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Listening Impressions | Home |

I've built a lot of speakers over the course of three decades. I've lost count. But this is my first transmission-line design.

I'm not starting with a clean slate here, I've used these Vifa components before, not just in this type of speaker. I know these parts quite well, or at least I thought I did. In my previous designs, I used a sealed-box or acoustic-suspension design. This tends to yield a nice, flat bottom end that extends down to about 50hz before rolling off. The tradeoff was that they were power hungry. For years I drove them with an APT 1 preamp using a bit of bass boost at 50Hz and an APT power amp which had remarkable power. This worked nicely.

Fast-forward a few years to the present. When I completed these new towers, I couldn't wait to listen to them. I dragged them up from the shop to our living room which is in a contemporary, chalet-style vacation home that we have in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. I hooked them up to my Sony receiver and started the drill of playing my favorite test tracks. Here's what I found:

First up I played Paul Simon's Graceland CD. This has long been a favorite of mine. They sounded great! I was worried about the bass response because I had heard that t-line designs are notoriously tricky. I worried needlessly. The bass was excellent! But it was different from what I was used to. Sealed-box speakers are famous for their tight bass. This was better! I could hear all the low notes clearly, but there was something more, I could also hear pauses and syncopation in the bass that I had never heard before. Notes had a way of sneaking up on me.

More about the bass later, let's see about the midrange and high end. The true test of a new speaker design is if you hear new things in the most familiar music. I was really stunned to find that this was the case. In "Under African Skies" from Graceland, I first thought that something was wrong. I was hearing this clicking sound. I worried that perhaps the wiring was hitting the back of the woofer. I was wrong. It was a percussive instrument playing on the downbeat that wsa never there before. My wife Gail was astonished. She's not a hi-fi person and these were the first speakers of mine that she had ever heard. She said that she had never heard anything of such high quality before.

I went from CD to CD, playing a range of different tracks from Dave Brubeck to Stravinsky to The Beatles. What came through was that the sound was transparent, the bass was impressive and the dynamic range (Stravinsky's Firebird) actually made me jump out of my seat!

A few days ago we listened to the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge, a favorite of Gail's. She loved to play it on our boombox while painting. I didn't like this very much. It always sounded like sonic mush during the busy parts. My new speakers cleared it all up. The mix of various songs on this CD are complex. Things come and go, it gets softer and louder. The new speakers handled it all without complaint.

Recently, I decided to listen to the "White Album" by The Beatles. I had always known Paul McCartney to be a good bass player. What I didn't know was exactly how good he is. On song after song, subtle rhythmic and melodic details leaped out at me. I can't wait to hear more.

I could go on and on. Do I have any complaints? The speakers need a more stable base on which to stand. I wouldn't use them around pets or small children without this. Also, They sound better when moved away from the walls. The soundstage improves when you do this.

Now for a little confession, that reveals an important truth. In my time I have owned some very fine amplifiers and preamps. As it sometimes happen in life, we have to start over. A few years ago I found myself doing just that. My nice amplifiers and speakers were all gone, I had no place for my tools and no place to use them. once I got settled, I went out and (gasp!) bought a set of speakers, the first factory-built speakers that I had ever owned. Along with it I bought a Sony AV receiver and a DVD player. The speakers in question are NHT SuperOnes and I spent a total of $300 on them. They are wonderful. Where's the confession, you ask? Well the nice Sony receiver is driving the little SuperOnes in our apartment in Manhattan. So what's driving the towers in the country house? An utterly nondescript, Korean-built, low-cost, low-power Sherwood receiver that puts out maybe 20 watts per channel. The truth is that speakers, more than any other component, are what determines how your system sounds. The other surprise is that 20 watts seems to be enough! What a surprise! Efficiency wasn't one of the design goals, but it is a welcome design result.