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|Let's consider the SDL in terms of music first. In musical terms, it means you should still be able to hear the full range of the human voice -- bass, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano -- without ever having to hand off to another driver. It also means you should still hear the full range of the guitar, xylophone, chimes, piccolo, flute, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, trumpet, coronet, French horn, trombone, violin, viola, cello and all kinds of other instruments without more than one driver involved.
You wouldn't be able to hear the lowest registers of the piano from the 15th key (61.735Hz) to the 1st key (27.5Hz). But, you would still hear the other 73 of the piano's 88 keys. Similarly, you wouldn't be able to hear the lowest notes of the harp, accordion, bassoon, tuba, string bass, bass drum and bass sax. Like the piano, you would still hear most of those instruments' range. From a sonic perspective, one thing that would be diminished is the "hall sound" of the recording venue if it exists in the recording. Ambience extends down through the lowest audible frequencies into the infrasonic region.
So that's what you wouldn't hear if the Super 3 only covered 58Hz to 20KHz with nothing below. However, in my room the Super 3's response was reasonably flat to 63Hz where it rolled off until it was about 13dB down at 31.5Hz, with nothing below that. Note that the Super 3 still does go down to 31.5Hz. You should be able to hear the lowest note of every instrument except for the pipe organ and piano, albeit at significantly reduced volume. You can still make out the 4th key of the piano at 32.7Hz, for example. The realization that it was possible to hear nearly everything of musical significance through a small single driver loudspeaker surprised me somewhat. I just didn't expect that there would be that much coverage of the musical instrument & human voice spectra.
You might be wondering why proponents of SDL technology claim it is advantageous to have a single driver cover as much of the 20/20 frequency range as possible. They often use the analogy of single-ended amplifiers or SETs to illustrate this point. SET hobbyists point to a couple of factors they believe are largely responsible for those amplification devices' excellent sound and music-making qualities. First, there are less electronic devices in the signal path to degrade the signal. Second, the musical waveform remains intact without being split into opposite phase halves to be recombined as in push-pull amplifiers. Conventional HiFi wisdom predicts that the more you mess with a signal, the more likely you'll mess up its ability to convey the full sonic & musical attributes any given recording is capable of.
SDL fans point out that there is no sonic and musical crossover degradation in a single driver loudspeaker because there's no filter network the amplifier connects directly to the driver via the speaker cables. "A no-order crossover is better than the best crossover of any other kind," they say. Less is more: fewer parts equal more music & sound getting to the driver in the first place. That seems to make sense to me.
SDL proponents also point out that like their push-pull amplifier brethren, multi-driver loudspeakers slice, dice and recombine the musical spectrum. What happens to the music when you push, pull, slice and dice and cram it through a crossover? For one, you lose information. Low-level musical nuance and detail goes missing. You also lose some of the directness, impact and dynamics encoded in a recording. Percussion sounds less percussive, plucked strings sound less plucky and so on. To my ears, this is more noticeable with microdynamics than macrodynamics. SDL proponents also point out that no two drivers in a multi-driver loudspeaker really speak with the same voice so things are bound to sound a little different than the real thing - less coherent than with a SDL. I guess it also follows that with only one driver, there would be no time domain errors and no crossover-induced phase shifts or multi-driver lobing errors.
It's also said that when you split the music into pieces to feed different drivers, it puts more strain on the ear/brain machine to integrate everything back together. It's more work for the listener. It reminds me of digital sampling of music or film frames in movies. When the sampling is too slow, it gives a harsh and edgy sound to music and a jumpy appearance to the film: Think early CD and silent films. When the sampling rate speeds up, you notice it less and less until you don't notice the slicing and dicing at all or do you? Listen to the best digital front end you can find, then listen to a really good turntable or a master tape played back over an Ampex, then tell me what you hear. If you're like me, you'll think that there is still a huge gulf between the best digital and the best analog. Slicing and dicing doesn't do any good. It just makes you work harder at putting the music back together. When Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall, all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put poor Humpty back together again. Neither can all the King's crossovers and all the King's drivers when the signal has been shattered into pieces. Or so the proponents of SDLs claim.
One thing I haven't mentioned yet is harmonics - those overtones that give the fundamentals of voices and instruments their own unique voice. There is a belief among SDL hobbyists that multi-driver loudspeakers do the most damage in the realm of the harmonics or the "voices" of vocalists and instruments. The attack on the notes isn't as sharp and the decay isn't as continuous because it's broken into several pieces distributed across various drivers. 'Tis claimed that SDLs do a better job of getting the overtones right because the music is coming from one driver.
Okay, my take on the whole single-driver loudspeakers phenomenon is that they aren't perfect either but an honest attempt to take a big step in the right direction of preserving the musical whole just like SET amplifiers. SET amplifier enthusiasts tend to like single-driver loudspeakers for another reason: Because there is no crossover, they are generally more sensitive which makes them easier to drive. The Fostex driver in the Super 3 has a light cone and a strong motor to give it an 8-ohm sensitivity of 93dB. That makes it a natural for partnering with low power SET amplifiers but not too low: The 2-watt Yamamoto Stereo 45 didn't really have enough steam to make the Super 3s sing in my room, for example. During the review process, I found that my 3.5-watt Fi 2A3 amplifiers really were the lower limit of power I would recommend while the Fis were a very nice match indeed. The 5 watts of the Almarro or Sonic Impact T-Amp were enough to blow down the walls.
Looney Tunes and Other Fine Art
I placed the Omega Super 3s on their matching 24-inch Skylan stands to which they fit like a fine glove. For break-in purposes, I set up an impromptu audio/video system using my Toshiba SD-3109 DVD video player (now discontinued, originally < $400) providing images to my inexpensive Philips television on a Billy Bags TV rack. I used either the 5wpc Almarro A205A or the 5wpc $39 budget wonder, the Sonic Impact Class T digital integrated to readily power the Super 3s to satisfying levels in my 15' x 25' x 8' listening room. The Super 3s sounded a little lean, harsh & edgy fresh out of the box, in my experience typical of new Fostex drivers. After about 30 days, the harshness & edginess disappeared to give a smooth and detailed sound. The Omegas have continued to improve in speed, transparency, detail recovery, tonality, imaging & soundstaging since then. So my experience suggests that you hang loose while you let the sonic signature of the Super 3s develop completely. Then enjoy!
I had a ball watching a bunch of DVDs during the break-in and review period. In fact, I watched seven seasons of Stargate and four seasons of X-Files DVDs! Yeah, I'm a science fiction nerd. But I also enjoy thoughtful and intelligent filmmaking like Ingmar Bergman's excellent Swedish-language trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence that examines religion in the midst of his own spiritual crisis. These three blockbusters of intellectual & emotional intensity combined with Bergman's brilliant and stark imagery really rattled my cage. Then there was the provocative South American terrorist-politico-romantic thriller The Dancer Upstairs directed by the talented John Malkovich. Then there was the delightfully humorous and witty Looney Tunes Golden Collection with Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Elmer and the rest of the gang. And then there was ... well, you get the idea - I had a ball!
I was really impressed with the sound quality of soundtracks through the Super 3s. There was natural tonality, a sense of speed & transparency, excellent detail recovery and a huge billowing soundstage, which it turns out are traits that the Omegas excel at. It surprised me to hear how well the booms, bangs and blasts of your typical action soundtrack came through even with the diminutive power of SETs. A lot less information was lost in the lower octave than I would have thought given the bass rolloff below 60Hz with the single Fostex.
Now for the tunes. This is supposed to be a serious audio review so I guess I better get serious and tell you about listening to music with the Super 3s. I mentioned earlier that in-room response was reasonably flat to 63Hz, below which it started to diminish until being about 13dB down at 31.5Hz, with silence below that. I didn't mention that I think that's pretty good response for a small monitor, particularly how I had them positioned: four feet out from the front wall, four feet out from the side walls, angled into the listening position with only their front baffles visible. Room treatment was courtesy of my 1948 Gibson Super 300 archtop jazz guitar & Gibson Advanced Jumbo flattop guitar, their curvy resonating acoustic bodies strategically placed to make the music & sound just right.
I used a Meridian 508.20 CD player as a transport for an Audio Logic 2400 vacuum tube DAC, with the signal routed through a Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe preamplifier to drive Fi 2A3 single-ended triode monoblocks. For cables I used a Nirvana Transmission Digital Interface between transport and DAC, Nirvana S-X interconnects between DAC and preamplifier; Nirvana S-L interconnects between preamplifier and amplifiers. My usual Nirvana S-L speaker cables between amplifiers and speakers weren't a particularly good match with the Omegas. Instead I used a very interesting pair of LS Auditorium 23 speaker cables ($880 for a 2.5 meter pair) designed and manufactured by Keith Aschenbrenner in Germany. Keith handcrafts the LS cables rather than cutting 'em off a roll. The cable consists of two different (and secret) twisted leads with differing cross sections wrapped in a soft green outer cotton sleeve. Beryllium copper bananas terminate both ends. Germans consider Keith their Tube Pope and resident audiophile guru. Besides his Auditorium 23 business, Keith is also known for his large collection of Klangfilm, Westrex and Siemens gear. In case you haven't already guessed, the 23s are designed specifically for tubes and high efficiency speakers. Jonathan Halpern of Shindo USA is smitten enough by them to have become the US importer. The LS cables are somewhat expensive in the context of today's $749 Omega/Skylan combo but they did sound very good indeed. The LS cables allowed the Super 3s to develop a warmer and more natural tonality than the Nirvanas while maintaining a sense of speed & transparency, excellent detail recovery and a huge billowing soundstage.
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