Scientific Fidelity Tesla loudspeaker Jack English adds a postscript

Jack English adds a postscript

Audio Dealer: Nice to see you again, Mr. Audiophile. Now that you've spent a couple of weeks with the Teslas, are you ready to buy them?

Audiophile's Left Brain: Well, they are gorgeous. They're large enough to look like a piece of modern furniture but not so big as to overpower our listening room. The slim look and curved ends make them unique and equally attractive. I've grown tired of all those big, rectangular boxes. Even the legs look good.

Audiophile's Right Brain: Yeah, they're easy to look at and priced right, too. There certainly isn't too much available for less money. But they're only a two-way, with the D'Appolito-configured woofer/midrange drivers surrounding those overworked tweeters. But they've included the spikes and flat-bottomed feet. I would have liked a manual, though, instead of that single sheet of paper.

Left: Oh, come on, how much information do we need to set up a pair of speakers? Other things are much more important. The folks at Scientific Fidelity are good citizens. They don't use any endangered woods for the cabinets. All the basic finishes are stains to simulate rosewood and other exotic finishes. That's important; more people should be paying attention to these things. The optional finishes are stunning. Our pair—gee, I guess I've already decided—is gorgeous in that high-gloss piano black. They really look great in the listening room.

Right: Yeah, I guess so. At first I couldn't get over those weird "grille socks." Who comes up with these things? They certainly cost less than typical grille covers. But when the socks were off the sound got too bright. They looked and sounded better with the socks on—and I still thought that line we heard about "grille condoms" was funny.

Left: Your sense of humor amazes me. Come on, they look good and are a very practical size and weight.

Right: But the cabinets couldn't be mass-loaded. Maybe they aren't heavy enough; besides, we can't put any weight on those rounded tops. With the single set of binding posts, we can't even bi-wire them.

Left: Forget about the mass loading. The speakers are light enough to move around easily. It was a nice thought to include those spikes, but I never use them anyway—there's always the risk of scratching the floor. But they do have those other feet that won't scratch. I like them because they let me balance the speakers without damaging the floor. That was thoughtful.

Right: Okay, they look good, and Sci-Fi has provided us with the necessary features like the different sets of feet. Maybe their weight isn't such a big deal. How do you like them the way we have them set up now?

Left: It's nice to have speakers we can spread so far apart and place near the sidewalls. I don't always care for all those speakers that have to be placed way out into the room. They always seem to take up so much space. The Teslas don't do that. They sound their best spread far apart. That leaves so much more space in the listening room.

Right: Yeah, that setup works pretty well. They really did handle the LEDR width and depth tests from the Chesky Sampler CD (JD 37). Every one of those locations sounded just right, from center to far right and back over to the left. The depth test sounded fine too, from close up to further back. David Chesky's tambourine was stunning.

Left: Yes, the soundstage was really impressive, even on multi-track recordings like the latest Dire Straits album (On Every Street, Vertigo 510160-1). The sound spread from wall to wall and reached way back behind the speakers. It actually seemed as though real people were located in different points in space. That was a nice effect.

Right: But the effect was always there! Everything was real wide. That can't be right. Remember when we kept listening to "Neon Lights" by Kraftwerk (The Man Machine, Capitol SW 11728), and Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark (Sugar Tax, Virgin 91715)? The Teslas always gave us that real wide stage. I'm not convinced that this effect was accurate, but they really gave us a lot of detail from those recordings. It actually seemed like there was too much detail in some of the treble ranges, just like there was too much width. Remember all the tape hiss we heard? They must be peaky or elevated in the upper frequencies.

Left: But didn't Will Ackerman's guitar sound very natural on that new Kenny Loggins recording (Leap of Faith, Columbia CK 46140)? There was so much detail and music to hear. I didn't notice too much width or too much detail when we listened to the music. The sound on the title track just grabbed me. The Teslas were nicely dynamic too.

Right: Yeah, they got loud enough up to a point, but they certainly couldn't play the Smithereens' Blow Up (Capitol CDP 7 94963-2) at concert levels. The bass lacked clarity and distinctness. When we pushed them, the bottom sounded boomy. That certainly wasn't realistic.

Left: Yes, but I almost thought I was in a nightclub when we listened to Bill Evans's Waltz for Debby (Riverside OJCCD 210-2). It really sounded like a club with all the people coughing, talking, moving around. Everything was so clear and open. We were so close to the performers I thought I could almost reach out and touch them.

Right: But what about Devo's Greatest Hits CD (Warner Bros. W2 26449)? The bass and kickdrum were muffled and bloated. When we pushed the speakers they lost clarity. It was almost like a Loudness button on a receiver. Hey, remember General Boy in "Peek-a-boo," when he said, "You know it's a wiggly world! But Devo is in there solid...solid-state—the way of today." These speakers don't sound like "solid-state." The bass isn't deep enough or controlled enough.

Left: Maybe. But do you remember the Horowitz album (The Studio Recordings—New York 1985, DG 419 217-2)? Wasn't that wonderful? The Teslas just let the ebb and flow of the music sound so natural. Horowitz's Steinway seemed to be just back behind the speakers somewhere. I really enjoyed that one. The combination of soundstaging and musicality was very satisfying.

Right: But the timing wasn't right. Something seemed to be creating temporal smears, almost like too much feedback. It sounded as if Devo and Kraftwerk had forgotten to use a click track. Music should be precise. "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4." I wasn't able to hear that kind of precision.

Left: Precision—smidgin! How about that enchanting Strata album by Robert Rich and Steve Roach (Hearts of Space HS 11019-2)? Wasn't that beautiful? There was so much air and space. The speakers just seemed to disappear, and the tonalities were rich and full, too.

Right: Yeah, that sounded pretty good. But voices weren't rich enough. The midrange seemed a bit thin. Remember when we listened to that Diane Reeves recording (Never Too Far, EMI CDP 7 92401-2)? Her voice just wasn't full enough. But those arrangements were great, and she sure surrounded herself with some topflight talent. You could hear the power in her voice and, at different times, we heard her lips, mouth, and chest. Her vibrato was great, and she really put some emotion into those songs. I don't ever remember enjoying that recording more.

Left: True, but I still don't like her. Her voice is too weak. I'm sure I'd enjoy her more live. No speaker could fool me into thinking she was in the room with us.

Audio Dealer: Well? What do you say?

Left: No, I guess we'll pass.

Right: We'll take 'em.

Audio Dealer: Huh?—Jack English

John Atkinson offers some thoughts

When he received the preprint of this review in order to prepare his "Manufacturer's Comment," Scientific Fidelity's Mike Maloney told me that the Vifa tweeter he uses in the Tesla has been suffering from a manufacturing defect: the ferrofluid eats away at the glue holding the dome in place. (Vifa is investigating this problem, which apparently is due to the drive-units being shipped by air.) Mike claims that this would account both for the measured 1kHz peak and the ridge in my waterfall plot. He also feels that this tweeter problem would account for Corey finding a dual-mono pink-noise image to be skewed to one side in the mids and highs. Given that the samples of the Tesla auditioned by Corey, Jack English, Sam Tellig, and Tom Norton all sounded similarly bright, this suggests that Scientific Fidelity has a serious reliability problem. I will do a "Follow-Up" review of the Tesla when I am happy that the tweeter problem has been been resolved.—John Atkinson

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