Last month, I started this short series “Boppin’ Down Memory Lane” by talking about the most memorable amps I have had in the house over the last five years as a reviewer. This month, I want to talk about floor standing speakers. It has been my pleasure to review speakers from Audio Note, Audio Space, B&W, GamuT, Genesis, Ikonoklast, Lindemann, Lowther America, Raidho, TBI, and Teresonic. There are three among them that made the biggest impact to me in how I now listen to music and what I think a loudspeaker should be capable of doing.
Before I get to these three speakers, I must talk about a pair of speakers that I purchased in 1973 when I was a 19-year-old Baylor student. Without a doubt, that pair of QUAD ESLs influenced what I thought speakers should sound like for the rest of my life. We now call these speakers QUAD 57s because they were introduce in 1957, but they were the only QUAD speakers made when I purchased a used pair that were slightly arcing in one tweeter panel. This flaw made them affordable to me. I listened to them for over a year this way, but gradually the tear that cause the arc got bigger and I saved up enough to buy a new tweeter panel.
Quads were the best speaker I would hear for the next thirty plus years. They were also the most frustrating speakers I have ever owned. A single pair didn’t play very loud. They didn’t have any deep bass and the bass they had lacked in power. They also were rolled-off on top and you had to sit in a very small sweet spot to enjoy them. Still, all this was worth it for how gloriously alive the midrange sounded.
I tried lots of things to fix the QUADs. I tried a stack pair with a Decca ribbon tweeter in-between the two speakers. This allowed them to play pretty loud, and extended the top-end. The problem was that it went from the most coherent speaker I had heard at that time to one where the pieces didn’t quite fit. So, I took out the Deccas and that helped and they still played loud. I then tried a sub, but that was a disaster. In the end, I sold the older pair of QUADs and for years just listened to a single pair.
The speakers I owned when I started reviewing were the Audio Note AN/E SE loudspeakers. Combined with the great WAVAC EC300B amp they gave me a sound very similar to the QUADs but with much better bass and treble. The sound that comes out of a well broken-in, well setup pair of Audio Note Es is simply amazing; they simply defy their rather ordinary looks. They had a rather unusual ability to stir my emotions and at the same time they were very easy on the ears.
If positioned correctly in the corners and mounted right, a pair of AN/Es loads a room better than any speaker I have heard, including the top-of-the-line REL subwoofers.
They have one of the clearest, most transparent, most coherent, and most beautiful midrange sound I have ever heard. Vocals and instruments are just there with all their dynamics and with very good tonal accurateness. The bass is quick, dynamic, and so deep it will blow your mind from such mundane-looking speakers. The top-end is just beautiful like real music is. Most importantly, these speakers let you emotionally into the pace and rhythm of the music.
Maybe best of all, AN/Es let you hear all the glory of what it is that so excites people about great SET amps. They have rhythm and timing that is uncanny in how lifelike they let music come into your room.
The bass may not be what you would get from a column of woofers with an active, built-in 1,000 watt amp, but it is unlikely that the column can also be as quick, nimble, and tuneful as the AN-E’s woofer. Can that column blend with the midrange to produce a truly coherent sound? Just listen to some Ray Brown, and you will know the glory of the bottom-end of this speaker. Then, listen to your favorite bass show-off piece. You won’t be disappointed either time.
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