Snell Acoustics LCR7 XL loudspeaker Page 2

And the quality of the Snell's bass was simply superb: tight, controlled, and free from the boomy upper-bass overhang that naïve listeners often mistake for "good bass." Other than lacking a bit of fundamental weight, my Fender-bass channel-check tracks on Editor's Choice had an excellent balance between the leading edges of the notes and the body of the tone. There was enough upper-bass energy present to allow Jerome Harris's rather reticently mixed Taylor acoustic bass guitar on his Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2) to fully support the higher-frequency instruments. And on Eric Clapton's Me and Mr. Johnson (CD, Reprise 48423-2), the Snell's lean midbass compensated for the overcooked EQ the engineers had applied to Nathan East's tasty bass playing and Steve Gadd's kick drum.

Pink noise sounded smooth on the Snells, with no undue emphasis at any frequency. Equally as important, the speaker's perceived balance on pink noise didn't change appreciably over quite a wide vertical listening window. The vertically symmetric drive-unit array that bears Joe D'Appolito's name works as advertised in widening the listening window.

I did almost all my auditioning with the LCR7s' metal-mesh grilles in place. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was a bit more top-octave air with the grilles, but I may have been imagining it, considering that the difficult of removing and replacing the grilles made immediate A/B comparisons impossible. But grilled or raw, the quality of the LCR7 XL's high frequencies was superbly free from grain or hardness. There was no tendency for recorded cymbals to degenerate into white noise. Instead, different cymbals sounded maximally different from one another, always a good sign of tweeter quality.

My current reference for recorded strings is an SACD of James Judd conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Naxos 6.110053). Played back on the Snells, the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis was everything I could want from a classical orchestral recording, with the contrast between the main string orchestra and the solo quartet as clear yet as unforced as when I last heard the work live, with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood in summer 2004.

There was an impressive transparency to recorded information throughout the midrange and treble. This spring I have been editing and mixing my next project for Minnesotan male-voice choir Cantus: There Lies the Home, a collection of songs about the sea scheduled for CD release this summer. Some splices that worked fine on headphones were revealed by the Snells as needing more work, due to such subtleties as small differences in the character of low-frequency background between the different takes giving a "gear-change" effect. This clarity, combined with its absence of coloration, will make this speaker perfect for use as a nearfield monitor.

It was in the area of stereo imaging that the LCR7 XLs excelled. Dual-mono pink noise reproduced as a very narrow, centrally placed source between the speakers, without any of the common tendency for that image to "splash" to the sides at some frequencies. Playing the 24-bit master files of Robert Silverman's performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations (CD, Stereophile STPH017-2), which I wrote about in May, there was no sense of physical loudspeakers being involved in the presentation of the music. Instead, Bob's Steinway hung there in space: stable, tangible, palpably real (if a bit lighter-balanced than the actual instrument had sounded in Weber State University's Austad Auditorium). Similarly, on my 1997 recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (CD, Stereophile STPH010-2), each of the chamber orchestra's instruments was unambiguously placed behind and to one side or the other of Hyperion Knight's Steinway grand, all bathed in a coherent dome of ambience from Albuquerque's United Methodist Church.

And on the preliminary mixes of Cantus's There Lies the Home, I was surprised at how stable the individual images of the singers' voices were, given how high in level I had the spaced pair of omnis balanced compared with the main cardioid pair. The Snells clearly allowed me to hear how small changes in the relative levels of the mikes changed the recorded perspective.

Downsides? The LCR7 XL played impressively loud without strain, considering the relatively small radiating area of the pair's four woofers. But at very high levels, the speakers became unforgiving of recordings that themselves have a tendency to hardness. Eric Clapton's vocals on Me and Mr. Johnson, for example, acquired a hard edge above 90dB SPL or so. That edge was present at lower volumes but was acceptable. Cross the loudness threshold, however, and it became annoying. I'm not sure the speaker was doing anything other than revealing something suboptimal about that recording, but the relatively restricted low frequencies made setting volume levels more critical than would be the case with a true full-range speaker such as the Genesis 5.2, which I reviewed in February.

Summing Up
Given how impressed I was with the performance of the Snell LCR7 XL in my room, I must be a bit more equivocal in the conclusion to this review. Given its limited low-frequency extension and ultimately limited maximum loudness, this speaker is almost without flaw. Its balance is impressively neutral, its sound suffers from neither grain nor harshness nor coloration, what bass it does have is clean and well-defined, and its imaging and soundstaging rank among the best I have heard at any price. This is a true monitor, without any of the sense of "ruthlessly revealing" connoted by that word.

However, for almost the entire period I spent with this speaker, I was under the mistaken impression that the XL was twice as expensive as the standard LCR7, not three times the price, as it actually is. At $4000/pair, this speaker would get an unreserved recommendation from me. But at $6000/pair, its superficial perceived value drops precipitously in comparison with similar-priced floorstanding designs (footnote 1). Yes, the LCR7 XL still sounds just as superb, but at $6000/pair, whether or not what it does so well outweighs its lack of low bass becomes much more of a critical question, and one whose answer will vary enormously from audiophile to audiophile. And its limited availability might mean that it will not always be possible to find a Snell dealer with a pair for audition.

But I loved the Snell LCR7 XL—it did enough of what I deem important to justify its presence in my room. Would I buy it? Ask me a couple of months after the review pair has been returned to the manufacturer.

Footnote 1: Out of interest, I checked the prices of the SEAS drive-units used in the LCR7 XL. The six units would set back the DIYer no less than $950, which makes the $6000/pair price of the complete Snell speaker system look not unreasonable.
Snell Acoustics
300 Jubilee Drive, PO Box 3717
Peabody, MA 01961-3717
(978) 538-6262