Coincident Speaker Technology Partial Eclipse Mk. II Loudspeaker
Review By Rock Becker
Israel Blume, owner of Coincident Speaker Technology, contacted me out of the blue and asked me to review his Victory loudspeaker, just before the Home Entertainment show. But it was not a complete surprise, since I have raved about the Victory and Eclipse models in my previous reports of the
Montreal and New York shows. What was really strange was that I had recently come within one phone call from buying a pair of the Victory from the same private owner who sold me his Plinius power amplifier several years ago. Someone else had just beaten me to them. I declined Israel's offer, since another writer had already reviewed the Victory, and I didn't feel there was an awful lot more I could add to that review. Instead, a month later, I took delivery of the new Partial Eclipse Mk II. Let's just call them the "Partials".
Listing at $3,299, I thought the Partials might be a more important loudspeaker since in these troubled economic times they hit a more popular price point. When I was first getting into the High End in the early '90s, I was told you had to spend around $3,000 to find a really good loudspeaker. Today, I was to discover, you get a lot more than merely good. Figuring a quarter to a third of a system budget is often spent on loudspeakers, this equates to systems in the $10,000 to $13,000 range, which is where an average Stereophile Magazine reader's system lies. Not only did I find it an excellent mid-priced loudspeaker, but also an excellent entry-level loudspeaker...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I lugged the cartons down into the basement and rigged them up to a '70s vintage receiver to break them in. Israel had warned me that they would need 200 to 300 hours of break-in. This was fine with me. My daughter-in-law and grandson were due for a visit and I didn't want three-year-old Izak anywhere near them. They also provided music while I drilled through the floor joists and installed the JPS Power AC In-Wall cable I also had in for review. Right out of the box, they sounded horrible, but they were much nicer than the sound of the electric drill. I played them at different levels throughout the day and night for three weeks while I did my initial testing of the JPS cable with my familiar, slightly tweaked, Von Schweikert VR-4 loudspeakers.
Being an owner of a family retail furniture business, the obvious first impression is of the quality woodworking on all of the Coincident Technology loudspeakers. I ran my hands over every square inch of the light cherry veneer surface and found only three specs of dust embedded in the two speakers. These specs flicked loose with a slight scratch of my fingernail. To put this in perspective, I have maybe a handful of pieces in my entire store that are finished this finely. (My store sells mid to upper mid-price furniture). You would have to buy end tables in the $600+ range to match their craftsmanship, although I can think of several brands in the $400 range that would do quite nicely.
The veneering presented a peculiar anomaly. The sides, top and back seemed to be matched veneers, but the two fronts were not. Listening in the dark, or with a small reading light, I soon forgot about it. I had requested the light cherry finish because it reveals the highly figured cherry grain more than the darker traditional red cherry stain. And while the black naked drivers contrast with the light cherry, the lighter finish is more inviting, more casual, and fits into the decor of both my contemporary (and highly foliated) listening room, and my country style family room where we have the video set up. Be forewarned that if you choose the light cherry, it will fade to medium with exposure to light. Once it hits medium, it does not darken further, and it blends very nicely with light and medium oak and maple furniture.
Obviously, these loudspeakers present an ordinary visual design, the beveled edges on the front and the side-firing woofer not withstanding. It is the quality of the finish that elevates them above the ordinary and allows the speaker to be visually successful with its drivers exposed. Fortunately, the drivers are all black and we do not have to contend with plastic or anodized metal eyes staring at us. Mr.
Blume has chosen the purist approach in offering no grills to cover the drivers. Listeners with small children will have to weigh the risks involved. I can tell you that little Izak had absolutely no interest in my monolithic VR-4s during his four-day visit, but children vary, even day to day. A simple shroud would at least keep the drivers out of sight when not in use--kind of like covering up your parrot cage at night.
Most interior design today falls roughly into one of three categories: country, traditional and contemporary. There are a lot of speakers on the market today that limit themselves to contemporary design, which is largely a stronghold of the young and the elderly hip. Painted and synthetic finishes do not usually lend themselves to country or traditional decor. And if you think I'm wandering off into Wife Acceptance Factor here, wake up! There is a much-ignored Husband Acceptance Factor at play here that most manufacturers and even male consumers are unaware of. It is operative, just not acknowledged, and is often disguised as ignorance. I see it all the time in the furniture business.
Any of the Coincident loudspeakers can be planted in each of the interior design categories. Light cherry fits perfectly in the country/lodge look of our family room and is a natural in our contemporary listening room. It blends well with maple and golden oak finishes. The darker red cherry blends better with the black drivers and fits very nicely in traditional settings. And the semi-gloss black, for the purist, of course, is contemporary. All the bases are nicely covered so there is no reason for husband and wife to go to war. And if you're still single, plan ahead! Which ever you choose, the conventional shape and reasonable size of the Partials allows them to fit right in and practically disappear. When you do take note of them, it is the quality of the product that stands out.
The "Coincident" badge is located on the front of the speakers below the two drivers, but above the midpoint. It is easy to read without bending over or getting down on your knees, so your guests will not be embarrassed by their curiosity. Myself? I'm the kind of guy who scrapes the designer label off his eyeglasses.
Israel sent the $80 upgrade brass spikes along with the Partials. These had a slightly rounded point and did not pierce the carpet and dig into the wood floor as is normally desirable. Because of the uneven padding below the carpet, the loudspeakers were a bit wobbly. Early on I figured out that they sounded much better when firmly anchored. I accomplished this by placing them on pieces of architectural slate about two inches thick. While this raised the axis of the drivers I noticed very little difference from the listening chair. The natural look of the slate blends very well with the wood finish and brass spikes, and integrates perfectly with the ambiance established by our many indoor trees and plants. On a practical note, the slate protects the speaker from being nicked by the dreaded vacuum cleaner.
I also worried about how vulnerable the loudspeakers might be to being tipped over when bumped. Since I can pretty much walk through my house blindfolded, I had to artificially test this. It would take a pretty hefty bump to topple them, but it could happen. The 54 pounds per loudspeaker and low placement of the massive 8-inch woofer help maintain stability. Other manufacturers of similar size and shape loudspeakers provide outrigger-feet to improve stability. On the plus side, you will not want to place them very far out into the room to optimize the tonal balance, which means they will probably be out of the traffic pattern in your home.
The loudspeaker has a single pair of binding posts, located on the back, near the floor. I used 14-gauge bare-ended military spec twisted-pair wire, to connect the Plinius amp. The Coincident-manufactured binding posts accept spades and banana plugs, as well as having a hole in the shaft for large gauge bare wire. They tighten down with the twist of a knurled knob that is small enough to keep it from being over-tightened by hand. Their informative website is excellent and gives a detailed rationale for not bi-wiring, as well as technical details about the construction of the loudspeaker. Double pairs of binding posts are available for those wishing to bi-amplify, for an additional $100.
Listening To Them
I listened to my system with the JPS Power AC In-Wall cable for five days to establish a base line with the new 30 amp dedicated line. (See review in this issue). Then I swapped out my beloved Von Schweikert VR-4s for the Partials, locating them in the same position. The bass was weak. The focus improved to what I thought was excellent by toeing them in toward my head. Clearly, I was on a steep learning curve with these loudspeakers, and like
XC-skiing in the back woods, steep curves are exciting.
To loosen up what I perceived as a muffled bass (I could feel it in my chest, but the notes were muffled), I put on the Chinese Drum cut on the Burmester III CD with peaks reaching
98dB at the listening chair. The drumming was very tuneful and very compelling. I felt like the woofers just magically broke in. It also sounded like I was missing the mid-bass hump of the VR-4s. On Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch" the sound was big, but not as tall as the VR-4s. The soundstage was definitely deeper than the VR-4s. On Lyle Lovett's "She's Already Made Up Her Mind" the lead guitar notes did not float through the neighborhood like they did with the VR-4s. At this point, I put the Partials up on the architectural slate. The notes floated, there was more transparency, more air at the top end, and sharper attack to the notes. Lyle's voice was more recessed than the VR-4s, but it was also much smoother.
Still the bass was not as deep as the VR-4s. I added a piece of slate to the top of each loudspeaker, as I had done with the VR-4s, but there was no effect. I cut off the silver soldered ends of my loudspeaker cables, and exposed fresh bare wire. This improved the focus and transparency slightly. By the way, I had gone over my entire system a month before starting these reviews and cleaned all my connections and wire ends--with worthwhile results, I might add.
Finally, taking a hint from Israel, I moved the Partials two feet closer to the front wall. They were now 46" from the wall to the center of the front of the speaker. I left the chair in the same spot and aimed the inside edges of the loudspeakers at each shoulder, with the lines crossing behind my head. They were now 8 feet 3 inches apart, center-to-center, and 10 feet from the drivers to my ears. On James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues" the singer was now more in front of the drums, and also closer to me. Leaning forward in the chair about two feet brought the singer in even closer to me. The air at the top kept getting better and better, the longer I listened.
On Bruce Springsteen's "57 Channels" the refrain in the far left rear corner, "57 Channels and there's nothin' on," moved in toward the centerline when I positioned the Partials closer to the front wall, indicating that the rear of the soundstage had narrowed somewhat. But this was a small price to pay for what was a big gain.
Switching back to the Burmester III CD, Hugh Masekela's "Stimela" was a wonderful spiritual experience reminding me of how blessed (or lucky) I am to be able to afford the luxury of this musical
experience -- both the acoustic quality and the extraordinary musician. And on the next cut, at 98dB peaks, the Chinese Drums are even better closer to the front wall--really rocking my bosom. Moving the loudspeakers back toward the front wall significantly boosted the bass, not to excess, but to correct tonal balance with the midrange and highs.
I actually moved the speaker around a fair amount, varying the distances between them, as well as the distance from the listening chair. They are not particularly difficult speakers to set up. Aiming the speakers directly at my face increased the focus beyond what I felt was comfortable, so I backed them off, aiming at the outside of my shoulders. Shifting my head a foot and a half to either side shifted the sound image left or right, but the soundstage did not collapse into the loudspeaker on that side, as often happens with very directional loudspeakers. In other words, I was free to move around in my listening chair without experiencing distracting shifts in soundstage or tonal balance. This, in turn, made for very comfortable long term listening sessions--many of them, in fact.
The Partials have a wide dispersion pattern, but there are limits. At one point I was moved to stand up and dance to the music, only to find the tonal balance shift dramatically as I stood in front of the listening chair, closer to the loudspeakers. But in general, moving around in my listening room, the adjacent dining room, and adjacent foyer, the music remained well balanced, unless I ventured close to them. Nor did it ever degrade into elevator music. At distances of fifteen feet, far off axis, the music was still inviting and enjoyable.
I also had in house for review, several products from Symposium Acoustics (see review in this issue) and the None-Felt turntable mat from Extreme/Phono (review in progress). Lest I bleed the life out of those reviews, let me just say that the Partials allowed me to very easily and accurately identify the audible contributions these products made. Please consider the reviews of these other products as an extension of this review.
System Two: The Video Lodge
As business slows down in July, many stores offer summer specials. One hot day I found myself pulling the Hotel Tracker into my driveway loaded to the roof with Klipsch Reference home theater loudspeakers for the family room. They were an incredible deal, but what was I thinking? I never took them out of the Tracker. In stead, I set up the Partials in the video rig, powered by my vintage Tandberg 3012A 100-watt
stereo integrated amplifier with an under-$200 Sony DVD player. I also took the liberty of migrating the military spec cables with the loudspeakers for the sake of consistency. I dropped in the Roy Orbison "Black and White" DVD and Linda and I watched and listened to the whole concert straight through.
It rocks! It also convinced me that I would rather die with two channel Coincident loudspeakers than surrounded by Klipsch. The next day, Rowe Photo, Audio & Video, (where Linda and I do much of our photo, audio and video business), graciously allowed me to return the speakers, unopened.
I had set up the Partials 36 inches from the wall to the front of the loudspeaker, angled in slightly. This placed them about a foot ahead of the 32-inch TV screen. They were about 6 feet apart, center-to-center, and the angle from the sofa to the speakers was narrower than in the listening room. Amazingly, the TV in the middle had very little effect and the longer distance to the listening position seemed to help the soundstage depth. With the older and less expensive electronics, the acoustic signature of the video rig was surprisingly similar to my reference system with the VR-4s. We were happy campers in our video lodge! And Linda especially loved the way the light cherry finish blended in with our vintage and antique furnishings. Me, too.
The family room, at 3,000 cubic feet, is about half the volume of the listening room, yet at less than head banging levels, say 98db peaks at the sofa, the room size did not seem to affect the dynamics of the Partials. (Note that the Tandberg, heavily bias toward class A operation, runs hot and is rated at 100 wpc, the same as the
Plinius). The Tandberg is also plugged into a 20 amp dedicated line. Moving the loudspeakers to 25 inches from the wall to the front of the loudspeaker, (about 1 inch in front of the TV screen), caused problems with the soundstage image and the depth of the image in particular. Moving them a foot forward of the TV screen made a huge improvement.
With mirrored image bass drivers it is possible to aim them toward or away from each other. In the family room with the TV on a small chest between the loudspeakers, and shorter distances to the corner, it didn't make a significant difference how they faced. In the main listening room, (actually a foyer, living room and dining room combined) with the loudspeakers on the long wall and the side walls 10 feet to the left of the left loudspeaker, and 15 feet to the right of the right loudspeaker, the bass had better tonal balance with the woofers facing inward. This is something you will need to check in your own room, as part of the set-up procedure.
System Three: Entry Level Loudspeakers?
Getting started in the High End felt like very risky business to me, especially since it was easy to recognize that my listening ability was not as refined as the people trying to sell me this stuff. When I got into serious bicycling as a young man I worked my way up a long upgrade path until I finally arrived at a near top-of-the-line bike that I still ride today. How much simpler it would have been to have just bought the best bike right at the outset. You see where I'm going?
From time to time we read about a loudspeaker manufacturer who demonstrates his product in the presence of some humungous amplifier, only to be told afterward that a more proletarian amplifier was actually driving the loudspeakers. That's a hard trick to pull off on the printed page.
Because the Partials sounded so good in the break-in process, I connected my Sony CD/DVD Player DVP-NS715P, a real lightweight, into a Technics SA-5270 FM/AM stereo receiver. I bought it at a garage sale for about $25, then gave it to my parents who used it for 10 or more years, then inherited it when my dad passed away. It is probably late '70s or early '80s vintage. For consistency, and because it didn't add but maybe $50 to the total package, I used my military spec interconnects and loudspeaker cables.
On a 15-amp house circuit, not very warmed up, it sounded reasonably pleasing. Since a Romex 20 amp line only added say another $100 to the system, I tried that, and let it warm up for a day. We're at about
$3,650 for the system, now. I put on Lyle Lovett's "Church" and "She's Already Made Up Her Mind". Houston, we've got high-end audio… with pretty amazing bass, if it doesn't get too fast and furious. Of course it
did not compare with my reference system, but it was several rungs up on the high-end ladder.
Looking back to my early years when I was progressing in baby steps, trying to get a toehold in each category at once, I think I now had better sound with just the Partials connected to mid-fi components.
Of course, had I bought outstanding loudspeakers back then, and not suffered the depreciation losses of two intermediary upgrades, my system would not sound as good as this one with the Partials. As I said at the outset, these loudspeakers are way ahead of what $3,300 would have bought a dozen years ago.
Bringing It All Back Home
I started serious play with the Partials five weeks ago. I was apprehensive about how it would perform in my large room, but it played as loud as I cared to take it without showing signs of strain. The design is an easy load for an amplifier, and could be very successfully driven by a much more modest amplifier, or even a very fine tube amplifier, in a more reasonable size room. They are extremely smooth and forgiving of bad recordings. The treble is open and seems to go straight out to beyond what I can hear, with no emphasis and no roll off. The midrange places me a little further back in the audience than I'm used to with the VR-4's, probably because the Partials are so much more accurate and have a flatter response curve. The bass is respectably tight and deep, going down to about 30 Hz in my room. The tonal balance seems right on. The loudspeaker clearly revealed differences in the JPS Labs dedicated power line, Symposium Acoustics products and Extreme/Phone products I have been testing concurrently. They are revealing of detail without being analytical, and were never tiring during long late-night listening sessions. (Be prepared to be dragged into the bedroom by your wife if this kind of listening pattern persists). My only criticism might be a slight lack of transparency in comparison with the even more outstanding Coincident Technology Victory loudspeaker (almost 40% more expensive) and several Unobtanium models in the $10K to $25K range that I covet. (My checkbook has already disappeared into hiding and my wallet is crawling deeper into my back pocket as I write this). I can also entertain the possibility that my high-value military spec cables and even some of my highly respected components may not be good enough for these speakers. Who knows what future reviews might teach me?
As a final warning, let me say that if you buy these loudspeakers, you had better really
love your music. The loudspeakers will disappear into even the finest decor in a very short time. They don't call attention to themselves visually. There is no gimmicky technology to brag about. Just solid engineering, nearly impeccable manufacturing, outstanding value, and beautiful music reproduction. If you're really an equipment addict at heart, you will want to look further up the Coincident line or elsewhere for loudspeakers that have more drivers, more impressive size, or more unique styling. But if you turn off the lights when you turn on the music...the music will move you.
Check, Double Check
Once I put the Partials into my system, I never looked back. But looking back at the reference loudspeakers is a necessary part of the review. Using my Radio Shack SPL meter and the
Stereophile Test CD 2, I charted the response curve of the partials, listened to a couple of last songs, and replaced them with my VR-4s. I then charted the response curve of the VR-4s and listened to the same couple of songs again. This was hugely instructive.
First of all, the response curve of the VR-4s was vastly improved from the curves I measured in my old townhouse, years ago. All these curves were made at the listening position, not in an anechoic chamber with precision instruments. This confirms the new listening room has made a huge contribution.
Secondly, the response curve is just that -- a response curve. There are many other parameters that could be measured, and some that can't, that are important in evaluating loudspeakers.
Taking a +/- 4dB window, and excluding a mid-bass hump at 40Hz that is probably a room resonance, they measured very similarly. The VR-4s were about 25Hz to 14kHz and the Partials were about 28Hz to 20kHz. However, the two loudspeakers differed markedly in many respects. The VR-4s were much more up and down along the way than the Partials.
While the curve of the Partials looked very good to me, several sections of the curve correlated to particular perceptions I had in my listening sessions. The treble, while extremely smooth (+/-1dB from 7kHz to 16kHz, and only dropping another 1.5dB out to 20kHz), is shelved down about 4db below most of the midrange. This explains why the Partials are so non-fatiguing and smooth sounding in the treble.
Looking at the midrange and treble together, I recorded +/-2dB from roughly 350Hz to 7kHz, an area where you find a lot of music. Or in the midrange, how do you like +/-1dB from 375Hz to about 1,200Hz? This should bode especially well for lovers of the female voice. The lower midrange, however, revealed a 5dB dip from the rest of the midrange, in the 250Hz to 350Hz region. This explains why the male singers seemed somewhat more distant than I was accustomed to with the VR-4s. The VR-4s, while essentially flat from 180Hz to 500Hz, take a small dive in the
600Hz to 700Hz range, just the opposite of the Partials.
The bass in the Partials, while strong in the upper bass, dipped in the 60Hz to 100Hz range, and then came on strong with a peak at 40Hz, probably with the help of a room resonance. At 30Hz, the response was only 3dB below the smooth midrange plateau, and about even with most of the treble. It was down
10dB at about 25Hz. This seems like very respectable bass response to me. And while I placed the speakers by listening, the results of this test make me wonder how much better I might have made the bass if I had been using the meter. Maybe if they were 49
inchs out from the wall instead of 46....
In switching back to my VR-4s after five weeks with the Partial Eclipse Mk II loudspeakers in my system, the fine qualities of the Partials stood out in stark relief. The Partials surpass my aging VR-4s on many fronts: focus, soundstaging, accuracy of timbre, tonal balance, inner detail, value and the ability to fit comfortably into any decor, and in smaller, real world rooms. Mr.
Blume prides himself on building world- class products at reasonable prices. He's done it again with this one.
Unfortunately, with only nine dealers in the USA, it is not likely most of us can audition this speaker, unless perhaps you're planning some spring skiing in Chile, or want to slide over to Budapest from the Octoberfest in Germany. Call ahead to be sure they've got a broken in pair on display.
For the rest of us, there is their website, which hosts a plethora of reviews of many of the models. While there are significant differences in the capabilities of each model that warrants careful study, the reviews rave with the harmony of a choir. Find a model that fits your budget, and accept my invitation to enjoy your music.
Linn LP-12 turntable with MMT arm and Audio Technica 160-ML cartridge.
Sony CDP-X77ES player as transport, Illuminati D-60 cable, Muse model two DAC.
Sony ST S550ES tuner with Fanfare FM-2G antenna.
Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 Signature Mk III preamplifier
Plinius SA-100 Mk III power amplifier
Von Schweikert VR-4 loudspeakers
JPS Labs Power AC In-Wall cable with outlet center
Symposium Acoustic Svelte and Isis platforms, Rollerball Jr