Snell Type K/II loudspeaker Page 2
In addition, bass guitar lines were easy to pick out, never becoming homogenized with the rest of the music. This was especially apparent in passages where the bass and another instrument both play the melody. Examples include bass and violin on "Hereafter," from the Dixie Dregs' Dregs of the Earth (Arista ARCD 8116), and bass and flute on "Misturada" from Three-Way Mirror. In all these cases, the bass was distinct from the other instruments, and the clearly identifiable pitch contributed to the Type K/II's conveyance of the composer's intent.
Low-frequency dynamics were similarly impressive, with a feeling of effortlessness and speed. The Type K/II's solid and taut low end combined with a punchy rendering of bass drum, infusing music with rhythmic energy and drive. The entire low-frequency region was the antithesis of a sluggish bloat that drags down the tempo and robs music of urgency. Not surprising, in light of its size and sealed enclosure, the Type K/II lacked the extreme bottom end that adds a visceral element to the musical experience. The PC-80s, by comparison, produced a greater feeling of weight in the extreme bass. Nevertheless, the Type K/IIs managed to provide remarkably satisfying low-frequency reproduction. Although the bass was very well-defined for a budget loudspeaker, in absolute terms it didn't have the tautness and detail of more expensive systems. Nevertheless, of the nine under-$1000 loudspeakers I've reviewed since the September issue (Vol.13 No.9, footnote 5), the Type K/IIs have the best-integrated, most articulate, and musically satisfying low end.
I began the auditioning with the tweeter level control at 12 o'clock, as suggested by the "Optimum" marking at this location and also by Kevin Voecks. It was soon apparent, however, that there was too much treble energy with the knob set flat. I finally struck a balance between a forward, sizzly treble and one that lacked life and air, with the knob pointed at 7 o'clock as seen looking from the back.
I don't know if it's a hearing peculiarity, but I find the vast majority of loudspeakers, especially inexpensive ones, far too bright. As a former hi-fi salesman, I'm well aware that a brighter loudspeaker will end up in the customer's trunk far more easily than one with a more natural tonal balance. I therefore welcomed the addition of a tweeter level control on the Type K/II: it can be demonstrated with excessive HF energy, then the customer can turn down the treble once the charm of the exaggerated presentation wears thin. However, one of the level controls on the review samples sounded as though the wiper wasn't making good contact: it made an intermittent scratchy sound as it was rotated. Despite the potential sonic problems of a tweeter level control, it was certainly nice to be able to tame down what would have been the Type K/II's aggressive treble. I found that with the right amount of upper mid/lower treble energy, the extreme treble was too prominent, giving cymbals a spitty and sizzly character. With the tweeter turned down for natural top-octave energy, the upper mids and lower treble were slightly lacking in life.
I found the Type K/II's treble open, airy, and detailed, but with a trace of hardness to the textures. Unlike the Spica TC-50s, listening height was not that critical. (Even slight differences in height, like those due to sitting up straighter in the listening chair, produce significant changes in the TC-50's upper-midrange and treble energies.) Overall, the Type K/II was brighter, more forward, and livelier than either the Phase Technology PC-80 or the TC-50. I think this impression comes partly from the Type K/II's generally more forward presentation and harder textures, rather than from excess treble energy that could be tamed with the tweeter level control.
The midrange was remarkably smooth and uncolored, with no serious tonal aberrations. The flugelhorn on my own jazz recording was round and liquid, but a bit forward and prominent in the presentation. I had similar impressions about female vocals: the vocalist seemed to exist in front of the loudspeakers. The entire presentation could be characterized as forward, present, and immediate, rather than laid-back and distant. The Type K/IIs had the ability to present fine inner detail of instruments, involving the listener in the performance. Transient detail, especially drums, was good, giving the Type K/IIs an "up" or "alive" feel. They were the opposite of dull and boring.
Soundstaging was quite good, but the Type K/IIs didn't produce the tightly focused, rock-solid images heard through the Phase Technology PC-80 or Spica TC-50. Images tended to be less anchored within the soundstage, with slightly diffuse borders. However, soundstage transparency was excellent, giving the listener the ability to see toward the back of the presentation. The Type K/IIs also had a big, airy quality about them, the antithesis of closed-in or veiled. Soundstage depth was impressive, contributing to the feeling of openness and size produced by the Type K/IIs. Finally, it was easy to differentiate instruments within the soundstage, despite the less-than-precise focus.
Playing the Listening Environment Diagnostic Recording (LEDR) from the Chesky Sampler and Test CD (JD37) produced fairly good "lateral" and "over" images, but with some discontinuities. The "up" image was noticeably poorer, with the image stopping just above the loudspeaker.
Despite my minor criticisms of its treble, the Snell Type K/II was eminently musical and enjoyable, with an overall spectral balance that was natural, open, and uncolored. The low-frequency performance was outstanding: tight, articulate, well-defined, and tuneful. The Type K/II's bass would have been excellent in an $800 loudspeaker; it's surprising to find such performance in a $465 product. However, I did drive the Type K/IIs with the Krell KSA-250 and Threshold S/550e, both of which have stunning low-frequency presentations. Although the Type K/IIs will most likely not be used with amplifiers of this caliber, this combination nevertheless reveals the loudspeaker's intrinsic ability to correctly reproduce the input signal.
The mids were open, unboxy, and free from spectral colorations, though a bit forward-balanced. Instruments were portrayed by the Type K/II with their individual tonal shadings intact, rather than being superimposed over the loudspeaker's editorial contribution. This ability to render natural timbral textures I think contributed to the Type K/II's surprising ability to convey the music presented them. I always felt drawn into, and intimate with, the musical performance.
During the review of the Krell KSA-250 and Threshold S/550e, I auditioned these superb amplifiers (as well as the VTLs) for a time with the Type K/IIs. Even under such close scrutiny, the Type K/IIs easily resolved the subtleties between these amplifiers. In fact, it was easy to forget I was listening to a pair of $465 loudspeakers.
Of the nine pairs of under-$1000 loudspeakers I've reviewed lately, the Type K/IIs are perhaps the most musical, accurate, and enjoyable. No, they don't exceed every other loudspeaker in every area (the PC-80s imaged better, the Triad System Seven had a purer and more detailed midrange, the Mission Cyrus 782 was more dynamic, etc.), but for overall balance and musicality, the Type K/IIs are my first choice. This judgment is perhaps due to the Type K/II's absence of glaring problems and their sense of balance rather than one specific area in which they excel. Ironically, they are also the third least expensive (after the $179/pair Dana Audios and $349 Tannoy E11s) in this ongoing survey.
The Type K/II's most serious competition is the Spica TC-50. I found the Type K/II to have a more up-front character, especially through the treble. Bass reproduction from the Type K/II was easily better in terms of depth, articulation, and detail. Despite the Type K/II's smoothness through the midrange, the TC-50 had an almost magical quality in this area (where most of the music is), as well as a smoother treble. Imaging was also superior though the TC-50. However, I found distracting the TC-50's requirement of maintaining exact listening height: straightening one's back in the chair produced a significant change in the tonal balance, a problem not found with the Type K/II.
The Snell Type K/II offers a surprisingly high level of musical performance for its modest price. I enthusiastically and unhesitatingly recommend it for audiophiles on a budget.
Footnote 5: They are, Vol.13 No.9: the Dana Audio Model 1 ($179/pair), Tannoy E11 ($349/pair), NHT Model 1.3 ($480/pair); in Vol.13 No.10: Mission Cyrus 782 ($900/pair), Fried Q/4 ($490/pair), Triad System Seven ($1000 system), Plateau Camber 3.5ti ($699/pair); and the Phase Technology PC80 ($650/pair) reviewed elsewhere in this issue.