What about the sound quality? In a word, fantastic. But let’s backup a little and let me describe my main equipment. I’m using a Denon 4520 as my prepro as well using it to drive the center and rear surrounds. The front towers are driven by a D-Sonic M2-800S stereo Class D power amp. As I said earlier, my subwoofers are dual Rythmik F12s. My primary source devices are an Oppo BDP-93 for CDs and Blu-rays, and a WDTV Live Hub which I use to stream FLACs and video files to either the Oppo or Denon AVR. My PC DLNA server and Xbox 360 are used less often. My speaker test playlist (listed below for those who might be interested) includes tracks that I enjoy listening to and IMO, are well recorded and help to expose aspects of the speaker’s performance. It’s obvious that my musical tastes leans heavily toward Jazz but I’ll occasionally listen to Pop, HipHop, Hawaiian and Classical when the mood strikes me. I typically listen at 60-85db, occasionally going louder but not very often. My primary listening area is approximately 2100 cu ft. including all the areas that can’t be closed off.
I’ve spent the last several weeks dialing-in the speakers by experimenting with placement, toe-in and multiple Audyssey calibration runs (XT32 is awesome). My current setup (that I’m thrilled with) has the towers 1 foot away from the front wall, slightly toed-in and running in Stereo mode with Audyssey Flat EQ and DEQ enabled (@ 0db offset) and DVol and LFC disabled. The LCRs are crossed over to the Rythmiks at 60Hz which are set at 14Hz/High Damping. I think my room is fairly soft with carpeting, cushions and leather sofa. One concern is the back wall which is untreated for now (waiting for WAF) but I’ll probably install some GIK art panels at some point.
Listening Impressions (italicized text are my current go-to tracks for evaluating) -
Because I had opted for the RAAL tweeters, I was most eager to hear the upper range. Well, what others have said many times is true, the upper range is amazing. Even from the first disc that I listened to (Brian Bromberg – Wood
) it was apparent that something special was going on, the clarity and airiness of the upper end was almost startling. What strikes me is the level of detail present, and the how this seems to make the sounds linger a tiny bit longer. Being able to hear cymbals and triangles shimmer and ring but never become harsh or sibilant is immensely gratifying (Fourplay - Tally Ho!
). Strings are well defined and textured, again with no detectable grating or harshness (Scott Hamilton - Goodbye Mr. Evans
). It’s actually a little difficult to describe exactly what the RAALs sound like since they don’t seem to impart their own sound into the music. Detail and texture are present in abundance but the tweeters never seem to call attention to themselves. Perhaps one way of describing it would be that to me all the dome tweeters that I’ve had experience with, ultimately sounded like a driver in a speaker, but with the RAALs, it’s as if the speakers aren’t there and the instruments simply exist within the soundstage. Very impressive. Count me as a ribbon fan.
As good as the RAAL tweeter is, I think I’m actually more taken with the midrange. Maybe it’s because most of the fundamental musical action is happening in the midrange that it’s easier to notice, but wow it sounds great. Well recorded male and female vocals are presented very cleanly with no honking or edginess (J.D. Souther - Silver Blue & Eva Cassidy - At Last
). Drums are snappy and punchy – I love hearing the ringing of the snare drum head as the drumstick strikes it (David Sanborn – Benny & Flim and the BBs - Light at the End of the Tunnel
). Brass instruments are strong and precise but thankfully not overbearing (Tower of Power – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
). Saxophone timbre is clear and clean, allowing the visceral effect of the sax to really come through (I suppose the musicians can take some credit too!) (Ernie Watts Quartet – One Day I’ll Fly Away & David Sanborn – Missing You
). Someone once described the Salk midrange as “lush” and I have to say that’s the adjective that I keep coming back to. Lush as if the music is fully fleshed out and full bodied, but not in a messy way – there’s still a leaness to the sound, but not thin – you know, lush.
Another thing that definitely stands out to me is the soundstage and imaging. Compared to my previous speakers, the soundstage has some additional depth and if I’m not crazy, significant additional height. To be honest, I believe my D-Sonic amp is contributing to this expanded soundstage as I noticed that there was some added depth when it was first inserted into the system with my old speakers. Nonetheless, the effect is more pronounced with the STs. As for the additional height, to my mind it’s probably due to the improved (vs. my old speakers) dispersion of the top mounted SEAS woofers. On the other hand, I didn’t notice any additional width to the soundstage with the Salks but I believe this is probably due to my room’s limitations (the right side has vertical blinds and the left side has no nearby wall for first reflection) and my lack of placement options. Imaging within the soundstage is excellent and I mean pinpoint accurate excellent. It’s quite a treat to be able to close my eyes and be able to see with my mind’s eye exactly where the instruments are located. Whereas my old speakers provided a shallow one plane soundstage, the Salks are giving me a soundstage that is both deep and tall. This is very cool.
Although I normally crossover the Salks to my Rythmik subs, I did spend some time listening to the towers in Direct and Pure Direct modes in order to get a sense of the their full range performance. I must say that for music, I was truly surprised at the low end performance. These STs can definitely reach down and faithfully play all my usual evaluation tracks (Brian Bromberg – Yeah & Marcus Miller - Revelation
) without any boom or bloat. They can’t equal my subwoofers when it comes to room filling SPL, but they do a great job of reproducing the famous growl from Brian Bromberg’s acoustic bass, sounding both clean and tactile. I didn’t test them in full range with my action Blu-rays because they obviously weren’t designed to play down in the teens or twenties, but for music I haven’t come across anything in my collection that they can’t handle (I’m not a pipe organ or dubstep enthusiast). In fact, I enjoy the Salk’s full range abilities so much that I find myself switching to Direct mode more and more…but having said that, I love my Rythmik subs and they’re staying put.
One of the things I like to do when demoing speakers is get a taste of their ability to play music which contains demanding dynamic range fluctuations. I’ve found that running them through several Flim and the BBs tracks tells me all I need to know about how they can handle wide swings of DR. These CDs (the ones from Tom Jung’s DMP label) have been a treasured part of my music library since the early eighties and I haven’t found any other CDs that contain the same DR swings as these discs (and are still enjoyable, musically, to listen to). I believe they’ve been out of print for years, but if you have a chance to get your hands on some (especially Tricycle, Tunnel and Big Notes
), do it, and be sure to turn the volume up (hehe). Back to the point, the Salks handled all the F&BBs I could throw at them (up to -5 on my AVR) without ever sounding as if they were struggling or strained. Good fun.
Since a decent portion of my use will be watching Blu-rays I’ve been loading up a good number of discs. Of note is my music Blu-ray with Lee Ritenour (Overtime
), the picture quality (PQ) and sound quality are great and the music itself, IMO, is fantastic…I just can’t seem to stop watching this disc (which my family is none too happy about). On a side note, I have a hard time getting use to 5.1 surround music as I find it odd to hear instruments playing behind me when I’m looking ahead at the screen. Oh well, it’s probably just me. Back on topic, thus far I’ve watched about 15 movies and the Salks have impressed every time. My family has remarked several times that the dialogue is so much clearer than our old speakers, not sure if this attributable to the RAAL or the SEAS or both, but it is a noticeable improvement. Although the placement of the Surrounds in my room is far from ideal, they still exhibit excellent dispersion and seem to effortlessly handle anything they're asked to. Just for fun, I tried hooking up the Surrounds as my fronts and they performed surprisingly (for me) well and this was with no EQ or subs. They obviously don’t have quite the same low end as the ST but their tonal quality was great, I think that if they were mated with a worthy subwoofer they could very easily make up a top notch HT system by themselves.
If you’ve read this far, it’s fairly obvious that I’m thrilled with these speakers. Would I buy them again? Do I have any regrets? Hell yes, and hell no…well, I wish I had purchased them years ago. Are some of the things I’m hearing simply the placebo effect? I’m sure that’s possible, in the absence of controlled testing it could just be my feeble mind playing tricks on me. But I really believe I’ve found the speakers that I was looking for; accurate, neutral, detailed mids and a high end that sings. The icing on the cake is a low end that is deeper and cleaner than one would ever expect from such a slender elegant tower. While the Salks do not cover-up bad recordings by wrapping them in a blanket of warmth, I’m perfectly fine with that. I prefer my speakers to be accurate and honest to the recording, to let the recording reveal itself for what it is. If it’s bad it should sound bad, if it’s good it should sound good. But that’s just me, YMMV. What I do know is that I’m completely happy with the entire set and really can’t see myself upgrading these for many years (famous last words), and if I ever do, this set will find a place in my son’s home, no doubt about it. What I’m most happy about is that these speakers have inspired me to seriously re-explore my existing music collection and to once again go out on the hunt for new musical discoveries. Indeed, after listening to my nearly forgotten collections of Michael Franks (early years), Steely Dan and Joe Sample again after so many years, my long dormant passion for music has been renewed. And for that Mr. Salk, I must thank you.
It’s been about 2 weeks since I finished writing about my experience so I wanted to come back and see if any of my impressions had changed. Perhaps I just wanted to like these speakers to validate my choice, or maybe it was just a blinded-by-love honeymoon. Well, I’m still in love with these speakers and I really can’t find anything that has fundamentally changed. They still sound good and look good. One thing I did notice is that I’m doing less conscious listening to the sound of the drivers and cabinet (the speaker) and listening more to just the music. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s a good thing. I would bet that Jim would consider that a high compliment, that his speakers are so good that they get out of the way so that there is nothing between the listener and the emotional impact of the performance. And I’ve purchased more music in the last month than I have in the last year…I think that’s a good thing too.
Credits: I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all the previous Salk owners who have posted their experiences over the years, it was their body of work that drove me towards the Salk brand. Of special note is Nuance’s speaker search thread that piqued my interest several years ago, if it hadn’t been for that thread I doubt I would’ve ever considered the Salk brand. And finally to Jim (and D. Murphy, P. Kittinger and others who have contributed to the ST) and his company, much thanks for offering such a fine, high level product at a reasonable price and for the excellent customer service you’ve already displayed. I look forward to a long relationship.MY SPEAKER TEST PLAYLIST (grouped by evaluation criteria; listed by Artist-Track-Disc) –
For Overall Performance evaluation:
Fourplay - Heartfelt (Heartfelt)
Fourplay - Tally Ho! (Heartfelt)
Fourplay – Café l’Amour (Heartfelt)
Brian Bromberg – Relentless (Choices)
David Sanborn - Rikke (Songs from the Night Before)
David Sanborn - Benny (Upfront)
David Sanborn – Missing You (Songs from the Night Before)
Tower of Power – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (Monster on a Leash)
Ernie Watts Quartet – One Day I’ll Fly Away (Oasis)
Rippingtons - Anything (20th Anniversary Disc)
Scott Hamilton - Goodbye Mr. Evans (Scott Hamilton with Strings)
Sergey Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 2 In E Minor, Op. 27; III. Adagio (Greatest Hits)
For Dynamic Range evaluation:
Flim and the BBs - Tricycle (Tricycle)
Flim and the BBs - Thunder and Birdies (Tricycle)
Flim and the BBs - Eden (Tricycle)
Flim and the BBs - Born to Love You (Big Notes)
Flim and the BBs - Light at the End of the Tunnel (Tunnel)
For Female Vocal evaluation:
Eva Cassidy - At Last (Time After Time)
Eva Cassidy - Time After Time (Time After Time)
Diana Krall - I'll String Along With You (When I Look in Your Eyes)
Diana Krall - When I Look in Your Eyes (When I Look in Your Eyes)
For Male Vocal evaluation
Fourplay - Why Can't It Wait Until Morning – Phil Collins vocal (Elixir)
J.D. Souther - Silver Blue (Natural History)
J.D. Souther - Best of My Love (Natural History)
J.D. Souther - Faithless Love (Natural History)
Kenny Rankin - Where Do You Start (A Song for You)
Kenny Rankin – She Was Too Good to Me (A Song for You)
Nathan Aweau – Akaka Falls (E Apo Mai)
For Bass texture evaluation:
Brian Bromberg - I Love You (Wood)
Brian Bromberg - Never Give Up (Choices)
Brian Bromberg - Yeah (Hands)
Brian Bromberg – Use Me (Hands)
Brian Bromberg - A Love Affair (Wood II)
(actually the entire Wood and Wood II discs)
Marcus Miller - Detroit (Renaissance)
Marcus Miller - Revelation (Renaissance)
For Music (stereo and 5.1) evaluation:
Lee Ritenour - Overtime (Blu-ray)
Sting - Live from Berlin (Blu-ray)
The Eagles – Live from Melbourne (Blu-ray)
Evaluation of PQ, bass extension and surround effects (this list is constantly changing):
Toy Story 3
Additional photos are in my Gallery.http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?action=gallery;area=browse;album=10399
Front tower with grill.
Front tower without grill.
Center channel with grill.
Center channel without grill.
Surround channel with grill.
Surround channel without grill.
View of the front stage (April 2018).
That is all.