Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII

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Tbadder1

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« on: 3 Dec 2005, 08:23 pm »
Continuum A.D. MKII with upgraded Seas woofers.

In reviewing these speakers readers should be aware of two salient facts: first, my room is such that I’m listening virtually nearfield, seven to eight feet from the speakers, spread a mere six and a half feet apart tweeter to tweeter.  I’m betting this is unusual and I assume such a placement affects their performance in ways I can’t measure. And secondly, I’m using an amp, the Clayton S40, that is underpowered considering the recommended 300 watts per channel needed for maximum affect according to designer and president, Bob Smith.  

The buying process was made very comfortable by Bob.  He made himself easily available and his suggestions and patience were much appreciated.  As I have already recounted in another thread, Bob reworked a pair of old demos that had cabinet damage.  He waved his magic wand and a beautiful pair arrived safely in a most impressive packing job.  The first thing that anyone needs to know about these is that they are heavy, the heaviest monitors I’ve ever encountered.  Safe placement is a two person job and I’m sure that I have yet to maximize this aspect of their performance.

I burned the Continuums continuously for two weeks, only stopping to change the odd disc.  I tried mightily to ignore them during this process but wasn’t always able such was their allure at times. As I’m writing this they are approaching 400 hours of burn-in and I’m confident they have loosened up sufficiently.  The ancillary gear is as follows:

Clayton S40 amplifier 50 watts per channel pure Class A
Luminous Audio Axiom passive preamp with Caddock resistor upgrade  
Modwright Sony E9000ES Level III  CD/SACD player
LC Foundation power cords/conditioners
Audioquest Gibraltar 72v DBS speaker wire
Nordost Red Dawn interconnects
Custom made 24” Sound Anchor speaker stands
Salamander 3 tiered rack

It’s my belief that to get the best out of the Continuums first class speaker stands are a must, and there is no stouter stand I’m aware of than Sound Anchors.  I’ve actually heard them transform a speaker so thoroughly you’d have thought a significant component upgrade had been made.  At over 700 bucks a pair they’re expensive, especially for someone like me, but absolutely necessary.  My other gear is interesting but not earth shattering except for the Modwright which has embarrassed Levinson, Accuphase, North Star, and Audio Research.  The Luminous Axiom might raise a few eyebrows but it bested my old Meridian 502 and Bel Canto Pre-1.  It wasn’t as good as my Levinson 38, but the lawyers got that one.  

When listening seriously for the first time two aspects of the Continuums stood out immediately.  This is a seriously smooth speaker.  The way the drivers hand-off to each other is virtually seamless.  They were 97% of my Zu Druids in this respect, and the Druids are basically a single driver, crossoverless design.  Think about that.  A crossover that’s almost not there--holy crap but that’s an impressive achievement.  The music is preserved in such a way that the believability factor can be hair raising at times.  “Wholeness” and “balance” were words that bred like bunnies in my listening notes.  I just kept coming back to the sheer naturalness of the presentation. Was this going to be a speaker that didn’t sound like a speaker?

No. All speakers are a compromise, and all have strengths and weaknesses. And the other strength that knocked my socks off was the lower treble.  Damn, that baby digs down.  When you bring a tweeter sensibility to an area that is normally handled by a mid-range the detail and clarity level improves dramatically.  It’s as if Bob gave his speakers a decongestant,  the upper reaches of the screaming guitars and bagpipes of a group like Big Country, which usually screw up the top midrange, are given their own space so that there’s no colliding with voice or electric bass.  The result is that you can turn this Scottish sheeeeeet up and rock away a good 40 minutes without having to run for ear-cover because a buzz saw is tearing through your eardrums.  Another metaphor which I think works here is japanese doors.  Because the lower treble frees the upper mids the music just opens up like japanese doors, you know, the length of the whole room rather than just the few feet our american doors do. Get it? I knew you would.

Next on the hit list of real accomplishments is the upper bass region.  My ultimate test disc, and the best recording I’ve ever heard, is Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire, the original Jamaican version.  I love reggae and a speaker has to have punch in order to keep the mid-range from being muddied up.  If things get sloppy the experience is doomed.  I’ve owned Tyler Acoustic Signature Linbrooks, which curiously are about the same size, carry what looks to be the same mid-woofers in the same D’Appolito design but with the superior Seas Millennium tweeter.  The Tylers had really tight upper bass, and they made sure that every recording tightened up to a certain extent.  The Continuums don’t do that. Listening to Miles Davis’ “Tadd’s Delight” from ‘Round About Midnight, Paul Chambers upright bass is exactly as inexact as befits its acoustic nature. The Continuums capture the hollowness and weight that the electric bass of Aston Barret can’t in “Stir It Up” from Catch A Fire. But the electric bass is just ripped compared to its acoustic counterpart, and again the Continuums capture this with equal aplomb.  So I thinking “tight” upper-bass is the wrong word to describe their ability; the better word would be “realistic.”  This flexibility in the upper-bass is proof that the Continuums are as neutral in this region as they are in the lower treble.

And as long as we’re talking Linbrooks lets discuss that tweeter.  The Linbrooks have loads of detail, more than the Continuums. The Millennium has scary-good ability.  The little things jump out at the unsuspecting listener; microdynamics are superb.  But one of the reasons I dispensed with the Linbrooks was because all that detail became very fatiguing after awhile. The Linbrooks were in desperate need of tone controls. They needed bloom.  They needed a tube amp.  Problem was they needed lots of juice, and a big ballsy valve amp from VTL or ARC was not in the financial cards for me. Now, let me state categorically, the Continuums have enough detail, but the one weakness I found was in the upper treble.  That Scanspeak 9300 is a good tweeter, but it’s not the last word in detail especially when compared to the Seas Millennium.  But it is a very good tweeter.  It emphasizes musicality, but it de-emphasizes the venue, the subtle clues that combine to give what we call air, or that chyrstalline structure we get sometimes from flutes or the upper register on violins. On the other hand, the payoff  for said weakness (which I’m overstating because it’s still 93/94% the Millennium) is listenability.  There’s just no fatigue when the Continuums are in the house.  I’ve literally been able to focus on music for hours on end.  I’m listening and enjoying music more than I ever have.  Pretty soon I won’t be able to justify my cable TV bill.  

Now you’d think the lack of air may lead to the collapsing of the sound stage.  No way.  Back to front is gripping.  On Lucinda Williams’ “Overtime” from World Without Tears there’s some pretty heavy reverb in the mix.  Well, watch out.  I swear I ducked the first time I listened to it on the Continuums.  It was like a sea swell coming.  I could hear it building, threatening me, approaching with such force I was paralyzed to get out of the way.  Man oh man it just washed over me.  I swear back to front was football field sized.  Of course that’s a little too poetic, but when someone encounters something for the first time the experience tends to be memorable.  I had listened to “Overtime” numerous times but never really heard it ubtil the Continuums arrived.  Soundstage left to right was very good.  Bob has managed to create a three person sweetspot.  That’s a service to anyone who has friends.  No more switching seats, begging for ten minutes in the sweetspot. I’m sure the waveguide is responsible for this.  The only speakers I ever owned that could come close were my Tannoy D-700s.  Funny thing they had a coaxial driver in them, ten inches wide, acting like a waveguide I’m guessing. The Tannoy sweetspot was two persons wide.  The Tannoys also had the positive attribute of naturalness and smoothness, but not as natural and not as smooth as the Continuums. As I’m writing this review I’m listening about three feet outside the left speaker, and I’m not missing too much info.

Dynamics?  I popped in Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin Beats” from Dig Your Own Hole.  Instantly, I’m transformed to some drugged-out dance-party all-nighter from my youth.  The energy is “OC”; more than just genitals are throbbing.  These babies rock period!!!  You can do some serious damage to the woodwork if you left the Continuums on for any length of time.  Then again if you’re nostalgic and wanna destroy Jericho one more time, well, have at it my friend. There’s just no room for disagreement here. Any sane person will be moshing within a few bars given the right CD.

Another strength is the Continuums capacity to handle complex material.  Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs is one of the most overproduced CD I’ve ever heard.  It makes Phil Spector sound like James Taylor alone on the ocean with a single mike. It’s produced so that every bit of space is double teamed, a thick underlayer is crisscrossed with delicate guitar lines, deep woody string-tones, and voices uncomfortably straining and pushed forward in the mix.  Think of a dense primordial stew, almost a quicksand of sound.  Other speakers just give up, they start to diffuse, cabinets resonate, and the whole CD just falls apart.  The Continuums didn’t blink an eye. Images were fully formed, scale was reproduced with accuracy and feeling.

Others have mentioned that the mid-range on the Continuums is a bit reticent, as if a minute amount of detail is missing.  I really can’t say for sure.  My Druids and my Linbrooks had seemingly more detail.  Indeed one might say that detail is what they were all about.  The Druids’ magnificent supertweeter created so much space and airness it could be deemed a bit ethereal.  The Millennium tweeter represents a near pinnacle of conventional tweeter design I believe. In the mid-range the emphasis for both desgns is on transients and because of this both of these lend themselves to oohs and ahhs when it comes to immediate presentation.  The Continuums are about balance and coherence, and as such are less emphasized in any one area like the Druids and Linbrooks.  So do they have less detail?  Or is it a matter of voicing and design choices?  I’m guessing that yes, there’s objectively a little less detail, but there’s no way to quantify that assertion.  If there was a magic mid-range machine, capable of gauging minutiae I wouldn’t be surprised if the detail of the Druids, Linbrooks, and Continuums measured equally.  If, in the long term, it kinda ate at me, wondering how I could imporve the Continuums, I’d probably think about adding a supertweeter. Bob, can you get on that and design one as awesome as the rest of your speaker?

In the end I think I’ve purchased a keeper.  I’ve been on the upgrade roller coaster a long time, changing equipment constantly, especially speakers.  Bob Smith has created a special piece of kit.  It’s a speaker that will be easy to live with, that always encourages the listener to turn it on and turn it up.  The Continuums are by far the best speaker I’ve ever owned and the 3rd best speaker I have intimate and complete knowledge of.  The other two? Vandersteen 5As and the Avantegarde Unos.  Both of those cost more than 15 large. That’s more than double the price for a new, custom finished, upgraded woofers package from SP Tech.  In the end I believe that Sp Technology has developed a speaker that privledges music over Audiophilia, pleasure and feeling over the analytical and over-preciseness of what passes for excellent in some circles.  This is not too say the Continuums tend toward romanticism, they very much tend toward realism.
 

Postscript: In another thread here on Audiocircle I made the assertion that a low power, high current amp would wrestle the Continuums to the ground.  Was I right?  Can I crow over knowing more than their Creator?  Not really.  For my room and my listening preferences The Clayton is one amazing little amp.  I pushed it one afternoon for seven consecutive hours at a minimum of 91Db (I found I generally listen between 80 and 87Db) with peaks of about 108db and I heard no strain whatsoever.  But is something there that tells me to save up for an extra 150--200 watts?  Yeah, there is.  But I can’t tell what or why.  Just a strong inclination that there’s more there.  No doubt when I move to a larger room that inclination will become stronger.  I’m in no hurry though because in the end the quality of any amp and speaker should be measured against how well they perform at low levels.  Most any decent amp/speaker sound better by cranking on the knob a bit.


Peace all
Dan

Aether Audio

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #1 on: 3 Dec 2005, 10:03 pm »
Dan,

As I told you in the PM - I'm speechless.  Also as I said, "Thank-You" seems like little more than impotent rhetoric.  I am truly honored by your words...and humbled.  All I can say is that I am thankful that we have provided you with something that brings a sense of joy into your life.  That has always been our goal.  For what it's worth, that is our gift to you and all that find value in our efforts.  Enjoy.

As far as the detail issue goes...I have my "philosophy" - for what its worth.  You will find it in my response to "mixsit" in this thread:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=23492

I cannot prove anything (yet) but I believe I am more accurate than not in this view.  Nevertheless, there's always room for improvement.  We shall see what further research reveals.

For those interested, check out this link that Danny Richie of GR Research posted in his circle:

http://www.zaphaudio.com/nondomes/

The distortion measurments are very thought provoking and appear to reveal the differences heard by their various advocates.  Although the devices being compared are mostly ribbon type drivers, the same laws of acoustics and perception apply to any tweeter.  Also check out Danny's comments:

http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=23488

He's one bright designer and we are now both chanting the same mantra:
Quote
I often hear people babble on about the shimmer, sparkle and air of ribbon tweeters. These tests show where these "special effects" are coming from - distortion. This revelation isn't going to sit well with those who spent big money on ribbons with expectations or false beliefs that they are the best performers. What can I say except that I call them like I see (and hear) them.

So what's it all prove?  The jury is still out, but...waddaya wanna bet? :wink:

Dan et.al...

God bless,
-Bob

bhobba

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #2 on: 3 Dec 2005, 11:59 pm »
First Tbadder thanks for posting your impressions.  I am simply amazed at the positive feedback SR speakers receive - so amazed in fact I have posted a note to Bob about purchasing a pair of timepieces - even though my finances at this stage are a bit - well for want of a better term - uncertain.  I had planned to wait until that were sorted out but that current 30% off is simply too irresistible.

Quote from: Tbadder1
But is something there that tells me to save up for an extra 150--200 watts? Yeah, there is. But I can’t tell what or why.

Although I have mentioned it before it is well known we judge how loud things are by how undistorted the sound is.  Because Bobs speakers can go really loud without distortion there is always this inclination to wind it up.  I think it is psychological rather than something inherent in the speakers - well the speaker part is that they have such low distortion.    

Quote from: Tbadder1
Just a strong inclination that there’s more there. No doubt when I move to a larger room that inclination will become stronger. I’m in no hurry though because in the end the quality of any amp and speaker should be measured against how well they perform at low levels.

I am not 100% sure if that is true.  Take a peek at:
http://sound.westhost.com/qb5align.htm
As the article shows at about 96.9dB peak speakers in a closed box hit their mechanical stops and distort - not much good for the speaker either I would imagine.  Mow I usually listen to a max of 80db which means when the music reaches perhaps 100db peak it will hit the stops - and that is at my low levels.  The articles solution is to use a vented box.  Now I do not know about you but just about every speaker you listen to these days is a 6.5 inch driver in a vented box - they all sound sort of one note to me.  Even my current speakers which I love for their midrange clarity have 6.5 inch vented bass drivers. What Bob (and of course his team - we should not forget them) has done is create a speaker with better bass quality than your typical ported design without the SPL limitations of a closed box.  That is a no trivial design achievement and part of the reason IMHO why people like to crank them up - other speakers simply will not perform at those levels.  And even listening at my levels knowing the speaker will not distort on peaks is important. Even I will occasionally crank it up a little, perhaps beyond the max 80db at 1 meter levels I usually listen at, just for the fun of finding out what it would be like to be next to the performer or whatever.  The bottom line is, IMHO, Bob and his team have done an excellent job getting around a rather difficult issue in speaker design.

Quote from: Tbadder1
Most any decent amp/speaker sound better by cranking on the knob a bit.

As detailed above I am not 100% sure of that.

Thanks
Bill

audiojerry

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #3 on: 4 Dec 2005, 12:45 am »
Thanks for a really thoughtful and well written review, Tbadder. Whether others agree with your views or not, it's great to read someone's views when they are so well stated.  

My recollection of my Clayton is that it seemed to have a lot more power than the rated 40 watts.

lonewolfny42

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #4 on: 4 Dec 2005, 03:43 am »
Nice Review Dan !!! :beer:
    I'm glad your happy with the speakers (and you got a great deal)...and down the road, a few more watts does make a difference.[/list:u]
      Happy listening....and invite some friends over for a listen.... :wink: [/list:u]
        Chris[/list:u]PS...you played some good music....nice !!!! :guitar:

Tbadder1

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #5 on: 4 Dec 2005, 03:47 am »
Quote
My recollection of my Clayton is that it seemed to have a lot more power than the rated 40 watts.

The new S40 have been tweaked up to 50 per channel. I had mine tested an we got 72 useable watts.

Tbadder1

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #6 on: 4 Dec 2005, 03:54 am »
BHOBBA: thanks for your comments and suggestions/information/links.  It could be, like many others, I am victimized by my audiophile enculturation.

I know one thing, I want my speakers to sound best across a large spectrum of volume settings, but if I could only choose one setting/level to get audio nirvana it would be 80db. So that might explain my comments psychologically.

bhobba

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #7 on: 4 Dec 2005, 06:55 am »
Quote from: Tbadder1
BHOBBA: thanks for your comments and suggestions/information/links.  It could be, like many others, I am victimized by my audiophile enculturation.

I know one thing, I want my speakers to sound best across a large spectrum of volume settings, but if I could only choose one setting/level to get audio nirvana it would be 80db. So that might explain my comments psychologically.

I think what you said is right on the money.  Even though I listen at relatively low levels like you I want my speakers to 'to sound best across a large spectrum of volume settings'.  While I am not a speaker designer I suspect that is not an easy thing to do.

Thanks
Bill

Aether Audio

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #8 on: 4 Dec 2005, 06:19 pm »
bhobba,

Quote
Even though I listen at relatively low levels like you I want my speakers to 'to sound best across a large spectrum of volume settings'. While I am not a speaker designer I suspect that is not an easy thing to do.

AMEN!  As a designer, if you pick one  (max) SPL level to hit, that sets the criteria for almost everything else.  The easiest way to do ultra-tweaks like first order X-O's and such, is to intentionally limit dynamic range.  The fact is, you usually don't have any choice.

Relatively flat frequency response is (or should be) easy to achieve now days.  We have all the analysis equipment in the world at our disposal - unlike just a decade ago.  Now, I'll limit that to saying that getting +/- 1dB as we do is harder, and that's because of diffraction effects.  Other than that, driver manufacturers are all making pretty flat drivers these days.  In fact, it blows me away that there are some very expensive systems that have pretty crummy frequency response.  Although that's certainly not the most important criteria, for the money you spend you'd think they'd at least get that right - without having to compromise the other parameters.

Apart from the frequency response issue though, the rest is much harder to do.  Dispersion is almost an after thought and often pretty much glossed over.  Once you listen to our stuff you'll realize it's a lot bigger deal than you're led to believe.

Then there's the phase, timing thing.  I could design first order networks and make them sound good all day - as long as you sit in one spot and don't need much headroom for dynamics.  The whole thing is over rated though.  I reference our review at Positive Feedback Online.  As I said above, it's pretty obvious our Continuum 2.5 kicked the pants off those Marten Miles the reviewer had with regards to phase and timing.  If first order networks are so important, how do you explain that?  

The fact is, if a designer lets the driver manufacturer do his work for him by selecting really good (and expensive) drivers that have a very wide response(especially the tweeter) and intentionally limits expectations of dynamic range, a first order network is the easiest design to do.  The hardest part is finding the right drivers, but then once that is accomplished, the designer has a fairly easy go of it.  Higher order networks are just plain b***h's to design and tweak.  Prototyping isn't so bad if that's all you have to do because you only do it one time.  The real pain is that because there are so many variables that change from part to part, getting stable and repeatable designs the work consistently in production from one system to the next is very hard.

It's a marketing game.  Turn what is in fact an excuse to make production simpler into a performace advantage.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  And then non-engineer audiophiles eat it all up because it's fairly simple to understand from a theory standpoint and appeals to their limited understanding and imagination.  Well...I think we're now doing our part in proving the facts and educating the consumer.  The fact is, accurate phase response is one of the parameters that is surely inmportant - to a point.  Once errors are reduced to below some minimum level, the human ear's ability to perceive errors below that level (< 1mS) is severely limited.

And another thing those guy's won't tell you.  Since typically the midrange driver they are forced to use must extend up to at least about 6kHz for a 3kHz X-O, it introduces phase errors on its own without any crossover connected whatsoever.  The fact is, the acoustic center of a cone driver will shift with respect to frequency.  The lower end of its operating range appears to eminate from a point further forward near it's outer suspension, and then move further back toward the center of the cone where the voice-coil is attached as the frequency increases.  There isn't a darn thing in the world a crossover can do about it.  It's a function of the mechanical operation of the driver and all your first order designers are stuck with it - like it or not.  Now planer drivers are another story alltogether, but then they have different issues.

In the end, the one thing most designers are limited in doing anything about is the overall distortion levels.  That's a by-product of the drivers themselves.  All the designer can do is pick better drivers and adjust crossover frequencies - unless he wants to get into some type of re-design of the driver itself.  That's very hard to do and out of most company's league with respect to intellectual and manufacturing resources.

But ahhh...that's where we're different.  If you look at the waveguide as an extension of the tweeter, what we have essentially done is to engineer the combined system as a whole new transducer, extending the tweeter's normal capabilities.  That's where you have to go...strike at the heart of the motor that generates the sound.  If you don't do something on that level, you are stuck playing games with whatever drivers the driver manufacturers are spitting out.  And that's why most systems are more like carbon copies of so many others than not.  To significantly do something superior you have to get down to the heart of the system - the driver.  Plain and simple.  Fancy crossovers and box construction will only get you so far.

So, sorry for the dissertation but you hit the nail on the head.  Doing it all is a LOT HARDER than just doing a few things correctly.  If you don't want it all, well...then buy the compromises.  On the other hand, if you do want it all...we'll be standing by. :wink:

-Bob

bhobba

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #9 on: 5 Dec 2005, 12:15 am »
Quote from: SP Pres
So, sorry for the dissertation but you hit the nail on the head. Doing it all is a LOT HARDER than just doing a few things correctly. If you don't want it all, well...then buy the compromises. On the other hand, if you do want it all...we'll be standing by.

Bob your comments are very insightful and IMHO a joy to read.  To hell with the shipping cost I will be ordering a pair of timepieces a bit later in the month.  You have one satisfied customer even before I get the speakers.  I feel I am joining a family of people with similar views to mine rather than buying a speaker.  Like you I want a speaker without compromises - or as little as is possible with the current state of the art.  Yours meet that requirement as well or better than any speaker I know of - and is significantly cheaper than the others I was looking at such as Linkwitz's Orion and the WAR Reference One.  All great speakers to be sure and also built as no compromise designs.  I simply can not imagine them sounding better than SP speakers.

I have read your contribution to Danny's posts on ribbon tweeters.  I too have always thought their supposed air etc is in fact a form of distortion.  It apples to high end conventional tweeters as well:
http://206.13.113.199/ncdiyaudio/mark/Testing/Tweeter4/tweeter4index.htm
'What to make of the ow2's mediocre nonlinear distortion performance?  Well, think about this. Perceived detail and "air" can occur for a number of reasons.  Good off axis performance can do this. Good linear distortion performance can do this. But modest amounts of higher order nonlinear distortion can also increase apparent detail. In this fashion, I suppose the ow2 is the winner. But only in the sense that "it gives you all the detail that's in the recording, and then some..."  Anyway, I find the nonlinear performance disappointing for the ow2.'

Thanks
Bill

Tbadder1

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #10 on: 5 Dec 2005, 01:56 am »
You know that's what bothered me a little about claiming the upper treble wasn't up to snuff.  It could be that the lower treble is just so damn good, and nobody else is doing the same thing, that the sheer quality of the lower treble is skewing my short term impression of the upper treble. I really do have to follow up long term with another review, maybe in a month or six weeks. I'm veru cognizant of being an amateur and any information that I get and can comprehend is much appreciated.  In the end I'll just settle for what I got.  ROCKIN' IN THE FREE WORLD!!!

Aether Audio

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Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #11 on: 5 Dec 2005, 02:06 am »
Bill,

Thanks a bunch - and don't worry about the shipping.  We'll make it right for you.  Thanks for the link - I've seen it before.  In fact, partially due to the results obtained from that same site in the link below, we decided not to go with the SEAS Millennium tweeter when we were looking at our options for our new tweeter.

http://206.13.113.199/ncdiyaudio/mark/Testing/Tweeter5/tweeter_group_5.htm

I sure don't mean to beat up on Tbadder1, he posted a wonderful review and I couldn't be more thrilled.  He's also a great guy and I sure don't intend to offend him - or anyone else for that matter.  Yet it is interesting to note that he referenced the Millennium tweeter in his review.  Some of this stuff is a bit complex for the layman, but if you scroll to the bottom of that page you will see a comparison of the Millennium to the much less expensive SEAS 27TDC tweeter.  Look for the graphs were the two tweeter's responses were overlaid.  They show up as black with red spikes where the Millennium's distortion is higher.  The author makes his views pretty clear about which one is better in his "conclusions."  Is the higher levels of distortion present in the Millennium tweeter the reason for the claimed superior detail and "air?"  I wonder. This whole issue has me extremely curious.  :?

-Bob

Russell Dawkins

Review: SP Techology Continuum A.D. MKII
« Reply #12 on: 5 Dec 2005, 02:47 am »
I am reminded of an experiment done in the very early days of digital in response to comments that CDs lacked the "air" and high frequency detail that vinyl replay possessed.
The surface noise of a vinyl disc playing a silent (unmodulated) track was added to the relatively noise-free digital recording. I believe the same was done using white noise.
The general reaction to the combination of musical signal and noise was that now there was more detail and air to the sound and it was actually preferred. I heard this around 1986.
This would tie in perfectly with the notion of a very clean tweeter being perceived as having a slightly rolled-off top.
A similar thing happens at  the bass end; a speaker with clean bass end, that is, with less overhang, or able to stop faster, will be perceived as being bass shy in contrast to another that has the same measured response to steady state tones but more overhang. Same amount of bass program content, but in the latter case more noise added at similar frequencies equates to the sensation of more bass, it's just that in both cases (HF and LF) what is added is noise - it's just not perceived as such.
Russell

bhobba

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« Reply #13 on: 5 Dec 2005, 03:27 am »
Quote from: SP Pres
Is the higher levels of distortion present in the Millennium tweeter the reason for the claimed superior detail and "air?" I wonder. This whole issue has me extremely curious.

Very interesting question indeed.  These days with highly accurate speakers like yours and DSP we have the capability of investigating the issue.  Simply add in the distortion electronically and see if so called 'golden ears' can tell the difference between it and a speaker with the tweeter.  It was very enlightening when the experiment was done with valve amplifiers:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valve_sound
'Advanced digital signal processing offers the possibility to simulate valve sound. Computer algorithms are currently available that transform digital sound from a CD or other digital source into a distorted digital sound signal that even 'golden ears' cannot distinguish from real analog valve sound.'

As an aside I do not have anything against valves - I believe they have some characteristics that make them in some areas better than transistors.  However in terms of reliability and performance/cost transistors have it all over valves IMHO.  Also the above does put subjective impressions in a while new light.  I personally do not care how a piece of equipment sounds subjectively if its objective performances is not good.  You may prefer to listen to distortion - me I prefer to listen to what reached the microphone - not what the equipment adds to it.  I always find the reviews of Peter Aczel of the Audio Critic provides a valuable balance to the often over hyped subjectivism in conventional reviews.
http://theaudiocritic.com/
I do not always agree with their views such that all competently designed modern amplifiers sound the same (even though they can produce double blind tests to back it up - but I will not go into that here); however what they say is often very interesting.  Bob have you considered submitting speakers to them for review?

Thanks
Bill

bhobba

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« Reply #14 on: 5 Dec 2005, 03:51 am »
Quote from: Russell Dawkins
A similar thing happens at the bass end; a speaker with clean bass end, that is, with less overhang, or able to stop faster, will be perceived as being bass shy in contrast to another that has the same measured response to steady state tones but more overhang.

Yes indeed  - I always like how critically damped closed boxes are sometimes described as 'overly taught' or 'too tight'.   How can a design that reproduces transients best be desired as 'too' anything.  Or are reviewers admitting what people probably already know - they are simply describing what they like rather than giving an objective appraisal?  That is not to denigrate subjective reviews - they are quite valuable - but people should recognize their limitations as well.

Thanks
Bill

Tbadder1

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« Reply #15 on: 5 Dec 2005, 08:24 am »
Hey I don't feel beat up by anyone.  This is the point of these discussions and this is turning into a damn fine one.  I'm really shocked by how the Millennium measured in comparison.  It's just such a great tweeter and I think Bill asks an important question, do we mistake distortion for detail?  Is there something about distortion that the human ear enjoys.  Does distortion in one area lead another area of non-distortion to sound so good as to make it memorable.  I know that's a weird psychology, but a lot of what we KNOW is based on comparison, and a perfectly measured driver would have none of the distortion vs, non-distortion effect, that could affect our preceptions. Doesn't this argument sound like tube amps that measure so miserably at times, and yet some of us, me included love our tubes, and isn't one of the important arguments here the effect of even-order distortion being somehow pleasing to the ear.  I, along with a lot of other philosophers, believe that humans are contradictory animals at heart.  If true that could explain a lot.

Tbadder1

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« Reply #16 on: 5 Dec 2005, 08:34 am »
Which brings up another question for the desihner if distortion is essential to the human experience.  Do you builld a component for enjoyment or measurement?  What if we studied which distortions humans had a tendency to enjoy.  Let me make another comparison.  There's plenty in Jazz and Rock and Avant-garde classical that's unmelodic but really enjoyable.  Maybe it's the relationship of the unmelodic to the melodic that some people are so enamoured of.  For instance hard-bop is much less melodic than smooth jazz.  I hate smooth jazz and always have.  Could at least one reason in a long line of reasons be this lack of yin/yang melodic/nonmelodic experience.  remember no one liked Scheonberg's atonality.  They dismissed it as ugly and merely an exercise, but then he wrote some comedys around it, and some people started to admire it.  Could it have been the balance of the humor vs. the nightmare quality of the music that converted some people.  

I will admit if this is true, it has to be very disconcerting for anyone desining audio equipmenmt.

Peace
Dan

bhobba

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« Reply #17 on: 5 Dec 2005, 09:00 am »
Ah yes Tbadder.  Age old questions that go to the heart of the audiophile experience.  I am afraid there is no answer.  We all will answer such questions differently - which is what makes us all - well different.   The best we can all do is find out the facts - eg is the preference for a valve sound a preference for a kind of distortion or is something else at work.  If it is a kind of distortion then perhaps there is a market for a device that adds it in and we can dial in a particular sound to suit our mood.  Not as romantic as the warm glow of tubes from a SET so I suspect the market for such a device would be small.  But decisions based on facts is always better than folklore.  So I say give me more facts and less heroic prose in reviews.  Somehow I doubt such a path will be very popular - after all it removes some of the fun.  And despite my concern about prosaic reviews it, like winding up the wick on you SP speakers, sure is a lot of fun.  What is good to know is SP speakers can take it.  What is good to know about reviews is in the final analysis we can judge the sound for ourselves - which generally means for guys like me some kind of blind listening test.

Thanks
Bill

Tbadder1

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« Reply #18 on: 5 Dec 2005, 04:15 pm »
But Bill facts change all the time.  Facts are the one thing we can't depend on.  Science is that mode of knowledge that says to us, everything you learned yesterday is untrue today.  If science actually found the real truth, the iltimate fact, it would ceased to exist.  Ask yourself, how much of science in the 1800s is true in the 2100s--not very much I'd say.  Even Netwon has taken quite a hit.  Will the facts of the 31st century be close to the 21st century?  No way.  I think that's why measurements don't tell us much.  Measurements are about context, the machines we measure with, as if we could build a machine that's accurate enough to measure correctly.  When did we start measuring jitter?  What other unmeasurable things are we missing now that we'll discover down the road.  And I don't think "it's the only thing we've got" argument works at all.  Because the one fact is that people enjoy music and create music, and that no one can argue.  How senseless is it to say Mozart is better than Cage?  Art doesn't improve, it's just different.  Some people will say, "well stereo equipment has definitely improved over the last 100 years." Others will say "stereo has improved since the late 50s", and still others will say "surround sound is a step beakward in recreating music." Some will actually say that mono is better than stereo.  These people are committed and serious, not some weirdos. Progress isn't assured, just difference.  the violins of the 1600s are far superior to the violins of the 20th century.  Now if anyone , including me can follow this argument, then measuring stuff clearly doesn't work--except in one way, the human way, with the ear.  Machines don't hear music they register it, and that's not the same thing.  The best speakers ever made, the best instruments ever made, have been voiced by a human with a particular notion of what great music is.  That's why when someone like myself reviews a piece of equipment, and compares it to similar equipment, is saying very little indeed.  How else do you explain vintage gear?  I hear McIntosh and old Dahlquists, and Infinity Kappas, and I just wince in pain.  While some other person who loves music as much as me has his endorphins ping ponging around his brain.  I know I tried to say too much in too few words, but let me try to sum it up in two quotes that deeply affected my philosophy: Walt Whitman "Do I contradict myself, yes I contradict myself, I am multitudes"  and Chief Seattle "the world is unknowable, and so we create story."  Whatever comes of this discussion, Bob Smith has created an amazing story.  I doubt he's created an amazing fact.  (Feel free to make fun of me)

Peace
Dan

Tbadder1

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« Reply #19 on: 5 Dec 2005, 04:16 pm »
Geez I love these discussions!