Icon Parsec loudspeaker Page 2
The Parsec Owner's Manual advises that the speakers sound best after 50100 hours of use to break in the drive-unit suspensions. Accordingly, I ran them in with pink noise at a high level for two days. (The speakers were wired in anti-phase and placed face to face during this process.) The serious listening could then commence: following some experimentation, I ended up with the Parsecs some 6' from the longer rear wall (which is faced with books and LPs) in my 20' by 17' by 9' listening room, and first 5', then approximately 4' from the shorter side walls (which also have bookshelves covering some of their surfaces). This gave minimum excitation of the room resonant modes between 50 and 120Hz, but also the best balance between a good feeling of upper-bass power and low-bass extension. (Sitting Duck Software's Listening Room program, reviewed elsewhere in this issue by Tom Norton, confirmed that this placement was pretty much optimal, the boundary reinforcement of the speaker's output between 70Hz and 250Hz being effectively flat with frequency with only a slight peak at 180Hz, a dip at 55Hz, and 10dB or so of room gain below 40Hz, footnote 4)
With the speakers in this optimal position, I inserted three of the supplied spikes into the base of each one. These are not threaded and are a tight fit. The easiest way to insert them was to work them as far as possible into the pre-drilled hole, then let the weight of the speaker do the work. Though the Parsec is supplied with a large black-fabric grille which surrounds the tweeter area with thick gray foam, I was advised that the speakers sound best without the grille; accordingly, I left it off. (Later measurement showed the effect of the grille was quite minor, however, at least on the on-axis sound.)
Listening first with the Classic 60 driving the Parsecs, my first impression was of a warm-balanced sound with a generous bass response and an open, uncolored treble. Listening on a high chair so that my ears were level with or above the cabinet top accentuated the midrange, giving a somewhat "squawky" character, while listening on the tweeter axis exaggerated the top two octaves a little. But on the midrange axis, my ears some 36" from the ground, the Parsec's high-frequency balance complemented my ancillaries and listening-room acoustics to give perhaps the most natural treble balance that I have yet heard in this room. The strings on the Sheffield Lab Firebird recording (LAB 24), which was made with a coincident pair of Coles ribbon microphones, were about as natural-sounding as I have ever heard them. Some listeners, however, may think that the Parsec sounds a little dull; nevertheless, I prefer errors in this direction, given that, with a few exceptions, most amplification tends to err in the opposite direction. And to be honest, when was the last time you heard live violins with the kind of electronic tizzy sheen so often heard from reproduced strings?
Overall, the Parsec's midrange was pretty neutral, tenor and treble instruments sounding very true to the original, as did female voices. The trumpets and trombones on the Firebird featured the appropriate degree of "blatty brassiness," to borrow a phrase from J. Gordon Holt; in fact, orchestral music in general had an uncolored, musically natural presentation in the midrange and above. Via the Parsecs, the Chesky reissue of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier Waltzes from the RCA Symphony Orchestra conducted by Chuck Gerhardt (CD35), a Kenneth Wilkinson recording and a current CD favorite of mine, swept me up in its Romantic embrace, aided by the loudspeaker's warm lower mids.
Lower down in frequency, however, I did find some coloration, as well as a degree of tonal imbalance. "Generous" was the adjective I used to describe the Parsec's bass performance, but let me expand on that rather nebulous word. This loudspeaker managed to deeply excavate the nether regions, yet without the lows degenerating into a muddy, murky roar. An organ recording spending much time in my CD players these days is Jean Guillou's inaugural recital at the Church of Saint Eustache near Les Halles in Paris (Dorian DOR-90134). The last track in particular, Liszt's Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H., thunders out four nearly identical bass notes (in German music notation, B is B-flat and H B-natural) in quick enough succession that the quite reverberant church acoustic seems in danger of sound-swirling overload. Certainly on reflex speakers that have any propensity to bass boom, the whole low-frequency spectrum clags up, the result being that pitch definition suffers. Via the Parsecs driven by the Mark Levinson amps, even at high (greater than 100dB) spls, you could still easily differentiate the individual notes, implying a degree of musically appropriate overdamping to the speaker's ported bass alignment.
This was confirmed by the bass-drum thunderclaps that punctuate the "Infernal Dance" in the Sheffield Firebird recording. Possessing Levinson-sourced cataclysmic weight over the Parsecs, these mighty strokes remained free from low-frequency overhang. Even with the speakers driven by the Classic 60, there was a good degree of control even though the tube amp could not produce anything like the same sense of air motion.
These impressions were all gained with the speaker used as designed. In case some listeners do find the lows to be still a little under-controlled, however, Dave Fokos recommends rolling up a plastic report cover and inserting it all the way into each port. Even with the Classic 60, which has an output impedance of about a third of an ohm from its 4-ohm taps, I felt that this tuning tip dried up the low bass too much. With VTL, Quicksilver, Lazarus, Carver, or Conrad-Johnson amplifiers, however, all of which can have output impedances of up to or exceeding an ohm, it would probably prove effective in allowing the amplifier to better hang on to the woofer's excursions.
Footnote 4: I enthusiastically echo Tom's recommendation for this program. Even if you don't own a computer, bully your dealer into buying The Listening Room to help his/her customers get the best from the loudspeakers they buy from him/her.