Snell Type C/IV loudspeaker Page 4

Despite the more viscerally satisfying bass reproduction, the Snells didn't convey the detail and nuance in low-frequency instruments I've grown accustomed to in months of listening through the Hales Signature and System Two. Fine textures, minute detail, and other aspects of low-frequency–rich instruments just weren't there through the Type C/IV. Because of this, there was less impression of palpability, of the instrument actually existing in the listening room. Consequently, some instruments sounded somewhat artificial and dead rather than believable and alive. This feeling was perhaps exacerbated by the contrast with the System Two's highly detailed and precise bass presentation. One designer chose to provide LF extension, weight, and dynamics, while the other chose refinement, articulation, and control.

The Type C/IV's low-frequency dynamics were excellent by any measure. Dynamic impacts were fast, effortless, and powerful. Bass drum, in particular, was punchy, well-defined, and provided a strong rhythmic foundation. On rock, jazz, and fusion, the Type C/IVs were immensely satisfying in terms of punch and kick. Orchestral climaxes accompanied by kettle drums—like those in much of Stravinsky—conveyed the orchestra's power and, by extension, the music's force.$s2 It was a delight to revel in the full weight of a symphony orchestra reproduced without a sense of strain or effort. The Type C/IV's exceptional bass extension and control were realized best with the Threshold S/550e. The VTLs provided greater warmth in the bass, but less extension and punch.

One aspect of the Type C/IV's presentation that didn't match its excellence in other areas was imaging and soundstage depth. Even after experimenting with placement and toe-in, I just couldn't get the soundstage to gel. Images remained diffuse, lacking precise focus. Instrumental outlines tended to be somewhat blurred together and amorphous. In addition, there wasn't clear differentiation between instruments: the presentation tended to become somewhat homogenized and synthetic. Perhaps this contributed to the Type C/IV's less than impressive depth. There must be clear differentiation between individual instrumental outlines before the illusion of three-dimensional layering can occur. Percussion instruments normally toward the back of the soundstage were "stuck" in instruments at the front. The woodblocks at the beginning of the tune "Past Ports" from the Yellowjackets' Four Corners (MCA MCAD-5994) lacked the clarity and individuality heard through the Hales System Two. I never got the feeling of discrete instruments existing in space, despite repeated toe-in and room-placement adjustments.

Chesky's new Clark Terry Live at the Village Gate CD (Chesky JD49) was particularly revealing of the two loudspeakers' spatial presentation. This recording can provide an uncanny feeling of being in the room with the musicians and audience. The System Two painted a vivid, clearly defined sonic picture—where each musician was, where the audience sat, room size, and other information. This picture was less distinct through the C/IVs, with poorer resolution of the spatial information that makes this recording special.

The Type C/IVs' imaging problems were thrown into sharp relief—perhaps unfairly, considering the price difference—by the System Two's excellent imaging. The Hales threw palpable images with pinpoint precision, all within a deep and transparent soundstage. Again, the System Two represents a substantial jump in price and doesn't have nearly the bass extension and power of the Type C/IV.

The Snell Type C/IV is a very neutral loudspeaker, without serious tonal colorations that could interfere with the listening experience. The mids were open, uncolored, and clear. In addition, the treble successfully struck a very good balance: the treble presentation was open, lively, and detailed, yet was never overly aggressive or forward.

For me, the best part of the Type C/IV was its remarkable bass extension, coupled with an ability to convey the weight and power of low-frequency–rich instruments. The bass was quite taut and punchy, lacking the sluggishness that often characterizes ported designs. When combined with the smoothness and lack of coloration throughout the lower registers, the Type C/IV provided a satisfying foundation to music that I greatly enjoyed.

In these aspects, the loudspeaker has realized its design goals. However, I felt that the Type C/IV had some weaknesses. First, soundstage depth and image specificity were not so impressive. I never got the Type C/IVs to create a credible impression of soundstage depth, or to throw well-defined, focused images. Second, the mids and treble had a slight graininess that made the presentation seem somewhat bleached and chalky. My final criticism is of the Type C/IV's tendency to obscure finely woven instrumental detail.

In one aspect, the Type C/IV's presentation was very similar to the System Two's: both speakers had very low levels of coloration, especially through the midrange. In other ways they were quite different. The Type C/IV had far better LF extension, more satisfying feeling of weight and power in the lower octaves, and a slightly less forward upper treble—all measurable quantities. However, the System Two easily excelled in textural purity and freedom from grain, soundstage depth and imaging, and ability to reveal finely woven textures—all unmeasurable qualities.

Could these last factors cited in the System Two's favor be partly a result of Hales Audio's attention to passive components like wire, terminations, capacitors, etc.? I wondered what the Type C/IV would sound like with audiophile-type internal wiring, no fuse and level control in the tweeter circuit, brass input terminations instead of five-way binding posts, and audiophile-grade caps in the crossover. Of course, these refinements would add considerably to the cost. As stated earlier, the System Two with stands costs half again as much as the Type C/IV.

The Type C/IV has earned a solid Class B recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." It does many things well and its shortcomings should be considered in the context of its moderate price tag and the importance of those factors to the particular listener. I can imagine some people preferring the C/IV over the System Two on the basis of low-frequency performance alone, while others may prefer the System Two's more refined presentation. I generally preferred the System Two, but did enjoy some music much more through the Type C/IV. Both loudspeakers are excellent in their own ways, and I'm sure a market for each exists.

The Snell Type C/IV is a "must audition" product for anyone shopping for loudspeakers near their price range.

Footnote 2: The new Chesky release (CD42) of Petrouchka with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Oscar Danon, and The Rite of Spring with René Leibowitz conducting the London Festival Orchestra, is a "must-have" recording. Both performance and sound are excellent. The original analog tapes, recorded by Kenneth Wilkinson in the early 1960s, were transferred to digital by Bob Katz with his 128x-oversampling A/D converter. Watch for JGH's review in an upcoming issue.
Snell Acoustics
(2009); company no longer in existence
as a separate brand, but website still active (2011)