Siefert Maxim III loudspeaker
I approached this latest half-grander with little enthusiasm, despite Siefert's persuasive literature, I have, after all, been reading such self-congratulatory hype abiout new products for longer than most Stereophile readers have been counting birthdays. This, I must admit, was ho-humsville.
But several things in Siefert's promo caught my attention. This tiny little box with the two round bass-reflex ports was claimed to have a system resonance of 36Hz, which is, of course, absurd for a system this size. How much of that energy could possibly be radiated into the listening room? Phooey! The reference to the "special relationship 4:5:6 which minimizes internal nodal reflections" meant nothing to me until I recalled that these are the dimensional ratios for an ideal listening room, no dimension of which is an integer multiple of any other dimension.
And the speakers are rated as being safe for use with amplifiers of up to 250 watts power capability (although far more loudspeakers are damaged by 25W amplifiers than by 250 watters; amplifier clipping can feed much more energy to a tweeter than will a clean 250W signal). Still, I didn't expect much. After all, these are tiny boxes and the system costs little more than one tenth the price of most of the speakers I have realy liked.
Boy, was I wrong!
The sound of the Maxims came as a complete surprise! The system is beautifully balanced and almost perfectly neutral, being only very slightly on the warmish side, which is much easier to take than the steeliness of most similarly priced speakers. The Maxims reproduce massed violin osund superblywith not a trace of steeliness, yet with all the resinois sheen of the real thing. At "polite" levels, they sound a little extreme top; at natural levels, the extreme high end is about as perfectly in balance as that of any speaker I know of.
Siefert's literature describes the Maxim IIIs as being "digital ready," which has become one of the most hackneyed phrases in contemporary audio. What they mean, of course, is that the speaker's power capability will allow it to cope with digital's potential dynamic range capabilities. But there's another respect in which these are "digital ready." They are among the only loudspeakers I have heard that make good Compact Disc sources sound musically flat at the top rather than tipped-up. Despite a very slight (and to me relatively inoffensive) sizzle that sounds like a mild frequency-response discontinuity at around 11kHz (and was subsequently confirmed by my frequency response tests), the upper ranges are seductively smooth and and rich. I have never heard strings on good CDs sound more natural than they do through these diminutive little speakers.
Yet the Maxims sacrifice little in terms of HF detail, definition, and openness. Te high end sounds as it goes out almost indefinitely, and while it does not have quite the delicacy or airiness of a good electrostatic top, the Maxim III has one of the best extreme top ranges I have heard from a dynamic system. I would gladly take this high end in preference to that of most over-$2000 speaker systems I have auditioned in recent years.
The low end from these speakers is just amazing. Although they don't go all that low (no small speaker does), the fact that they are almost flat down to the lowermost note of the doub;e bass (and the fundamental of most bass drums) gives symphonic music and most of the organ repertoire a solidity and foundation that one simply does not expect to hear form speakers this size.
All this is impressive enough, but to me the most gratifying aspect of the Maxims' sound is their middle-range naturalness.
I have been bitching for years that "high-end" loudspeakers have become gutless wonders, incapable of properly reproducing the lower-midrange instruments (trombones, cellos) that give symphonic music the feeling of power during fortissimos. The Siefert speskers, by contrast, exemplify what I have been driving at. They have the most accurate middle range I have heard from any speaker since high-end audio cast the horn-loaded tweeter into outer darkness. Yet the Maxims manage to accomplish the (remarkable) feat without the "awww" coloration of the typical horn. How do they do this? They don't depress the range between 300Hz and 1kHz, that's how.
The benefits of this midrange authenticity are not limited to symphonic music, either, The twang of a guitar, the grunt of a synthesizer, and the power of a belt-it-out singer's voice are all similarly improved in impact and effectiveness. All music seems somehow to become more exciting and involving.
But that's not all. These little speakers will play loud! Unlike most small systems, which become increasingly steely hard and veiled at listening levels above moderate (about 85dB), the Maxims remain clean and well-defined at levels to over a very loud (for most people) 100dB, though see below for what they tend to do over 95dB. To hear "Amuseum" from Sheffield's Track Record coming out of these tiny boxes with the ease and power af a big system is almost laughable.
As is usual with small speakers, the imaging and soundstage presentation from the Maxims are excellent. They do not sound small. The sonic presentation seems to arch over the tops of the speakers to create a full-height stage even when the speakers are no more than a foot above the floor. (Incidentally, that was the optimum distance between the bottoms of the speakers and the floorat least in my listening room. Lower, and the bass became a little too heavy. Higher, and the low end became a little weak. The best placement will vary from room to room and according to the source material and power amplifier used.)
The Maxims sound by far their best with an amplifier that is both sweet at the high end and a little withdrawn through the presence range ("laidback"). Tubed amps do lovely things for the extreme highs but make the speakers sound almost penetratingly bright. Neutral solid-state amps like the two Electron Kinetics Eagles (the 7A and the 2) stiull sound a little bright; the best amps for these speakers are typical high-quality transistor amplifiers lek the BEL 1001 or 2002 and the extraordinary (and cheap) B&K ST-140.
Inner detailing on the Maxims is very good, but not state of the art. Yes the high end on the Maxims has that rare qualityparticularly from dome tweetersof sounding almost as if it has no upper limit. Delicate transients, as from brushed cymbals and triangles, cut effortlessly through the fabric of an orchestral fortissimo.
All in all, there is much to like about the Siefert Maxim IIIs.
But don't run right out and trade in your Infinity IRSes untiul you read the rest of this report. Though you might not think so from the report as it reads thus far, the Siefert Maxims are not perfect. Their high end sounds (and measures) somewhat tipped-up above about 9kHz, imbuing a slight zzz quality quality to massed strings and a subtle but definite tss to vocal sibilants. There is an equally slight tendency toward steely hardness, and both of these things are exacerbated both by high listening levels (over 95dB) and by many amplifiers.
There are very few loudspeaker sustems of any price that don't make a critical listener acurtely unhappy when he or she returns from a live concert to put on a recording. The Maxim is, amazingly, one that doesn't. In fact, of all the speakers in this price class that I have heard. I would say that Siefert's Maxim III is probably the most successful design of all. Mated with a suitable power amplifier, and not pushed too high a listening level, it is one of a small handful of moderately priced speker systems that can make most audiophiles (and practically all music lovers) quite happy for an indefinite period of time. Recommended.J. Gordon Holt
Footnote 1: Ask Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio Specialties how cheaply one can design a loudspeaker system without compromises.