Listening #23 Page 2
The arrangement that worked best, and on which my listening impressions are based, was with the Townshend tweeters on the tops of the Quads—rather like the setup at George's house, but with two refinements: I used the Quads' adjustable feet to tip the electrostatic panels back as much as possible, thus tilting up their own high-frequency dispersion, and I angled the Maximum Super Tweeters downward toward the listeners' ears.
I accomplished that last bit in a couple of different ways: The Quads' removable top plates incorporate a recess of about 0.4" at the front, providing an almost perfectly terraced surface for the tweeters and their own small, gummy feet (see photo). Also, when listening with the top plates removed altogether (necessary for removing the grillecloths, although you can replace the plates when you're done, if you want to), I set the tweeters flat on the structure beneath, then tilted them downward by placing kerfed strips of Spanish cedar under their rear feet. This also gave the loudspeakers a pleasantly peppery aroma, which may or may not have influenced my listening.
New Quad extension
I found that the Townshend Super Tweeters could be made to enhance the performance of newer Quad speakers, although it's harder to do, and the improvement isn't quite as dramatic as with older Quads.
First, the Townshend Maximum Super Tweeters did no apparent harm. I heard no more hiss or surface noise than before, and I wasn't any more aggrieved by the noise that was already there. And while it's true that judicious use of the Townshend tweeters can enhance the Quads' spatial performance, the stereo imaging didn't become fussy or fatiguing. Finally, high-frequency sounds didn't take on any unpleasant colorations or characteristics: Used sparingly, the tweeters didn't make the sound hard or edgy or tiring.
In the case of the ESL-989s in my 225-square-foot listening room, "sparingly" means "with the level controls set at 4." That may be because my room is larger than George's, and my listening seat farther from the speakers. Or it may have to do with those very basic technological differences between the old and new Quads.
It may also be related to something else: different electronics. You can't forget that many amplifiers will perform very differently into your loudspeaker load when the Townshend tweeter is a part of the equation—tube amplifiers more so than solid-state, and single-ended triodes much more so. In light of that, it's perfectly reasonable to wonder if the differences I heard between George's system and mine have more to do with amps than with speakers.
I'm saying those things not to muddy the waters—although that's always fun—but to underscore the need for a home audition before committing to this particular purchase.
In any event, the most significant improvement the Super Tweeters made to my Quads was, again, a greater realism in reproducing voices. I don't even have to consult my listening notes, because I remember so well how much more real Tony Rice's satiny voice sounded on "Home from the Forest," from his classic Manzanita (LP, Rounder 0092), a superbly recorded album that seems to reveal more of itself every time I make a real improvement to my system. Yes, stereo imaging and room sound were handled better with the tweeters, and, yes, the sense of detail and articulation seemed more refined. But all that paled in comparison to the wonderful gains in vocal realism.
Looking beyond the performance consideration, the Townshend Maximum Super Tweeter seems competently designed, and is certainly well made. I have to admit that I simply liked the tweeters as hardware, inasmuch as they have just the sort of size, heft, and polish that appeals to me. They look cool, and they're fun to hold. Hey, I'm 50 years old and have two college degrees and a spotless credit record, I don't believe in UFOs or aliens, and I don't read Isaac Asimov or Harry Potter stories—but even I find it hard to pick up one of these neat little devices without bringing it close to my lips and saying, "Beam me up, Scotty: It sucks down here."
Incidentally, if you think this sort of thing might improve your system, there are two other companies I know of that make supertweeters—although Townshend is the only reputable company that presently makes an add-on ribbon.
First is the English firm Tannoy, whose ST50 Super Tweeter is an aluminum dome tweeter of the usual sort, mounted in an ovoid, die-cast enclosure. Its lower frequency is adjustable to 14, 16, or 18kHz, and its upper range extends out to 54kHz. US hobbyists can find Tannoy/TGI North America on the information superhighway at www.tannoyna.com.
Second is Murata, who make two models: the ES103/AB and the ES105. The former is a hemispherical ceramic piezoelectric tweeter with a claimed response of 15-100kHz, supplied in a cylindrical die-cast enclosure of zinc alloy. The ES103/AB is pretty much the same thing in a differently styled enclosure, integral to which is a microphone stand mounting. Interestingly, the Murata tweeters' resonant frequency lies above their upper cutoff—at about 103kHz. Murata is distributed in the US by True Sound of Campbell, California.
Having now heard the Quad ESL/Townshend Maximum Super Tweeter combination, I don't think I could own and enjoy the former without also owning the latter. In that context, and with respect to Messrs. Stanwick and Milano, taking the Townshends away made the sound dull and constricted in a manner that, afterward, didn't seem to "correct" itself over time—whereas, with my larger Quad ESL-989s, although the tweeters' sudden absence was initially disappointing, I found that I got over it with greater ease. (Actually, I'd probably buy the Townshends for my own use if I hadn't already bought a new amp this year, and didn't plan on buying new kitchen cabinets before the year is over.) Owners of other insufficiently tweety loudspeakers, including but not limited to Magnepans, Staxes, Acoustats, and de-whizzered Lowthers (think ahead, think ahead), should also investigate the supertweeter genre and, in particular, give the Townshend Maximum Super Tweeters a serious spin.
The Amazing Artie
Robert Zimmerman, Gordon Sumner, Reiner Frigyes, Roberta Joan Anderson, and Bill Harkleroad (footnote 2) all discarded the names they were born with in favor of newer, better ones, as their performing careers took off. Now we can add another name to the list: Randall Zwinge. Think of Zwinge as a brass player: He toots the same horn over and over, desperately hoping that the audience will notice him instead of the other performers on the stage.
Zwinge is an illusionist—a self-described liar and con artist—who discovered early in his career that he could make more money by debunking the work of other illusionists. So he reinvented himself as James Randi and hit the road asready for it—The Amazing Randi.
In one of those lucky-for-us-but-unlucky-for-him twists of fate, the bottom pretty much fell out of the debunking industry, and Mr. Zwinge came to realize that only a steady stream of publicity would ensure his continued income. So Zwinge the showman has been forced to hit the rhetorical road, as it were, moving from town to town, looking for new stones to overturn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has stumbled on our little world.
I'll spare you the details of the latest yawn-inducing and intellectually dishonest "Randi Challenge"—anyone who's ever heard of Shakti Stones can probably guess what it involves (footnote 3). My point in writing this is to issue a taunt of my own, which I hereby dub "The Artie Challenge." I will personally give Randall Zwinge a hundred billion zillion dollars of my own money if he can answer two questions to my satisfaction:
1) Why is it that a tough-minded seeker of the truth finds it necessary to change his name?
2) When he signs his name as "Randi," does he dot the "i" or draw a little heart over it?
Answers may be submitted to me via e-mail only, care of this magazine. Thank you.
Footnote 2: Aka Bob Dylan, Sting, Fritz Reiner, Joni Mitchell, and Zoot Horn Rollo, respectively.—Art Dudley
Footnote 3: Something I find amazing about the Amazing Randi is that for such a thorough skeptic, he does not take care to get his facts straight. In discussing this magazine, for example, Randi writes that "The 'Tate Clock,' a regular Radio Shack digital clock treated with liquid nitrogen and a "secret process" to align electrons in the power supply (?) is only one of the products it tested and approved..." Let me see: the "Tate" clock is actually the "Tice" clock; while George Tice never let on what he did to the clock (if anything), it wasn't treating it with liquid nitrogen; and while we did test the Tice Clock, far from "approving" it, Stereophile's coverage was sufficiently negative that Tice canceled all of its advertising and ran ads instead in that then-bastion of audio respectability, Audio magazine. For my own attitude to such things as the Tice Clock and the Peter Belt devices, see the March 1991 As We See It."—John Atkinson