A review by James L. Darby
PRICE: $8,800 per pair
Stands & Optional finishes extra
One of the most difficult, frustrating and costly tasks for an audio enthusiast is to match components within his system so that they electronically work together and not against each other to produce the most musical and efficient sound. You have probably found yourself in a situation where you bought an amp based on great reviews and/or comments on an audio board, only to find that it did not work well with your speakers or other component. There are many horror stories of people who pieced together entire systems based on recommended components only to find that the resultant mishmash sounded awful. After all, it seems perfectly logical that if you buy a “Class A” preamp, a “Class A” power amp, “Class A” speakers, turntable, arm, cartridge, interconnects, speaker leads and everything else, you should have a incredible, killer audio system, right? Wrong! Very wrong. In fact, the chances of assembling an optimum, synergetic system when buying decisions are based on individual reviews of single components are very slim. There are very simple reasons for this, but they are not always well known by many audiophiles and even some reviewers.
But most of us agree that the single most trying and difficult “match” is that between speakers and amplifiers. Why is that?
In its simplest terms, no one amplifier or speaker is perfectly efficient and all of them have many variables such as impedance. Impedance is just one of many factors that effect how an amplifier interacts with a speaker, but let’s take a look at just that one factor to see how just it alone makes matching a difficult task. First, let’s look at the word itself. It is derived from the verb impede; to retard in movement or progress by means of obstacles or hindrances; to delay or prevent someone or something by obstructing them; obstruct; hinder.
A good metaphor might be; imagine yourself in a room that you want to leave to get into another room. In the only doorway is a 400 pound tiger that does not want you to leave. He is an impedance to you leaving the room! In fact, he would be high impedance. If, instead of that tiger there was a small kitten in the doorway, your chances of getting out are much better and easier. The kitten is a low impedance to you leaving the room. In this metaphor, you are electrical current. The room you are in is an amplifier and the room you want to enter is a speaker. The feline is the speaker’s impedance. The opposition to current flow from a power amplifier is determined by the rated impedance (measured in ohms) of the loudspeaker system. One ohm is the unit of resistance that will limit the current flow to one ampere when an electrical pressure of one volt is applied. See…it’s getting more complicated already.
So, you look at an amplifier’s specs and it says, “Output; 60 watts @ 8 ohms”. Then you look at your speaker’s numbers and it says “Impedance: 8 ohms”. Eureka! You have a perfect match, right? Well, not so fast.
No amp or speaker outputs or inputs current at a steady and a perfect 8 Ohms. It can and does vary widely from as low as a couple of ohms to as high as 16 ohms and more, meaning that a speaker can be 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 etc. ohms at the same time. It is never just a single 8 or any other ohm. That “8 ohm Impedance” spec is someone’s best guess of the average of all those ohms!
From the chart below, how would you rate this anonymous speaker in terms of ohms? The scale on the left is ohms, starting at zero and going up to 50 ohms.
As you can see, it starts out at a pretty comfy 7 ohms @ 10 Hz. (bottom scale is Hz). But THEN (cue the theme from “Jaws”) it rises to over 20 ohms then back down to 7 before it rockets to over 23 ohms at around 80Hz before it plummets to a low of almost 2 ohms right above 2kHz! Your amplifier is “seeing” this roller coaster as it tries frantically to play your music. Go ahead. Assign an ohm rating to this speaker!
The manufacturer’s rating (this is a real speaker we have reviewed) is…are you ready…..8 ohms! Your amp just shakes its head and says, “Yeah…right…..in your dreams”.
Yet another problem is that such measurements are not taken using real music; what you are actually trying to produce. No, they are taken using electronic signals such as noise and sine waves.
Now we haven’t even talked about efficiency ratings (another very vague spec) and the myriad of other factors that affect amp/speaker interaction. They are legion. Including various speaker cables. God help us! So what’s a poor audiophile to do? Do you ever wonder why sites such as Audiogon and Ebay are filled with relatively new, expensive amps and speakers where the owner is selling them for half what they paid?
What if you could buy a product where the amplifier is perfectly matched, at the factory, not only to the speaker, but each individual driver in the cabinet? The amps and the speakers are designed from the ground up to interact and work as perfectly as possible. No more matching errors or tediously pouring over vague specs to try to match them to each other. No more wondering if your amp has enough power to drive the speakers to a listening level you prefer. No more nasty surprises when your speaker sounds like crap with your new, highly recommended amp. No more big losses in selling them in hopes of buying something that works better.
Now, what if the amps are actually built into the speakers – the shortest possible distance between amp and speaker? Eliminating potential noise and signal loss from long cable runs between them? Freeing up precious shelf space and probably even pleasing the wife with a less cluttered look?
CUE THE SYMPHONY
The Salagar Symphony S210 does just that. In each curvaceous cabinet lives two drivers; a 10” (unusually big in a 2-way design) Vifa mid-bass with cast magnesium frame for a high level of rigidity and a non-resonant coated-paper cone for very linear reproduction of the critical midrange frequencies. “The tweeter is the new Scanspeak AIrCirc which uses 6 neodymium magnets and a tuned resonance chamber to achieve an exceptionally smooth and tight on and off axis response with a very low resonant frequency and high power handling ability”, said Gary Dichiara, co-founder and co-designer of Salagar products.
Salagar Sonics was founded in 2005 by Salahuddin Khan and Gary Dichiara. Salahuddin is an aerospace engineer by trade and has played the Violin for many years and Gary is the audiophile of the pair, having been bitten by the audiophile bug over 30 years ago. Both partners are involved in the design of the Salagar products with Salahuddin leading the industrial/mechanical design and Gary doing the electronics/acoustics. Salagar is headquartered in Waukegan, IL with a 10,000 square foot manufacturing facility. So, to those of you to whom such things matter, the Salagar is a Made in the USA product.
Built into each speaker cabinet are two amplifiers. When I asked about them, here’s what I was told: “The amplifier module contained within each S210 Symphony actually contains 2 power amplifiers and a DSP crossover controller called X-Act. The power amps themselves are the 200ASC/AC series class-D analog switching amps from ICEpower a division of Bang & Olufsen. After testing many class D amplifiers including earlier generation amps from ICEpower, these are the first class-D amplifiers that met our requirements for sound quality and upper octave response. Each amplifier is capable of putting out up to 200 watts of power to its dedicated driver. In reality, the design of the S210 is such that the amplifiers never have to work at anywhere near their limits over the speaker's operating range. The amps are also very efficient, converting about 80% of the power drawn into energy available to the driver rather than heat. This power density and lack of heat allowed us to confidently put the amplifiers inside the sealed speaker enclosure without concern over excessive heat generation. Our design is also Eco-friendly. The amplifiers automatically go into a low power standby mode when there is no signal for 13 minutes and in this mode, a pair of Salagar's only pull 1 watt..thats 1/4 the power of a standard nightlight.
No discussion about the amps would be complete without talking a little bit about the X-Act controller. The X-Act functions as a crossover, sending the proper signal to each of the driver's amplifiers, controls both frequency and time domain response of the speaker system and provides for room/placement correction. All of this is done in the digital domain at extremely high resolution (24 bit 96khz). This circuitry in the X-ACT uses the latest digital chips from Crystal Semiconductor and Analog Devices and is totally transparent allowing the speaker to faithfully pass on any sound characteristics of the source components.”
I also asked several other questions of the Salagar guys and got some of the best, honest and articulate answers ever. For example, at Stereomojo we always ask what the design goals were for a product we are reviewing. Their reply: “The design goal for the Symphony was to do a relatively compact 2 way loudspeaker that had:
1: Full range flat frequency response with low coloration and tight bass
2. Could play at very high levels without distortion
3. Had a unique look
4. Be plug and play compatible with the sources in use today (tube and solid state preamps) and in the future (ie. Music servers, Ipods, USB DACS, etc.)
Our objectives going into the project were not to design the speaker to a particular price point but rather engineer the speaker to make the speaker as good as it can be for what it is and then calculate the price it would have to be sold at.
There is currently not much competition in the domestic (non-studio) powered loudspeaker market. There are many choices in the pro segment, but these products are not optimized for home use both cosmetically and acoustically. The Salagar's create a new segment we call high-end lifestyle. You don't have to give up sonic performance or the aesthetic of your living space to enjoy very high quality sound reproduction in your home.”
They are right about the domestic (home) vs. commercial (recording studio) loudspeaker market. Powered loudspeakers are nothing new. They have been used in recording, mixing and mastering studios for years. Therefore, most of the music you buy was most likely recorded and/or mixed via powered monitor speakers. Yet the idea has never caught on in the home audio market. I have always found this perplexing. I once asked John Atkinson, Editor of Stereophile, why powered speakers are not more popular with audiophiles. He said, “Because of the lack of consumer choice with regard to amplification they represent. Customers who want the "best" speaker hardly expect that same speaker manufacturer also to be able to design the "best" amplifier.” He is correct, in a way. The problem is, as I wrote earlier, that buying the ‘best” speaker and the “best” amplifier in no way guarantees the “best” sound – and chances are the combo will NOT work well; something he of all people definitely knows but just did not address in his brief reply to my brief question.
I inquired as to why Salagar decided to buck the industry norms and produce a powered speaker: “We decided to "go active" because it was clear that our design objectives with the S210 and the rest of the Salagar line could not be achieved through conventional passive technology. For example, the S210 is a 2 way speaker using a 10" woofer. This configuration has the ability to provide a full range frequency response but care must be taken in the crossover design since the drivers will need to be linearly driven to the extremes of their capabilities. The woofer much reach up into the midrange where its output starts to become directional and the tweeter must reach down about an octave lower than usual to join seamlessly to the woofer. This requires the use of steep crossover slopes and driver contouring circuitry which is done much more accurately in the digital domain and that’s a line level signal. Also, we wanted to bi-amp and match the amplifiers to the drivers to achieve point 2 above. All to often amplifiers and speakers are not matched properly resulting in less than ideal performance from either component.
Thanks guys, for reinforcing my earlier amp/speaker matching observations.
John Atkinson, Misters Dichiara and Khan were also correct about the lack of choices. In addition to the Salagars, there are more choices coming onboard. As I write this with the Salagar’s long returned, I have a pair of ATC powered tower speakers here for review. At $20,000/pair and 250 lbs each, they are derived from ATC’s extensive custom studio speaker business, of which they hold a sizeable market share. But the Salagar guys are also correct when they state that such speakers are not cosmetically optimized for home use. The ATC’s have no user adjustments and come in a standard, square box cabinet with no choice of finish.
On the other hand, the Symphonies have perhaps the most customizable sound and appearance options of any speaker on the planet. Gary Dichiara already mentioned the DSP crossover controller called X-Act. The DSP also allows the Symphony’s output to be adjusted somewhat by the user. As the picture illustrates, there are two switches marked A & B that offer a combined four different settings.
Position one provides a small reduction in thebass response to accommodate the speakers being placed close to walls. Close placement would usually mean getting a little too much bottom end rendering the bass a bit boomy, so this setting adjusts for that. If you own a preamp which has low output, position two provides and extra 6 dB of gain along with the bass cut of #1 – also good if you are using your Ipod or computer as a source. If you need to place the Symphony’s further out into your room, position three provides a slight bass boost while number four is dead flat.
Having years of experience with recording studios, including the small setup I have in my home now, I know that Digital Signal Processing (DSP) has much more potential, some of which I would like to see in this speaker. For example, many studio monitors have the ability to be adjusted via parametric EQ by the user. You can actually hook up the speakers to your laptop, sit in your listening position and dial in a perfect response curve while music is playing and hear the results in real time. Each speaker can be adjusted individually. You may have noticed that the back panel of the Symphony’s include a computer serial port. This allows the dealer or the factory (but not the user) to do just that via computer software, further customizing the purchaser’s speaker to his room. So, it would not take that much to employ a user interface. Maybe you would like to hear what they would sound like with “The British Sound”. One click on a programmed setting and you’re there. Want a little more top end or roll off the bottom end to keep your woofers from fluttering while listening to your vinyl? Another click and it’s done.
When I mentioned this possibility to the Salagar guys, I was told they would look into it. Cool.
~ PIMP YOUR SPEAKERS ~
I know of no speaker that gives you more appearance options to allow perfect integration into your interior colors and design, or to just personalize your speakers to a one-of-a-kind, unique style.
First, there are a plethora of standard wood and automotive quality paint variations as the above chart illustrates. Paint finishes cost an extra $500. But personalization goes way beyond just those. Say you want leather on the front. No problem! Mother of pearl? You betcha. Gold or chrome plate? Your wish is their command. Even the mounting bolts can be gold or silver plated. If you want the outer walls of the speakers one color and the front baffle another, they can do that, too. Or, if you that doesn’t do it for you, send them a paint chip or wood veneer selection and they will match it.
Obviously, each speaker is custom made. Of course, there are additional charges, but they will work with you to assure you of a good price. Pretty amazing at this price point. But beyond that, each speaker is also individually tested before it leaves the factory – not just random samples – to assure perfect quality control.
You even have your choice of stands. Because of the speakers unique curved bottom (I’ll refrain from any innuendo. You can make up your own), the Salagar stands are pretty much a must. Stands come in three configurations. (1) as an all black powder coat design; (2) Identical to the all-black but with the outer metal cylinder finished to match the speaker (wood veneer or paint) and (3) a short configuration which eliminates the long stem and outer cylinder and basically brings the cup holding the speaker into very close proximity to the arched base unit.
Configuration 3, a tabletop version, is always shipped with the speakers and involves supplying an all-black short stub cylinder to which the upper cupped and lower arched components attach via three screws at each end. With that configuration they send the parts to make up either (1) or (2) depending on your choice. Thus, you are always able to deploy the short (tabletop) version but obtain one of the other two versions per your choice.
Stand prices are $699 for type (1) and $899 for type (2) regardless of wood or paint. Salahuddin tells me that virtually all of sales have been for the #2 stand.
Needless to say, one of the most conspicuous features of the Symphony S210 is its striking, sensuous, curvatious cabinet. Salahuddin tells me the inspiration for the shape comes from musical instruments such as guitar, cello and violin. Even without all the extra customizations, the Symphony is undeniably one of the most unique looking speakers on the planet. My wife Linda, for many years one of Florida’s top interior designers, loved the look. She also thinks the Symphony would have a very high “wife acceptance factor”. She told me, “They look very much like a sculpture or piece of art. The finish looks to be fine-furniture grade. They add a unique flavor and texture to a room without being overbearing, drawing too much attention to them, particularly if they were matched to the rest of the primary wood finish of the furniture or cabinetry. Even though they don’t have grills to cover the speaker cones, they are so well integrated into the circular architectural design that they are not that visually offensive or industrial looking.
Besides what you see on the exterior of the S210’s curvy cabinet, there is a lot of technology on the inside as well (See cutaway). I asked Mr. Khan to tell us about it; “The cabinet is one of the most important elements in determining the "sound" of the loudspeaker system. There are design choices for bass loading such as sealed/acoustic suspension, bass reflex (ported), transmission line, etc. Each of these "loadings" has both plusses and minuses. For the Symphony, we selected a sealed alignment because such a design has the advantage of "tight" sounding bass and has a good in-room response despite having a higher anechoic -3db point.
All enclosures suffer from several types of vibrations, resonances and pressure buildup of standing waves inside the enclosure. These factors cause the enclosure to radiate sound of its own which results in muddiness, harshness, honkiness or poor imaging. In addition, different cabinet materials exhibit different "sounds" of their own. The Symphony enclosure has been specially engineered to minimize these deleterious effects. The cylindrical shape of the enclosure distributes the internal pressure evenly about the walls of the cabinet and minimizes the buildup of standing waves due to the lack of sharp corners. A typical rectangular box, on the other hand, will experience resonance amplifying movement, at the unsupported center of each wall and standing wave buildup at the corners.
The Symphony's enclosure is actually built from multiple layers of a special urea-formaldehyde free composite board which is very uniform in consistency. The layer approach enables us to engineer integral bracing into the structure and allow a variable wall thickness, putting the mass where it’s needed and varying the structure's internal resonant frequency, greatly reducing unwanted sound generation from the cabinet. The front baffle is also shaped into a mild waveguide which controls the dispersion of the tweeter. Working together with the high pass crossover implemented in the X-ACT digital controller, this results in a smooth on and off axis frequency response and excellent stereo imaging characteristics.
Finally, the baffle appliqué is made from laser cut aluminum and wrinkle finish powdercoated bonded to the enclosure with a constrained layer of a silicone based damping material. This brings the total thickness of the front baffle to over 1 1/2 inches in 4 layers, minimizing energy transmission through the baffle and between the baffle and the rest of the enclosure. The shape and surface texturing of this part, along with the beveled edge of the cabinet, helps minimize diffraction contributing to the speaker’s ability to image properly.”
If you have an aversion to nakedness when it comes to drivers, please note that there are no grill covers. But then I tend to like nude grills. Seriously, the drivers are so artistically well integrated into the design that their "uncoveredness" is not offensive to the eye.
SALAGAR SYMPHONY SOUND
As we all know, keen ideas and cutting edge technology means little if the speakers do not convey the musical message the artists intended or allow the owner to listen for long periods of time without fatigue.
The Symphony S210 is primarily designed to be used with balanced circuitry. If you have, say, A CD player with balanced out, you can run balanced XLR cables from it directly into the speakers, eliminating the need for a preamp. Since I had the excellent AudioHorizons TP 2.1 balanced tube preamp, I used it along with my heavily modded universal player and my prized TW Acustic Raven One with Graham Phantom arm and Soundsmith’s “THE VOICE” cartridge. Salagar provided a pair of long cables to as speaker leads. More on that later. If you don’t have a balanced system, there is an optional adapter to let you use standard components.
Setup was pretty simple. Since the speakers I had were show demos, they needed no break in, though brand new ones surely would need probably a hundred hours or so. The otherwise excellent manual give no guidance in that regard. They were placed in an 11 foot perfect triangle, well away from any boundaries in “the large room”. Since these are powered speakers, they each have a provided power cord that needs to be plugged into AC. I plugged these into the wall. They start up by first doing an internal check. When the green light comes on, all is ready. All critical listening sessions began with at least a 20 minute warm-up period.
I began the first session with the Stereomojo Reviewer’s Evaluation CD, whose first cut is a test of soundstage. Want to hear it? Stereomojo is the only publication that lets you download selected samples we cite in our reviews – while reading it! Just right click here to download an mp3 of the original. I began with the number 4 “flat” setting, The Symphony S210 throws an image that is about as good as it gets. Very deep, very wide – extending well beyond the speakers outsides, and with this cut, very high above the enclosures. There was absolutely no sense of sound emanating from the cabinets. Complete disappearance.
The footsteps were perfectly placed as they traversed across the stage, starting far left and ending far right and very far back. It was easy to visually follow their travel. The ambient info, of which there is much, was dense (as it should be) well defined. The track gives you the impression when reproduced well, that you are inside a garage and yet outside with birds chirping at the same time. A Coke bottle rolling across a cement floor sounded like glass and not metallic as it can in some cases. A sudden car door being slammed shut was very dynamic with appropriate bass “thunk”, though perhaps a bit thin, leading me to think the slight bass boost setting might be better. Of course, that setting is custom made for this setup, being far from any boundaries, but I wanted to hear what the flat setting sounded like first.
I can safely say that the size, scope, clarity and focus of the soundstage is world class. It's that good. There is no apparent "sweet spot" either. Linda's seating position puts her almost directly in front of the right speaker. From there, the image changes perspective as it would if you were seated on the right side in concert venue, but the full left/right, front/back presentation is still fully intact with no sense of any sound tilted toward the right. That tells me there is outstanding vertical and horizontal dispersion going on. If your listening often invloves more than one person, take note. If your wife is one who leaves the room when you fire up your system, it might be because she doesn't like listening to only one channel. Food for thought.
As the different test cuts continued, the impression formed that I was listening to recording studio quality speakers. Very little coloration, though maybe the top end might be a bright for some, but it never glared or beamed. The level of detail was outstanding, especially those fine details that other speakers diminish or lose altogether. There was plenty of air and space around solo instruments or those among large or small ensembles. I also found myself slowly increasing the volume, though I never felt as if the speakers were “loud”. This attests to their cleaness and lack of distortion, either by the amplifiers or the drivers. That 10” midbass must be really stiff to be able to produce clean, wide frequency audio at these levels.
The character of the sound was a bit on the dry side (as opposed to glossy or "wet") which is also characteristic of studio monitors. It may be noteworthy that the Scanspeak AIrCirc tweeter, according to Scanspeak, is "designed to meet the demands of professional studio monitors requiring wide dispersion at high frequencies and transparent midrange clarity". My underline.
The AudioHorizons preamp (review link at end) does not lend much “tube sound”, even though it does employ tubes. Much like the S210, it is very fast, clean, quiet and neutral. A preamp with a bit more tube warmth for the S210's might be the ticket for those so inclined. The good thing is that the Symphony’s will quickly tell you what the rest of your system sounds like. Being extremely quiet and fast, they are also very revealing without the obnoxious etchiness of some solid state devices. Again, the word “clean” kept jumping into my mind.
I finished listening to the Mojo disk and then set the back switches to the slight bass boost setting. There was not a huge difference. The bottom end did not get boomy or ghetto car system pounding, but there was a subtle but noticeable firming of the low end. It didn’t get louder per se, just more substantial and weightier. Linda said succinctly, “It just sounds fuller”. Perfect description. I kept it in that mode for the remainder.
Both male and female vocals were a joy. They were neither too forward or too laid back. If I had to choose which way they leaned by a fraction, it would be forward – but only because they project solo vocals well in front of the background instruments or vocal when the recording called for it. That is a trait I happen to like – space between the singer and the accompaniment. Some speakers tend to project everything forward or everything to the rear. Not the case here.
Scale, or the size of the singers or instrumentalists, was near perfect. Linda Ronstadt’s voice was above the speaker’s top and slightly in front of the baffles. How tall is she? About 5’4” in my room. She could stand to lose a few pounds, though...
Speaking of scale, classical symphony cuts were spread out from wall to wall, left to right in back of the speakers. Instrument sections were well layered and easily identifiable as to position. There was no doubt where the first strings ended and the second strings, violas, cellos and bass viols began. Massed strings sounded silky and smooth but perhaps a bit dry on the very top end. Please understand that we are talking very small increments here and very relative. Some speakers and amps can sound rather wet and some just plain soggy. Or they can sound very cold and dry and every variable in between in different parts of the audio spectrum. Brass did not give me the cool shades. Brass, when played so, sounded hot – the Paris Hilton connotation of “hot”. Or the jazz meaning – like “Man, that band is hot tonight!”. Symphonic brass, especially French Horns and trombones were appropriately burnish and fluid. The oboe solo from “The Mission” sounded like an oboe. That is actually high praise since that selection can often sound more like an English Horn or even clarinet.
Dynamics, spurred by the 400 watts of power per speaker, were superlative at this price. Only big, horn-loaded speakers are better. Images are sharply focused without being analytical or mechanical. There is a high degree of musicality here. That constitues very high praise.
Jazz performances were wonderful. My new favorite LP, "Blues In Orbit" by Duke Ellington was exciting and immersive. Duke's musical genius flowed unimpared through these speakers, bringing this sixty year-old recording to life right before our eyes...and ears.
Okay. We have covered pretty much every genre, right? What? How about rock, you say? I’m glad you asked. People, the Salagar Symphony S210’s not only rock, they frickin’ ROCK! Great googly-moogly! Listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on vinyl was exhilarating, to say the least. Linda and I listened to all four sides, totally immersed in the waves of sound and studio effects. We kept pulling out Alan Parsons, Led Zep, The Who, Dire Straits, Hall & Oates, AC/DC, Zappa and the like. The speed and rhythmic drive of these speakers is phenomenal. We had a blast. There is some serious Mojo happening here.
During the review period, the new “Aqualung” reissue from Classic Records arrived. I never was a huge fan of this classic rocker, but I am now. The talent and skill level of this recording was revealed in a way never experienced before. The silence of the 200 gram Quiex vinyl along with the dead silent backgrounds of the AudioHorizons/Salagar combo left nothing but pure listening immersion. Maybe it was just being able to understand the lyrics plainly without having to strain. Maybe it was just that I had never heard the music and musicians this dynamic and rhythmic. Now I see why so many love this LP.
We have talked quite a bit about the bottom end, and it is noteworthy. One might expect a big 10 inch cone in only a two-way “bookshelf” to be somewhat slow and boomy. It is not. Very tight and reasonably deep. My only quibble is one of semantics in that that the Symphony is billed as a full range speaker. Of course, while I'm picking on Salagar a bit here, this is an industry wide non sequitur. To me, full range means the speaker reaches down to at least the high 20Hz range. The Symphony doesn’t. The manual specifies a lower limit of 42Hz +/- 3dB on setting one. Because of the speed and clarity, it sounds better than that, but last lower octave is not quite there. I don’t mean to give the impression that the speakers lack bass. They certainly do not. I’m just being as honest and accurate as possible regarding the claim of "full range". I heard the new, smaller version of the Symphony called the Sonnet at CES running with their own subwoofer and THAT sounded more like full range. We are anxious to be the first to review the new Sonnet, too. I would advise trying the Symphony sans sub initially. The vast majority of owners will find the low end's depth, tightness and punch a vast improvement over what they have. Down the road, perhaps you could try the Salagar sub to see if it is a worthy improvement.
Let’s digress for just a moment. If you are new to Stereomojo, and a lot of you are, you should know that we have a very narrow and specific niche carved out in the audio press. We say, “Reviews and information about affordable high-end stereo for the value conscious music lover”. We think “Affordable High End” means roughly between $2,000 and $20,000, though that is hardly written in stone. We have done a shootout of 11 speakers under $1,000 and reviewed speakers costing $40 per pair. But we like to think we cover the price points where most people are actually going to buy. We’ll leave the ultra luxury $100,000 speakers, turntables and amps to the others. We also leave the video and surround to them, too. “Stereo” in the mission statement means two-channel. Lastly there’s “value conscious music lover”. Value means a high price/performance ratio or big bang-for-the-buck. Music lover means that it is still all about music more than gear.
So, how do we assess the value quotient of these $8,800 speakers? Well, bear in mind that each speaker has a built-in ICE (most consider ICE to be the best) Class D power of 400 watts; 200 for the tweeter, 200 for the mid bass. That’s 800 watts for the pair. I have a Halcro Class D power amp that puts out the same 400 wpc and it costs $5,000. We thought it was a good bargain at that price. I know of other Class D amps that put out less and cost the same or more, so 5 grand seems like a pretty solid reference number. Richard Dolan’s M1’s, our monoblock amps of the year for 2007, are also ICE powered at $3,500/pr. They deliver 120 wpc.
I should point out that a significant percentage of the cost of an amplifier is in the casework – the box that houses the circuitry. It can be as much as 40 to 50% of the total price. The Salagars don’t need amp casework since the amps are housed in the speakers. $aving$. So, if we use that 5 grand as a baseline, then you are getting the speakers themselves for $3,800. How does that look so far?
The craftsmanship and woodworking is top shelf. They look and feel expensive. They certainly score high in style points. A very high WAF definitely adds to value. The adjustability of the response curve has to be factored in. Placement is not very critical. If you only or mainly use just a disc player, the non-need of a preamplifier drives the value way up. We also like the ability to have choices. The choices offered by this speaker are almost limitless in terms of appearance. They generate very little heat, so people like me in southern climes will appreciate them a lot. you can leave them on without worrying about big utility bills.
If something happens to one of the power modules, you don’t have to send back the whole speaker for repair. You simply unscrew a few screws, slip out the module and slip in a replacement. Simple.
I mentioned earlier that we would talk about speaker cables for the Salagar. I used three different pairs. One was the pair they sent which was an upgrade from a standard, run of the mill microphone cable you can buy for under $20. The other was a very expensive (think $2,000) pair of long, balanced interconnects. The third was a 20-year-old, plain ‘ole microphone cable left over from my touring band days. Here’s the thing; there was very little if any difference between the three! I was so surprised I asked Salahuddin about it. He replied, “It was a conscious design choice to utilize an interconnect system that does not require the consumer to have to spend an inordinate amount of money on cables to maximize the sound quality of the speakers. Its our experience that balanced cables have less influence on the sound than unbalanced cables. Balanced cables also are immune to noise and hum pickup from the environment and as you know, are used exclusively in the pro recording and broadcast environment. The input impedance of the X-Act is a usefully high 10,000 ohms so differences in cable impedance are insignificant when driven from a suitably high quality balanced preamp as you did.”
Not needing pricey speaker cables? How valuable is that? Of course, if you already own a big power amp or integrated, you can sell the thing since you won’t need it with these.
Downsides? They weigh 43 lbs each, so you need a very substantial shelf if you want to use them with the short stands. Otherwise, the optional floor stands are a must which adds seven to nine hundred bucks to the price. I am told that the curvy part of the stands are a large part of their cost. Curves can be very expensive - just ask Eliot Spitzer. The speakers also have to plugged in, so that’s an extra cord running to them. If you need to use unbalanced sources, you need to buy a passive converter box. That’s a few more bucks. But you then can run an Ipod, computer or music server directly to them. Pretty good tradeoff.
If you like a very clean, precise, accurate sound that is neither overly romantic or overly clinical, the Salagar Symphony S210 would be a worthy candidate for your consideration. If you do want a tubier presentation, try a warmish tube preamp with them. Maybe Cary, AudioSpace or Nightingale. The frequency response, including low bass, is certainly equal to most competing floor standing speakers but in a more compact cabinet. Eliminating the need for an integrated or power amp would free up some space in your component rack and maybe in your bank account, too. In addition, if you like something that is decidedly different in appearance and you have a penchant for curves, these are unique in all of audio. Speaking of curves, women like ‘em, too. Even at $8,800, the Salagar Symphony S210’s represent substantial value. So much so that we can’t help but bestow upon them our Maximum Mojo Award.
Congratulations to Misters Khan and Dichiara. You not only have produced a great product at a good price and done it with style, you have shown us all that the concept of powered speakers is not just for recording studios.
AudioHorizons Preamp Review
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