Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 09 October 2008
Introduction: General Information about Stereo Dave's Creation 650 Reference Speakers and Genesis Subwoofer
Many audio designers report that they design their components by listening, making a change, perhaps as small as a resistor, and then listening again. These are the guys you want making your stereo equipment. Even mass market audio equipment can be made to compete with uber-expensive models given the same treatment.
Stereo Daveâ€™s is one of a handful of small companies making a living by performing such modifications to CD players, DVD players and amplifiers.
For speakers, they have their very own unique design.
At the 2007 RMAF, Secrets Editor John Johnson heard a speaker very similar to the Creation 650 but this earlier version was called â€˜The Slateskapeâ€™ because the enclosure was constructed from a mixture of concrete, silica, quartz and newspapers.Â Not surprisingly this mixture proved to be troublesome in mass production.
Specifications: Stereo Daveâ€™s Creation 650 Reference Speakers
- Design: Sealed Enclosure
- Drivers: Single 6.5â€ Driver
- Freq Resp: Not Available
- Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
- Efficiency: 90 db (1.5 dB Variance)
- Dimensions: 8.5" H x 8.5" W x 12.5" D
- MSRP: $3,800/Pair USA
- Stereo Dave's
Specifications: Genesis Series 12P Subwoofer
- Design: Sealed Enclosure,Â 200 Watt Outboard Amplifier
- Driver: 12â€ Downward Firing
- MFR:Â Not Available
- Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
- Efficiency: Not Available
- Dimensions: 16.5" H x 16.5" W x
- MSRP: $1,395 USA
- Stereo Dave's
The Creation 650 uses somewhat more conventional materials but is still not the standard MDF. Rather itâ€™s a double walled construction of â€˜Strawboardâ€™. Strawboard is a less toxic substitute for MDF that is, as the name implies, made from straw. Combined with non toxic glue, the result is not as tight as MDF.
Sean Scoggin of Stereo Daveâ€™s chose it because of this property, believing that it has better damping characteristics than MDF. Sean cautions that strawboard is considered a green product because it is less toxic than MDF but on the whole the Creation 650 cannot be called that as the finish process while also unique is not especially green.
The 5 step finish process has been a special focus lately at Stereo Daveâ€™s. This review was delayed a bit as the process was refined. It was worth the wait, the finish is amazing. Automotive analogies keep coming to mind with these speakers and the finish is one reason for that. It reminds me of my sisters â€™69 Purple Camaro Super Sport. I didnâ€™t know when I would see purple metallic flakes again but Iâ€™ve missed them. Theyâ€™re in these speakers, embedded in the finish below multiple layers of clear, from most angles they seem to reflect purple light but sometimes itâ€™s a deep red. Completely gorgeous and better than black lacquer.
But thatâ€™s not even the main reason for the car-thoughts. The main reason is the driver.Â Not the driver of cars, the driver in the speaker.Â A single driver. A car stereo driver (inexpensive according to Sean).Â Modified in multiple ways including removing the tweeter. Thatâ€™s it. No crossover, no port. One driver, one double walled strawboard box with purple metallic flakes in the finish.
Single driver speakers were the passion of the â€˜Daveâ€™Â of Stereo Daveâ€™s. A Portland fixture, Dave Herren had a retail store where he sold modified hifi products at reasonable prices. Dave Herren passed on too soon last year from a sudden illness at only 56 years old. The Creation 650 design is an evolution of the single driver speaker design that was his passion.
The subwoofer I reviewed does not have the same finish as the Creation 650â€™s but that is available, this one has traditional black lacquer on the top surface with a cloth wrap around the vertical surfaces. The woofer is downward firing with the amplifier in a separate box. The amplifier is also a modified design with the speaker wires soldered directly to the circuit board. The box containing the amplifier has no back, it is meant to be placed against the wall if you donâ€™t want to look at the bottom of the circuit boards. The wires come out of the open side (back) of the box to go to the driver in the larger enclosure.
Sean and Rick of Stereo Daveâ€™s wanted me to hear the Creation 650 first at their place.Â I assured them that I have considerable hifi at my disposal in my own domicile. Still, they insisted. I think this is because the Creation 650â€™ are sensitive to setup.Â At their place, they sounded great. They were driving them with the modified Harmon Kardon receiver that John reviewed last year.Â
After moving the speakers over to my place, Sean and Rick spent a long time tweaking the setup to get to the same presence and full range that I heard at their place.Â My room is a little problematic in that I face the short span of the rectangle so the normal speaker placement near corners on a narrow wall wonâ€™t work. At Sean and Daveâ€™s house,Â they had them set up about 6 feet apart with a TV and lots of other equipment in between them. About 3 feet from the side and back walls and with no toe-in with the subwoofer behind the speakers. In their room they actually had multiple subwoofers going.
In my listening room Sean replicated about those same distances from the side and back walls but because of the seating arrangement the speakers were about 12 feet apart and toeâ€™d in slightly. The subwoofer was off to the side and in front of the right speaker, near the opening to the kitchen. This is how I did most of my listening. I also tried the speakers pushed up against the back wall for the bass boost to see if I could get by without the subwoofer. Not quite.Â I also tried moving them out into the center of the room, about 8 feet apart and only about 6 feet from the listening position. This was the best position, though impractical. Most small speakers sound best in the near field.
In all cases I was using the stands provided by Stereo Daveâ€™s which are taller than average speaker stands so that the single driver is up at ear height.
When John Johnson heard that earlier version of these speakers at RMAF last year he described the sound as â€˜immediateâ€™. Yes, itâ€™s just right there. Crossovers add complexity. I think weâ€™ve all become accustomed to it. Time aligned speakers attempt to do away with some of the complexity but there is still the basic issue of trying to seamlessly blend the sound from multiple drivers.Â The Creation 650â€™s do away with all of that and the effect is kind of like listening to headphones. Thereâ€™s just a simplicity and rightness to it that is undeniable and not like what youâ€™ll hear from other speakers.
Letâ€™s talk about some bandsâ€¦
Ladytron is a band that takes their name from a song on the first Roxy Music record. For this reason alone they deserve our respect. These guys are a modern day synth band and much depends on getting the subtleties of the synth sounds correct. Early synth bands were hampered by the soulless sounds available from most synthesizers. Thankfully those days are gone but the best synth bands still manage to tweak their instruments to get the most out of them.
But, I've found that not all speakers can convey these subtleties enough for the listener to really get what the band is about. The Creation 650â€™s can. Ladytron was coming through as a coherent whole, the dual female vocals and synthesizers in equal parts and the texture on the synth sounds was clearly evident.
Another notable band is Sun Kil Moon.Â Â Iâ€™m glad to see John Johnsonâ€™s ongoing series on Vinyl vs CDâ€™s. I can cut to the conclusion for you â€“ VINYL RULES!
But, here is a downside. When a new release comes out its typically on CD first. The release date is announced well in advance. The accompanying vinyl might be there on the same day, or maybe months or even years later, or maybe never. And no one can tell you which it will be. No one at the record store, no one at vinyl specialty online sites, no one at the record company (if they bother to respond to you at all). The one time I got any response at all was from the artists themselves (relayed by a fellow audio reviewer who happened to have the artistâ€™s email). Normally this ongoing annoyance simply leads to about 5 points of blood pressure for yours truly but sometimes it works out ok.
Sun Kil Moon is one of the multitude of indie bands prominently displayed at my favorite local record store, that I knew nothing about. Their latest CD kept catching my eye based on the cover but I was ambivalent after listening at the CD preview station. I thought it would be good on vinyl so I waited. Finally six months later a previous record by Sun Kil Moon showed up. I grabbed it anyway. What a gem.
Tiny Cities is a tribute album to another indie band, Modest Mouse. I didnâ€™t even know they needed a tribute as they are in the middle of their career but this record says they do. The songs are thoughtful and poetic. The Creation 650â€™s worked their same magic on this more sparse material with acoustic guitars and a single male vocal. I thought I would just listen to a side and then get on with some other business but I had to hear the whole thing. In my room the speakers seemed slightly better with male vocals as compared to female. This isnâ€™t to say that they werenâ€™t great with female vocals. When I first heard them at Stereo Daveâ€™s I played my standard â€˜Teardropâ€™ by Massive Attack. Elizabeth Frasier sounded as real as Iâ€™ve ever heard and the prominent rim shot on that track sounded more life like than Iâ€™ve ever heard on any speaker.
The Velvet Underground and Remember the Fiery Furnaces are twoÂ interesting recordings. The first was recorded in 1968, the second one is a modern live album. In both cases the Creation 650â€™s made them sound like what they are. That is, the vintage recording sounded like it, but good. Oh so good and just like it â€˜shouldâ€™ sound I think. â€˜Remember the Fiery Furnacesâ€™ is a sprawling 3 LP set of live recordings of this talented band. Through the 650â€™s it sounded like a live recording and great. I didnâ€™t necessarily get the â€˜you are thereâ€™ feeling but I firmly believe that what I heard is what the recording sounds like. I know that this may not make much sense. If I had to guess Iâ€™d say that the Creation 650â€™s are not recreating sound stage information as much as some speakers might but are getting the timbre and timing spot-on, instead. Also, there is that recording industry story that recording engineers do their final mix down on car stereo speakers. Hmmmmmm.
Stereo Daveâ€™s does not have efficiency or other measurements available for these speakers yet. I would guess that they are slightly less efficient than average. Maybe in the 86-87 db range. I think they are more efficient than Aperions (for example) which come in at a low 82 db.
I put my hands on the sides while playing rock at volume. Vibrations are evident, though they have a â€˜dampedâ€™ quality to them â€“ the speakers just donâ€™t feel like a sounding board. Some speakers do. The vibrations were also in a higher frequency range than what I typically feel with this test. Itâ€™s a smallish sealed box so that makes some sense. Rapping on the box with knuckles reveals that it is well damped. You can tell that itâ€™s a box but itâ€™s not resonant.
I was especially curious about the frequency response since Stereo Daveâ€™s didnâ€™t have this information available yet and there is no tweeter after all. I borrowed a Radio Shack SPL meter from my excellent local stereo retailer (stereotypesaudio.com). This turned out to be a boondoggle as this meter is not designed for measuring frequencies above 10k. Nonetheless, my floundering around prompted Stereo Daveâ€™s to obtain some unofficial measurements. These speakers start rolling off slowly at 15k but do extend to past 20kHz. I can tell you that the treble parts, such as cymbals, were always there and same as the midrange, they had a â€˜rightâ€™ quality â€“ like this is how it was meant to sound.
If I turned the volume up beyond my comfort level I think I heard some break-up in the midrange sounds. Hopefully that wasnâ€™t my ears breaking up but in any case if you want speakers to aim at your neighborâ€™s house, because they have an annoying, yapping dog, these may not be the speakers for you. Also, these speakers require a subwoofer, if you have a conventional two channel setup, then you probably donâ€™t have a subwoofer out on your preamp. That means youâ€™ll have to manually adjust the volume level on the sub separately, and without a remote, from your main volume level.
Conclusions about the Creation 650 Reference Speakers
In my opinion,Â these speakers bringÂ musical involvement and what they donâ€™t bring is fatigue. What you might get at higher price points is more separation between instruments and voices etc. You might also get a dose of fatigue or other artifacts from crossovers and peaky tweeters, that these speakers just donâ€™t have, they canâ€™t. No crossover, no artifacts.Â I kept finding myself wanting to listen to another record (even CDâ€™s) with the Creation 650â€™s and I think you would too. The sense of â€˜just sounding rightâ€™, that I wrote about above, is huge. What I noticed with the 650â€™s was the music and they left me wanting more. These speakers know how to get out of the way like few others do.
Sidebar on CD Clarity
Stereo Daveâ€™s provided me a bottle of CD Clarity to go along with this review. You spray a small amount on CDâ€™s or DVDâ€™s to reduce static charge and thereby improve sound and visuals, respectively. I can vouch for the former but not that latter. I didnâ€™t see a difference with DVDs but I definitely heard a difference with CDs. I didnâ€™t want to but I did. The difference is some of that â€˜blacker backgroundâ€™ thing that you get with a lot of tweaks but also more detail and nuanced sounds. If there was a breathiness to a vocal, for example, it seemed like I missed it before applying the CD Clarity.
The first and perhaps only difference something like this should make is the elimination of playback errors. Fair enough, CDs do have errors during playback. But they also have a thing called Reed-Solomon Product Code Forward Error Correction. I spent some time with this intriguing algorithm back when I designed chips for a living. It works. Errors during playback are detected and corrected through the use of some advanced mathematics and redundant data. That doesnâ€™t mean that it canâ€™t be overwhelmed, such that errors still get through, but the data I have leads me to think that in general the error correction is not being overwhelmed, the bits should be getting to the DAC without errors. Sigh! Perhaps there is another explanation.Â In the meantime, Iâ€™m planning on continuing to use this stuff.