Counterpoint Clearfield Metropolitan loudspeaker Page 2
Up & down, 'round & 'round
The very first thing to capture my attention was the placement of the soundstage. As directional cues come from the midrange drivers and tweeters, the driver arrangement had me looking up at the performers. Oddly, the tweeter, and hence the acoustical center, was 46" off the floor (excluding spikes), placing it well above the height of my ears while seated at the listening position. The woofers and rear-firing ports were located much closer to the floor. If I sat too close to the speakers, sounds were clearly coming from different places. An excellent illustration of this lack of coherency was on "The Stone," from Andreas Vollenweider's White Winds (CBS FM 39963). Various high-frequency sounds were located in and around the left speaker, well up off the floor, while the majority (though not all) of lower-frequency sounds appeared to come from the right speaker down near the floor.
As I moved farther away, this anomaly was minimized and the soundfield became much better integrated and more realistic. At a reasonable distance from the speakers, the re-created soundstage was located well up off the floor, much as it would be if you were in a seat looking up into an elevated stage. Overall coherence, as well as tonal balance, was further enhanced by tilting the speakers toward the listening position by screwing the front spike well into the speaker and leaving the two rear spikes extended. After both of these changes, the perspective became much more realistic, albeit unusual.
Adding further to the overall presentation from the Mets was a satisfying mid-hall or slightly closer seat (as heard from my normal listening position). The perspective was always relatively intimate with the performers.
Sitting farther back, the presentation was less intimate but more coherent. When I set the speakers up where I normally locate other speakersa third of the way out from the rear wall and far from each sidewallthe soundstage was too narrow. It sounded as though the members of the Royal Philharmonic were sitting three to a chair (on The Power of the Orchestra, Chesky RC30).
After extensive experimentation, I moved the Mets farther apart and quite close to the sidewalls. The width of the stage was now much more satisfying, each artist having his or her own seat. While I was doing this, I was concerned that the center image would lose focus. It didn't. For example, the wonderful mono recordings of The Fireballs (The Original Norman Petty Masters, Ace CDHCD 418) were precisely placed between the speakers, and as wonderfully satisfying as I had ever heard.
With my listening seat farther back than usual and the cabinets closer to each sidewall (approximately 26" from the wall to the center of the drivers), the soundstage was very wide (drivers to drivers), slightly close, and very big. Performers were placed upon the stage with precision and no loss of focus or wander. Depth was slightly foreshortened in any of the various positions that I tried (again, from my normal listening position). Recordings with spectacular depth re-creation, such as Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening (New Albion NA 022), were still captivating, but somewhat less so. While I was able to alter the width of the stage by moving the speakers farther apart, I found no placement that dramatically improved the lack of re-created depth.
As a result of the speaker's frequency extension in both the bass and trebles, there were ample ambient cues and a general sense of openness and spaciousness. However, these characteristics, while good, were not at the cutting edge of the speaker art. With different recordings, the speakers were quite capable of re-creating different spaces, ranging from the cavernous church environment on Veljo Tormis's Forgotten Peoples (ECM 1459/60, 434 275-2) through the in-your-face space of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Majik, Warner Bros. 26681-2). Nevertheless, while different spaces and depths were proportionately correct, they were never completely re-created.
My 13' by 24.5' listening room is probably too small for the Mets to perform optimally. The manual suggests placing the speakers "several feet" out from the rear wall. I interpreted this to mean 3' to 5', but did most of my listening with the speakers 7' to 9' out from the rear wall (which yielded the best combination of bass performance and soundstaging). Von Schweikert suggested listening from 10' to 15' away. Combining these suggestions, the distance from the rear wall to the listening position would be 13' to 20'. The distance between my listening position and the wall behind it has to be added to these figures. My room matched up well to these length dimensions.
The manual recommends a minimum distance of 6' between the cabinets but suggests a separation of 8' to 15' (which, I assumed, described center-to-center or driver-to-driver distance). The setup instructions suggested leaving, again, "several feet" of space between the speakers and each sidewall. I interpreted this to mean 3'. For two speakers, this requires another 6' of width, yielding a suggested range of 14' to 21'. The width of my room fell below this range, but above the recommended minimum.
It's very possible, therefore, that the Mets will perform better in a larger room than they were able to in mine. In fact, when I sat farther away from the speakers (more than 12'), there was an improved sense of depth and a more satisfying overall soundstage, as well as better coherency. Given that result, my comments on foreshortened depth must be taken with a grain of salt. In a very large room, depth re-creation might be fine. In rooms like mine or smaller, there will be tradeoffs concerning deep bass extension, midbass level, soundstaging width, and stage depth.
As I've said in other reviews, my room is also problematic in the deep bass. No matter what I try, the bottom rolls off significantly, especially at lower volume levels (as you'd expect). The one speaker that has been able to conquer my room has been the Kinergetics SW-800 Subwoofer System, due to its extended deep-bass capability, separate cabinets which can be located to specifically optimize the bass, and dedicated amplifier with a volume control. Prior to the arrival of the Mets, I had assumed that I would only be able to achieve true deep bass with separate subwoofers.
The Mets have changed all that. Their transmission-line enclosures provided truly powerful and extended deep bass. While I couldn't get the same authority at 20Hz as I had with the SW-800s, I got surprisingly close. Oddly, I was able to achieve the best bass performance by moving the speakers back 6" closer to the rear wall (leaving them just slightly less than a third of the way out into the room). Second, since the speakers worked best near the sidewalls for soundstaging, the placement I settled on worked well to reinforce the bass in my listening room. The stronger sidewall reinforcement was offset by the movement back slightly toward the rear wall. The only thing that might have helped even more would have been some way to separately control the level of signal fed to the Met's woofers (in addition to the Q cylinders).
With The Ultimate Test CD from Woodford Music (WM CD 1112), I was able to get a usable 20Hz signal, although it was noticeably down in level. With the final placement I settled on, the midbass region remained elevated in level over a reasonably broad range. Although low frequencies were particularly well-defined and tuneful, in my room there was a peak centered around 60Hz.
The vast majority of bass information in the music I listen to is in this mid/upper bass region. Apart from the elevated level, the Mets were excellent here, exhibiting authority, dynamics, tunefulness, and articulation. An excellent illustration of the speakers' ultimate bass performance came from Peggy Lee's re-recorded version of "Fever" (There'll Be Another Spring, Music Masters 5034-2-C). With this simply scored music and Peggy's soft, sensual vocals, the rhythm is built entirely upon the bass line. In addition, key changes are introduced by the bass. The Mets handled both the timing and pitch shifts beautifully. As Peggy might have said to the Mets, "Ye give fever, yea, I burn forsooth."
With rock, the Met's mid/upper bass strengths were a joy. For me, this is one area where all too many audiophile speakers simply fall flat on their facesaah, panels. Rock bass must be visceral. You have to feel it in your chest as much as hear it. To get this feeling, the speakers simply must be able to move prodigious amounts of air. The doubled-up, transmission-lineloaded Met woofers had this ability. Fast little drivers acting simultaneously as midrange and woofers, or most panels, simply can't cut it on rock. You never feel the music physically.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers provided an impressive demonstration of the Met's wondrous bass capabilities. Unfortunately, there was a little too much of a good thingthe elevated midbass frequently drew attention to itself.
Just as the bottom had been full and clean overall, the mids and top were, too. Once again, the crossover points may have played a major role in the overall coherency. The woofers only cover the range up to 125Hz; the critical midrange drivers cover a four-octave range up to 2kHz, and the crossover slopes are 3rd-order. With such a configuration, neither the woofers nor the tweeters cover much of the midrange. The sonic character of the dual Kevlar drivers was able to impact the entire area.
After spending many months with the Mets, it was their midrange performance that I had the most difficulty describing. In most regards, the midrange was very revealing. For example, on It Ain't Necessarily So, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's "personal selection of encores" (EMI 54576), the timbre of her violin communicated many wonderful moments of beauty, brashness, playfulness, and a range of other emotions. Yet it was never difficult to unravel the contributing elements from the bow, the strings, and the body of the instrument.
Whenever I changed anything in the system, the sonic differences were immediately apparent. Needless to say, the Mets were also very revealing with both analog and digital sources. For example, it was easy to hear an older Sarah Vaughan playfully moving toward and away from the microphone as she finagled her way through the forgotten lyrics of "Willow Weep for Me" on Live In Japan (Mobile Fidelity MFCD 2-844-1&2, CD), or to appreciate the soft keyboard underpinnings on Dire Straits' "You and Your Friend" from On Every Street (Warner Bros. 26680, LP). My wife and I even spent a very enjoyable day emulating Robert Benson's Vol.15 No.12 survey of various interpretations of Holst's The Planets. With the Mets, we quickly established a hierarchy from Maazel to Previn to Dutoit to Boult on the musical involvement scale, with no disagreements. The Mets consistently revealed both musical and sonic differences.
The slight nagging problem in the midrange was a narrow band of hardness which often manifested itself as excessive sibilance on vocals. The louder and more complex the music, the more pronounced the sibilance. It could be heard on the complex massed voices from Forgotten Peoples and through the loud and raucous vocals of the re-formed (but clearly not reformed) Stray Cats singing about "Elvis On Velvet" (Choo Choo Hot Fish, JRS 35812).