Infinity Reference Standard 1B loudspeaker Anthony H. Cordesman
It is a 14-mile drive from my mansion to the outer gates of the estate. I normally enjoy the quiet groveling of my peasants as the chauffeur drives my Rolls along this route. More and more, however, these peasants stop my Rolls to ask why I review so many expensive speakers. My answer—as I casually flick their broken and mangled bodies off the fender—is that expensive speakers sound better.
The Infinity Reference Standard 1B is a good case in point. Truly a speaker for members of our social and economic class, it turns the spending of one's money from a bore to a joy. Moreover, mere possession is not enough; one must have the taste to express one's refinement in set-up and choice of associated components.
The RS-1B avoids the hint of ostentation inherent in purchase of the IRS-III (footnote 1) or Wilson Audio Modular Monitors (footnote 2). The bass modules of the 1B, for example, are only 60" by 12" by 12", and the midrange-treble panels are a compact 60" by 24" by 24". In contrast, the IRS-III is an unseemly 90" high, which is at least 1/16" too high for good taste, displaying a typical West Coast disregard for the finer Eastern sensibility.
Moreover, the 1B extends down to a civilized 25Hz (–2dB), while the IRS-III reaches all the way to an uncouth 16Hz—the kind of bass that can disturb one's orchids and wine. The RS-1B's woofers require a mere 200Wpc, while the IRS uses its own, built-in 1500Wpc. In my opinion, audiophiles of decent ancestry never use more than 1490 watts.
The RS-1B costs only about $6000—which is high enough to keep it from becoming commonplace, but low enough to make it an economic bagatelle. The IRS costs a bit more.
In short, the RS-1B is the kind of readily affordable speaker that people of our class normally consider, but from which the peasants shy away. I suppose that someone has to buy the products reviewed in High Fidelity or Stereo Review, but don't let me bog down in the sordid spectacle of mid-f!. Really, what is the point in having money if you have to concern yourself with others?
The Technical Data
I realize, of course, that such well bred readers as those of Country Life, The New Yorker, or Stereophile never stoop to understand. Stereophile, however, is read by foreign millionaires with different manners and customs. In deference, I will address a few technical comments to those well-bred readers residing outside of the 13 states of the real America:
The Infinity RS-IB is a complex speaker system, requiring two separate stereo amplifiers, an electronic crossover, and a great deal of work to set up (one's footmen will come in handy here).
The electronic crossover is passive in the high-pass mode, and uses an active electronic crossover to drive a servo-woofer circuit in the bass. It normally crosses over at 140Hz and drives six 8" woofers per column. The crossover needs precise adjustment to the nominal input impedance of your amplifier, and the quality of the high-pass capacitor is critical. I find the capacitor in the crossover to be quite good for a domestic brand, but my friends in the working class insist that better capacitors can make a great difference. One minor American Earling I know strongly recommends wiring the high-pass capacitor into the amplifier input, which eliminates the need for the high-pass section of the crossover. Be careful, however: this man comes from the house of Conrad-Johnson, and Debrett has not registered their arms longer than a few centuries.
The other settings in the crossover are too complex to discuss in detail, but offer great flexibility. The important settings for most audiophiles are bass level, precise crossover frequency, and bass emphasis point. This is a task one must do oneself, and not leave to tradesmen. One must experiment and trust one's own taste, depending upon the breeding and self-confidence that comes naturally to members of our class. The nouveau riche or insecure will not get the best performance but these after all, are the drivers of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.
Although Infinity does not advertise the act, the speakers are designed to use a top quality transistor amplifier to drive the woofer columns, and tube amplifiers to drive the midrange and treble panels. You will need a tube amplifier to float the kinds of live image and soundstage the speakers can present.
This is not a minor point: You cannot get the best out of the Reference Standard 1Bs unless you use a top-quality tube amplifier of 100Wpc or more for the midrange and tweeter panels. The midrange and treble will always sound at least slightly imbalanced with a transistor amplifier.
The reverse is true, however, of the bass modules. A good solid transistor amplifier with excellent 2-ohm drive characteristics and lots of power reserve is needed for the best bass. I'd recommend 200Wpc. The Adcom GFA-555 does splendidly; so will many other good, stable amplifiers.
Be careful of the way you hook up the amplifiers and crossover—a loose cable can produce more noise than a mob of angry workers. Turn off the entire system the moment you hear feedback in the bass, and buy lots of reserve fuses—precisely the kind Infinity recommends. Since you will probably be driving these speakers with at least 300 watts of total power per channel, a transient or pop can deliver vast amounts of power. Careless handling combined with the wrong fuses can burn out EMIMs and EMITs with amazing speed, Also, regularly check all fuses. A sudden change in timbre may flag a burnt-out fuse, but some can go and you'll hardly notice.
Speaker cable differences are quickly revealed. You'll have to work to find which you prefer, but the new Kimber Kable did well for me, as did the MIT and Powerline 2.
The bass modules are difficult to place. Even people of breeding will differ over whether they should be (a) on the same plane as the midrange and treble panels; (b) on the outside and to the rear; or (c) on the inside and slightly to the rear. I recommend experimenting at length, and seeking the advice of all but clerics with postgraduate degrees, lawyers of all degree, and neurosurgeons—all of whom are mere rascals.
The midrange EMIMs and treble EMITS use highly damped, low-mass planar diaphragms that provide more resolving power than I've found on any speakers priced within a few thousand dollars of the RS-1Bs, with the exception of the Apogees. They are audibly faster and more coherent than any electrostatics I know of, and can float an incredible image with superb depth.
Once again, however, one cannot leave the placement of these panels to menials. You will find it is well worth dressing formally to fit the seriousness of the occasion. The expenditure of several weeks is appropriate, to test different placements for best imaging and depth. As with all speakers of proper lineage, small adjustments can slowly produce Infinitely better results. Abandoning your responsibilities as a connoisseur by placement of the speakers in some merely convenient location is nearly as bad as leaving vintage Champagne in a refrigerator overnight. Only a cad would so compromise himself.
The diffraction control wings on the treble/midrange units allow wide spacing, provided you maintain reasonable distance from rear and side walls. Placement along the long wall of the room, with the listening position in an equilateral triangle from the speakers, may be best. A slight angling of both panels and woofers toward the listener seems best. Gradually spread the treble/midrange units apart until you hear a hole in the middle, then move them closer together until you get the most coherent soundstage. This is a matter of taste and not to be left to a valet. TipToes—the product of obvious dilettantes—can help with both woofer modules and tweeter/midrange panels.
Pardon my digression. A gentleman should not concern himself with how a thing is done so long as it is done; this is why God created servants. Let me briefly summarize what you will hear when you and your staff have finished the tasks outlined above.
The imaging "floats" one of the most natural soundstages of any speaker at any price over a wide listening area. The result is a large soundstage, life-size in character, but that doesn't widen solo voices or instruments. Depth is excellent and natural, without cave effect or foreshortening.
The resolution of detail and transients rivals that of ribbon speakers and is far superior to that of electrostatics. Dynamics are superb: you can get all the details of a lute or harpsichord, and still hear the full impact of the dead cat being thrown through the bass drum on Däfos. (Cannons, are after all, distinctly middle class.)
Bass power and resolution are not quite up to the IRS III or the WAMM, and I've heard it bettered by the best of the VMPS speakers and some subwoofers. It is, however, excellent and well-integrated. Only the Apogees—with far more complex amplifier arrangements—have surpassed the Reference Standard 1Bs as a fully integrated loudspeaker system. The main problem with the RS-1B is a slight loss of tightness and control, but power, ability to drive a room, and clean discrimination of even the deepest bass notes are excellent.
The midrange is sweet and natural, provided one uses a tube amplifier.
Treble is flat and extended—almost too much so—at the flat setting on the treble control. There are, however, no rough spots or signs of resonance, and the two treble adjustments on each midrange/treble panel allow you to adjust the upper octaves to your heart's content.
There is excellent overall timbre, with the exception of the bass/midrange crossover area. The superb performance in other areas is not matched in this region, and I have the feeling that the EMIMs may not be behaving well as far down as they are asked to reach.
In short, this is definitely a speaker for our Class. One can't always have live musicians, and it is vital that sensitive people not suffer from those tiny boxes on stands that lack full concert-hail dynamics, exclude 30–% of the bass energy present in live performances, sound "small," fall to resolve every musical detail, and involve compromises of economy rather than taste.
My only word of caution is that Sir Gordon-Holt, Bart., feels a properly equipped video room requires three pairs of the IRS-IIIs for the best surround sound effect. He is, however, a mere border baron. More to the point, I would recommend the RS-2B for your smaller guest rooms. A good home may require up to four or five pairs of Infinity's '1Bs, but let discretion be your guide. Excess is tacky—everything should be done in proportion.—Anthony H. Cordesman
Footnote 1: 35,000 smackers.
Footnote 2: 45,000 smackers.