Audio Physic Step Plus loudspeaker Page 2

I did all of my listening with the Steps' grilles off. I also switched out my usual Auditorium A23 speaker cables for Triode Wire Labs American cables, which improved focus from top to bottom. AudioQuest's Castle Rock speaker cables sounded rather hot at the frequency extremes, Tellurium Q Black somewhat lightweight.

I evaluated the Step Plus using LPs, CDs, and four different amplifiers: the Heed Elixir and Parasound Halo Hint6 integrated amps, and the Mytek Brooklyn and Shindo Haut-Brion power amps.

Listening with Parasound's Hint6 Integrated
With rumors circulating in Beatles Internet groups that Eric Clapton played the guitar solos on the Beatles' Abbey Road (LP, Apple PCS 7088), I played side 2 of the Fabs' final masterpiece with an ear toward plectrums, tones, tactile qualities, and soundstaging.

Spinning vinyl on my Thorens TD 124 Mk.I turntable with Jelco 350S tonearm and Ortofon Quintet Bronze cartridge, into Luxman's fine 500-EQ phono stage and the Parasound Hint6 ($2995, 180Wpc into 8 ohms, 270Wpc into 4 ohms), Abbey Road sounded crisp, vivid, and wide, if panned hard left and right. The Parasound occasionally imbued the sensitive Step Plus with a coolish quality that highlighted leading edges of notes, but not to a detrimental degree. With voices, that quality was a plus, John Lennon's serene, layered vocals in "Because" sounding spookily palpable and well defined. Here and elsewhere, the Step Pluses pulled a brilliant "disappearing" act, colorful images coming fully alive in my small listening space.

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Paul McCartney plays many exceptional bass parts on Abbey Road, and the Audio Physics generated a decent sense of warmth and grip from his (Rickenbacker?) electric bass. Macca's glowing whole notes in "Because" rang out with excellent color, a palpable sense of touch, and more than respectable weight for such small speakers. As I learned, the Step Plus could produce serious lower-register heft for such a small speaker.

Also a delight through the Step Pluses was Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson (LP, Verve V/V6-4054). Front and center on a spacious soundstage, Ella Fitzgerald's voice sounded massive, with her every enunciation, elongation of note or phrase, and rhythmic cadence beautifully portrayed. There was enough reverb on her voice to challenge Phil Spector, but that only added to the feeling of jubilation throughout this album of arrangements by Nelson Riddle.

A recent addition to my collection is Ernest Ansermet conducting the Swiss Romande Orchestra in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (LP, London CS 6031). This beloved warhorse found favor with the Audio Physics' deep, spatially rich soundstage. Instrumental tone was excellent, and when the oboes, bassoons, and various strings begin swirling together in an early section of this work, the Step Plus never lost the plot, never strained, never ran out of steam. I easily followed the melody of each well-proportioned instrument, the music deeply focused on this excellent mono recording. When timpani were smacked hard, the Step Plus resolved all the force of the attacks that was needed to make them sound fully convincing. And, once again, these speakers "disappeared" as the sources of the sound, leaving only the instruments in space before me. Pure delight.

Rafael Anton Irisarri's The Unintentional Sea (LP, Room40 RM445) ultimately proved that, with the right LP, the Step Plus could replicate bass weight of epic proportions. The Step Plus recreated the totality of this beautiful, menacing, dirge-like music, which conjures up images of a frigate crossing the ocean as odd metal objects are dragged past its side, sea spray pummels your face, and the ominous sea churns below. As a replicator of distinct soundfields and spatial relationships within those fields, the Step Plus could shock me with its ability to completely vanish.

Digitally sourced music gave further evidence of the Step Plus's prowess. As I played CDs through an ATC CDA2 Mk.II CD player into the Parasound integrated amplifier, the Steps reproduced quality bass tonnage that was extraordinary. I'm not talking a merely passable low end, but deep, round frequencies. The best example of this was Forq, from the scrappy funk-jazz quartet of that name (CD, groundUP 8829514692). Forq includes members of Snarky Puppy, and their organ-generated robo funk sounds as if recorded inside a bass drum. Every ounce of bass-drum air—most plentifully produced by jazz drummers who don't mute the drum—is present on this bass-grip-of-doom CD. Imagine Chic by way of the Meters and Tower of Power: Forq is that lowdown and dirty.

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"The Halo Integrated played with generous measures of that afore-defined neutrality," Herb Reichert wrote in his review of the original version of this Parasound amplifier ($2495) in the November 2015 issue. "What little personality it had remained hidden, like a cat in the bushes—which made it easy to hear the sonic qualities of every associated component I used with it." While I largely agree with Herb's conclusion, it made me all the more curious about how the Step Plus would boogie with my faithful Everyman integrated, the Heed Elixir.

Listening with Heed Audio's Elixir
When I played CDs in the ATC CDA2 Mk.II driving the Heed Elixir ($1195), instruments danced before me, suspended in space and fully corporeal; at times, it was downright spooky. The Step Pluses "disappeared" like no other speaker I've had in my three-room Greenwich Village pad. As I keep saying.

The Elixir's 50Wpc into 8 ohms (17dBW) or 65Wpc into 4 ohms (15.1dBW) are enough to drive any speakers, and its sound is essentially dark-toned and warmish. When I played a reissue of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (2 LPs, 200gm, 45rpm, RCA Living Stereo/Analogue Productions AAPC 2446-45), the Elixir/Step Plus combo nearly blew the walls off my apartment and the ears off my head. So much orchestral power and dynamics emanate from these LPs that it's a virtual torture test for your hi-fi. Rimsky-Korsakov's music flew from the Step Pluses with force, potency, and exhilaration, even if the Elixir didn't provide the last bit of resolution or tonal purity. I think of the Heed as lush but not lazy, and the Step Plus as clearheaded, capable, and quick enough to match well with any amplifier.

Almost.

Listening with Shindo Laboratory's Haut-Brion
My beloved Shindo Haut-Brion power amp (20Wpc, $11,000 when purchased) is one of the finest music/electrical-signal–amplifying machines I've ever heard. Its tonal saturation, palpable and immediate re-creation of space, and unerring naturalness are, in my opinion, unparalleled. The late Ken Shindo imbued each of his products with a unique soul that makes possible a more emotional listening experience. But the Haut-Brion couldn't drive the Step Pluses—no matter the medium, music sounded weak. Could any amplifier drive the Step Plus? Not with less than 35Wpc. Any less than that, and you're looking for trouble.

Listening with Mytek's Brooklyn
Powered by Mytek's class-D Brooklyn (300Wpc, $2495), the center fill of the Step Pluses' image with mono LPs became much broader, each instrument imbued with greater focus and clarity. More so than with any of my other amps, each instrumental line was more discernible with the Brooklyn driving the Audio Physics—The Rite of Spring became a hi-rez canvas of swirling sounds in which I could follow each aural brushstroke with ease. The Mytek lacks the low-end richness of the Parasound or Heed, instead offering deeper, exceedingly well-sorted soundstages with laser-like resolution of instruments.

Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson sounded drier, yet its soundstage was larger and deeper, no longer panned hard left and right—those larger images made the entire sound better fleshed out, and Fitzgerald's voice had decay trails to die for. The Step Pluses' already remarkable imaging only grew with the Mytek, as did their spatial cues, speed, resolution, overall soundstage depth, and retrieval of spatial information.

Everything But the Girl's Amplified Heart (CD, Atlantic 82605) revealed even stronger bass frequencies and sonic sorting through the Mytek and Audio Physics. Perhaps it was the overall lighter sound of my analog setup, but CDs generally have more force and low-end gravitas, even with the Step Plus's energy focus lying between its midrange and treble frequencies. Danny Thompson's double bass is brilliantly recorded on this album, and the Step Plus dug deep for his every bowed slide and plucked accent. Bass notes were tactile and deep, with precise transparency.

Conclusions
Whew! The Audio Physic Step Pluses proved overachievers to the nth degree. Their imaging and soundstaging were consistently top notch, but this mighty mite was just getting started. Offering first-rate bass-frequency reproduction, particularly from CDs (in my system), the Step Plus was clear, well-focused, and generally got out of the way, letting not only upstream components sing, but every disc I played, LP or CD. Compared to the similarly sized Quad S2 stand-mount ($1000/pair), the Step Plus offered cleaner, more extended frequency extremes at both ends of the audioband, with a fast, crystal-clear sound that was never fatiguing, always revealing. If you're in the market for a soundstaging and imaging champ that produces clear upper-range frequencies and solid bass fundamentals with almost any amplifier, the Audio Physic Step Plus should be numero uno on your list.

COMPANY INFO
Audio Physic GmbH
US distributor: VANA Ltd.
2845 Middle Country Road
Lake Grove, NY 11755
(631) 246-4412
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

are the foundation of the Audiophile existence because of their superb Driver technology, design and build quality.

A nice representative Small European Loudspeaker will cost out around $2,500. Even the phenomenal Genelec 8020 Active Loudspeakers, made in Europe, will cost under $2,500!

But Audio Physic pretends to be German while sourcing in China.

Too bad for the replacement driver assurance program.

Yet another disappointment.

Tony in Michigan

georgehifi's picture

All Audio Physic's even going way back when they started that I've heard, do this disappearing act really well, whether stand or floor mount. What is the measurement or construction parameter that is important that makes this happen. Seems like Audio Physic has whatever it is nailed down.

Cheers George

ok's picture

..Audio Physic (mostly Step and Tempo 25/Plus) iterations of this particular midrange/tweeter/cabinet configuration over the years and I can subjectively confirm JA’s prediction that their top surface should see slightly below the listener’s ears for optimal HF performance. This peculiarity is mainly due to a somewhat upward-shooting tweeter combined with a deliberately poor off-axis response (no more than 30 degrees flat thanks to cone driver and steep foam ring) that is further highlighted by the grills which tend to create some 3db drop at about 8KHz. They are excellent for near field and almost immune to HF room reflections for far field auditioning; however they do need considerable rear estate for enhanced soundstage accuracy and deep bass response as KM has already pointed out. By the way woofer's aluminum phase plug can dissipate an awfully lot of heat in case of amplifier clipping (not recommended!) so no worries about chinese: my neighbours would dismayingly attest that these drivers are virtually indestructible :-}

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Elac Navis active, self-powered bookshelf speakers ($2,000/pair) were very favorably reviewed in the latest issue of TAS ....... They don't need a power-amp ....... The reviewer said that, he would recommend them for product of the year award :-) .........

doak's picture

Haven’t heard these speakers, but really want to... and possibly own a pair.
Thanks for the heads up on the TAS review.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In the on-line Audiogon discussion forum, one of the commentators says he compared the sound of the Elac Navis bookshelf with the sound of KEF LS-50 wireless and, he preferred the sound of Navis bookshelf (both models are active self-powered speakers) :-) .........

AaronGarrett's picture

The Audio Physic/ Pass Aleph combo at Singer in 1996 made me an audiophile! EDIT (Actually I misremembered -- it was Stereo Exchange. I am now an old audiophile with a faulty memory!)

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Welcome to the 'audiophiles with faulty memory' club :-) ..........

jimtavegia's picture

I would expect better performance in terms of pure value. Andrew Jones and many others do a great job for under a grand. In the right room these might float someone's boat.

I don't mean to be critical, but at this price there must be excellent performance.

mumulaha's picture

I knew the measurement have it's flaw before purchase. But after I heard it in my room with correct placement, I am sold. 6moon's Srajan Ebaen bought Audio Physic Codex as his new reference speaker. I used to own Triangle Titus with same electronic.

Jason P Jackson's picture

Wavecor are a large, well known loudspeaker driver manufacturer with many of it's designs done by the engineers of another large, well known loudspeaker driver manufacturer.

Jason. P. Jackson

SpeakerScott's picture

Mr. Atkinson,

Would you ever consider adding baffle step correction to your nearfield measurements...or at the very least measure speakers using the ground plane method to eliminate this measurement error?

I understand that taking some of the massive mega-buck speakers to a parking lot or tennis court isn't possible, but there are several ways to mostly eliminate the emphasis shown in the measurements with modified technique.

Scott

John Atkinson's picture
SpeakerScott wrote:
Would you ever consider adding baffle step correction to your nearfield measurements...or at the very least measure speakers using the ground plane method to eliminate this measurement error?

Some other reviewers have done this, but the "correction" is arbitrary, given that every room will modify the "bass bump" to a different extent.

There are 2 ways of assessing a speaker's low-frequency output: 1) in an anechoic chamber, which represnts one extreme, and 2) using a nearfield measurement, which represents the other extreme. As using a true anechoic chamber is financially out of reach for an organization of Stereophile's size, I prefer to stick with the other extreme. This also has the advantage of being consistent for the past 30 years of speaker measurements published in Stereophile

The problem with ground-plane measurements is that you need a relatively large flat paved area in which to perform them, which is problematic given where I live. I have experimented, but ended up sticking with how I currently perform low-frequency speaker measurements, in the nearfield.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

SpeakerScott's picture

An anechoic chamber is well out of reach for me to! (Plus ones that get that low in frequency are rare.) I could only dream of having one, which is why I suggested the baffle step correction method. As you well know, when you measure nearfield you eliminate the reinforcement (or lack thereof depending on frequency) as the driver transitions from 4pi to 2pi space.

The process, if done correctly isn't arbitrary. I have compared the results for large towers, book shelves and even large pro-sound PA speakers to measurements I have taken using tennis courts or parking lots. In the case of the ground plane measurements I have actually taken the time to reverse the double height baffle step from the mirror image speaker and the results have been spectacularly accurate.

You could plot the more accurate method along with the old method for comparison It only takes a few minutes to do, it doesn't add significantly to the process of your entire measurement set but improves accuracy.

(I do know how long a full measurement set takes to make...I've done it more times than I can count.)

dial's picture

All these little boxes tend to sound extremely similar and it's difficult to say that really one is better than others, I even have one pair I build myself and compared to Triangle Titus, they were poorer in the bass but a little clearer in the midrange. But I liked both. And they cost 10% of these 'Audio Physic' !

MiklD's picture

I auditioned Step 25 (the previous iteration without the ceramic foam and sundry tweaks) and was similarly impressed. Took home Sitara 25 (floorstanding 2.5-way version with an additional HHCM providing sub-500 Hz reinforcement) which provides a good half-octave of bass extension, while maintaining the sonic virtues of the bookshelf sibling. So this review provides some gratifying insight.

Interesting to see the wrinkles in the measured performance. Hard to put floorstanders on shorter stands though, maybe a raised platform for the listening chairs, and/or some DSP? I suppose to incorporate soundstage in the more objective realm some sort of standardised routine around one of those Chesky clap and footstep test recordings could be employed? That aside the range of individualised timbres delivered from diffent instruments (real and synthetic) is a complementary element to the legendary spatial qualities and ‘disappearing act’ and just as impressive.

I started the Sitaras with my venerable Krell KAV-300i and was very happy. I described the baby Krell’s untimely end in a comment pleading for Herb’s promised Micromega M-100 review (cat awoke from Class A/B warmed torpor and threw up into the venilation slots, no more input boards from Krell for that model, alas, and shameless pitch for Sydney’s Len Wallis Audio who tried valiently to find parts). A loaner Musical Fidelity M3i wasn’t bad at all, but I settled on the Micromega for more modern features and design and nice sound. Too nice though (soundstage didn’t quite open up and the bass lacked weight/authority/timbral richness and yes that may not be a real word) but remedied for now by running the M-100’s balanced pre-ouput to a Krell KAV-2250 from Ebay. Cobbling together satisfying sound on a tight budget has its moments, I guess (bid unseccessfuly for an Evo, them’s the breaks). With the right amp, the bass sounds deeper than it measures, so I’m not too surprised by Ken’s observations.

So no, as most readers here surely know (but not all commenters, it seems) speakers don‘t sound the same, amps don’t sound the same, and viva la difference (or the German equivalent for the Audio Physics).

Thanks also for the Irrisari, a nice discovery.

MiklD's picture

... and imaging. Looking at the Step’s cumulative spectral decay plot, it is unusually clean and fast to decay below 10 kHz (it’s less clean above) even compared to a range of very good-sounding offerings reviewed here. Everything is pretty much done and dusted within a millisecond, while others take 2-3 times that. Wondering if this characteric is a key reason for the soundstage, imaging and tonal differentiation I can also hear in the similar Sitara (and can our ears and brains resolve that difference)?

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