Acoustat Spectra 1100 loudspeaker Page 2

And that instrument sounded oh-so-good on the Spectras. The slight thinness I heard on the solid-state amps disappeared, replaced by an overwhelmingly liquid, rich, euphonic sound. The cello's timbre was captured beautifully, the instrument singing sweetly in the upper registers and "growling" appropriately in the lower ones. Fine details of the performance were retrieved effortlessly and were well integrated into the presentation. There was an excellent sense of "air" surrounding the soloist, his image slightly recessed but well focused between the speakers. My listening notes say, "This would be hard to beat. As convincing and involving as I've heard." I felt a sense of déjà vu. These speakers sounded like my Model Twos but with a bit more finesse.

Next up was "Abide with Me/Blue Monk" from Richard Stoltzman's soothing album, Begin Sweet World (RCA RCD1-7124). Eddie Gomez's bass is well recorded here; it should sound dynamic and authoritative. You should get a good feel for the size of the instrument and its ability to move large amounts of air, especially when Gomez begins to dig in. This cut made me realize the Spectras needed something else in the way of power. The Quicksilvers simply did not convey the heft of the string bass convincingly through the Spectras. To confirm my impressions of a mismatch between speaker and amp, I reached for John Hiatt's Slow Turning LP (A&M SP 5206). At 1:30 into the song "Icy Blue Heart," drummer Ken Blevins gives his bass drum a good whack. This musical exclamation mark should sit you straight up in your chair as you look around for a subwoofer. Its impact should briefly dominate the left side of the soundstage with a presence felt as well as heard. The Quicksilver/Spectra duo produced a "thunk" instead of a "wallop." "Not acceptable," said I as I began to disconnect the amps.

Daunted by the prospect of losing the Quicksilvers' midrange liquidity and overall ease of listening, I reached into my amp stable for my current reference, the Ensemble B-50. As expected, the Ensemble improved the general character of the sound. Bass was tighter, with more body and authority. The mids remained liquid, with a bit more "there" there, and the highs sparkled. Detail retrieval was excellent and well integrated into the soundscape. The soundstage widened and depth extended well beyond my rear wall.

But I still felt I was not getting the full measure of these speakers. Music sounded good, real good, and I was becoming involved in the performances, but I sensed something missing. I felt it was time to pull out the big guns and began setting up the Rowlands. It may seem ludicrous to audition $1599 speakers with $6600 worth of amplification, but I felt I should feed the Spectras the best signal I could.

The Spectras were pleased at this change in diet. The difference was not subtle; I knew at last I was headed in the right direction. Have you ever walked down a hotel hallway and heard music coming from someplace up ahead? A lounge, perhaps? Approaching the source of the music, you identify a piano, bass, and drums, yet from your perspective the sound is homogenized and more reminiscent of organized noise. As you continue walking, you pass an entrance to a lounge and, at precisely that moment, you suddenly become awash in sound. You've found the source and it's real! The music now has a presence and integrity that you didn't hear as you approached it. If you walk on, the effect passes, but if you linger a while it might lure you in.

The Rowlands had this effect on me; I was lured into the music to a degree I hadn't expected. The industrial noises at the beginning of "Mrs. Soffel," from Mark Isham's magnificent Film Music (WH-1041), immediately set the tone for what was to follow. A wall of sound appeared in my room, seemingly detached from the loudspeakers. Depth extended well beyond the rear wall, the far corners of the soundstage well delineated. Lyle Mays's piano floated above the string orchestra on its own cushion of air, within a different ambient field. The Acoustats were quite revealing in exposing the fact that this was a studio recording. The soundstage was created, as an artist would a painting, on an electronic "canvas" by the engineer and producer. The effect is stunning, and unlike anything you would hear in the concert hall.

The music here is a study in texture, a quality the Spectras convey magnificently. The sound was seamless, from the sustained notes of the double basses to the upper registers of the solo piano. When Isham's pennywhistle enters, it's captured with an ease and freedom from grain which relaxed every muscle in my body. On my Twos, I sometimes tensed up in anticipation of this passage. The 1100s were exceptional in their ability to capture the distinct timbres of the cellos and basses while maintaining the totally different sound of the piano and whistle. The end of the piece places the high whistle over synth-bass ostinato. The low bass here positively throbbed on the Spectras. The pulse of the note was well defined and could be felt in my listening room, where I was not used to hearing bass of this quality or intensity. The midrange was not slighted, either. It was positively "romantic" on this piece of music. (I attribute this in large part to the Rowlands which, in certain systems, sound more tube-like than many tubed amps I've heard.)

Good electrostatic loudspeakers are known for their midrange warmth, definition, and speed. The Spectras continue this tradition, chamber music being especially enjoyable. As I fed more CDs to the Tercet and clamped LP after LP onto the VPI, I was continually impressed with the sounds coming from the far end of my room. The sound was not "spectacular" in any way (which may disappoint some listeners who turn to hi-fi for aural Rolfing). Instead, the listener is "massaged" gently but firmly, relaxed and soothed. While listening, I felt compelled to give in to the music, accepting it, letting its message through.

The rhythm of music is conveyed well on the Spectras. The bass particularly did not lag behind the beat. Music was articulated extremely well, making it easy to follow the "tune." Voice was reproduced with uncanny presence on the Spectras. Lou Reed and John Cale, for example, on Songs For Drella (Sire/Warner Bros. 26140-1), were in the room with me on "Open House" and "Style It Takes." Their voices were rich and dimensional, with no sense of nasality or hollowness. The lyrics, easily understood (no smearing here), emanated from the mouths of flesh-and-blood humans. Chet Baker's voice (a difficult instrument to capture well, especially when miked as closely as this), on Let's Get Lost (Novus/RCA 3054-2-N), lost the colorations I've heard on lesser speakers. The poignant nature of his voice was achingly conveyed. The Spectras passed the "Chet Test" with flying colors.

But are six grands' worth of amplifier necessary to make these speakers perform? I don't think so. Enter the Muse Model One Hundred. You read about this amp in Corey Greenberg's review in April (Vol.14 No.4). After living with this amp for a while, I concur 100% with Corey's assessment. I think it's an exceptional amp for the money, and its compatibility with the Acoustats gives new meaning to the word "symbiotic." No surprise, since I understand the Muse goes through final subjective listening tests driving electrostatic loudspeakers. I felt perfectly comfortable with the sound I heard from the bi-wired Spectras. Soundstaging was glorious, with instruments well placed on the stage. Outlines of performers were brought into sharp focus, separation between them well preserved even when the going got tough—ie, densely orchestrated.

I felt no deprivation at the frequency extremes, low bass, in particular, knocking my socks off on certain music on those occasions I felt I needed a "jolt." In fact, I felt the Muse upstaged the Rowlands in this area. The combination of the Muse and the Spectra 1100s seemed to be a marriage made in heaven. They presented a finely detailed, involving recreation of a musical event. If the duo lacked anything, it was that last degree of finesse I heard with the Rowlands, which made the presentation slightly less "polite." It was nonetheless pleasing, providing me with some of the best sound I've heard in my room.

I spent a long time with these speakers, for as soon as I heard them (even as they were breaking in), I knew I liked them. They reminded me of my Model Twos, speakers which are as comfortable as two-year-old Rockport Walkers. The Spectra 1100s, in addition to their seductive sound (euphonic without being bland) and "reach out and touch me" palpability of image, reinstated true low bass into my consciousness. What the Model Twos always lacked, in my opinion, was authoritative bass—bass which you felt and sensed was rearranging the air molecules in your room. The kind of visceral bass which kicks in 30 seconds into Front Line Assembly's "Provision" (WAXCDS 9145), for example. The Spectras captured the low bass and hung onto it with the assurance of Vise-Grips. To say I was impressed is an understatement. I felt as if, at last, I could have my cake and eat it too!

As my listening sessions continued, I came to realize the 1100s did not possess that final degree of transparency I heard with the Model Twos. At first this was disturbing, but the more I listened, the less important this difference seemed. Once I adapted to the sound of the Spectras, I became (and remained) unaware of their relative weakness in this area. What the Spectras get right—and only a handful of speakers I've heard do—is recreate a performance of music in a plausible space with proper rendering of width, height, and depth. On the 1100s, recording venues assumed personalities which only the deaf would not appreciate. Differences in recording techniques became obvious, even when those techniques varied within a song. (As often happens in today's popular music, where tunes are assembled in editing suites from many often disparate sources. An excellent example of this is found on Daniel Lanois's stunning Acadie, Opal/Warner Bros. 9 25969-1, reviewed in Vol.13 No.1.)

A speaker must have more than good bass and soundstaging ability to be taken seriously in the high-end arena, though. It must create the illusion in the listener that he/she is experiencing a real event. Music's texture, however varied, must be captured so that emotions are aroused and imagination stimulated. The rhythm of music, however subtle, must be felt to affirm its vital, organic nature. Music's dynamics, however complex, must be articulated to awaken and stir the soul. If a loudspeaker fails to communicate these qualities (described by others in many different ways), it has lessened its capacity to involve the listener and diminished its attractiveness to the high-end community. The Spectras also get the various instrumental timbres right. The "sparkle" of the treble keys on well-recorded piano, the "growl" of bowed string bass or cello, are captured magnificently. The various personalities of instruments were etched into my consciousness with a precision which caused me to write down statements such as "Yeah! That really sounds like a violin." or "Yeah! That really sounds like a trumpet."

I'm happy to report that, to my ears, the Acoustat Spectra 1100s are very attractive loudspeakers and deserve to receive a warm welcome among music lovers. Yes, they have their faults (as do all things human-made), but their overwhelming musicality more than compensates. Tom Norton referred to the Spectra 11s as being "one of the most unfailingly 'musical' loudspeakers [he had had in his] listening room." Well, Tom, wait 'til you have a listen to the Spectra 1100s! With carefully chosen electronics and speaker cable, I would place the Acoustat Spectra 1100s in Class B of "Recommended Components." By ignoring the sensitivity of these speakers to sloppy setup and indiscriminate selection of power amp and cable, the Class B recommendation will most surely be compromised. These speakers require care and nurturing if they are to sing. But if they receive both, the result will be heard clearly in the listener's ears.

Footnote 2: I've sought, for years, a performance of this work which approaches János Starker's 1958 recording (Angel 35627), now almost impossible to find at any price. I finally have.
Brand no longer in existence (2014)