Feb 18, 2001

Legacy Signature SE -- Footnote test

By Bill Heck

In the previous section of this article, I described what I wanted in a speaker to play classical music[1]: 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
Considering their driver complement and capabilities, the Signatures are fairly compact: largish but subjectively not dominating. The cabinet design, which eschews parallel surfaces and features beveled front edges, adds graceful and functional touches; the simple, geometric lines of these cabinets work nicely in the soft contemporary space of my home and, I would think, should work with a variety of decors. Photos of floor standing speakers are often taken from angles designed to make the towers look imposing, the better to impress you with their power I guess. But the Signatures have a fairly small footprint and do not look outlandishly large in real life.

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.

Of more audio interest, the Dual Air Motion 4” midrange / tweeter combination is the same unit as that found not only in the Focus but even in the Aeris: the Signatures give up nothing in this department. I was able to examine the newest version of the 7” midwoofer in hand: it has the feel of a precision instrument but the weight of a brute, with a magnet structure that would do some subwoofers proud. This all fits with Legacy’s emphasis on the ability to play through tremendous dynamic range with low distortion. Finally, you’ll recall that two 10” subwoofers[2] are in a sealed enclosure. I won’t get into the semi-religious audiophile debate about whether sealed enclosures are better than ported for clear, well-defined bass; it’s enough that a sealed enclosure decreases sensitivity to placement, particularly near a rear wall. (More on that below.)

Another important but often ignored consideration here in the real world is that of efficiency. This is particularly important for classical music, which, contrary to most intuitions, has wide dynamic range (think ppp to fff). The Signatures are on the high side at 92 db, meaning that even a modest amp can handle large peaks at moderate listening volumes; the current generation of high-powered amps available at reasonable cost should eliminate any remaining concerns about dynamic capabilities.

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.[3] 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.[4]

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?

[1] And if a speaker can handle the dynamics and frequency range of classical music, it can play anything.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Founder and Contributor

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing for the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Karl Nehring, Editor and Contributor

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to both its equipment and recordings review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me — point out recordings that they think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I occasionally do some listening through pair of Sennheiser 560S headphones. I miss the excellent ELS Studio sound system in our 2016 Acura RDX (now my wife's daily driver) on which I had ripped more than a hundred favorite CDs to the hard drive, so now when driving my 2022 Accord EX-L Hybrid I stream music from my phone through its adequate but not outstanding factory system. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has tolerably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom II Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can’t imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.

William (Bill) Heck, Webmaster and Contributor

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Most recently I’ve moved to my “ultimate system” consisting of a BlueSound Node streamer, an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a CD transport, Legacy Wavelet II DAC/preamp/crossover, dual Legacy PowerBloc2 amps, and Legacy Signature SE speakers (biamped), all connected with decently made, no-frills cables. With the arrival of CD and higher resolution streaming, that is now the source for most of my listening.

Ryan Ross, Contributor

I started listening to and studying classical music in earnest nearly three decades ago. This interest grew naturally out of my training as a pianist. I am now a musicologist by profession, specializing in British and other symphonic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. My scholarly work has been published in major music journals, as well as in other outlets. Current research focuses include twentieth-century symphonic historiography, and the music of Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold.

I am honored to contribute writings to Classical Candor. In an age where the classical recording industry is being subjected to such profound pressures and changes, it is more important than ever for those of us steeped in this cultural tradition to continue to foster its love and exposure. I hope that my readers can find value, no matter how modest, in what I offer here.

Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa