Spica Angelus loudspeaker Page 3

Generous it wasn't—the Angelus will never be a first-choice speaker for parties dedicated to destroying brain cells with unhealthy doses of Twisted Sister or Motley Crue. But it gave enough extension to make organ recordings with real low bass (my reference in this respect is an LP including Karg-Elert's Homage to Handel, recorded by Michael Woodward in Liverpool Cathedral, England) musically satisfying. It had also developed sufficient levels of the "purr" on bass guitar and plucked double-bass that I feel necessary to suitably underpin the music.

It is in the midrange, however, that the Angelus excels, and the reproduction of human voice in particular. Baritone voice, Airrion Love, for example, on the verse of that classic Stylistics track "You Make Me Feel Brand New," did not suffer from the "after-boom" so common with ported speakers at this price level. The Angeluses—Angeli?—also had the ability to present naturally sized voice images, there being a refreshing freedom from "image bloat."

My recording of the Polish pianist Anna-Maria Stanczyk playing Chopin's Waltz in C-sharp minor found its way on to the HFN/RR Test CD. Each phrase of the main melody with an upward-running scale, from the A above middle C to a C# nearly two and a half octaves higher—the fundamentals ranging from 440Hz to 2217.5Hz—is the nearest musical analogy to sweeping a test-tone through the region in which many speakers have severe problems and where music has the bulk of its energy. The presence of cabinet resonances, destructive interference between the direct sound and that reflected from the cabinet rear, and the like, result in some notes leaping forward and others disappearing with this scale. In general, panel speakers, not having cabinets, manage this passage with nary a stumble. The Angelus did well here, the timbre of the Steinway being reproduced naturally. In addition, as with other speakers to grab my fancy, the body of the piano tone was integrated with the initial hammer sound.

This recording is also quite critical regarding the reproduction of its soundstage. I made the recording with a Calrec Soundfield microphone set to crossed figure-eight mode, positioned about 15' away from the piano looking down the line of the lid. The piano image should occupy the right-hand side of the stage, the keyboard being just left of center. The reverberant soundfield should also be nicely defined, placing the piano distinctly behind the plane of the speakers. Not many speakers do this: either their tonal quality brings the piano image forward, bruising the delicate relationship between ambience and direct sound; or they reduce the piano image to a kind of "fat" mono. The Spicas presented the soundstage as I remembered, and as I had wanted.

This ability to decode the recorded soundstage is presumably due to the care John Bau has taken over the crossover integration between the drive-units, though I don't think that this is the only parameter to so correlate: relatively narrow-baffled loudspeakers such as the LS3/5A, Celestion SL6S/SL600/SL700 family, and Monitor Audio R952MD also possess this ability. The Angelus is superb in this respect, nevertheless. I tried it with a recording of an unaccompanied choir singing Thomas Tallis's "Calvary Mount," which I had made using an ORTF technique. Again, this recording's soundstage is fragile, presumably due to the fine balance struck between time and amplitude imaging, often either sounding bloated and diffuse or too monophonic, depending on the speaker. The Angeli presented it as I had intended it to appear—the singers strung in an arc across the center two-thirds of the stage, surrounded by the church acoustic.

The ultimate test in this area is a recording made by the BBC of Palestrina's Missae Papae Marcelli (BBC Records CD 572). This analog original, recorded in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, is a recreation of the Pontifical High Mass of St. Sylvester as it might have been performed on New Year's Eve 1631, using a double choir. To say that it has a reverberant quality is an understatement: the sound of the unaccompanied male voices rolls gently around the chapel . . . and around . . . and around, almost to the point where intelligibility is lost among the swell. With most speakers, the qualifier "almost" is unnecessary; with the Angelus, the voices are separated enough from their associated wash of reverberation that they remain intelligible, more effectively transporting the listener to Rome.

There are some areas where the Angelus's performance reflects its relatively modest price. The lack of air, of transparency, above 8kHz was a disappointment after my experiences with the better metal-dome tweeters featured by the Celestion SL600/700 and Monitor Audio R952MD. And despite the overall neutrality of the midrange, I occasionally caught a glimpse of a hollowness to the sound, somewhere around 600-700Hz.

In addition, record ticks and scratches acquired a slight HF emphasis, something I found surprising considering the neutral quality of the treble. The relatively limited dynamic range also caught me out more often than I would have liked: my room is somewhat lively in the upper midrange and treble, and there was a distinct threshold with the Angelus where the HF hardened, acquiring a gritty quality. Whether this was due to distortion in the tweeter, or to the off-vertical-axis brightness finally dominating the room sound at the expense of the direct, more neutral, balance, I haven't got the instrumentation to determine. It did, however, impose a top loudness limit a little lower than I would have liked.

To sum up
Long-awaited, the Angelus is not only the best speaker John Bau could design to sell for $1000, it is one of the best speakers I have heard, not only at this price but among those costing up to twice as much. This is not to say it's perfect: the ultimate dynamic range is more restricted than you might think for a loudspeaker standing nearly four feet tall, and there is a lack of air—sparkle, if you will—in the top octave. The bass, however, makes up in quality what it lacks in absolute quantity—though its level and tuning mean that careful audition in the listener's own room and system will be mandatory. The soundstaging abilities are excellent, not only in lateral and depth definition, but in presenting believable instrumental images within the soundstage. The forte of the Angelus, however, is in its reproduction of voice—utterly natural. Indeed angelic! Recommended.