Snell Illusion loudspeaker Page 2

The aluminum-magnesium cones of the two 10" woofers are cast and machined for an optimal ratio of stiffness to mass. Each has a high-temperature, 2" voice-coil, a prominent T-shaped pole-piece, and heavy copper support rings and phase plug. A stiff, injection-molded alloy basket maintains complete structural stability while allowing air movement to reduce reflections, cavity resonances, and flow noise.The woofers' rear reflex ports open above the service panel.

The crossover frequencies are 250Hz and 2.5kHz. The crossover itself—a fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley filter network wired acoustically in phase—employs 100% polypropylene capacitors and air-core coils for all drivers except the woofers, for which a steel-core coil is used. All internal electrical connections are fastened with silver-solder. The Illusion has three pairs of binding posts, one each for the tweeter, midranges, and woofers. Each post can accept bare wire, banana plugs, spade lugs, or pins.

My review pair of Illusions had a deeply lustrous, black automotive finish under multiple coats of clear, hand-rubbed lacquer. Any wood finish, deep-luster lacquer, color or shade, and/or other special finish is available by special order for an additional cost of 20% per pair. As evidenced by the precision machining of the bezels, the rear port openings, the cast four-spoke feet, and the rear service panel, the workmanship on the Snell is peerless. This speaker's extraordinary fit'n'finish make it an artistic sculpture.

Each Illusion takes Snell more than 30 hours to make: 6 hours to mill the bezels and cabinet, 3 to assemble the crossover, 6 for assembly of parts, 9 to buff the finish, 4 of final assembly, and 2 hours to tune each speaker to within 0.5dB of the frequency response of Snell's factory reference. Snell plans to build three pairs of Illusions per month.

The big Snells required more than the usual amount of fine-tuning to sound its best. I began this process just after Snell's Wally Kilgore and a friend had carried each 178-lb speaker up the short flight of stairs to my listening room and deposited it in one of the spots where my Quad ESL-989s sound best: 3' from the sidewalls and 5' from the front wall, facing the full length of the room.

First, I had to move my listening chair 6" to the right before I could unambiguously hear the difference between the in- and out-of-phase tracks on John Atkinson's Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), which suggested that the Illusions' imaging sweet spot would be small. When I locked in the best imaging, the Snells' soundstage stretched from wall to wall but was somewhat shallow, which made the sound somewhat uninvolving—I didn't feel immersed in the music. My son-in-law noted that while the speakers had fantastic frequency range and dynamics, they left him outside rather than immersed in the music "If I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd have to think long and hard about whether I'd buy these speakers," he said. Clearly, more setup work was needed.

The owner's manual proved helpful. Page 13 recommends setting the Snells' toe-in between 45° and 60°, as viewed from above, and that the distance between them be 0.85 times the distance from each to the listener. With the speakers 84" from my chair, I adjusted the speakers until their centers were 72" apart. This deepened and slightly narrowed the soundstage, and made the music more involving overall.

That accomplished, I played the usual Editor's Choice test tracks—phase, low-frequency warble tones, pink noise—and did some comparative nearfield (8') and farfield (16') listening. The pink noise revealed that the Illusion's treble balance didn't change during the "sit down, stand up" test, even though its tweeter is 5" higher than my ears when I'm seated. The low-frequency warble tones were clearly audible, and pitch-perfect down to the 30Hz 1/3-octave band. I felt some useful output down to 25Hz, which is not quite low enough to rattle the baseboard radiator panels at the other end of the room, as some speakers have done. Lower frequencies produced some doubling (ie, second-harmonic distortion) when I drove the Snells with a pure 20Hz tone.

I used two different solid-state amplifiers: first, a pair of Mark Levinson ML-2 monoblocks (50W into 4 ohms), and later, a single stereo Mark Levinson No.334 (250Wpc into 8 ohms). (Because of the differences in their voltage-gains, I was unable to simultaneously use all three Mark Levinson amplifiers—the 25W ML-2 monoblocks on the tweeters and midranges and the 250W No.334 on the woofers—to biamplify the Snells.) The ML-2s delivered their typically dark, dynamic, three-dimensional sound at moderate volume levels, while the No.334 was brighter in the midrange, with greater bass dynamics that produced room-shuddering chords from synthesizer and sustained organ pedals. All listening was done without speaker grilles or spikes, neither of which were supplied.

Set up properly, the Illusions produced broad, detailed, involving, three-dimensional imaging with vivid dynamics. Again and again I was involved in music that was spacious, vibrant, and clear. "Speak To Me," from a hi-rez remastering of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (SACD, EMI 82136-2), presented a wide soundstage for this track's collage of dramatic, cinematic sound effects. This imaging depicted separate and precise placements of the clarinet, harp, pipe organ and individual choir members in "The Lord is My Light and My Salvation," from Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale's recording of John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD). The chorus members appeared to be standing on a broad stage that spread from wall to wall, with many distinct voices discernible, even during crescendos. A Gaelic Prayer, from the same disc, had new clarity and balance, with superb pitch definition of the organ's pedal notes. I easily got a sense of space and instrument placements with the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over (CD, Geffen GEFD-24725), with which the Illusions achieved well-defined positioning of audience sounds, acoustic guitars, and congas on a very wide soundstage.

Snell Acoustics
PO Box 3717, 300 Jubilee Drive
Peabody, MA 01961-3717
(978) 538-6262