Continuum Review

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Audio Architect

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Continuum Review
« on: 13 Mar 2004, 11:51 pm »
Last weekend I had the opportunity to audition the Continuums at the home of Mike Patterson the vice president of SP Technology. Both Bob Smith the president, and Mike were present. Talk about pressure; imagine Bob standing behind me with his samurai sword and Mike beside me with a basket to catch my head in the event that I did not like the speakers. Actually Bob, Mike and their wives were very gracious hosts and I am sure that Bob has enough confidence in his products to be reasonable sure that I would like them.

About the Reviewer

Before I continue with the review let me tell you a little about myself, and what prompted my interest in SP Technology. I am an architect who has been interested in audio for over 30 years.  When I was in college I designed and built a 3-way transmission line speaker system using an ElectoVoice horn tweeter and midrange and an ElectoVoice woofer.  Each enclosure was five feet tall by 16 inches square and weighed over 200 pounds.  I'm reasonably sure that my transmission line was not designed properly but I gave it my best shot at the time.  At that point in my life I was probably not a very sophisticated listener, but I did like the way horns sounded, especially compared to some of the other affordable speakers available at the time.  Shortly after completing those speakers I was exposed to and ultimately purchased speakers manufactured by Fulton Musical Industries. I was also made aware of the virtues of Dynaco and Audio Research tube equipment. Fulton speakers were designed by Robert Fulton, a recording engineer who has been credited as being one of the founders of the high end.  Bob passed away years ago and with him Fulton Musical Industries. I still own FMI 100’s and an Audio Research D76a (tube amplifier).  More recently I have added two Sunfire subwoofers, a Pioneer PD 65 transport, a Perceptual Technologies digital to analog converter and an Audio Alchemy DLC (digital line controller).  You can see that I am not a member of the “system of the month club”.  

For years I intentionally stayed away from audio stores and when I did venture in to some of the local establishments most of the equipment sounded poor compared to what I already owned.  Years later, about 1992, I rediscovered high-end audio only to find that the price structure had gone completely insane, an opinion which I still hold.  As a designer I feel little credit should be given to companies that produce products with extremely high, and unjustifiable budgets.  The designers who deserve praise are those who can produce excellent sounding equipment that is affordable to the average person.  In my opinion the SP technology speakers are not inexpensive but they do offer an innovative design that yields a lot of performance.  Looking at the speakers in person and from the information on the company's web site it is obvious that the Timepiece and Continuum are not inexpensive to produce, especially given the fact that they are handmade and that each pair is tweaked to match as close as possible.

Since rediscovering audio my musical tastes have gravitated towards highly dynamic music. The praise given to the SP technology speakers regarding their dynamic abilities and my previous experience with horn type speakers are the primary reasons that I was anxious to audition the Continuum.

The Review

The listening room was a combined living room, dining room, and kitchen about 20 feet by 30 feet with a cathedral ceiling. A Crown Macro Reference amplifier (750 watts per channel into 8 ohms, 1500 into 4) fed directly by a Denon CD changer with an integral volume control drove the speakers. The music that was used to evaluate the speakers consisted of two CD-Rs supplied by me, which contained many cuts specifically chosen for their dynamics and deep bass.  The sound level during the audition ranged from about 93 to 98 decibels in my estimation.  I forgot to bring my sound level meter so I could be off, but I usually listen at an average of 90 decibels or less and the audition levels easily exceeded that.

As I have already stated the advertised feature that drew me to these speakers was their dynamic response, and let me say right now that they were everything I hoped for in that respect.  The Continuums project an enormous soundstage and although there is a sweet spot it definitely was not the “head in a vice” type that some speakers display.  The tonal character of the sound changes very little as you walk around the room.  The Continuums alone, almost matched the bass response of my current speaker system augmented by two subwoofers.  Without the subwoofers it was no contest, with the Continuums going much deeper than the 10” acoustic suspension woofers in the Fulton speakers.  The Continuum is probably one of the few 2 way speakers systems that have enough bass extension and dynamics to not need a subwoofer. I still feel that almost all speakers, including the Continuum can benefit from the addition of a subwoofer or preferably 2, but at least with the Continuums it is not absolutely necessary.  Toward the end of the listening session Bob played a track from Sheffield Lab collection CD that was all drums.  This was absolutely awesome and sounded as close to real drums as I have ever heard.  Many of the instrumental cuts exhibited the kind of transient response that can make you jumped out of your chair.  

About a year and a half ago I ordered a set of speakers from a well-known Internet based audio company.  These speakers had received numerous rave reviews from owners on the AVS audio forum.  The speakers were absolutely beautiful but upon auditioning them my first reaction was to run for the bathroom and clean my ears. A small percentage of the people on the AVS forum had described these speakers as slightly laid-back.  Since audiophiles frequently use the same term to mean slightly different things I was not too concerned about this. Some people claim that you get used to this kind of sound but I feel if it sounds wrong initially it probably is.  Since we are exposed to numerous lives sounds every day we all should have a good idea of what sounds right and what doesn't. The reason I bring this up is because the Continuum's in my opinion are not a laid-back speaker, so if this is the type of sound that you prefer you should probably look elsewhere.

The vocal reproduction projected by the Continuums was as good as anything I've heard.  I generally do not make a habit of auditioning speakers that our way out of my price range (over $6000) but on one occasion I did listen to the J. M. Lab's Grand Utopia (about $65,000) and I will say with no hesitation that I prefer the Continuum by a large factor.

On some cuts I did notice a bit of harshness.  Bob seems certain that the inexpensive CD changer feeding the amp directly caused this.  I am compelled to agree with Bob and I would not be surprised if in some cases the recordings also contributed to the harshness.  This would not be surprising since the Continuums are designed to be studio monitors and therefore they should be capable of exposing any flaws in the recording chain.

Conclusion

One of my primary reasons for frequenting the various audio forums on the Internet is in a search for what will hopefully be the last speakers and amplifiers that I purchase.  I had selected the Continuums along with three other speakers to be on my short list of speakers to audition prior to making that purchase.  After auditioning the Continuums I think it is unlikely that any of the other contenders will match their dynamic and other abilities.  Just to satisfy myself I will however listen to the remaining speakers before I make a decision.  It is however my opinion that most music lovers would not regret the purchase of these speakers as long as they have adequate power and reasonably high quality associated equipment.

Double Ugly

Continuum Review
« Reply #1 on: 14 Mar 2004, 12:58 am »
Thanks, AA...well done.  

I suppose I'm as interested as anyone here since I'll be upgrading to the Continuums in the not-too-distant future.  Since I've never heard the Continuums, I'm especially grateful you took the time to share your thoughts.  No offense to Bob, but comments from disinterested third parties are always welcome when making sight-unseen, sound unheard purchases.

I hope you'll keep us informed as you progress through the selection process.

DU

infiniti driver

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Continuum Review
« Reply #2 on: 14 Mar 2004, 03:45 am »
Excellent review AA!

In my hundreds of hours of listening to the timepieces...head end gear must be of genuine high quality. I usually use the hard drive running 24bit (and better) files and even when someone brings a cd to listen to (and I do have formidable players) I usually convert the whole CD to the .wav editor and do the playback via hard drive. Afterall, it is the best sound I have. I actually had someone bring a 20K transport and a 22K DAC with about 3K in interconnections. Upon comparison, he preferred the CD>wav>hard drive playback. I use an apogee D/A that is rock solid.

Although Bobs loudspeakers are "recording dependant" and sensitive to "trash in-trash-out" I am of "rest assured" observance, that each recording I have listened to using the Timepieces was the "best" that recording has sounded overall...warts, scabs and all.

The Preamplifier choice makes plenty of difference. Upon Bobs advice, the omission of a preamp (analog) mostly is a good thing. Remember, their is a lot of equipment out there that exibits colorization simply to make it sell or sound "different" than gear it is replacing..until you grow tired of it. Strait wire with gain IS the key.

I enjoyed your review...and I must agree on something here too. I do believe the culpret to be the Denon CD player. I actually have only heard one piece of Denon gear I liked the sound of...and that was the Grand Integra power amplifier.

Aether Audio

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Thanks AA!
« Reply #3 on: 15 Mar 2004, 12:48 am »
Thanks AA,

I just wanted to take a moment to thank AA for going out of his way to hear our product.  We are a ways out in the sticks from Chicago and he never hesitated about making the trip.  If anyone else is interested in stopping by we'd be more than glad to take the time to set up an audition (if we have a pair to audition - that is).

Also, I wanted to let everyone know that we sure don't want you to feel pressured to "like" our speakers just because we're watching every expression on your face :lol:   Really though, we need all the objective opinion we can get.  If nobody tells the king that he's naked, how is he to know?

One last comment about the CD player.  We're more your average working stiffs with limited financial resources than well-off tycoons.  We love high-end but don't have the luxury of playing in the big leagues like some of you.  Heck, if I hadn't worked at Crown and got our Macro-References (2 units) as discounted credit returns and payed for them through payroll deduction, we wouldn't have them either.  Since the early days of this business we've socked all our spare change into table saws and analyzers.  No cash left for toys. :(  

That little Dennon is a pretty good unit for the money but I know its analog output stage doesn't have a low enough output impedance.  It just can't drive the cable capacitance of the intterconnects as well as the relatively low 5 kohm input of the MR without ringing and producing high frequency artifacts.  I suppose lower capacitance cables would help a lot but this is one more instance where Infiniti Driver is correct.  An active buffer stage would probably help a lot.  The only thing is, we have a PS Audio preamp that we've used and it seems to cause a loss of transparency and detail.  What we really need is more money!  So...everybody - BUY OUR SPEAKERS!!! :bounce:  They're really, really good and they're a good deal too.  Just take my word for it and never mind the reviews. :rotflmao:  Hurry fast - before the price increase.  We thinking it will be on the order of what the market will bear.  Somewhere on the order of $65,000.00/pair :rotflmao:  :rotflmao:  :rotflmao:

Thanks AA for the positive comments, hope you enjoyed yourself and I hope it was worth the trip.

-Bob

nathanm

Continuum Review
« Reply #4 on: 15 Mar 2004, 06:34 am »
Quote
We thinking it will be on the order of what the market will bear. Somewhere on the order of $65,000.00/pair


You should do exactly that.  Make a one-off "Flagship Model" with "automotive quality paint finish" (and maybe a hexagonal velcro grille holder around the tweeter waveguide for good measure) and some yokel out there WILL give you $65,000 for it and then you can sink that $62,000 profit back into the company. :thumb:

infiniti driver

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Continuum Review
« Reply #5 on: 15 Mar 2004, 05:59 pm »
...he already has it..

The 5 Pair, 20 amplifier system.

That is a system I believe would be the top of tops.