Monday, May 28, 2012

Large bookshelf speaker shootout

During my downtime yesterday, observing our troops and the amazing job they do protecting our freedom throughout the world at large, I conducted an informal speaker shootout of a few of my larger pairs of bookshelf-size loudspeakers, just to see if any one of them would outseat another as my daily drivers for my digital-only setup. I was simply listening to my Klipsch Fortes and kg2's and swapping wires between my analog rig and my digital-designated front ends, and that got rather tedious, to be honest. I wanted two standalone rigs to simplify my everyday listening, so I could concentrate on the music alone rather than what wire went where to facilitate a particular configuration upon each program change.

Of all my solid state receivers (nine in total), I chose my Sansui 8080DB (previously reviewed) for its overall sound quality, and the fact that it simply had the most watts per channel. There might have been one that excelled in distortion categories, or another in sensitivity ratings as it regards the tuner, but those figures were fairly relative and insignificant to this test. Most choices would yield the same result in a shootout of this nature. I might, for fun, revisit this shootout theme in the future, making receivers the focus of the study.

First up were a nice, nearly mint pair of AR4X two-ways (all speakers tested were two-ways, for the record). With doped-cloth surrounds and a wide-dispersion cone tweeter controlled by an attenuator located on the back by the connections, they are the oldest (dating from around 1965) of those tested. The historical significance of AR has been well-documented throughout the web and elsewhere, so to go into the late Edgar Villechur's accomplishments here would be superfluous. The speakers were very well-balanced, sorted out confusing, complex signals very well, and overall made for a really nice presentaton. They are of an acoustic suspension design, sealed to create bass response, with no ports or openings. I listened to them in their horizontal orientation, as they were originally meant to be played, and this feature opened up the soundstage considerably as opposed to a vertical placement. They, as all the speakers tested here, were placed on a set of stands that placed the speakers 21" off the floor. This was a nominal placement, and suited my distance from the speakers, and with vertical placement, put the tweeters right about ear level.

Next up were Cerwin-Vega! D-1's from the early 90's. On the back of these stout boxes was the designation "digital-ready' loudspeakers. I'd guess that this was to associate them with the burgeoning audio scene surrounding CD front ends. These cabinets are built the heaviest and are thoroughly braced throughout. As CV speakers are well-known for their bass, it is definitely their strong suit, giving heavy music a strong platform from which to play. They are front-ported, so they are less dependant on proximity to the front wall. The tweeter is a small compression driver, providing a nice extension to the upper frequencies. I'm a bassist by profession and by nature, so I was well-pleased with them on the whole. No bad features or undesireable side effects, they held their own in the competition.

Finally, I tested a pair of Ohm model E loudspeakers. They were the thinnest in size from front to back (see picture), and to make up for the cabinet size as such, they were a bit taller than the others. Ohm makes a bass enhancement mod (heavier woofer and crossover cap mod) that can be applied to the model E, but these are stock. They have a 3-way tweeter pad to control the level of high-frequency information while listening, which is a nice feature to further expand their versatility. I found that they were easily overdriven in comparison to the other models tested, and sounded boxy in comparison. I would do further listening with more analytical/neutral-presenting amplifiers before passing judgement, because they are well-built and sound as if they could simply use a different platform to accentuate their design features. Bear in mind once again that all the speakers tested are two-way designs with 8" woofers.

In closing, I rate the tested models as I mentioned them, first being the AR4X, secondly, the Cerwin-Vega!s, then (until further analysis proves me wrong), the Ohms. I wouldn't kick any of them to the curb, this is just the way that they separated themselves for the purposes of this ratings test. Any of them would be suitable to build a system around, given smart choices of front ends and amplifiers.

Part two of this shootout will be at a later date, with A/D/S L420's, Infinity Qe's, and Electro Voice ZX-1-90 speakers, all two-way designs with similar specs and physical size. Tomorrow we'll feature some of the musical go-to choices that keep the surroundings around here sounding good! Till then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!

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