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An Interview with Mark Kovach of Miracle Audio

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LB:      Let’s turn now to your speakers.  The popularity of panel televisions has fostered a considerable market for wall-mounted speakers.  Such speakers are looked down upon by the high-end audio community, in most cases justifiably so.  Your speakers, which you exhibited at the 2012 RMAF, are something of an oddity, being a true high-end, wall-mounted design.  What was your impetus to design and build such a speaker?

MK:     During my time in the recording business, CD’s were introduced and digital recording began to get a foot in the door.  But no matter the recording medium (analog or digital) I noticed that as we progressed through the recording process from live to finished master, the music seemed to lose a little magic. I wanted to bring that magic to all music lovers. In college I started experimenting with Dynaco kits and higher end speakers mostly due to my friend Jeff, who spent what we both thought was a ton of money on an Ampzilla, Levinson pre and phono pre and a pair of DQ-10’s. At the time, we were blown away by both systems. But as I recorded more over the years I realized that it wasn’t enough.  I wanted a system to capture all (or at least most) of the magic.

In the early 90’s I read about hi-def TV, soon to be implemented in the US (yeah, right) and thought that everyone should have hi-def audio also.  Projectors were becoming a reality and it seemed to me that it would be nice to have everything off of the floor and on the wall.  This idea also appealed to my wife, Diane given that we were living in an apartment at the time.

As I became more familiar with the new hi-end audio community, now gaining in popularity, I read about some speaker designs that were incredibly heavy and rigid, the idea being that the less the speaker moved, the cleaner the reproduction.  According to Newton, as the speaker pushed on the air, the air pushed back on the speaker causing what I thought to be similar to mini Doppler shifts.  This caused smearing of the sound.  I figured that if the speaker was on the wall, then the air would be trying to push the wall and even the house.  The air would lose!  Also a less deep cabinet would be easier to make rigid. If narrow enough, they could be recessed into the wall for a more aesthetic appeal.

LB:      What were some of the challenges you faced in designing and building such speakers?

MK:     The most obvious is getting some bottom end out of a cabinet of about ½ cubic foot using 8” drivers.  At the time I wanted to make the cabinet no deeper than 4” (the available space of a two by four stud with ½” drywall) and an 8” driver was as big as you could get without exceeding that depth.

We accomplished this with a variation of a ¼ wave transmission line, which I call an asymmetrical line.  This evolved through trial and error and I do not have any math for it, so don’t ask.

The second problem was how to move enough air to sufficiently represent the air that would be moved by instruments were they in the room themselves.

Now obviously, one is not going to move the volume of air equal to that of a symphony orchestra with any reasonably sized box, much less one that has 4.1 square feet of surface.  But then you’re not listening in a room the size of Carnegie Hall so everything becomes relative to the size of the listening space.  Still, one needs to move a lot of air even in a 1600 cubic foot room to approximate some realism.

So in a pair of our flagship model DiAne speakers, we have eight, 8” custom designed drivers (4 per speaker) to start.  They move most of the air.  But their response is from 40Hz to about 1.2kHz, and together with the transmission line, they take up a lot of the internal volume.  So this creates another problem: how to get the response from 1.2kHz to 20kHz with sufficient energy to match that of the 8 drivers?

The answer was to cram another 20 speakers into the design: 16- ½” cones and 4-Planer tweeters, in a three way configuration, making the DiAne a 4-way speaker system.


LB:      What type of crossover network do you use?

MK:     The crossover is comprised of three hi-pass filters, using only capacitors that are manufactured for us in specific values at 3% tolerance, combined with the natural roll off-of the drivers.  There aren’t any inductors, as I really don’t like what inductors do to music (especially dynamics) when it’s passed through them. Please don’t get me started!

LB:      Speaker dispersion is an important parameter, and one on which there are different views.  Your speakers have wide dispersion in both the horizontal and vertical plans.  How did you achieve this, and why?

MK:     The how I did it is easy in theory.  It’s mostly cones and many of them at different bandwidths.  The implementation is another story and much too long for this article. Why I did it?  Now that’s important.

As a conductor, composer, audio engineer and music lover (I go to Carnegie or Avery Fisher Halls at least once monthly) I became accustomed to a certain sound.  I like to call it music.

Far too often, hi-end audio (emphasis on audio) has very little to do with music.  The biggest example of this is speaker back imaging.  This is a phantom image that is a combination of the lossy characteristics of the speaker and its proximity to the room boundaries.  Two years ago a well-known (respected?) audio reviewer asked me about the back imaging of our DiAne (on-wall) speaker.  “Are you freaking kidding me?”  “How can you even ask such a question?,” I said.  “It’s on the wall!” “There isn’t any, but if there was I would find a way to remove it.”  His response was “Well, without back imaging, it can’t be considered a hi-end speaker and therefore I can’t review it.” “Wow!”  “That was close,” I thought, “Imagine if I would have let this ignoramus review my speakers.”  The point is that there isn’t any phantom back imaging in music in the real world, and shouldn’t be any in your music reproduction system.  There is phantom imaging in some recorded music such as Madonna’s “Live To Tell” and “Express Yourself” for example but that’s above, behind and on the sides of the listener, and is artificially produced with digital delays and other electronic effects as a gimmick; no one is representing it as an attribute of good hi-end audio.  Speakers with correct phase and time alignment should be reproducing these phantom images.

Also not available in real world music is only one good seat per venue.  Imagine paying $120 for a NY Philharmonic concert ticket and being told that the sound is degraded at your seat.  Only that one seat in the middle with the guy bent slightly forward with his head locked in a vise will realize the best sound at this concert.  What nonsense.  You’ve paid good money for this ticket.  You’ll want a good sound wherever you’re seated. You’ve paid good money for those speakers too.  Shouldn’t you, your wife and the others in the room all have good sound (within reason, of course) regardless of seating?  Of course you should.  And the only way to achieve this is with wide dispersion speakers that are on the wall.

For me, and others who can appreciate it (like the 100’s of professional musicians I know) the DiAne represents a close approximation of how music is presented to our ears in the real world.  It’s what I like to call hi-end music.  Several years ago I was at a party in the home of a piano tuner who works for many “hi-end” musicians.  His speakers were the DiAne that had been installed about a year prior to the party so many accomplished musicians had a serious amount of listening time with them prior to the party.  When a NY Philharmonic violinist learned that I was the “Mark” who had designed the DiAne, she came over to me and said “Unlike most speakers that I’ve heard, when you turn up the volume on the DiAne, you don’t get the feeling that it got louder, you feel like the usher came over and escorted you to a better seat.”  I feel that this was a compliment of the highest magnitude.  Back imaging be damned!

While I’ll agree that narrow dispersion speakers give you a more focused image in the sweet spot than wide dispersion speakers, and to date there are very few really good wide dispersion speaker designs with clean sound and excellent focus, the sound produced by most narrow dispersion speakers, although hi-end audio, is not hi-end music.  I’m a musician and music lover first and an audiophile second.

One Response to An Interview with Mark Kovach of Miracle Audio

  1. Pat Perulli says:

    After reading that you would think everybody needs to hear these speakers & amplifier.

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