By Bill Heck
In the previous section of this article, I described what I wanted in a speaker to play classical music: clarity and extended dynamic range, up to concert hall levels, across the entire frequency range. At the end of that article, I promised to describe what I heard after unpacking and setting up the Signatures. So let’s go!
I will not insult your intelligence by running through the description and specifications of the speakers as if you were incapable of reading them on the Legacy website. I will, however, highlight a few real world points.
|Signature SE, cabernet finish
Legacy is well-known for their construction and lovely woodwork; my units lived up to that reputation. The Satin Black finish, the equivalent of the “little black dress” that my wife assures me goes with everything, is quite attractive in an understated way and fits into our decor in a room that has plenty of wood already. However, please do look further at the available finishes: they range from merely beautiful to stunning.
The weight of the cabinets should give you a clue as to their solidity: thick walls, plenty of bracing, and sealed subwoofer and midwoofer enclosures – all of which I saw for myself inside raw speaker enclosures while visiting the Legacy facility – combine with a lack of parallel surfaces to ensure that no cabinet resonance would dare rear its head.
The grills are ¾” thick light wood frames with cutouts for the drivers, covered by a standard sort of dark cloth. The good news is that these offer real protection for the drivers if kids or too inquisitive pets are around. The bad news, as some other reviewers have noted, is that they attach to the speakers with plastic pins. The pin insets on the speaker face do slightly mar the looks of the baffle – not very noticeable on my black units, but perhaps moreso on other finishes. It’s not a major issue, but I wish there were a better way. In any case, I listened both with grills on and off; as expected, the grills subtracted slightly from peak performance, softening the sound a bit, but the change was not horribly detrimental – you won’t be embarrassed if you need to leave them on for real world reasons.
The Signatures include other nice touches for real world environments. One of the most important is that they are truly bi-amp capable (not just bi-wire), a bonus at this price level. The binding posts – two sets for bi-amping – are heavy and solid: thick enough to grasp and tighten down easily. (Pro tip: for a really good grip, try one of those thin rubber disks used to help open glass food jars.) The two back panel trim switches work as designed: the 2 db treble cut is handy for really bright rooms and for recordings that screech; the 2 db cut at 60 Hz ameliorates “boom” or bass resonance caused by near-wall placement. I tried both; the effects are subtle, but noticeable, particularly the low cut switch that did exactly what it is meant to do when I had the speakers very close to the rear wall.
One more real world point: my conversations with Bill Dudleston made it clear that the physical design aspects, such as geometries of driver placement, had been thought through carefully. For example, the driver heights are calculated to avoid destructive interference from floor reflections; similarly, mounting the midrange and tweeter close together within a single faceplate ensures that they act as a point source at the relevant frequencies. All this is in keeping with Legacy’s emphasis on real world, in-room performance, as opposed to just the specs in an anechoic environment.
A final real world consideration is that the two speakers in a pair are hand tuned for matched performance before being shipped. The vagaries of even the best drivers and crossover components make at least slight mismatches between left and right speakers possible, if not inevitable; Legacy takes care of this for you. A few other manufacturers do something similar, so why don’t more? I dunno.
Up and Running
First, a couple of test CDs played at music-type levels subjectively confirmed a smooth, even-sounding response through the audio frequencies. In my setup, there was usable, clean sound at 25 Hz, but of course that can vary by room.
Music was, of course, far more interesting. Starting again at the bottom, there was a strong sense of weight and foundation, whether from the lower registers of a piano or from the double basses and cellos of an orchestra. The Signatures simply have the drivers to deliver effortless bass; that they do so is hardly a surprise.
Ascending into the midrange, that same sense of weight or power remained. But I also noticed that the Signatures did soft quite well: very quiet passages still conveyed the sounds of instruments clearly and distinctly. For some reason, we tend to think of speakers (or entire systems) with brawn as having little finesse; with the Signatures, that’s just wrong.
As I continued up the scale, I was impressed by the seamlessness of the sound. I had no sense that the bass was disconnected from the midrange, nor the midrange from the treble, nor did I hear differences in timbral quality across the different types and sizes of drivers. Meanwhile, the treble was smooth. As classical music listeners well know, the sound of massed violins on orchestral recordings can often sound steely; my impression was that the Signatures produced sounds that were more representative than usual of the sound of a real orchestra. No, old Columbia recordings were not transformed into suave, lush replicas of the concert hall, but the Signatures make those recordings more tolerable, and of course can help make better recordings even more enjoyable. Meanwhile, for those recordings beyond hope in this regard, the 2db treble cut switch on the back of the speaker can and did help tame the worst.
How about that close-to-the-wall thing? Well, even the Signatures could not quite tolerate a true “up against the wall!” treatment. With a rear corner of each speaker within a few inches of the wall, the bass was a touch boomy, the soundstage depth started to collapse and, most annoyingly, the lower midrange was muddied. But it didn’t take much to improve matters: a mere 7 – 8” of clearance from the outer corner of the speaker to the wall did the trick. (A little more room seemed to help even more; currently, it’s about 13” in my setup. But I emphasize that even the shorter distance should suffice if things are really tight, especially if you use the bass cut switch.)
With all those drivers, one might suppose that it would be necessary to sit back a good way for coherent sound, possibly a challenge in a smaller room. Not so: by 5’ away from the speaker fronts, I had no sense of hearing individual drivers or that sounds were moving vertically with frequency. Naturally, being really close started to create a headphone effect; exactly where that occurs will depend on speaker positioning, angle relative to the listener, and even the lighting in the room. (If the speakers dominate your visual field, there’s a good chance that you will hear them as separate sources.) For the curious, I currently sit with my ears a little over 7’ from the speaker fronts, with the speakers about that same distance apart center to center, a distance set by the layout of the room. Moving farther back improves the image specificity ever so slightly, but at the expense of image width; the changes are very much like those you would hear moving a few rows back or forward in the orchestra section of a concert hall.
Speaking of imaging, I should note that the Signatures do just fine, producing a clear, stable sonic picture. Naturally, proper positioning, room effects, and the characteristics of the recording will have major effects in this area. (Room correction is your friend here.)
Earlier, I mentioned loving the clarity, or transparency if you like, of electrostatic speakers. Well, it’s been a long time since I listened to those old Quads. But through the Signatures, violin sections in orchestral music sound like a collection of individual instruments, not an amorphous mass; trumpets sound different than trombones; and different guitars sound like different instruments. All this is as it should be. The Signatures meet my standards for transparency without sounding tipped up or aggressive.
Finally, I’m now listening to music at more lifelike (higher) volume levels than before, levels that more closely approach those in a concert hall. It’s not just that I got excited and cranked it up, although that did happen. Through the years, I’ve learned to listen at rather moderate levels because upping the volume always seemed to sound loud. By that, I mean too loud, especially when the big passages came along, not obviously distorting but creating a sense of “pushing”, becoming more congested, producing a little cringe on my part, signaling the subconscious that it was time to turn down the volume. Larger speakers just sound - well, larger; that is, they can project sound that is more believable. The Signatures are large speakers and they sound even larger than they are, what with all that capability crammed into a small footprint. The system now invites me to bring the sound up to a realistic level rather than warning me to be careful. And this, in turn, makes listening even more inviting, more engaging.
Please note that I have written a lot of words about bass and weight and such. It may sound as though I’m some sort of bass-addicted wacko – but remember that my progression of audiophile speakers goes from original Quad electrostatics to Quad-63s to the Waveforms (with a few short-term stops in between). This emphatically is not the path of a bass hound! The better way to look at it is that the Signatures retain clarity and tonal accuracy while adding dynamic range, extending the spectrum, and generally bringing music closer, making it even more realistic.
At this point, I know that a segment of the audiophile community is waiting for me to tell tales of chocolatey (or vanilla-y or strawberry or kumquat-y) midrange; yet another veil lifted (although I think that veil lifting language has fallen out of favor recently, as presumably we’ve already lifted so many that we see right down to the bare flesh); or revelatory microdynamics, presumably as opposed to the macrodynamics, whatever those might be. And I’m supposed to compare these qualities in excruciating but subtle detail to those of speakers heard weeks or months ago, never mind that my brain has had plenty of time to alter perceptions of those latter speakers. And let’s not get started on tales of the surprised wife – it’s always a wife, isn’t it? – exclaiming about how wonderful the system sounds, often enough having heard it from the kitchen: such events could have any of a hundred causes – and then there’s the not-so-subtly implied sexism. I can’t do any of that. Instead, what I’ve tried to do is to tell you what I hear. You can decide whether what I have said corresponds to what you are looking, and listening, for.
In Summary: The Signature SEs
I’ve been making the case that the Signatures are a real world product. Now let me advance one other idea: If there is such a thing as a sleeper in the Legacy lineup, the Signature is it. The Focus has a reputation as a high-performance, high-value speaker; the Aeris has been praised as a reference-level speaker at a “bargain” (by high-end audio standards) price; and the Valor is a no-holds-barred superspeaker. Meanwhile, that sneaky Signature offers performance that, in its intended situation, is close to that of the Focus, but in a more compact package at an even more reasonable price.
But back to my real world talk. Yes, if I had a larger room, or one allowing more placement options, I would have gone for the Focus; the price differential is not that large. (All right, I would have thought very hard about the Aeris, even though that price differential is large.) But here in the real world, mine is not the only listening room with space or placement limitations. In the real world, the Signatures are compact enough to fit in smaller rooms and work well in difficult placements. In the real world, where audio monstrosities won’t cut it, the Signatures are nicely sculpted and finished so as to be an aesthetic asset rather than an eyesore. In short, the Signatures allow music lovers to work around the limitations of their environments while still realizing superb sound. Moreover, the Signatures can grow with their associated components, so to speak: you certainly can add amplifier power, and you can move up to bi-amping without needing to start over.
I can’t resist one more comment about the “weight”, the solidity of sound provided by serious capability in the bass to lower midrange. As I type this, I’m listening to Adam Laloum’s recording of Brahms’s Piano Sonata 3 in F minor. If you ever have been close to a pianist playing a ff passage in the lower register, you may have noticed that you not only hear the notes with your ears, but you also feel the vibration. In the first movement, I suddenly noticed that, sure enough, my extremities closest to the speakers were feeling the vibration of the lowest notes. I don’t mean that anything was shaking violently, and there certainly was no audible indication that the Signatures were overworking; moreover, I was playing the work at a reasonably high but not at all uncomfortable level, surely less than would be produced by a real piano in this room. Nevertheless, there was that subtle sensory clue that a piano was nearby. It was so subtle that I had not consciously noticed it before – but this sort of thing must contribute to the realistic illusion of a recreated performance.
As you surely have deduced by now, I am mightily pleased by the sounds that I hear from the Signatures. When making a major upgrade of this sort, there’s always that little worry in the back of your mind: yes, you expect great things, but what if they aren’t really that great? What if you look back and think that you spent a lot of money for not all that much difference? Naturally that concern was in the back of my head (real world, right?) but I needn’t have worried. The system now is functioning at a level that makes it difficult to imagine what major improvement would sound like. Oh all right, I guess that I can imagine: the last bit of the bass spectrum for those occasions when I really want to hear an organ playing low C (16Hz), or maybe an even more enveloping presence, the kind that those superspeakers might produce, but which isn’t going to happen in my listening space. But in my very real world room with very real world recordings, the results have thoroughly exceeded my expectations. I suspect that the Signatures will exceed yours as well. I hear more music than ever; I look for opportunities to spend a little more time listening; and I shamefully neglect other duties to find more time to just soak it in. What could be better?
 And if a speaker can handle the dynamics and frequency range of classical music, it can play anything.
 The term “subwoofer” deserves emphasis: the crossover point is 180Hz, only slightly higher than typical for separate subwoofers. Thus, these drivers can be optimized for very deep bass extension.
 Lest anyone think that only my loving spouse stands in the way of my filling the room with audio “stuff”, let me point out that I live in this house, too, and I have no desire to be visually assaulted whenever I look in the direction of this pleasing, comfortable room.
 In fact, I have bi-amped them. I purchased a Legacy Wavelet, which includes crossover functionality. This setup is mostly outside of the scope of this article, so detailed discussion awaits another day. But the basic message is that bi-amping extends the bottom end with even more power and resonance. I also have the impression that the rest of the spectrum is a little clearer, a little more open, although that difference is subtle.