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Daedalus Ulysses Speaker Landscape Perspective Review

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Daedalus Ulysses Speaker Landscape Perspective Review

Portrait and landscape

Daedalus Ulysses with Legacy XTREME HD Subwoofers

The terms Portrait and Landscape will be our trigger words, our frame of reference, pun intended. Just as the advent of Landscape perspective in art, photography and cinematography has expanded our experience, so also Landscape positioning of an audio speaker radically resets expectations and widens the listening perspective – literally.

I chuckle a bit when I think of the irony associated with this review. When I approached Lou following a Daedalus demo at one of the big shows the Landscape concept was the furthest thing from my mind, as seeing dozens of high end displays packs my grey matter with ideas for building audio systems. I had not recalled my musings about it, but was simply interested in the speaker for its consistently high caliber sound. It was only when I set it up in my home and was listening to it that the thought struck me, “this is the perfect speaker to place sideways!” There was no manipulation of Lou, no ulterior motive behind the review request; if I had remembered and approached him with the concept but was turned down I would have found another manufacturer to pursue the concept. But that was unnecessary, as Lou and I shared some stimulating discussions on the subject and he has expressed interest in my findings.

I did find it necessary, however, to blindfold the guests in my room when introduced to the Landscape concept. One was an industry professional (Manufacturer/Distributor) and the other was Dave, my long time audio friend who tends more toward traditional arrangements. I did blind listening for them initially because I know – and so do you – how visual impressions cloud perception. Many persons reading this article would scoff if they walked past a room with a speaker like the Daedalus on its side. Big mistake! Both of these men were quite complementary of the sound when they did not see the speakers. Only later, when it was revealed did they question the implementation. Their acoustic experience did not change; their perspective changed when they saw the odd arrangement making the sound.

That is the big thing which needs to be overcome in regards to using a speaker like the Ulysses in Landscape mode versus the traditional Portrait mode. It simply looks strange! The mind thinks, “Can anything that weird looking sound good?” All one has to do if they are struggling with the appearance is close their eyes, and suddenly it all becomes clear.

Why the Daedalus Ulysses is perfect for landscape listening

The Ulysses is as perfect as any speaker I have encountered for this application. It has a perfectly balanced array of drivers, is truly full range with 8” bass drivers, competent midranges separated physically by several inches, though this is not an absolute necessity, it is a benefit, and a forgiving tweeter. In this instance, the dual dome tweeters play right into the Landscape mode requirements. Beyond this, the speaker must be substantial enough that it is not an insipid performer, yet light enough that it actually can be placed onto the stands by two average strength people; there is little fun in having to assemble a crew anytime one wants to reconfigure the speakers. The BOW woofer system fits the Landscape usage nicely as it sits neatly beneath the extended side of the Ulysses. It also helps that the Ulysses has high sensitivity at 98dB and come standard with the all-polypropylene capacitor upgrade which otherwise costs $2,950 additional on the DA-1.1.

Any number of larger tower or hefty center channel speakers can be tried in this fashion, but sensibility should weed out unfit units:

Angled Front Baffle – this could be a positive or a negative depending on the height of the stands relative to the listener’s ears.

Cabinet Structure – A radically tapered side wall or curved cabinet may not sit well on small stands. Watch out that you never take your hands away from the speakers when placing them until absolutely certain they are stable! Failure to do so may mean a big boom, as in the speaker falling. If in looking at the cabinet worries surface regarding suitability for setting on stands, consider it your silent warning to not proceed. Ignore better judgment to your own peril. In other words, just as rolling Opamps into a component is DAYORA (Do At Your Own Risk Activity), don’t come crying to me if you are sloppy, rushed and generally incompetent such that you destroy some gear from inability to place it on a stand, or knocking it off the stand!

Unorthodox Driver Configuration – Any number driver configurations with drivers of various technologies can be tried, but the result likely will suffer with non-symmetrical driver configurations.

Room Boundaries – Big wide speakers may not work well in narrow rooms. Boundary interaction with speakers may muddle the result. Then again, in my custom room I have 13’ of width and the Ulysses is right at 4 feet tall. In Landscape mode that gives me five feet to play with for the gap in the center and the distance from side walls. Note, however, that toeing in the speaker similar to Portrait mode helps to economize on the space usage.

Hassles Getting To Gear/Media – If you have equipment in the center on stands such as amps and speakers jutting out to the sides you may not physically be able to move past it all! You must have enough room to access anything behind the speakers. If the speakers extend over some gear such as amps, ask yourself if you are confident enough to move past the speakers if the space to pass is narrower. You simply may not have enough room for the bigger speakers you wish to use. Better to move to a smaller set than have an accident you will forever regret.

Aesthetic Considerations – Some people will hate the way it looks and never try it. Others will love the idea but never be able to sell it to the spouse; perhaps not in the living room but in the basement. Perhaps it could be a temporary system for use in the winter. Creativity can bring answers and enjoyment.

The stands

A lot of stands are so poorly made they can’t be trusted with a sizable monitor much less a tower speaker in Landscape mode, or they are hideous looking. To test the stand put your entire weight on it by putting a board across it and leaning with your full weight on it. If the stand collapses you have determined it was insufficient; you may have an injury, but you have the satisfaction that your beloved speakers have suffered no harm. I am using levity (not levitation!); perhaps a more sensible test is to load the stand with weights, and if the stand collapses, watch that it does not fall on your foot.

I’m being facetious, but not about the sturdiness of the stand. The Ulysses is right at 100 pounds, so when teetering over a small stand strength and stability are the critical issues! The stand must be heavy and anchored well. If it is tippy in any way don’t use it. My stands are hollow metal, but I filled them previously with “dry sand,” which will not corrode the metal. I think I have at least 20 pounds of sand in each stand, which is critical to assuring stability when the heavy speaker is on it.

A word of caution regarding small children – do not use the Landscape method! Use common sense and respect the need for safety. A 100 pound speaker falling can crush an infant! Children have been killed by pulling dressers over on themselves, so abstain from such potentially dangerous setups until your kids are big or out of the house permanently. Ignore this warning at the peril of your children’s safety! My children are now 16 and 19 and weigh 220 and 205 pounds respectively, so if the speakers were to fall on them it would be their fault! At that age when you do something stupid and get hurt it is your own fault!

You may also want to avoid the Landscape position if you have huge dogs which may rub against the speakers. There are some big, somewhat klutzy dogs. Basically, guard against whatever may knock the speakers over as they will not be as stable as when in Portrait mode.

Here are some starter ideas for stands based on my experience:

*Heavy, Heavy… I can’t emphasize this enough; do NOT use light or wobbly stands! Be very deliberate and careful if placing stands on carpeting.

*Generously Sized Top Plate: My monitor stands were too short and had too small of a top plate to suit me, so I put the wood base for the Ulysses stand ontop of the monitor stand to give support and height. It is obviously not recommended that you stack materials to gain height and width. I will be working with Lou from Daedalus following the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012 to make specialized stands for the Landscape mode of the Ulysses. These will be heavy, wide and very stable, as well as beautiful.

*Protect the Speaker Finish: Place soft, non-abrasive, non-slip material between the stand and speakers! Gorgeous finishes can mar easily, so protect them. We have a bin of old cloths in our basement where I found we still had a few cloth baby diapers – perfect softness and thickness, just like a baby’s bottom! I anticipate a more elegant solution with the stands Lou is making.

*Adjustments for Angling the Front Baffle: If the stands are too low the face of the speaker can be elevated by wedging something underneath the stand and speaker. I have used square pieces of leather for this purpose. Once again, be very careful! Have another person steady the speaker while you insert the device to elevate the speaker’s front baffle. I strongly recommend adjustable spikes, which most stands have. For the time being I removed the rear spikes so that the stand’s back end rests on the carpeting while the front spikes elevate the front of the stand. Watch out for scratching of hard floors if you try that.

The pictures accompanying this article show my low tech, low fashion approach to testing the speakers. The stands I had were not high enough to suit me, so I put the Ulysses’ wooden Soundocity maple bases on top, then used some cloth diapers (nice and thick) from the rag bin to protect the speakers. Lou and I are collaborating on custom stands to be made following RMAF 2012.

Why all this bother?

This discussion will benefit most those who have the Ulysses or plan on purchasing it. Those who have similar tower speakers will also gain, perhaps. Would I make a buying decision based solely on the Landscape speaker orientation? No; I would insist upon ownership of a speaker I enjoy in Portrait mode, and if it works superbly in Landscape mode it is a bonus. The exception might be if one had the opportunity to demo the speakers in home for specific use in that fashion. Sonically, the benefit is not inconsiderable; a vast expansion of the soundstage, the sensation of greatly increased definition, and superior Left/Right separation as well as integration with the center phantom image are the three most compelling results:

Remarkable Expansion of Soundstage – This would be expected; what thinner floor standing speaker put on its side would not stretch the soundstage? Here is a question which deserves serious consideration: Who says a square soundstage of approximately 8-10’ x 8-10’ is proportionately accurate to real life? Movie makers realized that a Landscape perspective is superior in many respects and moved to that format. Why does audio have to be captive to the square paradigm? Because it always has? That is not good enough for me; I enjoy rationale and support for why a method or technique is used, not simply convention.

You may be tempted to think an unnatural elongation of instruments, such as upright bass, will result in a funhouse mirror-like aberration. My reply: what is not funhouse mirror-like about an 8’ tall upright bass? I think we have grown so accustomed to vertically stretched sound that we think it is normal. We work with the vertical plane to adjust sound to suit, so why not shape the horizontal to a greater degree? One can apply the same principles as are used in the vertical plane on the horizontal plane to please one’s ears.

Here the precise nature of the Ulysses comes into play. Because it is both large and symmetrical in driver configuration I was able to achieve a finely focused phantom image in the center as well as truly concert hall appropriate width! Audiophiles speak of the soundstage extending, “beyond the walls,” yet, I assure you, you have not heard as extreme an effect until you hear the Daedalus or similar in a Landscape perspective.

Upon initial listening I was attuned to the individual driver sets which were all near ear level. The typical audiophile is not accustomed to hearing an array of drivers longitudinally, and consequently it seems wrong (however, remember my blindfolded listeners who felt it was impressive). As with any other system a few days later the mind acclimates and the sensation begins to seem no more odd than when the speakers are vertical; in fact, I had a similar sensitivity to the driver sets when the speakers were returned to upright position! We are so comfortable with this phenomenon when a speaker is in Portrait mode that we scarcely notice. Changing the orientation sensitizes us to what we are actually hearing.

When one gets past the unusual appearance of the setup the utterly lifelike width of the soundstage becomes addictive. Listen to a chorus, live concert or a symphony and you will thrill to the up front, yet comfortably spaced positioning of performers; comparatively, the Portrait mode will begin to sound like the performance is taking place inside a shoe box turned vertical.

One of the biggest advantages of the Landscape orientation is elimination of the “Big Head” problem spoken of by high efficiency, single driver speaker enthusiasts. The ceiling of the soundstage will drop as expected, but not so as to destroy the credulity of hearing a real performance. It can be elevated by angling the front baffle of the speaker just as one might raise a monitor on a stand or place the stand on a slab.

2 Responses to Daedalus Ulysses Speaker Landscape Perspective Review

  1. Shaun Petersen says:

    Hi Doug,

    Fascinating read. Have you ever tried just listening to mono over one speaker. I am currently listening
    to mono (mono switch on preamp) to a single 1.4 magnepan speaker. It sounds fabulous and sort of
    similar to your landscape orientation of stereo. Any thoughts.

  2. Shaun,
    God’s Joy to you,

    Thanks for the comments, I appreciate them! I have not tried a mono recording on one speaker. I just recently was comparing a mono recording to the stereo recording and it is striking how much information in what we perceive as music well done is a result of the stereo recording process.

    I have also conducted Landscape Orientation exercises with the Magnepan .7 and Pure Audio Project Trio15 Horn 1 speakers. The PAP Horn 1 is by far the most extreme and pleasing of all three speakers I have tried in Landscape orientation.

    Douglas Schroeder

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