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Old 02-21-14, 01:17 PM   #1
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The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event




Introduction

IT IS HERE! We are in the midst of the Home Theater Shack $3,000 Speaker Evaluation event, as I write this. Six pairs of speakers are on the premises, and over the next two days, Feb. 21 and 22, we will hear a lot of great tunes on them. There will be lots to report.

This is not a shootout. Each speaker will be set up for its best sound in this room and evaluated on its own merits.

For now, this post (#1) will be used as the summary post and will be updated through the weekend and beyond. Check back often - we will tell you ih later posts when this summary has grown.


The Speakers

The criteria for the speakers used in this event was floorstanding speakers with an MSRP between $2500 ($2499) and $3500 per pair as delivered for the event. Any finish was acceptable. Speakers requiring external DSP or an active crossover did not qualify. Since the emphasis is on 2-channel music use, speakers made for that purpose were favored, although some may be perfectly acceptable for home theater use as well.

Sadly, some of the speakers selected via the readers' poll were not available because the manufacturers chose not to participate. We cannot read minds to know all their reasons, but can only conclude that it is their loss not being included. We go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that each model evaluated gets the fairest treatment possible by three sets of experienced ears. We will not, however, shy from the truth or be edited by the suppliers, even if they are HTS sponsors. In the end, we are confident that this serves all concerned in the best way possible.

We deeply appreciate those who DID choose to participate, some on short notice to fill in at the last minute. We ended up with a great mix, including some noteworthy technology offerings: one RAAL tweeter model and one concentric mid-tweeter model. We were looking forward to hearing every one of them by the time the big event arrived.

Here are the speakers included in the event:
The Room

Cedar Creek Cinema/Two-Channel Room, Luverne, Alabama. The most recent change to the room is that the equipment cabinet which used to occupy most of the space below the cinema screen has been removed. We deemed that removing the cabinet would improve the soundstage and imaging. Total changes relative to the diagram below:
  • Front equipment rack removed.
  • Corner traps added in rear corners.
  • Additional side absorptive panels.
  • Front subwoofer cabinets turned toward front corner traps with 4-inch gap (cabinets at 45° angle relative to the room) with dissipation panels on their backs (toward room center)..
  • Cutouts in stage structure allowing Left and Right Mains to be on the main floor within one foot of the front wall.


The room is heavily treated. Some might think the amount of treatment is too much for two-channel speaker evaluation, but I think it is just right. More on this in a summary post below. The measured RT60 is 0,2 to 0.3 second.




The Evaluators

The evaluators for this event have proven their ability to work together to provide what some describe as some of the most in-depth and worthwhile loudspeaker reviews on the web. They are:
  • Joe Alexander, Madison, Wisconsin. Joe is an avid audiophile and staff writer for Home Theater Shack.
  • Leonard Caillouet, Gainesville, Florida. Leonard has installed and set up speakers professionally for much of his life. He is a Moderator and Administrator and one of the chief technical gurus for Home Theater Shack.
  • Wayne Myers, Lincoln, Nebraska. A musician and lover of great sound, Wayne has a degree in Audio Technology and reviews speakers and headphones for Home Theater Shack.

Evaluation Tracks

We have gone back and forth a bit on how many test tracks to use. In the end. we decided that a certain number of tracks should be common, that all evaluators would listen to each pair of speakers with them. and that each evaluator could then have a number of tracks of his choice. We each have our favorites that we have used many times before and know exactly how they should sound. And each has his favorite music styles to listen with. Each evaluator spent one-half hour with every speaker pair at its ideal setup, plus brief listens close to the wall (zero toe and zero listening angle) and with Audyssey MultEQ.

Tracks We All Used
# Artist Album Track
1 Nickel Creek Nickel Creek Ode to a Butterfly
2 Fourplay Between The Sheets Chant
3 Nickel Creek Nickel Creek Reasons Why
4 Cassandra Wilson New Moon Daughter Strange Fruit
5 Arne Domnenous Jazz at the Pawnshop Struttin' With Some Barbeque
Joe's Additional Tracks
# Artist Album Track
6 Metallica And Justice For All One
7 AC/DC Back In Black Hells Bells
8 Idina Menzel Frozen Soundtrack Let It Go
9 Cat Stevens Tea For The Tillerman Where Do The Children Play
10 Flim and the BB's Tricycle Tricycle
11 Jacky Terrasson Reach Just One Of Those Things
12 Yuri Honing Trio Star Tracks Walking On The Moon
Leonard's Additional Tracks
# Artist Album Track
6 Stevie Ray Vaughn Couldn't Stand The Weather Honey Bee
7 Eva Cassidy Simply Eva Songbird
8 George Benson Inspiration - A Tribute To Nat King Cole Route 66
9 Talking Heads Speaking In Tongues Burning Down The House
10 Joni Mitchell Court And Spark Help Me
11 Steely Dan Gaucho Babylon Sisters
Wayne's Additional Tracks
# Artist Album Track
6 B-52s Various Vision of a Kiss, The World's Green Laughter, Ain't It A Shame
7 Melody Gardot My One and Only Thrill Baby I’m a Fool
8 Crash Test Dummies God Shuffled His Feet Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
9 Gorillaz Plastic Beach Rhinestone Eyes
10 Joni Mitchell Blue California
11 Porcupine Tree Deadwing Shallow
12 Cincinnati Pops Time Warp Also Sprach Zarathustra / Star Trek


Associated Equipment
  • OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player - We will be using the 105 as the source for this evaluation. All of the tracks used during this evaluation event were extracted using either dBPowerAmp or Exact Audio Copy (EAC) from the original CDs, and were written to a USB flash drive and accessed for playback via the 5509's front-panel USB port. We appreciate OPPO being a sponsor here at HTS.


  • Onkyo PR-SC5509 9.2-Channel Network A/V Preamplifier - Our preamp/processor for the event: Onkyos' 5509. It is a highly capable processor and very well regarded as one of the top preamp processors available. We decided in this speaker listening event to include a brief evaluation for each speaker pair with Audyssey MultEQ engaged to see how it affects the soundstage and image clarity and "evens out" the room's influence on frequency response. The 5509, with MuiltEQ XT32 capability, made this a breeze. Of course, its 192kHz/32bit Burr-Brown DACs and specs like 0.05% total noise plus distortion (20 Hz–20 kHz, Half power) ensure it to remain completely transparent. We appreciate Onkyo being a sponsor here at HTS.


  • Emotiva XPR-5 Five-Channel Reference Power Amplifier - The XPR-5 is a fully discrete, dual differential, high current, short signal path Class A/B amplifier with a Class-H power supply. The power supply rails are modulated to stay a minimum number of volts above the amplifier's output. This yields an efficient design that will stay cool while driving a pair of 8 Ohm speakers to 500 W or a pair of 4 Ohm speakers to 750 W. Having lots of clean power available is important when evaluating two-channel speakers. With the XPR-5 there is never a question or concern about being able to drive the speakers under test cleanly and reliably. Thanks to Emotiva for being a sponsor at HTS.






Thoughts On Placing Expensive Speakers Close To A Wall

Most speakers in most rooms will not sound great when paced close to a wall. Remember that we are talking about fairly serious, discriminating listening, mainly to music, with roughly $3,000 worth of speakers. Our belief is that anyone willing to spend that kind of money on speakers will be serious enough about good sound to find the best possible way to set them up and get the absolute best performance from them, even if it means moving them to that desired location temporarily when said listener feels like getting a serious dose of great music with great sound.

There are speakers that do not sound too bad close to the wall. But none, in our experience, can give a deep, engaging soundstage when too close to the wall. If one has to place a pair of speakers close to a wall, it would be better to save money and buy a pair for a few hundred dollars - check out our Reviews Area for candidates - and call it good. A $3,000 pair of speakers might sound a little better there, but will not sound great.

Having said all that, some readers have expressed interest in doing exactly what we do not suggest, or they are at least curious enough to ask about it, and may place an expensive set of loudspeakers - like the ones we evaluate here - next to a wall. After all, it is their money to do with as they please. So, having made our recommendation, we have chosen to be as helpful as possible and briefly listen to these speakers close to a wall. This information will be included with the individual reviews.


Thoughts On Equalizing High-End Speakers

There was a time when it simply was not done. That time is past. There are numerous ways it can be accomplished these days...
  • With pinpoint frequency precision.
  • Using exactly the type and amount of correction desired.
  • With phase/time correction if desired.
  • Without adding noise or distortion.
  • Without adding audible artifacts.
We performed extensive listening tests with carefully-applied Audyssey MultEQ correction and with sparingly-applied Parametric EQ (PEQ) correction and are convinced that correction can be achieved without negative effects, and that categorical claims that such correction causes audible corruption are not provable in blind testing and are without merit.

In our case, we chose to finish the evaluation sequence by applying Audyssey MultEQ XT32 to see how well it could accomplished the following:
  • Lift drooping high frequencies resulting from off-axis listening angles.
  • Even out room-interaction frequency response variations.
  • Tighten and improve soundstage and imaging.
The results are reported with each evaluation.


Our Test Sequence

Here is the sequence that each speaker pair went through:
  1. Close-To-Wall Evaluations 1 & 2.
    • Set up 1.
      • Speaker Location - Set close to the front wall, pointed straight at the Listening Position (LP). We used a previously-decided-upon setup location typical of a home theater environment or a general-purpose room where speakers have to be close to a wall for some reason.
      • Distance from back of the speaker to wall: 2 ft.
      • Distance from center of front baffle to side wall of the room: 5 ft.
      • Distance apart: 9 ft 4 in.
      • Zero Listening Angle (speakers pointed straight at the LP).
    • Run REW Sweeps L & R, check for good matching and proper function.
    • Set up 2.
      • Same as above.
      • Zero Toe In (speakers pointed straight at the back wall).
    • Run REW Sweeps L & R.
    • Evaluate 2. Three to five minutes listening time by each evaluator.
    • Set up 1
    • Evaluate 1. Three to five minutes listening time by each evaluator.
  2. Ideal Location Evaluation 3.
    • Set up 3.
      • Ideal setup location is determined for deep soundstage and sharp imaging. This could take from a few minutes to 45 minutes.
    • Run REW Sweeps L & R.
    • Evaluate 3. Thirty minutes listening time by each evaluator.
  3. Audyssey MultEQ Evaluation 4.
    • Run MultEQ Setup
    • Run REW Sweeps L & R.
    • Evaluate 4. Three to five minutes listening time by each evaluator.
  4. Record physical measurements.


Initial Results

As usual, there were some surprises. We heard some soundstage and imaging that were to die for. While we did not expect any of them to sound terrific in a close-to-the wall setting, a few actually sounded fairly good there, and one sounded VERY good. One model sounded downright awful close to the wall, and then had its revenge by giving us one of the better soundstage / imaging performances in its final setup that we heard over the weekend.

We were amazed to see how a very small difference in listening angle - one degree - that's right, one single degree - could transform a soundstage from lackluster ho-hum to WOW.

Some of these are beastly heavy monsters. And some finishes were eye-popping.

It has been invaluable to have the three sets of ears and listening perspectives together for these events. One evaluator will hear a certain quality and be ready to rave about it, making note of some other "minor factor," and another evaluator will have found that "minor factor" to be more like a showstopper, adding in his notes only a mention of what the first evaluator was crazy about. All in all, our perspectives came to rest with a great deal of consensus, but the contrasting views will no doubt stand out in our final write-ups.

One of the early pairs we listened to - I will never reveal which - got a mixed set of reactions initially. A few hours later, one of the group said he thought they might deserve a second listen in a different location. So we investigated further and found that they did, indeed, give a better performance there. We keep each other grounded, providing checks and balances and perspective balancers at every turn.

In the end, loads of fun were had by all. Terrific hosts and savory grilled meats did not hurt one bit. Cheese curds from Wisconsin and chocolate meltaways from Nebraska made their way to the snack bar. I doubt anyone lost weight with all the treats and good food available. The moderate Alabama weather treated us nicely. Gracey, the Cedar Creek Cinema cat, reminded of us her mascot status and insisted on a scratch or two whenever we came out for a break.

And discussions are under way for what our next evaluation event might entail.

In the mean time, stay tuned for our detailed results. We sill start feeding them into the following posts in the next couple of days.


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Old 02-21-14, 01:33 PM   #2
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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event[


Axiom M100






Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
84" 56" 123" 94" 71" 28° 13°


Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • 3-way Tower
  • Frequency Response: 31 Hz – 20 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Power Handling: 400 W
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB anechoic, 92 dB in room (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 6.5”
  • Midrange Size: 5.25"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 160, 2.3 kHZ
  • Tuning Port: One On Front, Five On Rear
  • Dimensions: 47.5" H x 9.25" W x 17" D
  • Weight (Each): ~70 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $2,690
Configuration

The Axiom MM100 is a 3-way tower with three aluminum woofers, two aluminum midranges, and two titanium dome tweeters. They feature Anti-Standing-Wave cabinets that suppress internal resonances and Vortex ports to reduce port noise.

Axiom Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Axiom M100 were not difficult to place. We took a little extra time with them because it was clear they were going to deliver a first-rate soundstage and imaging and wanted to be sure we found their performance peak.

Impressions

Wow!

Frequency Response, Bass Extension





Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Axiom M100 -- Final.mdat

UPDATE: Port plugs are supplied with the M100 speakers. These plugs might be useful in modifying bass response, if desired. We did not test the M100 using these port plugs.

The M100 were very bass heavy. The frequency response as we measured it seems to tell the story. The response is almost ruler strait but with a slant that puts the lowest frequencies 12 dB hotter than the 10 kHz level.

The acoustic instrumental on Ode to a Butterfly sounded tubby, overweight. Vocals did not suffer, though, seemed balanced and natural. Even Melody Gardot's voice, which tends to have a deep resonance on Baby I'm A Fool, was well controlled. Brad's baritone on Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm had a crisp reality.

But the overall tonal balance of most tracks was more bass-heavy than I preferred.

Soundstage and Imaging

It is no secret that I am nuts for a great soundstage. The soundstage and imaging from the M100 simply took my breath away for a moment as we were finishing the setup process and I realized the quality of soundstage we were witnessing.

Over the last few years, my definition of an ideal soundstage has changed a number of times as I have witnessed better and better ultimate examples of them. It was in that very room that several of those "best soundstages ever" had been witnessed, all within the last seven months. The first time I heard one of the kind the M100 gave us was from a $50,000 pair of speakers at RMAF last October. That experience has been challenged, to my utter delight, three different times with speakers costing a fraction of those that set that original benchmark, and I have been privileged to be involved in the setup of all three. It has been a bit overwhelming, and hearing that kind of soundstage from the M100 as we completed the setup process was just a bit much.

Imagine a soundstage with imaging that appears to go a level beyond sound waves into the realm of actually seeming to materialize in the air before you. The soundstage is carved in space with such density you feel you could walk among those solid images and explore them as they hang there, morphing at the rate of the flow of music and sound right before your eyes and ears. The image clarity and depth acuity are so precise that each image source seems outlined like the figures in cartoons from the 30's and 40's, a boundary that defines with stark clarity the edge of each sound. Every pluck, crackle, tone, drumbeat, breath, chord, kick, syllable, and every echo, delay, double, and splash of reverb, is simply popping into existence as an individual three-dimensional entity in space before you. The soundstage that POPS!

Okay, this all sounds a little over the top. The experiential contrast, though, between this quality of soundstage and a merely great soundstage with sharp imaging and depth acuity is a quantum leap, from a different dimension of the sonic universe. That is why the experience leaves me feeling inadequate using normal descriptors.

Then one gets a good laugh and is re-grounded by realizing that the nature of the event is shared readily by some and almost shrugged off by others. Leonard seems to have been somewhat knocked out by the density of that soundstage, to use his own descriptor, yet our other two listening companions that day were distracted by other listening qualities and only offered a Oh, yeah, nice soundstage, but...

Fair enough, we each have our priorities. For me, the M100 knocked the Soundstage and Imaging category out of the park. The acoustical instruments on Ode to a Butterfly might as well have been right there in the room. The pounding drum at the beginning of Chant popped right out of the wall before us, and the accompanying snare drum owned its volume of space about a foot in front of the wall. Each tinkle from the panning rain stick created a little impact crater in space as it struck, as did each note through the piano solo.

The soaring synthesizer in Rhinestone Eyes left a sonic trail in space behind it. The detail from the Dobro guitar on Strange Fruit was so succinct that it jumped forward in the mix with a real dynamic punch.

Cranked up for the Also Sprach Zarathustra / Star Trek orchestral sequence and the rocking Shallow, the M100 maintained the same three-dimensional image clarity and natural (supernatural?) openness at all volume levels from too loud to whisper soft.

Clarity & Power Handling

the M100 did not even flinch at the deep opening BOOMS of our Star Trek power handling test. Even our highest volumes and deepest bass never came anywhere close to revealing any kind of dynamic range limitation for the M100. They liked being pushed and thrived on revealing dynamic detail for us. I heard more close-up detail in Cassandra's voice on Strange Fruit than ever before. Struttin' With Some Barbecue was especially alive, the saxophone rattling in space before us.

The cymbals in Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm had a gorgeous ring to them. You almost have to hear a good quality cymbal live once in awhile to appreciate the wonderful complexity of clear individual tones they can produce. The M100 gave us cymbals with perfect clarity and explosive dynamics. Shallow was fun and dynamic and almost dared me to open up the throttle and ROCK.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

Audyssey MultEQ helped tame the bass beastliness of the M100, but detracted from the wonderful carved-in-space quality of the soundstage and imaging. The change was subtle, but they seemed forced, not as free and natural as without the correction applied. Dynamic range seemed restricted, like some of the detail had been sacrificed. Although not a drastic difference, I preferred the M100 without MultEQ, although it is easy to see that some would go for the controlled bass over the slightly more dynamic soundstage. Given the means to accomplish it, a single low shelf or perhaps a low shelf plus an attenuating peak parametric EQ band would probably be all needed to settle down the bass without disrupting other M100 qualities.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

UPDATE: Axiom has contacted us with a very kind reminder that they recommend plugging the bottom three ports on the M100 when locating them close to a wall, and that port plugs are supplied with the speakers to accomplish it. There is even a demonstration video concerning this linked from their website. This would certainly have made a big difference in their performance close to the wall in our review, and might even have given us an easy way to modify their bass response in their optimum setup if we had desired. We simply did not notice the port plugs as we unpacked the M100 speakers.

Our thanks to Axiom for pointing this out and our apologies to Axiom and our readers for the oversight on our part. Please keep this in mind as you read this review.


The first rule of Axiom M100 placement is DO NOT place them close to a wall. The second rule of Axiom M100 placement is DO NOT place them close to a wall.

At the wall, the M100 bass response was stronger, sluggish, thick, and SLOW. It took a couple tenths of a second for each note to form, each percussive hit to develop, and again for them to fade. Every bass note was slurred and way too strong.

Imaging was fairly-to-good, and the soundstage was okay, although not deep. But the thickness and slowness of the bass response were absolute deal killers as far as using the M100 close to a wall.

Physical and Visual

The M100 is an imposing structure. They are big towers, and are meant to sit in a listening room wherever they need to be placed to sound their best. To use them in any other way seems a terrible waste. They look and sound big and powerful, commanding the space they occupy just the way they command the air they vibrate. The finish is simple, a flat black with grain showing, contrasting with the white driver cones.

Overall Listening Experience

Listening to the Axiom M100 was a genuine treat. Other than being bass heavy, I can think of no flaws in the way they present any of the music we heard. They left me wondering, [I]How do they do it?[!I] They delivered simply awesome performance.


Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

It was the best of sounds, it was the worst of sounds…OK, my apologies to real writers like Dickens. The Axiom was one of the speakers that I looked most forward to hearing. When we started the listening with the speakers on axis to the listening position I was dejected. I could not believe how thick the bass and mid bass were, how recessed the vocals were, and I was thinking, OK this is a trip back to the 1970s and the classic ARs which have been exceeded by so many fine products in the past few decades. Flat sound, even bloated. Moving them to the perpendicular near wall orientation did little to change anything. The image was moderate, but nothing to excite. Not a speaker to own if you are not going to place it carefully.

BUT, occasionally, one finds a Dickens’ packaged in a Hemingway jacket (I never could get Hemingway). When we moved them out into the room they simply came alive. I was stunned at the difference, and found the siren was calling me to the listening position. I think I went through every second of my playlist and went through all of the songs on a couple of the other guy’s lists. The image was impressive. I have not heard the “density” of image like this in many speakers and I have heard many over the years. I must explain what I mean by density of image. When some speakers produce an image and you get a pinpoint location of instruments it is quite impressive. Precious few have that precision but with the sense that there is a solid instrument or a real person standing in front of you. This requires not only exceptional detail but the ability to move a lot of air and deliver the precision with authority. The precision of the locations of the instruments in the soundstage, the depth, the width, it was all so engaging. But it felt like something more.

As I moved through the playlist I kept listening for the flaws that I can detect in most speakers. While nearly all of the speakers in this event had few if any flaws that stood out, the Axioms not only lacked issues, but did so much so well that I just kept on listening. I was tired when we started, and after hearing them near the wall was expecting the session to be drudgery. Boy, was I wrong. The emotion in Melody Gardot’s vocals, the off-balance neurosis of Joni Mitchell and Donald Fagen, the subtle detail in the lower strings of an acoustic guitar that makes you want to go out and buy one and take guitar lessons, or at least get out your Chet Atkins vinyl, it was all there. When Fagen’s smarmy voice makes you want to lock up your young cousins and you want to go to California and be one of the people that Joni digs…OK, I could go on and on about the great experience listening to these, but I think you get the idea. These touched a string in my head.

So they have all the subtleties. What about screaming rock and pounding funk. Yep, they do that too. In fact, one of the things that I noticed is that the image did not become chaotic at very loud volumes. It seemed quite stable. When playing Honey Bee by Stevie Ray, I could enjoy it from the front row or the back at incredible levels. Never a complaint. I felt like I was in a blues joint back home in Baton Rouge and it was time to walk to the bar and get a beer, but I did not want to miss anything.

The overall balance is slightly heavy on the bass, but when placed properly they prove to be very articulate and not obscure the mid bass and lower midrange that I look to for detail. I tend to like my speakers a little lean on the bottom compared to Sonnie, but I would have no problem loving these.

The detail from bottom to top and in the soundstage is all there. One of the tracks that shows it all is Chant. The panning of the rain sticks, the deep bass, the snap of the drums, the detailed attack and harmonics of the piano, lower strings detail…outstanding on all counts. The Melody Gardot track is one that can excite a lesser speaker with sibilance. No problem here. I went off the reservation a bit and pulled up some classical music (the Telarc Pictures at an Exhibition track that someone had stored) and it brought back memories of the kind of wide ranging articulation of multiple instruments with a huge powerful sound field that I recall from the old Acoustat 8s. Not quite the transparency of electrostatics, but very close.

Of course, my preference for eccentric vocalists and guitars makes for difficult tests for speakers sometimes. As I mentioned above, all of it was revealed and none of the tendencies toward annoying brightness ever popped up. I just keep coming back to the feeling that I got listening to these speakers. It is hard to quantify performance at this level, so I listen with my gut, for the big picture. The forest was there, but the trees, down to the leaves were clearly defined.

These are a solid performer in all regards. The detail and image precision was much like what one gets with larger electrostatics, not quite the openness, but the solid delivery was just plain fun. You do have to take the speaker out well into the room, and make the effort to locate the right position, but the result is pretty exciting. My fabric/clothing analogy here would be a very fine merino wool suit, tailored perfectly, with great attention to detail.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

We are starting to get to the speakers I have not heard before, and this is the exciting part for me. While it is a thrill to hear the same speaker in a different environment, there is a "first date" feel to listening to a speaker I have not heard previously.

I always seem to start with this, but, really, the finish is the first thing you see so it seems natural to discuss it right off the bat. You know, it is funny. Most people look at a black walnut type finish and think it looks plain. I, for some reason, have always really liked that type of finish (my bedroom set is finished this way) and this one is done extremely well with no visible defects. I like the choice of white colored drivers as it gives the front baffle a very clean look which I personally like. Packaging was really well done with reinforced cardboard corners and plenty of foam. They even include sliders to make moving them easier which was good because these were the heaviest of the bunch - although I did not use them. The cabinet had a straight front baffle with a tapering to the rear which gives the speaker some character.

When placed close to the wall and toed-in, the banjo in Ode to a Butterfly images just inside the right speaker as expected while the mandolin and violin image just right of where I have been hearing them previously which was an odd start. The rain stick panning effect in Chant imaged just fine as it panned from left to right. However, low end is really loose as it feels like it rolls on just too long. Reasons Why has very little depth which is not unexpected with this location. Strange Fruit has good spatial imaging of each piece, and the trumpet and lap guitar are where I expect them to image with the height difference between the lap guitar and Cassandra's vocals able to be discerned. Hells Bells had a tad better low end, but it was still not precise. Once we moved them to facing straight, the mandolin moved out more toward the left speaker with much better separation between it and the violin with the banjo still just inside the left speaker. However, the rain stick effect in Chant now had a hole in the middle and low end was still flabby. The vocal depth in Reasons Why has better depth off axis. With this orientation, the kick drum in Hells Bells sounds off as one kick drum sequence seems to bleed together.

These did not take long at all to find a great location - the hardest part was the actual process of moving them. Did I mention that they were the heaviest?

Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Wide soundstage – great separation between the instruments – mandolin and violin especially. Great string detail on both the mandolin and banjo. Images perfectly.

Track 2 - Chant

Rain stick panning effect handled perfectly. Fantastic low end – great impact and can hear that kick of the drum. Nice snare drum punch! Excellent piano detail. Guitar vibrations – heady stuff!

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Deep vocal soundstage. Good, open female vocal sound. Stand up bass has good impact here.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Images perfectly including the height difference between the lap guitar and the vocals. String detail is really good here too. Each piece is even in level – no one overpowers the other. Excellent vocal detail.

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

No sense of horn fatigue. Nice piano action.

Track 6 - One

Precise kick drum imaging in the first sequence – really crisp. Can hear the kick drum rolls clearly in the second sequence too.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

Excellent bell ringing. Guitar riff at start sounds great and high hat splash is crystal clear. Precise kick drum here too.

Track 8 - Let It Go

Good vocal depth to soundstage but with an "in-your-grill" presence. Handles dynamic shifts effortlessly – no signs of compression at all.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

Excellent string detail here. Good vocal depth to soundstage with presence here too. Can hear more vocal detail when he trails off in the chorus. Handles dynamic range at the 3:20 minute mark effortlessly.

Track 10 - Tricycle

The dynamic swings really get the ol' heart jumping. No signs of compression or strain.

Track 11 - Just One Of Those Things

Excellent piano detail.

Track 12 - Walking On The Moon

No comments here.



On the Melody Gardot track, sibilance at higher volume (-8) was borderline uncomfortable.


Overall, an excellent speaker that does several things really well - string detail, vocal presence and piano detail really stood out for me personally in these speakers and the low end imaged very precisely as well. That said, I do feel that this is not a speaker that is going to perform as well when you are forced to locate it close to a wall, but if you can get it out into the room, you will definitely be pleased with its capabilities. The only thing I struggled with was the sibilance, and it was not horrible to the point of not being able to listen, but I could tell after a few hours of listening (maybe less), it would be fatiguing. Again though, the Gardot track was listened to a -8, so if you listen at more moderate levels, I do not think it would be an issue at all.


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Old 02-21-14, 01:36 PM   #3
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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event[


Phase Technology PC-9.5






Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
84" 62" 110" 88" 72" 12° 25°


Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • 4-way Tower
  • Frequency Response: 32 Hz – 22 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Power Handling: 450 W
  • Sensitivity: 91 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 6.5”
  • Midrange Size: 1.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: Absolute Phase™ / 100, 700 Hz, 3.5 kHZ
  • Tuning Port: Single, On Front ~12" From Base
  • Dimensions: 45.5" H x 9" W x 14.7" D
  • Weight (Each): ~66 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $2,920
Configuration

The Phase Technology PC-9.5 is a 4-way tower with dual woofer and single low-midrange with 6.5” glass fiber/RPF™ composite solid piston with NBR surround, 1.5" Patented woven synthetic soft dome midrange, and 1” Patented woven synthetic soft dome tweeter.

Phase Technology Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Phase Technology PC-9.5 were not overly difficult to place. None of the models evaluated placed themselves with total ease, and the PC-9.5 ended up taking about the typical amount of time and number of moves to get right.

While the imaging and soundstage performance was quite good, they did exhibit one little quirk that sent me on a merry chase. Our first evaluation track, Ode to a Butterfly, starts out with banjo near the right side of the soundstage, usually just inside of the right speaker. For some reason we were never able to surmise, that banjo could not be tightly localized by the PC-9.5, and it sounded like each note had a separate spot in the soundstage, spread over a two-foot width. I must have tried a dozen different adjustments of angle and location to try to settle down that banjo, and was never able to get rid of the effect. I started wondering if it had always been that way and I had somehow never noticed, even having heard that track several hundred times on many systems. Is was enough to make me start doubting my sanity, or wonder if some prankster had inserted a modified mix of the track into my evaluation track folder for the fun of watching my consternation. I finally gave up and moved on. No other speakers we evaluated shared that banjo localization problem, and no other instrument on that or any other track displayed the same quirk on the PC-9.5..

Impressions

Some speakers have qualities that jump out to impress you, yet have flaws that keep you from loving them. Others are quiet and unassuming and end up being solid performers. The PC-9.5 are more the latter type. No grand show, no big disappointments, they just performed in a solid fashion and did their job. This is the way most speakers should act.

I noted that they were "airy and authoritative," simple and unassuming -- solid.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension



Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Phase Technology PC-9_5 -- Final.mdat

On Ode to a Butterfly, the midbass response was just enough emphasized that the instruments all had a tubby effect. I could not help but visualize an over-sized guitar, a baritone mandolin, and a viola being used as a fiddle, all over-large enough to have their resonances shifted down about half an octave. The mandolin seemed a bit hollow-sounding, too. That is the only track where this was in evidence.

I liked the way the PC-9.5 handled mids and highs. The crisp guitar and mandolin strums and the rich string bowing sounds from the fiddle were lifelike and lively, natural and smooth, airy and accurate. I would call this one of their particular areas of strength. The pianos on Struttin' With Some Barbecue and Chant had a lively tinkle to them. Struttin' With Some Barbecue sounded incredibly live, and a bit raw as it should, yet with refinement and control at of the same time.

The tonality of male and female vocals was truthful and rich in energy. On Baby I'm a Fool, the strings were wonderfully spacious, and Melody Gardot's vocal resonance was full and powerful but well-controlled, a balance difficult to achieve and the main reason I like that song as a test track. The PC-9.5 handled the close-up detail in her voice in a way that seemed particularly intimate.

The soaring synthesizer on Rhinestone Eyes also had a richness that hinted at some upper-mid over-emphasis, yet still was properly controlled and true to its source. Shallow was downright crunchy, and the big snare drum had an extra degree of power in its punch.

A slightly boxy tone, indicating an lower-mid / mid-bass emphasis, only showed up a couple of times, once on the male vocal part on Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm. That same emphasis gave the punchy snare drums on Rhinestone Eyes and Shallow their powerful kick.

The standup bass on Strange Fruit seemed almost taller than usual, perfect for this track. The upper-mids and highs of the Dobro guitar were especially detailed and pulled that instrument forward in the mix where many speakers almost allow it to be lost over there on the right side by itself.

There was one under-damped resonance that did some ringing when struck by a particular bass tone. The standup bass on Reasons Why activated it a few times, and it clearly took a little settle time for the PC-9.5 to get it back under control.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage and imaging, other than that confounded opening banjo, were exemplary, the imaging very sharp, solid, and tightly localized, and the soundstage wide and almost overly-deep. The sense of specific depth acuity was fair, somewhat in evidence but not very sharp. It was a natural and engaging soundstage, not stellar, but a solid performance.

The BOOM of the opening drum on Chant was not as tightly localized as I would have liked, but that turned out to be a difficult percussive sound for other speakers to manage, also. Centered female vocals were imaged to precision, with the vocal sheen and sibilance centered right on the main vocal sound, no wandering or smearing. The standup bass string buzz near the end of Ode to a Butterfly is also a telltale imaging test, and was exactly where it belonged, not shifted left or right like some speakers will allow.

I noticed a couple of times the soundstage seemed especially deep, which I enjoyed, yet on California and Reasons Why, it seemed like the centered vocal was farther back in the soundstage them usual. I suppose that is what you get when you go looking for the deepest soundstage you can find, sometimes a sound you want up front will end up farther back than you might like. At the same time, that distant trumpet on Strange Fruit seemed even more distant than usual, and I loved it. A spacious soundstage is an organic creature of sorts, and can sometimes surprise you where it places instruments and sounds, having a soundstage attitude of its own.

The Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm song is on my track list because of the complex yet well-organized way the soundstage is mixed. The PC-9.5 handled that mix wonderfully. It was spacious and well-controlled, all elements accurately placed and with wide-open separation around each image source. The ability of the PC-9.5 to tightly image the big standup bass on Strange Fruit says a lot about its ability to localize with precision. The guitar and mandolin on Reasons Why were also very tightly localized.

Clarity & Power Handling

The PC-9.5 played cleanly, handling loud rock tracks with ease. The punchy snare drum on Shallow is on the edge of clipping in the recording, and can push a lesser speaker into dynamic compression. The PC-9.5 never indicated being anywhere close to feeling compressed or lacking extra dynamic range on this track.

The booming bass strikes at the beginning of the Star Trek orchestral track were handled readily, and had a nice depth with the PC-9.5.

On Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, the ride cymbals had a clear "ting" and the crash and other cymbals were clear with no hashing of their complex tones. The clear handling of upper-mid and high frequencies was exemplary for cymbals, bells, and triangles.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

The PC-9.5 benefited quite nicely from the application of Audyssey MultEQ. Imaging was sharpened and the sense of depth acuity improved markedly. The slightly boxy tone was gone, and the under-damped ringing bass tone was well controlled.

As with the other models we evaluated, the PC-9.5 did not need MultEQ to sound good, but they clearly benefited from it. I noticed no downside to its use. The soundstage was made a little more predictable in specific instrument placement, perhaps not quite as deep as without, but barely enough to even notice. I would call the PC-9.5 a speaker that could benefit from carefully-applied correction or sparingly-applied parametric equalization, but also a thoroughly enjoyable speaker without.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

The PC-9.5 did not fare well close to the wall, in either the zero-listening-angle setup or in the zero-toe-in setup. The soundstage and imaging were non-specific, with only a general sense of where any particular instrument or sound was coming from on the few tracks I heard there. Bass response was highly emphasized, even though the port was well above the floor and on the front surface of the cabinet. The PC-9.5 would be a poor choice for this kind of replacement.

Physical and Visual

The finish for the PC-9.5 was a glossy piano black, very attractive and well done. The PC-9.5 cabinet design is all curvy and acoustically free of hard edges and corners. They are slightly swept back and a bit massive, not easy to hide, but why would you want to? In the PC-9.5, you see form and function working together with elegance in a simple yet powerful package.

Overall Listening Experience

While writing this review I experienced the journey of growing to like the Phase Technology PC-9.5 all over again. They start out simply and unassuming, like a soloist starting out a song with a simple, accurate style, but by the time they are done, you realize you have just witnessed a powerful and memorable performance. Another impression was that they know their strengths and do not over-reach, like Clint Eastwood's catch phrase in Magnum force, "A good man always knows his limitations." There are imperfections, but enough positive qualities that you end up with a warm spot in your heart for them.

In other words, they sneak up on you. Nice move.


Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

When placed near the front wall on axis to the listening position, they had the usual bumps in response at around 40 Hz and 120 Hz that Sonnie’s room creates in most speakers and overall exaggerated bass that one would expect in any near wall placement. The exaggerated bass did seem to distract from other detail. I would not want to live with these near the wall. The image was still present, just without much precision. As said with all of the other speakers, this is the pattern that most produce. These were actually easier for me to listen to in this condition than many other speakers. When the speakers were turned to the orientation perpendicular to the front wall, the soundstage widened a bit, but still did not produce much depth. Overall balance was similar.

As we moved to the optimum listening position, the image opened up nicely. The location of the instruments seemed to be pin point through much of the speaker’s bandwidth but seemed to drift from upper midrange to highs. One of the characteristics of speakers in this price range seems to be greater consistency in character across the drivers. The Phase Tech was certainly so. I never got the feeling that I was listening to more than one driver. I did not hear anything that really stood out, like for instance the very low distortion and extension in the highest treble in the RAAL tweeter. But there is something very pleasant about a seamless product like this. Obviously, most attention to detail in the design is necessary to get such consistency. I can’t say that they performed any magic, but there was not a single deficiency that I could point out in these speakers. Overall, the character is smooth, perhaps fine linen if one is using fabric analogies.

Clean and smooth dominates my memory of these. I comfortably moved to the front row when someone else was playing Jazz at the Pawnshop fairly loud, closed my eyes and could sense that I was near the front of seating in a jazz club. The midrange and upper midrange would be my pick for the place that these shine best. Vocals and the space around them, subtle breath sounds and trembling, and the sense of emotion from great female vocalists, or their quirks are all coming through clearly. The lower midrange is clear, but a slight excess in bass response was, I found, a little distracting and perhaps limiting the performance here. Many would find this to be a positive thing, like Sonnie, who leans a little more to a heavier bottom end.

They can rock. Opening up the amp on the Stevie Ray Vaughn track and on the Talking Heads never seemed to strain them and they delivered on the impact expected from this kind of music. I found myself more comfortable playing them loud than many other speakers I have experienced. They had no edge when listening to Eva Cassidy let go or on the Melody Gardot track that tends toward sibilance. So where is there room for improvement? I can’t say that there are any obvious deficiencies, but I also cannot say that these speakers called me to listen for extended periods of time. While I felt that there were no missing eccentricities to Joni Mitchell’s voice, I was not seduced to listen more and more. The magic wasn’t there, but the speakers were competent in all areas that I look for. Maybe the tendency toward a bit heavier bass and the smoothness did not capture my attention. At this level it is a matter of personal preference, and while I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Phase Techs, they just did not resonate with me and did not make me feel the emotion in the music like, for instance, the Martin Logan Montis. Perhaps not a fair bar to set, as the Montis are three times the price, but that is what I felt when listening to these speakers. This is a speaker in which you will be hard pressed to find anything you don’t like.

It is the kind of speaker I would buy if I wanted a speaker for life, that I knew I would never get tired of listening to. These folks have been making speakers and components for many decades and the refinement and quality of build is pretty obvious. It is a speaker that I would expect to be going strong and still be comfortable with a generation later.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

I heard the Phase Tech speakers at RMAF, and I was really impressed with how they performed in a small, untreated hotel room so I was really curious with how these would sound in Sonnie's room.

As far as finish, I thought they had a very nice gloss black finish with no discernable defects. The cabinet has some front to back contouring which gives the speaker some character and the gray face of the drivers breaks up the front baffle, but not too much for the person who is looking for something that blends well unlike, say, a Klipsch front baffle appearance. Check out the photo of the side to see just how clear the reflection is – almost a mirror finish. The packaging on these was excellent – plenty of foam for buffering from the inevitable drop.

We started out with them close to the wall and with them toed in. There was a slight smearing of violin and mandolin on the Ode To A Butterfly track. On the Chant track, there was good panning of rainsticks, but the bass sounds just a tad boomy. There was really good separation in Strange Fruit. Overall, the Phase Techs had pretty decent imaging for a wall location – there was a slight compression of the image, but I could still delineate each piece clearly. We then faced them straight out and I noticed the guitar for Strange Fruit images right on right speaker where I did not expect it although there was more separation of violin and mandolin here. Chant had good panning of rainsticks but was still a bit boomy.

We then moved them out into the room and started moving them around a bit to find the best location. This did not take that long at all - they felt like they could really have been placed just about anywhere with similar results. On to the music!



Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Really wide soundstage – clear separation of instruments. Image stays pretty close to the same with head movement to either side – don’t have to lock your head in a spot. Excellent detail on the mandolin – very clear plucks and vibrations.

Track 2 - Chant

Excellent rainstick panning. Low end has good impact and sounds pretty clean. As with RMAF, very close to that ribbon light, airy feel for vocals. Hooey – great piano clarity. Love those key strokes. After two tracks, I can say these are incredibly detailed – excellent guitar string vibration and plucking.

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Sweet, delicate vocals. Image perfectly. Same detail with the plucking of the mandolin strings. Shows good soundstage depth.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Image perfectly – separation as well as height for vocals and lap guitar. Nice detail on vocals – first time I noticed the hard “T” at the end of the word “fruit”. Stand up bass has excellent impact, but does not overpower the rest of the instruments. Fantastic vocal detail.

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

Very clear trumpet, but does not feel fatiguing and I don’t get that shoulder cringe sensation.

Track 6 - One

Very clean bass drum. Good kick drum detail.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

Excellent lingering bell sounds. Great high hat splash and kick drum impact.

Track 8 - Let It Go

Nice vocal depth of soundstage. Handles vocal dynamics really well – and her “warbling” sequences.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

Just love the string detail – on every track. Good vocal detail here too. Handles 3:20 minute dynamic range extremely well.

Track 10 - Tricycle

Dynamic shift has the feel I like – makes you want to jump each time the shift happens. Very crisp high hat pings – no lingering splash.

Track 11 - Just One Of Those Things

Excellent piano detail – key strokes easily heard.

Track 12 - Walking On The Moon

Nice snare drum punch – excellent high hat splash and horn is crystal clear.



I then listened to Wayne's sequence and the Gardot track – sibilance did not bother me at all with these.


Overall, the Phase Techs are what I remembered from RMAF - just a fantastic speaker. They do the things I love – crisp midbass punch and vocals/piano have that excellent light, airy feel. Low end is ok, but the imaging is not as precise as I would like.

After running Audyssey, Ode's mandolin and violin sequence was a bit more precisely imaged as well as the kick drum in Chant. Reason's vocals seem just a bit more delicate to me and the same goes for the female vocals in Let It Go - powerful, but more delicate. The kick drum in Hells Bells seemed to image a bit looser. It seemed to help overall with just that one small part in Hells Bells that sounded looser detracting from the process.


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Old 02-21-14, 01:49 PM   #4
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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


Polk Audio LSiM705






Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
77" 55" 124" 100" 79" 18° 20°

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • Transitional 5-way System, Triple Port Bass Reflex, 3 Individual Woofer Chambers
  • Frequency Response: 22 Hz – 40 kHz
  • Upper -3dB Limit: 30 kHz
  • Lower -3dB Limit: 42 Hz
  • Power Handling: 250 W
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms Nominal
  • Subwoofer Size: 5"
  • Mid / Woofer Size: 5.25”
  • Midrange Size: 3.25"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 100 Hz, 280 Hz, 2.8 kHz, Orth crossover design
  • Tuning Port: Dual PowerPort bass venting
  • Dimensions: 47" H x 8 5/16" W x 14 3/8" D
  • Weight (Each): ~78 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $2,999.90
Configuration

The Polk Audio LSiM705 Tower contains one 1" (2.54cm) Dynamic Balance enhanced ring radiator tweeter, one 3 1/4" (8.26cm) Dynamic Balance midrange driver with super cell aerated polypropylene cone, one 5 1/4" (13.34cm) Dynamic Balance mid / woofer driver with super cell aerated polypropylene cone, and two 5" (12.70cm) Dynamic Balance oval subwoofer drivers with super cell aerated polypropylene diaphragms.

Polk Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The LSiM705 war fairly easy to place, sounded quite good almost anywhere. Of course they had their soundstage sweet spot, but it was not super critical or terribly difficult to find like it can be with some speakers.

Impressions

When I first heard that LSiM705 would be included in our evaluation weekend, I was tickled. I do not recall having heard Polk mentioned much has a favorite or prominent choice in this price range. But they have always had a soft spot in my heart. My first jaw-dropping experience hearing precise image location and clarity was from a top-of-the-line Polk tower pair many years ago. And my little Monitor5Jr bookshelves have served well for over 20 years, including some early serious soundstage and imaging work. So knowing they would be included for evaluation had me a little excited to hear what Polk has to offer these days.

I will not say that they blew me away. They did everything right and nothing wrong, all without flash, which can leave you feeling unimpressed at first. But considering their performance as a whole, the more I think about them the better I feel about them.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension



Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Polk Audio LSiM705 -- Final.mdat

The first frequency response plots we took of the LSiM705 at their ideal location had me thinking we had made an error of some kind. It was unusually flat and free of variations. We re-ran them and it turns out they were correct. The frequency response of each of the two speakers was exemplary, including control of the low-frequency peaks that tend to plague most speakers in this room. Very nice. Now a complaint. While the two speakers we had were very close to flat, the matching between the two was not what it could have been. Having measured various speakers in this and lower price ranges, it is not unusual to see extremely tight matching, so it clearly can be done. As the plots show, the matching between the LSiM705 towers was not terrible, but also was not great. Tighter matching might have given a better soundstage and freedom from image smearing noted elsewhere. Still, this response was impressive, and the LSiM705 would gave us a solid performance.

Flat often sounds flat, meaning a flat frequency response often seems unexciting at first. With time you grow to appreciate that you are hearing the music and not the speakers, and that is good. Voicing a speaker is tricky business, and a slight change in tonal character can make a speaker stand out while still being well within a tight specification range. The LSiM705 have a neutral voicing, and in a way it seems unfair that the more neutral speaker would seem less attractive, but there you have it.

The tonal balance on Ode to a Butterfly, a track I have heard hundreds of times, was absolutely even and true. Even the sound of the guitar strings seemed trustworthy, like you could identify the brand, type, and gauge from that sound.

The piano on Chant was not as tinkly as I liked, but there you go, it was accurate, so should I complain or compliment? I will compliment.

The Dobro lap guitar on Strange Fruit stood out more clearly then I expected it to with this pair of speakers. The crisp bass guitar tone at the beginning of Vision of a Kiss said the LSiM705 were giving us good bass definition and tightness.

Melody Gardot's voice on Baby I'm a Fool did not have as deep a resonance as we usually heard, and I once again credit the flatness of the LSiM705 response for that.

The soaring synthesizer on Rhinestone Eyes was a little less exciting, and again I will compliment the LSiM705 on their unassuming accuracy. In a way the LSiM705 were probably one of the more accurate speakers we have evaluated. For musicians, audio professionals, or listeners who find that quality particularly attractive, the LSiM705 might be high on their short list of choices.

Joni's voice on California was never better, she almost sounded pushier, more urgent than usual on a couple of notes.

Soundstage and Imaging

Soundstage and imaging were very good, very natural, open, wide and deep. Depth acuity was not particularly sharp. The rainstick sound on Chant was not as concise as it could have been.

I noticed on Reasons Why that the soundstage was very tolerant of head movement. There were no wandering instruments, the trumpet on Strange Fruit and the banjo on Ode to a Butterfly behaved exactly as they should and were steady in their location.

On the short segment of The World's Green Laughter, the locations of all the vocal echoes were precise and surrounded by emptiness as they should be. Sometimes one little well-identified syllable can tell you a lot about speaker's soundstage and imaging performance. I did notice a couple of sibilant sounds that seemed to smear slightly on female vocals, a sign that matching in the upper-mid and high frequencies was less than perfect, but this only occurred occasionally and was not a big distraction.

Every sound was in its proper place for the Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm track, one of my favorites for soundstage testing.

Clarity & Power Handling

The clarity of cymbals on the Crash Test Dummies track was excellent. The handling of the Star Trek bass impacts was clean and solid.

The handling of the crunchy guitar and punchy snare drum on Shallow was exemplary.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

With Audyssey MultEQ, the LSiM705 were brighter, more lively, more appealing and engaging due to the high-frequency lift. Speaker matching was clearly improved, as were imaging and soundstage. Image clarity and depth acuity were also improved.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

Here the LSiM705s towers gave us a really fun surprise. These speakers sounded absolutely great right next to the wall. Soundstage and imaging were not as tightly or clearly defined as when placed out into the room, and the soundstage had little depth, but they were quite good and very listenable. Bass response was accented but was not boomy or flabby, seemed quite well controlled.

As with most speakers close to the wall, I thought they sounded better in the zero-toe-in orientation. All in all, the LSiM705 handled being close to the wall incredibly well, making them an unusually flexible speaker. Kudos to Polk designers for carrying this off, it could certainly not have happened by accident.

Physical and Visual

The Mt. Vernon Cherry finish on our pair of LSiM705 was outstanding. The curved sides look sleek and aerodynamic, right out of a wind tunnel. The LSiM705 are real show pieces. The stand and bottom-placed port arrangement were unusual, and that port design certainly contributes to their placement flexibility and smooth bass response with minimum room interaction.

Overall Listening Experience

Words like exciting and fun do not come to mind for the Polk Audio LSiM705, but words like exemplary and admirable do. They make me think of people I have known who are conscientious, honest, and totally trustworthy, hand them all your bank account info and your house keys and rest easy knowing they will be well cared for. The LSiM705 will deliver your audio simply and truthfully, and that means a lot.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

Eerily enough, I have never heard a Polk speaker before this event which is odd considering it is well-liked by so many of our members. I may have said it before, but I was really excited for this event because we really did get a great set of speakers to evaluate for me personally. There was a good mix of ones that I have heard before and ones I have not.

Packaging on these was very good with lots of foam and corner protection. As for the finish, the cabinet has some front to back tapering and the top has a convex design which helps to break up the standard box design. The front baffle is nondescript as it is completely black with all black drivers so nothing really stands out. However, this really helps the cherry finish of the side panels to pop. The cherry finish is really well done. Overall, it is an unassuming speaker that should disappear in a room pretty well.

They started out close to the wall and toed-in. The banjo in Ode To A Butterfly was inside the right speaker as expected. The image was actually not bad – it was compressed some, but there was still some separation there. Chant’s rain stick panning imaged well with no audible hole, but low end seemed to lack impact. The vocals in Reasons Why had a bit of depth. The horn in Strange Fruit images just inside the left speaker while everything else was slightly compressed. The low end in Hells Bells was ok but, again, it lacked impact. We then moved them straight, and the mandolin and violin in Ode seemed more compressed. Rain stick panning in Chant sounded good, but low end again lacks impact. The vocal depth in Reasons Why was not quite the same as with toe-in, and the female vocal seemed to come just left of center. The horn in Strange Fruit was in same location, and the height difference in imaging between the lap guitar and the vocals was here too.



Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Image perfectly – each instrument locates where I expect. Banjo just not drawing me in. No one instrument overpowers the other. Track sounds good, but I am just not getting a “live” feel.

Track 2 - Chant

Rain stick panning seemed to skip a space in the middle. Low end is ok, but lacking in impact. Nice snare snap. Just not engaging – my mind wandered for a couple seconds during this track. Clinical is how I would describe this so far – everything is there, just lacking in feeling and emotion. Strings sound a bit twangy.

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Good vocal depth for soundstage. This track confirms it for me – her voice just did not grab me.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Height difference in image between the lap guitar and vocals is there. Everything images where I expected it to be. Cassandra sounds a bit more forward than nickel creek. Click of breath there.

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

Horn good – non-fatiguing, but again, needs life.

Track 6 - One

No comments here.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

No comments here.

Track 8 - Let It Go

Female vocals a bit more engaging here until about 2 minutes in and then it sounded muffled again. Almost like the depth changed. Potential compression issue – may be why it sounded muffled.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

Guitar string clarity ok. Deep soundstage, but it feels like some detail is missing in the lowest octave of the vocals. Not very dynamic.

Track 10 - Tricycle

Nice dynamic jump here – definitely hits that jump factor.

Track 11 - Just One Of Those Things

No comments here.

12 Walking On The Moon

No comments here.



On the Melody Gardot track, there was some sibilance issue, but not enough to be distracting.

Overall, I just did not connect with these speakers. While all the components were there, I just did not feel engaged. Again, in a word, clinical. I personally think it was because while they did everything ok, there was just not one thing that really stood out.

Once we ran Audyssey, I noticed a couple things. The first – my two female vocal tracks sounded a bit more lively. The second – low end imaging was a bit more precise. It still lacked the impact, but the imaging was more pinpoint.

Leonard Caillouet (LCAILLO)

In the positions near the wall the Polk was one of the most balanced speakers, with slightly exaggerated bass, but not unlistenable like some speakers in this location. The image was typical of the location, diffused and lacking depth though the sound space was larger in the straight orientation. While listening from places other than the primary listening position I found this to be one of the more pleasant speakers to listen to near the wall.


Like every other speaker, moving them out into the room opened up the sound stage and they produced a nice wide and deep image. This was the hardest review of all. When I listen to a pair of speakers, I go through my tracks and perhaps a few of the other reviewers and look for obvious deficiencies first. Then I listen to the tracks that I have heard something special in, and just let the sound settle on me to see how engaged I am and how much I want to listen to them. Then there are the subtle things that most speakers do superbly to make them stand out from the rest. I had to look really hard to find anything to critique in these speakers. The overall level of competence in reproducing the sound was quite good in all aspects.



So what was so hard about the review? Well, I did not get excited about any of the tracks, and I can’t describe any “magical moments’ listening, and I was not called back to listen more. Yet I was intrigued by how I could find a speaker that did not have any deficiencies but that also did not interest me sonically. Maybe the things that I hear that I like in other speakers are colorations that are not natural that stand out? Maybe these were producing the music so faithfully that all I was hearing was the music? I am not sure what to make of the experience. I just did not feel that I could get past the notion of listening to a pair of loudspeakers and see through to the music. Distortion seemed to be low, the character seemed the same throughout the speaker’s bandwidth, and they did get “out of the box” nicely. The image was where I have come to expect things to be on these recordings. But I was just not interested to listen beyond my time.


This is another very good speaker, competent in all the ways one would expect. It can rock, it can play softly without losing anything. They have impact as solid as most of the speakers we reviewed. Just not a flavor that I will go back to.


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Old 02-21-14, 01:52 PM   #5
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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


PSB Imagine T2






Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
82" 65" 104" 90" 74" 13° 22°


Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • Transitional 5-way System, Triple Port Bass Reflex, 3 Individual Woofer Chambers
  • Frequency Response @0°: 34 Hz – 23 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Frequency Response @0°: 36 Hz – 20 kHz (± 1.5 dB)
  • Frequency Response @30°: 36 Hz – 10 kHz (± 1.5 dB)
  • Power Handling: 300 W
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB Anechoic, 90 dB Typical Room (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms Min, 6 Ohm Nominal
  • Woofer Size: 5.25”
  • Midrange Size: 4"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 500Hz LR4, 1800Hz, LR4
  • Tuning Port: Three, Spaced Along Rear
  • Dimensions: 40 5/8" H x 8 3/8" W x 13 5/8" D
  • Weight (Each): ~43 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $3,498
Configuration

The Imagine T2 Imagine T2 Tower is a Transitional 5-way System, Triple Port Bass Reflex, with 3 Individual Woofer Chambers. It includes one 1” (25mm) Titanium Dome Tweeter with Ferrofluid Neodymium Magnet, one 4” (102mm) Clay/Ceramic filled Polypropylene Cone Midrange with Rubber Surround, and three 5 1/4” (133mm)
Clay/Ceramic filled Polypropylene Cone Woofers with Rubber Surround.

PSB Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Imagine T2 took a bit more time than usual to get placed property. Their stealth-like curves gave us no flat surface to place our laser distance meter for measurements and alignment, which turned out to be crucial for the Imagine T2. It was worth every second when we heard the excellent soundstage and imaging that they would finally give us.

We pulled the Imagine T2 back into the room a second time for their Audyssey MultEQ evaluation. Even with their previous location carefully marked, once set them up again the soundstage was just not the same. Tweaking the listening angle very slightly, suddenly that sharp, lively soundstage was back again just as we remembered it.

Out of curiosity, we measured the angle of that last tiny adjustment. It was one degree. That one degree difference in listening angle transformed the soundstage and imaging from pretty good to excellent.

That experience got us wondering how many speakers are in use that could sound dramatically better than they do with just a few little positioning tweaks. The Imagine T2 is a good example of the possibilities that can sometimes be achieved through persistence in the setup process, and the opportunities missed out on when listeners fail to truly understand the range of performance their speakers can deliver.

Impressions

What a great sounding pair of speakers. There are speakers that seem to fulfill every requirement, yet, like at the end of a first date, you just never end up calling again. The Imagine T2, while perhaps not perfect, just clicked for me, and I knew I wanted a second date before the first was even over.

I liked the tweeter mounted between the midrange and top woofer drivers. This arrangement gets the high frequencies coming from a more central point, much like the Mid-Tweeter-Mid (MTM) driver arrangement, more of a point source and probably contributing to overall image tightness and image clarity from the speaker.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension



Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: PSB Imagine T2 -- Final.mdat

Frequency response at the final location sounded very even to me, not flat, but nicely balanced with freedom from any annoying peaks or resonances. The mids and highs from the Imagine T2 were very smooth. The detail of Sarah's voice on Reasons Why was very clear and natural. The orchestra and guitar on Baby I'm a Fool were especially spacious. The combo on Struttin' With Some Barbecue was lively and natural. The Imagine T2 would be great with any live recordings I could think of. The detail of the saxophone's tonal character was perfectly represented.

One noteworthy point is the way the spread arrangement of the woofers and ports manages to avoid the deep low-frequency dips that many speakers end up with in our room. The emphasis between 100 and 200 Hz was smooth enough to not sound peaky.

Our measurements indicated some mismatch between the speakers through the midrange and we were nervous that imaging clarity might be impacted. It was a pleasant surprise that the imaging and soundstage were nothing short of smashing.

Soundstage and Imaging

The Imagine T2 soundstage and imaging were absolutely excellent. Every sound image was precisely localized, depth acuity was razor sharp, and there was clear - almost dark - empty spaces in between. It was not the magical carved-in-space soundstage we knew was possible in that room, but it was definitely one to be envied. On Chant, an especially detailed track for sound stage evaluation, every little tinkle of the rainstick had its own spot in space defined, including its unique distance from the listener, or so it seemed. I am not quite sure how that would be done in the recording process, but it was fascinating. Handclaps, finger snaps, little percussive sounds, details that normally blend into a mix were all independent in the soundstage, the image clarity and depth acuity were so clear. No individual sound was mashed in with the others out of laziness, the Imagine T2 were thorough in treating each and every speck of sound with the greatest of care.

It is interesting that PSB arranged the tweeter between the top woofer and the midrange driver. I have noticed many times that the best imaging and soundstage are found being on axis with the midrange driver rather than the tweeter, and wonder if this arrangement somehow contributes to the performance we witnessed.

On Ode to a Butterfly, the body of the big standup bass appeared clearly defined, as it was with the guitar body. Even the guitar strings seemed to be individually represented. I know a lot of this is not actually possible in the recording process, and assume at some point the psycho-acoustical brain pitches in with information from memories. That sound is so real, it must be coming from something that looks like THIS.

We had one wandering instrument episode, the trumpet in Strange Fruit. One evaluator noticed this and another joined the investigation while the other two tapped their feet impatient over the whole affair. As with the wandering banjo in another review, there was ultimately no explanation for it and no repositioning of the speakers that would resolve it.

On Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, the space in which Brad's voice was recorded seemed well captured by the recording, and was well represented by the Imagine T2, a space within a space. On this track the soundstage was simply gorgeous, wide open and super clean. The soaring synthesizer on Rhinestone Eyes etched its trajectory through space, was as easy to follow as a jet trail. On Shallow, the location of the guitar amp cabinet was as clear as day.

With a soundstage like this, one can learn much by listening to the space between the notes, the open spaces between this sounds. On Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and Chant, they were wide open, completely blank. That contrast in a well-defined soundstage is delicious to witness.

Melody Gardot's voice on Baby I'm a Fool hung in space, its depth precisely located in the soundstage. Even the spacial relationship between her voice and the drums, normally not noticeable, was well defined here.

Through the B-52's tracks, the location of every instrument was clearly defined. Interestingly, it again seemed easy to visualize the size and shape of guitar and bass speaker cabinets. Depth acuity was precisely indicating the distance from the listener of the instruments, voices, and guitar and bass cabinets.

Clarity & Power Handling

The Imagine T2 handled our base power punches on the Star Trek theme with ease, and handled loud guitar and rock tracks with no indication of compression or loss of dynamic range at any volume level. The fat snare drum on Shallow was especially punchy and stayed perfectly clear. Cymbals on all tracks were beautifully clear and clean.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

The soundstage and imaging with Audyssey MultEQ were not as sharp as without. The wandering trumpet on Strange Fruit settle down some, but not completely. The frequency response variations were flattened out very nicely. But that gorgeous soundstage and the super-sharp imaging were somewhat vague and fuzzy in comparison.

Our experience with this and other speakers in the evaluation has me thinking that more complex correction like Audyssey MultEQ simply tries to do too much with an already fine soundstage, especially if placement is crucial, while speakers that give a fair-to-good soundstage or allow more placement flexibility can benefit from that kind of correction. There is one recent exception to this rule of thumb that I can think of, but in general it seems to be a pretty good guideline. With the Imagine T2, I would recommend that any correction be done with parametric EQ sparingly applied and equally to both channels.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

The Imagine T2 performed fairly well close to the wall. The soundstage had no depth to speak of but was fairly wide and open. Imaging was fair but not tightly defined. Bass response was somewhat accentuated, but not horribly so, and was only slightly slurred as can be the case with speakers at that location. Especially at the zero-toe-in orientation they sounded quite natural and neutral.

Physical and Visual

The Imagine T2, one of the smaller speakers to be evaluated, was slim with stealth-llke curves and a piano black finish. The way the woofers are spread along the height of the tower was unusual and made them appear even slimmer, almost delicate. That might have affected my expectations, as I almost did not think they would do well in handling power and delivering deep, strong bass when asked to. But that illusion was dispelled readily in the listening tests.

Overall Listening Experience

The PSB Imagine T2 Tower gave us a very pleasing and satisfying performance. I had heard a PSB bookshelf speaker years ago in a setting that what is far less than ideal and was not all that impressed, yet I had heard so many good things about them since that I expected them to do well. I was not disappointed in the least. By the end of my listening session, I was tapping my foot and practically dancing in my seat with the music, enjoying it that much. And wondering how to get another date with those speaker. I honestly have a hard time imagining any listener not falling in love with them.


Leonard Caillouet (LCAILLO)

I found the PSB Imagine T2 to be one of the better performers near the wall. The bass and mid bass definition was not what it was out into the room, but they were not terribly uncontrolled or excessive here like many speakers. The image was diffused like most speakers and I noticed little difference in either orientation on the wall. Even here, these speakers asked to be listened to.

Wayne describes them as hard to get precisely oriented due to the curved surfaces. While this is true, it actually took less moves, as I recall, and they seemed less critical to placement and orientation than others. Joe and I actually do most of the moves, while Wayne listens. Once we figured out to use the edge of the driver frame as a straight edge across the front of the speaker, we were able to use the laser sighting to get the orientation even on both sides. This turns out to be something that makes a big difference in the imaging. I could imagine someone taking one of the speakers we really liked and trying to orient them without a laser pointer having trouble getting a stable image that really has depth and opens up. It seems that some of the variables in getting such results include careful orientation and identical response between speakers and smoother response in the midrange and treble (no necessarily flat, but relatively smooth transitions.) The orientation is probably less critical with speakers with smooth off axis response, but when we are moving them through, perhaps, dozens of positions, the orientation being precise between channels removes one big variable. This speeds up the process significantly.

If you recall the first and second sessions that we did at Sonnies, we had several speakers that had damage or production problems. We struggled with placement until we realized that we needed to do the testing for channel balance early to eliminate potential time waste due to damaged speakers. In this round we found none with problems, which is to be expected with speakers in this price range. The PSB tracked very nicely between channels. This is one area that Wayne and I disagree somewhat. I would smooth the curves more, just to minimize the visibility of what may be measurement artifacts. Picking nits, but we do that.

As I said in the first paragraph, the Imagine T2 was calling. From all over the room, from the cheap seats while others were listening, they sounded great. I suspect that they have better off axis response than most, and when we notice something like this it reminds us that it would be nice to get another half day to be able to do more of the testing that we would like to do. When it comes right down to it, though, we prioritize each person listening as long as needed to get a good feel for the speaker and collect all of the listening notes that are desired. The result is that we just don’t have much time for a lot of measurement. Our feeling is that measurements correlate poorly to the experience in most cases. We also don’t have a highly controlled environment to make measurements, so the room impact would likely be hard for most people to parse out, particularly since we have a different position for all of the speakers.

The upper midrange on these down to the bottom of the bass sounded very well integrated and very detailed. I think these had the best mid bass performance I have heard in quite a while. The lower strings on acoustic guitars are my reference for this area, and I heard everything I have ever heard on each recording as crisply and in as much detail as ever. The treble was smooth and easy to listen to, but not as detailed as the best speakers that I have heard, but there was certainly a subtlety and delicacy that many speakers lack, with no tendency toward harshness or excess sibilance. Horns such as the trumpet on Strange Fruit and the percussive strings which can get out of control on that track at high levels were as smooth as could be without sacrificing information. The haunting sadness on that track was almost intoxicating. A fine silk is the fabric analogy for these.

The dynamic capability was all that I would need and then some. I always crank up the Stevie Ray and Talking Heads to be sure that they rock and have the impact that I want. No problem there. The image stayed intact and stable to very high levels. Perhaps not as high a level as some physically larger speakers, but easily all I would want.

Overall, the PSB is a great balance of doing many things really right, not just not having deficiencies. I got the emotional involvement with the music, particularly my eccentric vocalists, revealing the stormy force of Eva Cassidy soaring and the subtle breathlessness and psychic fragility of Joni Mitchell. I wanted for my recordings of Rickie Lee Jones and Rory Block.

I think this speaker fits well for someone who likes to listen to a wide range of music and wants a very forgiving speaker that never offends, yet reveals the magic, playfulness, or tragedy of great vocal performances, and can produce a big soundstage and hold its own nicely with orchestral music or raunchy rock and blues. The Let it Go track, which I find tiring to listen to was quite nice and the vocal dynamics that push many speakers to their limits was very listenable. The speaker is versatile in many ways and quite attractive with its smooth curves. The pictures above and on the PSB site don’t do them justice, IMO. They are much more impressive looking in person.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

Having heard three speakers from PSB before the evaluation (Synchrony One and Two as well as the T5), I had an idea in my head going in what the T2 might be capable of doing. For my own personal speaker journey I started when I began to build my home theater, the Synchrony Ones were at the top of my list for quite a while.

The finish was a very well done gloss black finish, and, same as the Phase Tech, it was almost a mirror finish with no visible defects. The driver color gives the front baffle a very distinguished look and the cabinet’s tapered design gives them a bit of character. The feet were a bit tricky to get screwed in without feeling like I was cross-threading them, but of course that does not get done that often so it was not a deal breaker for me. These are obviously new as there were still plugs in the connectors which we took out to get the banana plugs in. They were very easy to carry as there are three ports in the back to use as hand holds. Packaging on these was excellent.

We set them up close to the wall with a toed-in orientation first. From this position, the banjo in Ode To A Butterfly images directly on the speaker and the mandolin and violin are a bit compressed spatially. The rain stick panning at the start of Chant was excellent with no audible hole in the effect, but bass seems a bit boomy and loose. The imaging in Strange Fruit was very compressed spatially, but vocals seemed to have a bit of depth which was unexpected. Once we turned them straight, the banjo in Ode images just inside (as in right next to) the right speaker, and the mandolin and violin have a tad more spatial separation but not a significant amount. There is still a bit of a boomy feel to the bass with certain notes. Strange Fruit images the same as it did from the toed-in orientation. Ultimately, it does not sound like there is much difference between a straight and toed-in orientation.



Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Excellent banjo picking as well as the mandolin. Very tight imaging with definitive separation. Love hearing that string vibration. Detail on the mandolin is quite amazing.

Track 2 - Chant

Excellent rain stick panning. Extremely tight bass – no residual ringing heard. Whoa – mid punch of the snare!!!! Excellent low end impact that does not overpower the piano. Piano detail is very good – can “see” the key strokes. Pretty decent off axis – slight degradation of imaging.

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Very deep vocal soundstage. Vocals are very delicate – surprising for me. Again, string detail is fantastic.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Love how you can “feel” the standup bass. Images perfectly – the height difference between the lap guitar and vocals is easily detected. Really felt like I was at a live performance. Again, string detail is amazing. There is some detail from the lap guitar that I do not recall hearing previously. Just an effortless vocal sound – no signs of strain at all. Heard that click in her breath at the 4:50 minute mark – excellent detail!

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

Great depth on the trumpet. No cringing or sense of fatigue.

Track 6 - One

Can hear the depth on the guitar from the bass guitar. Excellent low end impact. Very clean kick drum sequence.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

Excellent resonant bell ringing. String detail! High hat splash!! Good low end impact.

Track 8 - Let It Go

A open, delicate sound that is engaging and powerful. A real live feel. Images perfectly. Excellent handling of the dynamic range with no sign of compression at all.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

String detail again – would love to hear Keith Don’t Go on these. Again, a very live feel to the vocals with good soundstage depth. Vocal detail is very good. Handles the vocal dynamics perfectly.

Track 10 - Tricycle

Definitely jump worthy - handles that dynamic shift incredibly. Excellent detail on the high hat ping – no residual splash.

Track 11 - Just One Of Those Things

Piano sounds deep in the soundfield.

Track 12 - Walking On The Moon

Excellent snare roll. Delicate sax sound – can hear the buzzing. Snap of hitting a wooden block very crisp.



I was out of the room when the Melody Gardot track was played on these, but I did not note any uncomfortable sibilance during any of the previous tracks.

Overall, I really liked this speaker as it does everything well and really excels at string detail. Vocals did seem slightly muted which I normally liken to a dome tweeter. Placement was a bit dicey – the front baffle does not have a straight surface that allowed us to use the laser to get the toe in the same. We spent a bit of time trying to get them exact.

We ran Audyssey on Sunday. The mandolin and fiddle separation during Ode To A Butterfly was slightly better, and the vocals seemed less muted. The kick drum in Chant was a bit less precise – the imaging was fuzzy. The imaging in Strange Fruit was dicey – all instruments seem to wander. Vocals definitely do not sound as muted as they did pre-Audyssey as there was much more presence. However, imaging took a definitive hit as everything seemed fuzzy and wandering. So, we decided to turn it off and make sure of what we were hearing. Sure enough, imaging was much more precise with Audyssey off. Now, we just ran Audyssey from one position (the MLP) so it is conceivable that this would be better if we did the run at multiple listening positions.


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Old 02-21-14, 01:55 PM   #6
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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


Salk SongTower SC





Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
70" 55" 125" 102" 85" 14° 22°

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • MTM 2-way Quarter Wave Tube Transmission Line Tower
  • Frequency Response: 34 Hz – 20 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Power Handling: 150 W Tube Power, 250 W Solid State Power
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms Nominal (or "Stated"), 6 Ohms Average
  • Woofer Size: 5.75”
  • Tweeter Size: ribbon
  • Crossover: ?? Hz
  • Tuning Port: Single, On Rear At Base
  • Dimensions: 44.5" H x 8" W x 10.5" D
  • Weight (Each): ~40 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $3,499
Configuration

The Salk SongTower SC is a Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange (MTM) 2-way design with a Quarter-Wave Tube Transmission Line, a RAAL ribbon tweeter, and two Seas Excel W15 midwoofers.

Salk Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The SongTower SC went on quite a journey around our room to find its ultimate "best placement" location. It ended up being a worthwhile trip, giving us a very engaging soundstage - wide, deep, and natural, with good depth acuity - and sharp, stable imaging. We were a bit surprised that this was as hard to achieve is it was. Someone suggested we start out with the oft-recommended equilateral triangle, zero-listener-angle setup. It sounded pretty good that way, although the wide, deep soundstage we look for was missing. They also spent time widely spaced and close to the Primary Listening Position (PLP), but ultimately worked best widely spaced and quite far from the PLP. Leonard gets the credit for doggedly insisting we try and try again, and ultimately got the SongTower SC to where they performed best. The length of that search is not a negative as far as I am concerned. Many speakers we work with end up being very particular with their placement requirements. With the SongTower SC, the reward is well worth the effort.

Impressions

I was very pleased with the SongTower SC. There was something delicate about their nature, their sound, and their look. "I am not here to knock you over the head or blow you away," they seem to be saying. "Let me sing you a little song." And they start to sing and before you know it you are mesmerized.

There is a cohesive quality that makes their sound seem simple and extremely natural. I found myself taking more notes than usual about the SongTower SC, yet when I later sat down to decipher them, they all boiled down to a few simple descriptions. My final notation says it best: "Pretty and nice." They are speakers I can see being easy to fall in love with and become very attached to.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension



Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Salk SongTower SC -- Final.mdat

If someone someday figures out how to use water as a transducer element in a tweeter, the RAAL tweeter's liquid-smooth presentation is what it would have to sound like. That tweeter always strikes me as having a liquid smoothness which never ceases to grab my attention.

The fiddle and mandolin on Ode to a Butterfly were extremely lifelike, tactile, present in the room. When plucked, those mandolin, guitar, and fiddle strings really jumped out at us. Guitars all sounded like they had brand-new strings, with an extra bit of liveliness and clarity. The cymbals on Chant were WOW-smooth and natural, and all the drums and percussion on that track jumped with liveliness.

The standup bass on Strange Fruit seemed just a little uneven on certain notes. Bass response extended low enough to support the lowest tones in our test tracks adequately, although I would not say with real authority. The SongTower SC is probably not the speaker for the insatiably bass-hungry, but I lean toward preferring a flatter response, so their bass level seemed about right to me. The recessed range from 500 Hz to 1 kHz, just broad and deep enough to be noticeable, only occasionally evidenced itself as a slightly hollow effect.

Vocals were particularly clear and natural, harmonies simply melted together to perfection. On the piano solo on Chant, each note had a wonderfully round "tang" on the hammer strike, another "wow" sound. The synthesizers on Rhinestone Eyes soared with a smooth richness that was just yummy. Male and female vocals also seem to liquid smooth. Joni, on California, sang "My heart cry it out for you," and it just felt good. Sibilants on that track and on Ain't It A Shame and Reasons Why seemed clean, natural, and properly balanced.

Soundstage and Imaging

The MTM three-driver configuration of the SongTower SC is one I have always liked, in particular with the RAAL tweeter. There is a cohesive nature about the presentation that has immediately grabbed my attention with similar designs and did again with the SongTower SC. It almost sounds like a single-driver speaker, but has the advantage of that RAAL liquid-smoothness in addition.

Imaging and soundstage were very good -- wide and spacious, very open with good depth and a clear sense of depth acuity. This is the kind of soundstage we strive for, are sonically addicted to, and delight in when we achieve it. The vocal sheen and sibilants on Ain't It A Shame and Reasons Why stayed centered on the core vocal sound for rock solid imaging. On Rhinestone Eyes, the air was thick with rich synth sounds, each clearly localized in its proper place. The Chant and Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm tracks and the B-52s medley all involve complex yet well-organized mixes where every note, every sound, every echo and effect is given its own area in the space of the soundstage with clear separation from all the others. When speakers produce a really nice soundstage, as with he SongTower SC, all this is presented with such clarity that you could sketch out a 3-D diagram moment by moment indicating all those locations with detailed dimensions, including a pretty accurate idea of the distance from the PLP.

Clarity & Power Handling

Using the Also Sprach Zarathustra / Star Trek sequence played at a standard SPL level as our bass-power-handling test sequence, the SongTower SC bottomed out on the deep bass impact notes at the beginning of Star Trek. This is not to say that they cannot fill a nice-sized room with music at a good volume. In fact they seemed to like being pushed a little, enjoying playing at volume. They are simply not going to be a speaker for handling lots of deep, bone-crushing bass.

Clarity for the SongTower SC overall was nothing short of superb in my assessment. Leonard thought he heard some midrange distortion, and measurements showed small distortion peaks around the crossover frequency. Leonard's ear is much better at catching small amounts of distortion than mine. For me, cymbal crashes and "ride" strikes all had that wonderful complex nature where every strange harmonic rang true with no sign of hash. Even on Shallow, the cymbals stayed clean along with the crunchy guitars and super-punchy snare drum -- the SongTower SC was completely at ease handling our heavier rock tracks at a healthy volume. Orchestral bells and triangles burst out bright and true like a baby right out of the bath, all wet and fresh with a big, happy grin.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

Audyssey MultEQ room correction tightened the imaging and soundstage slightly, and evened out the frequency response, filling in were there was just a little something missing and evening out the tonality, again slightly. They do not need MultEQ to sound great, but worked well with it in our room.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

The SongTowers SC performed reasonably well close to the wall, with good imaging and a soundstage that was adequate but not deep -- far from perfect but quite nice. I felt I could listen to them in this configuration and not feel horribly cheated. Bass response suffered, though, was a bit boomy with the rear-mounted port, although not terribly so compared to what happens with many speakers in that location, and there was an occasional boxy tone. The zero-toe-in aiming gave a more open soundstage then the zero-listening-angle setup. The SongTower SC could live close to the wall like this and still be considered to sound quite nice, although nothing at all like they would perform well out into the room.

Physical and Visual

The SongTower SC definitely have a delicate slant to their appearance. The unique finish was flawless. Salk is known for their beautiful finishes using out-of-the-ordinary woods, and they tend to come across as nothing short of stunning.

Overall Listening Experience

The SongTower SC were very easy to listen to and enjoy. They scored high in all the areas that are important to me in a 2-channel speaker. Their only flaws were only rarely noticeable, and never a real distraction. The long journey to that ideal location gives the impression they are difficult to get good sound out of. Not so. They sound very good almost anywhere in a room, and sound great with some extra placement care.

I have a hard time imagining any serious 2-channel listener not being completely happy with these towers. For me, the name seems to say it all. "I am not a loudspeaker, I am a Song Tower." Try to find something not to like about that.


Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

This was one of the speakers that I was most exited to hear. I had heard an older version without the RAAL tweeter recently and have heard much about speakers that use it so I could not wait. Of course the first thing I was listening for was the high frequency performance. I found the very high treble to be very smooth and detailed. This is obviously a very low distortion driver out to higher than I can hear. I was also listening for the bass performance near the wall, as Salk advertises that their design performs better than others in these locations. As expected, the bass was less defined and more exaggerated in both of the near wall positions we tested, compared to the optimum placement well out into the room. They were one of the better performers near the wall, however, and did have a decent image there. The orientation did not make much difference in the bass definition, but did have a slight effect on the soundstage. The image was more seamless, not losing the middle as much when they were perpendicular to the wall compared to on axis with the listener. Near the wall the bass was a bit more slurred and it was hard to distinguish notes on, for instance, the deep bass on the right near the guitar on Ode to a Butterfly. The image was indistinct and the speakers were obviously the sound source in the on axis orientation. In the perpendicular orientation the image got a bit better, and filled in the middle, and it was easier to “lose” the speakers. Not ideal, but for this location I would rate them very good.

Once we moved the speakers out and located the best position, the soundstage was very precise. The speakers got “out of the box” nicely. In other words, closing my eyes it was difficult to hear that the sound was coming from the direction of the speakers. The mid base cleared up significantly. Lower strings on a guitar became much more defined and realistic compared to near the wall. The deep bass improved as well but not as much as I expected. It extends deep enough to be satisfying with most music, but lacks a bit of authority for what I would like in a speaker in this price range. I am not surprised, considering the small size of the drivers used. But considering the size of the speakers and how well they did relative to others in near wall locations, I think they are a very good choice for a situation where you can’t move your speakers five or six feet out in the room.

There is one way in which the SongTower SC was clearly a standout. That is the finish. This is one area that I had heard high praise about and it is well deserved. This is a speaker that you would want to show off. If I had these in my home I would invest in some nice lighting like one would for a fine piece of art. While none of the speakers we reviewed in this event were in any way below expectations in finish, Salk obviously takes unusual pride and effort to create a unique and quite beautiful product. This is a speaker that would have a high approval rating in most homes.

I was pleased with the experience with the SongTower SC. In fact, while we heard some great things from it initially, we sensed that we could get more. We went back to it again to see if other placement would extract more performance out of it. On the second attempt we ended up with the speakers a little farther from the listener and the soundstage became even better than before. So while the speaker is apparently designed to perform well near walls in less than optimum positioning, and it took a while to find the optimum placement, it can become quite magical when careful attention is paid to positioning. It does not seem to lack bass extension even well out into the room, and the soundstage is deep and wide. The rain sticks on Chant started well outside of the left speaker and as they panned ended up well outside the speaker on the right.

So how did it make me feel to listen to these speakers? Well, I clearly got a sense of space and the feeling of performers performing as opposed to speakers playing a recording. I won’t say like a live performance because no system sounds like live, but on live recordings, it very good. The Jazz at the Pawnshop track, recorded live, gave a sense of an actual jazz club and listening from the back of a club. I know, many of you are rolling your eyes at reading this because if you have been around for a few decades you probably became sick of those recordings as they were used so much for demo and listening tests. But while they do not have precise imaging because of the nature of the mic placement, they do capture much of the excitement and feel of a live performance with real instruments. I got that with the Salk. My fabric analogy here is a no iron cotton dress shirt or maybe one with just a bit of poly. Banks, certainly, not Arrow.

What about running them hard? You might expect a speaker with small drivers to complain when cranking the SRV or the Talking Heads tracks up to near max with the Emotiva amp, but they did not. The output is impressive. They don’t move as much air as others so you don’t get that knock you down power, but they remain very clean up to quite loud levels. The tweeter never seems to get out of control on the very highest treble, though there is a bit of roughness at high levels in the midrange to upper midrange when pushed. When Eva Cassidy soared, they went there, but not with quite as much grace in the midrange as the very top end. They did have a bit of trouble handling the big bass in the Star Trek intro.

Who should own these? I think a better question is who should not, as most people interested in very high quality sound would like them. If you really want power and authority and listen at extremely high levels, these might not satisfy. For more moderate levels, for superb imaging with deep bass, and an impressive visual performance these are a great choice. If your have to share a listening area without the ability to move them to an optimum position, they would outperform most speakers in this price range quite easily.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

I have heard Salk speakers many times - not only the SC Songtowers, but many others as well. For me, I was really looking forward to seeing how these sounded in Sonnie's room as I have heard the Songtowers... well, I have lost count of the number of times.

As far as finish, again, I have seen quite a few Salk speakers, and if you have ever read any of my thoughts on them, you already know I love the effort that is put into the finish on every Salk speaker. These do not disappoint – it looks like the fiddleback sycamore was used for these (the material looks the same as my surrounds at home) and the finish is really quite stunning. They have the standard cabinet design, but I do like how the gold “dust cap” adds a break-up to the front baffle. There was only one small annoyance that I may not have noticed had I not been on hook-up / moving duty – the connections are not color coded. There is a “+” sign on the plate next to the positive side that I did not see until I grabbed a small flashlight. Not really a big deal I guess since once they are plugged in, you are set, but there it is anyway.

As per SOP, the first bit of listening was done with them set up close to the wall. Spatial imaging is pretty good here with the speakers toed in to the LP. When they were pointed straight out, I noticed much better spatial imaging (spatial imaging to me is the amount of space between each separate component of the music i.e. vocalist, bassist, horns, etc) and the soundfield was wider. I was impressed with how these did with a close to the wall location as they had good low end with nice impact and the imaging was better than anticipated.

A quick note as this is the first of the six speakers posted for review - I decided to try to include each of my test tracks in my write-up and any specific thoughts I had during each track rather than summarize to give a better sense of what I was thinking at the time.


Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Very nice depth to the soundfield here – really get a sense of depth in each instrument. Good detail on the harpsichord. Each instrument images where I expect.

Track 2 - Chant

The rainstick panning effect was handled perfectly – panned from left to right as expected with no hole. Excellent midrange punch. Piano key strokes readily apparent. Love that guitar pluck and resulting vibration sequence around the 3 minute mark.

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Image perfectly. Very light, airy female vocal sound. No sibilance issue for me.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Instruments image exactly where I expected them to – horn far left, bass in the middle, Cassandra just left of center, and the lap guitar to the right. Excellent blending of her vocals and instruments – no one piece overpowers the other. Wow – just got a sense of height differential where you can tell the guitar is on a lap below where Cassnadra's vocals would be coming from - cool!

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

Nice depth – horn sounds deeper in the soundstage – no fatigue or feel of shoulder cringing with the horns.

Track 6 - One

Love the sound of the bass guitar here. Guitars sound like they are just outside the speakers. Very nice mid roll off – no sense of smearing.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

Excellent ringing of the bell and resulting vibration as well as high hat splash. Bass drum has great impact.

Track 8 - Let It Go

Sibilance just a little much here – turned the volume down to -10 from -4 and it was much better. Excellent piano clarity. Great vocal and instrument blending. Vocals dynamics handled really well – no signs of compression.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

Great spatial imaging. Pluck of the guitar very clear and precise. Dynamic range and shifts in vocal levels handled extremely well – did not feel I missed any details. Nice bass drum impact – very tight and clean. No signs of compression at the 3:20 minute mark.

Track 10 - Tricycle

Great imaging here. Dynamic shifts show no compression. I am picking up on detail I do not remember when listening to it previously with the guitar toward the 1:50 minute mark.

Track 11- Just One Of Those Things

Very smooth piano sound – delicate. Imaging has good separation and depth here. Excellent piano detail and clarity.

Track 12 - Walking On The Moon

Fantastic high hat splash. Love the buzzing of the sax. I do not get a feeling of depth between the sax and drums – they sound like they are on top of the other.


I stayed in the room during Wayne’s session as there was one track I was really listening for - the Melody Gardot track. I chose to go with a different female track as I have been listening to it extensively the last couple months, and I really like it. But, I really love Melody’s voice and I was hoping one of the other guys would choose her! The vocals were so silky smooth. It has that light, airy vocal sound that I personally enjoy. Sibilance was not distracting at all for me until we turned the volume up a bit. Then, they were really grating.

We had some spare time on Sunday so we pulled these back into the room and moved them around to see if we could find a better location. They ended up closer to each boundary with less toe in once it was all said and done. Being closer to the boundary helped to reinforce the low end a bit and less toe in reduced some of the sibilance. It also helped to image the low end much better as it was a lot more precise. We then ran Audyssey and listened again. We achieved even better gains with the low end imaging and a reduction in sibilance. It was still not perfect, but the sibilance was at least more manageable.

Overall, I really like these as I enjoy that open, airy high end sound and they are a fantastic speaker to behold. Low end performance was good, but it did not stand out as there is not much impact. Crisp mid-bass really rounds out this speaker. The only real complaints I have is sibilance can be distressing at higher volumes and low end really did not have the impact I was hoping for.


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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


Tannoy Precision 6.4






Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Speaker Plane To Listener Ear.. Toe.. Listener Angle..
78" 68" 97" 93" 79" 16° 16°

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Specifications
  • 3-way System, Concentric Midrange-Tweeter Driver
  • Frequency Response: 29 Hz – 35 kHz -6dB
  • Dispersion: 90 degrees conical
  • Continuous power handling: 100 Watts Peak RMS
  • Peak power handling: 400 Watts
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms Nominal
  • Subwoofer Size: 6"
  • Auxiliary bass radiator: 2 x 6”
  • Midrange Size: 6"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 170 Hz, 1.6 kHz
  • Tuning Port: n.a.
  • Dimensions: 41.42" H x 12.20" W x 13.86" D
  • Weight (Each): ~48 lbs.
  • MSRP (Pair): $3,192
Configuration

The Tannoy Precision 6.4 features one Dual Concentric™ high frequency 25 mm (1”) Titanium dome driver with Tulip WaveGuide, one Dual Concentric™ mid frequency 150 mm (6”) treated paper pulp cone driver with rubber surround and 44 mm (1.75”) edge-wound voice coil, one Bass 150 mm (6”) treated paper pulp cone driver with rubber surround. 44 mm (1.75”) edge-wound voice coil, and two Auxiliary Bass 6” treated paper pulp cone radiators with rubber surround, mass loaded.

Tannoy Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Precision 6.4 was not very hard to get placed well. In fact they impressed us with how readily they created a nice soundstage with varying amounts of toe-in. A very flexible speaker in this regard, the concentric midrange/tweeter driver undoubtedly helps make this possible.

Following a setup suggestion that applies to concentric driver designs, the Precision 6.4 started out fairly close together and "crossed," their zero-axis lines crossing just in front of the Listening Position (LP). Imaging was very good, but the soundstage was narrow and not very deep, After several moves, they ended up widely spaced and angled well outward of the LP, where we got more the kind of soundstage we were looking for.

Impressions

Tannoy, long known for their concentric midrange/tweeter drivers, was a speaker I really looked forward to hearing. The Precision 6.4 was a speaker with sparkle and zip, a lively speaker, with a tight, crisp sound. I was hoping they would exhibit an especially focused high end, and was not disappointed. The concentric driver design was exceptional at contributing to sharp imaging within a broad soundstage, with wide placement flexibility and with a liveliness that never got out of control.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension



Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Tannoy Precision 6_4 -- Final.mdat

The Precision 6.4 were lively but managed to never get harsh or overly bright. They were controlled enough that this never happened for my taste. The fiddle on Ode to a Butterfly had a wonderfully lively tone. The stand-up bass, though, was a bit uneven on certain notes. The descriptors that came to mind for the overall tonal balance of the Precision 6.4 were: solid, natural, easy, and even, with adequate - although not impressive - extended bass response. The booming deep drum on Chant had a round tone, you could really feel its size and volume. All of the percussion on that track had a very pure and crisp tonality. The piano had a nice tinkle that I really enjoyed.

Reasons Why, one of my favorite test tracks, sounded so easy and natural -- fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and vocals. I could not imagine wanting to hear that song any differently.

My notes for the track Struttin' With Some Barbecue said "natural, no issues." No issues? On more than one occasion I noted that the Precision 6.4 did their jobs as expected, sounded natural, easy, and accurate. There was something crisp about their handling of upper mids and highs, yet they never impressed me as sounding harsh or overly bright. Joni's vocals on California had me noting that the high frequencies were not harsh yet still could "blast" a little if they really had to. The crunchy guitar on Shallow was also crisp but avoided becoming harsh.

The synthesizer on Rhinestone Eyes was rich and complex while remaining accurate and true.

Soundstage and Imaging

Imaging and soundstage were both very good. Image clarity was very solid, depth acuity was not quite as crisp as it could have been but was in evidence.

It seemed like part of that crisp quality of the Precision 6.4 was actually due to the quality of the soundstage. A concise soundstage can give the impression of speed that is sometimes thought of as coming from a "fast" speaker. The final result, I believe, has as much to do with acoustical alignment of wavefronts in the sound field as the rise time of the speaker itself. Leonard has a much better ear for things like this than I do, though, and may have other thoughts on the matter.

On Baby I'm a Fool, the depth positioning of Melody Gardot's voice is very stable in the soundstage. A lot of speakers have trouble controlling her voice that way, and on lower notes where her voice resonates, that sense of depth in the soundstage can become come vague. The Precision 6.4 kept that positioning right on target for every note.

Chant and Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, the two tracks on my list with the most spacious and complex soundstages, were handled in stellar fashion by the Precision 6.4. The soundstage was natural, very open and wide, just plain huge. The specifications state a conical dispersion pattern, one you do not hear of very often. The hugeness of the soundstage had me impressed that the conical approach had some serious merit, at least in our well-treated room with its fairly high ceiling.

Clarity & Power Handling

The Precision 6.4 handled the Star Trek bass impacts cleanly, although not with the depth we would have liked. This track goes really deep. The Precision 6.4 seemed on many tracks to provide sufficient depth, but not quite what this track called for. As expected with the concentric design the tight definition of cymbals and high percussive sounds were absolutely perfect to my ears. The clarity of cymbals on Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm was absolutely yummy. The synthesizers on Rhinestone Eyes were very clean and concise, very rich.

Performance at Final Position With Audyssey MultEQ XT32

Using Audyssey MultEQ gave the soundstage and imaging a definite boost in clarity and conciseness. The depth acuity was also improved. The low-frequency unevenness was flattened out nicely also.

Performance Close to the Front Wall

The bass was emphasized but quite well controlled close to the wall. There were a few peaks that stood out on certain notes on several tracks, were more boomy and loose but not overly so, and there was a hollow quality to the tonal balance.

Imaging and soundstage were best in the zero-toe-in configuration, respectable but not terrific. On axis, the images were soft, lacked solidity, and the soundstage was not deep but was large, although somewhat lacking in clarity.

Physical and Visual

The Precision 6.4 look with grille removed was all drivers, tightly packed, almost a bit busy and crowded, but very functional too, compact and efficient. It was an all-business look. They are small speakers for all they do. Our pair was finished in high gloss black, a high-quality finish. Construction quality appeared very solid and flawless.

The Precision 6.4 features include a plinth with threaded-through spikes so they can be adjusted from above the plinth, a welcome approach. There are five hookup terminals, allowing for optional bi-wiring, with the fifth terminal being a separate ground to the crossover assembly for shielding and noise control.

Overall Listening Experience

I enjoyed my Tannoy Precision 6.4 listening session. There crisp presentation remained controlled and accurate while adding a little sparkle and zip and extra life to our tracks. They ride a fine line between accuracy and enhancing the sound with that extra sparkle. I liked the Precision 6.4 and could easily see myself having a pair.


Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

The Tannoy speakers were the only one of the speakers that I had not heard of before the evaluation. I was really looking forward to seeing the concentric tweeter design and giving these a listen.

As far as the finish on the Tannoys, they have a gloss black finish on them that is really well done – I could not detect any defects in the finish. I really like the look of the front baffle with the design and coloration of the drivers really offsetting them from the gloss black finish. The concentric design of the tweeter is really neat as well – I took a couple pictures to try to give a visual.

Once we set them up close to the wall, I was surprised by how well they imaged in both the toed-in and straight orientations. There was a little bit of smearing, but you really had to be listening for it. As with every other speaker in this location, soundstage depth really degrades.



Track 1 - Ode to a Butterfly

Image pretty well although the harpsichord is slightly right of where I expected it. Excellent detail on the plucks.

Track 2 - Chant

Excellent panning with the rainsticks. Pretty decent low end impact with just slight lack of precision. Love the snare drum snap. Good blend of volume levels for vocals and instruments. Excellent piano clarity – delicate. Love the guitar vibration at 3:00.

Track 3 - Reasons Why

Image perfectly – the pluck from the harpsichord is right inside the left speaker. Very delicate female vocals – normally what I expect from a ribbon/planar.

Track 4 - Strange Fruit

Image separation is spot on. Can hear the height difference in the lap guitar and her vocals here as well. Excellent trumpet – not fatiguing or screechy at all.

Track 5 - Struttin' with some Barbeque

Deep soundstage – the horn player sounds further back that the rest of the instruments. Not fatiguing here either. Nice high hat splash

Track 6 - One

Much better low end impact here – much more precise. Guitar images just outside speakers. These just do not seem to be struggling to hit higher SPL levels. Excellent bass drum roll off.

Track 7 - Hells Bells

Great bell resonant ringing. Image perfectly. Great high hat splash. Low end has great impact and it is really precise.

Track 8 - Let It Go

Image perfectly here too. She seems to be deeper in the soundstage. Very light airy piano. Excellent vocal detail. Handles dynamic swings in vocals very well. Sibilance does not bother me here at all.

Track 9 - Where Do The Children Play

Love the guitar pluck here too. Picking up more vocal detail than I recall from previous listening. No signs of compression at all at the 3:00 minute mark.

Track 10 - Tricycle

Much better dynamic swing on this – even expecting the higher sequence, it caused a jump.

Track 11 - Just One Of Those Things

Like the piano better here – seems more lively to me. Images perfectly. Definitely has a very lively sound overall.

Track 12 - Walking On The Moon

Image perfectly here. Bass pluck easily heard and has some impact too. Great high hat splash.



Overall, this was a great experience for me. It has really good low end impact and is very precise. The vocals, piano, and strings seemed so effortless. The imaging was a bit compressed, but that was due to our placement as we had them closer together. We moved them to the position Sonnie had the Montis in when we arrived and listened for a short bit. The soundstage was wider, but the image was not quite as precise.

On Sunday, we placed them in that second position and ran Audyssey. The mandolin seemed to float a bit. Reasons Why vocals were still deep in the soundfield. Spatial imaging is better for Strange Fruit as there is better separation between lap guitar, stand up bass, and Cassandra’s vocals. The kick drum sequence in One sounded tighter.


Leonard Caillouet (LCAILLO)

Placement near the wall on axis to the listening position yielded a very bass heavy balance. These go very deep but it is hard to tell in this location if they can produce detail in the deep bass. They produced an image, but little depth and width. The image is somewhat diffused. None of this is unexpected and was typical of most of the speakers in this position. When turned to the perpendicular orientation the depth of image only slightly improved but did expand it out beyond the speakers to the left and right. I heard no more precision in the sound stage or density to the image.


Once the optimum position was located, the Tannoy produced an extremely precise image with a wide and deep soundstage. These are wonderful sounding speakers that are very hard to critique in terms of image performance or balance. The heavy bass smoothed out to be well defined, very deep and extended. The detail in the bass was good and my sensitivity to mid bass detail was satisfied. Vocals were very smooth with plenty of impact over a wide range. Higher vocals had no sibilance and mid and lower vocals and breath sounds were clear and realistic. When Joni Mitchell inserts her eccentricity or when Eva Cassidy opens up you sense the emotion and the presence of great vocal instruments. Details like plucking on strings and sharp sticks on a drum reveal balanced and rapid attack and decay. The ambience in certain recordings around notes came through nicely with no edge.


Can they rock? Absolutely! They stay clean at high levels and can scream with a stratocaster and snap with a kick drum, and you feel it. These will move some air. Honey Bee by SRV was just plain fun, cranked up to a level that felt like a performance is a blues bar. With the intro to Star Trek I felt the excitement from the movie in the same grand scale of a large theater. At high levels Bablylon Sisters stayed tight and every bit of Fagen’s quirkiness came though, not changing character at different volumes. Again, the consistency of the sound was notable.


One of the things that stood out for me in the Tannoy is the nice balance and transition between drivers. They seem to have consistent character across all, giving a very easy to listen to result. This is a very pleasing speaker that has a reasonably dense and precise image. I would be very surprised if anyone who heard them was not happy to listen to them when placed optimally. Even near walls they were easy to listen to, just quite heavy in the bottom. Are they worthy of the price? They are, easily, in my opinion. The finish is clean, as I would expect in this price range. The workmanship and quality seem very good with good balance between the channels.


The Tannoy is a solid, very consistent speaker that can excite in various musical contexts and over wide ranges. I don’t find much to critique. They don’t have quite the magic of some much more expensive speakers, but we are definitely in the part of the bang for the buck curve that is levelling off.


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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


Fun Photos


Big thanks to Joe Alexander for all the great photo work.


The lineup:



Speaker Storage:




What happened to the other equipment that was in that equipment rack?




A good view of the stage cutouts for the front speaker mains and the front subwoofer cabinets with dissipator panels:




Other room views:



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Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


In Summary

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Random Thoughts

You really can get a lot of loudspeaker for $3000 a pair. While none of these models grabbed me personally as a "gotta have it" speaker, if I woke up one morning and found a pair of any of the six of them properly set up in my room ready to hit play, I can see myself being pleasantly surprised and eager to sit down for a listen. There were definitely no cases of head scratching and wondering how a particular model had found its way to market. I can see any one of these models on someone's short list for evaluation. And while they may not be the models that most readers are likely to pick as their ultimate to aspire to, each has qualities that could strike a chord with a listener and end up earning a spot in his listening space.

Performance against the front wall was where we saw the greatest variation. As we have said many times, one is not likely to get really great sonic performance with speakers placed very close to a wall, and it seems a waste to spend $3000 on a pair of speakers and place them whrre they are almost guaranteed to not perform well. The resulting range of performance levels with these models against the wall seems to bear that prediction out, although there were a few surprises along the way. Those surprises were all along the lines of the extremes of that range, how poorly the worst could sound there - although that was largely due to our oversight and failing to use optional port plugs which were intended for use at that location - and how nice the best could sound there. One model in particular seemed bent on defying our prediction and insisted on sounding very good against the wall just to spite us.

Frequency response differences at final placement were more difficult to differentiate than in our past speaker evaluation events. The individual character of each speaker seemed less willing to be describe simply in terms of frequency response, insisting on other kinds of descriptors. It was like giving six books the exact same cover so they could not be easily judged by them, forcing the evaluators to do all the reading before getting detailed impressions. This made our jobs harder, but ultimately much more satisfying.

Soundstage and imaging performance covered the range from good to jaw-dropping. There were no examples of a "mashed potatoes" sound stage, borrowing Sonnie's terminology. There were several outstanding sound stage / imaging examples, one of which about made my heart stop. Zowie! While we come to these events ready to roll up our sleeves and work, a few exciting moments like that help fuel the fire of passion for our work with audio and keep us coming back for more.

Audyssey MultEQ was run for each of the speaker sets in its final destination. The tendency seemed to be that those models exhibiting a good-to-pretty-good soundstage benefited from the correction applied. The best examples did not benefit, in fact seemed to suffer slightly, although the improvement in smooth bass response may have been worth the slight soundstage / imaging sacrifice, depending on personal preference.

An impression that stood out with a couple of models was akin to going out on a first date and finding that all the boxes on the checklist of desirable characteristics were checked off, but in the end you never felt motivated to call back for a second date. Some inexplicable aspect of the right chemistry was just not there. In other cases the chemistry clearly was there, except there were also one or two flaws that stood out and held one back. Ah, life can be so vexing at times, yet is all the more interesting for it.

That quality that makes the listener want to stay in his seat in the primary listening position and not have to quit was there to some degree for me with all the speakers. There was never a sense of That is enough of THAT speaker, for me anyway. I had never personally heard any of these models before, and had never heard anything from four of the manufacturers represented. So there was much to be learned, absorbed, and enjoyed over the weekend.

The Room

I started out referring to our listening room at Cedar Creek Cinema as a lightly treated room. When I think "heavily treated," I tend to think of studio control rooms, where every surface is something out of the ordinary. But Leonard rightly corrected me, shifting my perspective into thinking in terms of home theater rooms, and I agree that it would be more proper to call it "well treated," perhaps even "heavily treated," although there is plenty more that could be done. All four corners have corner bass traps, the side walls have absorptive panels along the front half of their length, the rear wall is well covered with absorptive material, the floor is carpeted, and there are even absorptive panels on the ceiling at critical reflection points. The front wall remains mostly untreated, which supports concise soundstage generation.

There are those who would call it overly-treated for two-channel listening, perhaps even vastly so. I do not. We are here to evaluate speakers, not be enveloped in room reflections, however pleasing that might be for some types of listening, even critical listening. We have witnessed stunning soundstage creation in this room, and have listened to tracks with detailed and complex sound stages. A room with more live qualities than this would have a tendency to "fill in the blanks" between the sharply-defined images of those soundstages and make them less distinct. I find the size and reverberant quality of the room as it is to contribute a very nice amount of spaciousness to the soundstage while preserving the sharpness and clarity of the imaging and the sense of empty space between those images. For the more complex evaluation tracks we use, this seems preferable to me for the process of evaluating speakers.

For music that is mixed with minimal studio processing, a more lively listening space might very well be in order. But for the listening preferences of all of the evaluators, I believe this room to be about the right environment for listening to these tracks and evaluating speaker characteristics in detail.

Soundstage and Imaging

I confess to being the soundstage / imaging (SS/I) fanatic of the group. It is a high priority for all of us, but I am probably the one who has to be most careful about keeping my head on straight about other sonic qualities when presented with an especially fine case of SS/I. Experiencing the super-dense, carved-in-space type of soundstage that we are learning more about just recently has triggered some thoughts about other sonic matters including how SS/I affects other qutlities we talk about with speakers.

1. With Audyssey MultEQ, poor, medium, and pretty good SS/I are improved somewhat by improved phase / time alignment and frequency response matching. The best examples of SS/I may improve a little, not at all, or may actually suffer some. It is hard to tell which it will be.

2. Sparingly applied parametric EQ can be applied to SS/I, even superb ones, without degrading their finer qualities.

3. Really good SS/I will usually have some high-frequency droop due to off-axis listening angle. As the highs are raised closer to flat using Audyssey MultEQ or parametric EQ, the upper-mid and high-frequency cues that give the SS/I its sharpness are strengthened can really make the SS/I POP! Often a single HF shelf filter is all that is needed.

4. What is a “fast” speaker? What does it sound like? There is probably no easy answer to this one. But a really concise soundstage sounds fast. Adjust the toe-in angle so the soundstage softens up, and the speakers sound “not-so-fast.” Adjust the toe-in angle so the soundstage tightens up and becomes super dense, and it sounds incredibly fast. I am not saying there is no such thing as a “fast” speaker, just that there can be other factors that make a speaker sound fast or not-so-fast, and that SS/I quality might be what a listener hears that sounds fast, not necessarily the speaker itself, although one would expect there to be some correlation. The sharp, precise alignment of reflections that come together in a room to form strong SS/I line up in a way that delivers sound with impact, a fast sound if ever there was one.

5. Detail improves with good SS/I. A lot of what we think of as detail gets masked and lost in muddy SS/I. When the SS/I is sharpened, those little details either get their own clear spots in the soundstage or are properly aligned with the sound they are a part of and can really stand out. Add the speed element (point 4) and that little detail feature gains the advantage of impact -- then the details jump right out at you.

6. Low-frequency sounds can seem more directional with good SS/I, more tightly focused. I have no explanation for this, as it defies basic laws of psychoacoustics. I am only reporting what I have observed. It is probably a result of the focusing of upper-low frequencies of which we have a more limited sense of directionality.

7. Instruments and sounds can sound so real it is almost scarey. As one HTS member posted in this thread, "I really messes with your head." No kidding. Your concept of the nature of sound reproduction can face some serious challenges. In a good way.

8. Some people hear it and some do not. Well, to be more accurate, anyone with normal hearing can hear it - I have never had someone hear great SS/I and not at least comment positively on it - but attunement, appreciation, and priority levels vary widely. One listener is enthralled, to another it sounds "nice" but the nuances are lost, to another it is just not a big deal, and to a fourth it is buried beneath their annoyance with the song or the accented bass or whatever. When you achieve knockout SS/I and show if off to someone and they do not do cartwheels for you, try not to be too hurt.

9. Related to point 8, do not be hurt when family threatens to lock you up over the amount of time you spend fiddling with "those silly speakers." When they see you aligning those speakers with lasers, putting alignment markings on pieces of gaffer tape on nearby walls, scratching out one of those marks and replacing it with a new one 1/16th of an inch away from the first, you are going to get some looks, and they will probably not be looks of admiration or affection. Let it be. You know that it is worthwhile and that is all that matters.


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Old 02-21-14, 04:47 PM   #10
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I started this thread.
Re: The Official $3,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


Appreciation

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

I have gained a new level of appreciation for the extent to which the individual listening talents of the evaluators complement each other, and marvel sometimes at the kinds of details Leonard and Joe are able to tune into. I have learned volumes about listening for sonic details that I never have before, simply by paying attention to their comments and writeups. My deepest appreciation and respect go out to these gentlemen, they are such a pleasure to work with.

And, while he will probably down-play his role and this last event, none of this would have been possible without the vision, energy, preparation, and hosting of Sonny Parker, HTS owner, his lovely and gracious wife Angie, and their fun little furball cat Gracie, who always seemed to know when we needed a mental shift of gears and would show up expecting a good back scratch. And thanks again, Sonnie, for the grilling, certainly going a step above and beyond the call of duty for our enjoyment on an already insanely busy weekend.

Thank you, HTS readers, for your interest and support of these evaluation events. Thank you for all of the comments and suggestions, and for your ongoing involvement and encouragement.

And of course a huge THANK YOU goes out to the speaker manufacturers who entrusted us with your precious wares. It is our belief and hope that our evaluations end up benefiting them and their present and future customers. It was disappointing how many manufacturers chose not to participate. To all those who did, we offer our thanks for placing your trust in us, and our hopes that the end result of that participation is a big win-win for everyone concerned.

Until next time.....


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