Boston Acoustics Lynnfield 500L loudspeaker Page 3
For all the work and dedicated engineering that went into the 500L, I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy my time with the speaker. It did some things well—which I'll describe—but it was overall just too bright and forward-balanced for my taste. The treble was aggressive and overly prominent, constantly reminding me that I was listening to loudspeakers. Although the Thiel CS3.6 is also forward and immediate-sounding, it isn't aggressive or strident. In addition, the CS3.6's immediacy covers the entire band—the 500L sounded forward only in the treble.
The violins in Handel's Water Music (Harmonia Mundi HMU 7010), for example, were thin and wiry, almost to the point of sounding screechy. During the passages with no violins, the 500Ls sounded fine. But violins were accompanied by an irritating stridency that sounded nothing like live instruments. They sounded wiry and thin rather than rich and full.
Similarly, the cymbals on one of my own jazz recordings were far too prominent in the mix. They tended to dominate the sonic landscape, calling attention to themselves and distracting from the music.
This aggressiveness also extended down into the lower treble. When I put on the Jennifer Warnes track from Rob Wasserman's Duets CD (MCA MCAD-42131) to set up the 500Ls, her voice acquired a thinness that emphasized mouth noises and sibilance. It was the antithesis of the pure, warm, liquid, sweet, and gorgeous rendering that I heard from the Genesis III.
I tried putting a single layer of a T-shirt over the midrange and tweeter; this restored a semblance of a natural lower-treble balance, but provided too much top-octave rolloff. Nevertheless, the fact that a T-shirt brought the lower treble into a more natural balance demonstrated just how bright the 500Ls were. It wasn't that the upper mids and treble were hashy or hard; there was just too much energy in the low- and mid-treble, coupled with a bit of metallic-sounding coloration. Despite the bright presentation, the 500Ls didn't have the sense of openness and air heard from the decidedly less bright Genesis IIIs.
I tried a number of things to reduce the 500Ls' brightness: the VTL 225 tubed monoblocks were substituted for the Mark Levinson No.23.5; the softer-sounding AudioQuest Midnight replaced AudioQuest Sterling to the tweeter; and I faced the 500Ls straight ahead, rather than toeing them in slightly. This positioning reduced the brightness somewhat, but at the expense of image focus. In addition, I put the 500Ls back on the pink noise for another 24 hours to make sure they were fully broken-in.
Despite these measures, the 500Ls still had too much treble energy. They were no longer excruciatingly bright, but in my view were still over the edge.
After finishing the auditioning and looking at JA's measurements of the 500L, I switched the midrange/tweeter modules' positions so that the drivers were toward the outside edge of the cabinet rather than the inside edge. (This is contrary to the manual's instructions.) The lateral response family of curves shows that the 500L develops a lower-treble peak off-axis on the side toward the listener. By switching the modules' positions, I theorized that this peakiness would now occur on the axis away from the listener and toward the sidewall, where it would be somewhat attenuated by the ASC Studio Traps instead of being reflected toward the listener.
This was indeed the case. The excess treble energy was reduced with the modules switched. The 500Ls were no longer screechy, but the wiry violins, sibilance on voices, and thin-sounding cymbals were still there, albeit to a lesser degree. Removing the Studio Traps, however, allowed the peaky off-axis response to reflect off the sidewalls, further increasing the amount of mid- and lower-treble energy at the listening seat.
The measurements also indicated that the grilles would slightly reduce the amount of treble energy. I thus put the grilles on and left them there for the rest of the auditioning.
I should also note that my listening room tends to be kind to bright loudspeakers. The walls are covered with a very thin, carpet-like material that absorbs high frequencies, there are two large windows covered with drapes (these closed during listening), and the floor is covered by thick carpet. For this audition, I also positioned two pairs of ASC Studio Traps between the loudspeakers and the sidewalls to kill the first reflection.
Finally, I should point out that my source components and electronics can't be considered bright. The AQ7000nsx cartridge tends to be a bit analytical, but the Mark Levinson No.30 processor is the antithesis of forward or bright.
In short, the 500L had every condition in its favor. Nevertheless, I still found it too bright. It was no longer an overt brightness, but one that still annoyed me over time (footnote 2).
But this isn't the whole story of the speaker's performance. The 500L had some excellent characteristics. Soundstaging, for example, was simply superb. The speakers threw a deep, well-developed soundstage in my room. Image focus, front-to-rear layering, and ability to present a sense of size were remarkable. The 500L had the ability to disappear into the soundstage. Although their soundstage wasn't quite as deep as that of the Genesis IIIs, the 500Ls were better than average.
The bass was fairly well-extended, but it lacked the power and drive of either the Thiel CS3.6 or Genesis III. The overall tonal balance tended to be somewhat light, perhaps more a result of the forward treble than due to a lean bass. The bass was fairly well-defined and well-integrated with the lower midrange. The 500L somewhat lacked bass dynamics and punch, something that was true whether the music was orchestral—the bass drum on Albeniz's Feast Day in Seville from the spectacular Reference Recordings Trittico CD (RR-52CD)—or involved bass guitar and kick drum. The 500L sounded a bit constricted, lacking the big bottom end of the CS3.6 or Genesis III.
I also found the 500L generally uninvolving. This was due, I believe, to a trace of opacity that kept me at arm's distance from the music. A veil had been placed between me and the music. Switching back to the Genesis III after a few weeks with the 500L threw the 500L's shortcomings into sharp relief—despite its over-bright balance, the 500L tended to be a little closed-in in the extreme top, veiled in the midrange, and smaller-sounding. The 500L was no match for the Genesis III in the ability to convey the essence and meaning of musical performances.
I don't think that Boston Acoustics' Lynnfield 500L is a poor loudspeaker. It is relatively uncolored through the midband, has excellent image focus, and reasonably good bass quality and extension. But when compared to what I feel to be the best speakers near its price—the $3900/pair Thiel CS3.6, the $5900/pair Hales System Two Signature, and the $6200/pair Genesis III—the 500L doesn't do it for me. A talented designer, a large budget, and sophisticated manufacturing facilities are unfortunately no guarantee of a great loudspeaker. Despite the 500L's unique and promising technology, it is just too bright for a recommendation.