Feb 26, 2023

Recent Releases No. 44 (CD Reviews)

by Karl Nehring

American Stories. Richard Danielpour: Four Angels; James Lee III: Quintet; Ben Shirley: High Sierra Sonata; Valerie Coleman: Shotgun Houses. Anthony McGill, clarinet; Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, violin; Austin Hartman, violin; Mark Holloway, viola; Brandon Vamos, cello). Cedille CDR 90000 216

Anthony McGill is the principal clarinet for the New York Philharmonic and he plays with a strong, confident tone that is a wonder to behold. He is joined on this release by the multiple Grammy Award-winning Pacifica Quartet to play music by contemporary American composers.  McGill describes it as a project driven by the desire to “expand the capacity for art and music to change the world,” further observing that “as an artist you don’t often get to put together a collection of living composers that you love. I am in awe of every piece on this album and how each piece communicates with the other.” Each of the four composers contributes a liner note essay explaining the motivation behind their composition, with a common theme being the struggle for human dignity. Danielpour’s Four Angels pays tribute to the four young African-American girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing and civil rights advocates who refused to be intimidated by racial violence. Lee’s Quintet reflects on the Native American experience and contains elements of Native music. Ben Shirley’s High Sierra Sonata, which inspired the album’s cover art, evokes California’s Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains and the region’s annual high-altitude marathon. Coleman’s Shotgun Houses celebrates the life of Muhammad Ali and the West Louisville, Kentucky, neighborhood where she and the legendary boxer grew up. Throughout, McGill’s command of his instrument is nothing short of miraculous, and the Pacifica Quartet plays with both precision and passion. As usual, the Cedille sonics are beyond reproach.

Symphony: Jean-Michel Pilc. LeavingDiscoveryThe EncounterFirst DanceJust Get UpWay to GoUnderstandingWaltz for XoseNot Falling This TimeI’ll Be Back. Jean-Michel Pilc, piano. Justin Time Records JTR 8632-2


Some readers may be familiar with the music of the legendary pianist Keith Jarrett, who throughout his long career has released numerous live concert performance recordings of improvised solo piano music for the ECM label; a review of one of those releases, The Bordeaux Concertcan be read here. Moreover, Jarrett fans – and even those who are not necessarily Jarrett fans but who have an interest in beholding musical genius, not to mention a moving human interest story – should find this extended in-depth interview with Jarrett by the delightful YouTube musical personality and fount of information Rick Beato to be both illuminating and heartwarming. 

But now we have another recording of improvised solo piano music to audition and enjoy. In November, 2021, the French jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc (b. 1960), who now resides in Canada, had just finished a recording session in a Portuguese studio for an album by a Spanish saxophonist. He really liked the studio, the acoustics, the Steinway, and the overall vibe, so he asked whether he could take some extra studio time to improvise at the keyboard. The saxophonist gave the go-ahead and the sound engineer agreed to record while Pilc played. Pilc says of the session, “Without any intention other than making music, I started playing. When inspiration sets in, you leave the 'real world' and music leads you through a new universe of its own. That’s what happened, and when I stopped, everyone was so enthusiastic about the result that they generously offered to mix and master it carefully for a future release which they said was inevitable. After listening to it myself, I agreed with their assessment. So here it is, and I hope the listener will go on the same journey I did that day.” That journey is one of discovery, exploring harmonies on the keyboard, going down different melodic trails to see where they might lead, but along the way, never losing sight of the idea of melody. Although the header above reads like a list of songs, the album does not sound like that; rather, ideas shift, tempos change, but in general, the album has an overall flow to it that does not sound entirely like a collection of discrete songs. There are, of course, some abrupt shifts of mood from time to time, as between the nervous tension of Time to Go and the reflective serenity of Understanding. All in all, Pilc has produced a fascinating album of compelling improvisatory music that blurs the boundaries between classical and jazz.



Feb 22, 2023

Vox Audiophile Edition Releases: Mozart and Rachmaninov (CD Reviews)

 by Karl Nehring

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453; Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595. Walter Klien, piano; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Minnesota Orchestra. Vox VOX-NX-3012CD


Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 2, Op. 27; Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14. Leonard Slatkin, St, Louis Symphony Orchestra. Vox VOX-NX-3013CD


Many classical music lovers of a certain age are no doubt familiar with Vox, a budget label that produced some real gems over the years. A quick example: I’ll never forget a day back in the mid-1970s when I was strolling through a Sears department store one afternoon and came across an aisle display that featured the newly-released 4-LP Vox Box of Ravel’s orchestral music featuring Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra. I was back in college on the G.I. Bill after serving 4½ years in the Army, with a wife, two kids, a pair of Bose 901s, a rapidly expanding passion for classical music, and a tight budget. When I saw that this box was on sale for something like seven bucks – well, that settled it, I just had to have it. It sounded pretty darn good through the 901s (purchased in Germany with my reenlistment bonus) when I got home, and I found the music of Monsieur Ravel to be utterly captivating. Even though Vox was a budget label, the sound quality on some of their releases could be excellent (the main drawback was the often substandard quality of their vinyl pressings), and this Ravel set, which was recorded by Elite Recordings (engineer Marc Aubort and producer Joanna Nickrenz), had beguiling sound. Those performances and recordings still hold up as you can see from reviews of digital releases from the Ravel set, such as a review from our own John Puccio that you can read here, or an article at the PS Audio website that provides some insight into the recording process, which you can find here

Appearing on the back cover of these new “Vox Audiophile Edition” releases is a highlighted statement affirming that “The recordings of American orchestras produced for VOX by the legendary Elite Recordings team of Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be among the very finest sounding orchestral recordings ever made.”For this new series of reissues from the Vox catalog, the folks at Naxos have begun to pull some of those  tapes out from the vaults and carefully prepare these CDs for release, the end product of their labors being what they describe as “new192 kHz / 24-bit ultra high definition transcriptions of the original Elite Recordings analogue master tapes.”


The first two releases in this new series feature works by Mozart and Rachmaninov. The Mozart recording features the Austrian pianist Walter Klien (1928-1991), who during his career was a specialist in the works of Mozart who in fact recorded all of the composer’s works for piano for Vox and its subsidiary Candide label. For this recording, which was originally released in 1978, he was accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Skrowaczewski, who defected from Poland in 1960 to become the orchestra’s Music Director in 1960, a post he held for 19 years before stepping down in 1979 to concentrate on composing and guest conducting. This is not Mozart for the “Historically Informed Practice” crowd; instead, it is Mozart playing in the grand style, robust and assertive, with a modern grand piano supported by a large orchestra. It’s fun, it sounds very good indeed, and if you like Mozart, you’ll most likely love this recording.


The Rachmaninov release features the American conductor Leonard Slatkin (b.1944) leading the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, for which he served as Music Director from 1979 through 1996 and is now Conductor Laureate. Slatkin and the SLSO recorded all three Rachmaninov symphonies for Vox in the mid-1970s; however, given the wide popularity of the composer’s Symphony No. 2, it makes sense that it would be the first (let’s hope not the last) to be given the “Audiophile Edition” rerelease. Slatkin and the SLSO give a powerful, straightforward reading of the score, and are aided in that regard by the well-balanced engineering. Although the vintage analog recording lacks that last bit of transparency and definition that can be attained by modern digital recording technologies, Elite Recordings knew where best to place their microphones and they did the very best with the technology of their day. Not too long ago I had happened to acquire a Vox Box CD set of Rachmaninov orchestral works recorded by Slatkin and the SLSO back in the ‘70s, a set that included their performance of Vocalise. Comparing the track from the Vox Box to the track from this new transfer. I found that the newer release seemed slightly cleaner in the sound of the massed strings and brass. No, it was not a dramatic difference – in fact, it was quite subtle at best, but that is to be expected. Still, this new edition offers as fine a version of this recording as can be had – and does so at an eminently reasonable price.  

With brief but useful liner notes and careful attention to sound quality, not to mention such excellent and enjoyable musical selections, this new series of “Vox Audiophile Editions” is off to a flying start. It will be interesting to see what other vintage recordings the folks at Naxos might decide to dig out from the Vox back catalog. Seasoned classical music fans well know there are plenty of excellent performances in that catalog from which to choose.



Feb 18, 2023

Nikolai Kapustin: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5, Op. 72

by Karl Nehring

Also includes: Concerto for 2 Pianos and Percussion, Op. 104Sinfonietta for Piano Four Hands, Op. 49. Frank Dupree, piano; Dominik Beykirch, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin;  Adrian Brendle, piano; Meinhard “Obi” Jenne, drumset; Franz Bach, percussion. Capriccio C5495

Those who have followed Classical Candor for any length of time will recall that we have occasionally slipped in a review of a jazz album (most recently here), generally with the justification that some forms of jazz can be viewed as a kind of chamber music, and thus not that completely different in kind from then forms of music that we have come to lump together under the term “classical.” There are of course accepted “classical” compositions that have an undeniable connection to jazz, the most notable being Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. But recently the music of the Ukrainian-born, Russian-trained composer and pianist Nikolai Kapustin (1937-2020) has begun to command attention primarily because of its masterly fusion of jazz and classical styles. Kapustin was an accomplished pianist who was classically trained in both performance and composition, but his real musical passion was jazz. As a result, he poured his energy into composing music that is classical in form but has much the same feel as improvised jazz – not an easy feat. 

This new release featuring the young German pianist Frank Dupree (b. 1991), who focused some his musical education on learning jazz percussion, features three highly entertaining works that truly do demonstrate how Kapustin was able to deftly weave his love of jazz into classical patterns. In the exuberant single-movement Piano Concerto No. 5, for example, there are passages where the piano and orchestra engage in call-and-response patterns similar to jazz ensembles; elsewhere, there are times when the percussion section of the orchestra sounds like the trap set of a jazz drummer, while at other times you can hear passages from the orchestra that echo the sound of a string bass in a piano trio. The piece never sounds entirely like a jazz composition, but it is surely a thoroughly jazz-infused yet completely serious concerto for piano and orchestra. Dupree is then joined at the keyboard by another young German pianist, Adrian Brendle (b. 1990), for the final two compositions on the program. For the first of these, the energetic three-movement Concerto for 2 Pianos and Percussion, the pair of pianists are joined by drummer Meinhard “Obi” Jenne (b. 1970) and percussionist Franz Bach (b. 1965), who add some tasty rhythmic and coloristic seasoning. 

The final piece finds both Dupree and Brendle together at the same keyboard in the Sinfonietta for Piano Four Hands, which is in four movements that vary considerably in mood and expression, starting with an opening movement that begins like an overture for a Broadway musical, a second movement one could imagine forming part of the soundtrack of an old black-and-white murder mystery, a third movement hinting of Gershwin with echoes of Rhapsody in Blue, and then it is on to the final movement, which brings more hints of Gershwin, this time with subtle echoes of I Got Rhythm. Bear in mind, though, these are hints and allusions, homages perhaps, tips of the cap. Or, as the liner notes say of Kapustin: “Most of his works are stylistically related to jazz and skillfully combine its elements with the classical music tradition from Bach to Prokofiev and Stravinsky. To paraphrase one of the most prominent representatives of symphonic jazz: one can speak of Kapustin as a ‘Russian in the footsteps of Gershwin’.” 

The liner notes, although relatively brief, are informative about both the music and the musicians; furthermore, the engineering is impeccable. By the way, Capriccio has previously released several other Kapustin CDs, two of them featuring Dupree: one of classical works, the other of music for jazz trio. Judging from the quality of this release, they too are no doubt well worth seeking out by classical and jazz lovers alike.


The Legacy Signature SE: A Real World Audiophile Speaker (Part 2)

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.

Feb 15, 2023

The Legacy Signature SE: A Real World Audiophile Speaker (Part 1)

By Bill Heck

If you follow “audiophile” magazines or websites (and if you don’t, it may be a sign of wisdom), you have seen breathless reviews of gigantic – if all too often ugly – speakers, with gigantic price tags to match, meant to be played in gigantic rooms ideally dimensioned and often purpose-built for the best sound, said rooms being filled with gigantic sound absorbing or diffusing – and all too often ugly – panels and materials. Even if you have salivated over such spectacular setups, deep inside you've known that you, along with most of us, don't live in a world with all this giganticness. Perhaps multiple tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes many multiples, is a little too pricey. Perhaps you live in a beautiful older – or even newer – house or condo with normal-sized rooms which are not custom-designed for impressive sound. And perhaps you live in that house with a partner who is less than thrilled with decor that brings to mind either the laboratory of a mad scientist or a freight depot. In other words, you might live with most of us in the real world.

Legacy Signature
Legacy Signatures (oak finish)
Admittedly, if I lived in one of those gigantic houses with gigantic rooms and had a correspondingly gigantic bank account, I might latch on to some no-holds-barred speakers, even aesthetically compromised ones. But if you, like me, don’t meet all of those conditions, let me introduce you to a remarkably “real world” but still very high-end product, the Legacy Signature.

So is this “introduction” a "review"? I suppose so, but let's put some qualifications on the table. First, speaker performance is heavily influenced by the listening room and even the room contents, and listener priorities and habits can vary wildly, so no one “review” can be the “truth” for everyone. Furthermore, in the case of speakers – especially large speakers – it is exceedingly difficult to minimize all sources of potential bias or confusion, such as volume mismatches, visual appearance, price, and perceived reputation; conducting any sort of blind comparison is fraught with difficulties. Finally, memory for the details of sound is notoriously fickle and short-lived, making comparisons of experiences widely separated in time less than fully reliable. None of this means that assessments are useless, but reviewers should approach their tasks with a certain humility, and readers should approach reviews with some understanding of the limitations of any single perspective. My approach is to tell you about my experience with the Signatures and let you make your own decisions about whether they might be right for you. An advantage of this approach is that it emphasizes that real world value that I mentioned earlier, which will be a theme that returns often here.

This approach will not involve breathless announcements of discoveries in often-heard recordings. Hearing a backing vocal or faint cello line for the first time on a familiar recording could be the sign of truly extraordinary sound – or it could be the result of a nasty peak at a particular frequency or a well-timed sneeze on the part of the listener or (mis)placing the left speaker two inches to the right or the quality of the adult beverage that one happens to be consuming at the time. Similarly, I will not describe minute differences between the Signatures and something that I heard six months (or years) ago; alas, despite the avowals of golden-eared shamans, memory doesn’t work that way. Instead, I’ll concentrate on describing performance in the here (hear?) and now, perhaps with a few comparisons to general impressions of other components because memory does work more like that.


Let’s start with my priorities to see how they line up with yours. Because we’re focusing on classical music, the goal of my music reproduction system is to recreate, insofar as possible and practical, the sonic experience of live music, maximizing those elements that contribute to the illusion and minimizing those that detract. Specifically, I want sound that is clear (live music always is); that creates the illusion of the concert space (live music never is an amorphous blob but comes from somewhere); that covers the full frequency range cleanly at any reasonable volume (consider an orchestra going full blast); and that avoids the colorations that scream “we’re not in the hall” (think, for instance, of nasal-sounding midrange).

For all sorts of technical and practical reasons, no audio system fully recreates the actual sound of real musicians playing in real space, although a stereo system can portray a musical event sufficiently well to provide (sometimes) a satisfying illusion. But here’s where the priorities come into play. Way back in the early 1960’s, Stereophile founder J Gordon Holt pointed out that evaluation of audio products was tricky because one listener might be particularly conscious of, say, bass response while another focuses on midrange clarity, while a third is crazy about…well, you get the idea. Keep my own priorities in mind as you translate for yourself.

Above, I wrote “music reproduction system”, and I mean that in a broad sense. The performance of a home audio system is limited by what is on a given recording, although we may be able to help some recordings with clever processing. Our audio components are only the last stage in a chain – but these components are what we, as consumers, can control. My approach is to reproduce as accurately as possible what’s on the recording – and hope that makers of said recording had a good day.[1]

Finally, before we get started, I want to be fully transparent with you, my readers. I purchased my pair of the Signature SEs up front, and did so for my own use. I received a good deal but did not agree – in fact, did not plan – to write a review. I decided to do so because…well, it just seemed like a nice idea. I am receiving no financial remuneration from anyone for doing so, and I certainly do not plan to sell my Signatures. You deserve to know all that, and now you do.

The New Plan

My previous speakers, Waveform Mach Solos, just celebrated their 23rd birthday. The Mach Solos were, and still are, outstanding speakers, yielding amazingly transparent sound, approaching the clarity of electrostatics but with good musical heft for their size (10” woofer, 5” mid, 1” tweeter). I should add that I come by the love of clarity and transparency honestly: my earlier speakers included original Quad 57 electrostatics and their successors, the Quad 63s. I also tried adding a subwoofer, but integrating it properly was challenging in my real world room; more on that below.

But time marches on. The past two decades have seen advances in materials science, in manufacturing, and in theoretical understanding as well as modeling software and computational capabilities, all of which have contributed to innovations and refinement in design.[2]

Having heard some of those advances, yours truly has been hankering for an “ultimate system”: not gonzo equipment for its own sake, but a set of components that would bring home as much music as possible. Like many other relatively small designs, the Waveforms could become congested with louder, complex sounds, such as forte orchestral passages; moreover, although they scrupulously reproduce the tone of individual instruments, they don’t quite convey the true power of a solo piano or a cello or a horn. I wanted speakers with more dynamic capability, ones that truly could cope with large orchestral works. I wanted big speakers.[3]

No, “big speakers” is not just some macho thing; if you’ve ever heard high-quality large speakers, you know what I mean. Large speakers not only can reproduce the frequency range of a full orchestra, they can do so at orchestral volume without strain. Part of this effect is real bass capability, not just the lowest notes from the double basses, but the fundamentals the cellos, horns, and bassoons, not to mention the lower register of a piano. The sound should have weight or power, not just in the lowest registers but all the way through the scales. Smaller speakers can reproduce the notes; large speakers can play the piano, so to speak.

Lest you think that this all is audiobabble, be aware that many of even the most objectivist-oriented of audiophiles perceive the “large speaker” effect; I’ve seen the slogan “there’s no replacement for displacement” (meaning large drivers). Is it because of lower distortion, increased driver surface area, reduced cone travel, or something else? Those factors, and others, are interrelated, and someday we’ll figure it all out.[4]

Big is one thing, but really huge speakers were not on my agenda. Our 1930s-era house has a lovely, comfortable room for listening to music, but one sadly too small to accommodate monstrous transducers. It’s roughly 16 x 17' (272 Sq ft), but the arrangement that works both aesthetically and sonically has the speakers flanking a fireplace in the corner of the room – picture the listening axis of the room on a diagonal – and rather close to the walls behind them. To top it off, in this room the walls behind the listener (those forming the corner opposite the fireplace) are half height, open to a large foyer/kitchen area, so the effective size of the room is much larger than it would seem.

And then there was the price. I knew that a real improvement might require crossing the five-digit barrier, and my oh-so-patient wife told me to follow my dream and get what I wanted – but there would be some limit.

Having followed the Legacy brand for years, starting with a review of their Whisper speakers for the late, lamented The $ensible Sound, and having purchased a Legacy PowerBloc amp a couple of years ago, I naturally checked out their current offerings. It helped as well that my colleague and friend, Karl, was a long-time Legacy owner, and I had been quite impressed with his Legacy Focus SE speakers.

Legacy Audio and My Choice

In case you are not familiar with Legacy Audio, they manufacture superb speakers in Springfield, IL, marketing to both audiophiles and audio professionals. (They also manufacture and sell a line of electronics, such as amplifiers.) Legacy certainly is no newcomer: it was founded in 1983 by Bill Dudleston and Jacob Albright; Bill remains as chief designer and head honcho.[5]

Legacy offers a full lineup, ranging from the Studio (just over $2,000 per pair) to the Valor (about $86,000). I lusted after the Aeris (around $23,000), perhaps the most visually attractive speaker that I’ve ever encountered, and one reviewed quite positively elsewhere, and could conceivably have stretched my budget that far. But alas, the Aeris would not fit into my room either aesthetically or sonically, as a visit to the Legacy factory confirmed. Meanwhile, the more basic models did not seem to be sufficient upgrades for me.  That left me in the middle of the lineup: the Focus would at least fit into the room, but there was that “near the wall” thing. Bill Dudleston suggested the Signature SEs[6], essentially scaled-down Focus SEs using a sealed woofer enclosure (the Focus is ported), which allows placement closer to a wall. Moreover, Bill told me that one would be hard pressed to hear much difference between the Signature and Focus in a smaller room except for the very deepest bass or at high volume, which is not what I do. Sold.

Unpacking and Setup

The Signatures, in their incredibly sturdy shipping boxes[7] weigh in at 147 lbs each; that drops to a svelte 106 when unpacked. And that unpacking alone looked awfully daunting, not to mention moving the speakers into position. Real world?

Well, I got by with a little help from my friends (one of whom owned a furniture dolly); unpacking turned out to be quite simple and required no feats of strength; and those little furniture moving disks available at any hardware store made moving the units around on a carpeted floor easy. Be careful but fear not, brave audiophile.

To Be Continued….

In the second part of this review, I’ll describe what I heard. In the meantime, if you’re curious about the Legacy Signatures, you can find more on the Legacy website.

Part 2 of this review has now been published here.

[1] We may decide to take liberties with faithful reproduction of the recording by using equalization or room correction or other strategies. But surely we want to do such things consciously and with specific goals rather than settling for flawed reproduction in hopes that said flaws will somehow improve things.

[2] By the way, the Mach Solos never were advertised as “ultimate” speakers; their big brothers, the Mach 17s, were.

[3] “Large speaker” means not only a big enclosure, but also the ability to move a lot of air. Sticking tiny drivers into a big box doesn’t cut it.

[4] Another approach is to pair small(ish), easily placed main speakers with a subwoofer, which can be out of the way yet still provide superb bass. This certainly can work, but in the real world is not so simple as it may sound. First, we have already seen that the large speaker effect is not just a question of deep bass: we need to have high dynamic capability across the entire spectrum, and particularly in the lower midrange to upper bass, so the small speakers can’t be too small – or cheap. Beyond this, the easy-peasy mains/subwoofer advice sometimes seems self-contradictory: we are told that the subwoofer can be placed “anywhere”, but then are advised to use complicated, time-consuming techniques for placing subwoofers to avoid standing waves and dead spots – and so we learn quickly that “anywhere” doesn’t mean anywhere. A solution to that conundrum is to employ two or more subwoofers, but not only does this reduce the supposed cost advantage, we also need an extra location for another component, along with more cabling. Is any of this necessarily making life easier or improving the aesthetics of the listening room? Not in my case.

[5] Legacy may not have the “top of mind” audiophile presence of some other brands. However, when Legacy products are reviewed, they receive nearly universal praise, and a few moments’ conversation with Bill Dudleston demonstrates that Legacy designs are solidly based in science and engineering. How to explain this seeming contradiction? One possibility is that Legacy carefully designs great products from the start; they improve these products over time in small ways; they don’t trumpet new models annually; and they don’t have a huge marketing budget. How boring for reviewers who have nothing new to get their readers salivating, and see no funding from a constant flow of ads. But how reassuring for customers who can rest assured that the products they bought last year are not rendered obsolete by the alleged revolutions this year.

[6] The Signature XD powered version was not available at that time. I would expect that my comments about the SE would apply to the XD as well, mutatis mutandis.

[7] Legacy has been shipping large speakers since the company began, so they really do have it down to a science. The packaging is extremely sturdy but designed with great thought for eventual unpacking.

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