Snell XA90ps loudspeaker Page 4

All audio products have their areas of strength and weakness—even one as well designed as the Snell XA90ps. To better evaluate the XA90ps, I used a variety of loudspeakers, some much more expensive—such as the older Snell Acoustics Reference Type A ($18,000/pair) and the Revel Salon ($15,000/pair). After lengthy listening sessions with these products, which twice or thrice as much as the Snells, I could detect differences—only on some program material—in soundstage depth, transparency, and freedom from compression. The $7000/pair Snell is obviously a highflying performer.

The Snell XA90pses' image specificity was very good, particularly for their ability to display soundstage width. Playing the Jerome Harris Quintet's recording of "The Mooche" on Rendezvous, the XA90ps spread the group out—vibes far stage left to stage center, trombone just right of center, sax far right, bass guitar and kick drum center, drums spread across the full stage width—in an exact match with JA's detailed liner notes on how he miked the session. In the same way, the XA90pses' imaging of the choral group on "Lord Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace," from John Rutter's Requiem (Reference RR-57CD), spread them across a shallow, somewhat distant stage. Switching to the Revel Salons or the Snell Reference Type As gave me the illusion of having been moved into the chorus, and of added depth—I could detect ranks of singers on the deeper stage.

Even though the XA90ps had an extended, open treble, the Revel Salon and Snell Type A Reference sounded slightly more transparent on some recordings. This was most evident when the Type As were playing "Prayer in Open D" from Spyboy. Emmylou Harris' voice became more open and translucent on the Type A, the accompanying guitar chords more crystalline and airy. On the very next cut, an cappella version of "Calling My Children Home," the Salon reproduced Harris' voice with a transparency and a dark, rich, slightly nasal timbre not heard on any of the other loudspeakers. The AR-1 that I reviewed in June was also more transparent on this recording.

What about Boléro? In order to use my audio system's full dynamic range, I turned down the volume control at the beginning so I could barely hear the snare drum. By the end of the "17-minute" crescendo, and even though the Bryston 7B-STs were not clipping, the XA90pses had been pushed past their limit—there were signs of compression and distortion. While none of the loudspeakers cleared the piece's final notes without signs of distress, the Salon and Type A Reference played the final E-major chord the clearest and loudest. I then realized that the final fortissimo at the live performance must have been very, very loud—providing a final release of Boléro's lengthy tension, and making us jump to our feet in spontaneous ovation.

The Snell XA90ps is, at $7000/pair, an expensive loudspeaker, though there are many others considerably more expensive. Yes speakers costing two to three times its price could better its sonics, but only on certain recordings. The XA90ps' features—internally powered subwoofer, parametric equalizer, remote control adjustment—all worked quite well, making it one of the best-conceived loudspeaker systems I've auditioned. Indeed, this speaker's wireless remote became quite addictive; now, having moved on to other speakers, I miss it.

The Snell XA90ps is definitely recommended—as is a trip to your local orchestra. Although no loudspeaker system can completely capture the dynamic range of a live performance of Ravel's Boléro, sitting in the concert hall will definitely enhance your appreciation of the music you listen to at home. It has for me.

143 Essex Street
Haverhill, MA 01832
(978) 373-6114