Snell Type A loudspeaker Thomas J. Norton Type A/III
Since my original review of the Snell C/i loudspeaker (Vol.10 No.2), I have had the opportunity to investigate its performance in the bi-amp mode and to compare it with the Snell A/III in my own listening room. The results in both cases are, I feel, useful additions to the previous report.
Except for its application with a subwoofer, bi-amping hasn't been very popular with audiophiles. Theoretically it should provide a cleaner bass response (the elimination of the passive crossover means there is now no choke in series with the woofer), and a cleaner upper range (elimination of power-robbing bass from the high-frequency amplifier). But the benefits must be traded off against increased expense, system complication, and the addition of an electronic crossover network—a component that often has its own electronic signature. Snell manufactures two versions of their own electronic crossover—one for the Type A/III and another for the C/i.
For my bi-amp setup I chose to drive the high end of the C/i's with the Adcom GFA-555 and the low end with the Yamaha B2X. If two Adcoms had been available I would have used them: in using dissimilar amplifiers, care must be taken over consistent signal polarity and that your observations don't merely reflect the characteristics of a different amplifier used for one of the frequency ranges. To minimize this possibility, I used the Adcom for the full-range auditions in comparing the bi-amp and the mono-amp modes (footnote 1). The mono-amp auditions were also done in a bi-wire mode to minimize the variables....
If resources are limited, it's my opinion that you'd be better off driving the C/i's with the best single amplifier you can afford (footnote 2) instead of splitting your resources on two (stereo) amps and an electronic crossover. At the very least, if you're tempted to bi-amp, start with the mono-amp setup and get your friendly Snell dealer to loan you an electronic crossover and suitable amp. That way you can determine for yourself if bi-amping of the C/i makes sense in your particular installation.
Beginning with the most mundane difference between the Type A III and the C/i, the A/III is about 3dB more sensitive than the C/i. The C/i really needs a powerful amplifier to "open up": the A/III is also at its best with plenty of power, but can make do with somewhat less.
I auditioned both the A/III and the C/i in the bi-wire (not bi-amp) mode, using the Adcom GFA-555 amplifier. The Type A/III was distinctly superior to the C/i in two areas: clarity and definition from the bass through the midrange, and dynamic range.
The A/III did not, in my listening room at least, appear to be deeper in bass than the C/i, but its bass reproduction was noticeably more open and defined. Detailing was also superior to the C/i in the all-important midrange. The A/III had a lively, dynamic quality, a projection through the upper midrange that the more laid-back C/i could not duplicate. I'm not entirely sure this is a total plus: the A/III is forward-hall, the C/i mid-hall; on many recordings I preferred the latter's perspective.
Imaging of the two systems is comparable. But I preferred the overall soundstaging of the C/i to that of the A/III; the former appeared superior in its reproduction of program depth. I also consider the high end of the C/i to be superior to that of the A/III. In my environment, I wasn't able to duplicate the high-end "tizziness" to which JGH objected in his review (Vol.9 No.3), but the C/i did have a slightly softer, sweeter high-frequency response, particularly in the lower treble.
While I felt the A/III to be superior to the C/i in a number of important areas, I did not find it to be universally superior, and in many ways actually preferred the C/i. You may not feel the same way, but if you audition the A/III you should also give its little brother a serious listen.—Thomas J. Norton
Footnote 1: It was during the early bi-amp auditions that I came to prefer the performance of the well warmed-up Adcom to the B2X in driving the Snells.—Thomas J. Norton
Footnote 2: I had a similar experience with the Apogee Scintillas. Driving them in bi-amped mode, using a Krell KSA-50 and KSA-100, while better than using just the KSA-50 alone, proved less good in terms of transparency and imaging than using a single biwired KSA-100.—John Atkinson