Counterpoint Clearfield Metropolitan loudspeaker Page 3

I've saved the best for last. The Mets were both very sensitive and easy to drive. Almost any good amp worked well. Since they could be bi-wired or bi-amped, the sound of the speaker could be tailored in various ways to suit my needs. In virtually any of these configurations, the Mets were very dynamic. They could play softly or loudly, and handled any intermediate gain level without difficulty. Dynamic shadings were effectively conveyed, although I've used other speakers that were better at resolving the subtlest changes in level. Nonetheless, the Mets were equally at home with a string quartet or heavy metal.

Even more important, the Mets were always musical. The most effective word I can think of to describe their overall, long-term performance was "smooth." Music simply flowed effortlessly out of Counterpoint's flagship speaker. I could easily live with the Mets for months, even years.

End of the ride from JE
The Clearfield Audio Metropolitans are big, beautiful, full-range loudspeakers. To perform their best, they need to be in a large listening room, and the listening position must be a good distance from the speaker cabinets. They need to be well out from the rear wall, reasonably close to the sidewalls, and toed-in and tilted down toward the listening position. The speaker's built-in capabilities for adjustable bass and tweeter levels, coupled with the bi-wiring/bi-amping option and high sensitivity, provide a welcome and unusual amount of flexibility for typical home use.

The speakers produce a big, wide soundstage that you look up into. Depth is slightly foreshortened, although the placement of performers is well-focused within an open and spacious stage. Bass performance is rather warm in the midbass region, but extends into the lowest octave, and is tight, powerful, rhythmic, and tuneful through the critical upper-bass region.

The midrange is coherent, with no obvious aberrations, being quick, clean, and accurate. There is a mild trace of hardness, however, most noticeable during peaks. The treble, as a result of the five-position level controls, can be whatever the listener wants it to be.

Counterpoint's Clearfield Metropolitan offers an unusual amount of flexibility in a large and gorgeous package. It is consistently satisfying musically, with a smooth, easy-to-listen-to sound. Clearfield Audio by Counterpoint has made an auspicious entry into the speaker sweepstakes, one worthy of very serious consideration.—Jack English

JA listens further
Following Jack's auditioning and the submission of his text to Stereophile's editorial office in Santa Fe, we heard from Albert Von Schweikert that there was some doubt as to whether the final version of the crossover in JE's and the Santa Fe samples of the Metropolitan was to specification. Apparently, there is a notch filter which has to be individually tuned in production for each loudspeaker to eliminate a residual cone resonance in the midrange units. At the time the samples were sent for review, Albert had assumed that a nonadjustable notch filter would suffice, but the midrange units turned out to be more variable than expected, meaning that the review samples were probably slightly mistuned (footnote 2). Counterpoint therefore sent a final pair of Metropolitans which were fully to specification, so that I could compare them with the earlier pair before performing any measurements.

I set both pairs of speakers up in the same positions in the magazine's dedicated listening room, driving them with a Krell KSA-250 power amplifier which was in turn driven by my Melos SHA-1 headphone amplifier. Source was all-digital: the C.E.C. TL 1 CD transport driving a Mark Levinson No.35 D/A processor. Speaker cables were Straight Wire Maestro; interconnects were Cardas pre-to-power and AudioQuest Lapis DAC-to-pre. Levels were carefully maintained throughout the listening sessions so that each piece of music was auditioned on both pairs of speakers at the identical level. The speakers were toed-in to the listening seat, and the rear cones were adjusted to tip the speakers forward so that I sat on the lower-midrange axes of each pair.

The earlier pair were hybrids in that they had the latest but mistuned crossover, but the earlier version's twin ports. In addition, the speakers were marked "L" and "R" so that the tweeters were on the outside edges of the asymmetrical baffles. The treble control was set to Flat.

Throughout the listening session, I became more and more dissatisfied with the sound quality of this earlier pair of Metropolitans. Even with the foam inserts removed, the low bass was suppressed, the midbass was both excessive and poorly defined, and the upper bass lacked power. The lower-midrange octaves lacked clarity and had a resonant overhang that colored piano sound, rendering it too "clanky." This became a bit better with the speaker grilles removed, but was still annoyingly audible. It also added a warmth to the speaker's character that made trumpet sound more like flugelhorn.

Worse, there was a stridency in the lower treble that added what can only be described as a "bark" to the sound of male voice. There was also some severe emphasis of sibilance and tape hiss higher in frequency. Yet despite this emphasis of some treble regions, which lent voices a "spitchy" quality, the high frequencies overall were a little too laid-back compared with the upper midrange.

I actually did quite a lot of listening to this pair of speakers, but there seems little point in going into more detail on soundstaging and dynamics when they were so tonally unbalanced. I can only assume that JE's pair of Metropolitans, which he describes as having similar but much less severe faults, had crossovers that were less off-tune.

Thankfully, my second pair of Metropolitans, set up in exactly the same positions and auditioned with the same pieces of music at exactly the same levels, were considerably better in every aspect of performance. (One interesting point to note is that the speakers were now marked "L" and "R" so that the tweeters were toward the inside edges of the baffles.)

Playing a CD-R copy of the master tapes of Stereophile's new Robert Silverman piano recital was a considerably more satisfying experience than with the earlier speakers. The low bass seemed higher in level, even with the foam inserts in the ports; the upper bass was in better balance, adding more of a feel of power; and while the midbass was still too high in absolute terms, it offered good definition. Removing the port foam inserts gave the best balance throughout the bass and, indeed, you could almost overlook the lack of the bottom 10Hz, given the weight the midbass gave to instrumental fundamentals and especially to kick drum.

The "clanky" midrange coloration of the earlier Mets was significantly reduced in level, though trumpets still came over as being a touch too warm and some piano notes rang on for too long. Some female voices, too, noticeably lacked clarity when their fundamentals fell within a certain frequency range. The lower midrange still lacked clarity, but the "bark" to voices which had so annoyed me with the earlier Mets was almost totally gone.

In the treble, though there was less noticeable sibilance, there was still some mid-treble emphasis which added a slightly shrieky character to the upper ranges of flute, saxophone, and trumpet and made naturally recorded cymbals sound too "splashy." Paradoxically, the top HF octave was subdued—more so than with the earlier samples—leading to a lack of air to the speaker's character. I set the HF level control to +1, then to +2, in an effort to minimize this slightly shut-in quality to the sound, but this made the mid-treble too prominent, the sound too bright.

Tom Norton also auditioned this final pair of Metropolitans and found that substituting the Rowland Consummate for the Melos and TARA Labs RSC for the AudioQuest further tamed the speaker's mid-treble region, but he, too, was ultimately bothered by what he described as a residual "spitchiness" to voices, a "band of brightness" that was often (but not always) excited, depending on the program material. Tom also felt this residual brightness to become accentuated with high-level, high dynamic range material such as Robert Harley's drum recording on Stereophile Test CD 2 (STPH006-2).

Although I found the high image difficult to adjust to, the Mets' imaging definition was excellent, sound-source placement being stable with frequency and position. The offstage image positions on track 10 of the second Stereophile Test CD were reproduced to the outside of the speaker positions—even the image of the out-of-phase bass guitar was stable and placed well to the outside of the right-hand speaker position. There was also excellent image depth, the bells on the Barenboim Parsifal (Teldec 9031-74448-2) being set considerably farther back than they had been via the earlier Mets. The vertical imaging on the LEDR test tones on the first Chesky jazz sampler (JD37), however, was poor, there being almost no image height developed.

In the main, this second set of Metropolitans was capable of reproducing the dynamic sweep of both large-scale orchestral music and well-recorded rock in a satisfying manner. The lack of lower-midrange clarity got in the way of solo piano, however, while the slight sibilance emphasis proved annoying on closely miked voices.

End of the ride from JA
Even though I found the final, fully representative samples of the Clearfield Metropolitan to be very much better in every way than the earlier samples that Jack English, Tom Norton, and I auditioned, I ultimately can't be as enthusiastic about the speaker as JE. At a more competitive price, the Metropolitan could have been a contender. It is impressively engineered, and in a number of performance areas—dynamic range, loudness capability, soundstaging accuracy and stability, freedom from distortion, and bass authority, for example—it does very well. Its manual is also a model of what this often-overlooked item should be.

But at $6000/pair, what would be minor faults in a less expensive speaker are thrown into sharp relief. I can't overlook excessive sibilance in a speaker at this price level, nor can I remain unbothered by the Met's lack of lower-midrange clarity, given my predilection for solo classical piano recordings. I also expect something more like true 20Hz extension from such a large, heavy speaker (though it is fair to point out that the WATT/Puppy combination, which is very much more expensive than the Metropolitan, doesn't go any lower).

Given the conflict between JE's and my conclusions, therefore, I suggest that if you are looking for a satisfying speaker in this price range, you listen to the Metropolitan for yourself with your choice of music. Only you will be able to determine whether the many things this speaker does right will be outweighed by the few things it does wrong.—John Atkinson



Footnote 2: Speakers which went out to dealers had the filter correctly tuned; apparently Stereophile's review samples were the only Mets affected.—John Atkinson
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COMMENTS
remlab's picture

  They looked cool, with that spiraling doped dust cap and large surround, but god they were difficult to work with..

corrective_unconscious's picture

It's amazing how close the designer's most recent, (non cost no object,) design stays to this one, after so much time.

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