Combine an electrostatic panel to reproduce music's midrange and treble with a moving-coil woofer for the bass foundation. For decades, this has seemed the ideal way of designing a loudspeaker: Each type of drive-unit is used in the frequency region for which its performance is optimized. The resulting hybrid should sing like an angel.
Warning to Purists: Despite certain qualities about the ESL-63 speakers which you will probably like, Quad equipment is not designed primarily for audiophiles, but for serious-music (call that "classical") listeners who play records more for musical enjoyment than for the sound. Quad's loudspeakers do not reproduce very deep bass and will not play at aurally traumatizing volume levels, and Quad's preamplifier is compromised through the addition of tone controls and filters, all for the purpose of making old, mediocre, and/or worn recordings sound as listenable as possible.
The Sears guy came to our basement the other day to check out the water heater. Staring at the walls of LPs and tiptoeing through the piles of CDs strewn on the floor, he exclaimed, "What the heck are you? A disc jockey?" So I told him.
The Sound-Lab electrostatic loudspeakers are legendary. Many serious audiophiles have heard of them, and rumors of their existence abound in audio circles. But, like gnomes, UFOs, and poltergeists, Sound-Lab loudspeakers are sufficiently hard to find that it is sometimes difficult to prove to skeptics that they exist at all. Well, I can now report that they do. As proof of this contention, I can point to the two which are actually occupying solid, tangible space in my listening room at this very moment. I have even taken a photo of them, which will be published along with this report if they leave any sort of an image on the film emulsion. (Many such apparitions do not!)
As Laura Atkinson shuffled into my listening room one evening, she spied the Stage loudspeakers tucked away in the corner. "Hey, Dick, those look like Apogees, but they're kind of small." Rising to the occasion, I responded with: "Honey, I shrunk the Apogees." At roughly 3' tall by 2' wide, the Stage is far from intimidating; it even feels more compact and is certainly much cuter looking than the old Quad ESL. Yet Junior's resemblance to the rest of the Apogee family is unmistakable. The canted baffle, the vertical tweeter/midrange along the inside edge of the baffle, and the pleated aluminum-foil woofer clearly bear the imprint of the larger Caliper and Duetta models. It's almost as though Apogee started shrinking the Duetta until the price tag shrank below two kilobucks.
If Canada has emerged as a hotbed of loudspeaker production in the past few years, the folks at Audio Products International must be positively sizzling. Of their three lines—Mirage, Energy, and Sound Dynamics—Mirage is perhaps the best known in the US, with Energy running a distant second. Mirage, at least in their flagship M series, features rather esoteric bipolar designs, while Energy sticks to the more conservative, forward-radiating approach. Stereophile has had extensive exposure to the various Mirages (a review of one of the M-series babies, the M-7si, is scheduled for a future issue); our exposure to Energy has been virtually nil, save for the odd Hi-Fi Show and CES. And thereby hangs a tale.
Choosing a loudspeaker can be difficult. Although it is easy to be seduced by a certain model's special qualities, that exceptional performance in one area is often at the expense of other important characteristics. Go with high-quality minimonitors for their spectacular soundstaging, but give up bass, dynamics, and the feeling of power that only a large, full-range system can provide. If you choose an electrostatic for its delicious midrange transparency, you may have to forgo dynamics, impact, and the ability to play loudly. Pick a full-range dynamic system for its bass and dynamics, but lose that edge of palpability and realism heard from ribbon transducers.
A.C. Wente of Bell Telephone Labs was apparently the first person to get the bright idea (in the 1930s) of measuring sound transmission in a small room. A loudspeaker at one point reproducing pure tones of constant power, and a microphone at another point measuring sound-pressure levels, gave him the means to assess the room's impact on sound quality. The measured frequency response was so ragged that I'm positive the venturesome Dr. Wente was duly shocked.
I must confess to a certain sentimental affection for Magnepan products. An early version of the Tympani did more to rekindle my interest in audio than any other speaker I can think of. In a world which seemed doomed to finding out just how small and dull it could make acoustic suspension boxes, the Magnepans reminded me that speakers could produce a large open soundstage, real dynamics, and musical life.
High-end-audio manufacturers are both more and less adventurous than their more mainstream contemporaries. While mainstream-audio manufacturers will almost invariably change their models every year, the changes are more often than not cosmetic—at least in between successive models. High-end manufacturers, on the other hand, will keep the same model in the line for several years, but make cosmetically invisible refinements along the way.
Eighty thousand pairs. According to Vandersteen Audio, that's the number of Vandersteen 2s of various generations which have been sold since the loudspeaker—and company—first saw the light of day in 1977. The 2 has been continually refined along the way—a new driver here, a new crossover change there, heavy-duty stands—more changes, in fact, than the occasional changes in model designation would indicate. The 2's main calling card has always been a high perceived value for money. If anything, this calling card has only been enhanced over the years as its price remained remarkably stable while the cost of high-end audio in general was perceived—rightly or wrongly—as being on a dizzying upward spiral.
What I wanted to talk about briefly this month is the new Apogee Duetta, the baby of this speaker family. This particular baby will cost you the rather grown-up figure of $2300/pair; over here in the UK it costs a demonic £3300/pair, roughly double.
I am puzzled. No, really. I know you find it hard to believe that we sacerdotes of the golden-eared persuasion could ever be perplexed, but I have been pondering the imponderables of ports. Ever since the classic work of Richard Small and Neville Thiele in the early '70s showed how the low-frequency response of any box loudspeaker can be modeled as an electrical high-pass filter of some kind, with the relevant equations and data made available to all, there would seem to be very little reason why all loudspeakers with the same extension should not sound alike (or at least very similar) below 100Hz. Yet after reviewing 20 dynamic loudspeakers (and using 24) in the same room over the last seven months, I am led to the conclusion that speakers vary as much in the quality of their mid-to-upper bass as they do in any other region. A few are dry, more are exaggerated in this region; some are detailed and "fast," most are blurred, with the upper bass "slow" (by which I mean that the weight of bass tone seems to lag behind the leading edges of the sound).
This must be the month I drew the right straw to review "loudspeakers with three-letter initials." Elsewhere in this issue I describe my experiences with a pair of JBLs. Everyone knows that JBL stands for "James B. Lansing," founder of that company. You do, don't you? But PSB? If you've been paying attention here, you probably remember that JGH reviewed one of their loudspeakers back in May 1988. If you haven't, well, listen up. PSB is named after Paul Barton and his wife Sue, who formed Canada-based PSB in 1971. (Paul is still their chief designer.) The company was unknown in the US until just a few years ago, and still has a lower profile here than, well, certainly that other three-letter company. But not for lack of trying. They have at least 10 models—at last count.