Apogee Caliper loudspeaker Page 2
Taking the measure
I initially used the Calipers conventionally wired with Monster Powerline 2. Amplification was Audio Research SP-10 II and Krell KSA-50—Apogee does recommend 100W amplifiers to get the full dynamics—and the front end was Linn LP12/Ittok/Koetsu Red and California Audio Labs LP and CD players, respectively.
How was the sound? Well, as I indicated a few hundred words back, it was not easy getting the speakers to "sing" as they had at Chicago. After some experimentation with room position to get the best tonal balance between mid and upper bass, the balance was musical and the imagery was exceptional, particularly regarding depth. There was, however, a veiling in the lower midrange, with a thick upper bass and somewhat undercontrolled low bass.
With the other Apogee speakers, I have found biwiring to be mandatory. The low impedance, particularly of the Scintilla, means that cable "signatures" become exaggerated. The Caliper has a nominal impedance of 3 ohms, compared with the Scintilla's 1 ohm, so you would have thought that this would have been much less of a problem, but the sound I was getting did smack of "Ultra-Monster"; perhaps I should investigate biwiring. Remaining with the KSA-50, I hooked up MIT Music Hose on the bass panel, keeping the Powerline 2 on the tweeter.
Bravissimo (footnote 3). The James Boyk Chopin recording now had the character of the real thing, the left hand of the piano having weight and authority but not interfering with the natural presentation of the soundstage. The lower mids were still less transparent than I would have liked, male voices acquiring a little too much chest tone, but from a couple of hundred Hertz up the Calipers were just superb. Voices had a freedom from grain and a liquidly smooth harmonic structure, with no awkward breaks in tonal character around the crossover region.
The extreme highs were clean, but lacked a little "air." This neutral presentation of voice made enjoyable even such flawed recordings as the Columbia collection of optically-recorded soundtracks for the '30s Fred Astaire movies. The sonic scum is somehow separated from the music, allowing you to appreciate even more—if such a thing were possible—what a superb vocal craftsman old Twinkletoes was, even with his light, not particularly "beautiful," voice.
And when I put on Frank Sinatra's Capitol recordings from the '50s...They knew how to record big bands in those bygone days; maybe the acoustic bass should stage a comeback.
The surprising thing is that the Caliper can produce low bass at all, given the size of the diaphragm. Although we are not talking stygian depths here, such contrabass salsa as the octave doubling of the bass line in the Red & Blue Mix of Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" came over at the correct level, without overload, distortion, or any one-note effect. Impressive indeed.
The area of soundstage presentation is very important to me; I find deficiencies in this area more annoying than tonal balance anomalies (if the latter are not too severe). Unless the producer has used such sonic necromancy as Aural Excitation, or other such deliberately induced phase anomalies, instrumental and vocal images should be small, and placed within their appropriate shroud of reverberation. If that reverb and ambience is coherent, as it is on a naturally miked classical recording, or as it can be on a rock production, then those small images will be set back behind the speakers, the exact depth depending on the direct/reverberant sound ratio of each. With speakers unable to preserve these spatial relationships, the soundstage turns to garbage, the ambience now bearing little correlation with the soundsources, and the image withdrawing into a flat plane between the loudspeakers.
A favorite test track of mine in this respect is "New Grange" from the classic Clannad album on RCA. This track starts with a distant reverberant thrumming which draws closer and closer, leading to a tasteful mix of guitars and drums behind the female singer during the verse; at the chorus, when the male voices add just the right amount of Gaelic, the soundstage expands to encompass the listener—except that on most loudspeakers it just doesn't happen; the sound only gets louder. With the Calipers, as with Scintillas, the image gets "bigger" as it gets louder, with a sense of freedom from restraint. Adjectives like "majestic" come to mind. And with the "Love & Affection" track, the image depth extended from the tip of my nose to the mountains east of Santa Fe.
You might think I exaggerate, but let me tell you a tale: one Larry Archibald has often written in these pages of his dissatisfaction with the CD medium. This is not due to any prejudice—the music just doesn't hold his attention. He starts to think about publishing, or business, or working on Mercedes automobiles. Take the Calipers biwired from the KSA-50, place the live Harnoncourt Messiah recording on Teldec in the tray of the Tempest CD player, and then watch LA smile. Depth, space, but above all, music to delight even his jaded digital palate!
Footnote 3: I'll say. Having been present for a brief "before" and an extended "after," I can only say that the difference between single wiring and biwiring was mind-boggling. I've heard A-B comparisons between different speakers that were much less dramatic. In the single-wired mode (at least with Powerline 2) I would find it difficult to recommend the Calipers at all.—Larry Archibald