Snell Acoustics Type A Reference loudspeaker Page 2

The eight output terminals on the back of the passive network enclosure connect to eight similar terminals on the rear of the Reference Tower via color-coded cable loom made by Kimber Cable. Although it seems that the inclusion of such a cable set with the speaker system might be an optional convenience, it doesn't pay to try and replace them with other types of speaker cable. Snell Acoustics provides this Kimber Kable hookup to standardize the system's performance by specifying the precise length and electrical characteristic of each connection.

The cable set consists of a ribbed black rubber sheath, the size of a large garden hose, with four color-coded pairs of terminated cables. Each pair consists of a black lead intertwined with a colored lead. On the review sample, the red lead was for the midwoofer, the white for the midrange, the green and blue ambiguously marked for the tweeters. One of those colors—say, green—might be used for the rear tweeter, leaving the blue for the front tweeters. At installation, the owner makes certain the same colors are used for both tower and crossover terminals, and has to choose the correct black lead, always the black lead intertwined with the particular colored lead at the base as the leads enter the rubber sheath. I fully support TJN's cautionary note that "care should be exercised in connecting the two pieces together to ensure that the hookup is correct."

The review samples sent to me were finished in a dark walnut veneer. The cabinets were matched closely, for their veneers were taken from different depths of the same piece of wood. The cabinet work was first-rate, with superb fit and finish. As on the former Type As, the grillecloth is flush with the wood veneer.

First Impressions
Although setting up the Snell Reference Type A loudspeaker system took planning, thought, and the better part of a day, I was rewarded quickly. First impressions were very positive, with the system pouring forth open, transparent, detailed sonics with layered, deep soundstaging. So, my first question—had Kevin Voecks brought transparency and depth of soundstage to the Type As?—was answered affirmatively and quickly. Regardless of source—FM radio, my better vinyl discs, or HDCD compact discs—the same improvements were evident. The new Type A retained all the past versions' dynamics, bass slam, and smooth frequency response, but added midrange and treble transparency with a depth and layering I hadn't heard in any of Voecks's early Snell designs.

I learned that the new Type A Reference had an uncanny ability to magnify sonic characteristics of the components driving it. Sometimes, this can result from a loudspeaker's unusual impedance curve that stresses the driving amplifiers. Not so with the Type A Reference. I also was hearing differences between FM tuners and D/A converters that couldn't be a result of amplifier-loudspeaker interactions. For example, via the Snells, the Adcom GDA-700 DAC had see-through transparency and open, extended highs. I noticed these characteristics even more when the Adcom had to be sent to Santa Fe for bench testing. However, the stand-in decoder, an Audio Alchemy DDE v3, sounded richer, warmer, and less transparent, and was less satisfying.

Mind you, when I reviewed the unit, I'd actually felt the Audio Alchemy unit had a slight sonic edge. But this opinion had been gathered while listening with my Quad ESL-63 system, before I installed the Snell Reference Type As. The Adcom GDA-700's edge in transparency became very evident on the Snell Reference Type A. This happened again when I had to send in the Mark Levinson No.331 for its bench testing. Comparison amplifiers, even those featured in former Recommended Components with an "A" rating, didn't have the '331's openness, transparency, or speed. The Santa Fe staff quickly returned the Adcom and Levinson units after TJN's bench testing so that I could complete this review.

Awesome bass response
The Type A Reference System's bass response was outstanding in its power and extension, but it integrated perfectly with the rest of the loudspeaker system. This became evident as I explored its range in the subsonic 14Hz–25Hz region with a signal generator. As the signal dove below 20Hz, I didn't hear any doubling—the production of second-harmonic distortion—but instead felt a tightening pressure like a cloud surrounding me, accompanied by floor vibrations. This pressure wave intensified as I tuned the signal generator down to 14Hz. Only the slightest amount of doubling at that frequency could be heard as a whisper from the towers, with no doubling at all emanating from the subs. I turned up the gain. With the grilles off, the levels were so high that the subs' bass reflex port was beginning to chug with pulsating air, but the pressure wave continued. This is the lowest frequency I've been able to detect with any loudspeaker system, including stereo subwoofer systems.

The large SUB 1800s were even better when playing music. I used other musical sources I've found useful in reviews of dynamic loudspeaker systems, including organ and synthesizer to test deep bass, and recordings using synthesizers to listen for bass transient speed. Finally, rock recordings allowed me to listen for kick-drum bass peak and male vocals, including FM announcer voices, with which I tested for lower midrange emphasis. In test after test, the SUB 1800 delivered first-class bass response. As TN noted, from synthesizer to pipe organ, from string bass to conga drum, the bass was fast, powerful, and well integrated with the rest of the system.

Sustained organ-pedal notes shook the air, and created a pressure wave on the body I've only encountered with one other system—the Bag End S-18 stereo subwoofers. But these SUB 1800s blended well with the Reference Towers, integrating the bass power into the fabric of the music. Jean Guillou's transcription of Mussorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Dorian CD (DOR-90117) is a good example. During the second cut, "Gnomus," the pedal notes from the Kleuker-Seinmeyer Organ of the Tonhalle in Zurich shook the room, but didn't mask the clarity of the instrument's flutes and trumpets. The Type A Reference brought out the fullness and air of the 32 foot-pedal notes, retaining their pitch and distinction as separate notes.

This deep-bass pitch definition was evident in other recordings. I could easily discern the stair-step descent of organ notes on Saint-Saëns Symphony No.3 (Marcel Dupré, organ; Paul Paray conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on Mercury Living Presence CD, 432 719-2). This pitch definition reminded me of the performance of the Muse Model 18 subwoofer coupled to Quad ESL-63s. The Type A Reference has great bass dynamics, as shown by its rendition of the powerful bass drum in "La Fiesta Mexicana" (Owen Reed, Fiesta, Reference Recording RR 38CD). On the film soundtrack score for My Cousin Vinny (Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364), the Type A delivered stunning subterranean bass on Randy Edelman's "Something's Wrong" but did not muddy the keyboard notes.

On the other hand, I agree with TJN that very deep bass over the SUB 1800s wasn't "exceptionally tight." The Type A Reference System didn't produce the bass shock waves that the Snell Type A/III Improved or the Velodyne ULD-18 could deliver on bass drum whacks or sudden synthesizer cords. The SUB 1800s could not generate the stunning drumhead "whack" that a servo-controlled ULD-18 can. Playing John Williams/Curnow's "Liberty Fanfare" (Winds of War and Peace, National Symphonic Winds; Lowell Graham, conductor; Wilson Audiophile WCD-8823), the Velodyne delivered a sudden, solid, gut-punching bass note that slammed into the room with no unnecessary overtones, no overhang, just a well-defined leading edge followed by its musical note. The SUB 1800s produced a powerful bass-drum note, but without quite capturing the harmonics of the drumhead or its suddenness.

Company Info
Snell Acoustics
300 Jubilee Drive, PO Box 3717
Peabody, MA 01961-3717
(978) 538-6262
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