Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Page 5

Despite being the baby of the Apogee family, the Stage, as Jason puts it, can "boogie." It can move from soft to loud, as the program material demands, with the speed and impact of a photon torpedo. Relistening to familiar program material through the Stage can prove to be a startling experience. Most of you should be familiar with Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla—the Philips recording with José Carreras (Philips 420 955-2). Larry Archibald has accused this performance of lacking a suitable degree of primal savagery. That may very well be, as this production highlights the lyrical aspects of the music. The smooth, detailed mids were cleanly reproduced by the Stage, but this performance does pack a punch. And the drama and dynamic range of the music were not slighted, as was the case with the weight and authority of Carreras's timbre. The Stage could cover the dynamic range from soft to loud effortlessly. It did start to sound stressed, however, during very loud peaks around the mid-90s spls. This coincided with visibly gross excursions of the treble/midrange ribbon.

Next came the Lesley Test, which for me is the most revealing test of midrange and lower-treble timbral accuracy. Timbral deviations that may otherwise take me hours to pinpoint become obvious very quickly with the help of my wife Lesley's voice. The presentation was strikingly transparent, with an appealing image size and commendable solidity. There was a slightly grainy and dry quality through Lesley's upper octaves. Her lower registers were just fine, without any resonant colorations. The middle registers were smooth, but the upper registers were somewhat dull and lacking in sheen. Lesley's vibrato was slightly dry-sounding and lacking textural richness, as if the upper mids were recessed. Transients were reproduced amazingly fast, and with excellent control. The bottom-line impression was that the upper mids were lacking sheen and sunshine.

More cables, amps, and preamps
Although I was by now quite pleased with the Stage's level of performance, I was not yet convinced that I had realized its full potential. It seemed reasonable to me to try to improve matters further in the areas of extreme treble smoothness, soundstage depth, and tonal balance. Toward that end I undertook additional listening tests with several other amps and preamps and a remarkable set of cables that had just arrived on my doorstep.

First, the cable. As good as the Symo was, and certainly at its asking price it's unbeatable, I still had an inkling that it might not be the optimum speaker cable money could buy for the Stage. According to Jason, Sumiko's OCOS cable also works very well with the Stage. But what did arrive in time to include in the testing was the Lindsay-Geyer cable. This is a cable I'll have a lot more to say about very shortly; a full review is forthcoming. It's a bizarre cable in that it breaks convention by using a magnetic conductor—traditionally considered a no-no for HF conduction. While others try to minimize the skin effect, David Lindsay tries to maximize it. Because of its high resistance, it is better suited for interconnect applications. Even with six strands per leg, the Lindsay speaker cable still comes in at around a 1 ohm DC resistance for short lengths. At the time I only had a pair of 6' lengths of the speaker cable, so in the bi-wire mode I was only able to substitute the Lindsay for either the tweeter or woofer runs.

With the treble connection via the Lindsay cable, it was immediately obvious that the treble was smoother. More detail was apparent through the upper octaves, and the extreme top was more natural-sounding. Still, the upper mids were drier-sounding than the Symo. With the Lindsay feeding the woofer, there wasn't much of a benefit in the treble, while the quality of the bass deteriorated. The bass octaves lost their tightness and control. To evaluate the Symo and Lindsay one-on-one, I had to return to a single-wire connection of the Stage. With the Symo completely out of the signal path, the spatial impression became more solid and palpable—more 3-D, if you will. But, again, the bass suffered, being more loosely defined than before. The final possibility was to shotgun or parallel the Symo and Lindsay for each channel, and this turned out to be the best of both worlds. The upper mids became slightly more alive and sweeter, while the bass stayed tightly defined with all of the heft and impact of the all-Symo connection.

With the success evidenced by the Lindsay speaker cable, I moved on to their interconnect. The first change was from the Kimber KCAG to 2 meters of the Lindsay between the Theta DS Pro and the Classé DR-6 preamp. The sound became smoother, yet with cleaner and more delicate textures. Image outlines became tighter in space. More information was resolved. Massed voices were better delineated, and soprano upper registers were more natural-sounding. Next to be replaced was the 30' run of AudioQuest Lapis Hyperlitz from the preamp to the amp with a 25' run of Lindsay. The presentation grew even more relaxed and better-focused. The sense of cohesiveness was greatly enhanced—as though the Lindsay was able to align treble transients with the rest of the harmonic envelope and thus reduce spatial smear.

This stuff really works! The cable is stiff, behaves like an oversized slinky, and flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But it was able to push the performance level of the Stage to a higher plateau: more natural highs, improved soundstage focus and palpability, and a slightly better balance through the upper mids. But I was still not happy with the recessed tonality of the upper mids.

I compared the line-level section of the Classé DR-6 with those of the Threshold FET-10/e and the Air Tight ATC-1 preamps. If anything, the FET-10/e was even more detailed, but its upper registers were not as smooth. The treble did not soar and bloom nearly as well, and the DR-6, on the basis of being slightly warmer and sweeter in the midrange, proved a much better match for the Stage. The Air Tight sacrifices detail in favor of a softer presentation that, in the tradition of tubes, was also lusher and warmer than that of the DR-6. The bass was a weakness, though, being less extended and not as well-delineated.