Speakerquest (Round 10)
I have been anxiously waiting to hear these two speakers for quite a few weeks now, and this last weekend, I had the opportunity, thanks to two very nice fellow enthusiasts that opened their homes and allowed a schmuck like me to come in and listen to their gear. Thank you Curtis and David, both of you helped to make this weekend fun and educational for me. You guys both have very sweet setups.
Before I get going I want to refer you all to the last speakers that I listened to ($5,000 range), literally a day or two before I heard these two far less expensive speakers, so my ears were completely jaded, but I will try and forget that ear-altering experience and be fair as I write this...Ascend Acoustics - Sierra-1
($848 natural, $898 Black)
Saturday morning 10:30 am (after about three weeks of trying to find a good time for both of us) I got to hear the Sierra’s. They looked great in natural Bamboo, construction was seamless. They were a little bigger than I thought they would be, but still comfortably small if size is an issue for you. I think Curtis has 200 watts of ICE power behind his Sierra’s, and I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong (at least I hope he will) suffice it to say there was plenty of power behind these things. We ran them full range at first so I could get a feel for them on their own, and added his HSU Research sub into the mix (crossed at 60 Hz, maybe 80, forgot to write that down) after I ran through my test tracks...Edit: (thanks Curtis)
Originally Posted by cschang
The ICEpower 1000ASP based amp does 500wpc. When the sub was used (Hsu VTF-3.3 no turbo, set to max output), the crossover was set to 60hz.
With Grant Green the first thing I noticed was that the cymbals were clear, though not overly crisp. The tone on the guitar is nice and the light distortion is just audible; not accentuated. The Sierra’s are imaging as well as many of the speakers I listened to at twice their price. I noticed that while the acoustic bass sounded good it was not as full and resonant as I like to hear it. The tone on the saxophone is reedy and smooth, very nice representation. Piano tone is good but not baby grand realistic to my ears, it is just missing a little something that I can’t quite put my finger on, deep resonance from the piano body maybe? Maybe just residual effects from the high dollar sound... I thought the Sierras had a good balance of sound through the range, nothing was jumping out at me. The vibes came a little forward but not too much and sounded accurate. I thought that their overall sound on this was pretty good, but maybe a little closed, at least not as open as some that I have heard.
I think I put in Fela Kuti next, not sure but at least I am going to talk about it next. I noticed right away that the bass I was hearing was not the full depth of the recording, though what I was hearing sounded good. Drums and cymbals were tight. Brass felt slightly forward and clear, not at all harsh. I thought the Sierra’s did a really good job with the horns, there is a section of this recording where there are probably four or five horns playing at once not sure what they all are but I could distinctly hear an alto saxophone, and at least one trumpet, if not two, maybe a trumpet and a coronet, whatever. My point is that they are separate and distinct and sound like brass.
The guitars in the Beatles “come together” sound great, but vocals sound a little thin to me. The bass guitar has a nice punch to it and sounds pretty full though it does not wrap around me like a blanket when there is a thick layer of it. During “the End” the drums are pretty full for such a small speaker. The sound got slightly indistinct during the crescendo of this song, but only slightly.
Erykah Badu was up next and it is obvious to me that this little speaker is not even going to try for the lowest note, you can hear it’s overtones but the meat of that low, low bass note just isn’t there. (When we replayed this song later with the HSU sub, the song really filled out and opened up, capturing everything really well.) Vocals were lush and smooth, mid-bass was solid, rim shots sounded good, a touch soft to my ear though. I can hear the sound of the rim shot ripple through the drum head. That‘s the first time I noticed that... cool.
More cowbell? Yes please. The Fu Manchu song I have been using has a little cowbell in it but for some reason it sounded too soft. Guitars are crunchy, and bass is full, though they do seem to blend together a bit. (with this song, $1500 and up seems to be the cut off for separation of bass and guitar, could be because of recording quality or the fact that they are playing the same thing and it is meant to blend together and therefor very hard to reproduce them as separate and distinct ...thought they did a good job of the same task with brass earlier...)
Just for fun, I brought along Stanton Moore and started without the sub, but added it in the mix shortly into the song. Baritone sax sounded really good, cymbal work was distinct and had nice decay. Again the addition of the sub really seemed to open up the sound of the Sierra’s strangely both in the high and low frequencies. I had also brought some MC 900 ft Jesus to try out and the Sierras + sub handled it well. They sounded “computer” tight. with electronic cymbals and provided a nice enveloping atmosphere. Their imaging really shines when played with a sub.
Are they worth twice their price? I doubt it. But they are a steal at under a grand. I would highly recommend using them with a sub, the removal of the low bass frequencies seemed to allow more power to get to the tweeter and really open these speakers up.Salk Sound- SongTower
Sunday, I went to a local Salk Sound customer’s place to hear the SongTowers. I had the pleasure of meeting another enthusiast, named David, and his 9 year old son who was sporting a classic Led Zeppelin t-shirt and proved to be just as enthusiastic about the SongTowers as his father, at one point proclaiming “I like these much better than your old speakers, Dad.” David turned out to be a very nice guy and had a great collection of music that he streamed through a “slingbox” and receiver, and ultimately into his speakers. Fortunately he had a few of the songs that I have been using for auditions in his collection, and as he didn’t have a CD player hooked up we managed to improvise with a couple of substitutes.Edit: David joined in to correct me regarding his set-up(thanks, David)
Originally Posted by Boybees
My digital source is a Slim Devices Squeezebox 3 modified by Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio. The modifications include upgrading of the internal circuitry, capacitors, and op amps, and the addition of a battery power supply. The SB3 plays lossless audio files which are streamed wirelessly from a hard drive in my bedroom.
Before I forget, I have to comment right up front that these are some beautiful looking speakers. I am a wood guy and absolutely love the natural beauty of real wood finishes. I have seen several pictures of Jim Salks work on the internet but they really do not come close to the aesthetic value that these speakers have. Way better looking than 90% of the speakers I have listened to, and as nice or nicer than the other 10%. I also liked the magnetic grills, nice touch and practical.
I am really glad that David had the Beatles “Abbey Road” on hand because out of everything that I use to evaluate speakers, if this one doesn’t sound good, I am not interested. And sound good it did. Bass guitar came through tight and accurate, but seemed to be lacking a little fullness on the bottom. Vocals were brilliant, not forward, not recessed, but just right, in perfect balance with the rest of the music. Cymbals are clear and distinct. I can hear finger slides on strings. They are also exhibiting a pretty impressive soundstage. The drums in “the End” sound really good, but the guitars sound excellent. At the crescendo nothing is lost or blended together.
I was also able to hear Erykah Badu on these, not so little babies (once again they are a bit bigger than I thought). I knew before I heard them that they only extend down to 40 Hz so I did not expect to be impressed with the low, low bass... and I wasn’t. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with how low that they did go. (To my ear that 40 Hz number may be a little on the conservative side as I think they realistically get into at least the upper maybe mid 30’s, these notes do drop a fair amount in volume but they seem to be there.) Bass was full and controlled with this bass challenging music, but they failed to get the very bottom. Rim shots sounded nice, not too forward; and cymbals were crisp and accurate. Once again the vocals were very, very nice. I have been using “smooth and lush” when I like the sound of Erykahs vocals and it posses those qualities here, but they are not accentuated in any way. Instead, they sound very accurate and natural.
I listened to a little Stan Getz w/ Astrud Gilberto singing the classic and timeless “Girl From Ipanema,” and got the chills (a very good thing). The piano sounded great, and the tone on the saxophone was velvety and rich, awesome. I think that smooth, easy, acoustic music is what these towers excel at.
Instead of Fu Manchu we tried a little Nirvana. They sounded very clean (unlike the actual appearance of the band
). Vocals were right-on soaring over the top of the music. Drums sounded really good, and electric guitars sounded crunchy though maybe a little thin and not as forward as I remember them. Everything is separate and distinct
I was impressed with the nice open sound of U2’s “One,” and the outstanding vocal of Diana Krall. Her “All or Nothing at All” is a very nice recording and I can see why so many people use her music to talk about a speakers performance. That being said, this will be the last time that I use it
. Acoustic bass sounded very nice but I thought that it lacked a little body to the sound. Piano once again sounded very nice, and guitar tone was excellent. We also listened to a little Charles Mingus, but it wasn’t a recording with which I am familiar so I will only note that the variety of horns here were all distinct, but we were talking over the music at this point and had to get on with our day, my audition was done. I wish I could comment more on the SongTowers performance with brass as I think that these are tricky instruments to reproduce accurately... Oh well, my guess is that they would do well.
I have heard that this speaker is “all about the mid-range,” and that is unequivocally, a true statement. It is really a guitar, vocal and saxophone kind of speaker. It seems to capture the tone, and nuances of the instruments better than most other speakers do. I imagine that they would be truly amazing with acoustic singer songwriter type stuff. Without hesitation I would say that this easily the best $1500 speaker I have heard. Some of the +$2000 speakers do some things better but not many have this nice of a midrange. Very nice speaker, great value, but don’t expect ultra-low bass, or dog whistle highs.Jump to Round 11