B&W John Bowers Silver Signature loudspeaker Page 2

The massive matching single-pillar stands are made from Welsh Cambrian slate, this a dense, relatively inert material. With its Bird's-Eye Maple veneered enclosure, yellow woofer cone, silver bullet tweeter and port trim, the Silver Signature is, to my eyes at least, a stunningly beautiful loudspeaker.

The slate stands are massive, but not completely free from vibration, acoustically. Using a stethoscope, I could hear a "hooty" sound on the base plate and pillar sides when music was playing. Whether this was related to a slight midrange congestion I noticed, I don't know, but changing to sand-and-shot-filled Celestion stands did clean up the sound in this region. I initially used 24" stands, but this raised the tweeter a little too high; 18" stands proved to be optimal.

Much to my surprise, however, the long-term solution was to return to the slate stands, but also to tweak the speaker cabinets with Combak Harmonix "dots." Jonathan Scull was visiting and listened to the Silver Signature on the slate stands. Bothered by the same slight midrange congestion I had noticed, "Doctor" Scull found my stash of Tuning Bases, felt all over the cabinets while music was playing for the points where vibration could be most strongly detected, and applied a dot at each of those points. Although I initially wasn't sure if I heard any difference, over the next couple of days it became apparent that the speaker's midrange transparency now better matched that over the rest of the range. I didn't return to the Celestion stands.

I first heard an all-silver loudspeaker in Martin Colloms's listening room several years ago. Martin had taken a pair of Celestion SL700s and had had all the drive-unit voice-coils wound with "five-nines" pure (99.999%) solid-core silver. The coil "tails" were long enough to act as the speaker cables. The crossovers were placed adjacent to the amplifiers and internally wired with the same silver cable, as were all the inductors. As far as possible, all the interconnects and internal amplifier and CD-player wiring in his system were also formed from the same Teflon-insulated silver cable, resulting in both a minimum of metal-to-metal contacts and a homogeneity of conductor.

Martin's system sounded both astonishingly transparent and seamless from the low bass to the highest treble. The accuracy of the imaging reminded me of the very first time I heard Quad ESL-63s, but with much better sources and amplification freeing the sound from its chains. Not only were the individual instrumental and vocal images in the soundstage precisely positioned; it was also possible to detect different coloration signatures associated with each of those images, also nicely localized.

Once the speakers were optimally set up, about a meter from the wall behind them, the Silver Signatures immediately reminded me of that formative experience. The wealth of recorded detail was almost overpowering: it was like nothing so much as the vista you get looking down on a city from a plane on a clear night, preternaturally pinpoint images emerging from a deep velvet ground.

I shall return to these speakers' soundstaging. But first, three other aspects of its overall sound quality also immediately impressed me. The first was its ultra-clean high frequencies; the second was the almost complete absence of any midrange character; and the third was its bass performance.

This is a small speaker, yet the low synthesizer lines on the Us 3 sample'n'rap album Hand on the Torch (Blue Note 07777 80883 2 5) were both powerful and well-defined. I'm not talking about thunderous, shake-your-pants-legs low frequencies, but I simply didn't feel that anything was missing musically, all the way down to the lowest note of the four-string Fender bass (42Hz).

What was missing was the bass-region boom so typical of ported speakers. As a bass player, I kept being surprised by the Silver Signature's ability to handle well-recorded bass guitar with aplomb. Les Claypool's frighteningly thunderous ultra-twang'n'finger pop bass lines on "My Name is Mud," from Primus's Pork Soda (Interscope CD 7 92257-2 (footnote 3); but I also managed to pick the better-sounding double vinyl album, 7 72738-1, for just $10 while recently cruising Albuquerque's record huts), were as aggressive on the B&Ws as they had been when I first heard this album on Jack English's big ProAc Response 4s. The combination of silver clarity and low-bass power on Dean Peer's virtuoso solo bass CD Ucross (Redstone RR91012) was addictive as reproduced by the Signatures. It was hard to resist the temptation to reach for the knob and wind the level to the max.

Footnote 3: Although I'm celebrating my 46th birthday this month and don't, therefore, consider myself to be any more than a couple of years into young adulthood, I was alarmed when I bought the Primus CD to be asked by the acne'd adolescent behind the register if I was buying it for myself. I thought of many juicy, witty, eloquent retorts as I drove home from the mall; unfortunately, all I could say at the time was, "Yes."
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