Snell Acoustics Type A Reference loudspeaker Page 3
Deep bass synthesizer chords on the Patriot Games (RCA 66051-2) selection "Assault on Ryan's House" (cut 9) builds the same type of pace. The soundtrack's composer tightens emotions by mixing a variety of synthesizer-generated sounds, such as subterranean rumblings with high-pitched hissing gas jets.
The Type A's rendition of kick drum easily outperformed other Snell loudspeakers I've auditioned in my listening room. Over the Type A Reference, Jeff Beck and Terry Bozzio's "Behind the Veil" from Epic's Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, EK 44313, delivered a kick-drum backbeat that was powerful, but distinct from the bass guitar. The drum kit was involving, with lots of bass slam and snap, without being overblown. The kick drum on Richard Thompson's "She Misunderstood" on his Rumor and Sigh album (Capitol C21S 95713) had good pitch definition and didn't overpower Thompson's acoustic guitar.
This loudspeaker system reproduces the male voice with no sign of tubbiness or ugly emphasis. It didn't color FM announcers' voices pulled in by the Day Sequerra FM Reference. José Carreras's light, lyrical tenor remained pure, with no nasality during the Kyria on Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, Philips DDD 420 955-2). Harry Connick Jr.'s rendition of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (When Harry Met Sally, Columbia CK-45319) was also transparent and clear, with none of the warmth and extra resonance heard with lesser dynamic loudspeakers.
The Type A's extended, well-integrated low frequencies bass don't mask instruments playing in the other parts of the sonic spectrum. The flute, Maggie Boyle's soprano, and the 35Hz bass synthesizer chords on the "Main Title" selection of Patriot Games, RCA 07863 66051-2, retain their distinctive timbre, with no blurring of instrumental or vocal outlines. Even during the most dramatic fortissimo orchestral selections, or the loudest portions of Jeff Beck's "Behind the Veil," the Type A maintained the sonic perspective, openness, and a clear depiction of acoustical space. Richard Thompson's voice on "Rumor and Sigh," clear and untarnished by the kick drum, floated between the Reference Towers, well defined and palpable.
Midrange imaging, transparent treble
Man cannot live by bass alone. This is proved in spades by the Snell Reference A, which features a first-class midrange and treble to complement its prodigious bass response.
As noted above, the Type A Reference allows one to hear qualities in the matching electronics. For example, I preferred the Mark Levinson No.331's neutrality and lack of midrange grain for driving the Reference towers. Switching to another stereo amplifier changed the sound dramatically. The No.27, a previous 100Wpc stereo amplifier now out of production, sounded thinner and more analytical; the Bryston 3B-ST sounded punchier and faster, but had more midrange presence than the Mark Levinson No.331. For these reasons, I used the No.331 for most of this review.
The Type A Reference's midrange excels in imaging, reproduction of vocal timbre, and its ability to show soundstage depth. All three qualities came through vividly in the "Tom's Diner" a cappella cut from Suzanne Vega's Solitude Standing (A&M Records, 75021 5136-2). On the Type A Reference, Vega's voice formed a palpable three-dimensional image between the two towers. Her transparently rendered voice sounded so chillingly realistic that she seemed to be in the room. On lesser speakers, Vega's voice is shrill, thin, and flat. Piano was similarly realistic on the Type A system, particularly when I listened to Mike Garson's rendition of "A Song for You," Oxnard Sessions, Vol.2 (RR-53CD), which was natural, quick and convincing.
The Type A Reference allowed me to hear more of the timbre and harmonics in male singers' voices as well. Willie Nelson's voice singing "Getting Over You" on Across the Borderline (Columbia CK 52752) imaged beautifully, sitting slightly above and to the right of center, with Bonnie Raitt set over to the left. It was possible to discern changes in Don Henley's voice singing the original "Hotel California" on the Eagles' LP of the same name (Asylum 7E-1084) with the compact-disc version made 14 years later (Asylum 103-2), where his voice is deeper and narrower in range. Such is the resolving power and definition of this system that voices don't sound as realistic over other loudspeakers.
The Type A Reference is able to deliver open, effortless-sounding highs. Driven by the Mark Levinson No.331, the Type As played Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet Ballet Suites 1 & 2 (Stanislow Skrowaczewski conducting the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, Mercury Living Presence CD 432-004-2) with a transparent, delicate, sweet string tone and considerable depth of soundstage. Treble detailing stood out, even in such studio recordings as Joe Beck's "Unspoken Words" (DMP, The Journey, CD-481), allowing me to hear all the harmonic overtones of the vibes. The highs were best on my HDCD recordings, where I became aware of instrumental clarity of bells, cymbals, and treble piano notes. I particularly noticed the sound of the struck cymbal fading away in the "Chorus Line" overture on the HDCD-encoded Beachcombers (Dallas Wind Symphony, Frederick Fennell, RR-62CD).
By now, it must be clear to you that the Type A loudspeaker is capable of producing a wide and deep soundstage. The back-to-front depth of imaging gave the listener a better sense of the hall's perspective than most loudspeakers. This was evident listening to the vinyl disc recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No.6, Philadelphia Symphony conducted by Leopold Stokowski (RCA LSC-3133). This resolution of sonic layers permitted the clarinet, the organ, the harp, and the male and female choirs to be discerned and followed on the HDCD recording of Rutter's "The Lord is My Light and My Salvation," from Requiem, Reference Recordings RR-56CD).
Sense of space and instrument placement was easily heard on rock recordings such as the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over, particularly on the live concert selections recorded on tour. The Snells achieve a well-defined placement of audience sounds, acoustic guitars, and conga drums, creating a very wide, deep soundstage. Listening to the LP from the soundtrack of the motion picture Glory (Virgin Records, 90531), I found the sweep and power of the music compelling. The choir voices spread from wall to wall, with soundstage depth, with many distinct voices discernible, even during crescendos. Again and again, I found myself becoming involved in music that was so three-dimensional, vibrant, and clear.
While the Type A Reference provides an excellent reproduction of all parts of the musical spectrum, its best sonic characteristic comes from its size. This is a large, physically imposing system, with tall speaker enclosures capable of generating a big sonic image with a large dynamic range. The vertical array of drivers in the Reference Towers is elevated several feet above the floor, which must help maintain the speakers' transparency (less interference from floor bounce), and the towers' out-in-the-room placement improves soundfield depth and imaging. The Type A Reference shares this characteristic with other physically large high-end loudspeaker systems, such as the old Mark Levinson HQD system, the Infinity IRS, the Sound-Lab Ultimate, and the Apogee Studio Grand. Adjectives such as "majestic"and "grand" come to mind when listening to the Type A Reference play an orchestral fortissimo. These accolades have as much to do with the Type A's ability to generate a large sonic image as with the speaker's neutrality, transparency, and dynamics.
The Snell Type A loudspeaker system requires a large room and is very expensive. Installation should be done by the dealer, with careful matching of components. At this price level, the dealer should be prepared to provide loaners, so the best match of electronics for the room can be chosen at leisure. Prospective and current owners alike should arrange to obtain the electronic crossover upgrade from Snell Acoustics when it becomes available.
All the real-world factorsthe Type A's expense, its multiple shipping cartons, and having to plug in six interconnect cables and tighten 32 speaker connectionswere forgotten when it began to play music. Without a doubt, the Snell Type A Reference System is the finest loudspeaker system I've heard in my listening room. It maintains the traditional Type A strengths, providing extended, THX-level bass response from its stereo SUB 1800 subwoofers that couple with room boundaries for added power. The rest of the frequency range has been vastly improved; the midrange is now blessed with a transparency I'd formerly only heard from electrostatic loudspeakers. Depth of soundstaging, missing from former Type As, is now world-class. Kevin Voecks has done a masterful job bringing the Type A up to the standards of today's top loudspeaker systems. The new Type A Reference's sounddeep, powerful bass extending to well below 20Hz, ultra transparent midrange and highs, excellent soundstaging, and majestic sonic perspectivemerits a Class A recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."
Footnote 6: Snell Acoustics supplies their dealers with Room Analysis computer programs, CARA and LEO. These programs analyze room resonant-mode distribution and suggest speaker/listener locations for each dimension of the listening room that minimize bass nodes. The Reference Tower positions agreed with one of LEO's suggestions for a "better" location ("best" could not be easily estimated).