Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Mini-Grand part 2

The Mini-Grand Stage's cosmetics have been considerably changed from those of the standard Stage—a combination of a textured black-matte finish with black grillecloth. Combined with the matching Mini-Grand Stereo Subwoofer, it's a striking package—more than slightly reminiscent of the Grand itself.

1994 System
The Mini-Grands were set up facing down the long axis of my new 18' by 26' by 11' main listening room. The associated system consisted of Krell electronics: the Reference 64 processor, DT-10 transport, KRC preamplifier, and two KSA-300S power amplifiers—one driving the Stages, the other driving the subwoofers. Note that the KSA-300S has a higher output than the recommended maximum for these loudspeakers. This matter's significance, particularly with respect to the subwoofers, will become clear in the course of the review.

In addition, the Rowland Consummate preamp, Hafler Trans-Nova 9300 and 9500 power amps, and an analog phono system consisting of the VPI HW-19 Mk.IV turntable (not a recent version), SME V tonearm, and Lyra Clavis cartridge were also used. Cables included TARA Labs RSC Master from CD processor to preamp (ST fiber optic from transport to processor) and, except as noted, Cardas Hexlink from preamp to power amp—or DAX, as the case may be. Loudspeaker cable was Symo.

The Mini-Grands can be set up in two different ways. First, you can hook up the entire system—Stages, subwoofers, DAX, etc.—and optimize soundstage, balance, and bass simultaneously. Or, you can set the Stages atop the subwoofers, but temporarily ignore them and leave them disconnected. That is, use the subwoofers as stands, but drive the Stages full-range and concentrate your attention on getting the soundstage right. Neither setup is necessarily "right." I chose the latter because I'm familiar with the Stages' sound (though primarily in a different room), and didn't want the possible distraction of dealing with what was, with the subwoofers, a potentially very different loudspeaker overall.

In other words, I shot for the "Stage" sound with which I was familiar, allowing for the inevitable changes resulting from the larger room, before tackling the subwoofer integration problem. But there's at least one disadvantage to this approach: dipole bass responds differently to a room than does conventional bass. As a Stage, the system is a dipole all the way down. As a Mini-Grand, it behaves more like a conventional system below its 80Hz nominal crossover frequency (footnote 3). The differences will likely be more noticeable in a small and/or poorly dimensioned listening room. Since my new listening room is fairly large and, in theory, optimally proportioned, I chose to set up by listening to the Stages alone first. If I had to compromise, I preferred to do so later, in the bass alone.

Apogee recommends setting up the back of the loudspeaker panels (not the back of the subwoofers) 3'-4' from the wall behind—my experience with the Stages and other Apogees told me that 3' is a bare minimum. I began with +4' and ended up with somewhat more than that. (The exact distance isn't relevant here—the optimum setup will vary from room to room and from listener to listener.) The same holds true for lateral spacing, toe-in, and back-tilt.

While only the last is seldom a consideration in setting up conventional loudspeakers, dipoles are inherently trickier to position. Despite what you may read elsewhere, there really is no single "right" position for dipoles in any but the rarest of rooms. (This is true of any loudspeaker, though the rear radiation of dipoles makes their positioning somewhat more critical in certain respects.) Instead, there will be a number of good positions, each with its own compromises. With reasonable care and a dose of good luck, you'll find positions whose compromises you can live with.

With just a slight back-tilt and a toe-in marginally greater than the 3/8" maximum recommended by Apogee, I found a satisfactory position. And, with the Stages alone, the system sounded very much as I expected. For those unacquainted with the Stage, and for those who haven't seen one of our prior descriptions of its sound, a few words here will set the, ah, stage for the Mini-Grand. The Stages produced a big sound, with an expansive yet by no means featureless soundstage. Lateral imaging, while definitely less precise than that from the best direct-radiating loudspeakers, was more than sufficient to generate a convincing presence. The central image, indeed, could be astonishingly precise in the sweet spot; solo vocals and instruments were almost spooky in their "in-the-room" feel. Indeed, the cliché "palpable presence" might well have been invented to describe the overall impression produced by a pair of Stages that are well set up and driven by a good front end.

The immediacy of sound of which I earlier spoke was never far from my consciousness. Depth was first-rate; when properly set up, dipoles in general are noted for their ability to generate a sense of three-dimensionality. With the Stages, this depth always seemed perfectly natural and part of the recording, though in truth some of it, as with all dipoles, resulted from the reflection of the rear radiation from the wall behind.

The bass response of the Stages was surprisingly extended, though it appeared to be slightly emphasized in the low to midbass. Bass drum—which is concentrated in this region—could be surprisingly potent from these smaller Apogees within their power capability. The same held true for string bass. While the response dropped off quite rapidly below this point (somewhere just below 35-40Hz), the Stages never gave the impression of having insufficient weight. In fact, their response was tilted toward the bass and lower midrange. A band of brightness in the mid-treble kept them from sounding dark, however, while the spaciousness of their radiation pattern compensated for a certain lack of air at the extreme top end.

Footnote 3: This doesn't happen suddenly at 80Hz, of course. There's an inevitable range of overlap, which is one reason why melding a dipole with a conventional subwoofer not specifically designed for it is not always successful.—Thomas J. Norton