Dimensions: 46H x 18D x 18W
MSR Acoustics is a name you probably haven't heard of, but given the products they produce, it wouldn't surprise me if that soon changes. Founded in 2003 by Tony Grimani and Keith Olsen, MSR specializes in acoustical treatments for recording studios, home theaters, media rooms and commercial applications. The guys at MSR have some serious experience in their resumes, with Tony Grimani coming from a background in the industry and having held positions with Dolby Labs and Lucasfilm. Keith is a Grammy award winning producer who has worked with artists such as Santana, Ozzy Osbourne, Fleetwood Mac and others just to name a small portion.
MSR takes a unique approach to designing acoustical treatments, and intrigued me with their unconventional SpringTrap offering. The SpringTrap is a bass trap that actually uses Pistonic/Helmholtz action to absorb and eliminate standing waves, primarily in the 60-80Hz range, but with effective results between 30 and 100 Hz. See the below graph for the published absorption performance:
Shipping, Packaging and Setup
The SpringTraps arrived as a pair in a large box, carefully packed and protected by 1/2" polystyrene on the top and sides. While they are large measuring in at 46" x 18" x 18", the SpringTraps are actually quite light and are very easy to maneuver into position.
The finish on the SpringTraps is a simple black which has a nice even quality and looks great right out of the box. MSR clearly states that they can be painted to better blend into the room, however in my red and black themed theater I really liked the way the black traps looked in the corner.
Setting up the SpringTraps was as simple as flipping them over and installing the three included legs before moving them into place. In my case I chose the two front corners of my theater room behind the main speakers. This was convenient for several reasons, the major reason being no usable floor space had to be sacrificed.
Calibration and Integration
Already armed with a plethora of sweeps and response curves for my room prior to the insertion of the SpringTraps I was more than ready to start evaluating the differences - especially the un-equalized response.
I disabled Audyssey and put my DSP1124P (Subwoofer EQ) on bypass to run some sweeps in REW (RoomEQWizard) without any EQ in place. The immediate effect was astonishing - a fairly large peak in my response centered at 65Hz was mostly tamed, while a few other anomalies between 30 and 60Hz also noticeably smoothed out.
I proceeded to run a full set of sweeps in REW and generate a fresh set of filters on the DSP1124P to optimize decay and response prior to a full run of Audyssey. With my calibration complete, it was time to get down to listening.
Allow me to digress for a moment here and point out that I rarely if ever listen to my system with Audyssey disabled for a variety of reasons, the major reason being - I'm fairly used to listening to a relatively flat and time corrected response, and in my room without EQ, the bass response is a nightmare. Despite this, I was so intrigued by what these SpringTraps could do that I decided to listen to a few pieces of music without Audyssey or the Behringer EQ enabled.
I threw in some Jazz, Classical and Electronic music to get an idea of how things sounded prior to equalization. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was enjoying my music without any EQ in place. This is not to say the sound was superior to the system with Audyssey enabled, but it was also much better than I'd heard it sound before without EQ.
That little sojourn complete, it was time to enable Audyssey, level match, grab a drink and settle in for some serious listening. I have focused the majority of my impressions on music as I felt that the differences were more noticeable in subtle musical content vs. in-your-face film mixes that aren't very good for critical listening.
Acoustic Alchemy - Playing for Time
I started the listening session off with Playing for Time, a standard track of mine to evaluate a variety of audio components and one I have also heard live several times. The classical guitar melody of this tune is a dynamic and often challenging piece to reproduce, while the bass line is a nimble and nuanced performance that often gets mangled by muddy bass reproduction.
This track with and without the SpringTraps was a substantially different experience, with the bottom end tightening up significantly once the SpringTraps were in place. I was particularly pleased with what I perceived to be less ringing in the mid-bass range from the kick drum and bass, particularly in the 50-80Hz range that my subwoofer had often struggled with.
Pretty Maids - Little Drops of Heaven
Little Drops of Heaven by Pretty Maids is not an object lesson in high fidelity music recording; it is after all a fairly energetic song by a metal/rock band. The song is however a personal favorite and a great test of mid-bass impact and vocal reproduction.
Turning Audyssey on and off with this track didn't result in a pronounced difference in the sound, however the kick drum was much cleaner and had a much more rapid and linear decay than I'd heard without the SpringTraps.
Gareth Emery feat. Ashley Walbridge – Mansion
Mansion is a trance anthem featuring prodigious amounts of bass, synthesizer and effects - a great test for articulation and "fun factor", my affectionate term for how well a piece of gear maintains the dynamic range and concert sound often heard in the pro sound world.
Electronic Dance Music (or EDM for short) is a bass centric genre, featuring loads of wacky bass synths, ample use of drum machines and aggressive use of EQ, reverb and effects to enhance the artists intended sound. Mansion has a lot of very deep bass that is present from start to finish, including a deep throaty kick drum pulse. With the SpringTraps in place I was absolutely shocked at how much better this track sounded. One of the major complaints I have historically had when listening to EDM was muddy bass, lack of impact, or just poor definition in the subsonic range. A few spectacular subwoofers I have used have successfully compensated for these issues with the use of advanced room correction, but none have resolved these issues completely. Listening to Mansion on the SVS Legato subwoofer system, and later on an Axiom EP800 I was consistently impressed by the clean, visceral bass I enjoyed while listening to this track. The SpringTraps made a massive difference and on the basis of this song alone, I like most of you, was ready to start asking the boss for some money.
Yuki Kajiura - When Two Powers Collide
When Two Powers Collide by Yuki Kajiura is a track from the anime Tsubasa Chronicle and features a superb array of classical elements combined with some artificial percussion and a lot of bombastic tympani between lyrical woodwind motifs. I often listen to this track to see how well a speaker multitasks, or in this case how an amplifier maintains the separation of elements in a complex recording
Classical music in general seems to suffer greatly in the transition from the concert hall to the living room or home theater. Having played in both Jazz and Concert bands for many years, I am well accustomed to the proper sound of a bass drum, tympani and all the elements present in this track. With the SpringTraps in place, the decay of the tympani was noticeably more authentic - in fact prior to inserting the SpringTraps I had little to no idea how much the ringing in my room was affecting the sound of percussion in my room.
Michael Murray - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (An Organ Blaster)
As is probably readily apparent at this point, I am an absolute organ nut - and get a great deal of enjoyment out of listening to organ music. I also appreciate the challenge organ music presents to the components of a stereo system when listened to at high volume. In this case, I was impressed by the forceful bass and mid-bass the Onkyo reproduced out of the Legacy Focus SE's - my trust old 805 could never quite keep up with the more punishing sequences of this track without muddying the sound a little,
Here's a track where I really didn't notice an obvious difference. I think this is partly the nature of organ music, we don't often hear defined notes so much as sweeping melodic sequences that are meant to reverberate throughout the cathedral whenever there is a pause. I did enjoy the track thoroughly; I just can't say I heard a massive difference with this type of music.
War Of The Worlds
Since very few "movies with bass" are as talked about as War of the Worlds, I used this one for my first round of listening impressions - playing the pod scene with and without the SpringTraps in the room. In general, the results I noticed were subtle - but certainly an improvement. I suspect that the sheer volume of LFE content in this film overwhelms the subtleties of acoustic improvement to some extent, but I was able to notice greater separation between impacts and generally punchier attack on the really loud peaks.
I frequently use the Observatory scene in MegaMind for subwoofer testing - as I've heard it reproduced in so many different ways and to varying degrees of success. In the case of A/B'ing with the SpringTraps, I noticed that the initial hit as the shockwave arrives on screen was more visceral with a much shorter decay when the SpringTraps were in place, a noticeable improvement.
Overall Thoughts and Conclusion
We've all heard it, read it, and said it a thousand times: the room matters just as much, if not more than the gear you're using. Unfortunately, most of us don't take this sound advice (I'm on a roll folks, forgive the puns!) and do something about it. In the case of MSR and their acoustical treatment products, I think they have a truly innovative, unique, and well-engineered product in the SpringTrap. This is not snake oil folks. The SpringTrap takes advantage of physics, painstaking R&D, and some brilliant engineering to solve a very real and widespread problem most home theaters and studios suffer from: standing waves.
I must admit that I went into this review a skeptic, and came out a believer. The SpringTrap is a killer product that does exactly what I as an enthusiast need it to do: It improves the quality of bass in my home theater. Now that the review period is over, it turns out that the SpringTraps won't be going back to MSR. The boss said yes, and I'm a happy camper listening to some very loud bass as I write this review. Recommended.