As bad as I feel saying it, something was off with the midrange. It was thin, harsh and had no body. I experimented with the polyfill in my own room, and stuffing the cabinets completely full helped move the vocal presentation forward and allowed more detail to be heard, but at the expense of the losing the added ambience, sound stage width and depth and slightly better imaging. It kind of defeated the purpose of have an open-back design. Dennis asked that I stuff the cabinets with 1/3 of the fill, and that is what I did. They sounded best in this configuration in my room, but the midrange and upper bass was still wrong to my ears.
At the GTG the Phil 2’s sounded much better, with a fuller bodied midrange and less upper bass peskiness. However, while better the upper bass/lower midrange problem was still prominent. It was thick and muddied the midrange; I believe someone else noted this. During large dynamic swings the Philly 2’s showed slight signs of stress, but they kept on singing with authority. In my opinion, the Phil’s strengths ly in their ability to fill the room with a wide, deep sound stage and precise imaging. These speakers truly excel with live recordings and classical music, but ultimately they fell short to my ears at the GTG due to the midrange and bass anomalies. If you know me you understand that it is all about the midrange for me, as that is where 80% of the sound that we as humans hear comes from. Due to this I ranked them second from the bottom. Since the initial responses of the GTG Dennis has requested Randy send the pair back to him for inspection, as he fears FedEx didn’t play nice with the speakers. Randy has agreed.
These are my speakers, so I won’t say much, as I am biased. They performed better than I expected in Terry’s large room at our listening levels in full range mode. They did show signs of strain with dynamic passages or deep, loud bass, which I expected under the circumstances. The midrange stayed clean, though, and the highs were airy and detailed without fatigue. The visual aspect of audio gear plays a large role in my decisions, and these score 100% in that regard; just outstanding – gorgeous! The build quality is top notch. The Salk SongTower’s were my third favorite speaker of the day, especially considering I cross them to dual 15” sealed subwoofers and have never had an issue listening at 95dB levels in my home. Like I said, I’m bias, but at least I admit it. ]
Ascend Sierra Tower (ribbon version):
These are flat out a good speaker, though not without their own flaws. They too showed signs of stress when listening levels got loud during dynamic passages/peaks. If I owned a pair I would cross them to subwoofers and have confidence they wouldn’t distort under those conditions. There is only so much a speaker like with smaller driver and a slim cabinet can do in a large room being run full range at those listening levels. With that said I thought they had good bass punch for a speaker with such a slim profile. I liked the detail the Sierra Towers brought forth; much improved over the original Ascend Sierra-1 or even the dome version of the Tower I’ve previously heard. The midrange was a little more laid back in some regards compared to the Salk’s, but much more accurate and full bodied than the JTR’s, for example. One thing I found odd was the upper midrange/lower treble region had too much bite at times. This is still perplexing me, as the RAAL tweeter can be crossed fairly low (if I understand correctly), so I expected smoother high frequencies when compared to the LCY ribbon tweeter of the SongTower’s and HT2-TL’s; this was not the case, though. The RAAL on the Phil 2’s and SoundScape’s didn’t exhibit this, so I’m a little surprised. It is what it is, though. Build quality was very good, and I really have a soft spot in my heart for that piano black high gloss finish; super sexy! Overall these speakers were my forth favorite, slightly edged out by the SongTower’s. You can call it bias; I’m cool with that. My personal preference was the more detailed and neutral midrange and the lack of any bite or grain in the upper mids/lower treble region. Had these speakers been voiced similar in those frequencies to the SongTower’s they’d be tied for third place…I really liked them.
JTR Triple 12
This was the worst looking speaker of the group, which is something that wouldn’t bother me as much if the sound blew me away. Is that what happened? Unfortunately, no, it did not. I’ll start with their strengths: sheer dynamics. These speakers will effortlessly play to reference levels and then some; your ears will give out before the Triple 12’s do. They showed zero signs of stress or strain on the loud dynamic swings and just kept doing their thing. Unfortunately that “thing” wasn’t much to my liking. The Triple 12’s are designed to be paired with subwoofers, and it likely partly contributed to my impressions. With that said the midrange was thin and had no body. The human voice sounded like something artificially created in a studio. Yes, the midrange went loud without distortion, but instruments and vocal tone was all wrong. Everything was pitched way up and was inaccurate and piercing with many songs. The tweeter, a coaxial design if I recall, didn’t help in this regard. It was bright, shrill and way too “in your face.” The controlled directivity of the design didn’t allow for a soundstage or imaging to occur past the speaker boundaries. I understand the reason for this design and realize it is a trade-off, but music suffered due to this. The overall harsh, thin and bright sound of the Triple 12’s made them completely un-enjoyable for me, and thus are the reason I ranked them last during our listening sessions. Like my wife (and a few others), they drove me from the room. Had they been crossed to a subwoofer (or two or three or four
) they may have sounded a bit smoother, but it would not have changed the tonality of voices and instruments. However, I have no doubt they’ll leave you draw dropped when watching movies at reference levels; they killed when Jeff hooked them back up a second time paired with Terry’s dual LMS subwoofers. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the JTR’s are so high in sensitivity that Terry’s subwoofers couldn’t even come close to keeping up; the subwoofer became unusable with his preamp for music because they were 11-12dB lower in output than the Triple 12’s, even with the amplifier gains maxed and the BFD’s operating level changed from -10 (home recording) to studio level (+4). This is a complete deal breaker for me, even though a receiver can be used to turn down the output of the speakers. I really like Jeff and he was a blast to meet and talk to, so I feel terrible for giving an honest impression. But, as my wife told me,” You said I had to be honest, so you had better be too.” She’s right.
I’ve heard these ten million times, and I love them every time. Yes, I am biased again. They showed no stress or strain to my ears except in the “boom boom” track we played (which was loud). I personally think my SongTower’s offer 95% of what the HT2-TL’s do when crossed over to subwoofers, but today we ran full range, so that number decreased to 75-80%. The difference in bass output was very apparent, especially since the Veracity’s excited the 40ish Hz room mode with a lot more authority. Nonetheless, these speakers never fail to impress me. They didn’t distort at times like my SongTower’s. The midrange is super clean, the bass is impactful and full bodied without bloat, and the highs are detailed and airy without being fatiguing. Having the opportunity to hear these again was no big deal for me, but being able to compare them to six others speakers was a treat. With that said, my impressions have not changed, and I still haven’t heard a speaker under $8000 best the HT2-TL’s over all; they are the real deal and a bargain for the money. The Veracity HT2-TL was my second favorite speaker today.
I am going to come right out and say this was the surprise of the day for me. I’ll be honest: I thought the Catalysts would be similar to the JTR’s due to the high efficiency design and my observation that Mark and Jeff are friends (might have even worked together in the past???). Well, I was wrong about the Seaton’s; they’re a darn impressive speaker considering they are a high sensitivity design with HT as the primary focus. The tweeter wasn’t strained, grainy or bright like it was to my wife’s ears; it was actually pretty smooth in most respects. It was airy and lacked a bit in ultimate detail, but it was still pretty good IMO. The midrange was a little thick and could get congested, but it had this impact I cannot describe without just saying “it was just too cool.” I’m sorry I cannot be more specific, but there was just power behind the vocals. The Seaton’s produced a big sound, and its dynamics were very impressive. It never sounded strained or distorted to my ears, and I felt like it could just go and go forever until my head exploded. Surely my body will give up before these speakers do! Anyway, the bass was super punchy, though it did excite Terry’s room mode the worst of any speaker at the GTG. The one negative about the bass was that attack was a little slow, and that sometimes came across as sounding thick. I recall my wife really liking it, though, so to each their own. If I had a dedicated theater and the $7000 asking price, Catalyst’s it would be (better make that $10,500 as I’d want one for the center channel too). However, musically they lacked a certain level of refinement I am used to; something I couldn’t trade for the ultimate level of dynamics the Seaton’s offered…well, not unless my room was gigantic, in which case the SongTower’s wouldn’t have been my choice. As already mentioned, the midrange did lack some detail and definition, and they had a slight nasal quality to them on male vocals. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Kelly Sweet track like others have and it is because it sounded pretty harsh on all of the speakers, this one included. In retrospect it might not have been a great choice…just putting that out there. Finally, due to the controlled directivity design imaging wasn’t as “wowing” and precise, and the soundstage width and depth stayed confined to the front baffles of the speakers and between the speaker boundaries. Home Theater relies on multiple speakers to handle imaging and sound stage perception, so I understand this is a trade-off, but this was a GTG focused on music reproduction, and due to that the Seaton’s were my forth favorite speaker. Had they cost more around the $3000 range they would have tied with the Sierra Tower’s or Salk SongTower’s, because I really did like many aspects of their sound. Mark Seaton is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met in this industry and he has a great ear. I’ve never heard a high efficiency design perform this well for music, so Kudos to him and his design. I really enjoyed the Catalysts, and I highly recommend them, especially to Warpdrv.
Salk SoundScape 10
Due to the defective midrange, that was clearly audible on most material, I won’t say much about the SoundScape 10’s. Thank you to Archaea for bringing it to my attention and asking me to sit down and listen with him. The distortion/cone break up was very obvious with dynamic material and punchy bass portions of the music. When the distortion wasn’t occurring this speaker disappeared into the room and reminded me of when I auditioned the SoundScape 12 (RMAF) and SoundScape 8 (Jim’s shop). Simply put, the SoundScape series of speakers is sheer brilliance! It is a real shame the attendees didn’t get to hear them at their full potential, but due to them being on loan to a reviewer it was out of Jim’s hands; they were given back defective, which is not how they arrived into the reviewer’s home, and there was no time to test them before our GTG
Having heard the SoundScape 8’s recently in Jim’s shop (6 weeks ago or so), I can tell you there is no speaker I’d rather have on the planet other than the Vandersteen Model 7 or the larger SoundScapes. Unfortunately my narrow room cannot accommodate either speaker, but a man can dream can’t he? The midrange and high frequencies on the Salk’s are honestly the best I’ve heard along with the Vandy Model 7. It is as if there is no longer a speaker playing the human voice; it’s simply just the human voice transfigured into your own listening space. It’s like looking through a pain of glass at the outside world while standing indoors, but then not only having that pane of glass removed so you no longer see all of the smudges and imperfections caused by the window, but also it’s like having the entire home you’re residing in whisked away so you’re simply just a part of God’s nature that you were enjoying through that glass window. I just cannot describe it any other way: it’s sheer transparency, and is something I strive for in a loudspeaker. This is my main preference in a speaker; I do not want the speaker to give off a sound/flavor of its own. The Salk SoundScape hit the mark in this regard, and I’ll never get the sound out of my head (or lack thereof, as they have no sound of their own). Where did they rank at our GTG? What do you think!!?? Biased? You bet I am, because these are number 1 for me, and until I hear something better they always will be. Even with a defective midrange they were ranked #1 at the GTG, because when the distortion wasn’t audible these speakers were magnificent.
Finally, Jim Salk is also one of the coolest and nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s a rare opportunity to meet someone like him, and when you do you feel like you’ve been chums all of your life because he’s so open, caring and respectful; he treats you like a friend, not a customer.
I cannot say enough about Jim, Dennis, Jeff and Mark. Sound quality thrown out the window, I cannot recommend buying from these gentlemen enough. They care about you, the customer, and about making sure you’re treated with respect. They want you to be fully satisfied. It’s a no brainer folks: they are the real deal.