Snell Type C/V loudspeaker Page 2

Still, coming directly from the ultra-tight, well-defined bass of the NHTs, the C/V's low end betrayed its ported origins by tending toward a slower, more thumping character than the fast and agile sealed NHT woofer. This gave the impression that the bass was lagging somewhat behind the rest of the range during strong rhythmic music, such as Jimmie Vaughan's "Don't Cha Know," off Strange Pleasure (Epic EK 57202). Although the C/V suffers from this to a much lesser extent than the other big Snells, such as the B and B minor, there was still a trace of it in the C/V when compared with the NHT 3.3, which has very strong rhythmic ability. Compared to other speakers I've heard in its price range, though, I'd say the C/V is better than the norm—most of which have such lousy rhythm in their low ends that they cause their owners to buy Chesky CDs instead of Rhinos, drink Heineken instead of Colt 45, and get their political views from a fat guy who's wrong only 97.2% of the time.

The C/V had decent low-end definition, but nobody's going to mistake it for a sealed-alignment design. Bass control was tight enough to follow quick-fingered basslines, but subtleties in electric basslines, such as those on the Latin Playboys CD—"Forever Night Shade Mary," in particular—were less evident than with the NHTs. There's no bass player at all on Jimmie Vaughan's Strange Pleasure, the basslines being handled by Hammond B-3 organ-player Bill Willis dancing on the B-3's bass pedals. When I bought the disc, this was obvious over the 3.3s from the very first note; but if I'd first heard it on the Snells, I probably would've missed it and wondered why the bassist wasn't credited in the liner notes.

In terms of extension, the C/V went impressively low, but didn't do all that much in my room below 35Hz or so. The room-shakin' earthquake at the end of Graham Central Station's "Earthquake," off Now Do U Wanta Dance, didn't quite rock the foundations of my house like the NHTs do when driven by the Aragon amplifier. But unless you listen to pipe-organ recordings, sound-effects records, or this stupid bit of hardcore '70s funk, the C/V goes down more than low enough in the bass to handle most any commercial recording you're likely to feed it. Listening to rock and soul records from all over the map, I never felt that the sound lacked for deep bass. If anything, the Snell's weighty, meaty low end gave it the impression of having subjectively deeper bass than the more neutral NHT 3.3. It didn't, of course, but that's what a weightier midbass presentation sounds like; and if you dig this kind of thing, the Snell will make you very happy. I liked it on certain rock recordings, where the C/V's sense of power and foundation gave the music a solid, forceful feel. But on other recordings, like the MoFi Muddy Waters Folk Singer gold CD (Mobile Fidelity UDCD-593), with its already weighty mix, the Snell's tendency toward bass weight wasn't as welcome.

Now we get to the midrange, which is where the C/V made its strongest showing. Compared to the NHT 3.3, the Snell was just slightly chesty, but otherwise very neutral and clear—compared to the other $2500 speakers I've heard, the C/V is damn near without any character at all in the midrange. The Snell's high level of midrange neutrality and "rightness" was what immediately impressed me at its SCES demo, and I continued to be impressed all through my listening sessions.

Snell got the C/V's midrange real right. When you compare these speakers to others in their price range, try first some well-recorded vocals, like Johnny Cash's American Recordings (American 45520). After switching back and forth between speakers, you probably won't have to go any further. A very slight low-treble sibilance was apparent with some vocals, and it was just noticeable on the Johnny Cash CD. But aside from this, I really had no complaints to make of the C/V's performance through the all-important midrange. There are soooo many high-end speakers on the market, and sooooo few of them have a midrange as neutral and clean as that of the Snell C/V. It's really an overachiever in this respect—especially when its reasonable price is taken into account.

The Snells remained very clean up through the highs, but they still had a distinct lack of top-octave air that gave them a somewhat more polite character than the more strictly neutral NHTs. This gave the speakers the impression of having a very clean, spit-free treble, but every now and then I'd hear a cymbal that usually had more in the way of sheen on top than when I was listening to the big NHTs. Whether this was due to the Snell's tweeter having a rolled-off top octave or a more depressed HF response off-axis, and therefore less treble reinforcement from room reflections, I amn't able to tell without all that high falutin' test gear JA's got in Santa Fe. Either way, neither turning the main tweeter's level control up nor switching on the rear-firing tweeter were acceptable solutions to my ears—the former only increased the slight bit of low-treble sibilance the Snells possessed with the tweeter control set for flat response, and the latter sufficiently scrambled the C/V's soundstage focus that critical listening was effectively moot. Better to just accept the C/V's slight lack of HF air around instruments as a design choice, I think.

Dynamically, the C/V was a revelation compared to most any other speaker in this range. I cranked the shit out of 'em, and they took everything the 200W Aragon had and snickered back at me. Did they stay as clean and clear at Stupid-Approved levels as the big 3.3s? Nope. Did they completely, utterly fall apart so bad you couldn't understand the singer anymore, like every other $2500 audiophile speaker? Nope. They rocked, daddy! The midrange drivers were the first to start squawking when the speakers' limits were reached—and it wasn't subtle—so the Snells have a pretty good way of telling you just how *%!g#$!s loud they'll play in your room before they redline. But you'll cry "uncle" long before the C/Vs do, unless you've got a real big room or a smaller amp than the 200W Aragon I used. Everyone might have been wincing in the Snell suite when I played Soundgarden, but the C/V is right at home with heavy rock. If you think the likes of Vandersteen are "rock-ready audiophile speakers," check out the Snells first.

What didn't I like about the Snells? They're not the most detailed speakers I've heard in this price range. Low-level detail wasn't as clearly audible as the best speakers I've heard—as if the C/V didn't plumb as far down in reproducing a recording's minutiae. As much as I dug the Snell's overall balance of tonal neutrality and dynamic freedom, the picky audionut side of me was a little let down by the C/V's inability to decode all the information on a recording. Compared to the NHT 3.3s, the C/V came up short in that tactile, right-there sense of image focus and clarity that the 3.3 has in spades.

Neither did the Snells have the most pinpoint imaging and soundstage focus I've heard in this price range—the Thiel CS 2 2 is better at throwing up a clear, detailed soundscape, albeit at much lower levels and with much less in the way of dynamics than these big Snells. The C/Vs consistently threw a much shallower, less deep soundscape than I'm used to with the NHTs and other good speakers in my listening room. The C/Vs did side2side stuff well enough, the QSound effects on Roger Waters's Amused To Death (Columbia CK 47127) appearing far to the outside of the speakers; but no matter the recording, the soundscape was always more restricted in terms of depth than I'm used to hearing, even with cheap speakers like NHT's $230/pair SuperZeros. I tried many different placements, but the Snells never really disappeared when I closed my eyes. They're very good speakers, but they always sounded like a pair of very good speakers instead of a seamless sphere of sound, like very very good speakers.

I also felt that the Snells really only came to life when I had them turned up to realistically live levels. At lower, background music levels, the Snells could sound on the dull and lifeless side. Wick the volume control up, and it was a different speaker altogether. For those about to rock, don't worry about it; those about to nap might be happier with a pair of Thiels.

I think the new $2.5k Snell Type C/V is a must-audition in this price range. Besides its furniture-grade good looks, it's big, ballsy, and packs a whole lotta wallop while retaining a very neutral and coloration-free midrange. As I said before, this is the first Snell I've been able to really warm up to—if that sounds like I'm impressed, it's because I think that the vast majority of high-end speakers on the market suck. The Snell Type C/V doesn't suck. I think it kicks a pretty impressive amount of ass for the bux. Yes, the C/V still has evident traces of the Snell Blump, but if this new design is any indication of where Kevin Voecks and Snell are going, it looks like the "Snell Sound" is getting a retool to come up to speed with the times.

As I said before, I'd choose the C/V over the similarly priced Vandersteen 3 and Thiel CS 2 2 without thinking twice. I don't know of any other speaker in this price range with such a respectable balance of virtues for most listeners. The big Snells have their shortcomings, like any other speaker no matter how expensive, but it's up to you whether a neutral, natural-sounding midrange and He-Man dynamic ability are mo' betta than the ability to throw up a hear-through soundscape and resolve the last DNA twitch of recorded detail. I suspect that for most listeners, including myself, they are. As you go down the price ladder, you have to make more decisions about which sonic attributes you're most willing to trade for others, and the Snell Type C/V is no different from any other speaker in its balance of strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, Snell has made the right tradeoffs for the widest audience. Recommended.

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