Silverline Audio Technology Prelude loudspeaker Page 2
Listening, Take 1
This review is unusual in that it's really of two different speakers: the Original Prelude and the Revised Prelude. Stereophile's editorial policy is that if there's a change in the design of a product during the review period and new review samples are provided, the reviewer will discuss the performance of both the old and new review samples. That's what I do here. In this section I talk about the sound of the Original Prelude. In "Listening, Take 2" I describe how the sound of the Revised differed from that of the Original.
The Preludes' single most impressive attribute was their ability to present a sound that was BIG, dynamically and spatially. While I still had the Avantgarde Unos in my listening room, and before I began my "serious" review listening, I set the Preludes down next to the Unos, toward the center of the room, and switched the speaker cables over to them. Playing some familiar CDs at fairly high levels, I was astonished by how much the sound of these diminutive towers resembled what I was used to getting from the horns. Of course, the Preludes couldn't match the Unos in dynamic ease, and the bass didn't go nearly as low (each Uno has an active subwoofer), but there was nothing reticent or small-scale about the sound. I dare say that if I'd tried Joseph Audio's "fool the listener" trick, I might just have succeeded in getting people to believe that they were listening to the big Unos.
This impression of the Preludes producing a sound completely out of scale to their size was confirmed and enhanced when I had the speakers properly set up, with no other speakers in the room. Playing Reference Recordings' new piano recital by Joel Fan (CD, RR-106 HDCD), I was surprised by the extent to which the sound was a realistic facsimile of the scale of the sound of a live concert grand piano, and how well the Preludes were able to convey this gifted pianist's subtle touch and assured sense of rhythm. Similarly, the Preludes gave full measure to the rhythm and pace of the East Village Opera Company's rock arrangement of the overture to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (CD, Decca B-000518102).
The Prelude had several attributes that I think contributed to its ability to sound lifelike. The first was dynamics. Small speakers are not normally thought of as being particularly dynamic—but then, the Prelude is no ordinary small speaker. Perhaps it's those 3.5" mid/woofers, able to move quickly but having enough available cone excursion that they can produce a lot of sound without sounding distorted. I've heard plenty of small speakers that sound fine up to a moderate volume level, but if you push them just a bit further, the sound—and sometimes the speaker—falls apart. I was careful not to play the Preludes loud enough to cause damage to them or to my ears, but I did play them louder than what I would normally find comfortable, with no audible evidence of speaker distress. Keep in mind, however, that my listening room is only 14' by 16', and that Alan Yun has not managed to rewrite the laws of physics; a larger room will require more output from the speakers to reach the same sound-pressure level.
The Preludes' second major strength was their soundstaging, and the related ability of the speakers not to be the obvious sources of the sound. The Preludes were able to throw a huge soundstage, one big enough that at times I felt it was larger than the actual recording venue—a kind of "enhanced depth" effect. In fact, I think the Preludes did lean in the direction of depth enhancement. This occasionally sounded a bit "phasey," but for most recordings, especially those recorded in a sterile studio environment, it can be considered an asset.
To check the Preludes' (and, of course, the rest of the system's) rendition of depth, I played the soundstage depth test (tracks 34–42) on Best of Chesky Jazz and More Audiophile Tests, Vol.2 (Chesky JD68), which has an acoustic clicker recorded at distances of up to 80' from the microphone, with a voice announcing the distances. At recorded distances up to 60', I could discern each increase in clicker-to-mike distance, the clicker being clearly defined in space. But, as with most speakers with which I've used this test, I couldn't distinguish 70' and 80' from 60'—all three seemed to be just generally far off in the distance. Although the Prelude's cabinet is not particularly inert (with my hand on the top of a Prelude, I could feel vibration when the speaker played music at a moderately high level), this did not seem to impair the speakers' ability to project sound in such a way that it was difficult to tell that the music was coming from the speakers themselves. The Prelude was not entirely free of box colorations, but they were audible mostly at high levels.
The Prelude's tonal balance was generally neutral, but I suspect that measurements will show a frequency response less than ruler-flat (which is not to imply that a flat frequency response is a guarantee of good sound, or that a deviation from flat frequency response necessarily indicates bad sound). Bass was satisfyingly full, with even bass drums having close to the proper weight. One audiophile visitor asked where I was hiding the subwoofer! There was some emphasis in the 50–60Hz range, but not so much as to produce the dreaded "one-note bass." In my room, the bass held out pretty well down to 40Hz, as tested with the warble tones on Test CD 3 (Stereophile STPH006-2), and there was something even at 32Hz.
Voices—whose reproduction I consider to be the hallmark of midrange accuracy—had good presence, and maintained their distinctive characteristics. The treble was extended, by no means soft or rolled-off; in fact, I was at times aware of a degree of mid-treble emphasis—an extra crispness evident mostly at high levels. Overly clinical-sounding solid-state electronics would not be a good match with this speaker; however, a brief trial with the PS Audio GCC-100 (reviewed in the January 2006 issue) produced excellent results, making me think that this is an unusually synergistic combination.
Listening, Take 2
I set up the Revised Preludes in positions as close as possible to where I'd placed the Originals; the sound was similar, but with significant differences.
The Revised shared the Original's ability to produce a big sound with a dynamic ease that was hard to credit to a speaker of its size. Similarly, the Revised's bass was unusually powerful and extended for a minitower, and a bit tighter than the Original's. Like the Originals, the Revised Preludes were able to throw a big soundstage with great depth, but what I describe in "Listening, Take 1" as an "enhanced depth" effect that sounded "phasey" with some recordings was much less in evidence, with better differentiation of instrument positions within the soundstage. On the Chesky clicker depth tests, there was at least a hint of differentiation between the clicks at depths of 60', 70', and 80'.
I heard some box colorations from the Original; the Revised has thicker cabinet walls, so it would be expected to have less of a box sound, and that was generally true. Putting my hand on the cabinet when the Revised was playing loud, I could still feel some vibration, but it seemed less prominent than with the Original. (This was not what I'd call a controlled test!)
The sounds of the Revised and Original differed in two important ways. First, the new version acted as a more transparent window on the source—there was less of a "speaker sound" getting in the way. I don't know whether this was due to the new drivers, crossover, changes in cabinet construction, or some combination thereof, but the result was that the Revised sounded less like a speaker and more like the musical instruments and voices it was reproducing. The Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD712z, which I reviewed in the January 2007 issue, remains the most sonically transparent speaker of my experience; the Silverline Prelude Revised is not at that exalted level, but is significantly closer to it than the Original.
The second welcome change was in the treble. The Original wasn't bad, but I did remark that at times I was aware of a degree of treble emphasis, an extra crispness, evident mostly at high levels. The new tweeter solved this problem, but not at the cost of producing an overly soft sound. In fact, the Revised had, if anything, a slightly more forward sound—percussion instruments with a lot of high-frequency transients sounded more prominent, though not in a harsh or fatiguing way. My recommendation not to combine the Prelude with overly clinical solid-state equipment still stands.
Asked about his approach to speaker design, Silverline's Alan Yun said he wants his speakers to sound "musical and passionate enough to convey the passion of the music to the listener." With the Prelude, I'd say he's succeeded in this aim. These mini-towers are visually unobtrusive but can produce big, nearly full-range sound, and are, indeed, capable of conveying the passion of the music. The Original Prelude was a good speaker; the Revised version is better still, in ways that are important to the listening experience. The ca-$1000 price point is a highly competitive one at which you'll find some excellent speakers, including the B&W DM603 S3, Stereophile's 2005 Budget Component of the Year ($1000/pair; reviewed by Bob Reina in the August 2005 issue), and the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 ($999/pair; raved about by Bob in March 2006). I wouldn't recommend buying any speaker without first hearing it, but if you're in the market for a speaker in this price region, or even well above, I strongly suggest putting the Silverline Prelude on your "Must Audition" list.