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Clark Synthesis Absolute Tactile Sound Transducer Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 January 1997
ImageIt is easy to become jaded when discrete 5.1 digital surround, crystal clear DVDs and 500 channels of Direct TV are all common place in a current home theater. How will today's home theater enthusiast elevate his or her system to the next plateau of performance eliciting the next level of emotion? What is missing? What is next? How about a speaker devoted specifically to that portion of the frequency spectrum that is felt rather than heard - starting at about 5 Hz and continuing up into the lower frequencies around 2000 Hz. That's exactly what the Clark Absolute Tactile Sound System does via its little, clear, `spaceship' shaped device. The Clark Transducer is a tiny device which brings the sense of touch into the home theater experience, adding a dimension to your music and movies that you may never have known you were missing.

Some years ago Pioneer and others had Hi-Fi reclining chairs with primitive tactile transducers mounted under the user's back, thighs, feet, and so on. There have also been transducers for mounting directly to walls or floors. However, the Clark product is far beyond these earlier efforts, the result of fifteen years working to create an "active listening environment." Inventor Tom Clark-Fenner has used a much higher density, more powerful neodymium magnet that can achieve tactile sounds output as low as 1 watt. His US Patent has nineteen separate claims. The guts of the unit are encased in two clear acrylic shells with a mounting fastener; creating what looks like a small, clear flying saucer. One bolts or screws the transducer into the floor, or furniture, to add a visceral feeling to the home theater environment.

Most any mono amp from 50 watts on up can power this little mover and shaker and Clark offers a 100 watt-per-channel stereo amp for another $499 if you need it. Some users have even mounted a stereo pair outdoors, using them full range with good results on a wood deck. Similar units have been installed in army tank and flight simulators, dance floors, stages, massage tables, hot tubs and rides in theme parks. They are also finding very functional use in the medical world with heart and burn patients and the deaf.

I must admit, at first blush, the Clark transducer struck me as another gimmick, or at minimum, an accessory for movie nuts who watch mostly action movies. However, when I watch an action movie I normally do so in a theater, not at home. Even though there is a powered subwoofer in my home theater system, I don't depend on it to shake the rafters. Nevertheless, wanting to find out what the Clark brought to table, I bolted it in and discovered that this little transducer brought a great deal to my music listening experience.

Making it work
I powered The Clark Transducer with my AudioSource Amp Two that formerly powered my center channel. I chose the mono bridged mode, producing 200 watts in mono. You have a choice of feeding the Clark full range or just the lower frequencies. Full range is the way to go with music, if you keep the transducer level about 10 dB lower than the main speakers. However, if you send it a full range signal with movie soundtracks, you have the "voices-in-the-butt" syndrome, which can prove distracting. I solved this by dragging out an old Switchcraft two-way mono selector switch (Russound and Niles also make them, probably only in stereo versions). I fed into Input 1, a full range signal from my Laserdisc player; and into Input 2, I fed the subwoofer output from my Fosgate surround processor using a Y connector so the subwoofer still got its signal too. The switchbox output went to the amp, which fortunately, has level controls.

But where to fasten the transducer? First, I tried a built-in shelf near my reclining chair (the transducer body must be kept horizontal for best results). I screwed it into the base of the shelf where it could be hidden behind cupboard doors. It didn't work; the vibrations were not transmitted well from the shelf through to the floor to my chair. Next, I tried it on the reclining chair, but the all-metal base and reclining mechanism rattled badly and it required a 2 x 4 to install it. My third choice was the charm: a solid leather sofa, with the Clark bolted directly to the wood crossmember in the center of the sofa. The Clark folks suggest a permanent installation that will be felt through most furniture in the room, to mount the transducer to a central joist under the flooring.

How did it sound, you ask?
One of the action movies I tested was the Laserdisc of `Batman and Robin,' and the results were impressive. One really felt involved in this silly movie, even more so than in the theater. Of course the filtered subwoofer signal was selected at the box; switching to full range made one shiver and shake to Arnold's booming voice as Mr. Freeze . . . not a pleasant experience.

Then I tried a Naxos Visual Music Laserdisc of Bach organ works. It had surprisingly little extreme low end - a bad example. Next was the Keith Jarrett Trio Laserdisc "Standards II." Now we were talking! Even the piano had a feeling more like what I experience when I play piano.

The piano material was so enhanced by the transducer I switched from LDs to CDs, trying some solo violin ("Caoine," from Michelle Makarski, on ECM New Series). It was quite subtle, but when used full range one senses a mild version of the violinist's tactile experience: bowhairs scraping on gut strings, vibrations coming through the chin rest from the instrument's body into the player's body. I also tried a recent Telarc solo harp CD ("Dream Season"). This was the only CD I tried that caused annoying resonances to be set up in the sofa springs and innards, even when the selector was turned to the filtered subwoofer output. Lowering the level to the transducer helped. Those lowest harp strings really do resonate.

The most effective full range/CD transducer experiences came with binaural sources. Some headphone fans leave all their speakers on (at a lower level) while listening on phones, while others leave only their subwoofer(s) on. But the combination of binaural, headphones and the Clark transducer must be the most synergistic one imaginable. Binaural reproduction on headphones puts one aurally where the sounds were originally recorded, but without the physical/tactile attributes. The transducer adds these, making the African drums of "Kalifi" (Emscherland) feel as though you could reach out and touch them in front of you. The pipe organ and percussion in the St.-Saens Organ Symphony and Also Sprach Zarathustra (AUracle) had a heft and presence missing in the already excellent binaural recording. Most striking of all was "Joyce Jones at the Organ of the Cadet Chapel, West Point" (Motette), an Aachen Head Acoustics CD already known for its earth-shaking low end. This experience surely blows away the best standard stereo pipe organ recording heard on a super-high-end speaker system even with subwoofers!

Adding the Clark Transducer to your system results in aural transport to another world without having to dematerialize all your cell structure. Whether you're an action movie buff or a music maven, I think you'll find the Clark Synthesis Transducer a worthy addition to your home theater system for the way it brings you, physically into both movie and music-only experiences.

More Data
The Clark Tranducer is 8 inches by 2 inches, 100 watts continuous power rating, 25 ounce neodymium magnet with ferrofluid heat transfer, 4 ohm imp., resonant surfaces are Dupont Lucite vacuum formed acoustic domes with 3/8-16 female fastener imbedded in the driven side for mounting. $499

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