Snell Type C/V loudspeaker

When I say that this past—and last—Summer CES in Chicago was dead daddy dead, I'm not talking about fewer high-end exhibits and attendees than ever before. I'm talking I walked in the front door of the Chicago Hilton and almost puked from that smell of dead, mealy meat that hits you in the face and kicks-in the gag reflex. The smell of death you can taste even if you're breathing with your mouth. In most religions, it's a sin to let something that dead just sit there without at least spreading some lye on it to kill the stink. I once cut a man for misadjusting the VTA on my cartridge, and that man lying on my listening-room floor with an Allen wrench still clenched in his hand wasn't as dead as this last SCES.

But even though I mostly sleepwalked through the Hilton's few high-end exhibits without hearing anything very interesting, one speaker intro made my ears prick up and take notice: Snell's brand-new $2500/pair Type C/V. Yet another rung up the evolutionary ladder from the Type C/IV reviewed by Digital Lad (Robert Harley) in April '91 (Vol.14 No.4), Snell's completely revamped the older speaker's design to come up with a whole new speaker instead of merely a minor update.

Snell's exhibit room in the Hilton was an interesting scene fo' sho'. I and my compadres, Peter Mitchell and Tom Norton, handed our various CDs to Snell's Kevin Voecks (footnote 1). I scratched my head through their classical selections; I'm sure they wanted to kick my ass like a redheaded stepchild all the way through Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun," from Superunknown (A&M 314-540 198-2). But we were all real impressed with the Type C/Vs, and I wasn't the only one of us who came back later for s'mo'.

I'll tell you right off the bat: One of the main reasons I was so impressed with the new C/Vs when I heard them in Snell's room at SCES is because I've never really dug the various bigger Snells all that much. Yeah, they can all play pretty *%!g#$!s loud, unlike most Audiophile Approved speakers, but they've always seemed to have a heaviness in the low end—a sluggishness that just slows down the overall groove on rhythmic music, and that's the real death knell for me when it comes to speakers. I've heard this quality in Snell's Type B, their Type B minor, the older A/III, and even their THX-certified speaker system.

Other noted high-end speakers, like Thiel's $3990/pair CS3.6, also suffer from this problem. No matter how good a speaker may be across the rest of the range, if it has this bass heaviness, it's always ruled out for me. It wasn't till the mighty NHT 3.3 came along that I found a big-ass muscle speaker that could do the transparency thang without any midbass blump to slow down the rhythm. While a dollop of blump may give slow-tempo classical music a sense of weight and heft, this kind of presentation can put a real drag on the groove with faster, more solidly rhythmic music like rock, jazz, soul, blues—hell, anything but slow-tempo classical. So when I heard the new Type C/V sound pretty damn good no matter what we fed it, I asked Kevin to send me a review pair.

Has Snell finally banished the blump?

The guts
As I said before, the new C/V is a totally different speaker from the older C/IV. While both are moderately tall floorstanding models—the C/V is about 47" high with the supplied spikes installed—the C/V has two 8" vented woofers as opposed the C/IV's single 10" vented driver; while the older speaker had one 5" midrange, the C/V has two such drivers, mounted in what Snell calls an "MTM array" (basically, just the common midrange/tweeter/midrange samwich thang) above and below the 1" pure-titanium tweeter. This tweeter is the same driver used in Snell's Type B minor, reviewed by Larry Greenhill in April '94 (Vol.17 No.4, p.166). Both the midrange and woofer drivers are plastic-coned units, and all of the drivers are hard-wired to the crossover and speaker binding posts with heavy-gauge Monster Cable hookup wire. The woofers are driven in parallel, crossed-over to the midranges at 300Hz; the midranges, also driven in parallel, hand things over to the centrally mounted tweeter at 2.8kHz. All slopes are 18dB/octave "Butterworth" types. To reduce cabinet-edge diffraction and smooth the speaker's response through the midrange and treble, a sheet of thick, sound-absorbing felt is glued to the C/V face surrounding the mid/tweet/mid samwich.

The rear of the C/V is where you find not only the woofer port's opening 4" down from the top of the cabinet, but the second, rear-firing 1" dome tweeter. A common feature of the Snell line, this tweeter only comes into play in the highest two octaves, and is designed to add a sense of "air" and "life" in the highs by spraying HF energy at the wall behind the speakers and filling-in the overall power response in the highs, where all conventional dynamic speakers narrow their dispersions. Of course, this rear-firing tweeter can also make for a more "soft-focus" character in the highs, as it basically increases the ratio of reflected HF energy bouncing off your room's walls before it reaches your ears, to direct sound from the speaker's front tweeter. If you're like me and don't like this effect, you can switch off this second tweeter via a switch on the rear panel, next to the binding posts.

The binding posts are good-quality, gold-plated jobs, with round, metal thumb-knurl nuts rather than the usual plastic hex-heads. Two pairs of posts are provided per C/V to allow for bi-wiring and passive bi-amping, with gold-plated jumpers included so you can hook these guys up with a single run of cable. Also on the rear panel are the in-line fuse that's wired in series with both tweeters, the aforementioned switch for the rear-firing tweeter, and a wirewound level control to adjust the main tweeter's level. Snell sez that the C/V's response is flattest when the tweeter level control is set at 12:00.

Overall, I thought the Snell C/V was a real fine-looking hunk o' speaker. Its hand-oiled real walnut veneer was finished to perfection, and fit'n'finish were topnotch. Look around at what else is out there at the $2500 level, and you won't find anything that packs so much speaker into such a big-ass, finely finished box.

Damn good for the bucks. Take this as you will, but these new Type C/Vs are the first Snells that I felt I could recommend to a friend. In fact, I already have. I think they're clearly better, in an all-around sense, than what you'd get for your $2.5k from the likes of Thiel, Vandersteen, and most anyone else doing a one-piece, full-range speaker in this price range.

Would I want to live with them? I've been too spoiled over the past year and a half by what the mighty $4000 NHT 3.3s can do. If I had $2500 to spend on a pair of speakers, I'd just as soon hock one of my guitars so I could get the NHTs. But I'll say this about the Snells: I liked 'em a lot more than I didn't. There were a couple of areas where I felt the Type C/Vs could've been better, but, overall, I had a real good time with them. Given the choice, I'd definitely take these new Snells over the $2750/pair Thiel CS2 2s or the $2395/pair Vandersteen 3As—overall, I think they cover more bases and do less damage to the music than either one of these Class B speakers. I think the Snells are a far better value.

The C/V's sound was big, meaty, and very neutral across most of the range. The low end was full and weighty rather than lean and restrained—after all, it is still a Snell. There was a bit of emphasis in the midbass that gave male vocals a slight chestiness when compared directly to the very neutral NHT 3.3s, but I heard much less in the way of overbearingly blumpy bass with the C/V than I do with all the other big Snells. Even the Thiel CS3.6 has more of an annoyingly fat midbass hump than these new Snells, which mainly push bass lines noticeably up a bit in the mix, but otherwise don't drive you crazy trying to find the one speaker placement in the room that doesn't boom like so many other big-ass speakers. I got the best balance by bringing the Snells out into the room, where their midbass fullness flattened out to an acceptable level. This is one speaker that does not sound dickless when you move it away from the wall behind it—believe me.

Footnote 1: So many people mispronounce Kevin's last name "Vokes," "Vo-ex," or "Voox" that when I properly pronounced it "Vakes" the first time we met, he grabbed my head and tried to kiss me. Remember, that's "Vakes," as in, "My heart vakes every time we're apart."
Snell Acoustics
300 Jubilee Drive
PO Box 3717
Peabody, MA 01961-3717
(978) 538-6262