YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 loudspeaker Page 2
The Sonjas were not quite toed-in to the listening seat, and the 1.1 modules were tilted down toward my listening position. However, sitting in my usual seat, which placed my ears 36" above the floor, I found the sound a little lacking in top-octave life. Pink noise sounded smooth when my ears were between the two midrange-unit axes, so I replaced my usual chair with an office chair. This placed my ears 42" from the floor, which, at the 9' listening distance, put my ears on the tweeter axes.
Diamond and St. James had brought with them a complete set of Kubala-Sosna Elation! cables, including balanced interconnects, AES/EBU digital cables, biwire speaker-cable sets with jumpers to link the 1.2 and 1.3 woofer modules, and AC cables: total retail price, almost $40,000. Usually, I won't change the cables in my system when I'm setting up a new component for testing. However, in this instance YGA strongly felt that customers for the Sonja 1.3 would use K-S cables, and that I should take the contribution of the cables into consideration. I agreed, though reluctantlynot because I have anything against K-S cables, but because they would introduce another variable for which I would have to allow.
Next up was the choice of amplifier. I had to hand three pairs of monoblocks: Classé CT-M600s ($13,000/pair, 600Wpc into 8 ohms), Lamm M1.2 References ($23,890/pair, 110Wpc into 8 ohms), and MBL Reference 9007s ($42,800/pair, 440Wpc into 8 ohms). The dynamics were great with the Classés, but the sound was lean overall, the amplifiers keeping too tight a control of the YGAs' woofers. The Lamms usefully fattened up the lows, but the sound was too forward, the balance a little bright, and the dynamic range somewhat restricted compared to the other two amplifiers. The MBLs worked best, the treble balance proving optimally refined and the lows fully fleshed out. All of my following comments refer to the sound of the Sonja 1.3s driven by the MBL amplifiers and connected with Kubala-Sosna cables.
As with the Sonja 1.3's predecessor, the Anat Reference II Professional, I noticed no overt coloration. Pink noise sounded very smooth and even, though there was a slight mid-treble emphasis to the balance. Jacqueline Du Pré's cello in Elgar's Cello Concerto, with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony (24-bit/96kHz Apple Lossless files from HDtracks, transcoded from FLACs), acquired a narrow band of brightness. However, as many other recordings didn't sound bright, it was difficult to decide: Was this a characteristic of the speaker, or was the Sonja 1.3 merely revealing a problem with some recordings?
It may well have been the latter, as there was no trace of brightness when I played the opening chorus, "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen," of one of my 2009 "Records to Die For": John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's performance of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (24/88.2 Apple Lossless files transcoded from FLACs, Studio Master download, Linn CKD 313P). This work opens with an ominously dark minor-key figure on violins doubled by oboes, over insistent ostinato, almost double-dotted tonic E-flats in the bass (footnote 2), which resolves with ascending cycle-of-fourth scales. When the voices enter, counterpoint is piled on counterpoint until, within the growing tension and complexity rather than on top of it, the sopranos float a slow-moving, pure-sounding cantus firmus based on a verse of the hymn "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig." This presumably represents the innocent Lamb of God being led to the slaughter at Calgary, and through the Sonjas, the clarity of the sound and the stability and superb definition of the stereo imaging allowed this vocal line to emerge from the scoring without being exaggerated or buried.
In this respect, as massive and tall as the Sonja 1.3s are, their imaging was more like that of a superb pair of minimonitorssuch as the KEF LS50s I reviewed last December. Dual-mono pink noise was reproduced as it should be, with a very narrow central image at all frequencies and no splashing to the sides. Playing "Corpus Christi Carol," from Jeff Buckley's Grace (CD, Columbia CK 57528), the speakers "disappeared," leaving Buckley's otherworldly alto voice hanging there in space, undefined by the speaker positions. But unlike good minimonitors, this ability to float an accurate, stable soundstage was matched by a full-range frequency balance. The bass guitar doubling the lead guitar in the widely spaced arpeggios following the diminished chord at the start of the chorus of "Lover, You Should've Come Over," also from Grace, had the appropriate body to its tone and excellent definition.
Listening to the warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), I could hear the tones reproduced at full level down to 25Hz, with the 20Hz tone audible without doubling. The speaker's output was undoubtedly given a helping hand by the 32Hz mode in my room; while the low bass sounded a little disconnected in absolute terms, when there was bass, I heard it. In "Friends to Burn," from Jimmy Webb's 1993 album, Suspending Disbelief (CD, Elektra 61506-2), superbly recorded and mixed by George Massenburg, Art Dudley's favorite bass guitarist, Leland Sklar, drops down to a low D-flat (35.6Hz) in the chorus. This note was reproduced with superb clarity, there being no false bass boom to obscure definition. In "Fever," from the Tierney Sutton Band's Desire (CD, Telarc Distribution 83685), two double basses spin a rhythmic and harmonic web under Sutton's breathy singing, which the Sonja 1.3s kept distinctly defined even when the kick drum entered.
The replacement of the Anat Reference II Professional's powered woofers with passive bass modules in the Sonja was, I feel, an important step forward. But it was in the midrange where the YGA speakers blossomed. The half-stepspaced low-frequency tonebursts on Editor's Choice sounded generally clean, though with some faint ghosting/aliasing apparent in the upper midrange. Even so, female voices sounded maximally different from one another, whether it was Tierney Sutton in "Fever"; Ulla Meinecke singing "Die Tänzerin," from Wenn Schon Nicht für Immer, dann Wenigstens für Ewig (24/192 needle drop from LP, German RCA 426124); the title track of Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (CD, Lost Highway B0009789-2); or even Adele's grossly overcompressed pipes on 21 (CD, XL Recordings 8697-444699-2). These speakers loved voicesperhaps, I conjecture, because their width, hence dispersion, approximates the size of the human head. With Richard Lehnert's speaking voice, in the channel-identification and speaker-phasing tracks on Editor's Choice, Richard was in the house, thanks to the Sonja 1.3s.
However, voices acquired a hard edge when the SPL at my listening seat rose above 100dB, measured with fast C-weighting with the Studio Six app on my iPhone 3GS. I was playing Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with the Choir of Guildford Cathedral conducted by Barry Rose (CD, EMI Classics CDM 5 67427-2). The speakers "disappeared" at the start of the work, as expected, leaving the solo cello hanging in space, but it quickly became apparent that I'd set the playback level too high, breaking the 100dB barrier when the choir came in at full level. (See the "Measurements" sidebar for the probable explanation for this barrier.)
The YGA speakers left my room way too soon, to take up residence in another reviewer's system. All I'm left with is the lingering memory of the insistent baión rhythm of the very last track I played before Dick Diamond and Kerry St. James came to pick up the speakers: "Campo de Encino," from Jimmy Webb's 1972 album, Letters (CD, Reprise 10305). At his request, Webb soared away from my listening room, courtesy of the Sonja 1.3s.
YGA's Sonja 1.3 is that rare beast: a true full-range loudspeaker capable of playing at realistic sound-pressure levels with very low coloration and superbly stable, accurate soundstaging. Yes, it is very expensivethe most expensive product I have reviewed in my 37-year career of writing about audiobut its immaculate build quality and equally immaculate sound quality justify that price, at least for those with pockets deep enough to not only purchase a pair but to match them with appropriately high-quality amplification, cables, and source components. And the fact that the would-be owner can begin with a pair of Sonja 1.1s, add Sonja 1.2 woofer modules, and finally the 1.3 woofer modules, will take away some of the financial pain. Class A, all the way.
Footnote 2: E-flat minor? Six flats? That's a cruel and unusual key, even for the Well-Tempered Bach. The published score is in E minor, suggesting that the Dunedin Consort is using instruments tuned to historically correct rather than modern concert pitch.