Snell XA90ps loudspeaker Page 3

The Snells faced the full length of my listening room, which is 26' long, 13' wide, and 12' high, with the lower part of the semi-cathedral ceiling above the left loudspeaker. The back of the room opens into a 25' by 15' kitchen through an 8' by 4' doorway. This large listening area—over 5000ft$s3—often causes two-way speakers to strain when pushed, but the Snell XA90ps produced high output without apparent distortion. Its stated voltage sensitivity of 90dB/2.83V/m is higher than the range of speakers usually reviewed by this magazine, allowing medium-powered solid-state amplifiers such as the 100Wpc Mark Levinson No.331 to generate high SPLs without clipping. I used the higher-powered Bryston 7B-ST monoblocks (954W into 4 ohms) for this review because of their wider soundstage, superior bass control, and easily visible front-panel clipping indicators.

Even though Smith had adjusted the subwoofer's parametric equalizer, I used both pink noise and JGH's voice on Stereophile's Test CD 1 (STPH002-2, track 5, index 10, Neumann TLM 170 microphone) to trim the XA90ps' midrange and tweeters. Turning on the XA90ps' rear tweeter caused JGH's voice to harden, so I left it off. I also preferred the midbass driver's Reference setting to its Boundary setting.

The remaining adjustments were made using the wireless hand-held remote. Front-tweeter Boost and Cut adjustments were subtle, but I preferred the Cut position. As for the bass adjustments, I preferred the "0" position. As a result, I left the rear tweeter off, the front tweeter set to Cut, and the midbass control set to Reference. Remote-control settings varied with program material.

The XA90ps' sonic profile was evenly balanced, matching the relatively flat frequency response Smith obtained by adjusting the internal parametric equalizer. This gave the overall system a slightly bright characteristic in my listening room—clear highs, dynamic midrange, and powerful, solid bass response down to 23Hz—with no audible traces of second-harmonic distortion.

The resulting upper-midrange emphasis favored female vocalists. Suzanne Vega's a cappella rendition of "Tom's Diner," from her Solitude Standing album (A&M CD 5136), sounded startlingly realistic. She was right in the room, standing between the two speakers. Comparing Revel's Salon that I reviewed in March with the XA90ps, I favored the XA90ps for getting Ednita Nazario's voice closest to my memory of her live performance of the heart-wrenching ballad "Sunday Afternoon," from Paul Simon's Songs from The Capeman (Warner Bros. 46814-2). And Emmylou Harris' birdlike voice stood out clearly above the cauldron of sinister, throbbing, churning bass synthesizer notes in the opening of the apocalyptic "Deeper Well" (Spyboy, EM25001-2).

The XA90ps' handheld remote further improved vocal recordings by allowing me to trim overemphasized bass from my listening chair. The backup bass on Natalie Merchant's title song from the soundtrack to One Fine Day (Columbia CK 69716) was excessive on the large Snell Type A Reference system. Switching to the XA90ps, I selected the -2dB bass level setting on its remote. The resulting balance was terrific, allowing the XA90s to disappear, leaving behind Merchant's three-dimensional, Eartha Kitt-like voice right in the room.

The XA90ps' upper-midrange and treble clarity was associated with good reproduction of orchestral timbre and color. At the same NYP concert at which I heard Boléro, Muti conducted Busoni's Turandot Suite. Listening to the CD he recorded with the NYP (Sony Classical SK 53280) over the XA90pses, I heard that same soundstage depth and orchestral timbre. In particular, I enjoyed the XA90pses' reproduction of the ghostly high notes from the timpani duet at the beginning of Truffaldino, and the "brassy blattiness" (footnote 4) of the brass quintet at the beginning of Nocturnal Waltz.

Good orchestral timbre also was evident listening to FM music. I became completely involved in a late-night broadcast of the late Georg Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony in Beethoven's Symphony 6 (London 421 773-2). My notes from that night indicate that the XA90ps performed very well, giving the music "an infectious, slow dance rhythm, making me envision dancers making their slow, precise rotations and spins. The Snell XA90ps captured the massed chords of the string bass, which sounded full and rich, and the timpani notes were solid and well formed. The air around the instruments was well delineated."

Even though its sonic balance favored the upper midrange, the XA90ps produced ample amounts of deep, taut bass. The twin 10" woofers provided a full room lock, playing the sustained synthesizer chords at the very end of "Assault on Ryan's House," from the Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 66051-2). And the Snells played with authority and power the huge bass-drum whacks at the opening of La Fiesta Mexicana, from Fiesta (Reference Recordings RR-38CD); the deep, raspy throb of David Hudson's didgeridoo on "Rainforest Wonder" (Didgeridoo Spirit, Indigenous Australia IA2003 D); Joel Goodman's subterranean synth chords on "Silk Road" (I Ching of the Marsh and the Moon, Chesky WO144); and Glen Moore's pulsating string bass on "The Silence of a Candle," from Oregon's Beyond Words (Chesky JD130). The Snell also had plenty of pace'n'rhythm—as heard listening to the Billy Drummond's drum solo on "Followthrough," from Jerome Harris' Rendezvous CD (Stereophile STPH013-2); or on Emmylou Harris' driving, locomotivelike "Tulsa Queen," from Spyboy. Even so, the XA90ps' subwoofers did not have the Revel Salon's timbral accuracy or pitch definition in the deep bass.

Footnote 4: Cf. John Atkinson's liner notes for his recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, referring to a term used by JGH. (Test CD 2 booklet, p.18, Stereophile STPH004-2.)
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