listening room. It filled the large space without distress, and sounded very pleasing, despite a slight nasal colouration on female vocals on a classical track (Berlioz's Nuits d'Été). Next, we heard four R6 speakers playing music and movie clips in Dolby Surround. The system sounded punchy and dynamic, though I found sibilants on tracks by the Cowboy Junkies and Fairfield Four a bit harsh.
But these are nitpicky observations about two very fine products. The Radiant-360 R6 and R7 are lifestyle speakers, and they succeed wonderfully on those terms.
The underlying design is highly scalable, Devantier noted. It's possible to build much larger systems based on the same technology, with multiple drivers and more horsepower.
Even more impressive than these new speakers is the discipline, talent and creativity of the Audio Lab's Staff. With this facility, Samsung has made a clear statement that it's serious about audio. Time will tell if this commitment translates to market leadership.