The Speakers of planet S.E.T., Part I

Goodbye, dear De Capo's!
Goodbye, dear De Capo’s!

So, my friends, with the help of Audiogon, I found a new home for the De Capo’s with a very nice fellow from South Carolina who is thrilled with them. (i feel a bit like someone who’s fostered a stray puppy and found it a good home with a loving family.) Let’s have a moment of silent appreciation for those wonderful speakers and all the pleasure they’ve brought to yours truly over the past three years…

(By the way, have any of you folks sold something on Audiogon lately? Their fee structure and buyer-seller communication restrictions on Basic Ads have really changed the seller’s experience. But that’s a topic for another post!)

A brush with high efficiency

The De Capo and Kit 1 sounded quite great together: coherence, resolution, soundstage and imaging, magical midrange… all present and accounted for. And the bass extension, I felt, especially for a monitor, was surprisingly good. Only on a few favorite tracks (like the very low electric bass lines in the intro to Steely Dan’s “Negative Girl” from “Two Against Nature”) did the bass of the De Capo’s seem to poop out, the lowest notes being barely present.

But aren’t the De Capo’s advertised as SET friendly and 92 dB efficient? Well, yes, they are. But the Canadian National Research Council tested the most recent version of the De Capo BE and found it to average only 86.7 dB sensitivity! (Look at the graph on that page and you’ll see that the De Capo only makes 92 dB across a very narrow frequency range between around 600 and 800 Hz, with peaks higher up, as well.) Yes, the fact that the De Capo lacks an energy-robbing crossover should help its SET friendliness. (I do know of at least one fellow on Audiogon who happily drives his De Capo’s with a 4 watt Decware amp.) But I had the itch to try a much more efficient, easy to drive speaker to see how the ANK Kit 1 would sound with it an easier speaker load.

I then had the opportunity to borrow just such a speaker from a local fellow who was selling a pair of Tekton Lore Reference speakers. These are rated at 96 dB sensitivity and are said to plunge down to 37 Hz – 5 Hz lower than the De Capo.

A rather small tower speaker, the Lore Reference eschews the large, 10″ guitar amp driver of the Lore and Lore 2.0 in favor of an 8″ paper driver (by Eminence) with what appears to be a cloth surround, topped off by a SEAS soft dome tweeter.

IMG_0495
Tekton Lore Reference main driver, tweeter below.

The respective presentations of the Lores and the De Capo’s are VERY different. The Lore Reference (with proper toe-in) throws an intoxicatingly enveloping sound field and seemed to simultaneously splash the soundstage all over the front wall and push it forward into the room, depending upon the source material. The De Capo’s tended to present a deep, layered presentation, a cavernous listening window, mostly between the speakers, yet with greater image specificity.

Instrumental and vocal tonality was very good with the Lore Reference. I remember being particularly impressed with the rendering of a tenor sax solo – sorry, I can’t remember the track, but it really sounded like a saxophone in all its burnished, reedy glory.

There were 3 main things about the Lore Reference speakers that, in my 5 or 6 days with them, I came to appreciate. One was that they could “go big” in a way that the De Capo’s don’t; this is not surprising since they are substantially larger and more efficient than the De Capo’s. They seemed to liberate the Kit 1 and help it to sound like some kind of monster amp, allowing those huge output trannies and majestic 300 B’s to strut their stuff. For example, on one of my favorite CD’s, the soundtrack to the anime film “Princess Mononoke,” they presented the orchestra in a very “big” and convincing fashion.

Second, having a speaker in the room that at least bumps up against the bottom octave is great. And this richness extends to singers as well, bringing substance to alto and bass voices very nicely. I was startled by the fact, for example, that the warm and beautiful background vocals on James Taylor’s cover of The Spinners’ “Sadie” (from JT’s “Covers” CD) includes a bass vocal line that I’d simply never heard at all on the De Capo’s.

Third, as already mentioned, the Lore Reference nailed instrument tones and textures in a very convincing way. I’ll add that I was particularly impressed with how well controlled the bass was.

Two things about the Lore Reference gave me pause, though:

First, I found the imaging a bit vague, at least compared to the De Capo’s. Now, this is not entirely surprising. Mini monitor speakers are known for their ability to image precisely, and even among mini-monitors the De Capo is a monster. Some folks feel that precise imaging is just an audiophile magic trick. After all, they say, you don’t get “imaging” at a live concert. This is absolutely true. On the other hand, when it comes to home listening, if the recording engineer worked hard to place the electric guitar in a precise position in the sound field, then I want to be able to experience that.

I also noticed that – as opposed to my De Capo’s, which presented a very stable image – images with the Lore Reference tended to shift noticeably when I moved my head to the left or right. Now the Lore Reference (actually, the entire Tekton line) has been very favorably reviewed by Internet magazines, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that something in my rig (or most likely the room itself) wasn’t making them entirely happy and was stymieing their presentation in this regard. Perhaps they’d have locked in more had I been able to move them further out from the front wall…

Second, the volume level on my amp needed to be turned up higher than I’m accustomed in order for the Lore Reference to sound fully “awake.” I asked Eric Alexander, CEO and Designer at Tekton about this and he told me that while the Lore Reference is more refined than the Lore or Lore 2.0 (hence, the name “Reference”) the Lore and Lore 2.0 do perform better at lower volumes.

This experience with the Tekton Lore Reference confirmed what I’d suspected. At the risk of making a sweeping generalization, a SET like the Kit 1 may sound great with a moderately efficient speaker like the De Capo, but you haven’t heard what such an amp can truly do until you’ve “liberated” it with a very efficient speaker, such as the Lore Reference.

I also learned that although I’ve long considered myself to be a “refinement, nuance, sit-still-and-listen-deeply-and-contemplatively-into-the-music” guy, my experience with the Lore Reference has forced me to consider that I may be more of a “go big, punchy and dynamic” guy than I’d thought.    😉

Hmmmmm….

Options

In Part II of this post, we’ll survey some of the usual (and unusual!) suspects when it comes to SET-friendly speaker choices.

Until then…

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3 thoughts on “The Speakers of planet S.E.T., Part I

    1. Thank you very much for the post, and I hope the information on my blog proves helpful to you in your decision making process.
      Best wishes,
      Steve

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