Metaphor 2 loudspeaker

"Wow!" Jerome Harris—jazz guitarist, bassist, and composer—stopped talking and listened intently to the rough-mixdown dub of his latest album, Hidden in Plain View: The Music of Eric Dolphy (New World 80472-2 CD) (footnote 1). He'd brought it by my house in order to hear it on another system before pronouncing judgment. "That sounds like us! And I ought to know because I was there..."

It wasn't the first time the Metaphor 2s had totally transfixed a visitor with their accurate portrayal of a musical event. This time, however, they'd done it to one of the participants of that specific performance. It isn't as if it was easy stuff to disentangle, either. Jerome's disc is texturally dense: Marty Ehrlich and Don Byron on reeds, Ray Anderson on trombone, E.J. Allen on trumpet, Bill Ware on vibes, Bobby Previte on drums, and Jerome himself on acoustic bass guitar—occasionally all wailing away simultaneously. The Metaphor 2s have the articulation to sort out all of those interweaving melody and rhythm lines, the frequency balance to render them with astonishing timbral veracity, and the speed to ensure that, even with four drivers in a large enclosure, it all arrives at the same time and with swing aplenty. Does it sound as though I'm describing one hell of a speaker? I think so anyway.

Who are these guys, anyway?—Butch Cassidy
Metaphor is a young company, one that, in the words of Director Bill Peugh, "arose as much from necessity as from inspiration" (see the sidebar). The Metaphor 2 is the company's first product, although they showed a second, less-expensive loudspeaker at WCES 1995: the $3450 Metaphor 5, which drew raves from many attendees.

So what is a metaphor? It's a figure of speech—perhaps the most common and important figure of speech—wherein a word or phrase that normally represents one thing, idea, or action is used to suggest a quality in common with another thing, idea, or action. Metaphors are so common that we use many of them without even recognizing what they are—does anyone ever notice these days that organizations don't really have branches? As the name of a speaker company, the word has particular resonance—for, of course, we aren't listening to live performers but rather to something else (the speaker) that has qualities in common with live music. Well-chosen, lads.

The flowering of geometry—R.W. Emerson
The Metaphor 2s are physically striking. They stand 42" tall and are dramatically tilted back so that the front-panel presentation of the four drivers physically time-aligns the arrival of each element of the sound. The pair that I auditioned were finished in walnut veneer with black accents—the two-tone finish helped them appear smaller in my living room than their actual dimensions would indicate. Each frequency range has its own enclosure, with two separately tuned rear-firing ports, one for the midrange and one for the twin woofers.

The crossover is housed in an isolated enclosure inside the speaker cabinet; the only components it has in common with the speaker cabinet are the connecting cables. The crossover rests upon the floor on its own spiked feet within the cabinet, under the woofer compartment. Which makes changing speaker positions a complicated procedure: you can't just "walk" 'em across the floor—you'll need an assistant. (When the Metaphors are shipped, a fiberboard bottom plate secures the crossover to the cabinet base. This must be removed before the speakers are used.)

The cabinet is constructed of varying thicknesses of MDF, which both makes the enclosure rigid and distributes its resonance across a broad band, effectively eliminating "boxy" colorations. The two-tone color scheme of the cabinet is, in fact, not merely cosmetic, but a visual representation (a metaphor?) of this multiple-element vibration-control system; the shapes of the panels have been carefully chosen to prevent frequency-specific energy storage in both the vertical and horizontal planes. Out of sight, the cabinet is braced heavily, and rigid ceramic and absorptive damping materials are located strategically to complete the equation.

The Metaphor 2's baffle is 2½" layered MDF, and the drivers are attached via threaded inserts and bolts rather than the nearly universal wood screws, which tend to loosen with time. The woofer and midrange drivers are treated with a proprietary latex compound that's jokingly referred to as "metaphorium" (at least I assume they were joking, although they weren't actually smiling when they said it). The inverted titanium-dome tweeter has a hemispherical profile and is coated with a 7µm-thick deposition of titanium dioxide to minimize ringing. It's vented into its own sealed enclosure, since the folks at Metaphor believe that sealed tweeters conduct the rear-wave reflection directly back at the transducer.

The crossover network is a complex blend of raw driver voicing and variable crossover slopes. Metaphor explained that the slopes are determined by the needs of each driver and the requirements of blending these specific drivers for coherent sound. They believe 6dB/octave slopes can affect the sound by adding compression when driven to high dynamic peaks, while high-slope crossovers tend to introduce continuity problems throughout the crossover range. Their variable-transition crossover, they say, has low intermodulation, tremendous transient capability, and is easy to drive as well. Certainly, if the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, this is one chef's delight—in my audition, I was continually astounded by the lack of audible crossover anomalies. This is one coherent loudspeaker.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing slowly.—Gypsy Rose Lee
I used the Metaphor 2s over a period of four months and with a wide variety of other components. I have heard very few loudspeakers that changed character as completely with every equipment substitution (footnote 2). Only the Wilson WATT/Puppy 5, which costs $16,000/pair, has shown a similar lack of character in my system.

The folly of mistaking...a metaphor for a inborn in us!—Paul Valéry
I approached the Metaphors with a real show me chip on my shoulder. As longtime readers must have observed, I tend to like small speakers. Not because I'm in love with limited frequency response or dynamic range, but rather because the little guys often do a lot of things right. Having fewer elements, they're generally better coordinated than many of their bigger brethren; and because they are small, they don't tend to smear the sound over a large point in space through cabinet resonance or driver position.

First off, I played some big, beaty discs, figuring that, at the very least, I should enjoy what they were designed to do well. I wasn't disappointed. I pulled out Brian Eno II—Vocal (Virgin ENOBX 39114 2, CD), a compilation of the lad's early (and fantastic!) complex, rock-orientated, post-Roxy vocal works. I cranked the system up to 11:00 and cued up "Skysaw," a noisy gob of distortion and riddum originally contained on Another Green World. Paul Rudolph and Percy Jones hammer bass-guitar riffs back and forth at one another, while Eno wails on an ungodly assortment of distorto guitars—damn, that's rock and roll!

The twin basses came across with perfect articulation, the cross-rhythms remaining distinct and unsullied. Whoa! How low do these doggies go, anyhow? A quick check of the specs showed that they're rated at 35Hz–25kHz—no plus-or-minus range given. A call to Bill Peugh elicited the explanation that, "Response is room-dependent—in a good room, they'll go down into the 20s, but we chose to cite a number that anyone can get in the real world."

Un-huh. Gotta admit, they were woofin' pretty fine there, though. So I pulled out an LP that I love but don't get a chance to enjoy all that often: Sonatas de Órgão de Carlos Seixas (1704–1742) (A Voz do Dono 11CO75-40567), a recording of Portuguese organ sonatas performed on a 17th-century positive organ. For the listener to properly appreciate this disc, the system must offer unusual purity of timbre while being capable of supporting the tones of 8' pipes in a very large space—the actual notes may not be all that deep, but properly sustaining them in a huge acoustic takes a lot of guts. I was entranced; this was a metaphor of rare sublimity.

So I began to cackle evilly, pulling out chamber-music disc after chamber-music disc. This is where most larger speakers fall down on the job; throw a solo instrument playing pianissimo at them and they still sound big, never allowing you to forget that they have the power. Not this time, Jocko. The Metaphors disappeared, leaving me with Midori Live at Carnegie Hall (Sony SK 46742 CD). Just the violin, or, as appropriate, just the violin and piano. Delicate, nuanced, pure, but with gutsy dynamic crescendos—and the applause. Ah, the applause was thunderous! Imaging, an area where small enclosures typically best the bigger guys, was specific and convincing—not just with Midori, but with every disc I played, whether chamber music or orchestral warhorse.

There is a calm pure harmony and music inside of me.—Vincent van Gogh
Thus I dawdled my way through my audition of the Metaphor 2s, listening with appreciation to the various components, CDs, and LPs that came my way as a critic. I was in no hurry to complete this assignment—I was having way too much fun. My buddy Rubén came over to listen one night. Actually, I was kind of dreading his visit. You know how you can be really digging something and then your best friend—because only your best friends will do this to you—will bop you across your chops, saying, "What are you thinking?"

I was halfway expecting Rubén to not get the Metaphors. I'm not sure which one of them I had underestimated more: Rubén listened for a while and proclaimed, "I dislike these a lot less than most big speakers. In fact, I could really enjoy living with these!" Steady there, big fella—but coming from him, it was high praise; he's a tough but fair-minded audience.

I know what he meant, though. They really aren't overwhelming in any one particular area. Their strength is precisely that they never call attention to themselves, always serving the music first. On some systems, I find that I can't play my gospel records from the '50s; on others, it might be my '70s rock recordings that sound too bright and flat. Still other, highly regarded systems have made me wonder why I ever could have responded passionately to my beloved 78 transcriptions of Cortot, Thibaud, or Furtwängler. Not the Metaphor 2s, however. I listened through the length and breadth of my record collection and always, always felt that I got it—in whatever region it might be. This is unusual and worth noting: I may have heard "better" loudspeakers, but I've rarely heard speakers that made for more pleasant companions on my musical peregrinations.

Oh, I can pick a nit or two—if I must. There is a touch of ripeness just below 100Hz (in the 85Hz region, perhaps) that adds a hint of warmth that is, strictly speaking, not accurate. But I'd be a liar if I said I didn't sort of like it; there may be something to be said for a pleasing coloration or two. Gasp! But! Wouldn't it? And if the speaker isn't precisely, undeviatingly revealing on the very tiptop, wouldn't it be wrong for me to prefer that as well?

I'm not sure, mind you; they could measure to be ruler-flat from ground to beyond light. If they do, they sure don't sound like any other product that does—not any that I've ever heard. They remind me of an old Martin arch-top: what it lacks in projection—or even perfection—it makes up for with warmth and character. And if the Metaphor 2s do deviate from absolute, measured perfection...well, they don't miss by much. We haven't yet created a scale that measures the exact nature of things, and until we do, we need to find a way to suggest values by comparison. In a world where absolutes are so hard to express, there's still a lot of power in a metaphor.

Footnote 1: It's a marvelous celebration of the music of one of the most fascinating jazz musicians of the '60s—a man that both Charles Mingus and John Coltrane considered one of the finest players they'd ever known. And (he proclaimed modestly), it features liner notes by yours truly; buy it so that somebody else will give me the chance to commit prose.

Footnote 2: "I suppose you see this as a good thing," my wife commented upon reading that statement.
"Well, sure. It shows that they don't impose their own sound on the system," I replied.
"And you wonder why normal people think you're weird."

Metaphor Acoustic Designs, Ltd.
Centreville, VA 22020
Company no longer in existence

Allen Fant's picture

One of WP shorter reviews. I miss his writing in 2016.
Hope you are well- WP.

fetuso's picture

I have a question, please. I'm considering purchasing the Sonus Farber Venere 1.5 bookshelf speakers. Their stand tilts the speaker to time aline the drivers, like the Metaphors. Is this something inherent to the design of these speakers that they need to be tilted? I guess what I'm wondering is why arent all speakers tilted? I ask because I was wondering if I could get away with not buying the stands. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
fetuso wrote:
I'm considering purchasing the Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 bookshelf speakers. Their stand tilts the speaker to time align the drivers, like the Metaphors. Is this something inherent to the design of these speakers that they need to be tilted?

When we reviewed this speaker in January 2014 - see - we found that the Sonus Faber's dedicated stand tilts it back about 5°, which gives the best integration of the outputs of the two drive-units in both the frequency and time domains. If you don't buy the stands, you are still going to have to tilt the speakers back (or sit on the floor).

fetuso wrote:
I guess what I'm wondering is why aren't all speakers tilted?

The listening axis of most speakers is level with the tweeter, but depending on the drive-units and the crossover, and whether or not the front baffle is sloped-back, this axis may be tilted up or down with with some designs. In which cases, the speaker will need to be tilted.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

findcount's picture

Fetuso, are you Italian? if not, I would suggest you try out Elac, if you can compare it to a similarly priced Sonus Faber, the Elac will blow it away in terms of definition and accuracy

fetuso's picture

I do happen to be of Italian ancestry, but that has nothing to do with my interest in the SF. I am focusing on speakers that have either a front firing port or are a sealed box because I don't have enough clearance from the front wall. I actually emailed Elac months ago asking about this clearance and I got a reply from Andrew Jones himself. He advised the B6 would need at least 3 feet of clearance to sound their best. I just don't have near that much room. I'm currently using Wharfedale Diamond 220's, which I happen to really like. They have a downward firing port and their bass response is actually improved as they are moved closer to a wall. I'm looking for a speaker a step or two up the ladder that won't suffer from similar positioning. Another model I'm looking at is the Vandersteen VLR Wood. They are sealed boxes, but there just aren't any reviews that I can find.


fetuso's picture

Thank you for he reply. I've read that review several times and I recall the writer stating that he felt the stands are a mandatory accompaniment. I have two young boys and stands are impossible, so I was wondering if I buy them if I would need to somehow tilt them. I should probably consider a different speaker. Thanks again.

findcount's picture

i'm not suggesting the Elac B6.....rather the 243.3 comes with a foam plug to seal the back port....if the price is too high, there's the down-firing ported 190 range......if you really wanted a sealed box speaker, NHT has a 3-way bookshelf speaker too