Sorry it's been so long........
REVIEW: SP Technology Continuum A.D. Reference Monitor Loudspeaker
I’ve been meaning to put into words my thoughts on these loudspeakers for quite sometime, but was waiting to spend some considerable time with them first. I was also waiting for some final equipment to arrive and set aside some time to write. I promised some comments a while back and apologize if I failed to deliver them in a timely manner. This hobby first and foremost for me is about personal enjoyment, fun, and something I really like, a continuing education and evolvement on advancing my system to the next level. I love that “wow” feeling when I can hear an improvement after thinking “it can’t get any better, can it?”
I enjoy the gear and the companies and people behind them as well. Customer support and product quality are equally important. In the end everything must sound good, but just like fine dining, it’s the overall total experience besides the good food that makes it enjoyable. A while back I had a lot of overlapping gear and many system changes and it wasn’t fun anymore. I like to listen to one “change” at a time- for good or bad. I think evolving and refining a system takes some time and patience, and that is another reason I waited so long to capture my impressions of the Continuums.
I look back at many of the speakers systems I’ve owned along with all the electronics, and each change brought another level of enlightenment and knowledge either from a designer, dealer, another audiophile, or (more recently) selectively filtered articles or posts on internet forums.. It’s amazing how much I’ve learned over the years and look back and laugh at what I thought was “great sound”. I started with Definitive Technology, Magnepans (3.5s), and Martin Logans (SL3s and Prodigies) and never felt I had a great system. All missed the mark for me in some area or another. This was probably due to my own faults (ignorance) regarding system synergy and setup. About two years ago I felt my Martin Logan Prodgies were not the ideal speaker for my setup and came across VMPS. I had always remembered seeing the black and white ads for them in the now defunct Audio magazine- always looked impressive. I ordered the VMPS RM40 unheard and once they arrived, I felt for the first time I was getting really “high end’ sound. If part of this hobby is continually being educated, than the RM40 was my first “real” teacher. These are truly fantastic speakers and served as a foundation for integrating other changes in my system. I was about to move from the 40s to the RM/Xs, when I came across SP Technology. I decided to move away from VMPS speakers for personal reasons other than sound quality.
I would personally like to thank Audio Circle member “JLM” for bringing SP Technology to my attention with his post
back in October of 2003. Bill Roberts’ (a.k.a. “infinti driver”) review was also very intriguing (and accurate!) and left me with a new possibility other than VMPS. I think that is the point of any review, just to serve as a catalyst for thought- it cannot and should not replace personal experience.
I contacted SP Tech and spoke with Bob Smith who made for some real nice conversation. He also had a passion in his voice and belief about his products that gave me the confidence to try them out. I expressed to him how “right" the sound of the RM40s were for me, and made known my concern that the Continuums would fall short of the 40’s magic. Since I had 30 days to try them out, with the only loss being split return shipping, I decided to go for it.
The speakers took considerably longer to manufacture than I thought, but some reasons were beyond Bob’s control. In the end, Bob used the delays to continually refine the design and improve it until it was the best he knew how to do. The speakers arrived about 2 months later than I expected, but it was worth the wait. Packaging, build quality, and fit and finish were exemplary. The high gloss black baffles and maple veneers are gorgeous with no grill holes to ruin the overall appearance. These speakers are actually quite large and heavy- pictures make them appear much smaller. They are extremely dense and the cabinet is SOLID. They came with a real nice binder that included a theory section (same info as on the website) and setup pages. Also included were individual measurements for my set of Continuums with respect to frequency response and distortion.
I used the SP Technology “G Ratio” stands for the Continuums, but modified them a bit with products from Star Sound Technology. I filled each stand with four quarts of Micro-Bearing Steel Fill and used Audiopoints to couple the speaker to the top of the stand, and the stand to floor. The speakers were set up in a dedicated audio/video room that has the following dimensions: 21.75 L x 17 W x 7.5 H. The room construction is concrete block framed with wood and gypsum board (heavy insulation in walls and ceiling), and a solid concrete floor covered with padding and medium pile carpet. The room is treated with multiple products from Eight Nerve and Echo Busters. The room has very good acoustics and I have the freedom to set the speakers and equipment at their “best” locations with few compromises. The speakers ended up about 54 inches from the side walls, 48 inches from the front wall, 92 inches between them, with my "sweet spot" about 10 feet from the speakers– all measurements taken from the tweeter. I used only slight toe-in, probably a little less than Bob recommends. Set up and placement were no harder than any speaker- it just required some time and patience to get it exactly right for my “perfectionist” personality.
The Continuums were evaluated with the following equipment and music:
Amps- Four Jeff Rowland 201 monoblocks- two for each channel
Preamp- Aesthetix Calypso Tube Linestage
CD Source- Wadia 861SE with Statement Mods from Great Northern Sound Co.
SACD Source- Sony XA-9000ES
Power- BPT 3.5 Signature fed from dedicated 20amp line of JPS In-Wall AC Cable
Cables- All Sonoran Plateau with Silent Source HC Signature power cords on the 201 amps.
Platforms/Isolation- Critical Mass Systems, Timbernation, and Sistrum.
Picture of final setup-
Music: I listened to a wide variety. This was some of the mainstay.
Eleanor McEvoy- Yola (SACD Hybrid)
David Grisman- Dawg Duos
Eva Cassidy- Time After Time, Live at Blues Alley, Imagine, Songbird
Jane Monheit- Come Dream With Me, In the Sun
Diana Krall- Live in Paris, Love Scenes, Stepping Out
Black Light Syndrome
Nickel Creek- This Side
Rush- Moving Pictures, 2112 (Remastered)
Blackhawk Down, Gladiator, Finding Nemo, and Moulin Rouge Soundtracks
James Taylor- The Best of James Taylor
Allison Kraus- Union Station Live
Natalie Merchant- Tigerlily
Miles Davis- Kind of Blue (remastered and SACD)
Norah Jones- Come Away With Me (SACD Hybrid), Feels Like Home
Michael Ruff- Speaking In Melodies
Frank Sinatra- Reprise- The Very Good Years
Toby Keith- Shock’N Y’All
Terence Blanchard- Let’s Get Lost
I’ll do my best to describe what I hear and apologize in advance if something I’m trying to convey doesn’t come across with crystal clarity. When I usually listen to a system, I usually get a “gut” feeling if it is good or bad right away. I can’t stand a veiled or “closed in” sound- I like open, clear, and clean. For me great sound can be achieved in a variety of ways, and great sound on one system will possess similar qualities of great sound on another system made up of different components. The components must “work together” regardless of price or quality, and when the do the end results can be the same irrespective of how you get there. Just remember- these are my impressions with my gear, my music, and my room- pretty much worth nothing in the real world.
I feel most of audiojerry’s and infiniti driver’s comments on the Timepieces are spot on, and accurately describe what I hear with the Continuums. The Continuums not only matched the “magic” of the RM40s, but took it to another level. Although these are “only” a two-way monitor with 8” woofers and a 1 inch tweeter, they are probably more full range than most large floor standing models. From top to bottom these speakers are extremely dynamic and low in distortion. They not only capture the dynamics of drums better than any other speaker I’ve heard, they capture the dynamics of voices and other instruments exceedingly well also. For me dynamics translate into realism – the slam and driving force of the music. They play very loud and I don’t think I’ve come close to their limits. They don’t play loud at the expense of nuance- they get all of the micro dynamics right also. One also has the urge to keep tapping the remote because they remain effortless, coherent, clear, and listenable at high volumes- hearing beware!
The bass is downright awesome! Deep, tight, articulate and most of all musical. With the right passages, they will definitely give you that “punched in the chest” bass- something I never had in my room before. Above all, the bass is fast which means detail- no blurring of bass notes. The ability of this speaker to start and stop means the bass is tight and full with no overhang, muddiness, or timing issues. I’m hearing low frequency details that were simply masked before. Bass notes also take on a solidness and identity, rather than being more diffuse- hard for me to describe. The bass from the Continuums is pretty much the best I have ever heard. I had some initial placement issues with the Continuums because the bass was overloading the room at their first location. Sound was opposite of what I’m describing here. Some time and patience and I found the sweet spot for placement in my room.
The Continuums are more than just dynamics and bass. The midrange and highs are natural, open, and extended. Vocals have an amazing sense of realism- one of the things the RM40 did so right for me. It’s a cleanliness (clarity) and freedom from a “closed in” sound or veil that make it magic. Some highs were a little edgy at first, but less toe-in pretty much eliminated that anomaly. The speakers give you what is on the recording, and certain recordings still suffered from some edgy highs- nothing terrible- but these speakers will not make every recording sound lush and soft on top. I found it to be very recording dependent. I don’t think speakers are “voiced” for a particular sound in terms of sacrificing one end of the musical spectrum for another. They are very balanced and cohesive. Bob strives for a “flat” frequency response from top to bottom and I believe he achieved that. Any dips or peaks will be the result of room placement and acoustics.
Imaging and soundstage are first rate. Voices image from a solid, tangible, and tight area between the two loudspeakers- reach out and touch someone quality. I’m getting a nice wide and deep soundstage that varies with the recording. Within that soundstage, instruments and voices are imaging with lifelike clarity and placement. Each instrument appears to occupy its own sense of space and it’s easy to “focus” in on a certain instrument in the recording. Background vocals on choruses are easily heard instead of blending in. What’s great is that the speakers simply disappear and I’m often left with wall to wall sound if the recording has a nice wide soundstage. Sounds extend between, behind, and to the sides of the speakers with no hint of localization. Standing up doesn’t change the sound at all, and off-axis listening is pretty good. I used the Continuums with the home theater side of my equipment and was blown away by the results.
The Continuums will also retrieve all of the subtle details in a recording. Singers taking their breaths, recording engineers turning off and on the singer’s microphones, the body of the guitar being tapped, air blowing into an instrument, feet tapping, stools creaking, etc. is all there in spades. I though they might fall short in this area, but have proved to excel in it. I’m pretty sure the Wadia 861 is playing a role here as well by retrieving this information off the disc. Point is, the Continuums are able to remain clear and focused and allow such details to be easily heard.
The Continuums are doing everything right in my room with my gear- mission accomplished. I can’t comment on how they would sound with lower powered amplification as I had no other on hand except for the Pass X350. I’m not sure if I would match them with “bright” electronics as I could imagine some bad recordings would sound worse. The Continuums would serve as a great foundation to build a system upon. I think their accuracy and top to bottom coherency would serve well in the process of selecting good upstream components.
I tip my hat to Bob for putting a lot of theory into practice and making a fantastic speaker. The Continuums have indeed taken my system “to the next level” by improving upon the 40s and actually saving me some cash in the end. I think we can add the Continuum to another “must audition” list of great loudspeakers from the talented designers/manufacturers right here on AudioCircle. The Continuums might not be for everyone, but they sure sound right to me.
I made up a SP Technology Continuum “Demo Disc” of tracks that highlight some
great music in terms of bass, dynamics, vocals, strings, soundstage, etc. It contains 13 tracks and runs about 65 minutes. If any other SP Tech owners want to test it out with their Timepieces or Continuums just let me know- it’s a lot of fun.