Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Page 4

I'm not suggesting that all of the other cables are no good. Clearly, the Stage is quite sensitive to the choice of speaker cable, and in other contexts with other loads, the Symo's competition will do very well. As you know, I've lived with Space & Time TFA/Return for a long time, and have found it to be an exceptional performer with a variety of speaker loads. This was the first instance in which it significantly failed to measure up. Just when you think you've discovered a universal cable, a counter-example presents itself. It seems to me that dealers and audiophiles had better relisten to the Apogee line with the Symo cable in the chain.

At this point, Jason was quite pleased with the setup. He declared it to be one of the best sounds he'd ever extracted from the Stage, and if he could bottle it, he would take it with him.

Post-Jason impressions
Clearly, there was much to be pleased with. The addition of Theta's latest DS Pro Basic digital processor to the system brought forth the best CD sound I've ever experienced anywhere. Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei (Max Bruch: Collected Works for Cello and Orchestra, EBS 6060, footnote 1) was reproduced with startling transparency. The sensation of being able to reach out and touch someone was very strong. The upper mids were reasonably sweet, and the harmonic envelope of the cello sounded utterly cohesive. Bass detail and lack of bass coloration were far superior to any bass reproduction I've heard out of a box speaker. Bass lines were utterly clean and tightly defined. The body and extension of the cello were superbly retrieved without the colorful resonances we've grown more or less accustomed to with boxes.

Instrumental outlines were naturally sketched within the soundstage, neither bloated nor collapsed to a point source as some minimonitors are apt to do. (The rising high-end response typical of many minimonitors, which etches treble transients, coupled with a lack of lower-midrange energy and upper-bass body, combine to collapse the apparent image size to artificial smallness.)

The realistic reproduction of image size was consistently one of the Stage's most likable attributes. Its ability to reproduce the power and size of a cello was absolutely frightening, and in this respect it came very close to capturing the Gestalt of live music. Here's an experiment you can do quite cheaply without even having to go to a concert hall. Have some one sing in front of you, preferably in your listening room. Now, close your eyes and visualize a mental picture of the singer's outlines. You should be able to differentiate and localize the throat and chest of the singer. What you will discover, however, is that the overall outlines of the sound source appear quite large and that the sound appears to bloom and expand as the volume level is modulated. While you can at any time point unequivocally toward the spatial outlines and the center of mass of the sound, there is never the impression that the sound is emanating from a point.

The Stage appeared to possess the innate ability to mimic this characteristic of live music. Staying with the cello for the moment, try Jacques Offenbach's Suite pour deux violoncelles, Op.54 (Harmonia Mundi HMC 901043). Through the Stage, the spatial outlines of the cellos were unmistakable. I would go so far as to say that the image outlines were precisely localized in the sense that one could mentally trace their spatial outlines, but each cello occupied quite a bit of space within the soundstage. The sensation of concert-hall spaciousness was captured realistically.

One aspect of the soundstage that was not reproduced nearly as well was that of depth perspective. With the Ensemble Reference that I reviewed in June, I've experienced a level of image palpability that the Stage clearly could not match. This 3-D effect was achieved with the use of the Air Tight tube amplifier, which of course is not the ideal amp for the Stage. It appears reasonable, therefore, to consider the Stages' soundstage depth compression an artifact of the solid-state electronics in the chain.

Reproduction of the proper tonality of a harpsichord gives many speakers a tough time. The average speaker tends to err in the direction of too clangy and overbright a tonal quality. Not the Stage. Take for example J. S. Bach's Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BVW 1027-1029 (Simax PSC-1024, footnote 2). The recording was made in the Gample Aker Church in Oslo using two B&K omnis for the harpsichord and a pair of Schoeps for the viola, all feeding a Sony F1 processor. This is lovely stuff. The sensation of being within a church acoustic is very believable, and the Stage had no difficulty in recreating a clean picture of the hall sound. The attack and decay of the harpsichord transients were very clean without any perceptible smearing. The Stage released energy quickly, with impressive risetime and controlled decay.

There was, however, a residual artificiality in the treble—sort of a zippy aftertaste—that again I was inclined to attribute to the electronics or possibly even the Symo cable. This wasn't in the nature of an active irritant; it's just that the highs sounded a bit hi-fi-ish. Another example of this was Therese Juel's sibilants on track 1 of the Opus 3 Test Record 1. These were very well-defined, without the sizzle that often accompanies her voice. But the texture of the treble was not entirely convincing, being a tad grainy.

Footnote 1: The EBS line, as well as the Fine Arts CD and other small European labels, are available from Audio Advancements, P.O. Box 100, Lincoln Park, NJ 07035, Tel:(201) 633-1151.—Dick Olsher

Footnote 2: Simax, a small Norwegian label, is distributed in the US by Ensemble/Graham Engineering.—Dick Olsher