This is my fourth review of a Revel loudspeaker, and I was even more excited by the arrival of the Ultima Studio2s ($15,999/pair) than I was when their predecessors, the original Ultima Studios ($10,799/pair when first reviewed; $15,000/pair when last listed in "Recommended Components"), were delivered in 2000. (See my review in the December 2000 Stereophile, Vol.23 No.12.) After all, the Studios were my reference speakers for years and, along with the larger Ultima Salons, were statement products that were the product of the talented designer Kevin Voecks and the considerable resources of Harman International, parent of Revel as well as of JBL and Infinity. Over the years, I've also reviewed Revel's Performa F30 (May 2000, Vol.23 No.5) and Concerta F12 (July 2006, Vol.29 No.7), each outstanding at its price point. If, after all these years, Voecks and his team were ready to reconsider their statement products, they should be something special.
Antares is a giant red star in the constellation Scorpio. According to Rockport Technologies' Andy Payor, the $41,500/pair Antares loudspeaker is the "ultimate" reasonably sized, full-range loudspeaker, and is built to a standard "unequaled in the industry." Rockport's $73,750 System III Sirius turntable came with equally boastful claims that turned out to be anything but hyperbole. Has Rockport done it again with the Antares?
No one has ever accused Rockport Technologies' Andy Payor of under-engineering a product, and this set of gleaming black beauties is no exception. The system is available in two configurations: as the two-way Merak II for $19,500/pair, including sturdy custom cradle-stands with integrated crossover; and as the Merak II/Sheritan II, a three-way, two-box floorstander that, to afford them at $29,500, will reduce some to living in the speakers' shipping crates. You could do worse for housing than checking into the Sheritan Rockport: The wooden crates are almost exquisitely finished.
As I trundled the WATT/Puppys off to the Stereophile laboratory complex for our test procedures (see my review in the last issue), I idly wondered to myself, "Gee, what am I going to do for an encore?" Visions of exotic butterfly-like horns danced in my head (nope, J-10 Scull gets those babies). I was tantalized by the call of ambitiously designed behemoths (Major Tom gets those, he's got the room for 'em). Maybe some jewel-like, state-of-the-art minimonitors? (JA glommed 'em—editor's prerogative, y'know.) So what does that leave me?
Richard Shahinian has been offering loudspeakers to music lovers for more than 15 years. I use the word "offering" here in its strictest sense, because Dick has never "sold" his products—by pushing them. Indeed, he is probably one of the worst self-promoters in the business. If we think of "soft sell" in the usual context of laid-back and low-pressure, then Shahinian's approach would have to be called "mushy sell."
It must be difficult for makers of audio equipment to decide how to best exhibit their products at events such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show. If you're doing a demo, you want it to impress audio journalists and potential dealers, and sometimes just playing music is not enough: you need something extra. A few years ago, Joseph Audio put on a demo, supposedly of their top-of-the-line floorstanding speaker, during which Jeff Joseph removed a cloth that had been draped over what was assumed to be hotel-room furniture. Under that cloth were the speakers that were actually playing: Joseph's new in-wall model, mounted on flat baffles. Wilson Audio Specialties demonstrated their speakers with purportedly ultra-high-end electronics and digital source, then revealed that they were actually using a modestly priced preamp and power amp, and that the source was an Apple iPod.
The Type A has served as Snell Acoustics' flagship loudspeaker since 1974. The Type A Reference System reviewed here is the sixth update of the late Peter Snell's original three-way floorstanding design, and is the most radical departure from Snell's original. Gone is the pair of "upright bricks of polished wood and stretched cloth" (footnote 1) that delighted decorators because they functioned best against a wall. Today's Type A Reference $18,999 price tag (footnote 2) purchases two tall midrange-tweeter towers, two huge subwoofers, two short but heavy enclosures housing the outboard passive crossover networks, and a small electronic crossover.
Say "Type A" to a group of psychologists and they immediately think "hard-driving, workaholic executive." Speak the same phrase among audiophiles, and the late Peter Snell's (1946-1984) flagship loudspeaker comes to mind. The model reviewed here is the seventh iteration of Snell Acoustics' Type A, and this is the 12th published review of the product in American audio magazines. (The last one published in Stereophile was in March 1996, Vol.19 No.3, of the Type A Reference.)
"How do you make an object common as a box iconic?" asked Bob Graffy, Snell's vice president/brand manager. He and Joseph D'Appolito, Snell's chief design engineer, were sitting in my listening room, discussing cabinet designs. Graffy noted that KEF had sought the same in their distinctive, silvery, cylindrical Muon loudspeaker ($150,000/pair). For the flagship model in their Illusion series, Snell commissioned Gerd Schmieta, former designer for Ideo, to integrate D'Appolito's wish list for an ideal enclosure: a narrow, rounded upper baffle for the midrange and tweeter, wider at the base for the woofers, holding a constant cross-sectional area while maximizing cabinet volume, and compliance with a 15° tip test.
The Snell Type C/IV's design has been highly influenced by both the testing methods and philosophy of Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa. Other well-known loudspeakers to have benefited from the NRC's testing facilities include the Mirage M-1 and M-3, PSB Stratus Gold, the Waveform, and Camber 3.5. The NRC provides a variety of services to loudspeaker designers, notably use of their testing facilities which include a full-sized anechoic chamber. In addition, the NRC is heavily involved in carefully controlled blind listening comparisons between loudspeakers, used to aid the loudspeaker designer while the product is under development. The NRC doesn't provide design services, but rather the means of testing and evaluating work in progress and finished products.
Despite not offering design aid, many loudspeakers created with the NRC's testing and listening laboratories share some common philosophies. Chief among these is the belief that flat amplitude response is far and away the most significant factor in listener preferences and thus should be the paramount design goal. Many NRC-influenced loudspeakers share steep crossover slopes, wide dispersion, smooth off-axis response, and pay considerable attention to the way the loudspeaker interacts with the listening room.
When I say that this past—and last—Summer CES in Chicago was dead daddy dead, I'm not talking about fewer high-end exhibits and attendees than ever before. I'm talking I walked in the front door of the Chicago Hilton and almost puked from that smell of dead, mealy meat that hits you in the face and kicks-in the gag reflex. The smell of death you can taste even if you're breathing with your mouth. In most religions, it's a sin to let something that dead just sit there without at least spreading some lye on it to kill the stink. I once cut a man for misadjusting the VTA on my cartridge, and that man lying on my listening-room floor with an Allen wrench still clenched in his hand wasn't as dead as this last SCES.
One question posed by John Atkinson at the July 1991 StereophileWriters Conference had to do with the ease of reviewing: Is it harder to write a bad review of an expensive product than a good review? I find it hardest to write a good review of an inexpensive product. If I admire a less expensive loudspeaker, for example, it may become a recommended component, and can displace a more expensive speaker (that received mixed comments) from our twice-yearly rankings. This can be a big responsibility; even a conditional rave of a low-cost product means that JA may assign another Stereophile reviewer to do an immediate follow-up report. The Snell Type E/III loudspeaker may be a good case in point.
The patter of the snare drum began softly and I leaned forward in my seat. Avery Fisher Hall fell silent as Riccardo Muti led the New York Philharmonic in Ravel's Boléro. Ravel once described this masterpiece as "lasting 17 minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral texture without music—of one long, very gradual crescendo." Though the hall was silent and expectant, the stage was packed with musicians waiting for...what? To gradually join in, one by one and layer by layer, to drive that gentle but relentlessly mounting crescendo. Ravel accomplished this by "having solo instruments play the melody...[then progressing] to groups" and finally "arranging the scoring so that the dynamics are self-regulating" (footnote 1). When the final, thunderous E-major chord stopped the piece by locking "all its harmonic gears," the hall erupted in ecstatic applause, and we all leapt to our feet.