Product Review - Clark Synthesis Tactile Transducer - August, 2000
Magnet Structure: 25 oz. 37 MGO Neodymium
Transduction Force: 3.5 ft/lbs Per Watt
Power Rating (continuous) : 135 Watts RMS
Frequency Range: Tactile - 5 Hz to 800 Hz. Audible - 20 Hz to 17 kHz
Impedance (minimum): 4 Ohms
Overload Protection: Raychem7 Polyswitch @ 135W
Voice Coil : Reinforced Dupont7 Kapton7 Coil Former with Kapton7-Coated High Density Coil
Casing: Injection-molded Lexan7 Domes
Dimensions: 8" Diameter x 2.25" HeightMSRP : $649 USA
Clark Synthesis Tactile Sound, 8122 Southpark Lane, Suite 110, Littleton, Colorado 80120
; Telephone 303-797-7500; Fax 303-797-7501; Web http://www.clarksynthesis.com
A Little Primer
I’ve never had a speaker that has elicited the responses the Clark Synthesis has received. Everybody wants one. This is the same technology our government has used to recreate the tactile sensations of flight in F-14 and Apache helicopter simulators. Sub and trans-sonic devices are not that new to the home theater world, but they have certainly not gotten the press they deserve.
I’ll make it easy for you. Buy one. The rest of this review is just a laundry list of positive remarks about the Clark Synthesis. It is a great way to add a completely new sensation to your movies and music.
Competition, or is it?
There are a number of manufacturers out there, and Secrets has reviewed another popular choice, the Buttkicker (click here to see the review). Personally, I prefer the Clark Synthesis solution to reproduce low frequencies as an all around solution. The Buttkicker is aptly named. If you watch action movies all the time and want something to kick you hard during the loud bits, it is a good choice. Why does it give such a good kick? It is essentially a three-pound piston assembly driven by at least a 350-watt amp (although 1,000 makes it much happier). The Clark Synthesis has the capacity to deliver a good kick in the pants with considerably lower power requirements, but its abilities go beyond that. It has a finesse that makes it interesting with music as well as movies.
How does it work?
The Clark Synthesis is actually a voice coil similar to those used in traditional speakers. It packs considerable sound into a case approximately 8” across and 2” high. Instead of coupling the voice coil to a cone that vibrates air, which then vibrates your ear’s tympanic membrane, the Clark Synthesis eliminates the middleman and shakes you directly. They encase the voice coil in a strong plastic chassis that allows you to easily mount it to your seat or floor joists.
Clark Synthesis actually provides an excellent installation manual on their web site that instructs you how to properly mount the transducer for optimum results. Here is a link to their manual: http://www.clarksyn.com/install.pdf. It outlines the different locations that you can install the transducer such as to the floor joists in your house, to a platform underneath your theater seating, and even to the frame of the driver seat in your car. The unit is compact enough to be installed just about anywhere. This is an often overlooked part of equipment, but extremely important nonetheless. Thoughtful, concise, and organized instructions are extremely valuable, and Clark Synthesis has done a great job here.
I split the left and right mains output from my surround processor to go to the transducer amp. Sometimes movies (like Disney’s Tarzan for example) do not take full advantage of the LFE channel in 5.1 recordings, so I felt that it was better to use the left and right front channels for the transducer.
If any processor designers are reading this, give us a way to combine all 5.1 tracks for use with a transducer. It would also be useful if the installation instructions for the product gave some better examples of correctly configuring the amp and associated processors to use with a transducer.
I have a riser in the rear of my theater room that easily accommodated the transducer (see the photo below). Before that I had simply mounted it to the bottom of my blue sofa with a 2 ’x 3’ piece of ¾" plywood. Both installations were quick and easy. When the transducer was mounted directly to the couch, I felt that it had better resolution than when I mounted it to the bottom of my platform. It lost some finesse with music. Some of my guinea pig listeners also found it strange to have the transducer vibrating their feet through the platform and preferred the couch configuration. Personally, I like my feet to be buzzed and do not mind losing some vibration detail. It seems more immersive that way.
As far as I am concerned, the Clark Synthesis Transducer can do no wrong. I have seen the launch sequence in "Apollo 13" approximately 13 zillion times (partially thanks to sitting next to the Buttkicker booth at CES this year). This sequence is a perfect demonstration of the impact a transducer can have. Low frequency vibrations have an amazing effect on your perception of movies.
When I first got my Velodyne FSR18, I was blown away by the strong clean foundation it laid for the rest of the sound. The transducer has made that a larger and stronger foundation, and movies just aren’t the same when it isn’t there. I can never go back to a system anchored only by a sub. Whenever I watch movies in a theater or over at other people’s houses, I miss the effect. The movies don’t have the same degree of involvement as when I am sitting atop the transducer.
Wow . . . it actually makes bad movies seem better!
“How can a speaker improve bad films?” you may ask. I watched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest film "End of Days" last week. It’s not a bad film really, but it is terribly predictable. The transducer added an element of anxiety to my viewing experience. It actually made the film’s startling moments much more surprising. I probably have not tested this hypothesis enough with truly bad films. Perhaps I’ll try Eddie Murphy’s “Life” tonight . . . .
Does everything sound better?
Yes, but not everything benefits equally from the same level of transducer effect. For example, with music, I turn the level down so that it blends better with the other speakers. For films, I find the slightly higher level makes the film more dramatic. If you purchase one, make sure you have the ability to adjust its level, because you will want to make subtle adjustments depending on what you are watching. For example, I preferred a higher level with "Armageddon" than I did with "The Muse".
The Clark is actually a voice coil and is therefore capable of a fair degree of subtlety compared with other low frequency speakers out there. Its frequency range is 5 Hz to 17 kHz.
I enjoyed the Synthesis when it was running full range, but it did muddy the sound field a bit. The sound just engulfs you when it is transferred up through the platform under your seat. I prefer to run it below 80 Hz. This adds the kick without hearing dialog coming up through the couch.
The Bottom Line
Buy one. Buy it now. The transducer adds such an element of excitement to all your films, you will love it. Guaranteed.
My test equipment:
Sunfire Cinema Grand Five-Channel Power Amplifier
Home Theater PC with SoundBlaster Live Card and SP/DIF Outputs
Mirage Front Speakers
Definitive Technology BP-8 Rear Speakers
Velodyne FSR-18 Subwoofer