Index to this issue Home Page

 

Product Review - Clark Synthesis Tactile Transducer - August, 2000


Evan Upchurch

Divider

Magnet Structure: 25 oz. 37 MGO Neodymium

Transduction Force: 3.5 ft/lbs Per Watt

Power Rating (continuous) : 135  Watts RMS

Frequency Range: Tactile - 5 Hz to  800 Hz. Audible - 20 Hz to 17 kHz

Impedance (minimum): 4 Ohms

Overload Protection: Raychem7 Polyswitch @ 135W

Voice Coil : Reinforced Dupont7 Kapton7 Coil Former with Kapton7-Coated High Density Coil

Casing: Injection-molded Lexan7 Domes

Dimensions: 8" Diameter x 2.25" Height

MSRP : $649 USA

Clark Synthesis Tactile Sound, 8122 Southpark Lane, Suite 110, Littleton, Colorado 80120 ; Telephone 303-797-7500;  Fax 303-797-7501; Web http://www.clarksynthesis.com  

A Little Primer

I’ve never had a speaker that has elicited the responses the Clark Synthesis has received.  Everybody wants one.  This is the same technology our government has used to recreate the tactile sensations of flight in F-14 and Apache helicopter simulators.  Sub and trans-sonic devices are not that new to the home theater world, but they have certainly not gotten the press they deserve. 

I’ll make it easy for you.  Buy one.  The rest of this review is just a laundry list of positive remarks about the Clark Synthesis.  It is a great way to add a completely new sensation to your movies and music.

Competition, or is it?

There are a number of manufacturers out there, and Secrets has reviewed another popular choice, the Buttkicker (click here to see the review).  Personally, I prefer the Clark Synthesis solution to reproduce low frequencies as an all around solution.  The Buttkicker is aptly named.  If you watch action movies all the time and want something to kick you hard during the loud bits, it is a good choice.  Why does it give such a good kick?  It is essentially a three-pound piston assembly driven by at least a 350-watt amp (although 1,000 makes it much happier).  The Clark Synthesis has the capacity to deliver a good kick in the pants with considerably lower power requirements, but its abilities go beyond that.  It has a finesse that makes it interesting with music as well as movies.

How does it work?

The Clark Synthesis is actually a voice coil similar to those used in traditional speakers.  It packs considerable sound into a case approximately 8” across and 2” high.  Instead of coupling the voice coil to a cone that vibrates air, which then vibrates your ear’s tympanic membrane, the Clark Synthesis eliminates the middleman and shakes you directly.  They encase the voice coil in a strong plastic chassis that allows you to easily mount it to your seat or floor joists.

Evaluation Setup

Clark Synthesis actually provides an excellent installation manual on their web site that instructs you how to properly mount the transducer for optimum results.  Here is a link to their manual: http://www.clarksyn.com/install.pdf.  It outlines the different locations that you can install the transducer such as to the floor joists in your house, to a platform underneath your theater seating, and even to the frame of the driver seat in your car.  The unit is compact enough to be installed just about anywhere.  This is an often overlooked part of equipment, but extremely important nonetheless.  Thoughtful, concise, and organized instructions are extremely valuable, and Clark Synthesis has done a great job here.

I split the left and right mains output from my surround processor to go to the transducer amp.  Sometimes movies (like Disney’s Tarzan for example) do not take full advantage of the LFE channel in 5.1 recordings, so I felt that it was better to use the left and right front channels for the transducer. 

If any processor designers are reading this, give us a way to combine all 5.1 tracks for use with a transducer.  It would also be useful if the installation instructions for the product gave some better examples of correctly configuring the amp and associated processors to use with a transducer.

I have a riser in the rear of my theater room that easily accommodated the transducer (see the photo below).  Before that I had simply mounted it to the bottom of my blue sofa with a 2 ’x 3’ piece of ¾" plywood.  Both installations were quick and easy.  When the transducer was mounted directly to the couch, I felt that it had better resolution than when I mounted it to the bottom of my platform.  It lost some finesse with music.  Some of my guinea pig listeners also found it strange to have the transducer vibrating their feet through the platform and preferred the couch configuration.  Personally, I like my feet to be buzzed and do not mind losing some vibration detail. It seems more immersive that way.

Sound-Vibration Quality

As far as I am concerned, the Clark Synthesis Transducer can do no wrong.  I have seen the launch sequence in "Apollo 13" approximately 13 zillion times (partially thanks to sitting next to the Buttkicker booth at CES this year).  This sequence is a perfect demonstration of the impact a transducer can have.  Low frequency vibrations have an amazing effect on your perception of movies. 

When I first got my Velodyne FSR18, I was blown away by the strong clean foundation it laid for the rest of the sound.  The transducer has made that a larger and stronger foundation, and movies just aren’t the same when it isn’t there.  I can never go back to a system anchored only by a sub.  Whenever I watch movies in a theater or over at other people’s houses, I miss the effect.  The movies don’t have the same degree of involvement as when I am sitting atop the transducer.

Wow . . . it actually makes bad movies seem better!

“How can a speaker improve bad films?” you may ask.  I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest film "End of Days" last week.  It’s not a bad film really, but it is terribly predictable.  The transducer added an element of anxiety to my viewing experience.  It actually made the film’s startling moments much more surprising.  I probably have not tested this hypothesis enough with truly bad films.  Perhaps I’ll try Eddie Murphy’s “Life” tonight . . . .

Does everything sound better?

Yes, but not everything benefits equally from the same level of transducer effect.  For example, with music, I turn the level down so that it blends better with the other speakers.  For films, I find the slightly higher level makes the film more dramatic.  If you purchase one, make sure you have the ability to adjust its level, because you will want to make subtle adjustments depending on what you are watching.  For example, I preferred a higher level with "Armageddon" than I did with "The Muse".

Full-Range Speaker

The Clark is actually a voice coil and is therefore capable of a fair degree of subtlety compared with other low frequency speakers out there.  Its frequency range is 5 Hz to 17 kHz. 

I enjoyed the Synthesis when it was running full range, but it did muddy the sound field a bit.  The sound just engulfs you when it is transferred up through the platform under your seat.   I prefer to run it below 80 Hz.  This adds the kick without hearing dialog coming up through the couch.

The Bottom Line

Buy one.  Buy it now.  The transducer adds such an element of excitement to all your films, you will love it.  Guaranteed.

My test equipment:

Lexicon DC-2

Sunfire Cinema Grand Five-Channel Power Amplifier

Home Theater PC with SoundBlaster Live Card and SP/DIF Outputs

Mirage Front Speakers

Definitive Technology BP-8 Rear Speakers

Velodyne FSR-18 Subwoofer

 

- Evan Upchurch -

 

Manufacturer Response:

To address your comments regarding "voicing" in a tactile format, I have one suggestion and one comment. First, the dialog can be effectively removed from a full range setup by sourcing signal from the right and left front outputs set to a large speaker setting.  In this mode the dialog is presented predominantly in the center channel and thus only sound effects and music will be presented to the tactile transducers.

In most DD and DTS processors, the large speaker setting will provide full range information to the right and left outputs These outputs can then be split to drive the front speakers and tactile amplifiers.  My comments to producing a tactile effect for voicing addresses a more sensitive issue in two regards.  First, I would like to point out that the human voice is in fact a very tactile sensation, i.e., we vibrate when we talk, and if we are in close proximity to someone who is talking, we will feel them talk.  As an adjunct to this "human tactile output", we hear ourselves through bone conduction. As an example (I'm sure most people in your reading audience have already done this), if you have ever recorded your own voice, you will notice that when played back, your voice sounds foreign.  The reason that we do not sound like ourselves is that we can not reproduce the bone conductive effect with standard loudspeakers.  Make that same recording and play it back with both standard speakers and full range tactile transducers, and now that familiar timber is present.  Think of it this way. If we play back a Pavarotti recording with full range tactile transducers, we will hear and feel what he does when singing that aria.

My next comment is an even more sensitive issue, and that is one of hearing loss.  A large percentage of "baby boomers", myself included, have lost part of our hearing.  This hearing loss can be attributed to many factors, but the most significant cause is exposure to loud music. This type of hearing loss, know as mechanical hearing loss, can be overcome by bone conduction sound transmission.  This is to say that by presenting dialog as a tactile sensation, we overcome the most common form of hearing loss.  Thus, full range tactile sound presentation including dialog can greatly enhance the movie viewing experience.  As a further note,  when full range tactile sound is employed with a music format, the tactile or vibratory signature of all musical instruments can be experienced (heretofore a sensory stimulation reserved for musicians only), not just the kick drum or bass guitar.

Conclusion:  while full range tactile sound may not be for everyone, we would like to think that, given the option, many people will choose full range, full fidelity tactile sound.  Your comments and suggestions are always welcome at Clark Synthesis.

Most sincerely,

Thomas Clark Fenner

Clark Synthesis, Inc.

tomf@clarksynthesis.com

Divider

© Copyright 2000 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.