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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Eastern Electric Minimax CD player, Audio Zone DAC-1 non-oversampling DAC, Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable w/Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Shrimp, Audio Zone AMP-1, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage
Amp: Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand filled Skylan stands), Gemme Audio Concert 108i [in for review], JM Reynaud Twin Signature [in for review], REL Q108 Mk II subwoofer
Cables: DH Labs Revelation, Air Matrix, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference interconnects, Auditorium 23 speaker cables, DH Labs D-75 digital cable, Audience Maestro interconnects and speaker cables
Power Cables: GutWire Power Clef², C Clef, X Clef² [in for review], B-12 DIY AC cable [in for review], Audience Powerchord
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets w/ Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, GutWire MaxCon
Sundry accessories: Grado SR-60 headphones, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Skylan damping boards [in for review], Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Walker Audio Ultra Vivid, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, GutWire SoundPads, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments
Room size: 11x18x8, short wall setup, hardwood floors with large area rug
Review component retail: $1,200

This year, Silverline Audio is celebrating its 10th anniversary by releasing three new speaker models; the Grandeur Mk II ($15,000/pr), the SR17.5 ($3,500) and the subject of today's review, the floorstanding Prelude. The early scuttlebutt from a few readers and industry folks alike has been overwhelmingly positive on the latter and since I'm keen on affordable gear that punches above its weight, I formally requested a loaner pair for further investigation. To date, I have not personally spent time with any of Silverline's loudspeakers but like most folks, I have certainly read many glowing reviews on Alan Yun's lineup.

Seduced by the purity and coherence of loudspeakers that preserve the timing of the original waveform such as offered by firms like Green Mountain Audio, I admit very few mainstream loudspeakers impress me. Now that I'm aware of time distortion, I can hear its music-blurring effects on just about every conventional speaker you may name regardless of price. The Prelude is certainly no exception. However, realizing that some readers may not share my opinion on the importance of time/phase coherence and since there are so few such designs available, I rolled up my sleeves and have gotten down to locating affordable conventional speakers that I could recommend. The Prelude is one of a handful of impressive models I have stumbled across in the last few months.

The Prelude replaces Silverline's Panatella and Corona models and is squarely aimed at the budget-conscious music lover looking for an affordable room-friendly loudspeaker without sacrificing much in the way of performance compared to Silverline's more upscale models. Considering how the aforementioned models which the Prelude replaces were considerably larger and more expensive, Silverline's Alan Yun must be incredibly confident in his new baby. For the Prelude, Alan developed an interesting driver system where both tweeter and mid/woofer are constructed of the same material - a light-weight yet rigid alloy. I suspect that utilizing the same material for all drivers was responsible for the overall integration of the presentation.. More on that anon.

This tall, slim customer utilizes a 1" aluminum slash magnesium alloy tweeter surrounded by a soft suede-like material to reduce refraction and a pair of 3.5" aluminum/magnesium alloy woofers in an MTM configuration. Sensitivity is claimed as 91dB with a frequency response of 35-28,000Hz. Nominal impedance is 8 ohm while the crossover frequency is set at 3,500Hz. Dimensions are 40" tall, 5" wide and 8" deep. Each speaker weighs 60 lbs. Available finishes are Rosewood and Cherry vinyl. Real wood veneer would have been nice but I prefer keeping the inevitable cost control measures on the outer finish rather than the interior components.

Actually the vinyl finish wasn't too bad at all. From a distance I doubt anyone would notice. On the rear, there's the ubiquitous biwire pair of metal binding posts with brass jumpers. Not a fan of biwiring, I ditched the stock jumpers and replaced them with Audience Maestro jumpers. However, I should point out that Silverline's manual recommends bi-wiring by claiming that it "improves the imaging and separation". I didn't think the Preludes needed help in either department. In my experience, bi-wiring routinely screws up the overall
coherence of a speaker. Feel free to disagree. I also used Audience Maestro interconnects and speaker cables for most of this review. They performed extremely well and seemed an ideal match in terms of cost and performance to fit with the Prelude's high performance/affordability vibe.

Also on the rear are two small reflex ports. The crossover topology is not specified but upon a little exploratory surgery, it appeared that the Prelude sports a 2nd crossover with high quality parts. Interestingly, the crossover isn't mounted behind the binding post plate as in most speakers but situated high up in the cabinet directly behind the drivers. All in all, the Prelude is an attractive speaker with fine build quality even if a badge on the rear of one speaker was a little off center. Although I had the Rosewood model on loan, the cherry with the two tone black baffle would be my first choice.

Due to the tall narrow shape of the Prelude, a small plinth attaches to the bottom via a quartet of bolts. All that remains thereafter is screwing in the treaded steel spikes and positioning the speakers for best sound. The grill cloth and frame is a sturdy affair and blessedly not the dogs' breakfast some speaker firms use. As with most speakers, however, I preferred the grills off for critical listening.

The Preludes were easy to place and didn't seem at all as picky as some speakers. I tried 'em up less than 12" from the wall as well as in the middle of my room. I further auditioned them in my TV system where I watched a ton of hockey, World Cup soccer and the odd movie. While the Preludes sounded remarkably comfortable right up against the wall, I preferred them approximately four feet into my room, gently toed-in and roughly two feet from the side walls in a more or less equilateral triangle. This positioning has consistently worked for me regardless of speaker and/or room.

While I tried the Preludes with a variety of components, I stuck to simple and affordable for the bulk of my review since I think it's fair to assume that the Prelude will find lodgings in systems at or around the same price point. So I pressed into service my Audio Zone AMP-1, Eastern Electric Minimax CD player, Pro-Ject RPM 5/Rondo Blue/Tube Box combo with Audience Maestro and powerChord cabling. Various discs saw action including Lucinda Williams famous Car Wheels on a Gravel Road [Mercury 558338], a little Prog Rock courtesy of Yes and their reissued classic Fragile album [Elektra/Rhino R2-73789] which includes a killer cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "America". Having seen the Canada Opera Company's staging of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites a couple of years ago, I have been captivated by this fascinating French Revolution era opera with its gruesome guillotine scene in which nuns of the Carmelite Order are systematically executed one by one until the stage is emptied of performers. Kent Nagano's recording [Virgin 7-59227-2] ably captures the eerie atmosphere. A recent acquisition seeing plenty of air time is Charles Lloyd's live recording Sangam [ECM 1976] which roughly translates into confluence or gathering place. It features a fascinating mix of drums, tabla, tenor/alto saxophones, alto/bass flutes and piano. Another recent surprise was Kurt Sanderling's reading of Mahler's unfinished 10th Symphony.

After a couple of weeks of break-in via my TV system, my initial impression after inserting the Preludes into my audio rig was to check to see if my REL sub was on. Nope. Frankly, I was quite surprised by the sense of bass extension and power. These little guys sounded a lot bigger than they looked.

The clarity and presence of the midrange and top end were also better than expected given the price. However, what really impressed me was the punch and fluidity in the bass. Where many kilobuck speakers tend towards quantity of bass i.e. boom boxes, this one strove for quality. While not plumbing the depths, there was plenty of bass bounce allied with a beguiling sense of rhythmic integrity that kept my feet tapping yet was completely devoid of overhang or bloat. These were speedy little guys.

The Preludes didn't quite offer the weight and power to blow you away with a Mahler symphony. Nevertheless, they performed admirably in presenting the scale and sense of
occasion. There was enough body to conjure the illusion of dipping lower than they were really capable of. One could always add a sub to fill out the bottom. I certainly achieved excellent results with my REL Q108. Of course the Prelude won't be all things to all folks and if you live on a steady diet of organ music, metal or electronica, you'll probably be looking elsewhere.

Music playback was integrated and real which I suspect is at least partially due to all three drivers utilizing the same material. There was a coherence and integration to the Prelude's performance that struck me off-guard considering the price. Apart from the low frequency limits noted above, these slim towers were capable with all genres of music I threw at them. They were just as up to the task of kicking out the jams on the Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers [V2 27306] as they were at delivering the smooth suave character of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman [Impulse MCA-5661] or even a string quartet.

Dynamics were also surprising as were more conventional audiophile concerns such as soundstage depth and width and imaging. Due no doubt to their narrow front baffles, the Prelude's basically disappeared in my living room and I was rarely aware of their enclosures. Aside from its exceptional staging abilities, the Prelude exhibited a natural tonal balance across the spectrum with decent resolution and transparency.

The Prelude captured most of the full swell of the orchestra in Mahler's 10th plus there was good definition between the character of each section without pulling it apart. There's that integration trait rearing its head again.

My only real criticism was the top end which I found a trifle lacking in delicacy and detail. There was also a tendency towards stridency. This was noticeable on material with considerable treble information such as female vocals and instruments such as cymbals. With the former, I could hear a little edge or hardness. 'Ess' and 'tee' sounds would blur and leap forward in the soundstage. The latter sounded like white noise rather than wood sticks striking metal. Sometimes massed strings would grate, particularly on climaxes. The time/phase coherent speaker guy living in my head would attribute that treble edge to time domain distortion as the output of the tweeter on the Preludes will slightly lead that of the mid/woofers by a few milliseconds.
Leaving the grills on did help to reduce stridency but I lost a touch of detail and openness. Mind you, I really only noticed the above nits when I compared the Preludes directly to other speakers I had on hand. Since most music heads probably don't have a small horde of speakers littering their home, I don't think this is something to lose sleep over.

I don't want to overstate the Prelude's caveats as all speakers have compromises, especially those in this price range. However, the Prelude covered its backside quite well with its quick, lively dynamic delivery and open midrange. Plus, they reached down low enough to where adding a subwoofer would be nice but hardly necessary. All in all, the Prelude is an exercise in balance as opposed to the sonic mush I hear with most mass-market boom boxes.

The Silverline Audio Prelude was an impressive package then. At the eminently affordable price of $1200/pr, it is definitely a speaker to put on your list if you're looking for a domestically friendly floorstander for smallish rooms. You won't get everything for $1200 but what isn't there you probably won't miss it. It's a cleverly designed speaker that should work well in a variety of systems.
Manufacturer's website