Snell Type E/III loudspeaker Page 2

The Snell E/IIIs made a definite impression right away, and a good one. Despite their size, the E/IIIs came alive in my listening room, with a big soundstage presentation, a slightly forward quality, and no harshness or roughness. The speaker conveyed the warmth inherently present in music, while being open, fast, and showing considerable deep-bass extension. This warmth added a slight richness to the sound that I found very pleasing, particularly on well-recorded piano music. Chopin's Nocturne, Op.62 No.1, as played by Vladimir Horowitz (Last Recording, Sony SK 45818, DDD), came alive with an unusual richness and beauty that was captivating, almost hypnotic. The piano had the correct power and weight, good dynamic contrasts, and an overall excitement that had been missing before. Some, but not all, of Horowitz's majestic playing could be sensed with the inexpensive Lafayette receiver.

Even with this upper-bass warmth, the midrange of the E/IIIs was tonally neutral. As with the larger Type As, the E/III's midrange did not intrude. Upper instrumental timbres were true, and did not differ whether heard on the Quads, Type As, or Type E/IIIs. There was a natural, if somewhat remote, quality to the midrange.

The treble range was smooth, seeming to roll off gradually and unobtrusively. The Type E/IIIs passed the walk-around, stand-up, sit-down pink noise test for evenness of coverage described by Keele in his Audio review of the B&W 801 Matrix Series Two loudspeakers (Audio, Vol.74 No.11, p.112). My pink-noise source was the Stereophile Test CD, track 4. There was a treble "familial resemblance" shared by Types A and E, despite the fourfold difference in price. This was not surprising, considering that the two speakers use the same tweeter. Yet the E/III's upper-bass emphasis made the treble less prominent than heard over the Type As. The rear tweeter gave the Type E/IIIs a sense of air, although its top extension and sense of openness was not the equal of the dipole Quad electrostat.

Most of the Snell speakers I've owned or auditioned—three versions of Type As, an all-too-short two-day session with the Type Bs, the Type C/IV, and now the Type E—have had superior dynamic range. Whether played at high or low volume levels, the Type E/IIIs transmitted the full impact of percussion, bass drum, or electronic synthesizer, with no sense of strain or compression. This was revealed by the electronic synthesizer transients on Telarc's Time Warp CD (CD-80106), particularly on Don Dorsey's "Ascent." The power of Stravinsky's orchestral colors, woodwind timbres, and dynamics were revealed on the Lorin Maazel recording of Le Sacre du printemps, particularly the opening of "L'Adoration de la terre" (Telarc CD-80054). My listening notes on this recording suggest that the dynamic range only enhances the sonics, as I wrote, "Here is great instrumental definition, wonderful woodwind timbre, that is not lost at either high volumes or low...This speaker has no right being this good!"

The Type E/III's bass response was stunning. I had to remind myself over and over that I was listening to a ported, two-way, $1100 speaker system with stands. There was complete control, no overhang, and no peakiness in the mid- and low-bass musical spectrum. Yes, the Type E's pitch definition was bettered by the $3000 Quad SW-63 subwoofers, but not by much. But at their best, the SW-63s could only go down to 40Hz; the Type E/III had no difficulty playing 30Hz organ notes with power and clarity. Keith Johnson's new Reference Recording, the Dallas Wind Symphony's Fiesta! (RR-38CD), provided a wonderful opportunity for the Type E/IIIs to show their abilities to convey the warmth, weight, and power of a woodwind orchestra. In particular, H. Owen Reed's Prelude and Aztec Dance, with its opening soft chimes suddenly interrupted by bass drum, hits like a stun gun. The explosive percussion notes have a cliff-wall transient attack, and the Type E/IIIs gave me no preliminary clue of their power and impact. In contrast, the Gradient SW-63s just bottomed out at similar volume levels.

I'm very fond of organ music; the Type E/IIIs did not disappoint. Jean Guillou's organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117) was reproduced with excellent deep-pitch definition, while delivering two of my favorite subwoofer effects—room "lock" and "shudder"—on "Gnomus" (track 2). Track 15, the thunderous "Great Gate of Kiev," played with impressive dynamics, showing no intermodulation of the high notes by the all-out use of bass pedal. Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, as recorded for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (on Telarc's Time Warp, CD-80106), reveals the Type E/III's ability to reproduce the organ's 32Hz C-major fundamental in my listening room with superb pitch definition, air, and power.

But there were limitations to the E/III's 8" ported woofer, as the laws of physics for such small systems would suggest. The E's ability to convey the power and pitch of the very lowest, subterranean bass—such as the harmonics of the 25Hz bass-drum whack in David Wilson's "Liberty Fanfare" on the Wilson Audio Sounds of War and Peace—was easily bettered by a dedicated subwoofer such as the ULD-18. The big Velodyne shook the room, made the earth move, while the Type E/III produced a deep, somewhat muddy note, with about 25% of the ULD's power.

Of course, the Type E/III's tonal balance, great dynamic range, deep-bass response without overhang, and relatively uncolored treble and midrange response all depend upon use of the optional stands. The $120/pair square wooden stands are musts, and a small price for tapping the potential of these fine two-way speakers.

Don't trade in the Apogee Divas just yet
Well, so far this report is a boldfaced rave. The reader and other manufacturers may wonder what I use to sweeten my coffee. This review's considerable enthusiasm is the prelude to suggesting that the Snell Type E/III, even at its $1110-with-stands price, should join the ranks of more expensive high-end gear. After all, the Type E/III does meet JA's criteria for membership, recently applied to the el cheapo ($850/pair) Epos ES11 speakers (Vol.14 No.6). Both speakers convey "the musical values inherent in recordings with the minimum editorial influence." The little Snells communicate music's warmth and body, with a powerful bass response, great dynamic range, and a good rendition of midrange and treble timbres. In my listening room, the Type E/IIIs reproduced 95% of the musical information conveyed over the more expensive Type As and Quad systems. What could possibly be missing?

Over extended listening sessions, I became aware that the E/IIIs may have a slight frequency-response emphasis in the 80–200Hz range. I am not offended by this coloration, but some may be. After all, the E/III's 8" woofer has to handle all signals below 3kHz. Listening to station announcers with the Day Sequerra FM Reference, the E/III's upper-bass emphasis was not enough to markedly deepen male voices or make them tubby or nasal. The added warmth made the overall upper-bass sound closer to the slight warmth I heard over the newest Snells, the Type Bs, auditioned briefly in Stereophile's Santa Fe listening room during the 1991 Writers' Conference. Both the Quad USA Monitors and the Type As were free of this effect; I missed this warmth when switching to those more expensive systems.

Despite the Type E/III's other strengths, it just cannot image as well as the Quads, and lacks the transparency of a Type A/III Improved or the Quads. The Type E/IIIs can't disappear, or paint the holographic musical image that more expensive loudspeakers can. Their sonic soundstage can't be easily defined, despite a number of attempts to adjust the enclosure's toe-in angles. Instruments did not seem distinctly separated, and their positions relative to one another can't be easily determined. The Type E/IIIs produced only a limited sense of soundstage depth.

Switching between Type E/IIIs and Quad USA Monitors was the most revealing. Although the Type E/IIIs did not commit major errors in the mids and highs, their errors of omission made the more expensive electrostatics the overall winner in this region. Sure, the Type E/IIIs have great focus, snap, and transient speed playing the "L'Daddy" cut on James Newton Howard and Friends (Sheffield Lab 35); switching to the Quad USA Monitor revealed the depth and reverberation ("wetness") inherent in the recording. At almost four times the price, the Quad USA Monitors are just more transparent, open, detailed, and fast.

Conclusions & perspective
The Snell Type E/III is a "find," a real value: high-end sound for under $1200, stands included. Their bass response alone competes with more than one loudspeaker that has been nominated for Class A ratings in our "Recommended Components" feature. Some, but not all, of the strengths of this speaker can be heard with inexpensive electronics. The Type E's high efficiency means that it can be included in many budget systems, where more money can be spent on the loudspeaker and less on power amplification. If low-powered, substandard amplifiers like the ca-1970 Lafayette Criterion can make the Type E/IIIs play, then powerful, high-end, solid-state amplifiers really make them sing. The ease of setup and upper-bass warmth, coupled with a clear midrange and smooth, if unobtrusive highs make the Snell Type E/IIIs one of my favorite loudspeakers.

The speaker's weaknesses—its midbass emphasis, its tendency to provide a diffuse image and a shallow, weakly defined soundstage—reminded me that design tradeoffs are necessary to produce a relatively inexpensive speaker. These shortcomings will be problems for some listeners. They may prefer the other low-budget, high-end "find," the Epos ES11, whose ability to image and produce a well-defined soundstage was shown in TJN's extensive listening tests in July. Yet the Epos may not match the Type E/III's dynamic range and bass extension [and has a somewhat colored lower midrange region—JA]. With these limitations, the Type E/IIIs will probably end up at the very top of our newly revised, Class C "Recommended Components" ranking, but below the Type A/III Improved. For those who favor a full midbass response, great dynamic range, and deep bass, careful auditioning of these speakers is in order. Like me, these listeners may find that the Type E/IIIs have a richness and soul found in few audio products. No wonder Kevin Voecks describes this two-way system as a Vox Populi; it truly offers the wonder and excitement of recorded music at a modest price.

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