(Much of this review may also be found in the Official Philharmonic Speaker thread.)
Before diving into this review, I want to thank everyone who directed me toward Philharmonic speakers, and especially express my gratitude toward those who directed the Philharmonic speakers back toward me. (They know who they are and they know what they did!
I’ve been craving a Dennis Murphy designed set of loudspeakers since I heard my first one. I must admit, though, that the first pair I auditioned was an amazing product by Jim Salk in collaboration with Dennis, a Salk SoundScape 12 set. (Before being officially named, they were called simply the HT4’s.) The SS12’s were one amongst many pairs of speakers we were able to place into our GTG back in 2009. We got to do some fairly thorough comparing during that meet (including other Salk’s at subsequent meets). Perhaps 15 pairs of speakers were available for in-depth auditioning that weekend.
To me, the main attraction with Dennis’ speakers was the coherency I detected from the bottom end to the very top of their respective frequency ranges. Add to that, the SS12 included a phenomenal tweeter, new to me at that time, the RAAL. This little (but expensive) tweeter was by far the finest HF driver I’d ever heard. The other Salk speakers I heard during that GTG, while all just a bit different, shared an obvious and common heritage. All were voiced similarly with crossover designs by some guy named Dennis Murphy. And of course, Jim Salk’s cabinetry was beyond beautiful. If you haven’t seen them in person, you’ll be in for a treat when you finally do. As a myriad of others have said, pictures don’t do his craft justice. I lusted after every Salk speaker I saw that weekend.
I met Dennis at our GTG the following year. I took the opportunity to beg him to optimize an old JBL center speaker I had…a successful effort to improve the performance of the JBL to better mate with my renowned Aerial 7B main HT speakers. (We had space limitations that precluded the use of the Aerial CC3. The JBL is still a gem of a piece in our system.)
I never had the resources to acquire the Salks that I wanted. Enter Philharmonic Audio. As I understand it, Dennis wanted to put out a quality performing speaker that was within reach of po’ dudes like me. Cabinetry investment was minimized…but performance maximized. Oh was the performance ever maximized. I was prepared to like the Philharmonics, but never as much as I ended up loving them.
I had a joyous Thanksgiving by having a pair of Phil 2’s on route to me. Three of the four modules (1 bass, 2 mid/tweeter) arrived on a Thursday. Ack. Where was the other bass module? ‘Twas frustrating not being able to set them up. (Although I did manage to get in a lot of single speaker A/B comparisons to one of our Aerial speakers. More on that, later.) It seems FedEx likes to send things all around the country, willy-nilly. Having taken the low road around the U.S., the fourth box finally arrived on the following Monday and I was in business!
The Chinese made cabinet is not going to win any beauty contests. It’s a bit of a plain-Jane. But in person, it has a nicer finish that I expected from seeing photographs. Strangely, my wife and I both prefer the Phils’ looks in our setup over the much more expensively appointed Aerials. Perhaps it was the bad match of the Aerials cherry veneer along side the oak entertainment console. Maybe it was the shape. Still, I’d imagine that the Phil 3 cabinet, with its custom construction and veneer selection would be a nice step up in a beauty contest.
The first A/B tests were conclusive. The Philharmonic presentation was much more coherent top to bottom. Keep in mind that the Aerial 7B’s MSRP’ed at $6100/pair. The Phils’ RAAL gives such a wonderfully clean and flat FR delivery of the high frequencies, there was no way the laid back, “musical” sound (and gentle ringing) of the Aerials’ titanium tweeters could be preferred. When playing the Phil, one can hear the real twinkle of bells, the crispness of the high hats, the air between the sounds…in fact, the accuracy and effortless reality of all HF musical instruments. Because of the Aerials’ twin 7” ScanSpeak woofers, they might have had a slight edge in moving air at the bottom frequencies. But it is my opinion that the transmission line design of the Phils makes up in accuracy what it might lack in loud volume bass punch. (John Atkinson’s “slow bass” opine, aside. JA gave the Aerial 7B’s some of the finest comments and measurements ever seen on Stereophile…and I preferred the bass of the Phils.) The Phil is NOT lacking in bass punch. I say this only as a comparative comment with another expensive, non-TL speaker. In fact, I have another pair of speakers with SB Acoustics midbass drivers. I think they’re very good, very well designed drivers. That said, I wouldn’t mind hearing the Phil 3’s with their 8” ScanSpeak Revelator woofers.
My hopes and expectations were fulfilled. The Phils became the centerpiece of our entertainment system. And the Aerials? After trying to figure out how two decrepit old people were going to move these 114 lb. beasts, we considered selling them. But I still enjoy their presentation. So they have a new place in our home. The missus and I wrestled the spiked beasts into their new location. LOL, they just became the most expensive computer speakers around these parts.
They sound great for my office and computer work…although I do have a decent cdp/amp/soundcard setup driving the things. The Aerials have a tremendous and deserved reputation as quality musical speakers. They are built like tanks and use expensive, quality drivers made to the specs of well-known designer, Michael Kelly. But the Phils just did everything better, with the noted exception of the bass drivers blowing more air for loud music. (WAY loud music was the only way I could tell a difference.)
So how do the Phils sound? Here are my notes from a variety of music I put through them. (Note that they are also great HT speakers, and easily as dynamic as the Aerials they replaced.Philharmonic Audio Philharmonic 2 Loudspeaker Review
When setting the Phil 2’s up for auditioning and final system placement I played a bit with the midbass/tweeter cabinet stuffing and placement within our room. I started with the mid/tweeter consoles filled with the rock wool, and kept pulling a quarter of it out, while playing the same cuts over and over. I also started with the speakers out in the room quite a bit, even though I knew the CEO of my household operation wouldn’t allow for such placement. The placement you see in the pics was…ah…mandated. In our room, I much preferred the upper cabinets to be ~half-full (half-empty?
?). Grills were removed from the upper cabinets and diffuser pads were used on the RAALs. That setup allowed for a nice balance of soundstage depth, imaging and acoustic richness. While the speakers were out in the room, I was absolutely amazed at the soundstage width. You might notice that I’ve become a big fan of these speakers, and perhaps use glowing terms to talk about their fantastic performance. I unabashedly admit that these speakers have charmed the socks off me. But the one aspect above all others that impressed me was the width of the soundstage. I don’t exactly know how it’s done, but the music from some of my audition cuts extended WAY outside the speakers. I’ve had speakers provide the illusion of width beyond the cabinets before. But the Phils put instruments and voices incredibly beyond the boundaries of what I have ever experienced before. ‘Twas a wonderful experience. SevenMoore by SevenMoore
I began with this rare gem because it is one of my favorite albums. You may not be aware of it, as it had very modest circulation. If you own one, congratulations. The only cd I have been able to find (other than mine) is available on Amazon/Ebay for 200 bucks!! The band includes Marshall Tucker graduates, Jerry Eubanks and Paul Riddle. This is an album with some sweet country rock and dual lead guitars. The dueling guitars are not like the Outlaws or Skynyrd. SevenMoore’s music is much smoother, melodic, and well recorded. If you can find a good download of this, the band’s lone album, get it! You won’t be disappointed. Great voices, musicianship, song writing, and as mentioned, it’s very well recorded and edited. The cut used in the audition is named 406 Whisnant St. Why is it called that? Dunno. I chose this cut because of the great bass test that it provides as well as a run through most of the frequency range. Bass is clean and striking in a good speaker…dull and odd sounding in a not-so-good speaker. I’ve heard it in plenty of both. The bass line presentation by the Phil is the best I’ve heard this cut sound. Certainly there are other speakers out there that can reproduce these notes as elegantly. But from my experience, they would cost you a LOT more money. The sweetness of the bass singer’s voice and Winter-night-clear cymbals round into a great experience. Sibelius Symphony No. 3 by the London Symphony Orchestra
I chose this piece from my modest classical collection for its complete range of emotion. In this symphony, Sibelius gives us the soft, peaceful, and soulful points counterposed with highly charged, dynamic, lifting and powerfully emotive music. The Phils again handled the piece brilliantly. I found no congestion in the busier, complex elements of the symphony. Power and dynamics were without complaint. In fact, this piece provides a great rendition of the clean, straight-line power response of Dennis’ design. I unabashedly admit that the 3 dimensionality of the soundstage imaging was nothing short of amazing. One can hear the location, anchored in place, of virtually every instrument in the orchestra. And a very wide and deep soundstage it was! New Favorite by Alison Krauss + Union Station
This album, and the title cut specifically, are more or less a staple of the breathy female vocalists favored by many high quality speaker aficionados. I’ve listened to this piece extensively on my old Aerials, and the Phils put them in a lesser place in the world of class audio. The audio presence of the Phils and Aerials are equivalent, but the RAAL tweeter illuminates the lovely harmonics and highs from this lonely piece. Overall, there was a much greater feeling of Alison’s presence in my room than has ever been the case with the Aerials. I love this entire album more than ever, now. Romanza by Andrea Bocelli
Most of you surely know of this unbelievable man and voice. An Italian blind (from a football injury) attorney, he has a voice to shame the angels. Powerful, huge, effortless and controlled. In the song, Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro), Bocelli duets with Sarah Brightman, another classical luminary (and said to be the richest classical artist in the world). The song, if anything, is powerfully emotive and beautiful in music and lyrics. This is another piece, that when my wife and I closed our eyes, could really see them in our living room, singing just for us. If it’s in the source, the Phils will play it with ultra accuracy. The song’s emotion touched us more than usual. Time Well Wasted by the Freddy Jones Band
This is another under-the-radar band that produces some terribly entertaining music. This particular cd is, in my opinion, a very well recorded live album. If your toes don’t tap while listening to this cd, then your toe tapper is broken.
Take The Time is the upbeat cut that I am most familiar with and listen to a LOT. (It’s also a little motivational.) Commanding guitar work tiptoes from mild to symphonic. All instruments (as in all of these audition songs) sounded exactly like I know they should. (I’m an old musician of lost and of minimal talent.) The Phils presented the song in all its toe-tapping delight. The mids are as clean as any I’ve heard. I recall someone else on this thread, or perhaps over on Audioholics, saying that the BG NEO-8 driver is the secret weapon of the Phils. I whole-heartedly agree. (The RAALs don’t count because everyone already knows what monster performers they are.) The Accutons are dynamite mid drivers, but don’t underestimate the performance of the NEO. Booker's Guitar by Eric Bibb
Eric Bibb is a modern folk-blues artist. His guitar work is wonderful. For his voice...think a little cleaned up Muddy Waters with great recording. This album is mesmerizing in its intimacy. There is no doubt that Bibb was in my living room singing A-Z Blues
! The Phils show off to a fine extent the richness of the guitar work. The RAAL's presentation of the harmonica work was nothing short of phenomenal.
Lastly, if you’re still with me in this long-winded report, I have been asked two questions that should be answered.
FSIMMS asked about my wife’s experience with the Phil 2’s compared to Jim Salk’s HT4’s and the wonderful time she had back at the GTG. Well, I just asked her straight away, and was a little surprised by her answer…not so much her opinion, but her knowledge of audio that she apparently picked up by osmosis from hanging around me and my bud, AverageJoe. She recognized that both models have such clean and clear presentations, that even with her hearing loss issues, she could hear music in ways she hasn’t for years. So in that regard, yes, they are very similar. But she also recognized the differences in acoustics of our living room and the sound-controlled HT room at the GTG. That room was designed for maximizing acoustic delivery. Here…not so much. She said she liked them both very much and loves having these Phils much more than the Aerials, of which she has more direct and immediate comparative experience. Additionally, at her request, we NEVER listened to broadcast television (DirecTV) with the Aerials. Now she insists upon playing the tv (and all sources, except surround movies) in stereo using our Yamaha RX-A3010 receiver through the Phils. For the first time in seemingly forever, I’m not answering “What did he say?” over and over during a show. Clarity!
I’ve also been asked about my experience with the Phils vs. Salks. I’m a firm believer in A/B’ing any pairs of speakers to honestly and directly form comparative opinions. I haven’t had that luxury, unfortunately. But I can say the following: all of the Salks I heard, with perhaps one exception, were voiced with a crossover design by Dennis. There is most certainly a family resemblance among all of those speakers. Dennis’ trained ear has given him the ability to duplicate, over and over, the requirements for an accurate, beautifully clean power response speaker. I mentioned that he had optimized my JBL center. It is an EC35…a 3-way with titanium laminate tweeter. It had a terrible FR but had, I thought, potential. When Dennis was done, I honestly believed that this humble JBL outshined the Aerials. Voices sounded like they were supposed to. Mids were cleaner and less ringy. Bass was smoother.
Here is a look at the before and after measurements of the speaker. Nice, eh?! And it mates, timbre-wise, pretty well with the Phils.
So, I’ll finally answer the question as best I can…though not having been able to directly compare the Phils to the SoundScapes. There is much more completeness and cabinet beauty in the SS’s. The SS12’s I heard had more visceral bass, but that’s to be expected. The Phil’s 8” SB Acoustics bass driver does well, but obviously won’t keep up with the 12” SS12 driver with double passive radiators. I also really enjoy the bipolar nature of the open-backed mid sections of both models. But the RAAL in the SS12 has a boundary compensation switch which makes it a bit more positioning flexible. The Phil and the SoundScape are different, but are relatives in the same family. And both, in my humble opinion, are at the top of their respective classes.Measurements from this pair of Phil 2's
20 degrees off-axis
30 degree off-axis
85 degrees off-axis (!)
Lastly, the impedence data
These measurements are pretty impressive. And while I agree that measurements alone won't determine one's experience with a loudspeaker, they are a great start. And without great measurements, it's pretty difficult to build a strongly enjoyed and preferred speaker. Summing everything about these speakers, IMHO, the Phil 2's are a great speaker at a great price.