There are companies that bring out new products almost before one is aware of the previous ones for example, all the leading ski manufacturers will change the cosmetics, if not also the construction, of their lines every year. And there are companies that change their products only rarely today I can still buy the same MSR Whisperlite camping stove that I bought twelve years ago. While the former category may include some marques notable for fine quality year after year, in the latter group one tends to find the firms who make conservative, well-executed products and who get it right the first time. In the high-end audio world, Vandersteen and Linn, among others, come to mind.
While Silverline Audio has not been around for decades yet it is only nine years old, the same kind of approach is apparent there. The Bolero that I reviewed has been out for several years already and has remained substantially the same since its introduction. The same is the case for the SR-17 monitors (introduced in 1998) that I am listening to currently. And some of the other speakers in the Silverline range are in their series II or III incarnation but remain very much the same product with some modest improvements. All are attractive, beautifully finished speakers from day one that hold up over the long run.
That promise of quality and consistency is a credit to Alan Yun, the irrepressible, warm, and enthusiastic designer behind Silverline. Alan has a passion for music that is remarkably impressive even in an industry filled with passionate people. Those who have met Alan at trade shows where he mans his system seemingly for every minute of the show know of his delight in playing every possible piece of music for every listener who comes in the room.
The Silverline product list has speakers ranging from $1,000 a pair for small monitors to large floor-standers at $32,000. At $8,500 a pair the Boleros compete against many fine speakers and need to be very good merely to survive. It bears repeating that most of the world will find an $8,500 speaker system an exercise in indulgence or insanity; even in the thin-oxygen high-end world, you'd better be good if you are going to sell product at this price point. Happily, they are very good.
Measuring 40" x 12" x 14" (H x W x D), the Boleros are medium-sized; while not too tall, they have a substantial volume. The first thing one notices is the striking cabinet the pair I reviewed were finished in "carmine tiger wood", with a prominent and most attractive grain to the wood that is nicely and accurately matched for each particular pair. The width tapers on the top half of the speaker, presenting a five-sided face to the listener. I would also say that the speaker looks as though it has a thick cabinet, which it does the thickness of the cabinet ranges from 1.25 to 2 inches to both reduce and distribute inherent resonances.
The Bolero is a three-way system, with three Dynaudio drivers. Specifically, a 5" midrange crosses over to a 1.25" Esotar soft-dome tweeter at 3.5kHz. The 9" woofer crosses over to the midrange at 1.8 kHz. While Dynaudio and Silverline will obviously make different uses of the drivers, there is in the Bolero some of the open, dynamic, and lively sound that I have heard from Dynaudio speakers as well as the extended and utterly unstrident highs that one associates with the Esotar tweeter. One has to suspect that the operating ranges for the drivers, as well as the drivers themselves, are chosen with dynamics in mind (among many other virtues) the Boleros are rated to handle 1000 watts, and in view of their fairly high sensitivity, it is clear that they will play LOUD (which they do, indeed). Happily, they also play soft and with great fidelity.
The pair of Boleros that I reviewed needed no break-in, as they had been used many times before (though they still looked as though they had just come off the production line). From the first moment I heard the same character that I had heard at various shows, both from the Bolero and from other Silverline products (e.g. the La Folia and the Sonata). This is a dynamic speaker that is very delicate at the same time. The music emerges from a naturally quiet background; there is a clean, clear, and palpable feel to every note. Whether or not that is primarily due to the extensive bracing in the construction of the cabinets or (more likely) to a combination of factors, I cannot say. But it is very noticeable indeed, rather than timbre or tone, deep bass or extended highs, it is for me the single most salient characteristic of these fine speakers.
"Closer to Me", from Dar Williams' Beauty of the Rain CD [Razor & Tie 7930182886-2], threw a big and, for a CD, very deep, soundstage where the lack of noise in the background contributed to a sense of space. I have heard this cut on other speakers and it can suffer easily from congestion, as the production is somewhat busy,' but that was not at all the case here. The lively character that I mentioned was most evident in reproduction of the banjo on this cut, where the Boleros seemed to impart just the right amount of twang the banjo jumped out at you, but not too much. Almost like real music alive but not strident.
I found myself focusing on individual sounds and more particularly, on sweet melodies. It's not clear why, but the Bolero seems to encourage listening to melodies before everything else. In the same vein, the Jayhawks' "Tailspin" from Rainy Day Music [American B76-02] struck me as "very sweet, especially from the midrange on up" (from my listening notes). I did wonder if there was not a slight emphasis of the midrange, no doubt attributable to my listening room. While my room is treated with various sound-absorbing and sound-dispersing devices (Echo Busters, Argent Room Lens), it is small and will tend to get overloaded at times. I am accustomed to it and seem to be able to listen through the room's characteristics, but a sweetened midrange is apparent from time to time. (I might add that it is not altogether unpleasant I heard some of the same in my time with the Manley Neo-Classic 250s, which was some of the best sound I have had in my home).
In any case, the Bolero loves the Jayhawks and does them honor. Turning quite intentionally to something less sugary, I put on the CD of Nevermind [DGCD-24425], a fine-sounding CD of some powerful music. Here my notes were "BIG, powerful, smooth", the last of these being somewhat of a surprise. I had not heard the bass guitar take up so much space nor quite so round as on the Boleros; nevertheless, the mids and highs seemed clear and clean but almost reserved. So much for the earlier midrange prominence if there was any substantive departure from accuracy here, it was doubtless due to room interaction effects. Others have observed a small dip in the speaker's response in the midrange; if that is the case, cable matching and room positioning will likely have as much an effect as the dip. That said, the midrange sound, by and large was both smooth and detailed, while being far from clinical or aggressive.
Note also that I was able to crank up "Smells Like Teen Spirit" loud enough to disturb my wife without turning the volume to 11. As noted earlier, the Bolero is an efficient speaker, rated 92dB/W/m. I drove them with amplifiers ranging from a small battery-powered 5wpc $39 switching amp (hey, it worked more about that at another time) to the huge and wonderful conrad-johnson Premier 350. They were easy to drive and had nary a problem. With all but the little battery-powered unit, the Boleros could easily drive you out of the room if you chose to turn on bad music very loud. This is clearly a speaker system that is user-friendly in terms of matching it to amplification neither do you need to search out the perfect partner for it, nor do you want to; they just work very well the first time. I similarly tried various speaker cables and the Boleros were good with my favorites the Goertz AG-3 and the Kimber Select.
On Café Blue, both CD [AIM-1058] and LP [Premonition 737] came through with intimacy and power. My favorite cut is "Too Rich for my Blood"; the Bolero showed a deep stage again, along with a fine and nuanced articulation of the individual notes. In that vein, one could hear the difference between LP and CD where the attacks of the piano were slightly muffled on CD compared to the LP. Acoustic bass was resiny on both discs, with a very fine articulation of timbre. I would cite again the reach-out-and-touch-me quality, that palpable feel, of the sound having heard Patricia Barber live, I was recalled to the live venue, if only for moments.
I did try the Boleros in a larger room where I thought they would thrive. And indeed, that was so they have no trouble filling a large living room but do not lose the immediacy that makes them special. As one would expect, the larger space allows them to open up. Similarly, the bass was more extended than in my listening room, which simply will not allow for the deepest notes to be reproduced. (One might ask why the larger room isn't the listening room: that's because it is called the "living room" and is not sacrificed to audio!) In a larger space, the inherent balance in the speaker is more obvious with the sweet and extended highs, smooth and immediate midrange and the firm, full bass are all in harmony. I believe that they could overwhelm a small space, depending on its inherent acoustics, even if they sounded very good in my 15' x 11' room.
The Silverline Boleros are beautiful to look at and fit easily into most rooms. They are eminently musical in every respect and have no obvious weaknesses. They play soft as well as they play loud, and they do it all with nuance and articulation. It strikes me that the Boleros could be another designer's statement speaker, even if they are smack in the middle of Alan Yun's line. hat said, it is my clear impression that Silverline does not have a "statement" speaker per se; each one is a statement (my experience thus far with the SR17 monitors underlines that). Not that it is different in any fine high-end company, but I think you can safely say that you get the best of Silverline in each product.
The Bolero competes against many other fine speakers. I won't enumerate them, as there are far too many, and I have heard only a fraction of them. The Bolero is very competitive with any and all that I have heard. One has the sense that this speaker, like the others made by Silverline, will be around for years to come. There are some classic products that even twenty years later still remind you of why they lasted so long and well; the product was done right, right from the start. The Bolero is rather like that a speaker for the long term.
Type: floorstanding full range, rear ported three-way loudspeaker
Drivers: (Supplied by Dynaudio)
Frequency Response: 28Hz to 32kHz (+- 3dB)
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover Frequency: 1.8kHz / 3.5kHz
Speaker Connections: 5-way binding posts, bi-wire capable
Recommended Power: 15 to 1,000 watts
Dimension: 40" x 12" x 14" (H x W x D)
Finishes: Piano Tigris, Carmine Tiger Wood
Weight: 105 lbs. each
Price : $8,500
Voice: (925) 825-3682