We bandy around the term reference a good deal in hi-fi reviewing. What do we mean by it? Best we've ever heard, best in class, the ideal component, or something that conforms to our personal ideals? Actually, it just means a component we use as a baseline when listening to other stuff. It makes sense that we chose that reference carefully, that it conform to some measure of excellence, and that we have it on hand so we can compare other components to it. So who needs a reference? I do, along with my fellow reviewers. And so do audio manufacturers. Just as YG Acoustics most likely have some Magico speakers on hand and vice versa. You have to know how you compare with the best of the competition, and you also want to know what is possible regardless of price if you are designing something much more modest. The YG Carmel is good enough, if you believe the hype in their ads or the recent review in The Absolute Sound, that it may be a reference for a large number of speaker manufacturers. And if all those reviewers and manufacturers who might buy the Carmel as a reference did so, YG would probably have their production capacity stretched to the limit without selling a single pair to an end user. So the question I'm going to tackle today is this. Is the YG Carmel a good reference? I'll let you into a little secret, so you don't need to rush straight to the last sentence. YG Acoustics and The Absolute Sound are not completely out to lunch in their claims for the Carmel. There is certainly something special going on here.
This review has been fermenting for an extended
period. When such a significant component comes along it is important to listen
to it using a wide variety of partnering equipment. The bulk of my listening
involved the EMM Labs XDS1 feeding the EMM Labs Pre2 into a Bryston 4BSST˛,
using a Nordost Thor and Nordost Valhalla cabling throughout. I also used a
Meridian G08 CD player, a NAIM UnitiQute integrated amp, a Micromega AS400
integrated amp, a Parasound Halo JC2 preamp, a Modwright KWA 150 Signature
Edition power amp and my analog source, Linn Sondek LP12/Itok/Clearaudio
Virtuoso Wood/Avid Pulsus with Cardas phono cable. I experimented with cables,
switching to Atlas Mavros speaker cable and a variety of Gutwire cable. In every
case a change in the partnering equipment was immediately noticeable, so clearly
we are dealing with a very revealing speaker here. Also the Carmel seems to
present an easy load for an amplifier – each one I tried was able to drive the
Carmel without strain and sounded better doing so than any other speaker I
attached them to. So far, so good.
Before I do any serious listening, I play a test CD to make sure everything is in phase, make some measurements using white noise to calibrate volume levels, and monkey around with the position and angle of the speakers. I could tell something special was going on just from sound of the white noise. I've never heard it so smooth and even, and it retained this quality as I moved about the room. An auspicious start!
The Carmel uses a technology we call
FocusedElimination. It is essentially a "fancy word" for saying that
we don't just stuff damping material inside our enclosures in order to eliminate
resonances, but rather we apply pinpoint resonance-absorption only in the exact
location where the resonance would otherwise occur. This means that we don't
suffer from nearly as much friction as a stuffed enclosure would.
Now, here is how friction negatively affects
low-level performance: friction means that instead of the cabinet acting as an
ideal air-spring, it converts some of its elastic energy (i.e. pressure from air
compressing and expanding) into heat. This portion that is converted into heat
is unfortunately not linear - at lower volumes, more of the air movement is
hindered by the stuffing than it is at higher volumes. Therefore,
low-level performance suffers.
the extreme case, below a certain volume threshold, the static friction of the
stuffing is too high for the air to penetrate, i.e. it doesn't move at all and
the entire cabinet acts as a "rigid, stationary air wall" behind
the driver, not allowing it to move at all. At slightly higher volumes, as the
air manages to move only during part of the driver's movement cycle, the driver
suffers from an effect known as "stick-slip", which is a particularly
nasty form of distortion. Subjectively, the former effect leads to the decay of
musical instruments ending prematurely through the speaker, and the latter
results in a dry, "constipated", energy-lacking sound at low
Having had the Carmel in place for six months now, I am surprised at each listening session just how freely music flows from it. This is not just a result of its superb linearity, but also a direct result of the way it reproduces bass. The vast majority of dynamic speakers are based on the bass reflex principle with one or even multiple ports. Even the exotic Wilson Audio Sasha is a ported design. However like archrival Magico, YG takes the purist approach of using an infinite baffle or sealed box design. This tends to be less efficient than a ported design and the bass response may start to fall off earlier. On the plus side, the fall-off in response, when it comes, will be less steep, and the bass produced much cleaner. So it is with the Carmel.
Bass has amazing speed and articulation. It's as clean as a whistle with not a trace of the boominess that afflicts so many large speakers. A bass line is as focused and well pitched as anything in the midrange. This means the speaker achieves a magical integration of the low and midrange into a seamless whole. A run from one end to the other of the 88 piano keys delivers the consistency through the octaves that you hear in the concert hall but which eludes almost all HiFi systems. Now I'm not telling you this is the best bass I've ever heard, because this is not a full range speaker in the way that its bigger brothers can be described. We're dealing with the laws of physics here, and there's only so much deep bass that can be produced by a single 7" modified Scan-Speak woofer and a cabinet of this size. So it is quality not quantity I'm talking about. The bass response tapers off smoothly rather than falling off a cliff as so often happens in a ported design and this too makes for a more natural sound. It goes without saying that port noise is entirely absent (no port-noise-complaint here).
Let us examine the other end of the spectrum. The high frequencies are the key to a speaker's musicality. If you have a three way speaker, try this simple experiment. Disconnect the woofer and likely the music still makes sense, albeit without the sheer grunt and drive you are used to. But disconnect the tweeter and the music just falls flat and becomes unlistenable. YG has implemented a superb tweeter here. According to their website Carmel utilizes Scan-Speak drivers, modified to YG Acoustics specifications. The tweeter, which is assembled in-house, is a highly modified ring-radiator type. It offers greatly extended bandwidth, linearity and power-handling. I don't care how they get there, but I am thrilled with the results. The high frequencies emerge clear and sweet with unlimited extension and wide dispersion. It is quite the best treble I have ever heard in my house, and as with the bass, it's superbly integrated with the midrange.
The drivers, excellent though they may be, do not dictate the performance of a speaker, they just put a top limit on what can be achieved. Next we must consider the cabinet design and the crossover. The Carmel inherits many design traits from its bigger (and more expensive) brothers, the Anat and Kipod. You can forget about wood or composite materials – we're talking an aircraft grade aluminum chassis, machined in their own workshop to incredibly tight tolerances with no two sides parallel. The website reads FocusedElimination anti-resonance technology keeps mechanical losses lower than any competing speaker, by combining the minimized turbulence of a sealed design with the low friction otherwise associated with enclosure-free concept. As for the crossover, designer Yoav Geva has developed DualCoherent software which he claims can optimize a crossover design for frequency response and phase coherence at the same time – normally you can have one or the other but not both.
Visuals And In Use
The Carmel is an easy load for an amplifier and
also uncritical with respect to positioning. The narrow rear profile is one
factor here, the absence of porting another, but a lot of the credit goes to the
selection of drivers with very wide dispersion patterns and the way the tweeter
is placed within a shallow waveguide cone in the metal baffle. You can place the
speaker closer to corners and rear walls than many rivals, and you also get
quite a wide sweet spot. By adjusting the height of the rear spike you can fine
tune the angle of radiation of the tweeter, and by adjusting the toe in you can
optimize the response for your room. I found best results with the speakers
aimed a few feet behind me, situated about 8 foot apart and about 18" from the
Now to the meat of the matter. There are certain
speakers over the years that have achieved a level of realism that makes you
forget the equipment and just take a deep dive into the music. The connection is
just that strong. Chief among these have been the TAD Model One and Reference
One, the Magico Q5, the KEF Muon and the Revel Salon 2. To this list I must now
add the YG Carmel. It's the least expensive speaker on the list, and it is that
Compared to the others on the list, it doesn't
dig as deep and it doesn't play as loud. But its immediacy, tonal accuracy,
resolution, speed and imaging are simply astonishing, even by the highest
standards. There is no way this pair of speakers is going back to the State of
Colorado where it was born. I'm addicted. No easy matter, since I've been very
happy with the astonishing modified Wilson Benesch Act 1 speakers these many
years and they've seen off all comers. But the Carmel has all the strengths I
value so much in the Act 1 – speed, imaging, low distortion and superb
linearity chief amongst them. The Carmel pushes each of these qualities up a
notch or two and adds a much improved purity at the top end, a significantly
more even frequency response and improved clarity at low volume and under
stress. The Act 1 and the Carmel could be brothers in fact. Both are
technological marvels, slim, elegant, using exotic materials and finished to
impeccable standards. But it's really the sound that marks them as brothers.
Neither adds an iota of midrange warmth. If it's in the signal, you get it, if
it's not you don't. No sugar coating here. Neither adds that little boost to the
low frequency response to give the impression of a deeper low bass that might
please the ear, and neither optimizes the imaging for a tightly defined hot
spot, a trait that for me has spoiled a number of otherwise excellent speakers.
I suspect neither is voiced by ear after the engineers have done their
engineering best. Such tinkering may make the speaker more interesting or
appealing but if it's at the expense of accuracy, count me out.
I've listened to a lot of music through the
Carmel, and it seems completely at home in every genre. I did manage to catch it
out just once and under extreme circumstances. The phenomenal new SACD of
Britten's Orchestra with Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony,
recorded by Prof. Keith Johnson [Reference Recordings RR-120SACD], is captured
at what appears to be a very low level, so I turned up the wick. In fact the
overall level is set deliberately low to allow the amazing percussion thwacks
near the end to be captured without any limiting. In other words there's an
absolutely extraordinary dynamic range on this recording. At the climax the
woofers did max out. Most other speakers would compress or simply soften the
highest amplitude transients. The Carmel is about the truth. So like Schnabel
playing Beethoven the way he felt it should be played without making allowances
for the limits of his own dexterity, the Carmel tries to tell the unvarnished
truth and occasionally runs into the laws of physics regarding maximum
excursion. Time to turn the volume control down a notch.
So you might think from this that the Carmel is
limited in its maximum volume. I'm sure it is, but I never again ran into those
limits. It can put out prodigious volumes of sound, and never seems to compress
on peaks in regular listening. Its limitations are very specific in turns of
sudden extreme low frequency transients. The other speakers on my short list are
much larger and better equipped to handle these transient peaks, as I imagine
are the larger YG speakers which I have not had the opportunity to test.
Today I played a disk that was given out for free by the City of Stratford (Ontario) for answering a few question about tourism in the high street there. It's from a box of Mozart String Quartets dedicated to Haydn and played by the Orford String Quartet on the CBC label [SMCD5040-2]. I wasn't expecting too much from a freebie but the immediacy of the sound is truly captivating, and this great music just springs to life in my living room, courtesy of the Carmel. This magic is repeated whatever disc you play. The dynamics are so great, the string tones so realistic, the sound so full of detail and harmonic accuracy, the listener is immediately transported.
But if you take instead a disc with outstanding recording quality, the results will just blow your mind. The 2004 pairing of Alfred Brendel with his son Adrian performing Beethoven's Complete Works for Piano and Cello [Decca 475379-2] is a case in point. The warmth generated by these two superb musicians is entirely natural. The recording places you close enough to the performers to catch every subtle shade and interplay. There's no etch nor loss of fine detail. Very soon you forget you're there to review equipment. The pen slips from the fingers, you lean back into the music and the next time you look, two hours have gone by.
How sad that so many of the greatest classical
performers of the 20th century did their best work before the
availability of top notch recorded sound. Schnabel, Cortot and Toscanini for
sure, Beecham, Callas, Bjorling perhaps. Arthur Rubinstein on the other hand
became more musical the older he got, before he began to lose some of his
technique in his eighties. But the coupling of Schubert's D960 Sonata and the
Wanderer fantasy [RCA 09026 63054-2], recorded in 1965 while he was in his mid
seventies is an astonishing achievement, and he receives the best sound quality
of his life in RCA's Italian studio. Playing through the EMM Labs XDS1 and Pre 2
with the Modwright KWA 150SE, this RCA Victor recording, never before published,
is the closest I have ever heard to Rubinstein's sound as I remember it from the
half dozen times I heard him in the concert hall. Everything is here, power,
grandeur, sparkling treble, deep bass runs, the Carmel reveals it all. No
pianist ever had such a wondrous limpid tone as Rubinstein, and the object of
this hobby, to me at least, is to hear an artist such as Rubinstein in all his
This setup not only transports me in classical music, but can do the same for jazz and every other kind of music. Holly Cole's Girl Talk [Alert Z2-81016]is a revelation here. This disc is so well recorded as to sound wonderful on just about any stereo, but I was not prepared for what I heard with the Carmel. "My Baby Just Cares For Me" emerges with the cleanest, tightest, most energetic and detailed sound picture I have ever experienced. Garett Brennan's "The Dog Song" from The Blue Coast Collection [Blue Coast Records BCRSA1012] shows a delicacy and subtle harmonics to blow your mind, while the more mainstream Jennifer Warnes SACD The Well [Cisco 2034] brings such warmth, clarity and immersive power you simply cannot believe that's a 7" woofer. Warnes' voice on "Too late Love comes" has all the presence, color and dynamics you could wish for. Set first against a silent background and then joined by one instrument at a time, this is enormously effective. "Invitation to the Blues" is another demonstration quality performance as is the title track, and all delivered effortlessly yet with full force.
We appreciate Phil's very accurate assessment that YG's larger speakers are equipped to handle even larger volumes. YG Acoustics does in fact produce bigger relatives to the Carmel that offer that same addictive quality that Phil experienced. The Anat III series speakers in particular are designed for larger rooms where the need for correspondingly larger volume capabilities is greater.
To us at YG Acoustics, the greatest compliment is
when a highly accomplished and seasoned professional like Phil chooses to
purchase our speakers for their reference system. Thank you Phil for this
compliment, and we wish you many years of enjoying wonderful music through our
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