Infinity Modulus loudspeaker & Modulus subwoofer Page 3
Setting the control unit's settings to give good integration between the subwoofer and the satellites was rendered reasonably straightforward by the range of adjustment possible. For those without a spectrum analyzer, the 1/3-octave warble tones on the Stereophile Test CD, which range from 200Hz to 20Hz, make it possible to get good integration by ear. I actually did it this way, then used the spectrum analyzer to fine-tune the setup. Interestingly, doing it by ear gave a subwoofer setting that turned out to be about 4dB too sensitive when measured. At first this sounded "impressive" with music, but then became wearisome to the ear.
For fine-tuning of the subwoofer settings, recorded harp and piano seemed to be the most sensitive instruments with which to judge the subwoofer level, their lower strings easily sounding tubby with even slightly too much subwoofer level or too high a low-pass setting. The most sensitive adjustment was the woofer's low-pass frequency. Setting it to be the same as the nominal 140Hz high-pass feed to the satellites tended to give too much energy in the room between 100Hz and 200Hz. I ultimately settled on 90Hz or so, but this was music-dependent, the optimum setting for orchestral music or for organ being too high for piano.
Once set up optimally, the Modulus subwoofer did indeed turn the Modulus satellites—facing straight ahead, moved some 4' out into the room, and driven by the Audio Research Classic 60—into a full-range system, with low bass that could be felt to pressurize the listening room with appropriate recordings. The Dorian organ transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition (DOR-90117) was a natural CD to reach for. Track 2, "Gnomus," has some deep organ "barks" underlying the gentle melodies. The Modulus system reproduced these with an excellent sense of dynamics, even at very high levels, the low bass interjections remaining clean without any sense of their interfering with the higher-frequency information. There was also a much better sense of reproduced space than with the satellites on their own.
This better sense of space was also found with recordings that didn't contain much fundamental energy below 40Hz. The Chesky re-release of Brahms's Piano Concerto 2, with Gina Bachauer and the LSO under Dorati (Chesky CD36), for example, has a warm orchestral sound on the satellites, but sounds a little closed-in. Adding the subwoofer opened up both the sound and the soundstage, allowing the performance to communicate more directly. The cello solo in the third movement, in particular, could be heard to "breathe" with the music's flow more effectively, diminishing the effect of its slightly dry presentation compared with both the other strings and the piano, the latter having a more ambient bloom around its image.
How about other kinds of music? In the past, while appreciating the weight and authority lent classical orchestral music by a subwoofer, I have found the effect on rock has been ultimately disappointing due to the subwoofer's sluggish output failing to integrate with the faster upper bass of the satellites. Imagine someone banging four-to-the-bar on a second bass drum with a soft felt-tipped beater to visualize the subjective effect. Being fortysomething, it was time, therefore, to reach for Led Zeppelin, specifically "Dazed and Confused" from the first album, released on CD as Atlantic SD 19126-2. The Infinity passed this severe test with flying colors, once the subwoofer level had been backed off a little. (One of the problems with any subwoofer is that the optimum match between it and the satellites does vary slightly from track to track.) The sound was seamless, and overwhelming. Boy, that John Bonham could dish up the thunder when required! Imagine the effect on visitors when you cover up the subwoofer and let them think it is just the Moduluses producing this cataclysmic sound.
Levels at the listening seat could reach about 100dB at the listening chair with the Audio Research Classic 60, about 4dB higher with the Mark Levinson No.20.5s, before a sense of strain in the lower treble had you reaching for the volume control. I'm sure the subwoofer would go considerably higher in level, enabling its use with more sensitive satellites.
The final track to go on the Linn with the complete Modulus system was a request from Larry Archibald, "Die Tänzerin" from Ulla Meinecke's 1983 album on German RCA (PL70932). This sparsely mixed track features Fraulein Meinecke's macho-mocha-toned voice accompanied by fingerpopping, an electronic drum machine, and a funky synthetic piano sound, all of which are bathed in artificial reverberation. It used to be a favorite test of mine to count the discrete echoes of her voice; with indifferent gear, particularly amplifiers, you would at best get just three echoes; with good amplification and speakers, they would last all the way until the next voice entry (and you know they were still echoing on under the voice). This track perhaps produced the most satisfyingly musical sound I heard from the full-range Modulus system. The voice was natural, palpable, the electric piano boogied with its full quota of weight—I would have said "majesty," but that attribute is not intrinsic to electric piano sound—and the reverberation extended from the tip of my nose to infinity. This is about the closest I have heard in my room to good live rock sound!
To say that I was impressed with the appearance of the Modulus system and the thoroughness with which its designers have arranged for its optimum setup is an understatement. The appearance and quality of fit'n'finish render satellites and subwoofer products that to see is to want to own. This is an often overlooked part of high-end design, but it is one, as Arnis Balgalvis has pointed out in these pages, that can be no less important than ultimate sound quality. To own products as superbly and desirably styled as these is a gratifying experience.
But sound quality is what Stereophile's reviewers are supposed to give the highest priority in their value judgments, and here the Modulus satellites on their own just fail to get a recommendation. Certainly, the Modulus satellite is the most neutrally balanced Infinity speaker I have heard in familiar surroundings, offering a basically flat frequency response within its low-frequency bandwidth limitation, apart from a slight amount of top-octave emphasis which can be somewhat ameliorated with the HF control. With the exception of the slightly congested lower-midrange and the slight liveliness in the lower treble, the Moduluses also feature gratifyingly low levels of coloration, and can throw a well-defined stereo image. During my entire auditioning, however, with both Audio Research and Mark Levinson amplifiers there was a noticeable politeness to the speakers' presentation of music, a blandness if you will, that detracted from the musical values of the recordings I played.
Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the Modulus by itself is bad. Its performance is in many ways excellent. But, to rather more of an extent with CD than with LP, the sound consistently failed to raise goosebumps. Couple that with its necessarily limited low-frequency extension and consider that the Modulus is not inexpensive at $1300/pair including the excellent pedestals, and I hope you can see where my verdict is coming from. The competition at this price point is intense, with superb-sounding models offering good bass performance from Vandersteen, Thiel, Spica, and Acoustat to contend with.
When the satellites are coupled with the Modulus subwoofer, things take a somewhat different turn. Relieved of the responsibility for handling nearly all the bass frequencies, the Modulus satellite's lower midrange eases up considerably. The lack of clarity noted above doesn't entirely disappear, but is reduced to a level that is only occasionally noticeable. The entire treble region seems more neutral with an extra two and a half octaves of bass extension to balance against. There is still strong competition at or below the $3300 price point—the Mirage M3 comes to mind, for example, as does the new Magnepan MG3.3, not to mention the Thiel CS3.5—but the Infinity Modulus full-range system scores in offering true flat extension almost to 20Hz, within its loudness limits of 100dB or so in a reasonably sized room, coupled with a fundamentally neutral balance.
Though its overall presentation is still on the polite side of things, I derived considerable musical enjoyment from the complete Modulus system, particularly from LP, where the overall performance would merit a Class B recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."
On its own, the Modulus subwoofer is one of the better units I have experienced, presumably due to its servo-controlled nature. When optimally set up, it didn't detract from the satellite speakers' performance by adding the ill-defined grumble that can be so typical of subwoofer sound. Its controller offers the user considerable flexibility in optimizing the sonic match with the satellites—it worked superbly with the Monitor Audio Studio 10s, for example—and, assuming the hum problem was either specific to my system or due to a manufacturing fault, I can confidently recommend it to those who love the sound of their minimonitors, and therefore wouldn't countenance replacing them with full-range speakers, but who want just a little more of those seductive low frequencies.