Hello everyone and it feels great to be back after a brief hiatus due to personal matters. When selecting components to review, manufacturers often offer through e-mail a list of equipment for evaluation and for an honest opinion. As a recording protectionist (mixing and mastering engineer), most of my talent is in artist development and the fine-tuning of mixes for consumer use. Having been a loudspeaker builder myself for many years, I have to say it takes something special to get my attention. Have designed and built countless loudspeakers over the last three decades, some very good, some OK, and a few that did not make the cut. Of all the components in a reproduction system, nothing in my opinion is more important than the loudspeakers and their acoustic environment. Usually, loudspeakers are the first to get my attention in the reproduction chain. Many loudspeakers for home and professional use are designed specifically for certain listener distances as well as a good response in an anechoic chamber. All but a very small number are able to faithfully reproduce a smooth frequency response, low distortion and full dynamics over a wide range of distances in various rooms.
Enter, the SP Technology Timepiece 2.0 Reference Loudspeakers. Hmmm... They just looked right. When reading their website's Theory section, I immediately said to myself, "How interesting." Little did I know how many years of research and development went in to making this loudspeaker a reality! Bob Smith, electro-acoustics engineer along with Mike Patterson, tooling designer, have spent thousands of hours designing, testing, listening and producing the right combination of parts to fulfill their design goal. Unorthodox methods are used in the construction and testing phase of each unit.
In 1969, I first experimented with the complications of loudspeaker positioning and adverse room effects. In those early years of listening, I was met with floor standing walnut enclosures, large theater speakers designed to "focus" at ten or more meters, horn loaded three-way systems that use the room as an integral part of the design, small acoustic suspension loudspeakers for bookshelves, you name it. It seemed the differences in design concepts were so vast and all manufactures claimed to have the "best" loudspeakers or the "best design" incorporated in their final product.
The fact is that every loudspeaker system is a controlled set of compromises. Where can the manufacturer skimp and still go proudly to market, stay in business and continue a growth pattern of customer loyalty? Would a certain level of performance be good enough and still be profitable at the selected "price point"? Where do you stop and instill some sanity in your design that can satisfy your accountant along with the discriminating ear of the audiophile, the Studio Engineer, various room sizes and acoustics as well as integrate perfectly with the plethora of equipment that the end user can employ? Furthermore, is it possible to do all of the above and still feel confident that as a manufacturer, you can offer a 30-day audition with a money back guarantee if the system does not meet or exceed every expectation? What if the total system price of $2,795 including the round trip shipping costs of 144 Lbs. of freight? Who in the world would stick their neck out like this?
Well, this is the very policy of SP Technology Loudspeakers. To answer some of the questions raised above, lets just say that in the last 34 years I have been an avid listener to a wide variety of loudspeakers. Some claim to do this and that and also the other, but when you know it sounds right, you simply know. It is easy to see why the company can offer such a deal. Nobody sends these speakers back! For highly accurate and technical information regarding the Timepiece 2.0's, go to the link below and read the entire text. All in all, it makes perfect sense, especially after using them for 600+ hours in this extended review.
Now Lets Go On To The Sound...
What sound?? They essentially make virtually no coloring to the reproduced music. At least none that I can hear per se. I do not hear the normal "thumbprint" character that most loudspeakers exhibit in the bass response. Balance is maintained from the very low 30 Hz range to beyond the range of normal human hearing. All the talk of imaging, bloom, warmth, tiss, spit, sizzle, glare and other words used to describe the sound just does not apply here. These loudspeakers were designed for critical monitoring of recordings during the mix-down and mastering stage. What they do, is turn the electrical signal into an acoustic signature as accurately as possible, at all input levels from way below one watt RMS of power (sans low organ pedals at milliwatts) to an incredible 1,000 watts peak per channel!
The relative sensitivity rating in a free space (no walls or boundaries) is 85dB/W/m. In my mastering facility, the pair gives me 89dB with 1 watt at the seating position that is 53 inches from the inside edge of each loudspeaker (measured from my nose to the inside front of the enclosure). At 100 watts continuous RMS and at multiple frequencies of 50Hz, 100Hz, 300Hz, 700Hz and 900Hz (sine wave), the output per pair was respectively: 109.1, 108.4, 108.3, 108.8, 108.5 dB! Quite dynamic and impressive for such a small loudspeaker. This, my friends, is one of the true keys of fine reproduction! It means the loudspeaker is not compressing dynamically, thermally or mechanically.
No other loudspeaker system in my presence has passed this demanding measurement technique with this level of accuracy. Let us just say this, the loudspeaker does not compress dynamics up to the tested 450 watts per channel. I find that a 50 to 80 watt/channel amplifier will play all but the approximation of a fright train or close thunder. Yes, they can reach powerful, room arranging output levels. Had no problem reaching 123dB on one peak in my mastering facility (with hearing protection). In my chest bass. Very potent and clean. Have never witnessed such wide dynamics reproduced by any loudspeaker of lower sensitivity as that exhibited by the TP2's. Neither have I experienced or am I aware of any speaker in their size class to offer such extreme dynamic range while maintaining a ruler flat frequency response, completely inaudible distortion and superb imaging.
Even at lower volume levels, I do not miss the impact of high volume listening! As a matter of note, be careful as you may find yourself listening much louder than you think. Use a dB/SPL meter if in doubt! Massed instruments and voices at different levels and in different places stay intact and distinct even at dangerous listening levels. Music takes on a life using these loudspeakers that you can simply reach out and touch. With all the techno-babble, specifications, snake oil and hallucinations touted by many manufactures of loudspeakers in the 5 digit, (and even 6 digit) range, I feel certain that there are some on the market that can reproduce as advertised. Many do not. There is good reason this manufacturer offers the no risk guarantee. All I can say is my previously favorite reference monitors for the last 27 years have found new residence facing the wall in a storage room. I simply can hear deeper into the mix than ever before while using these loudspeakers professionally. (There is even a professional Neutrik Speak-On connector that is bi-wireable or bi-ampable, plus quad 5-way gold plated binding posts that are bi-wireable and bi-ampable. Tweeter level adjustment for room conditions is also available via a switch in back).
Are these loudspeakers for everyone? They certainly are for me. No matter what music is playing, there is a desire to continue listening. In fact quite a bit of sleep has been lost to truly all night listening sessions! I simply cannot get enough. As for the technical details, the SP Technology web-site does explain this better than I can here and there is no need of a cut and paste job.
Is Their Anything Else To Say?
Yes... As always, there is compromise. A few of them. No loudspeaker is compromise free.
1. $2,795 for a set of loudspeakers that may just be your last for decades. It is up to you if you want to take that large of a plunge. For some, it is not a large expenditure. For many, a vacation is to be sacrificed. I simply have no regrets and there is no risk - Period.
2. I am over-hyping these units? Well, maybe. I use loudspeakers in the professional realm and can not accept compromises in accuracy of reproduction. Again, I am surprisingly pleased and am an experienced musician and listener. Have well over 10,000 hours of mastering under my belt and they work for me quite well.
3. They suffer from a somewhat low sensitivity so do not expect them to reproduce 30Hz with a "SET" (Single Ended Triode) amplifier in the 2 to 4 watt range. I recommend at least 60 watts per channel to provide orchestral levels in an average sized room, or 200 to 400+ are highly recommended for larger rooms of 600 square feet or more.
4. They weigh in at 65 lbs. each and with the optional stands you are looking at about 120 lbs. each side. Once you place them in a spot moving them takes quite some effort.
5. They are not tweaker friendly. The designers of this loudspeaker have spent over twelve years each on this design. There are other loudspeakers that have a similar look but these are hand calibrated, each to the reference standard. Every tweeter's response is adjusted for high frequency compensation and matched to within .5dB in a pair. In the crossover, SP Technology will take as little as 1/2 winding off a coil or adjust various capacitors to less than .5 microfarads and then document it with the serial number of that loudspeaker (a test graph of amplitude and phase is included for each speaker). The User's Manual is even a three-ring binder that includes a tack cloth for cleaning the high gloss front panel! There will never be a need to attempt modification. They are matched by hand to +/-0.5dB.
6. Long term service availability is not proven. Crossover schematics are not available because of the proprietary nature of the design and drivers are not "off the shelf" units. Service could be a problem should the company ever fail in the future. The crossover is close to 900Hz. Very few tweeters could handle this and still operate at the high power levels of the TP2's. The system has been tested at the factory and able to handle power levels that clip a popular 750 watt/channel amplifier once every few seconds without tweeter failure. Can the system handle such levels long term (years)? The jury is still out on that and the warranty does not cover blown tweeters.
7. The woofer voice coil is designed to "bake" long before the mechanical limits of the woofer's structure can be stressed. They will die thermally before you can overstress the compliance. This is a special design. It also presents a special problem. Most loudspeakers will let you now that you're banging on them a little too hard when their woofers 'bottom out" and produce that familiar "buzzing" or 'clicking" sound. The woofers in the TP2's do not. If you are an absolute power nut and have no regard for your own hearing (or the law), you could blow a woofer and never hear it "going." After speaking to the designer, I have been told that the TP2's will "sing like a bird" right up to the moment they fry. Although your ears may be bleeding, there is no other warning and no warranty. Caveat Emptor.
8. Frequency response starts a gradual roll-off at 18kHz and up. I guess unless you are a bat or dog, you may never notice. Some that listened with me claimed the "CD harshness" was not apparent in this system. Was this do to the roll-off? I'm not sure, but I think it has more to do with the system phase accuracy and the non-existent high frequency "sizzle" that most tweeters produce. To me it is about music. Do they sound like real instruments sound? Yes.
9. There are no grills. None. Prying fingers of small children... you get the picture. Beware!
10. Does bi-wiring offer a real benefit and is this feature worth the added cost? I have not bi-wired them nor do I have a desire to. They sound just fine to me. I am not going to tamper with them. You may be able to extract another 2dB of headroom out of them though.
There is a forum being developed on-line for SP users and those interested in them. Very few products have a direct 24-hour link to the manufacturer. Already, some very serious and legendary studio engineers have this loudspeaker system in use professionally. Another compromise is time you may spend bragging on them. Do not just take my word, read about what is being said by others. Again, no risk.
In all aspects of every recording, especially everything I remember in the music that I have personally recorded live was reproduced at the highest level of quality that I have ever heard -- and I mean any and all of it! I have listened to literally thousands of hours of recorded and live music and I find that this system is up to the demands of any recorded audio. A theater system using 5 identical units plus the SP subwoofer system will be available in the very near future. For HT enthusiasts, this will be one to watch for indeed.
I am dumbfounded to think you can have this level of performance at this price point. And that is even without considering the exquisite, glass-like front panel finish, real wood veneer side panels, and useful tweeter level switch and termination options! Several listeners including myself put a blind price of around $4,000 to $8,000 for the pair in comparison to other loudspeakers auditioned.
I highly recommend the Timepiece 2.0 if you are in the market for a loudspeaker system in the 3 to 5thousand price range. I was unable to test them with their recommended stands and basically feel that they would be of essence to own with the purchase. I actually use a DIY pair of stands that are very similar in size and construction. After speaking with the manufacturer about these, we agreed that mine would not impede the performance of the SP Technology Timepiece 2.0 at all.
After all these years, I have finally found a new reference and it is ironic to think that this fact falls right in line with the company's mission. Their motto is: The new Reference for the new Millennium. Designer Bob Smith has stated to me that it was the company's intent from the beginning to create a new World Reference monitor that would be instrumental in transforming the entire recording industry. He believes that if enough studios on the recording end and enough music lovers on the listening end were to use their products, a New Renaissance could begin in the recording arts. I am inclined to agree and think such excellence is likely to be very contagious. This is the finest loudspeaker at this price point I have witnessed.
Tweeter: 1-inch textile dome (with tweeter level control)
Midrange/Woofer: 8-inch aluminum cone
Enclosure: hybrid sealed box/transmission-line bass
Frequency Response: 30Hz to 16kHz (+/- 1dB)
Power handling: 125 Watts continuous, 1,000 Watts peak
Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover Type: 4th order symmetrical, in phase Linkwitz-Riley @ 950Hz
Dimensions: 21.5 x 12.625 x 15.75 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 65 lbs.
Loudspeaker Inputs: Gold-plated binding posts and Speak-On jack
Price: $2,795 per pair
SP Technology Loudspeakers, Inc.
Voice: (219) 324-6800