Image Concept 200 loudspeaker Page 2
The Image 200 is not a particularly expensive loudspeaker, considering its size and complexity, so something has to be economized on in order to keep the price affordable. As with the Camber 3.5 that I also review this month, the enclosure has a black woodgrain vinyl finish. However, perhaps because of this speaker's bulk and weight, I found it to be a little fragile. The review process always involves a fair amount of moving around and handling, more than a speaker would normally get. I do try to be careful, but in the case of the Concept 200, two of the corners suffered cosmetic damage, the vinyl fracturing and peeling away. I would suggest additional care if you do have to move your '200s relatively often.
William C. Taylor of California, the winner of the drawing at our Santa Monica show in April 1988, visited Santa Fe during the review period and I called upon his ears for a formal listening test, auditioning these and other loudspeakers. I have indicated in the text where he and I are in agreement and where we differ in our views.
The instructions for the Image speakers mention optional spikes: small holes are drilled in the speakers' plinths to take these, but they were not supplied. I stood the '200s on Tiptoes, therefore, and sat down for some serious listening. My first reaction was a double-takewith the Images toed-in to the listening position, the treble balance was very similar to that of the Camber 3.5s. There was more lower-midrange energy, however, giving a more even balance, but the mid-treble was somewhat exaggerated in level, adding too much sizzle to hi-hat cymbal. However, due to the Image tweeter's wide dispersion, I could flatten the treble response by facing the speakers straight ahead, something that would have given too little top-octave energy with the Cambers' larger tweeters. This positioning did pull the soundstage out to the sides a little too much, so the taming of the overall treble forwardness has to be balanced against the degree of soundstage center-fill.
Now soundstaging is one of this speaker's fortes. As good laterally as the Camber, if not quite approaching the holographic standards set by the Celestion SL600s, it threw a convincing image depth, with more of the recorded ambience audible. This accurate representation of recorded space represents quite exceptional clarity for a design with a conventional soft-dome tweeter, though it doesn't reach the standard set by the alloy-domed Monitor Audio R952/MD or the Acoustic Energy AE1 mentioned by Alvin Gold elsewhere in this issue.
As mentioned earlier, the treble with the speakers firing straight ahead was relatively flat, though there was still a tendency to harden at highish levels. There was also a trace of lispiness audible on voice, indicating problems in the 1012.5kHz region. Bill Taylor mentioned in his listening notes that the treble had a tendency to sound gritty on female voice, taking on a slight edge. I found it to exaggerate the octave above the open E-string of the violin. I have to say, though, that this is still relatively good behavior for a soft-dome tweeter, which tend always to spit and sizzle a little too much for my liking when compared with good metal-dome units, ribbons, or electrostatic drivers.
The midrange was evenly balanced, though a slight "eee" coloration was noticeable on piano and voice, pushing some notes forward in the image. Despite Image's claims for cabinet rigidity, both front and rear baffles, as well as the side panels, were found to be quite lively between 320Hz and 370Hz; I suspect that these resonances may correlate with the coloration noted.
It was in the bass, however, that the Image 200 really came into its own. This is the best low-frequency extension that I have ever heard from a loudspeaker costing less than $2500. There was flat bass to 32Hz, which added terrific weight to organ pedalsthe synthesizer bass on the "Mountains of Things" track on the superb Tracy Chapman album (Elektra 9 60774-1) was positively Stygian. And, unusually for a ported design, there was very little mid- or upper-bass exaggeration. Male vocalists had normal-sized chests! Such good bass performance is not obtained without a paying a price, of course, and the tradeoff chosen by its designer was to make the Image 200 relatively insensitive for such a large enclosure. Both amplifiers I had available were a little underpowered to drive the 200 to satisfyingly physical levels, but a good 100W model should, ahem, really "kick ass," as you Americans are wont to say.
The Image Concept 200 has an unusually large enclosure for a $1000 loudspeaker with pretensions to high-end sound, and its designer has chosen to use this volume to maximize bass extension. This speaker offers the deepest bass per dollar of any in this price class, and will satisfy organ-music lovers in particular. This is not to say that other aspects of performance have been neglected, as its soundstaging capability is also excellent, levels of midrange coloration are relatively low, and the treble, while not approaching the transparency of the better metal-dome units, is nevertheless smooth and detailed. Recommended, at the lower end of Stereophile's Class C category.