In recent years, computer modeling, finite-element analysis, and laser interferometry have brought about a huge increase in our knowledge about what makes the moving-coil loudspeaker drive-unit work. Nevertheless, it has remained fundamentally unchanged since it was invented by Rice and Kellogg more than 60 years ago. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been refined considerably; in this review I examine the performance of a design whose drive-unit technology has been taken to the limit of what is currently possible, the B&W Silver Signature.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."
In last month's "As We See It," I examined how I decide upon ratings in Stereophile's biannual "Recommended Components" listing. This leads me to talk about who writes our equipment reports. Stereophile currently has a team of 16 active reviewers. The core are professional: J. Gordon Holt, Robert Harley, Thomas J. Norton, Corey Greenberg, and Martin Colloms. The others—Sam Tellig, Jack English, Robert Deutsch, Don Scott, Jonathan Scull, Larry Greenhill, Dick Olsher, Guy Lemcoe, Lewis Lipnick, and Steven Stone—may be enthusiastic amateurs, but they are amateurs only in the sense that they don't earn their livings from writing. I'm the team's catcher, both calling the game and keeping the stray balls from getting away. Why, then, is it this cast of characters (footnote 1) who gets to cast judgments in stone in my magazine?
The very first "Recommended Components" listing appeared in Vol.1 No.5; this is the 16th time I've put the listing together since I took over the task from J. Gordon Holt in the November 1986 'phile. No other Stereophile feature seems to be as popular, or as misunderstood. While it might inform, it never fails to offend, particularly when it involves the dropping, or—horrors!—the not listing at all, of components that the magazine's readers own.
Stereophile Consulting technical editor Robert Harley and I were walking down Brooklyn's Flatbush Avenue trying to remember where we'd parked our rental car. We were in town for the Fall 1993 Audio Engineering Society Convention, and had just had dinner with record reviewer Beth Jacques.
Back in the summer of 1968, I bought a secondhand pre-CBS Fender Precision Bass guitar for the grand sum of £35 (then about $75) (footnote 1). It was so cheap because the previous owner had pretty much scratched the sunburst finish to ribbons. The P-Bass may have looked like roadkill but it played like a dream, so I decided to refinish its body. Paint stripper removed the remains of the original nitrocelloluse lacquer, leaving me with a white wood body—ash, I understand—which I carefully sanded and stained. Contrary to what you might expect, the finish of an electric guitar does have an effect on the sound, so I thought long and hard about how I was going to varnish the body. I ended up applying thinned gloss-finish polyurethane, which I then sanded, repeating this process some five or six times, using finer and finer sandpaper, until the application of a final coat of varnish gave as close to a mirror-smooth finish as I could get...which wasn't anything near as perfect as the piano-lacquer rosewood finish on the samples of the Monitor Audio Studio 6 loudspeaker that Monitor Audio USA sent for review!
When I browse through early issues of this magazine, I envy J. Gordon Holt. When he foundedStereophile in 1962, there were aspects of society that stood as solid as the Rockies overlooking his current Colorado home. Back then a magazine was a thing forever; the main means of serious communication would always be the written word; records would always be LPs...recorded in stereo; the US had a large, prosperous consumer electronics industry; computers were huge mainframes made in the USA by IBM (of course), and required air-conditioned rooms and armies of white-coated attendants; everyone watched three broadcast television networks; once a film left the neighborhood cinema, it was gone forever—or at least until it appeared on the "Late, Late, Late Show." And most importantly, people took for granted that progress in sound reproduction meant improvements in quality.
"My car is supercharged, not turbocharged, so you see there's no throttle lag," explained Yves-Bernard André as he reversed at what seemed like 80mph up a narrow cobbled Paris street. "D'accord," I mumbled, afraid to loosen the white-knuckled grip I had on the passenger grab handles. Yves-Bernard's car may have been pointing the right way down the one-way street, but it was not actually traveling in that direction. Okay, so it was 2am and the good residents of the Dix-septième Arrondissement were busy stacking Zs (en français, "emplier les ronflements"). But I still didn't think we would've been able to explain the logic of the situation to the gendarmes (les flics, en français).
"Uhh! What is it?" I was being prodded on the arm. Admittedly it was gentle, almost polite prodding, but prodding it still was, a rude disturbance of the cocoon I had woven around myself in seat 31J of the American Airlines MD-11 winging its way across the North Atlantic. I pushed Pause on the Discman, insensitively not waiting for an opportune cadence in the Brahms Piano Quintet that had been my erstwhile virtual reality.