Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Thomas J. Norton Apogee Mini-Grand 1994
á-po-gee: the farthest or highest point.
When Jason Bloom and Leo Spiegel founded Apogee Acoustics in 1979, they picked an ambitious name. I've never heard the original Apogee loudspeakers (Steven Stone still has a pair), but a friend of mine could scarcely contain his enthusiasm after hearing them at the 1981 Summer CES. My first real exposure to Apogee was at a Frankfurt (Germany) High-End Hi-Fi Show in 1983. The model I heard there, which left me with an indelible favorable impression, was the Scintilla, a now-discontinued model with an amplifier-challenging 1 ohm impedance.
But all of this, and much from Apogee which has followed—striking though some of it may be—was merely a warm-up to the real Apogee: the Grand, which was introduced with much fanfare at the 1991 Summer CES. The Grand, a four-way system with four amps per channel, blew the minds of a bunch of speechless reviewers and other assorted scribes in the very large listening room in which it was being demonstrated. The Grand established two new milestones for Apogee: It was their first flagship loudspeaker to use dynamic cone drivers for subwoofers, and it boasted a numbing price tag which vaulted it into Wilson WAMM and Infinity IRS territory.
When I reviewed the Apogee Centaur Major back in 1992 (Vol.15 No.4, p.215), I made a wish: Wouldn't it be nice if Apogee could take their Stage loudspeaker—one of my longtime favorites and, not coincidentally, a longtime fixture in "Recommended Components"—and give it the Apogee Grand treatment, substituting subwoofers similar to, but less ambitious than, those in the Grand Grand for its optional stands? (footnote 1)
And so came the Mini-Grand, the subject of this review. There's also a bigger adaptation of the Grand design, the Studio Grand (footnote 2), sized between the Mini and the Grand, but with a cost closer to that of the Mini.
From the front, the Mini-Grand Stereo Subwoofers look like slightly taller, deeper versions of the standard Stage stands—they're tall enough to accommodate two custom-built, heavy-duty 8" drivers per side in reflex-loaded enclosures. The subwoofers are designed to be powered by an outboard amplifier chosen by the user—Apogee only specifies the recommended power range. A single pair of inputs on the rear is the remaining distinguishing feature.
Apogee also furnishes the Mini-Grand with an outboard electronic crossover. Like the active crossovers they've supplied with some earlier Apogee loudspeakers, they refer to it as a DAX (Dedicated Active Crossover). And like those other crossovers, it's designed specifically for this application. The specified crossover frequency of the Mini-Grand DAX is 80Hz, with a rapid rolloff in the stop-band (see the "Measurements" sidebar). Front-panel controls permit level settings of ±3dB on both the high- and low-pass sections, to accommodate individual setup needs and/or differing amplifier sensitivities. While use of identical amps on the top and bottom is usually a good idea (and Apogee's apparent preference), many users will, through design or necessity, elect to use different models or even different brands.
The DAX is designed to be used in either balanced or unbalanced mode, to be chosen through internal jumpers. Reconfiguration is a bit of a hassle—in order to get inside the chassis, you have to remove the control knobs—but not all that difficult.
Though the Mini-Grand's cosmetics are new, its heart remains the Apogee Stage. The Stage sits atop the subwoofer on brackets that allow for variable tilt-back—an important feature for proper setup. For those unfamiliar with the Stage, it is a two-way, inherently full-range design. The midrange/tweeter is a 26" ribbon which handles the range above 600Hz. A dipolar, electrodynamic driver takes over below that frequency. Apogee calls this driver a ribbon, but this is not quite correct—it's a large film panel with embedded conductors, located near a large array of permanent magnets on one side. The drive-unit is loosely analogous to a planar electrostatic driver, but the operating principle is electromagnetic rather than electrostatic—no external polarizing voltage is required. The current in the conductors reacts to the fixed, permanent magnetic field, causing the panel to move.
The Stage can be bi-amped via two sets of terminals on the rear. A two-position switch selects between two level settings for the midrange/tweeter—Normal and High—altering the overall balance. While I briefly experimented with the High position, I ultimately did most of my listening in the Normal mode, consistent with my extensive previous experience of the Stages. Even when used alone, the Stage—the most domestic of Apogee's non-hybrid panel designs—is an awesome loudspeaker; adding a subwoofer is intended to address its low-frequency extension and bass dynamic-range problems.
Footnote 1: These should be considered mandatory to get the best sound from the Stage.—Thomas J. Norton
Footnote 2: I'll take no credit for planting the idea of a Mini- (or a Studio) Grand in Apogee's plenty fertile brain trust. The concept isn't much of a stretch anyway, what with the Grand itself in place and Apogee's recent concentration on hybrid models (the various Centaurs). Anyway, my idea was a little more grand: I suggested a three-way sort of super-Stage plus subwoofer. Apogee hasn't gone quite that far here. The upper-range units in the larger Studio Grand resemble the now-discontinued Duetta Signatures, though they're considerably more expensive. The three-way Diva is also now apparently discontinued, making the only three-way Apogee the big Grand itself.—Thomas J. Norton