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Product Review - Sonique 5.5SE (Special Edition) Loudspeakers - August, 2000

David Wurtz - Editor, AUSTRALIA


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Sonique 5.5SE Speakers

Drivers: 3 Speaker - 2 way

One 140mm Woofer/Midrange

One 25mm Ferro-fluid Filled Tweeter

Enclosure: 20mm Thick MDF Timber-Veneered

Baffle: 43mm Thick

MFR: 46 Hz– 20 kHz within 6 dB @ 3 meters

Crossover Point: 3 kHz

Sensitivity: 88dB 1W @1 meter

Impedance: 6 Ohms (nominal)

THD: Less than 0.08% @ 1 watt

Minimum Rec Power Amp: 35 Watts RMS

MSRP: $2500 AUS

 

Sonique Audio Pty. Ltd., 86 Rundle Road, Salisbury South, South Australia 5106; International Telephone: +61 8 8285 9722; International Facsimile: +61 8 8285 9744; E-Mail: steve@sonique.com.au; Web http://www.sonique.com.au  http://www.sonique.com.au

Introduction

Sonique Audio, Australia, have recently released the 5.5 SE (Special Edition), a "4th generation" (or upgraded) model in their range of twenty odd loudspeakers. Formed in 1992 by Messrs Steve Lund and Greg Walden, they initially hit the market in 1992 with four models and have rapidly expanded into the Australian and world market. Their success has made them a "must listen to" group of speakers to compare with when purchasing a new system, and, on numerous occasions, it has been the buyer's first and last stop!

The 5.5SE is an interesting and increasingly popular concept, "an upgraded model!" Why didn’t they just release a new model I ask myself? It all has to do with marketing. Since the 5.5 has a following, by calling it the same model with some additional letters, buyers are already "familiar" with the design. So, let's see what years of development and refinement have done to an already popular loudspeaker.

Features

The 5.5 is quite a stunning looking speaker. They are designed as a column speaker, being thin for their height and sit upon a black base or pedestal, to which the speaker spikes attach. The base of the cabinet has been mineral-filled in the Sonique factory. The cabinet is 20mm thick lead-lined MDF with the front baffle being 43mm thick. The finish has a lovely deep inner-glow about it and is  available in two finishes, American Oak or Australian Jarrah. A delicate hand polish finishes the last coat of lacquer to give it the final touch.

The three drivers are arranged in a standard D’Appolito array. This means the tweeter is midway between the two mid/bass drivers, and it is a configuration that eliminates "lobing". Instead of perceiving the sound from a phantom horizontal left-to-right plane, you perceive the sound coming from phantom left and right vertical planes. The 5.5SE is actually electrically a two-way system as the bass drivers are coupled together.

As I mentioned, the bass drivers (SEAS of Norway) are placed top and bottom with the tweeter mounted in the middle. They are individually handpicked and acoustically matched at the factory. They have a polypropylene cone, rubber roll surround, cast magnesium chassis, and also a vented magnet. Each driver has an actual radius of 40mm measured with the trusty flexi-tape giving each driver 39.5 square centimeters of effective cone area, thus a total cone area per speaker of 79 square centimeters.

The tweeter is of a ferro-fluid design (Vifa) and has been recessed into the cabinet to acoustically align the three drivers. It is surrounded by a 3 layer deep acoustic treatment in a star configuration to eliminate high frequencies diffracted from the edge of the baffle.

Also mounted on the front baffle is the speaker’s port. Interestingly it is internally lined with the same acoustic treatment as the tweeter has around it.

The crossover is set on a PCB that is internally mounted (with the help of a large amount of silicone) to one side of the cabinet. It uses 1% tolerance (the tolerance is rating the exactness of the value of the component e.g., 10% is "standard", 5% "admirable", and 1% is a close to perfection that is available) high quality components. The polyester capacitors and "in-house" wound inductors are electrically matched and are then wired (silver soldered) with thick audiophile grade cable. The inside is also lined with Sonique's uniquely designed "Acoustic Pyramid Foam" which completely stops internal reflections.

On the rear the 5.5 has two pairs of gold plated binding post so they are able to be bi-wired or bi-amped.

Sound

I connected the Soniques into my reference system consisting of the Sony CDP-C545 CD player and Redgum RGi120 power amp. For those of you who have read my previous article on the Redgum, yes I simply had to buy it.

Admittedly, first impressions are not always the right ones. The 5.5s have comparably small drivers for the bass section, and I have encountered very few floorstanding loudspeakers with bass drivers smaller than 6 inches. But, they certainly are by no-means the only floorstanders on the market with "smaller than average" bass drivers. I thought there might be a slight lack of deep bass, as generally, to reproduce deep bass you need to move plenty of air to hear it. How wrong was I in this case. The Sonique has a surprisingly deep and may I say, impressive bass response. My main reference CD by "The Rockmelons" was being reproduced with wonderfully powerful, deep, and accurate bass notes. In fact, I found the 5.5SEs to be accurate through the whole audio spectrum. Metalica’s "Black" album has some "musically busy" features, and the Soniques really delivered. Even at higher SPLs, the fast paced bass guitar and kick drum, aggressive snare drum and guitars, powerful vocals and cymbals crashing and splashing all over the place were handled all in the 5.5’s stride. Very impressive I must say!

A reasonably new album on the market by drummer Steve Davis called "The Quality of Silence", played through the Soniques, showed me a new appreciation for the dynamics and openness of the jazz tracks this disc has. I re-positioned myself about 3 meters away, with the 5.5s about 3 meters apart (toed in), forming almost an equilateral triangle. As I sat and listened to (as Steve puts it in his summary on the inside of the CD cover) the "dynamic softness" of the instruments in the band, I closed my eyes and listened to the different nuances in the instruments that I was hearing. An open high-hat "chang" here, a ride cymbal "ting" there (as I pointed blindly into the air at the actual positions that these sounds were coming from), and a marvellous double bass, positioned right in the center of the soundstage that had been majestically cast into my listening room. This is, to me, is what hi-fi is all about!

The majestic "The Barber of Seville" was so surely engrossing, the violins!, the violins!!, the violins!!! – SUPERB! The adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 is a real treasure played through the Soniques. I was in awe of the pure tones coming from the piano - Oh that’s right, there was no piano in my room! It was from the loudspeakers.

Finally, I mated the 5.5SEs with a Micrex L1 amplifier (review coming soon). These two products seem to "acoustically mate" (I'm sure Steve Lund would also swear by this). The width of the soundstage increased well beyond my expectations, and an overall increase in depth, definition, and stereo imaging were also evident. These overall improvements, in comparison to my reference system and the 5.5SEs mated with the L1, were minor, but still excitingly noticeable. It just goes to show that specifically matching components can really pay off sonically.

Conclusion

For $2500AUS, I believe the Sonique 5.5SEs represent one of the best speaker values on the market anywhere in the world. They are an insightful and thoroughly involving listening experience. But in the words of a friend mine, they also "ROCK!" Obviously, something that was good is now much better.

- David Wurtz -

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