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Product Review - Silverline Audio SR-15 Monitor Speakers - November, 2001

Arvind Kohli


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Specifications:

Drivers: One 1" Soft Dome Tweeter, One 6" Piloypropylene Mid-Range/Woofer, Crossover Frequency 2.7 kHz

MFR: 40 Hz - 20 kHz 3 dB

Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms

Power Handling: 200 Watts

Sensitivity: 90 dB/W/M

Size: 13" H x 8" W x 12" D

Weight: 20 Pounds Each

MSRP: $1,799/Pair USA; Birdseye Maple, Rosewood, Piano Black

 

 

Silverline Audio, 2170 Commerce Avenue, Suite P, Concord, California 94520; Phone 925-825-3682; Fax 925-256-4577; E-Mail sales@silverlineaudio.com;
Website: http://www.silverlineaudio.com/
 

Introduction

There is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. And in designing speakers there perhaps are more ways than cats. What I love about being a reviewer is to have the opportunity to see how these differences in approach yield different-sounding products. I would like to emphasize, that for the most part different does not imply better of worse. I may reveal my preference in some places, but that does not mean your tastes will concur. I hope you can use my findings as a basis to discover your own.

I find that each designer seems to have certain preferences, and they are all very successful at designing products to meet those preferences. Besides auditioning, I believe high-end consumers should be apprised of the designer's priorities. This seems to be a great way to shortlist products to pursue, and that is why I make sure to include the priorities and philosophy of the designer in my reviews.

The Manufacturer

Founded in 1996, Silverline is the second audio venture of Alan Yun. The first was Classics One that he had established in his native Hong Kong. An amateur musician and an electrical engineer by trade, he has always been fascinated with music and high-end gear. Testimony of his involvement is in the 4400 speakers that he hand built while in Hong Kong.

All Silverline speakers are hand made in Concord, California. Alan strongly believes in getting the midrange right, and with good reason, since this is where most of the musical information lies. He also designs his speakers crossover first, then the cabinet and finally the drivers.

Silverline makes five stand-mounted speakers, starting at $1,000 for the SR-12 to $2,500 for the SR-17. They also make seven floor-standers and one center channel. According to Alan, the SR-15 was intended to be a general purpose speaker mainly for Classical, Jazz, Chamber music, and vocals. This is consistent with the design focus on a detailed mid-range and smooth, soft highs. It is also intended for small to mid-sized rooms (less than 2400 ft3).

Setup

My listening room is 16' by 16' by 8'. For casual listening, the speakers were placed so that there were 70" between the tweeters, and 128" from the tweeters to the listening position. For critical listening sessions, all three points were about 70" from each other, and well away from room boundaries.

Alan recommends you experiment a little with placement, and a good start is to divide the room in 1/3s. Place the speakers 1/3 away from the back wall and your seat 1/3 from the other end, then move placement around to adjust for best sound and practicality. Toe-in is not recommended unless side walls are too close, and even then I would rather use sound panels instead of toe-in. In my tests with the speakers firing straight ahead, images were sized perfectly, and highs did not seem too rolled off. Height is suggested to be kept a little below ear level.

Like all other designers/manufacturers I have talked to, Alan also is not very keen on bi-wiring and says it is better to have one run of high quality wire instead of 2 runs of lesser quality. Alan insists, if you do bi-wire or bi-amp then make sure both wires and amps are exactly the same.

The Outside

The review sample was furnished in a High Gloss Black, which was not as flawless as I would expect. I later learned that the samples were the workshop prototype/demo pair. Productions units are probably finished to a higher standard. Other finishes available are in Birdseye Maple and Rosewood. The cloth grille looks as good on as it does off.

The rear is supplied with two pairs of binding posts to allow for bi-wiring and bi-amping.



Technical Information

To better understand this product, I think the best approach would be to describe the technicals in the same way it is designed.

The crossover is a very simple design that uses a 1st order slope (6dB/octave) on both the tweeter and the mid-bass driver. One of the reasons for a 1st order crossover is that it does not need a lot of components and the signal is subjected to less processing. In some cases, though, additional parts might be needed to fine-tune the crossover. This is a purist approach that heeds audiophile standards of minimalism. The high-pass filter feeding the tweeter consists only of a capacitor, and the low-pass feeding the mid-bass driver is a simple inductor.

The cabinet is made of " to 1" treated MDF, that is specially sourced. Alan does not believe in controlling all the resonance of the box, but allowing some of it to complement the drivers like a musical instrument would. The cabinet is tuned to a resonance point of 240 Hz to 320 Hz. Currently, the cabinets are built by an outside company. Actually, his view is the speaker should act very much like a musical instrument and by all means be considered one. The inside of the cabinet is stuffed with Macron (a synthetic fabric) for damping the backwaves of the drivers. Synthetic materials like Macron can be more expensive, but do not absorb moisture and do not disintegrate easily over time. No moth eggs either.

The tweeter is a 1" soft dome unit sourced from LPG (Germany). All Silverline products are made with soft dome tweeters. Alan has a strong preference for the softer and sweeter highs, compared to metal tweeters.

The mid-bass driver is a 6" polypropylene piece sourced from SEAS. It features an over-sized magnet (4.3"!!!) that is supposed to allow better control and bass response.

The frequency response is given as 40 Hz to 25 kHz, with no specified tolerance. Sensitivity was specified as 90dB/M/W. Impedance is specified as 8 Ohms nominal, 6.8 Ohms minimum, and a maximum of about 10 Ohms. This is a rather nice even load that should make it very friendly for just about any amplifier.

The Sound

In the course of this review I was able to do something I have wanted to do for a long time, compare several speakers at one time in the exact same setup. In addition to the Silverline SR15 ($1,799), I also had samples of the Dynaudio Contour 1.1 ($1,695), Triangle Titus XS ($495), Monitor Audio GR10 ($1,899) and Totem Model 1 Signature ($1,995). I tested each with a 'pink noise' reference track and marked the point on my volume dial where each registered at 70 db,
1 dB. I then repeatedly listened to a single track on each speaker and noted the differences. Before I get into the details, let me say they all sounded closer to each other than not. The differences I note below are apparent in a critical listening setup, i.e. I heard the difference only because I was specifically listening for any. In a casual listening session, most of these differences would have been unnoticed. Here is what I heard on some select tracks.

"Come On in This House" (Junior Wells, Come on in this house, Telarc, CD83395) is a well recorded example of a complex soundstage with several acoustic instruments. All 5 speakers did very well with rendering detail and separation of instruments. The SR15 was able to give the kick-drum enough weight to make it believable, some of the smaller speakers were a little shy in this area. These speakers really do not need a subwoofer for most music listening, home-theater applications will certainly benefit from a dedicated sub. The SR-15 also excelled in the richness of the vocals and harp, Alan's focus on a smooth mid-range certainly paid off in this respect.

"Acoustic Drum Solo" (Russ Henry, Stereophile test CD 2, Stereophile, STPH 004-2) is an excellent minimalist recording done at the former Manley Labs with their reference microphone. The SR15 displayed the most laid back image of the group, about the same as the Triangle Titus. This is not a good or bad thing, just a matter of preference. Also in common with the Titus, the bass response of the SR-15 was not as tight as the other speakers. This is an interesting outcome, since both manufacturers state that they do not believe in making the cabinet extremely braced, but that the cabinet should be tuned to complement the drivers. I both cases I was not impressed by the outcome in this frequency range. Otherwise, tonality was excellent and image size was nearly perfect with the speakers aimed straight ahead.

"Yesterdays" (Dave Brubeck, Nightshift, Telarc, CD-83351), is perhaps the best recording I have ever heard of a live performance, complete with ambient sounds from the audience. The detail on this recording was revealed equally well on all speakers, with the Totem and Dynaudio just an inch ahead of the rest.

"All or Nothing at All" (Diana Krall, Love Scenes, Impulse, IMPD233) is my favourite test for a Double Bass, and the dynamic range in Diana's voice is also a test I often use. The SR15 again provided the deepest but not the tightest or fastest rendition of the double-bass. Of course, the smoothness in Diana's voice was excellent on the SR-15, again showing the result of Alan's efforts here.

"Girl From Ipanema" and "Para Machuchar Meu Coracao" (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve 314521414-2) is a well recorded classic, except for the slight chestiness in the male vocals. Speakers weak in this area tend to magnify the problem with these tracks, and thus the recording has become a standard test in my reviews. The Triangle Titus and Silverline SR-15 again had a little too much energy in this area, which in this case made the passage sound boomy.

"O Grande Amor" (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve 314521414-2) is one of the few older pieces I can think of that make me appreciate an analogue master tape, from which this album was remastered. The microphone puts you right in the mouth of the tenor sax to the point you can hear the horn chuffing. The Silverline SR-15 was noticeably different from the others, in that the sax was much deeper and richer. Perhaps the result was not true to the recording, but it certainly sounded deliciously good. I felt very indulgent and pleasured.

"Pawn Shop" (Sublime, Sublime, Gasoline Alley, GASD-11413) is a surefire test for testing dynamics and power handling. The Silverline SR15 and Triangle Titus both were deeper and louder than the rest of the bunch, at the cost of speed and tightness. The tonality of the snare on the Silverline sounded like a much larger drum, one with a deeper and slower sound.

Finally, "Mar Azul" (Cesaria Evora, Mar Azul, Nonesuch, 79533-2) is a must for female vocals. The SR-15 had a slightly laid back image. Vocals were beautifully smooth, and the peaks were nicely rounded off with no hint of harshness. Again, the Silverlines delivered a very pleasing and easy sound.

Overall, the Silverline SR-15 excelled in the midrange, as is the stated goal of designer Alan Yun. Vocals and instruments were extremely smooth. Highs were not at all harsh, but in most cases had all the detail that the other speakers could deliver. Only in some cases did the SR-15 prove a little shy on detail. Bass, while very deep, did not have the speed and tightness for my taste. Image and dynamic range was fully competitive with anything I compared it to.

Conclusion

Indeed, I did find a couple of things to pick at during direct comparisons and critical listening. However, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these speakers for the most part. I would agree that the midrange is very important in the overall sound of a speaker, and the SR15 does a beautiful job in this area.

If tight bass and etched high-end is what you need, then look elsewhere. If smooth highs, extended bass, sensitivity, and lush midrange are what floats your boat, then you must check these out. If you are in love with an amp lacking in strong bass capabilities, the SR-15 will probably nicely compensate. The overall impression focuses on a smooth and detailed midrange, soft highs, and loose, extended bass. The design leans towards mating the SR-15 with tube amps. Regardless of your preferences, you will find these very easy and inviting to listen to.

Associated Equipment:

Speakers: Dynaudio Contour 1.1; Triangle Titus XS; Monitor Audio GR10; Totem Model 1 Signature
Amplifiers: Bryston 4B Pro; NAD 317 (Integrated)
Preamplifiers: PS Audio IV
Digital Source: Panasonic A320; Pioneer D414
Outboard DAC: MSB Gold Link III with P1000 Powerbase
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300
Connectors: Self designed.

 

- Arvind Kohli - 

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Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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