Canton Reference 3.2 DC loudspeaker Page 2

Yet, as the weeks unfolded, I began to use the system less for serious listening and more to provide aural wallpaper. In my opinion, this is a good test of my overall satisfaction and enjoyment of an audio product, as it bypasses any conscious attempt to analyze the sound. I'd had a similar experience with the Kharma Ceramique CD-2.0 speakers, which I reviewed in October 2000. It was hard to put a finger on the problem. Worse, I began to doubt my own judgment after I'd invited a friend over for a listen. This friend, an experienced listener, pronounced the Reference 3.2 DCs the best-sounding speakers he'd ever heard in my system—and he's heard them all.

I didn't need to run over to Carnegie Hall or to the local audio emporium to test my ears. All I had to do was listen to the lesser system at my weekend retreat. Then it became clear that what I'd been hearing from the Cantons was a combination of a reticence in the upper midrange and a slightly overbearing lower midrange. Back in Manhattan, I removed the grilles from the 3.2 DCs, sat back, and smiled—that simple operation had repaired the balance in the all-important midrange. This is what my first impression—and my second and third—should have been. It justifies Canton's attention to detail in making the 3.2 DC's front panel equally attractive, whether naked or clothed. From this point on, every recording I listened to was revealed superbly by the Cantons—as well as, and in a few cases better than, they have been reproduced in this room with any other speakers.

I returned to those first discs I'd listened to, to hear a newfound and delightful presence and coherence in the soundstage. The 3.2 DCs' soundstage was wide and deep but not forward, clearly behind and entirely divorced from the speakers themselves. The midrange was now remarkably detailed and sweet, and of a piece with the rest of the audioband. Listening was once again an attractive and addictive occupation. I especially relished the sheen and the sweetness of the massed strings in Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's classic recording of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, now stunningly revealed (SACD, Esoteric ESSG 90017). And It's Now or Never, an homage to Elvis Presley by Robert Gordon, Chris Spedding, and the Jordanaires (CD, Ryko RCD-10915), really crooned, twanged, and stomped.

To complete the picture, I found the bass impressively extended and detailed, with no obscuring hangover—the pipe organs on the compilation Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago 101) needed no help from a subwoofer—or any of the associated crossover foibles that would be encumbered. The extreme treble had satisfying sparkle, yet was devoid of artificially imposed highlighting. The overall balance wasn't bright, but no subtle inner voice was lost. Solo voices were of a piece with their accompaniments and not thrust forward but rarely as humanly present as I would prefer.

Dynamically, the Reference 3.2 DCs handled anything I asked of them. As Wes Phillips experienced with the Reference 1 DCs, there was no loss of clarity and balance at low levels. Occasional recordings, such as Thomas Murray performing Mendelssohn's Organ Sonatas, Op.65 (CD, Raven OAR-390), could, when played at high levels through the Cantons, really load the room to give a profound and pleasurable sensation of sound pressure—but I suspect that even the Cantons' prodigious output was being assisted by uncorrected room modes.

Late in the game, just for kicks, I replaced the McIntosh MC303 with a pair of Bel Canto Design REF1000mkII monoblocks. The change was subtly but significantly for the better. The Bel Cantos are a little thinner than the Mac in terms of lower-midrange and upper-bass richness. Whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage will depend on the associated components, the room, and the listener's taste. Hooking up the Bel Cantos to the Cantons seemed to compensate a bit for what I heard as a downward tilt in the Canton's frequency response creating an airier sound and moving the soundstage forward just a bit. I greatly appreciated both changes in my room. Indeed, all the rooms depicted in the photos in Canton's literature have just such a more starkly modern décor and I think the 3.2s would sing even more sweetly in a space with more hard surfaces and fewer furnishings.

Check, please
A price of $16,000 for a pair of Canton Reference 3.2 DCs seems to me perfectly appropriate. This reference-quality loudspeaker is quite in line with the best of the competition at this exalted level. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to name a clear winner among the excellent quartet of B&W 802D, Revel Ultima Studio2, Pioneer S-1EX, and Canton Reference 3.2 DC. Of these, the tonal balance is tilted up a bit by the Pioneer and down by the Canton, and sounds fairly neutral through the B&W and Revel—but those judgments, based on hearing those speakers in my own room's acoustics are defined per my own taste. The bass performances of all four are similar, but the Pioneer's is more damped and sounds less extended, the B&W's is richer and fuller, and the Revel and Canton are more powerful and extended. Yet so near in quality are all four that, if you set them up in another's listening room, all of those minor differences would have to be reassessed.

The Canton Reference 3.2 DC deserves the highest accolades. Given its size and price, both of which are fairly generous, it has no significant faults. It is both wide-range and transparent, and sounds great at almost any volume level likely to be used in the home. I would definitely recommend removal of the grille and especially commend the Reference 3.2 to those with sparsely decorated and/or acoustically harder rooms. It is also strikingly beautiful in construction and finish, and in the graceful simplicity of its design. It earns its name: a reference.

Canton Electronics Corp.
504 Malcolm Avenue SE, Suite 400
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 706-9250