B&K Reference 31 Preamp/Processor, B&K Reference 7270 Amplifier, Boston Acoustics VR-970 Speakers, DIY Infinite Baffle subwoofer, DIY speaker cables using Belden 1810A, DIY audio cables DIY using Canare LV77S, DIY sound treatments. When evaluating the Song Audio, I used three sources: a Music Hall Maverick SACD/CD Player (which I was evaluating at the time), a Clearaudio Emotion turntable, and the source I listen to the most for music – my HTPC with a Prodigy bit-perfect soundcard and WinAmp.
Depth, Width & Localization
Three important characteristics I listen for when evaluating speakers is depth, width, and localization – also known as soundstaging and imaging. I realize of course that my good friend Dr. Borden believes that focusing on issues such as soundstaging and imaging is an analytical endeavor that distracts from the true essence of music (see How Important is Soundstaging by Dr. Lawrence Borden). Nevertheless, if I perceive that the violinist and cellist are sitting in the same chair, that detracts significantly from my ability to enjoy the music. I know that the first string violin and the tympani are physically further apart than 2 feet. If I don’t perceive a realistic physical distance, it bothers me. I shall endeavor to correct these flaws in my listening habits, but until then, soundstaging and imaging matter a great deal to me.
Depth refers to the illusion of acoustical distance receding behind the loudspeaker plane, giving the impression of listening through the loudspeakers into the original performing space, rather than to them. The depth on the Silk II monitors is outstanding. I placed the monitors on stands approximately four feet from the back wall, and yet it seemed as though the bass section was a good 20 feet behind the foremost stringed instruments – an impressively deep stage. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn there I was hearing a third speaker several feet behind the main speakers.
Width refers to the apparent lateral spread of a stereo image. If recorded correctly, a reproduced instrument should sound no wider or narrower than it would have sounded originally, and again the performance of the Silk II monitors was outstanding. When listening to Diana Krall play the piano, the sound seemed to emanate from a space no wider than a grand piano. When listening to the London Symphony play Tchaikovsky, on the other hand, I felt as though I had been placed in front of a true concert stage. The sound literally filled the room from side to side.
In stereo reproduction, localization refers to the placement of phantom images in specific lateral positions across the soundstage and the specificity of those images. I listened to several selections of string quartet, and each time the sound came from four clearly distinct spaces. When evaluating localization, I try to determine the approximate width of the sweet spot. I’ve heard too many high-end monitors that have a sweet spot that’s about a foot wide. If you reach for a soda, the music suddenly sounds awful. I don’t think I could live with monitors that forced me to sit in the middle of my couch. That definitely wasn’t the case with the Silk II monitors. At a distance of approximately 10’ from the monitors, the sweet spot was a comfortable 5’ wide. In other words, it sounded equally good no matter where I sat on my couch.
Accuracy & Detail
Although the size of the soundstage and imaging are important to me, when I evaluate any speaker, the most important criterion for me is accuracy – the degree to which the speaker provides an accurate representation of the original sound. I realize of course that evaluating accuracy is objectively impossible. You might correctly ask, “If you didn’t hear the original, how do you know whether or not the reproduction is accurate?” Fair enough. However, I’ve spent enough time in a concert orchestra (on stage and in the audience) to have a pretty good idea of what each instrument should sound like. If the instruments don’t sound right in only some recordings, it’s likely a problem with the recording. But if the instruments don’t sound right in most recordings, then it’s more likely a shortcoming of the speakers.
I rate the Silk II monitors as very accurate and very detailed. With orchestral music, an accurate monitor allows one to clearly distinguish each instrument. With the Silk II monitors, not only could I easily distinguish each instrument, there were passages in which I could tell how many violins were playing. When listening to Diana Krall’s Girl in the Other Room LP, not only could I hear every breath she took, I could tell what she had for lunch! (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.)
Although the Silk II monitors excel at accuracy and the size of the soundstage, it may well be that those strengths will force owners to spend more money than they anticipated. I see two expenditures as being quite necessary.
The first expenditure would be to replace poorly recorded CDs. Because the Silk II monitors are very revealing, the flaws in poor recordings become painfully obvious. I have a set of classical CDs that are quite poorly recorded, but I keep them for the sole purpose of evaluating how speakers sound with poor recordings. In this case, these CDs sounded like somebody snuck a $20 cassette deck in the performance. The sound is so bad I simply wouldn’t be able to enjoy listening to them.
The second expenditure would be for additional acoustical treatments. I placed the Silk II monitors where my Boston Acoustics speakers normally sit, about two feet to the side and one foot in front of my television (a 65” RPTV). When I first sat down to listen, I was shocked at how bad they sounded. The soundstage lacked depth and width, and the overall reproduction was muddy. I decided to see if the problem could be reflection off of the TV. I have acoustical treatments attached to both sides of my TV, as well as two free-standing DIY acoustical panels that I place in front of the TV for critical listening. The difference with versus without the panels was day and night. With the acoustical panels in front of the TV, all of the soundstage problems disappeared. What this means, however, is that these speakers are relatively sensitive to the acoustics in a room. Although it may be uncommon among those who consider themselves to be “audiophiles,” the most common setup I see is speakers placed very close to the side of a television. If my setup describes what you have, these speakers may not fit your needs.
And Finally, The Wife’s Opinion
For those who read my review of the Music Hall Maverick SACD/CD, you know that when I listen to something new, I like for my wife to listen as well. I respect her opinion, plus it provides me with a “reality check” on my evaluation. As she will readily admit, she doesn’t always hear the same differences that I do. As a general rule, when she can detect a change in audio (or video) quality, the difference is probably fairly substantial.
Before I ever played any music, she liked the Silk II monitors. Not only did she like the piano black finish (a nice match for the rest of my audio/video equipment), she also liked their compact size. Of course, the Silk IIs are fairly hefty for monitors, but not compared to full-range floor-standers. I won’t dwell on the comparison, but suffice it to say that she very much liked the sound. She suggested I should consider buying them to replace my Boston Acoustics. For her, that’s high praise.
You may have noticed that what I haven’t talked about much is the sound of the speakers. I haven’t described the treble, the mid-range, or the low end. I haven’t talked about whether the sound is bright, or colored, or neutral. I haven’t talked about any of those things because I find tastes in those facets to be highly individualized. I found the Silk II’s sound to be pleasing in all facets. If I thought it was too bright or colored I would have mentioned it, but even if I had, that doesn’t mean you would perceive the same. Again, I very much liked the sound in all aspects. Your mileage may vary. Because many folks do not have subwoofers in their stereo setup, I will briefly address low-end reproduction. I rate it as surprisingly good. Below 80 Hz, the Silk II monitors were no match for my IB subwoofer, but they did perform as well as my full-range Boston Acoustics.
At a price exceeding $1000 US per speaker, the Silk II monitors have a lot of competition, but if you’re shopping for a high-end monitor, I definitely recommend you give them a listen.
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