How do you break into the already crowded audiophile loudspeaker market? Judging by those who have done so successfully, you do it by offering high value products with unique features. This is exactly the pattern Soliloquy has followed. From their 5.0 mini-monitor ($1,598 including custom stands) to the 6.3 floorstander ($3,199), they have presented loudspeakers that offer value, performance and style that are tube friendly. And it has worked for them as they have achieved a rare critical and commercial success in just a couple years' time. Of course success breeds the desire to move up to higher levels of competition and so Soliloquy has now launched a $6,399 statement piece, the model 6.5. And in keeping with that high-value reputation they have set out to offer specifications and sound that re-define this price category.
One piece of this re-definition is to offer, just as in the glory days of American muscle cars, cubic inches... and lots of them. The Soliloquy 6.5, at 53 inches tall, 10 inches wide and 15.5 inches deep, has 8,215 of 'em. Those inches are not just for looks either as serious bass requires space. And, with a -2dB point of 23 Hz, the 6.5 is designed to deliver extremely serious bass. A second piece is the gorgeous cabinetry they use to hold all those cubic inches. At 130 pounds each, besides beauty, they have brawn to match. That brawn comes from a 1-inch MDF shell, with 2-inch MDF on the front baffle. The review sample, finished in cherry with brushed aluminum metalwork, showed excellent craftsmanship.
Thirdly, they include many drivers as the 6.5 is a quasi three-way, five driver, rear-ported model. Bass and the lower midrange is handled by the three poly 6.5-inch drivers (each of which runs without a low pass crossover effectively extending the bass reach of the loudspeaker). Each driver is configured with a different high pass, thus they progressively roll-off with the last one handing off to a 2-inch, treated paper dome midrange. The midrange driver, in turn, hands off to a 1-inch silk dome tweeter.
A unique feature of the loudspeaker is the way in which the drivers are fastened to the baffle. Rather than screwing them directly into the MDF substrate as is the industry norm, instead they are bolted to 3/8" thick aluminum "wave launch" plates (available in black or silver), which in turn is secured into recessed chassis openings. The company claims two advantages for this approach. The first is mechanical decoupling for the drivers to minimize or eliminate vibrational crosstalk between driver and cabinet. The second is improved dynamic range as the aluminum plates also act as heat sinks for the driver chassis and thus minimize thermal compression. Combined, Soliloquy claims these benefits add up to reduced distortion in both the mechanical and electrical domains.
And lastly, they give us a rather ambitious specification sheet. Besides offering true full range sound, the 6.5 is said to be 92dB efficient, and, in keeping with their reputation, offers a tube friendly true 8 ohm load. All together this is a list that most loudspeakers costing twice as much can not claim. So, how does Soliloquy do it?
In A Nutshell, They Use Phil Jones
For those who may not be aware of Mr. Jones, he first came to widespread audio attention in the late '80s as the designer of the Acoustic Energy AE-1. A small two-way loudspeaker, the AE-1 had wonderful bass while also offering a wealth of detail and sang with utter refinement. To my ears it was one of the most successful designs of the time, and one that still sounds very much in the first rank of available loudspeakers. After his gig at Acoustic Energy, Phil Jones did design work for Boston Acoustics on their Lynnfield project and pioneered the AMD Amplitude Modulation Device still in use at Boston Acoustics today. Phil parted from his work with Boston Acoustics and helped to form Platinum Audio in the mid '90s.
A brief but incandescent firm, Platinum debuted with three lines composed of similar loudspeakers. The Studio line was the entry group, the Reference line covered the top and the "Solo" line the middle ground. I found the way the lines worked to be well thought out. Each line started with a two-way, two-driver model, the $995 Studio 1, the $1,695 Solo and the $3,500 Reference 1. With identical form-factors and driver compliments, or nearly so, the differences between the models were qualitative. The Studio 1 cabinetry was heavy and braced MDF, with a pebbled, powdercoat finish. The Solo had higher quality crossover components; more bracing in the cabinet and featured real veneer finishes. The Reference 1 was tweaked to the hilt using premium quality parts everywhere, including the Avonite/Corian cabinetry. The Studio 2, the next step in the entry line, employed two midrange/woofer drivers and offered deeper bass than either the Studio 1, Solo or Reference 1, and yet cost the same as the more refined if less bass-extended Solo. While the mid-line Duo, in a similar configuration as the Studio 2, was about the price of the Reference 1. This line and price crab-step continued on up the product lines. So, if you wanted quality above all, and had the budget to match your taste, you would buy from the Reference line. If you wanted bass extension for your hard earned dollars, the Studio line was your match. Meanwhile the Solo line was a canny compromise between the two. While inspired, if anything, this product philosophy proved too sophisticated for the sales volume of a high-end firm. With a mass-market firm, where the cost of maintaining many product lines is easier to bear, it would have worked wonderfully.
After leaving Platinum, Phil Jones moved to China where he formed a partnership with a local businessman and formed American Acoustic Development (AAD) This was a new loudspeaker company and factory where, living above the 200,000 square foot plant with his wife and daughter, Phil began designing new products. For someone who designs loudspeakers the way he does, this was and is the perfect situation. Rather than finding drivers he likes, and then scouring 'round for other drivers in hopes of finding matches (then spending months designing a crossover to blend them and cabinetry to hold it all), Phil Jones stands this approach on its head. He designs the drivers, giving them the characteristics he wants. This type of complete designing insures each driver will match. The end result is that he spends a miniscule fraction of the time it would normally take to put the crossover together. And since the drivers are created, literally, out of his own mind, the time spent on placing the drivers and crossover in the correct cabinet is greatly reduced as well. (Editor says: Our interview of Phil a few years back can be seen here.)
Besides dramatically dropping design time, there are other benefits to this strategy. First, the various drivers have, quite literally, been designed to fit together. Therefore timbre-matching issues, the blending of the innate tone of drivers that are often from different manufacturers, are greatly reduced. Second, since the drivers were designed to fit together, the resultant crossover is quite often extremely simple and composed of just a handful of parts. This means that the crossover places a minimal footprint on the system. And, with fewer parts, higher quality ones can be chosen for a given price point. Also, low parts count of high quality means the crossover is using less juice, making for both a more efficient and easier to driver loudspeaker. A final benefit of this design approach is that by designing the drivers and then having them built in China (Soliloquy refused to identify who exactly builds the drivers) is that these high quality drivers can be sourced for freakishly low prices as compared to similar quality drivers from Europe. Of course the down side to all this is that is that should replacement drivers be needed you have but one source, Soliloquy.
With this affordable design and manufacturing process in place, Soliloquy is able to shift what they would normally spend on those details to spend those dollars on packaging the set in large, well-built, well-braced and visually attractive cabinetry. So, from just a parts viewpoint, if it is possible for a pair of $6,400 loudspeakers to be called high-value then this is the poster child for that idea.
Context, It's All Context
Since the 6.5 presents a stable, easy to drive and fairly efficient load I was able to use the complete range of amplifiers here at the Warnke Snowshoe and Music Lodge. The Soliloquy loudspeakers saw duty with my reference Blue Circle BC6 and my Atma-Sphere M-60 MK. II amplifiers. I also tried the loudspeakers with the Art Audio Gill Signature, a combination that Soliloquy, next to Art Audio's larger Jota monoblocks, used in their joint HE2001 show exhibit in New York City last year. The Manley Neo-Classic (see review here) took a couple of turns with the big boys from Soliloquy as well. But, after much experimentation, I found that the Joule Electra Stargate amplifiers (see the review here) formed a synergistic combination with the big Soliloquys, with each able to showcase the strengths of the other.
The remainder of the system included a Cary CD-303 both as a stand-alone player and as a transport. When in transport mode it was connected to a Dodson DA-217 MK. II digital to analog converter by way of the amazing Acoustic Zen MC Squared=Zen digital cable. Analog output traveled to a First Sound Presence Statement pre-amplifier by way of Cardas Neutral Reference interconnects. Audio Magic Illusion interconnects joined the pre-amplifier to the various power amplifiers. Loudspeaker wire, depending on amplifier, was either Acoustic Zen Satori shotgun or bi-wired Cardas Golden Reference (with the latter seeing the bulk of the work). Analog duties consisted of the Rega P25, the groovalicious Dynavector Karat 17DII and an Exposure XIII phono stage. Power cords were combinations of Acoustic Zen Krakatoas and ElectraGlide models. Power conditioning consisted of a Shunyata Research Hydra for the digital components, pre- and power amplifiers). When using analog, a Bybee Signature was employed. Finally, a plethora of footers and tweaks are arrayed in various locations, with the most critical components sitting on Golden Sound cones and squares while several Bright Star Little Rocks roost here and there.
Looks like I have lost track of what is important as we have killed nearly 1,500 words worth of electrons and I still have not told you how the Sololoquy 6.5 loudspeakers sound. Let's cure that.
Starting at the bottom, yes Virginia, the 6.5s have bass. In fact, their bass response is what defines their character and essence. For example, although it swings differently than American jazz, I love listening to the Shoji Yokouchi Trio album Greensleeves [Cisco GCD 8010]. With very sympathetic organ work by Yuri Tashiro augmenting the standard trio (Tashiro is completely sui generis and a damn fine Japanese female Hammond player), this is a true reference recording. Through the big Soliloquys I was invited, nay, I was ordered to hear just how well Tashiro uses the lower register of the Hammond. With a loudspeaker like the Neat Petite without the Gravitas subwoofer, or even the more extended Soliloquy 6.2 reviewed several months back, Tashiro is an apparition floating in and out of the recording session. She materializes to wash the upper register of the Hammond over the background, coloring the canvas over which Yokouchi paints with his guitar. Not so with the 6.5. Now she was the anchor of the group, the foundation, and even more as she is thrust to the fore and demanded your attention. Where previously she had dropped into the lower register and out of view, now she rumbles round the basement and demands that you join her there.
Or spin the Jimi Hendrix compilation :Blues [MCA 11060]. The cover of "Born Under A Bad Sign" found here is spare. While not quite up to full audiogeek sonic standards, is immediate, direct and driven. Noel Redding's bass is especially prominent, and through the 6.5s it was, if anything, a touch too upfront. But to the credit of the Soliloquy loudspeakers, Redding, just as Tashiro before him, was tight, tuneful, powerful, clean and extended.
Given proper placement - we will revisit this topic in a moment - the 6.5 provides further extention to the Hammond and electric gee-tar bass, also without muddiness. The organ work in Ralph Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 7, the "Antarctica" [Naxos 8.550737] is meant to terrify. With the 6.5s it did just that. The first time I played this recording with the Soliloquys Ella, my faithful Jack Russell listening companion, leapt from a dead sleep with hair raised and roared off the couch trying to attack the floor near the loudspeakers. Ok, what she gives up in brains she more than makes up for in charm. Her reaction was not atypical as these loudspeakers, at least in my room, give an honest 20 Hz.
Now, about that placement comment... With this much bass the 6.5s absolutely require that you pay attention to details. To start with, unless your room is at least 300 square feet, my guess is that with these monsters you will experience terminal bass overload, although their placement is more than just a matter of giving them cubic feet to fill. To get the most of the 6.5s you also need lateral space to place them well away from sidewalls and corners. In my room I achieved the best bass response (i.e. flattest) by placing the 6.5s a minimum of five feet into the room and at least three feet from the sidewall. Any closer to the rear wall and the rear-firing bass port tended to muddy not only the bass, but also the lower midrange. Any closer to the sidewalls and the imaging tended to become diffuse and the stage began to collapse. I also found, at least in my place and with my tastes, that they sounded best when firing down the long way into the room rather than being on the long wall and firing across the room. Setting them up this way allowed me to sit my listening chair nine feet back from the plane formed by the front of the cabinets, which, besides smoothing the bass response, allowed the drivers to integrate into a seamless wall of sound.
For an appreciation of just how well integrated these drivers can be, even with that slight bass accent, play an album such as Arc of the Testimony [Axiom 524 431]. This is the only United States release by Arcana, the Bill Laswell jazz/ambient/fusion group that featured Tony Williams, Pharoah Sanders, Byard Lancaster, Graham Haynes, Nicky Skopelitis and Buckethead. Track six titled "Circles of Hell" opens with a thirty second drum solo that finds Williams working the entire kit, from kick drum to cymbals. It then adds some Laswell deep bass synth effects followed by Sanders alternately soaring and scorching on tenor sax. Drop in both Skopelitis and Buckethead on guitars and you have a track that Dante would certainly place in an inner circle reserved just for loudspeaker designers. With driven bass, power cymbals, lyrical and overdriven tenor sax, and amplified guitar all at the same time and all very loud, every driver in a loudspeaker gets a complete workout. If any single driver is going to stand out, this track gives them every opportunity to do so. I am quite happy to say that not one did as at each step up the frequency ladder sounds came from individual and virtual instruments and not specific drivers.
I should also comment that the Joule Electra Stargate amplifier had much to do bringing the bass in to tight control and in integrating the drivers. The Blue Circle BC6 amplifier, with its slight bass roll-off, showed very well with the 6.5s (at least in presenting a smooth frequency response). Still, a roll-off is not the same as absolute control that the Joule had in spades. Using the 6C33B tube, it showed me that thirty watts can be all the power one needs. That a tube amplifier can go down to 20 Hz flat and can do so with superb tonality, which is to say without sounding like a transistor amplifier. Since I have already commented that the 6.5 was a nicely integrated loudspeaker, I should finish off that topic by commenting on the midranges and the treble.
Lovely, detailed, rich, and sweet. The midranges worked simply by drawing no attention to themselves at all. So when playing a disc like the superb 17th century Missa Pater Peccavi by Andrea Gabrieli [Hyperion 67167] as played by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts ensemble, is all midrange light and dance. Instruments had distinct tonal color. The performance was fluid and vivid, while remaining accurate and involving. The treble was almost every respect the same excepting two small but significant issues, the first of which was listener height.
My listening seat places the ears at 36 inches off the ground. For most loudspeakers this has proven to be the baby bear spot. You know, neither too hot or too cold - just right. But with the 6.5 I found that raising my ears, or rather my butt and hence the ears, an inch or two opened the top of the 6.5 up. Since the loudspeakers were a touch strong on the bottom end this was a critical step in getting their best and most balanced performance within my room at my listening position. Once there I found that the tweeter was sweet, smooth and open sounding. It was not, and this is the second issue, quite as detailed as the top end as my reference Merlin speakers.
Dynamically, the 6.5 has a bite a strong as its bark. All the amplifiers I have on hand are masters of the micro-dynamic, but the 6.5 made them masters of the macro scale as well, but none so well as the Joule Electra. Although already a dynamic amplifier, driving the 6.5 is seemed to have 300 watts, not 30. Brute force pieces were quite brutish, but not at a loss of the micro sense. Superb performance.
The stage set by the 6.5s was as accurately drawn as I have had in my room, with no sense of exaggerated depth, width or extension. Even patently artificial spaces like the deeply claustrophobic metal prisons created on the Lustmord album, The Place Where The Black Stars Hang [Side Effects DFX 16], were tangible and very real. In fact the only drawback to the way the 6.5 handled images was that they tended to start at the front the loudspeaker plane and project back. Personally, I like this laid-back approach. It seems more natural to me than the typical audiogeek loudspeakers that attempt to shoehorn the Berlin Philharmonic in my room rather than removing my back wall and transporting me to Germany.
One area, in fact the only one where I feel the 6.5 has more than taste or placement issues, was how well it extracted details. I feel this is at least in part due to the soft treble. While resolving more detail than the Soliloquy 6.2, when switching back to my Merlin VSM speakers I was instantly aware of a more tangible connection to the music. Tones gently decaying into the noise floor were swallowed faster through the 6.5s, while the Merlins lovingly lingered over each tone. The fine textures were brought out equally well by both units, though the Merlins somehow resolved another level of ultra-fine detail. A visual analogy, moving from the Soliloquys to the Merlins was like changing the resolution on your monitor from 24 to 32 bit color. Sure, the differences are subtle. On a typical monitor, and in practical terms, are virtually indistinguishable. But given a graphics grade monitor and a high quality image, those subtle details become significant. Likewise, feed either of these loudspeakers signal from a DAC like my Assemblage DAC 2 and their inner resolution is very similar. If one steps up to the Dodson DAC, this difference begins to pop out. I want to be careful not to place too much weight on this as the 6.5 has very good performance here. I simply want to draw this difference out as it is quite real. Please keep in mind that there are other trade-offs here as well. The Merlin loudspeakers reach in to the upper 30s while the Soliloquys are true full-range and the Soliloquys also fill a room with greater weight, not to mention fitting in much larger spaces. So no free lunches here - with either loudspeaker.
Wrap This One Up
For a first swing for the fences from a young company, the Soliloquy 6.5 is a game-winning RBI. One significant reason for this is that the people involved with both the loudspeaker and the company itself are long-term industry professionals who know what it takes to pull this off. Another reason is that the 6.5 is not another me too product. Full-range sound at this price-point is almost unheard of. Even better is that this full-range sound is also a tube-friendly load. And when you place the whole thing in a package this beautiful a result is as rare as a grammatically correct sentence by George Bush, father or son. Of course that full range sound comes with a cost, but not in amplifiers or loss of tonality, just in room to breath. Place them in too tight a space and the 6.5 will let you know immediately. With room and placement issues resolved, these loudspeakers will reward you with sound from the very foundations of the earth on up most of the way to the top. Speaking of which, at the top you may want to consider matching the 6.5 with very clear but smooth interconnects, amplifiers, sources, or a combination thereof in order to bring out all the detail in music. Not that the 6.5 is dull or soft, not at all! It is open and extended, but that it can use a small boost when resolving that last bit of music. In all, a wonderful combination of skills, one that has no peer in this price range and so is a must audition for anyone looking for a true full range, affordable (in audiophile terms anyway) loudspeaker.
With Todd Warnke's review of our Model 6.5 the first to publish, we're pleased to see that our attempts to "redefine the price category" have turned into a "must-audition for anyone looking for a true full-range affordable speaker". I should add that the term affordable is rather relative. $6,000+ is anything but for a lot of folks. Our team at Soliloquy thought long and hard about how much more we would have to offer to justify doubling our asking price over that of our previous top model, the $3,000+ Model 6.3.
Perfection in loudspeaker design probably doesn't exist even if pretty unlimited funds were available. I feel confident that our flagship effort combines a number of unusual virtues, compared to which the minor compromises Mr. Warnke perceived not only seem well balanced but could also have been the result of incomplete break-in. The midrange and tweeter used in the 6.5 benefit from new edge-wound, double-layer aluminum voice coils for improved linearity and power handling but can take up to 500 hours or more before reaching final compliance.
He is correct in stating that a room size of 14 x 20 (feet) is the practical minimum we recommend for this design because of its unusual bass capabilities. I would also say that while our team at Soliloquy is indeed fond of tubes, the kind of bass the Model 6.5 is capable of, is best served by the higher damping factor of a solid state design. In November, Soliloquy added another member to its team by joining ranks with Richard Marsh, founder of Marsh Sound Design. MSD manufactures a line of high performance amplifiers, preamps and a processor. Soliloquy has taken over as the exclusive North American distribution agent for MSD.
Lastly, I want to thank the reviewer for correctly sketching out the Phil Jones legacy that is one of the secret ingredients to our Soliloquy recipe. If it is true that a speaker is only as good as its designer, I dare say that we have one of the best in the field.
Again, our sincere thanks to reviewer Todd Warnke and publisher Steve Rochlin of Enjoy The Music.com™ for this opportunity and fair appraisal of our Model 6.5.
Design: 5-driver, 3.3-way with 3 high-pass staggered proprietary 6.5-inch poly woofers, one treated paper 2-inch dome midrange and 1-inch silk dome tweeter with edge-wound dual-layer voice coil
Soliloquy Loudspeaker Company