Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Page 7

Let's move the mike to the listening position and look at what happens in fig.3. Here, with the mike off-axis in relation to the tweeter, a midrange recession is quite obvious from 500Hz to about 2kHz. Look at the energy output at 2kHz relative to that at 5kHz and 300Hz. This is a significant and broad valley that you'd better believe is audible.

Fig.3 Apogee Stage, room response at listening position, 10 degrees off-axis (2dB/small vertical div.).

Finally, in fig.4, the measurement of fig.3 is repeated—but with the speaker toed-in 5" toward the listening seat. The midrange response is much more uniform now, resembling that at 2 meters, and the midrange recession has vanished. What all of this means is that setting up the Stage is a bit tricky and requires experimentation with not only the rake angle and distance to the wall, but also with toe-in. Based on my experience so far, the Stage's sweet spot is quite narrow. Venture more than slightly off-axis and the tonal balance changes.

Fig.4 Apogee Stage, room response at listening position, toed-in, HF control Normal (2dB/small vertical div.).

DO summarizes
It's good-looking, with excellent bass extension and definition. In terms of soundstage transparency it rivals any loudspeaker money can buy. It's capable of resolving low-level nuances and deftly reproducing transients with considerable speed and control. Dynamic contrasts from soft to loud are reproduced with ease and no sense of compression. Its ability to portray instrumental outlines with realistic spaciousness and bloom is nothing short of amazing. In terms of clarity and transparency, the Stage is without peer at its asking price. It possesses the innate ability to communicate the music's essentials at a level that comes very close to capturing the feeling of live music.

Ron Cox, a good friend of mine, also happens to be a Buddhist monk and a lifelong audiophile. He has pretty much managed to curb his appetite for material things in keeping with the teachings of Zen. Well...with the exception of a lust for tube amps and the like. He has argued that the art of Zen is essential for transcending the crude limitations of one's system. Being bound to the visual reality of big boxes and heaps of electronics makes it difficult to accept and communicate with the music. Thus Zen can assist in shedding the technical façade of a system and transport you to a state where the music can touch the heart and the soul. With the Stage, one would require very little help from Zen in accepting the message. It is pure and lifelike.

Yet, having said all that, if Lord Darth Vader were to grasp me by the throat and demand a recommendation for the world's best small loudspeaker, I would hesitate to recommend the Stage. Why? Well, what if his Lordship does not own Classé Audio electronics or Symo cable? And if he did, would he have the patience to tweak and cater to the speakers? The Stage is very sensitive to the amplifier/cable interface. In the context of the right electronics and cable, it is clearly Class A in the small-speaker category. Thus, I hesitate to recommend it outside of a well-defined system context. If you already own all of the "wrong" electronics, then the Stage is not for you. If you're unwilling to devote floorspace to the Stage, then look elsewhere. Room treatment is also a possible requirement, as it is with most speakers worth owning.

The Stage's most immediate competition is really the Martin-Logan Sequel II. Despite the fact that the Sequel is more expensive, this is what it takes to approach the Stage's performance capabilities. While the Sequel favors the upper octaves, the Stage emphasizes the bass and midrange. The Stage has to be considered better integrated top to bottom, and blows the Sequel away in the bass registers. The Sequel is brighter by comparison and more delicate in its voicing of treble detail. The Stage is more cohesive and, ultimately, to my ears more convincing musically.

By now, you should realize that the Stage is a steal at the asking price. You owe it to yourself to own a pair, but, like Morris the cat, be prepared to feed it exactly what it wants.—Dick Olsher