The Core from Mass Fidelity
I'm writing this in mid-August, 2014, just after having witnessed what can only be described as the audio equivalent of one of those Cold Fusion demonstrations that made headlines a few years ago where scientists showed off a revolutionary, too-good-to-be-true, ultra-small, ultra-powerful technology that promised to up-end everything we thought we knew and thrust us into the future.
We know now those Cold Fusion demos took place in very controlled environments: The observers couldn't touch, couldn't really make sure things weren't being faked, and it turned out it was all a magic trick.
The demo I just heard actually did start like magic trick! The product was pulled out of a soft black satchel, the engineer demonstrated that he had nothing up his sleeves, that the device was the only thing I would be hearing, and that it was connected to no audio, power or any other cables. Then he urged me to close my eyes and just listen.... and from a tiny box I heard stereo imaging as if it was coming from my stereo system.
Unlike the Cold Fusion demos, this took place in my own apartment. There was no chance to fake it. It was real. I had just heard the future and it was small, wireless, and amazing and it is called the Core from Mass Fidelity.
* * *
I've been waiting for nearly a month to tell you about the Core from Mass Fidelity, the most exciting audio product since the invention of the iPhone.
Ben Webster had come to my apartment promising to show me the next big thing in multi-room audio technology. I almost didn't set up the interview because I had already been underwhelmed by several such presentations already over the summer. The common denominator of all these demos was the use of words like "ground-breaking", "state-of-the-art", "audiophile quality sound". Yet each had delivered "me-too" Sonos copy-cats with some added, incrimental bells and whistles. I was prepared to be underwhelmed.
Rather than making some sort of outrageous claim that would, he said, make me roll my eyes in disbelief, he proposed to move directly to the demonstration. The engineer put the small box (about the size of a Mac Mini) on my tv stand, directly between my behemoth Infinity speakers. I offered him a set of cables to plug into my receiver, but he said, no...everything is wireless. I offered him a place to plug in for power, but he said, "No need...it has a twelve hour battery life." My skepticism was now piqued to the max, and I think, in fact, I did an eyeball roll. "What about the speakers?"
"It's all in the box", he said has he turned on the roughly 6x6x4 inch box. "Oh brother", I thought, "another crappy portable speaker. What a waste of time."
He suggested I sit in what would ordinarily be the sweet spot for my stereo system. He produced a mobile phone from his pocket and said that unlike Sonos, his system didn't use a single repository for its music, there was no central server. It would stream from any Bluetooth source, from your phone, to tablet, even an equipped laptop. How? Bluetooth.
Now, many of you, like me, thought of Bluetooth as an acceptable on-the-go wireless solution, but nothing near acceptable for quality home listening. Perhaps you, like me, said, "Bluetooth, isn't it known for its less-than-stellar sound quality?"
Then he pressed the play button, without saying another word. You know the cash register introduction to Money by Pink Floyd, the one where sound comes out of one side and then the other, before the music builds? Suddenly, and precisely placed in left-right stereo space, that track started and I had to jump up to see how he had somehow gotten the sound to come out of my speakers set up near the corners of the room about fifteen feet apart.
But, he hadn't. All the sound was coming from the litle box. Even though everything we've come to know about stereo suggests you need wide separation of the speakers to create a convincing soundscape was being tossed out the window. Frankly, had I listened to this device in any other room I would have thought the whole thing was rigged, that in-wall, hidden speakers were being used. The sound not only had stereo placement, but seemed to have a more-lifelike audio-hologram 3D-like quality to it.
It was as if the box was an audio ventriloquist, making the sound appear to emerge from places it shouldn't have been possible! Using a techology called Wave Field Synthesis, the device uses five computer controlled, custom made drivers to produce better sound than you would think should be possible!
Now he suggested that I walk around the room. Amazingly, the placement of the instruments, the presentation of the 3D sound, did not change as it would have with my conventional sound system. Instruments remained fixed in their location, regardless of where I moved. By the way, we heard no dropouts; the Core uses a high power Class 1 Bluetooth receiver and it never skipped a beat during my one-hour demo. Also, you're not limited to Bluetooth. The Core has inputs that you can use for your TV, CD, or even your turntable.
He let me pick up the Core. Another shocker. I thought it would be heavy, like my JBL tweeters that look small but weigh a ton because of their huge magnet and metal casing. Not the Core. My laptop is heavier. In fact, I think I have some over the ear headphones that might be heavier, and not sound as good.
We listened to some Jazz, some rock, and the sound was very good, better than most average stereo systems. I thought I'd throw Ben for a loop by requesting some classical music. I expected him to pull up a string quartet, something that wouldn't tax the box. Instead, he chose a huge symphony for orchestra and two choirs! This was when my head exploded. I
Now, I don't want to overhype. Was the sound as good as my giant speakers? No. But, it was a long way toward it. Ok, even with those caveats, the sound that came out of the Core was amazing: distinct, free of the common distortion and muddiness that often happens when you try to drive a big symphony through little speakers.
In fact, the only thing that is little about the Core is its size. It shares none of the sound limitations I've heard from small speakers (even small speakers that cost thousands). You see, the sound doesn't merely seem to come at you in a stereo plain. It has a vertical axis as well. This is one of the things I prize most from my six foot tall Infinities, the music never feels like it is coming from a compressed box. With the Core, the sound actually appeared to be coming from my large speakers, both in height as well as width.
I only got to hear the Core for about an hour, so this isn't a review, but merely a preview. I can't wait to get my hands on one, though! This is a game changer. My wife has been in "countdown mode" since I told her about the demo. She has already told me she's packing up my big speakers as soon as the Core arrives. Well, I'm not ready to concede that, yet. However, the room filling sound certainly will have a place in my bedroom, kitchen and dining room. Plus, being portable, I can take my music with me.
The Core has more features than were demonstrated. The finished unit will have gesture control, near field connectivity, hands free mike for phone calls, and integration with home automation. If it had none of those it wouldn't matter to me; the product is that good! Also, according to Ben, you can connect up to nine Cores throughout your home. No router, Wi-Fi or special application is required. The Core creates its own 5 GHz dedicated music network. Each speaker can play a local source or receive music from one central unit.
Ben explained that the technology is used in some European stadiums using thousands of speakers to deliver quality audio for concert events. I asked him if he was going to make bigger units, but he said his goal was to make even bigger sound come from smaller devices. Imagine filling a room with great audio from a wireless device the size of a pack of cigarettes.
In the meantime, soon anyway, we have the Core from Mass Fidelity; well, almost. The product is up at Indiegogo (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-core-wireless-speaker-system) wth an anticipated delivery in October.
Unlike Cold Fusion, the Core is real. I've heard the future!