The Entry Level #6 Page 2
I was beginning to worry again. I'd just recommended the Music Hall USB-1 turntable to Stereophile's readers, and now I found it incapable of playing records under the simplest circumstances. On top of that, I was in danger of disappointing Nicole and Natalie. I looked at Neeno. Neeno looked at me. In his sweet eyes, I swore I saw hints of suspicion and doubt.
On the verge of despair, I remembered that I'd brought along a set of Bright Star Audio's IsoNode anti-vibration feet ($24.99/four). These small (1.25" W by 0.75" H by 1.25" D), squishy, somewhat sticky half-spheres of polymer are designed to be placed between a component and its shelf, where they absorb harmful vibrations. The packaging and product literature claim improvements for DVD and CD players, but make no mention of turntables. I wasn't sure what I'd do if they didn't work with the USB-1, but I tried them anyway, carefully centering an IsoNode under each of the USB-1's feet, then making sure the turntable was properly balanced and level.
I said a silent prayer, laid a record on the platter, dropped the stylus into the spinning groove, exhaled gently, and jumped around the apartment like a fool. The record did not skip. I flashed Neeno a quick wink, marched to the kitchen, pulled a beer from the fridge, sat down on the comfy couch, and crossed my legs. Natalie and Nicole smiled.
But with the Audioengine speakers and Music Hall turntable spending time at Natalie and Nicole's place, I would have to set up a new system at home. It was the perfect opportunity to get better acquainted with the Klipsch Group's Synergy B-20 loudspeakers. At $279/pair, they cost the same as my PSB Alpha B1s, and would therefore make an interesting comparison.
With its modest vinyl finish of faux black ash and simple squared edges, the Synergy B-20 is not nearly as physically impressive as the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($350/pair, reviewed in this column in April 2011; further coverage to come from Robert J. Reina). Whereas the Wharfedale dramatically exceeded my expectations for fit and finish, the Klipsch quietly met my expectations for a $279/pair speaker. Slightly larger than the PSB Alpha B1 at 12.5" H by 7" W by 8" D, the Synergy B-20 weighs 11 lbs and has a 5.25" magnetically shielded mid/woofer with a cone of injection-molded graphite, and a 0.75" aluminum-diaphragm compression driver mated to one of Klipsch's 90° by 60° Tractrix horns. Around back, the speaker's single pair of plastic binding posts is centered beneath a rather large, oblong bass-reflex port.
In January, at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, I'd met with Klipsch Group's VP of product development, Mark Casavant, who explained that the Synergy models take much from the company's top line, the Reference series, the main differences being the References' larger tweeter and better crossover. "With the Synergy speakers, we're trying to show that great sound does not have to break the bank," he said. Like all Klipsch speakers, the Synergy B-20 is meant to marry exceptional dynamic range to clarity and low distortion. "What we do with the first one to five watts of powerthat's what's important," Casavant smiled. To that end, the B-20 has a claimed frequency response of 62Hz23kHz, ±3dB, a high sensitivity of 92.5dB, and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms.
I set the B-20s where the Audioengine 5s had been: on 24"-high stands, secured with small globs of Blu-Tack, and about 30" from the sidewalls, 28.5" from the front wall, and 10' from the back wall. The rest of the system comprised Uncle Omar's Rega P1 turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, Cambridge Audio's Azur 340A integrated amplifier, Stereophile's sample of the NAD PP3 USB phono preamp, and my cheap RadioShack cables and interconnects.
Though I never got to see John Fahey perform (he died in 2001), listening to him through this system let me get startlingly close. With fast attacks, fine detail, and generous clarity, the Klipsch Synergy B-20s immediately struck me as having a more vibrantly present sound than any other pair of speakers I've heard at home, setting my listening room alive with well-defined, precisely placed images. It was wild. Though the B-20 couldn't match the bass weight and control I so admire in the Audioengine 5, it made up for it with high-frequency extension and clarity. Listening to "In a Persian Market" from Old Fashioned Love, I marveled at Fahey's ability to effortlessly shift from slow to fast to blinding, never using changes of tempo simply for show, but infusing each passage with deep heart and soul. The Synergy B-20 managed to keep pace with the guitarist, using quick, clean starts and stops to illuminate detail and showcase subtle nuances of technique.