The Larger Heil Harmonious
This is the story of a speaker which resembles
an accordionated egg-slicer.
Review By Neil Walker
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Vince Scalzitti is the kind of guy whose years in audio has formed a seemingly skeptical attitude like a carapace to protect him from the hucksters, double dealers, and mind-benders which gravitate to the audio shows. Then he loosens up a little and starts to talk about hearing the Heil speakers for the first time. "I had to have them - I said yes right away." You might discount such talk as the money-driven ranting of a hard sell
Harry, but in Vince's case he means it. And in the case of the Heil speaker, you can understand why he was so enthusiastic. Vince and I do not agree on all musical components, but here I share Vince's enthusiasm.
The first Heil speaker I listened to, the Aulos, was not impressive at first, and seemed to have a distinctive sonic signature which was too laid back, or even occasionally harsh. Then I set it up properly and it was a gem. Same thing with the Kithara. Positioning was important, and, in particular, the right cable arrangement was important. This speaker is set up for bi-wiring and with a good set of bi-wire cables, it came into its own.
Looks like an old fashioned well, sort of...
The speaker is made of two parts, a woofer box with an upward firing 10-incher in a bottom ported bass reflex enclosure. This speaker handles frequencies from 28 to 700 Hz. On top of this speaker is the Air Motion Transformer (AMT) speaker which handles everything from 700 Hz to 23 kHz. This driver uses a very light diaphragm folded in to accordion-like pleats to which aluminum strips are bonded. The diaphragm, mounted in a magnetic field, expands and contacts as an accordion does when a musical signal is applied to the aluminum strips. For a detailed explanation on the principles of this system, read the manufacturer's notes
The manufacturer claims that the overall sensitivity of the Kithara is 94 dB/w/m, which means that it does not demand a lot to drive it. On the other hand, the manufacturer also says the required amplifier is 50 to 200 watts. I asked Vince about this, mentioning my 3o watt Audiomat
Arpège, a tube amp. "No problem - that's what we suggest for transistor watts. Thirty tube watts are lots to drive this with," Vince explained. Its four ohm minimum impedance did not seem to offer any difficulty for the amp at all. Finally, it looked odd, but had a beautiful maple wood veneer, real maple. The cabinet also comes in oiled walnut, cherry, or black. This 77-pound floor stander measures 16 x 16 x 43 inches including the AMT driver and its bracket. Although the speaker comes with grill covers for the AMT assembly, the sound is better without them.
When you get right down to it, this speaker resembles a squared-off rain barrel with a superstructure like that of an old fashioned well. In this case, however, this bridge supports the Heil AMT driver instead of the winch, rope and bucket. There is a wire harness and thin banana terminals with which to attach the well to the bridge. It is an easy-to-do assembly, with the side pieces anchored by two large brass twist-to-set screws anchoring the assembly to the woofer box.
The woofer box is not as solid feeling under the knuckle rap test as I would like. It is mounted on four wooden blocks - no steel pegs available. Given the vertical motion of the woofer, this absence does not appear to be a problem. With the bass port on the bottom of the speaker box, the wooden blocks are there to ensure proper spacing from the floor.
Smooth Treble, Deep Bass
Once the setup is complete, you have to spend a little time positioning it for best sound-staging. In the case of my room, it ended up 25 inches from the side walls and 30 inches from the back wall, forward of the stand on which I have the turntable and
The Heil driver does what it is supposed to do - give you sweet, even mids and highs. Lots of presence for vocals, velvety trumpet when you listen to Miles, good rasping sax from James Carter, alive, present in the room Elvis, great orchestral separation and definition. It is a laid back speaker, excellent for an aggressive amp and cables. However, with a laid back amp and source, you might find it too reserved. With the Arpège and the sources I used, the Kithara gave a very balanced sound. While it is easy to listen to, it also has enough detail and responsiveness to stir the listener.
The woofer is good although not perfect. The claim of 28 Hz is more than accurate - my test
CD reveals that it handles frequencies as low as 25 Hz well. It is musical and large sounding with pipe organs, electric and acoustic bass, and big drums. But it did not have the tightness and resolution I have come to enjoy with other speakers. I do not think that this is an amplifier problem, given the precision of the
Arpège, although a more powerful amplifier with a lot more bass control might help.
That quibble aside, I was thrilled to have a speaker with real bass. When you couple that with the exceptional qualities of the Heil driver, you have a real winner. One of my tests of any component is how it handles the string section of an orchestra. It is a great way to discover whether a speaker's mids and uppers are smooth and rich or harsh and thin. Anyway, I tried two records in particular. The first is a vinyl recording from 1958, easily available, of Johann Strauss Jr. waltzes. Fritz Reiner conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
[Strauss Waltzes, RCA Victor Red Seal, LSC-2500] The strings in "Vienna Blood" on side one can be catastrophic if any part of the system is not up to the job of capturing the quality of this string section. But with the Benz-Micro Series 2 L2 handing off to the Audiomat Phono 1 and the
Arpège, the Heils show their mettle. The strings are transparent and smooth. Do the violins have a creamy, rich tone? No, but then the record does not have that to offer. What it also provides, along with great strings and wind instruments, is a well defined line in the double basses which the Heils handle beautifully. The bass fits seamlessly with the rest of the spectrum - if balance is a measure of quality, then this speaker excels. Claudio Abbado gives another demonstration of the Kithara's ability to handle the orchestra and the strings in particular, as he conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Johannes Brahms's symphonies and coral works with orchestra [Deutsche
Grammophon, 435 683-2]. Listen to the Alt-Rhapsodie. Op. 53 - the horns, the strings, Marjana Lipovek's rich contralto grip us in the darkness of this piece's opening. The Heils reproduce both the textures and the rich harmonics of these instruments to dramatic effect.
Turn to some jazz singing and the same thing happens. When Shirley Horn sings "If you leave me" on her album
You Won't Forget Me [Verve 847 482-2] you feel her in the room. You hear the metal of the cymbals, the extraneous vibrations of one piano note Horn hits especially hard, and the near-drone qualities of the bass. What is more, you hear all of these characteristics without being especially aware of hi fi, but being very aware of the music they make.
When James Carter takes on "Nuages (Clouds)" on his album Chasin' the Gipsy, [Atlantic, CD83304] the rasp and thump of the reed in his bass saxophone rattles you - these Heils are fast and detailed and give you every little ripple of Carter's innovative playing. The Kithara's civilized voice makes the accordion (accordion??? what's next, the jazz oboe?), playing throughout this piece melt like butter over the rest of the musical popcorn: the snapping saxes, the drum skins, the bells, triangles and guitars. This cd gives you lots of complex, mingled sonic textures and the Kitharas gives them to you, no additions, no subtractions, every instrument working on its own and with the others.
Finally, set aside all the classical music and jazz qualities and ask, can this speaker rock? You bet. Its high efficiency and its unflappability give your amp lots of room to shake up the house. Demonstrations abound: Photek aka Richard Parkes performs a beautiful drum and bass piece, "The Hidden Camera," from his album Modus Operandi [Virgin Records, QEDLP1 LC3098]. The Kithara's balance over its 28 to 22,000 Hz range made it like a new experience. Same thing with turntablist Kid Koala's brilliant album
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome [Ninja Tune, Zen 34].
The Kitharas make "Montego Bay Spleen" from St. Germain: Tourist [Blue Note, 7243 5 25114 1 9] even more impressive, not only because the bass is commanding (it is), but also for the total integration of the sounds - just as on "Rose Rouge." In this piece, the vocal, the trumpet and the sax move into the room with you. Another sound entirely is C+C Music Factory's
Gonna Make You Sweat [Columbia, CK 47093], especially "A Groove of Love (What's This Word Called Love)." This sound moves you, especially since the Kitharas can take the high volume this record relishes.
The Kithara is an all around great speaker. It is balanced, even in its response and life-like in its detail. Perhaps too laid back for some, it is still fast and accurate. Its strongest negative is its odd appearance, but then, lots of speakers look odd, so at least the real wood veneer gives is it is a well finished kind of oddness. The big achievement of the Oskar Heil is successfully mating an exceptional tweeter with a good woofer. In this,
Précide, its Swiss manufacturer has succeeded. Tighten up the bass a little bit, and this fine, livable speaker will move all the way into the winner's circle.