On Speaker Setup Options…

By Bryan Geyer

Revel M106 (grille off)
In 2012, we decided to “downsize” our retirement life. So we sold our house overlooking the bay and moved inland. We found a suitable 2 BR condo, set off-street, that was right in the downtown hub of a nearby coastal town. Of course, this downsizing process implied abandoning our existing audio system. Our big floor-standing full range loudspeakers and related 200 Watts/channel stereo power amplifier were too massive for our new condo—a consequence of great joy to our grandson. An all-new and much more compact system would now be necessary.

Our new condo LR was tight. Small bookshelf-type mini-monitor speakers would likely be necessary. Clap tests indicated favorable acoustics—the 10 foot ceiling and partially open back wall was clearly a benefit—so maybe I could rig something tolerable. Strictly as a test, I tried a pair of 4 inch desktop-type speakers, driven by a tiny 15 WPC class D power amplifier. The sound was promising. The room acoustics were clearly good enough to warrant serious effort.

Addressing what to get as the main speakers came first. There really wasn’t enough open front space to accommodate speaker stands; they’d be an obstruction. So any new speakers would either have to sit atop the brick fireplace mantle (just 8.5 inches deep) or get bolted directly to the brick facing below the mantle. The classic acoustic guideline about pulling the main speakers away from the front wall simply couldn’t be applied; it didn’t fit our layout. So I chose to use the mantle as the speakers’ shelf. I bought a pair of little BBC-type monitors—Spendor S3/5R2 (now superseded). They had a 5 inch Ø woofer and a 0.9 inch soft dome tweeter in fully sealed enclosures; weight 10.1 pounds each. A review is here…https://www.stereophile.com/content/spendor-s35rsup2sup-loudspeaker#1i6C3c8Fzmprgukb.97. The size is 6.4” wide x 11.2” high x 7.4” deep; street price $1,500/pair. These minuscule monitors have proved to sound truly excellent when not pushed beyond a sound pressure level = 83dB (C-weighted)* at the listening position. That’s pretty loud, but it’s certainly not audiophile “demo-level” loud. You need some +6 to +8dB more dynamic boost to reach that sacred listening level, and that’s definitely beyond what these small speakers can comfortably reproduce.

As anticipated, the bass response was marginal, so I had to augment the bottom with a pair of larger and more costly self-powered subwoofers. The subwoofer addition would have proved necessary with any mini-monitor speakers of this size, as 5 inch Ø woofers in a sealed enclosure will fall off rapidly from about 90Hz downward. (OK, 75 to 80Hz if they’re in a ported enclosure, but these were fully sealed.)

Placing the subwoofers didn’t pose a problem. The best location under these circumstances is generally in the two front corners, sitting very near the floor, with some angled toe-in, and that placement worked well in our LR. It’s best to apply fully sealed subs, not ported (and no passive drone cones), when they’re placed in this manner. Small enclosure size was desired, and we selected JL Audio E-Sub type e-110 self-powered subwoofers; refer…https://www.jlaudio.com/products/e110-ash-home-audio-e-sub-powered-subwoofers-96276. There’s a technically astute review here…https://www.audioholics.com/subwoofer-reviews/e-sub-e110-e112. This sub consumes some 1.8 cubic feet, and weighs 53 pounds each. They are the smallest fully-sealed high performance self-powered subwoofers that I have been able to find that also feature a continuously variable phase angle control in addition to a fully variable input level control. These two controls are absolutely vital in order to facilitate accurate phase angle matching of the subwoofers with the main speakers at the precise point of crossover. You cannot accurately match the waveform phase at the crossover frequency if the built-in delay option in the subwoofer provides only a 0˚-180˚ polarity inversion switch.

Given the small mini-monitors in use, I choose 96Hz as my crossover frequency for the main speaker/subwoofer split, and I used an external active crossover controller (Marchand XM66, refer…https://www.marchandelec.com/xm66.html) to apply Linkwitz-Riley full 4th order (-24dB/octave) filter slopes for both the low-pass and high-pass outputs. (The subwoofers’ internal crossovers were placed in bypass mode.) The use of this external active crossover control unit assures a level of accuracy, adjustment range, and setting convenience that’s not possible when using the subwoofers’ internal passband filters.

Gain matching and phase coherency matching of the subwoofers/mini-monitors is best done at the crossover frequency. This can be assured with precise visual accuracy by using the instrumented means described in this paper: https://classicalcandor.blogspot.com/2019/03/optimizing-subwoofer-integration-part-2.html.

So what’s significant here? Well, I found that the sound of my new compact system was better than I’d ever done before with big full-range main speakers. The articulation and clarity in the mid-to-upper bass octaves was now more apparent, presumably because that driver was no longer burdened with the need to handle any power-hungry low bass. And the liberated low bass now seemed more extended and authentic than I’d ever experienced when using my full-range speakers. Good subwoofers can woof!

Equally instructive was the new revelation that good sound doesn’t automatically mean big main speakers. Dumping those 5 foot tall floor-standers was a welcome reward. I never liked staring at them, and I was tired of the intrusive prominence that they presented in our main living room.

The only aspect where my mini-monitor setup falls short is in the ability to reach that last level of loud. You might not want to stretch all the way to the 90dB SPL (C-weighted) realm often, but it’s certainly nice to get there, cleanly, when you want to go full throttle. To reach 90dB+, use these speakers…https://www.revelspeakers.com/products/types/bookshelf/M106-.html?cgid=bookshelf&dwvar_M106-_color=Black-GLOBAL-Current.
These Revel M106 speakers are fairly hefty, at 18.5 pounds each, but just 8.3 inches wide by 15 inches tall. They’re 11 inches deep, so these speakers can’t sit on a mantle. I’ll mount mine a bit lower, on the brick fireplace facing, using these unobtrusive and capable brackets…https://www.rockvilleaudio.com/RHSB8/, and mate it to the brick via 1/4–20 machine screw anchors. These speakers are still of modest size, but they utilize a 6.5 inch Ø driver (see photo), so a 90dB SPL (C-weighted) target will be well within reach. The M106 is rear-ported, and ships with optional port plugs. In my intended mounting position the ports will be plugged. You can see a Stereophile review of the Revel M106 here…https://www.stereophile.com/content/revel-performa3-m106-loudspeaker. A more comprehensive review (by widely regarded design engineer David Rich) appears here…https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/speaker/bookshelf/revel-performa3-m106-2-way-bookshelf-monitor-loudspeaker-review-part-one/.

After all these many years (my hi-fi interest sparked in 1949, and I began to install home audio systems in 1955) I’m now certain that big floor-standing full-range loudspeakers are not the ultimate keystone anymore. Paired (or more) subwoofers, plus modest-sized main speakers, when managed by an external active crossover controller, promises a more compelling means. This latter approach presents a potentially more effective way to resolve some of the bass response limitations implicit with small room acoustics, and it materially improves your home decor freedom by eliminating the need to place two big monkey coffins in your face forever. Do consider this option when planning any audio system upgrade.
Bryan Geyer (January 2020)

*SPL as read on Nady DSM-1 digital SPL meter, slow-mode, averaged mean level, fixed-mounted on stand, at ear level, normal listening position.

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 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 W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical 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 simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I 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 an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. 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 remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 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.
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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

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 that 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. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa