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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000 & Hadcock GH Export arms, Rega Super Elys & Garrott Bros Optim FGS Cartridges
Digital Source: Accoustic Arts Drive 1/Audio Aero Prima SE DAC, Moon Audio's Level 2 Modified Original CD-2008MkII player [in for review]
Preamp: Bel Canto Pre2P
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bel Canto e.One REF1000 and Canary CA 160 Mono Blocks, Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated Amp: Melody M880 monos [on loan]
Speakers: Tidal Audio Pianos, Hørning Perikles, Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.1, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor and Superconductor FX interconnects and speaker wire, Furutech Digi Reference digital
Power Cords: ZCable Heavys, Red & Black Lightnings, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Cyclone Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance Platform, 2-inch Butcher Block platforms with Quest for Sound Isol-pads, Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy Zsleeves, Viablue QTC spikes under speakers, Auric Illuminator
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $2,595/pr (additional colors of your choosing $300), matching S 700 stands $529
There's no reason to dance around the subject. No doubt you've been tipped off by that big Blue Moon at the top of the page, to the fact that I think the Sehring S700 SE loudspeakers are the bee's knees, the cat's meow and the cool breeze that blows my skirt up, all rolled up into one pair of well-executed monitor-style loudspeakers. However, they are distinctly not for everyone. Their meager dimensions will instantly rule them out for those who think that stuffing oversized speakers into undersized rooms is the key to sonic nirvana. Their limited bass extension means that if annoying the upstairs neighbor is a priority, you'll have to look elsewhere. Agoraphobics will want to avoid the S700 SE's traumatically huge, open and airy soundstage. Those insisting on strategically placed colorations designed to make the speaker sound like something it's not will want to continue the search as the Sehring is an especially honest loudspeaker. In fact, the S700 SEs are so transparent and revealing of upstream components that those reluctant to give up their 70's vintage transistor Technics receivers may want to avoid an audition of the Sehrings or risk hearing exactly what that their components sound like. Of course, trophy hunters will be positively embarrassed by the extremely fair asking price of the Sehrings, despite its excellent build quality, clearly delineated modular upgrade path and haughty European roots. Lastly, astute listeners looking to avoid that highly focused imaging with razor-sharp image outlines that are not part of the live listening experience will want to avoid the speakers at all cost. However, if you don't fall into these groups, there's much to recommend the S700 SE.
If Sehring Audio is unfamiliar, you'd probably want to know that it's a small company of eight employees who manufacture in house 90% of their products in an 800-square meter facility in Berlin, Germany. The cabinets, painting and crossover assembly are all done in house. Design priorities are said to be correct acoustical phase (low group delay), linear frequency response, low distortion, in loudspeakers that are flexible and adjustable to the room and the customer, with a form-follows-function philosophy where it follows that every single part of each of their loudspeakers has a technical function - with the possible exception of the logo. Their customer base throughout Europe includes professional sound studios, musicians and music lovers. Stephan Sehring told me that they experienced a 28% growth last year. Finally, they are involved in some development for other companies (speakers, hifi and studio) and have some scientific research and develop products in acoustics.
|The Sehring S700 SE is a small loudspeaker measuring 13" H x 7" W x 12" deep. It presents such a solid impression via the knuckle-rap test that its 19-pound weight came as a bit of a surprise. I expected it to be heavier. The 4-inch damped aluminum SEAS woofer looks a bit larger than it is because it's mounted on a felt-lined bezel which, for time-alignment purposes, extends its mounting about a half inch beyond the baffle. Also felt lined is the mounting plate of the 1-inch metal SEAS tweeter which is protected by a perforated metal cage and flush-mounted on the speaker's baffle. Connection to the S700 SE can only be accomplished conveniently via a single pair of banana plugs.
The S700 SE's baffle is not only two inches thick but appears to be decoupled from the cabinet with a Sorbothane-like yet proprietary energy-absorbing material. This decoupling theme continues on to the optional stands which make extensive use of the same material. First, if you don't spike the stands to the floor (I received no spikes), the stand is decoupled from the floor via a large sheet of this mystery material mounted to the bottom of the stand's base. That base is actually composed of two sandwiched sheets of MDF separated by yet another sheet of the same material. Moving up to the plinth to immediately beneath the speaker, the same theme continues with two more sheets of MDF sandwiching yet another sheet of viscoelastic.
|In total, that makes three barriers between speaker and floor and conversely, between floor and speaker. As heroic as these efforts are and though the S700 SEs are quite possibly the most inert speakers I've ever used, due to the speaker's low mass they still underwent a surprising degree of vibration while playing. I can, however, assume that the vibration is largely the direct result of the moving drivers and|
|not retransmitted energy from the floor. Both stands and speakers are completely finished in a matte finish that should be durable and shows no fingerprints. My review pair came in a smart combination of silver and grey but they are available in any color for a $300 surcharge. However, starting summer of 2007, the standard finish will change - the front baffle will go silver, the body goes anthracite.
Not quite obvious is the fact that the S700 SE is a bass reflex design. No ports are visible from either the front or back. Ingeniously, the Sehrings are ported at their bottom. The Sehring stands should therefore be considered mandatory as their top plinth provides the complimentary vent which allows the S700 SE's port to breathe. One of the reasons why this porting scheme is so ingenious is that it guarantees certainty as to the port's location with respect to its surroundings. No worries here about a rear-mounted port being suffocated through placement too close to a wall. No reservations about chuffing noises being audible if the front-firing port aims directly at the listener's ears. No, the stand (which can be bolted directly to the speakers) determines and maintains the proper amount of breathing room for the S700 SE. The scheme is also central to optional upgrade paths for the S700 SE. Sehring manufactures a pair of passive bass modules (the S 701 and S 701), which double as stands and require that the S700 SE vent into the bandpass modules (there are no active drivers involved) to extend the speaker's bass response by another 8 and 12 cycles respectively. Also available are two different models of active bass modules (the S 703 and S 704) - well, active inasmuch as they add another bass driver to the mix, not active as in including amplification. These modules drop bass extension from the S700 SE's limit of 54Hz to 38 and 36Hz respectively. I received none of these modules for review. As delivered, the 700 SEs are rated nominally at 8 ohms and with an 86dB sensitivity. Frequency response is rated as 54Hz to 25kHz -3dB and these monitors are recommended for amplifiers between 30 and 100 watts.
|Nits? Plenty. Not. I found the Sehring speaker and stand combo to be exceptionally well thought out and executed. The MDF stands will require a little assembly. That was easy. My pair was not factory fresh and I did notice that one of the vertical pieces had suffered a little damage when someone turned the bolt through the bottom plinth just one turn too far. Let that be the word to the wise. Get those bolts good and tight but use common sense and don't overdo it. Even my slightly damaged stand did its job superbly. Of course, if your favorite speaker wires are terminated with spades, bare wire or pins, you'll have to make concessions for the banana-only connection scheme. If you like, pop off the back and access the crossover directly. You'll lose the quick disconnect of the bananas but you can run the speaker wire up through the stand, through the bottom plinth and right into the rear of the speaker and connect it directly to the crossover. You gain one less cable junction (between banana jacks and crossover) as well as having the speaker wire completely hidden from view.|
|I received no manual or other documentation with the S700 SEs so in order to gather some information while waiting to hear back from Stefan Sehring, I looked around and found a few reviews. Interestingly, I noted a lack of consistency as I read reviews of different Sehring models. Some were described as analytical while others reported a laid-back, inherently musical quality. In my room, I heard evidence of both characters. The S700 SEs' most forthright characteristic is their clean, clear and articulate midrange that digs deep to bring up the musical goods from a recording.
Owing mainly to a crisp and articulate upper bass and lower midrange, they allowed me deeper insights into the midrange than any other monitor in memory. That's not to call the S700 SEs lean and mean. Not by a long shot. I found them very well balanced and fleshed out down to their natural bass roll-off. With the right recordings, the S700 SEs were full and warm, just not very generous with deep bass. This added up to a remarkably uncolored representation of each recording and one of the most satisfying experiences presented by speakers anywhere near their price. However, I wouldn't call them analytical. Despite an easily perceptible rise from absolute neutrality through the upper midrange and into the treble, I found them neither cold nor sterile.
|In fact, this slight contouring provided a very appealing amount of sparkle to the upper mids which I found engaging and energizing when mated to neutral amplification. But laid back? Not a term that I'd use to describe the 700 SEs in my room. In the listening room I first dropped the 700|
|SEs into my system with the 26-watt Canary CA 330 300B push-pull amplifiers and they sounded stunningly good. Outrageously good. They communicated everything there was to know about these excellent amplifiers and produced a sound that I could easily live with long term. Of course, a pair of sub $3K monitors won't usually find their way into a system with such expensive amplifiers so I substituted the Melody M880 KT88 amplifiers under review. These 50-watt tube amps are priced similarly to the S700 SEs and are far more commensurate with what I expect would be used with them - though not as a great sonic match. It was almost as if someone had dropped a different pair of speakers into the system. The more powerful KT88 amplifiers brought to the fore bass power that the Canarys couldn't produce. That wasn't bad. The Melody also maintained tight-fisted control. That was great. But up top the gentle and sweet nature of the S700 SEs' treble lost a good measure of velvety smoothness and finesse and became just a little brittle by comparison. While I didn't have one in the house, I'd love to hear the Sehrings with a good EL34 tube amplifier. That should be able to maintain much of the KT88's flavor but with a sweeter treble. But one thing that never changed as I swapped in and out different amplifiers was that transparent and musically communicative midrange. I found it eminently soulful and musically entrancing.
|If you've never noticed, audiophiles love absolutes. When I received the Navison Audio 211 amplifiers, friends wanted to know which I liked better, the Canary CA 330s or the Navison 211s. I'd tell them, "Depends on which CD I'm playing." Often they|
|thought I was kidding. Throw Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom [Capitol CDP 7 90517 2] in the CD player and discover that it's a pretty bright recording. As the Canarys exhibit just a little added energy through the upper mids (in much the same way that the Sehrings do), my choice between the two amps would go to the ultra neutral Navison. But cue up his Venus Isle [Capitol CDP0777798331 2 2] and it's a much more neutral sounding recording. My top amp choice will turn to the Canarys as they do provide just a little added excitement while never stepping out of bounds.
|When I speak of the same energetic character of the S700 SEs, it's important to note that I'm talking about a slight deviation from strict neutrality. Unless the recording is really bad, they never step out of bounds and your take on them will, again, depend on the music you're playing. Yes, there's a slight rise in energy level but it's of reasonable amplitude and there are no audible barbs to take the fun out of the music. Just a little added seasoning in the stew. In fact, it's important to note that even the Canary/S700 SE combination never truly stepped out of bounds, even with the bright Johnson disc. But astute listeners won't fail to note just a little added emphasis through this region.
One can vary the upper bass balance of the S700 SEs via the choice of different amplifiers but one thing that will never change is that deep bass is completely MIA. The speakers track electric bass satisfyingly though some of the resonance at the bottom of the bass' lowest register is slightly missed. I found that no big deal at all. However, kick and bass drums are completely lacking in low-end grunt that usually energizes the room. Ever the optimist, I couldn't help but be impressed by the fact that the S700 SE pretty much ignores that which is beyond its reach rather than attempt and succeed only marginally or not at all. In other words, the bass that can't be produced well is largely ignored and as deep as the speakers go, they are linear and articulate and should mate extremely well with a subwoofer.
|Had Sehring allowed the speakers to let go of the reins in the bass and get wooly and loose, they never would sound right mated to a good subwoofer. As it is, the 700 SEs go as far as they do and then they fall off like a rock, making it much easier to slip a sub beneath them - which was part of the design process all along. The opening drums on "Tran-Island Skyway" [Donald Fagen's Kamakiriad - Reprise 945230-2] may have lacked a little weight but the electric bass fared much better. The opening bass riff on his|
|"Snowbound" has become a reference of sorts and the S700 SEs handled it with complete aplomb. It was weighty, balanced, warm and awfully articulate.
From beginning to end, SuperTramp's Some Things Never Change [Oxygen/SilverCab 63245-90002-2] is filled with weighty bass and midbass. Again, the low bass drum strikes, while not completely ignored by the 700 SEs by any stretch, came across with less weight and drama than usual. However, every Cliff Hugo bass line came across as big as it should have been and in possession of just the right amount of growl. As deep as they went, the 700 SEs produced satisfying bass tone and texture.
Once properly set up -- which I didn't find difficult to accomplish -- the S700 SEs will pull a devilishly good disappearing act, leaving behind only a large and expansive soundstage. They did a superb job of filling in the upper corners of my room. That was no small feat considering the combined height of the speaker and stand. It tops out at a mere 37 inches. Depth too was very good. But it is the way the S700 SEs populate a soundstage that bests every speaker in and around their class I've ever used. The Sehrings present a beautifully focused image with highly delineated instruments and cubits of space between them. Scale and perspective vary from recording to recording and when an instrument is to be presented in the foreground, the S700 SEs can place it in your lap. Symphony orchestras on the other hand, are placed deeply on the stage, making the front wall of my room vanish completely.
As I already mentioned, the S700 SE's treble character will be what you make of it. It's here that careful attention will have to be paid to system matching. I'd not noticed that the Melody M880 was capable of a rough or ragged treble before and I still wouldn't use that word to describe what I heard. But when combined with the ruthless treble of the S700 SEs, there simply was too much energy compared to the silken Canary 300B amplifiers. Had I reversed the order and used the Melody amplifiers, I simply would have concluded that the S700 SE's treble was just about what one could expect of a speaker in this class. Had I not thought to try the Canary amplifier, I never would have known just how sweet this speaker could sound. This story would seem to have several morals then. First, you'd better like the electronics you're using because the S700 SEs are going to tell you a lot about them. Second, the speakers are best used with an amplifier with a refined and sweet treble response. Third, the S700 SEs will benefit from amplifies well in excess of their price. Again, that makes perfect sense when you consider their modular upgrade path. They may start life as a $2,595 pair of speakers but unless your plan is to allow them to remain that way indefinitely, you can plan on mating them with electronics commensurate with far more ambitious loudspeakers, thereby striking a keen balance between speaker and amplification expenditures.
|Carl Orff's Carmina Burana by the Saint Luis Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Leonard Slatkin conducting [Red Seal 09026 61673-2] was great fun over the S700 SEs. The CD is a rollercoaster ride, dynamically speaking. It's usually great fun if a speaker has good macro-dynamic performance. If a speaker does the microdynamic thing, it's even better. In my room, the 700 SEs did the macro thing surprisingly well as they neither compressed nor distressed at the extremes of volume. Thankfully, they danced to the microdynamic swings surprisingly well, which served to help the music live and breathe as it does when heard from the audience. The chorus was lined up wall to wall across my room but the soloists were placed with excellent degrees of focus all around the stage. Lots of hall ambiance, too. The 700 SE imbued a level of natural purity upon the vocal soloists that is a rare find in this field. No, it didn't quite measure up to the immediacy and level of detail of the Lowther-equipped Hørning Perikles. It didn't reach down and conjure up its minute amounts of detail. But it did come close in the area of transparency and in conveying the feeling that there was little between the music and myself. This is where this speaker really excels.
The now discontinued Thiel PCS monitor was one of my favorite stand mounts and sold for just under $3K. It was a worthy adversary for the S700 SEs. The Thiel was more expensive but it came in choices of beautifully finished veneers. If memory serves, it also had very similar bass character and extension. It also had the same kind of ultra-revealing treble that required no less than the 700 SE by way of system matching. In other words, in several respects, the two speakers had much in common. However, I do think that the S700 SEs delve just a little deeper into the midrange of the music than the Thiels did. Music emerges from the S700 SEs from a slightly darker canvas. As compared to my second favorite monitor, the $1,600/pr ACI Sapphire XL, the more expensive Sehring brings to the table a buttoned-down sure-footedness that the Sapphire XL can't quite manage, excellent monitor that it is. The Sapphire does energize the room with more and deeper bass than the Sehring, making it the slightly more satisfying speaker on its own. In turn, the Sapphire does have a more polite treble voicing that is both more forgiving yet slightly less insightful. The Sapphire also has a much fuller upper bass, the desirability (or not) of which will largely depend on the size of the room and the setup within that room. In this area I won't make light of the differences between the two. In the wrong room, the Sapphire can sound thick and wooly or the Sehring too lean. Preferences here will also come very much down to a matter of personal taste and expectations. But it's in the clean, uncolored and unencumbered midrange where the 700 SEs earn their stripes as the more expensive and accomplished loudspeaker.
|Another favorite speaker of mine whose price puts it in direct competition despite the fact that it's a very different type of loudspeaker is the Gallo Reference 3.1. Contemplating which I'd choose for myself is a lot like choosing one of your children over the other. Despite their very real differences, there can be no favoritism. But there are differences. There's no contest in the bass department; the Gallos go places the 700 SEs will never follow. Their greater radiating area and dedicated woofer mean that they can play louder without strain, too. For most people, the Gallos are a final product with no upgrading required. On the 700 SE's side of the ledger is less appetite for power. They'll play remarkably well with 26 or 30 watts. I imagine that some will like the 700 SE's modern twist on traditional styling. And while the Gallos are excellent through the midrange, the Sehrings may just edge them out here because they can be used with more sophisticated yet lower powered amplification. In other words, the Sehrings worked excellently with the 26-watt Canary amplifiers but these amps would make a poor choice for the more current-hungry Gallos.
|Most telling of all, however, is how the S700 SEs compare to my five times as costly Tidal Audio Pianos, also of German lineage. Tidal doesn't and probably never will produce a speaker in this price range, if for no other reason that they would spend as much finishing their speakers as Sehring asks for their finished products. If Tidal|
|did produce a small two-way with a Nextel finish, however, it would sound very much like the Sehring S700 SEs. Though the two speakers accomplish their goals to significantly different degrees, they have much in common. They are both thoroughly musically communicative speakers that deliver the lion's share of the heart and soul of the music. They both share very open and transparent, musically detailed midranges. The Tidal simply delivers more of it. Bass extension aside, the only area where the speakers part company is in the treble. Here the Piano proves unshakable and unexcitable. In my book, that speaks volumes for the S700 SE's value. That the Sehring's gestalt is so strongly of the same cloth as its far more expensive countrymen makes it an instant favorite of mine.
Well, it seems as though I've already said much that needs to be said in the opening paragraph. Let me put it another way then - the Sehring S700 SE speakers are superb little speakers and in my experience, without a doubt class contenders if not leaders. Their most important attribute is their clean, open and articulate midrange performance. Add to that a big and spacious soundstage and excellent imaging. Finish it all off with very good dynamics for a monitor and an overall personality that takes much of its cues from the personality of the electronics that precede it upstream and you have an excellent little speaker that'll make a good choice now while keeping pace as you go about system upgrades elsewhere. It all makes for a speaker that's sure to be as worthy of your affections tomorrow as it is today. That makes it a Blue Moon recipient for exceptional performance in the monitor speaker category.
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