Snell Type B loudspeaker

The Snell Type B is the culmination of three years' research and development effort by designer Kevin Voecks. Along the way, various iterations of the B have been shown at Consumer Electronics Shows. Like other Snell models, the facilities of Canada's National Research Council were used extensively during the B's development, both their anechoic chamber and their double-blind listening techniques.

According to Snell, the Type B is the first loudspeaker to incorporate the most recent research into optimizing the way a loudspeaker interacts with the listening room. In particular, the B addresses the problem of how woofers load the room; one of the B's two woofers fires forward from the enclosure center, the other fires rearward from the top of the back panel.

The Type B is clearly a major effort from Snell. Because it is so close in price to the venerable Type A, there has been some speculation that the B will replace the A as the flagship of the Snell line. I had an opportunity to hear the B at CES, in Stereophile's listening room, and, for more extensive listening, in my own room for the past month.

Technical description
In some ways, the Type B's appearance is reminiscent of the Infinity IRS. The B has a black grille running down the front with about 8" of veneered cabinet visible on either side. The main difference is the B's squared edges, which give the speaker a more linear appearance than the IRS's rounded profile. This unusual arrangement results from the B's five-sided shape. You could think of it as a square box with one corner sheared off, the resulting 13" flat edge holding the drivers and covered by grille cloth.

My review samples were covered with walnut veneer, with matching grain between stereo pairs. Like other Snell loudspeakers, the Type B features nice cabinet work, with good fit and finish. The entire cabinet, made from ¾" MDF, with two horizontal shelf-type braces to make the enclosure more rigid, is raised from the floor by a particleboard plate slightly smaller than the loudspeaker's footprint. Five carpet-piercing spikes (provided) screw into the plate, raising the Bs even farther off the floor.

The rear panel holds two pairs of five-way binding posts for bi-wiring/bi-amping, a fuse holder, a rear tweeter on/off switch, and a front tweeter-level adjustment. This level adjustment allows the user to tailor the B's treble output to match the listening room.

The B is a six-driver, four-way design. Two drivers are rear-firing (a subwoofer and tweeter), and four are front-firing (a woofer, tweeter, and a pair of midrange drivers). The rear-firing woofer and tweeter are mounted behind black grille cloth above the termination block on the rear panel. While other Snell models have incorporated a tweeter on the rear panel, the B is the first to use both woofer and tweeter. The theory behind the rear tweeter was to compensate for the front tweeter's narrowing dispersion as frequency increases, thus maintaining a more uniform power response at the listener. According to Kevin Voecks, the rear tweeter adds a sense of air and space to the presentation. I confirmed this in my review last April of the Snell Type C/IV, which also employs a rear-firing tweeter.

The rear-firing woofer, however, is a different story. The idea was to get the second woofer a different distance from the room boundaries by placing it higher in the enclosure and on the rear panel. This reportedly smooths the in-room response; each woofer will excite the room resonance modes differently. The Type Bs are marked "left" and "right," with the rear-firing woofer pointing inward rather than into the room's corners.

All drivers are sourced from Vifa in Denmark. The 10" polypropylene-cone woofers are recessed into the cabinet. The 1" aluminum-dome front-firing tweeter is a variation on the tweeter found in Snell's Type C/IV, differing only in the addition of a rear chamber to reduce resonances. A ¾" aluminum-dome tweeter was chosen as the rear-firing unit for its excellent high-frequency dispersion.

The midrange drivers, enclosed in separate cylindrical chambers, are identical 5¼" cast-frame polypropylene-cone units. These reportedly have flat response, low coloration, and maintain their flatness off-axis. According to Snell, using two midrange drivers increased the B's power handling, lowered distortion, and increased dynamic range. In addition, the two midranges are mounted above and below the tweeter in a vertical line (the so-called D'Appolito configuration), creating a virtual image coincident with the tweeter. The midranges and tweeter are surrounded by felt and slightly offset toward the inside of the cabinet to avoid having them the same distance from the enclosure edges. The Bs are thus a left and right mirror-imaged pair.

One of Snell's primary design goals is to achieve flat amplitude response not just on axis, but also over a wide lateral window. A loudspeaker with a colored off-axis response will make sidewall reflections—a significant part of the energy received by the listener—even more colored than they would normally be. Snell addresses this by using high-order crossovers and chooses drivers based partially on their dispersion characteristics.

The crossover slopes vary according to the driver. Fourth-order acoustical slopes (24dB/octave) are achieved with second-order filters in conjunction with the drivers' natural rolloffs. The rear subwoofer is limited to an upper frequency of 40Hz with a 12dB/octave rolloff, making the designation "subwoofer" appropriate. The front woofer operates up to 275Hz, with a 24dB/octave slope to the midrange drivers. Both midrange drivers operate over the same frequency band, 275Hz to 2.7kHz, with 24dB/octave high-pass and 18dB/octave low-pass slopes. The front tweeter handles everything above 2.7kHz, the rear tweeter augmenting the treble output above 5kHz. This rear tweeter comes in gently, with a 6dB/octave slope. The 18-element crossover uses Mylar capacitors in the tweeter network and a combination of electrolytic and Mylar caps in the midrange section. Internal wiring is Monster Cable.

Snell's manufacturing procedure is unusual in that each loudspeaker is measured and the crossover fine-tuned so that the production product matches the prototype to within 0.5dB. Crossover inductors are intentionally overwound so that windings can be removed during this calibration. The result is that each loudspeaker has an amplitude response very close to the design goal and to its pair mate.

I ended up positioning the Bs about 36" from the rear wall and 25" from the side walls, toed-in so that the listening position was directly on-axis. This provided the best balance between solid center imaging and a wide soundstage, as well as the smoothest tonal balance. All the auditioning was done with the grilles in place and the five spikes fitted. My listening position placed my ears about 2" below the tweeter axis.

I'll begin with what the Type Bs do well. First, they're extremely dynamic, with the ability to play loudly without sounding compressed. They can deliver high playback levels without any sense of strain or congestion. Many loudspeakers really fall apart when pushed hard, the presentation becoming hard and congested. Not so with the Type Bs. They could handle any signal applied to them at whatever volume, maintaining the impression they could keep going even if my ears couldn't. It was especially rewarding to hear full-scale orchestral climaxes reproduced with effortlessness and ease.

The B's tonal balance was quite smooth through most of the band. The treble was well balanced to the rest of the spectrum, in contrast to many loudspeakers with excessive treble energy. I did most of my auditioning with the tweeter level turned slightly lower than flat or exactly flat, achieving a satisfying balance. The midrange was smooth and uncolored, except for one quirk discussed later.


I found the overall balance to be bass heavy, however. It wasn't so much that the bass was underdamped and boomy, but there was just too much of it. There also seemed to be a particular frequency that, when excited by a kick drum for example, became overbearing. On classical music, this characteristic wasn't nearly as apparent or distracting, but with music that had repeated rhythmic figures near this frequency, the effect was an unpleasant thud and sluggishness that dragged on the rhythm. With some records, the entire low-frequency region seemed sluggish and fat, lagging behind the rest of the music. Pitch definition was obscured, replaced by a "whoosh" that made individual notes difficult to distinguish. There just wasn't the taut, precise articulation in the lower registers that I find musically important. On Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller (Reference Recordings RR-33CD), the Bösendorfer had a thick quality through the midbass that prevented a feeling of transparency and life. Although I liked some of the Type B's other qualities, I had a hard time listening past this bass fatness. It was a constant reminder I was listening to a loudspeaker, and an impediment to forgetting the playback system and enjoying the music.

These observations reinforce two principles of evaluating audio equipment. The first is that errors of omission are far more benign than errors of commission. If a product takes something away from the music, that is preferable to one that adds something. The second principle is that studio recordings of electronic instruments—electric bass, for example—can reveal aspects of a product's sonic character not uncovered by using strictly classical music. Music in which a groove is established with the kick drum and bass guitar was much more of a challenge to the B than classical music in terms of speed and ability to convey the music's rhythmic essence.

I was also bothered by a slight midrange anomaly. There was an occasional prominence to certain frequencies—especially during vocals—that was unnatural. I wouldn't go so far as to use the word "nasal," but some notes sounded pinched, the vocal's character changing when these notes were hit. On Philadelphia Jerry Rick's album (Radiotron SLPM 37062), for example, his voice took on a different character on certain pitches. This impression was repeated with a variety of music, but was noticeable only intermittently. It wasn't as though there were colorations through the entire midrange—in fact, it was smooth overall—but rather that the anomaly was confined to a very narrow band.


The Type Bs threw a credible center image, with instruments existing solidly between the loudspeakers. Though the rear tweeter did add a greater sense of perceived space, I was unable to get much impression of depth and image size. The presentation seemed confined within a narrow and shallow area in relation to other loudspeakers I've auditioned. A good example was the Dorian Pictures at an Exhibition (DOR-90117). Jean Guillou's organ was not portrayed with the sense of space and size I've come to expect from this recording. Further exacerbating the foreshortened soundstage, I never got the feeling of ultimate transparency that allows the listener to hear into the soundstage. On the Three-Way Mirror CD (Reference Recordings RR-24CD), which with the right equipment can throw a stunning sense of space, the soundstage was constricted rather than expansive. It has been argued that this sense of depth is artificial, created by the loudspeaker rather than revealed by it. Using recordings I had engineered or those on which I'd been present during the session, however, I found the Bs to represent a departure from accuracy in terms of spatial presentation. In the ability to make the loudspeakers and rear wall disappear, the Type B was bested by both the Apogee Centaur Minor and the Monitor Audio Studio 20.

The bass character and the lack of perceived space were distractions from the musical experience. Despite the B's excellent LF extension, smooth treble, high power handling, and excellent dynamics, I found myself enjoying music more with the similarly priced but much smaller Monitor Audio Studio 20, a tiny 6" 2-way.

The Type B offers some remarkable qualities in the areas of dynamics, the ability to play loudly without strain or compression, and a smooth treble and even tonal balance. Despite these strengths, however, I was unable to hear beyond what I felt to be the speaker's Achilles' heel, its overbearing bass. Its reproduction of low frequencies was a constant reminder that I was listening to a loudspeaker, not just to music. In addition, the Type Bs just didn't disappear in my listening room, never giving me the sense of being transported to the acoustic event. Had the Type B cost less than $4200/pair, these criticisms would have been less severe. At this price point, however, there is strong competition and much to chose from. It is fair to point out, however, that other listeners, particularly if they do not play much jazz or rock music, may be bothered less by these characteristics. Further, the bass balance of the Type Bs may work better in rooms larger than my 14.5' by 21' room.

When deciding if a recommendation is warranted, the reviewer must ask him- or herself if he would buy this product with his own money, if he would suggest his best friend buy it, and if he will feel a sense of loss when the product is returned to the manufacturer. With regard to the Type B, I must answer no to all these questions.—Robert Harley

s10sondek's picture

JA1, thank you very much for posting these historic reviews.

One small request: would it be possible to dig up and append the Manufacturer's Comment from Kevin Voecks? It would really help provide another perspective to the dialog between LG, PWM, and RH.

I will add that reviews like this are very special and important, for several reasons: 1/ It is a NEGATIVE review, in which the reviewer explicitly states that the product is NOT recommended. This is exceedingly rare in Stereophile's pages over the last two decades, so it is useful to see an example of one; 2/ It contains 3 different perspectives from Stereophile reviewers -- which goes to show how opinions and value judgements can vary -- dramatically (and the manufacturer's comment would add a valuable 4th), and 3/ The primary full-length subjective review by RH somewhat contradicts the objective measurements provided - the measurements show 'near textbook' engineering and performance, while the subjective perspective shows dissatisfaction, an example of how great measurements are merely a necessary but not sufficient condition for great subjective performance in a loudspeaker.

I'll add one more general comment, which is that the review language of this prior era seems more analytically pointed than that which is commonplace today. It is easier for me to grasp how a component sounds using that more straightforward language than the more evocative poetry that appears now. I've read things recently in this magazine along the lines of "the singers sounded like they were dancing barefoot in the candlelight in a state of intense reverie." I mean, the latter is descriptive but I have no idea how that impression would map to my experience listening to the component in my system with my music. For all I know, that may translate to all music sounding crude, blurry, and dimly-lit ... served with a side of painful calluses that respond poorly to repeat salicylic acid treatments and long foot soaks.

John Atkinson's picture
s10sondek wrote:
JA1, thank you very much for posting these historic reviews.

You're welcome. When Stereophile launched its website 15 years ago, one of the goals was to post every review to the free on-line archive. We're well on the way to reaching that goal!

s10sondek wrote:
One small request: would it be possible to dig up and append the Manufacturer's Comment from Kevin Voecks? It would really help provide another perspective to the dialog between LG, PWM, and RH.

I'll retrieve the comment from the archived files and post it in a day or so.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

s10sondek's picture

Thank You for adding Kevin Voeck's Manufacturer's Comment, JA1!

Wow, what an invigorating dialog around this loudspeaker! You've got the systematic formulation of hypotheses regarding the bass response from various parties; and then subsequent validation/invalidation of them through measurements and simulations (amplifier output impedance, frequency response, etc) and experimentation within LG's listening room. Talk about thorough. And in the end, you get a sense of resolution or explanation as to why different people had different perceptions as to the speaker's bass performance.

Coming out of all this, I really get a good sense of how this speaker would sound in various kinds of rooms and driven by different kinds of amplification. What a treat. Furthermore, reviews like this give me a more general framework for how I can think about other loudspeakers that I may be listening to or reading about.

Thanks again JA1 for posting this Gold from the Stereophile Vaults.

John Atkinson's picture
Is now posted:

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile