Impact Airfoil 5.2 loudspeaker system Page 2
During installation, Impact president Mark Conti stressed that the tweeter-midrange units' even horizontal dispersion made their positioning less critical than other speakers', and suggested several different setups. We ended up with the Airfoils firing across my 17' by 23' listening room, the Bending Wave Drivers approximately 5' out from the front wall and about 7' 2" apart, which put them 9' 4" in from the left wall and 6' 6" in from the right. The subwoofers were located behind the towers and slightly inboard, putting the centerlines of their cylindrical enclosures about 2' 8" from the front wall and 6' apart.
My listening position ended up a little farther out into the room than usual—about 2' 6", which put the Bending Wave Drivers about 10' 4" from my ears. The subwoofers were toed in to point directly at the listening position. The towers' unusual asymmetry made it hard to tell exactly where they were pointed, but if I extended lines that bisected their winglike cross-sections, the lines intersected midway between the speakers and about a foot in from the front wall.
I experimented with room treatments as well, and settled on a pretty minimal setup—even though my room is fairly live. I used floor-to-ceiling columns of Echo Busters Bass Busters in the room's corners, Double Buster diffuser panels behind the listening position, and another column of Bass Busters, flanked with Double Busters, on the front wall between and behind the speakers.
I did most of my listening driving the Airfoils with a 70Wpc VAC Renaissance 70/70 or with Classé's 350W CAM-350 monoblocks. Although the two varied widely in power output, they were remarkably similar in their reproduction of dynamic transients, lending support to Conti's assertion that the Airfoil is a very benign load.
You know how you're not supposed to buy a car the first year it's produced, because all of the bugs haven't yet been worked out? Well, the Airfoil is totally new—a new product based on a new technology resulting from a new collaboration between designer and manufacturer. I guess it's really no surprise that Impact has experienced some teething pains; and, as the recipient of one of the very first systems, I was along for the ride.
The first hiccup was a series of delays that stretched over three months as Impact worked out the details of their first production run. When the system finally did arrive, I wasn't terribly surprised to see that it had evolved somewhat from the prototype system I'd heard in Las Vegas. The most noticeable change was that the subwoofers had morphed from compact art-deco cubes into tall cylinders. "The internals are the same," explained Mark Conti. "They're just packaged a bit differently. The cubes were a nightmare to build."
Then I went through three electronic crossovers, each different from the one before. Paul Paddock visited midway through the review period to install new subwoofer amplifiers, running in a new configuration that bypassed much of the original circuitry. The updates included a few other tweaks as well, including replacing the foam damping material in the Coupling Woofers with loosely packed fiberglass cubes. Finally, one of the subwoofer amplifiers expired shortly after Paddock's visit—just before John Atkinson arrived to take measurements, of course. Impact offered to send Paddock out again, but with a deadline fast approaching, we decided to press on with only one subwoofer.
Aside from these growing pains, I had no serious complaints about the Airfoil's operation. Setup required some assembly, but was straightforward and well-documented, and the system did prove to be relatively insensitive to room placement. The Airfoils' fit and finish were excellent, and its appearance—a lovely light maple veneer and black grilles—quite striking. Unfortunately, the electronic crossovers didn't match the rest of the system, being finished in chintzy silver with black oak side panels. Maybe it's just me, but I think that for $35,000, everything should match.
When I heard the Airfoil 5.2 system at the 2001 CES, I was impressed by its abilities to create a huge, seamless soundstage and to make the speakers and listening room "vanish." In my room, its performance was even more impressive. Its reproduction of a full orchestra and the surrounding hall were, by a significant margin, the most expansive I've heard.
A lot of speakers can re-create solid, tangible images slightly outside their outer edges, but paint increasingly vague portraits from there on out. For example, violin sections will often stretch to just outside the left speaker, but areas of the stage beyond that—the space between the instruments and the sidewall and reflections from the wall itself—will be portrayed more vaguely. Plus, distances are increasingly foreshortened as you move farther outside the speakers.
While the Airfoils didn't replace my listening room with a full-sized orchestra and stage, they did do a noticeably better job than other speakers I've used. Tangible, detailed, full-sized images were solidly located several feet outside the speakers' outer edges. With the Airfoils, those violin sections stretched to well outside the speakers. The stage's outer reaches were better reproduced as well, painted with sharper, more vivid lines and textures.