Apogee Stage & Mini-Grand loudspeakers Thomas J. Norton 1991

Thomas J. Norton commented on the Stage in July 1991 (Vol.14 No.7):

At the beginning of the second and last day's listening sessions for this massive group test of inexpensive speakers, JA requested that, when it was all over, we set up the Apogee Stages to get a feel for the program material over a solid Class B recommended loudspeaker. At the end of the sessions, though fatigue was rapidly setting in, we conducted this audition, and decided to score it. Of course, even though the Stages were also behind the screen, everyone now knew what they were listening to.

The reactions were, well, ah, er, palpable. Just like the sound of the Stages themselves. GL asked if he could take them home. They scored an overall average of 8.24 points, compard with an average of 4.83 for the inexpensive speakers. Of course, it certainly helped that the program material had been originally selected over these same Apogees, in this same room.

I have no doubt that the Stages would be challenged strongly in the point total if they were put up against other good high-end loudspeakers, Apogee's own more expensive models included. My point here is that compromises are required at any price point; the loudspeakers auditioned here are certainly no exceptions. The panel was hard on them as a group, but definitely found some that are worth your investigating.—Thomas J. Norton

Thomas J. Norton offered further thoughts on the Stage in April 1992 (Vol.15 No.4:

The Apogee Stages presently on hand here at Stereophile are not the same pair which DO reviewed in Vol.13 No.8 (August 1990). Shortly after the review appeared, a new pair of Stages arrived with updated tweeter ribbons. We also received a pair of the stands made specifically for the Stages.

This most recent pair of Stages floats in and out of my reference system as the need arises: to either review other loudspeakers, or substitute a loudspeaker which tells me something about a component under review which the Apogees cannot. There aren't many examples of the latter; deep bass, perhaps. But the Stages are by no means lightweight in the low end; I have definite reservations about their being pegged in Class B—restricted LF—in our "Recommended Components" list. Their bottom end will frequently knock your socks off. But it's a bit euphonic and Technicolored, and not effective much below 35-40Hz. The aforementioned stands do help considerably in tightening up the bass (and in raising the effective soundstage to a more reasonable height), but cannot completely eliminate the problem. And certainly the room may bear part of the responsibility.

But for whatever reason, there is a fullness to the Stages' sound which, while not entirely accurate, can be immensely seductive. On full-scale orchestral material the Stages can sound more majestically convincing than any number of other audiophile loudspeakers, many of them far more expensive. Bass drum will pin you to the wall. While the effect is certainly somewhat exaggerated—our measurements indicate a sharp response peak in the general vicinity of bass drum fundamentals—it somehow sounds right. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the membrane of the Stage more closely resembles a drumhead than does a conventional woofer cone. That explanation does not particularly satisfy me—too close to technobabble for comfort.

But for whatever reason, I find the Stage's way with drums, and with the low end in general, to be subjectively more satisfying than that of many loudspeakers more textbook-accurate in the bottom octaves. But you should note JA's comment, in the original Stage review Measurements sidebar, that the characteristics of the Stage's low end may be less than compatible with rock, of which I listen to very little. Something to watch for if your musical tastes run that way.

I'm not in a good position to compare the top end of the newest Stages with that of the original samples; the new Stages arrived in Santa Fe only shortly after I did, and while I did hear the earlier pair, it was without stands and in the Stereophile listening room's previous incarnation; ie, pre-update (see Vol.14 No.10, p.93). I do know that there is a remarkable solidity yet delicacy to the top end of the new pair. There is also a degree of brightness in the mid-treble, but it never sounds etched or over the top. I do prefer the Stage's tweeters set on Normal rather than the High setting favored by DO when he shared this listening space. At the very top of the range is a certain lack of air and spaciousness to the sound, the latter rendered less troublesome by the dipole nature of the Stage's radiation pattern.

The Stages throw a wide, relatively deep soundstage. Positioning, while less precise than that from small, direct-radiating loudspeakers, is well defined. I would never refer to the Stages as holographic in my listening room, but their soundstage is, for me, fully satisfying. I tend to toe them in a bit more than Apogee recommends, though still well short of aiming them directly at the listener; this arrangement tends to give a strong, well-defined central image. For this I sacrifice a bit of width, which I consider less important. I listen to a considerable amount of vocal music, and well-positioned soloists are important to me. The Stages fill that requirement superbly. Like the Majors, however—and perhaps even more so—the Stage demands to be listened to sitting down; stand up and a wet blanket goes over the sound.

Indeed, it's what the Stages do with vocals, and the midrange in general, that makes them a great loudspeaker. I have (over-?) used the word "palpable" before, but you'll know what I mean when you hear a pair of these small Apogees properly set up. Soloists have a presence, a "thereness," which can be spooky. This has nothing whatever to do with any presence peak or boxy colorations—the latter are totally absent. But there's a rightness about the sound of the Stages through the midrange which is riveting. It startles me every time I return to them after spending time—often enjoyable time—with other loudspeakers, many of them excellent in their own ways. I always wonder if, somehow, the Stages will lose some of their magic after I've spent time with other designs having deeper or tighter bass, more airy, spacious highs, or more pinpoint soundstages. Perhaps some day I'll hear a loudspeaker that does all of the things the Stage does plus all of those other things. It hasn't happened yet.

When I heard Apogee's flagship Grands at the 1991 Summer CES, a dream came to me shortly thereafter. The Grand, you'll note, is also a hybrid, though their cone subwoofer crosses over quite low—below 100Hz, I believe. Why not a Baby Grand, based on the Stage but with a supertweeter ribbon added, and a powered subwoofer built into a slightly larger base? Combining the strengths of the Centaur Major (while extending the bottom end a bit further), the Stage, and the Diva—all in a package of workable size and relatively reasonable cost. Don't wake me up.—Thomas J. Norton