[Originally wriiten on 20100925, updated today]
First impressions of the Danley SM60M: To put it simply, I am totally in love with these speakers!
But is it true love or merely gear lust? 8=> Read on and decide for yourself!
We have heard on this forum from a few satisfied owners of the Danley SH50 and the SM60F but I thought to add some feedback about the little brother of the SM60F, the SM60M. The little brother does not have the two 8” LF drivers in the horn, so its frequency response extends only down to 270Hz versus 66Hz for the F model, and it handles less power and has 1 dB less maximum SPL capacity.
I have followed Tom Danley’s designs since the days of the Servo-drive and his approach to phase coherence resonated with me (pun intended!). The fact that his Synergy speaker design can pass a square wave coherently made me sit up and pay attention. The SH50’s had previously called to me but my current music room is only a 910 cu ft space!
When the announcement of the SM60 design came out, I began to drool and plan. Though the SPL capacity may be overkill in a home stereo system, the SM60M’s pattern control/directivity promised to provide me with the illusion of a soundstage much bigger than my tiny room would normally permit
I chose the SM60M over the F for several reasons but mainly I wanted the smoothest and closest match to the frequency response of the SH50 in the range from 500Hz to 15,000Hz. Trusting the measurements that Danley posts on their web site (http://www.danleysoundlabs.com/
) and in the simple-is-better philosophy, I wanted to experience the Danley Synergy horn in its most basic, least complex implementation.
Given that both models of the SM60 appear to use an identical 5” coaxial driver, it puzzled me why the FR curves of the SM60F and SM60M seemed to differ in the region well above the frequency of the crossover from the dual 8” LF drivers in the F model. I wrote Danley an email, an excerpt of which follows:
…I am interested in getting sound quality as close to the flagship SH50 as possible. In the critical band, the SM60M’s response appears to be the closest approach to that of the SH50 and by the graphs appears to have more top end in the last octave than the SH50.
Looking at the TEF frequency response curves, I prefer the smoother-appearing response graph of the SM60M, especially in the critical intelligibility band (1000-5000Hz).
….Thank you for your time and your creations of genius!
Mike Hedden replied promptly and recommended the F model from his experience in sound reinforcement, stating that I would not like the sound of subs playing up into the 200 Hz region. But, being the ornery type who must test conventional wisdom for myself and taking a cue from the Danley documentation which states that mating the M with a bass array will produce good results, I persisted in my folly and went ahead and ordered a pair of the SM60M models.
My tiny room (10’ X 13’ X slanted ceiling only 7’ high in center and around 900 cu ft) is a major challenge for any sound system. Early reflections, easily excited modes, minimal separation, not enough space to create a life size sound stage to begin with. Added challenge: to accommodate a 70” wide screen, the speakers sit directly on the floor!
My main reason for hope was that the Danley design would provide enough directivity to allow the direct wavefront to stay coherent, despite all the unavoidable early reflections, if any design could.
I am sitting here about 12 feet from a pair of SM60M’s sitting directly on the floor (far from ideal but no choice in this attic room), spaced 5.5’ apart center-to-center. Wherever I move my head within the 60 degree coverage pattern, the tonal balance remains unchanged, though the soundstage illusion bends a little bit moving side-to-side, of course. I can confirm Tom’s claim that one would swear that there is a center channel present! The sound is like a coherent expanding ball that you feel like you could touch, it occupies space so convincingly. And yes, I have gone through my music collection compulsively, hearing things in familiar recordings which I had never heard before and enjoying them all over again, as if with virgin ears. 8=>
I am convinced that Tom created the SM60M model partly as a generous gift to those of us who were never satisfied with the state of the art in speaker design in the residential market, on top of the marketing savvy of providing yet another installation option to the pro audio marketplace. The SM60 is a breakthrough, crossover product, taking the clean sheet innovation of basic principles distinguishing the Danley SR product line into the home theater/high-fidelity market. In the latter spaces, the asking price is a sleeper steal awaiting anyone who hears them.
Allow me to list some of the ideals in audio reproduction realized in the SM60M design:
1) Coaxial 2-way driver equivalent to a single full range driver with no evidence of the crossover in the phase response?
2) Uncolored tonal balance throughout all octaves covered?
3) Single driver (effectively) point source coherence?
4) High sensitivity for wide dynamic range and to allow moderately powered amps to easily drive them?
5) Sufficient power handling to allow realistic SPL peaks?
6) Pin point imaging?
7) Horn dynamics, efficiency and pattern control?
8) Manageable size and weight, allowing deployment in almost any space (easily fit into my 130 sq ft room)?
9) Cost for such an array of stellar qualities?
Reasonable to all, a stone cold bargain to others!
Another claim confirmed: With eyes closed, it is nearly impossible to define how far away the speakers are! Instead, the recording engineers and the musicians completely determine the effective location. The speakers audibly disappear, never intruding on the sonic landscape, never getting involved in the projection, never anything but effortless.
I have heard speakers (very costly naturally!) that were supposedly the most “refined” available and those which disappear well, (B&W, Nautilus, Innersound, Wilson X-2’s, Sonus Faber etc), which sometimes translate to the use of esoteric drivers and heroic measures being taken with cabinet design, and with the primary focus on creating a refined frequency response. Not sure what smoothing may have been applied to the other speakers’ curves but I can confirm that the graph that Danley posts is honest, because I could reproduce it with my own un-smoothed TEF measurements!
What does “refined” really mean in the audio context?
Real sound, like real life, is anything but refined! Realistic sound transducers must allow the jarring, shocking, nasty, shrill, screechiness sounds of real life, real music and movie sound tracks through without editing. In particular, the idea of softening the harshness of bad recordings is dead opposite to recreating a sonic reality. If the life in the music and the ambient sound field are to be reproduced, there must be no deliberate compromises made to cushion the listener from the reality. Wilson’s products come immediately to mind. Their products I have heard render the music as lifeless and dull as a lively kid put on Ritalin just for being too alive!
From a musician’s perspective, the first job of any speaker is to convey that subtle synergy that real music has, not to filter out the sonic truth so that the listener can distance himself and remain detached emotionally!
However, those speakers that aim foremost at being musical, avoiding any design choices that rob the sound of life, dedicated to allowing the vivacious energy of the musicians into your space have always trumped overly dry, analytical speakers, whose main claim was “accuracy”, as if that label is merited by a cherry-picked selection of a few measurement dimensions.
With the SM60M Synergy design, you can have your accuracy and eat your music too, unobstructed! Like all designs of genius, the art is in selecting the most fundamental principles among which to balance one’s design choices. Tom’s focus on phase accuracy and pure point source time/space coherence has paid off in the SM60M, a glorious synergy of acoustic elements.
From the most delicate harmonics of an ethereal female voice recorded carefully to preserve it from over-processing to the most powerful spikes and roars coming out of nowhere from sonic black silence, the SM60M continues to make me say “Wow!” The only downside, as with any accurate system, is that the excesses of audio engineers and the flaws in the musician’s taste and technique stand naked before you. A voice miking setup that desperately needed de-essing to remove sibilants will suddenly tear at your ears just when they are sinking deeply into the presentation!
My goals in audio reproduction have always been about creating enough of a realistic representation so that my mind expands deeply into the created acoustic space and trusts the illusion enough to fully experience what was happening as if I were present at the time of the recording.
As an acoustic musician, intimately familiar with the actual sounds of voice, band and orchestral instruments, my audio reproduction standards had less to do with the artificial seduction of a high-class courtesan (no matter how sophisticated the hair, makeup and fashion sense) and more to do with the simplicity of the beauty of an unadorned happy person standing before me with presence.
With realism as the goal, it is always easier to distinguish the pushy, glitzy hard-sell from the subtle naked revelation of truth. Some seek to deliberately dress up their sonic landscape, using the idiosyncrasies of various speaker designs to put a pretty (or ugly) face over the music coming toward them. Or emphasizing particular elements over others in a demonstration of technical virtuosity instead of musical presentation.
Just as the eye can be easily seduced by a very bright picture into ignoring flaws in an image, so speakers that rely mainly on power dynamics and volume to sound good can, for a time, convince the mind that reality is being recreated. With continued daily experience with AV systems, one’s desire for a deeper experience of realism discovers the limits of the presentation and once found, the itch to go beyond those limits continues to intensify. I want to hear the musician’s every nuance and harmonic, every snap and pop, not get overwhelmed by a sonic massage.
In my auditioning experience, if speakers can achieve presence and realism while playing softly to moderately, they are something special. If these same speakers also have seemingly unlimited dynamic range, the package is complete, like the SM60M, simply a diamond awaiting further appreciation.
When this was written, I had only had the SM60M’s for 2 weeks and most of that time without the foundation of the bass range and mid-bass to support them. At first, an adjustment to the tonal imbalance was required, due to the missing low range sensuality and envelopment but since that initial few minutes of resetting expectations, the overall deliciousness and breath-taking realism of the sound has made me forget the lack of foundation as I revel in the most coherent mid-range and luscious, seamless highs that I have heard from transducers that were not headphones!
I have played them at levels in the SPL range averaging from 60-90dB. The presentation was compelling enough that though I could turn up the volume at will without negatively impacting the transparency, there was NOTHING lacking in the presentation at moderate volume, other than the low end response.
So, I looked for the most affordable pair of sealed subs that had a nice flat frequency response up to 300Hz +/- 3dB and decided to mate the SM60M’s with a pair of Epik Empires, known for their killer mid-bass slam, excellent sound quality and ample SPL capacity. Using a L-R 24dB/octave crossover at 200Hz, and a QSC DSP-30 to EQ the sub/mid-bass range, I have put together a stereo pair of custom 3-way speakers composed of two cabinets each side.
To be fair, Mike Hedden’s recommendation of the F’s over the M’s has great merit. If I did not have the time, tools and inclination to mate the M’s with a set of very capable, musical subs with flat response up to 300Hz as bass cabinets, there is no doubt that the F’s would have provided a superior overall experience. I made the trade-off of the seamless phase response that the F’s provide from around 70Hz all the way up for the seamless phase response from 200Hz on up from the M’s and what I consider to be an audibly smoother frequency response from 500 to 5000Hz.
When I first mated the subs to the SM60M’s, I thought I had made a mistake in judgement. The magical seamless presentation became divided by the inevitable phase break at the crossover frequency (using an analog electronic crossover set to 200Hz to mate the SM60M’s to the bass section) and the octave overlap up to 400Hz seemed to slightly obscure the formerly transparent soundstage. After inverting the phase of the subs, adjusting the gains between tops and bass, and re-adjusting my perception to the return of the missing lower three octaves, the seamless imaging returned, intact.
I believe that the ear (or my ear at least) is less sensitive to phase breaks around 200Hz than higher up in the critical band. At some point in the future, I would love to audition the F’s, mated with their own bass section to make the comparison fair but crossed over at 70Hz instead of 200Hz. If they possess the same sincere simplicity and imaging clarity that the M’s present, then system integration becomes that much easier, even for the most discerning ears.
[Update 20110305: I have installed a pair of SM60F’s for a home theater client and upon cranking up the DTS Master Audio sampler, with only the L/R mains playing, the client was instantly transformed into an audio lover (since audiophile has been co-opted as a derogatory term applied to those with too much disposable income in thrall to high-end sales and marketing) excitedly searching for the words to describe his experience. The client immediately stated that he felt transported to the feeling and sensation of live concerts he had experienced. For my part, the SM60F’s were certainly much simpler to deploy and retained the simple realism and transparency of the SM60M’s]
I had two goals for this hybrid mating:
1) A stereo pair to satisfy my musician’s ears and their lifelong pursuit of high fidelity and realistic presentation of live instruments and the space in which they are playing
2) To put together the L/R components of the highest quality PA system which I could afford for reinforcing a 2/4 man band in small venues.
With integration with the bass sections, the temptation to turn up rock and jazz recordings has increased, to be sure! With the foundation of 2 opposed-firing 15” sealed drivers per side, loafing along in matching sensitivity to the Danley’s, the call for live concert levels began!
It turns out that drivers made of unobtainium and cabinets using up precious resources are NOT required! The recipe starts with uncompromising faith in fundamental principles which respect both acoustic law and human physiology and perception combined with the relentless pursuit of those ideals, mixed with out-of-the-box thinking, takes us to the promised land of audio realism some of us have pursued for a long time.
The tonal balance of these speakers does not alter throughout their entire range yet there is headroom and explosive impulse response always on tap, seeming to transcend all physical boundaries in presenting the sound.
There IS DEFINITELY SOMETHING to Tom’s “secret sauce”, that out-of-the-box/out-of-the-horn design vision where genius breathes. The high end of the SM60M is super sweet and subtle, when it needs to be!
After having the SM60M’s for only two weeks and only beginning to mate the bass sections to the SM60M’s and tune them to the room, I can state with certainty that I have finally found what I have been looking for in a speaker!
[Update: 20110305 – Time has only confirmed the uniqely balanced quality of this design. With further EQ to the bass section, the hybrid Danley SM60M/Epik Empire speaker is simply astonishing in every area of performance and musical satisfaction! That the hybrid can do this with the Danleys sitting on the floor, with the dual Empires filling the space between the Danley pair, is further validation of Tom Danley’s (and Chad Kuypers) design philosophy]
Coherence, transparency, disappearing act
Dynamics, efficiency, ease
Minimal room interaction and minimal combing effects
Effortless musicality, extension and grace
Imaging, the coherent illusion of a center source where there is none
A soundstage seemingly independent of the speaker placement and remaining consistent when you move your listening position forward or backward, or side to side within the coverage pattern of the two speakers.
In summary: gorgeous, sensuous transmission of the musical space.
I have measured the SM60M with a TEF25 (in order to mate them into a proper stereo 3-way integration with the Epik Empire subs and tame the room response) and the magnitude plots, waterfall plots and phase plots tell a story that explains my ear’s infatuation: Clean fast decay permitting crystal clarity, smooth and extended response.
Many thanks to Tom and all the crew at Danley Sound Labs for bringing the SH50 experience (and perhaps in the uppermost octave, an even sweeter experience) to the market in a smaller, lighter form and at a price point which NO ONE who is serious about high fidelity can reasonably overlook in their quest.
Many thanks also to Chad Kuypers for creating an extremely musical and extended subwoofer for a very reasonable price, whose group delay characteristics, transient response and extended frequency response are all so excellent that they can hang with the Danley Synergy design and mate into a seamless full range speaker.
OK, I know I have gushed too much but I simply could not contain my excitement, just HAD to share it with all those who have been wondering about speakers with enough dynamics to match their DTS-10 horn subs. The SM60F would provide a much more straightforward implementation than what I have created using the SM60M, but either model would no doubt be a superlative choice from which you will never look back!
This review is my thank you for all the valuable knowledge shared here and a token of my sincere gratitude for Tom Danley’s creations. I hope you enjoyed it!