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[SOUNDSTAGE!]Home Theater
Equipment Review

May 2000

Spectrum Research Theater 2000

Even in the midst of the home-theater explosion, there are lots of people out there who either don’t want to clutter their living quarters with lots of speakers, or are just not willing to part with the investment that a full-blown home theater requires. Yet, they are nevertheless looking for ways to make two-channel listening more exciting and more involving. For this group, Spectrum Research has created the Theater 2000, an outboard processor designed to expand upon SRS Processing.

According to Spectrum Research, "SRS technology is based on HRTF's (head related transfer functions). Certain audio frequencies are less audible to the human ear because parts of the head obstruct the passage of sound from the audio source to the ear."

"This insensitivity inhibits the listener from being able to perceive and enjoy a much fuller spectrum of sound frequencies. Theater 2000 with SRS and TruSurround remedies this problem by significantly improving these specific frequencies for the listener. The enhanced version of SRS, which is found in the Theater 2000 (3-D Sound), will position sounds independent of a speaker location. This is achieved by deriving spatial cues from the original audio signal. Theater 2000 isolates, then modifies the sound wave, giving the listener the perception of being surrounded by phantom speakers."

In my own words, SRS is a way to expand the soundstage rendered from two speakers. It expands soundstage height, width, and depth, breathing life into a flat and two-dimensional image. However, the Theater 2000 does not give you stock SRS, they give you two proprietary versions, each with a specialized purpose. But we’ll get to that.

Description

The Theater 2000 is a little black box, which weighs in at three pounds. It is 9 inches wide by 2.5 inches high by almost 6 inches deep. The front of the unit sports the systems power switch, and a button that cycles through the system’s sound-effects modes, TruSurround and 3-D Sound. There is also a button to select one of the Theater 2000’s two inputs. The unit is also fully remote controllable. While the parameters of Spectrum Research’s proprietary 3-D Sound mode may only be adjusted via the remote, the unit does have two sets of LEDs to indicate that the 2000 is receiving your commands. The appropriate LEDs flash to reflect those commands. The rear of the unit is simple enough, with two pairs of RCA inputs, one pair of RCA outputs, and a non-detachable power cord. The unit is intended to be placed within a tape-loop, processor-loop, or between the preamp and power amp. No matter which system I used, I always opted for the processor-loop with good results.

The remote control allows you to bypass all processing (valuable for judging the effects you have implemented), to select between the 2000’s two processing modes, and to make adjustments to one of them, 3-D Sound. It can also be used to power up and down the Theater 2000 system, as well as to select the chosen input.

Features SnapShot!
Spectrum Research Theater 2000
Price: $229.95 USD ($189.95 USD limited-time offer from manufacturer at time of review)
Warranty: One year parts and labor warranty with 30-day money back guarantee

Dimensions: approximately 9" W by 2.5" H by 6" D
Weight: approximately 3 lbs.

Features:

  • Simulates multichannel surround sound using only two speakers
  • Remote control
  • "TruSurround" and "3-D Sound" processing modes

Operation

As I said, the Theater 2000 has two modes of processing. One they call "TruSurround" and the other "3-D Sound." Both of these incorporate proprietary technology that expands upon SRS.

According to Spectrum Research, "3-D Sound mode is best used for listening to CD or other pure audio sources." Furthermore, they prescribe using the Space and Center controls to create "an expanded sound image." Space, according to the manual, "will adjust the width of the audio image" while Center "will retrieve the background elements of the audio recording." In practice, what I heard was that Space adjusts the contribution of processed sound, which envelops the listener. Center adjusts the solidity of the center image. It sounded as if there was a center-channel speaker there, the volume of which was being turned up and down. The more the center image was turned down, the more prominent the effect of the Space adjustment. Confused?

Well, this is how I went about my adjustments: I started with both adjustments at the center of their range. I increased the Space adjustment until it sounded too artificial and phasey then backed it off a notch. Then I used the Center control to increase or reduce the loudness of the center image. Doing so had the effect of balancing the front image with the phantom, surround images, and it did so quite effectively. Spectrum Research makes no mention of the fact that setting the Center control to its minimum all but cancels out the center image. This reduces vocals to a mumble and makes the Theater 2000 able to double as a Karaoke machine!

Spectrum Research describes the TruSurround mode, as creating a soundfield "unmatched by any other audio source. For most TV movies, VCR playback and DVD playback, this setting is best because of the complexities of sound associated with video."

Observations

First I put the Theater 2000 in a two-channel music system and played some CDs. Honestly, I can’t see too many people buying mega-buck stereo systems, setting them up meticulously, and then using the Theater 2000. A good two-channel system, properly set up, can do an uncanny job of recreating the "space" recorded in the program material. I would guess that Spectrum Research knows this and that this is not their intended market. The market for this product lies with those who don’t want to live in the systems sweet spot, who don’t have speakers placed halfway into the room, and who have not spent the GNP of a third-world nation on their system. And for these people the Theater 2000 works very well, and is a pretty-cool thing. While I can’t testify that it simulated a 360-degree surround field, it did a very credible job of creating a panoramic one. I was able to extend the soundfield to the nine and three O’clock positions as a matter of routine, and frequently it even extended beyond that. The more imperfect the system set-up or source material, the greater the improvement I was able to render. Older recordings such as Axis: Bold As Love [MCAD-11601] by Jimi Hendrix, which can sound dry and have extremely restricted soundstaging, were fully fleshed out by the Theater 2000. Put on Clapton Chronicles-The Best of Eric Clapton [9 47553-2], cue up "Blue Eyes Blue" and listen as the 2000 pulls the background vocals into the foreground and places them to your right and left! Be careful though, too much processing can lend a phasey sound to the music and can smear detail.

Do not even think about combining the Theater 2000 with two-channel surround schemes such as "Q Sound." Lets just call it too much of a good thing, as it makes a tossed salad out of the image.

On video, or with two channels, the Theater 2000 was more universally successful. There was one exception: sitcoms and the 2000 do not get along. It made any and all sitcoms sound like a parody of the laugh-track machine. Dialog (which makes little use of the stereo format) was restricted to the TV set. The contributions of the laugh track exploded both in terms of volume and expanse—leaping out into the room just in time to beat a hasty retreat back into the confines of the TV, only to be repeated moments later. Through no fault of the Theater 2000, it was absolutely obnoxious. Movies that made real use of the stereo signal were much more realistically portrayed and usually benefited. While the action remained in and around the TV, environmental sounds and music seemed to fill the room. Music videos and concerts benefited the most, and in the most realistic and consistent way.

Once the Theater 2000 was inserted into the processor-loop of my Yamaha DSP-1A, which was switched for Dolby Pro Logic, things got particularly interesting. Spectrum Research claims that it makes the surround speakers come alive, and they are not kidding. Particularly when watching movies in Dolby Pro Logic, the 2000 produced a higher activity level via the surround speakers, as well as a heightened awareness of sound effects and environmental noises. Basically everything that is enhanced, which is everything not intended to be heard as a mono signal from the TV, is processed and sent to the rear speakers. This results in much more information going to the rear speakers than would be by Dolby Pro Logic alone.

As I’ve already said, the promise of simulated surround speakers at the rear of the room was not fulfilled. Spectrum Research’s claim to a surround experience for those located throughout the room was also too much to ask. However, neither was the effect restricted to one listener sitting in the sweet spot, with his head in a vice. It offered a very solid improvement in spatiality for a group of listeners seated within reason. At times the way it pulled the action into the room and placed it around me was nothing less than flabbergasting.

Conclusion

While it won’t have people rushing to trade in their surround systems, for those who don’t want a full-blown theater system, and for those looking to improve the experience in secondary locations, the Spectrum Research Theater 2000 is a way-cool product. It is the 3-D Sound mode that sets it apart from other SRS processors. It lends complete control over processing, enabling the user to select something either more subtle or more dramatic than the TruSurround mode. If you have a two-channel system that needs some spice, at its asking price the Theater 2000 definitely deserves consideration!

...John Potis
johnp@soundstage.com

Manufacturer Contact:
Spectrum Research
4370 S. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34231
Phone: (941)921-3884 or Toll Free (877)857-3484
Fax: (941)925-3691

E-mail: sales@theatersound.com
Website: www.theatersound.com


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