Redscape Audio Redscape Virtual Surround

General Information

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REDSCAPE is a piece of software that runs on your computer which provides 3d audio simulation for your existing headphones. You can buy REDSCAPE either with or without the optional head tracker. With REDSCAPE any headphone become capable of 7.1 surround sound simulation, and when listening to Music the presentation of that music will be more similar to listening to speakers instead of headphones. You can learn more on their website: https://www.redscapeaudio.com.
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Pros: Provides high quality speaker/room simulation and pulls music out from your head and places it in front of you.

Turns any existing head-fi setup into a great movie and gaming surround sound system.

Inexpensive for what it does and how it works.
Cons: Windows only

Requires a PC

Wired Headtracker
REDSCAPE Audio was kind enough to send me a unit free of charge in exchange for an honest and thoughtful review of their product. This in no way altered my opinion/perspective of the product.



About REDSCAPE


REDSCAPE is a two-part solution. The first part is a piece of software (Digital Signal Processing software) that is installed on your computer and provides room/speaker emulation and a parametric EQ. The second is a head tracking module (Head Tracker) that gets mounted on top of your headphones. This module monitors the position of your head to ensure stereo image is rendered convincingly as you move your head. The software as of today is Windows only, and it supports up to 7.1 channels of PCM audio.


This last point is important because it allows REDSCAPE to not just be a 2 channel audio device but also to be a surround sound simulation device for both movies and video games. I will touch on this last point towards the end of the review.


Review Hardware


For this review I was provided with the REDSCAPE and Head Tracker which retail for $200 total. For testing I used a Massdrop LCX with built in SDAC, and the Focal Stellia headphone. I ran the REDSCAPE on a fairly powerful Windows 10 desktop, and played music using Roon.


Setting up REDSCAPE

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Setting up the REDSCAPE was fairly straight forward. I was sent a license key for REDSCAPE over email which directed me to a download page. The instructions were clear and within about 10 minutes I had REDSCAPE installed, and configured to use the SDAC as the output device.

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When REDSCAPE is setup and configured it appears as a sound card in Windows. It fully supports WASAPI exclusive mode (it also support ASIO) and setting up Roon to use the REDSCAPE sound card (DSP) output is the exact same process as setting it up with any other external DAC. Within REDSCAPE you simply choose which sound card the Software should output to, in my case the SDAC, but this could be any sound card configured on your PC.

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The final step was to attach the Head Tracker to my headphones. There are two things that I do not love about the Head Tracker, the first is that it is wired. This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things as my headphones are also wired. But, it would have been great if this could have been wireless, maybe a revision 2 or 3 down the road. The second is the way it attached to the top of the headphones. For 95% of headphones, the way it attached will work perfectly. However, for the Focal Headphones (which have thicker headbands), both of the included clasps were too short. My solution was to use both clasps and a small loop of Velcro to attach it. Again, this is very headphone dependent and the tracker had no issues mounting to my Abyss 1266 or my Bose QC 35. When I brought this up with REDSAPE’s owner he told me that he planned to release a long headband strap, once this is available he will be sending it out to all current REDSCAPE customers. Once the Head Tracker was attached, I waited for it to calibrate, and I was good to go to begin my listening tests.

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Initial Impressions

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When I first hit play with REDSCAPE on, I had my laptop on my desk to the right of my main computer. The out of head experience was so visceral that it sounded like the music was coming out of my laptop instead of my headphones. Color me initially impressed. I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to various recordings including Liquid Spirit by Gregory Porter and Radiator 110 by Boz Scaggs. As I listened to more music, it became clear that REDSCAPE was creating a near field monitor effect. The music was clearly in front of me, but it was as if I had a miniature stage on my desk about 2 feet away. This staging matches my personal experience with near field monitors and I found that I did like the presentation quite a bit.


The effects of the REDSCAPE seemed to be universal. Obviously, it did not fix poorly mastered music, but it succeeded in bringing that music out of my head. When you couple that with the head tracking, it created a very convincing presentation that left me smiling. If my wife came in to ask me a question and I turned around, the band was behind me. If I bobbed my head with the music the image stayed put as my head moved (within reason).


One thing to know about me is that most of my critical listening happens on headphones. With REDSCAPE engaged I noticed a tonal shift in the music. At first I was not a fan of this shift, and I actually brought this up with REDSCAPE’s owner and software developer, Ryan Redetzke. When I was discussing my initial impressions with him, he reminded me that things tend to sound different on headphones due to the lack of crossfeed and other factors such as the room. With that in mind I decided to spend some time listening to my main speaker system. My goal was to see if the tonal shift that I observed was a result of the REDSCAPE doing something it probably shouldn’t or if it was the result of hearing what speakers should sound like. To my surprise, the tonal shift I observed approximately matched the tonal shift that occurred when I listened to my speaker system. Simply put, this means, as far as I can tell REDSCAPE is doing its job. My appreciation for the effect grew as I spent more time listening to it on my desktop system.


But what about Movies and Games?


Before I dive deeper into this section, there is a thing that everyone should be aware of. Most movies that have a surround sound track ship with either Dolby or DTS encoded surround sound. This will not natively work with REDSCAPE as it requires PCM audio. In order to use it with movies you must use software that will properly decode Dolby Digital or DTS to PCM before it outputs it to the REDSCAPE sound card. There are many that do this, however I tested movies out on both Kodi and Plex Media Player (PMP). Both of these programs are freely available and best of breed as far as PC media center software goes.


I setup Plex to output 7.1 surround sound into the REDSCAPE, turned on Deadpooland sat back to see what would happen. The result was a mini-theater surrounding my head. The effect alone would have been convincing; however, with head tracking the experience was really quite exceptional. With movies I did run into a few clicks and pops from the REDSCAPE. None of these were bad, but they did distract slightly. By default the REDSCAPE is set up to have a small buffer to minimize delay. I was able to minimize them after adding additional buffer time to the software. There may have been an incompatibility somewhere in the signal chain but after updating the REDSCAPE’s buffer it no longer bothered me.


To put it simply though, if you have a nice desktop headphone setup that you use for music, and find yourself playing games or watching movies at your desk, REDSCAPE is a no brainer. It brings a very convincing surround sound effect to movies and I would imagine it would do the same for games. REDSCAPE allows you to use the hardware you already have: DAC, AMP, and headphones, maximizing quality and minimizing the need for additional investment. If REDSCAPE had existed while I was in college, I would have owned it. You also get the bonus of an excellent speaker simulation for two channel listening.


Some Thoughts from REDSCAPE’s Creator


I reached out to Ryan to better understand what made him create REDSCAPE. It is a versatile product but I wanted to understand his intention.


He told me “the goal was to simulate speakers on headphones.” He looked at others that were doing room/speaker simulation and felt that many implementations were limited either due to hardware constraints, or designing primarily for other uses rather than focusing on 2 channel music. He wanted to create the highest quality speaker/room simulation.


Ryan walked me through a bit of the evolution of the product. He originally started with something closer to a pure speaker simulation, making the virtual room non-reactive. But, the feedback was fairly consistent and along the lines of “its kinda lifeless”. This feedback is to be expected, it is the room plus the speakers that make the entire audio presentation. So, Ryan went back to the drawing board and designed a virtual room that would align closely with what a recording engineer would have at their disposal. The result is REDSCAPE which mimics the space that a mastering engineer would hear music in. The final result lives up to those goals.



Concluding Thoughts

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As someone who used to be a “speaker guy”, but due to apartment living has been forced to turn to headphones, I found the end result of REDSCAPE to be rather compelling. For two channel music it’s speaker simulation does the job of getting the music out of my head and out in front of me. It does so using my existing equipment and requires minimal investment. When you add the fact that it turns any high end desktop headphone system into a mini-theater and gaming surround sound system, the value proposition goes from attractive to a simply must have device. In a world where some charge $200 a cable, I would argue that REDSCAPE does more for you. REDSCAPE will have a better impact on your enjoyment of music for the same money than any $200 cable will.


It’s not all roses though, this system only works if you have a Windows PC that you use as a source into your head-fi system. If this describes you, do yourself a favor and give REDSCAPE a try. Ryan is an incredibly nice guy, and his product packs a lot of value into a small package. Likewise, if you are a college audiophile, just buy this. It will improve music, movies, and games and it will fit easily in your backpack on the way back to your dorm room.

Comments

Would be interested to know how this compares to Creative’s non-head tracking Super X-FI Amp (and all-in-one headphones).
The pics in the review do suggest more customization potential for the virtual soundscape but don’t indicate whether there is any calibration / personalization for the user’s HRTF characteristics (possibly because there are none) something which Super X-Fi offers via it’s ear and face mapping software.

That being said, if the Redscape experience is markedly better than the aforementioned then it could do well as the ‘high end’ of low cost alternatives to the Smyth Realiser A16.

In any case, thanks for the review, have been eagerly awaiting more analysis of this product.
 
This would be perfect if it provided a way to capture an individual's HRTF. If it had that, it would be doing everything the Smyth A16 is purported to be able to do (I say purported b/c it's still not released, and must be considered vaporware until it is) for thousands less with just your PC. BTW that "just your pc" thing I consider to be a feature rather than a bug. A lot of us have left the big multi box home theater world behind, and want to use our laptops and streaming services as substitutes for AVR receivers, and CD/VCR libraries taking up living space.
 
Would be interested to know how this compares to Creative’s non-head tracking Super X-FI Amp (and all-in-one headphones).
The pics in the review do suggest more customization potential for the virtual soundscape but don’t indicate whether there is any calibration / personalization for the user’s HRTF characteristics (possibly because there are none) something which Super X-Fi offers via it’s ear and face mapping software.

That being said, if the Redscape experience is markedly better than the aforementioned then it could do well as the ‘high end’ of low cost alternatives to the Smyth Realiser A16.

In any case, thanks for the review, have been eagerly awaiting more analysis of this product.
So the software does offer the ability to customize the distance between your ears (head width) and ear size. I did not change these from the default as it worked well for me.

You can customize the virtual sound scape including speaker position and room size.

I cannot comment on the Super X-FI Amp as I have not tried it.
 
How does it fair against Smyth Realiser and TB Isone?
Smyth is not totally comparable as it has quite a lot more hardware based features, such as a whole bunch of inputs on the back for any kind of surround source you might have, and HRTF calibration via in ear mics. It also does Atmos. For someone who needs all that, a software based solution would not suffice.
 
This would be perfect if it provided a way to capture an individual's HRTF. If it had that, it would be doing everything the Smyth A16 is purported to be able to do (I say purported b/c it's still not released, and must be considered vaporware until it is) for thousands less with just your PC. BTW that "just your pc" thing I consider to be a feature rather than a bug. A lot of us have left the big multi box home theater world behind, and want to use our laptops and streaming services as substitutes for AVR receivers, and CD/VCR libraries taking up living space.
I also have been thinking deeply of the smith. I even wanted to buy the a8 if it wasnt discontinued. I guess learning in ones own hrtf is a must to get real space awareness. My guess using a predefined gives u just a fraction of the experience. But still its all about software. Having it on your pc with a quality dac of choice surely has advantages not to mention the benefit in price.
 
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