Review: Reference 3A Reflector monitors

the sound of Tao

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Timing getting to an audio happy place and running out out of money is more like riding the perfect wave. I’m in a similar position... I’ve locked in speakers, amp, pre, cables, power and mechanical isolation... still a bit more room to move on the source... select 2 may forever remain just an alluring mystery for me... though I would love to go there in say 6 to 8 years time as a (second hand) final destination. I’m patient... and happy... and loving the music better than ever.
 
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Al M.

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I’m patient... and happy... and loving the music better than ever.

Yes, I am loving the music better than ever too! With a good system you can also just hear so much more of the music. Writing this makes me think, among others, of both Ian's and my experience of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring first live at the Boston Symphony and subsequently on my system, as detailed on the above linked thread about the Octave HP 700 preamp.
 
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Al M.

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View attachment Speaker_toe_in_0819.jpg



While I loved the sound of my speakers, I did think that sometimes the treble was a bit much and that, based on previous experiences, toning it down might also increase the perceived body of sound, especially in the lower midrange.

I had briefly tried some time ago to somewhat toe out the speakers from the position described in post #1, but had not perceived a marked difference in the output of upper treble, unlike with slight changes in toe-in of my old Reference 3A MM DeCapo monitors. This had fooled me for too long into thinking that toe-in does not change tonality with these new monitors unless it is extreme, which then has disadvantages as described in post #33. Yet with the overall changes and improvements of tonality in my system, most recently with the new Octave preamp (see also post #38), I decided to try again.

Now I couldn't believe how much difference toe out by just a few degrees made (less than the final toe-in shown in the picture above). When I heard it first, I thought "the system sounds so much more wooden!" (In terms of portraying the wooden body of string instruments, for example.) The tonality was considerably more real; I think the lesser emphasis on lower treble/upper midrange has contributed to that, while in that case upper treble (small triangles etc.) were still as or nearly as prominent.

Some time later I tried to toe in a few degrees more to the current position -- as you can see in the right image above, even though toe-in is less than the original, in absolute terms it is still very pronounced.

Body increased even further, but now the upper treble also became slightly less prominent. I decided that I prefer the resulting tonal balance, with even more body. It's now a little more like in the concert hall, where things tend to sound a bit more "toned down". Yet I cannot hear any disadvantages; liveliness and perceived dynamics are just as strong as before. Soundstage may even be a bit wider.

It is good to know that the speakers offer more flexibility when it comes to adjustment of tonal balance than I had anticipated.

Of course, the acoustics of each listener's room and tonal balance of each system will decide which level of toe-in is best in each case. I assume in some cases the manufacturer's initial recommendation in the manual (c.f. post # 1) will still be best.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Congratulations on ameliorating that bit of treble brightness!
 
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ack

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Congrats Al! We seem to be fighting the same fight there! As I told you the other day, dynamic speaker positioning was driving me nuts decades ago, when I decided to switch to panels, and if there is one thing I hate about high end audio it would be the dynamic tweeter
 
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Al M.

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Thanks Ron and Ack!

Ack, I do think that with dynamic speakers, regardless of toe in, you deal more critically with issues like reflections because, as you say, the radiation pattern is different, and that can be problematic especially with the tweeter. So yes, in that sense dynamic speakers seem more of a pain to get right, and finding the right positioning can be messed up by these issues. Even when you tackle reflections with room treatment -- and I have spent years on trying to get that right -- it is still not easy.

Yet when, after I came home on Saturday from your place, I listened again to the violin on that Grieg violin sonata CD I noticed that the high register sounded very similar to your electrostatics, much more than I thought. Before toe out there was a slight silvery sheen on the strings which may or may not have been interpretable as realistic, but in any case, the fact that my treble sounds now much closer to yours on this and other material seems a testament to the apparently now relatively seamless integration of tweeter with mid-woofer. It doesn't get better than to have a great electrostat as comparison, the panel of which is just one unit, covering everything from lower frequencies up. I'm not claiming the treble is the same, but it seems close enough for most cases, at least to my ears. You'll judge for yourself next time.
 

ack

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Will come up soon. But this stuff was what had me switching to ribbon tweeters from dynamic, and eventually I said to myself, screw it all, one uniform *linear* driver with a specific narrow radiation pattern that minimizes reflections has to be best; then went out to build my own speakers around that.
 

Al M.

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Will come up soon. But this stuff was what had me switching to ribbon tweeters from dynamic, and eventually I said to myself, screw it all, one uniform *linear* driver with a specific narrow radiation pattern that minimizes reflections has to be best; then went out to build my own speakers around that.

To excellent result. But then, it appears that your speakers have little in common with the stock Martin Logans that you modified from.
 

PeterA

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Will come up soon. But this stuff was what had me switching to ribbon tweeters from dynamic, and eventually I said to myself, screw it all, one uniform *linear* driver with a specific narrow radiation pattern that minimizes reflections has to be best; then went out to build my own speakers around that.

Ack, I understand that preference for a single linear driver with a narrow radiation pattern. But that was then. Do you think there has been progress in this area with some contemporary dynamic speaker designs? Specifically, coherent, well integrated drivers and better behaved tweeters? I remember you writing after a Magico M3 audition that you really liked its tweeter/mid performance and that it set a very high standard in this regard, or something like that.

Al's monitors seem very well behaved now, but it did take some time to optimize their position in his room. And surprisingly, his toe position is at odds with the manufacturer's recommendation which has the speakers more toed in. I continue to learn that speaker position and set up in general are essential to good sound, and as I look back at various changes I've made to my system over the years, I can't help but think that I did not hear my system's full potential before I switched to some new component hoping for improvement in specific area that could well have simply been speaker positioning or system set up.

Anyway, I plan to hear Al's system tonight and hope to make it to Ack's later this Fall to hear the changes.
 

ack

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Peter, driver integration is partly dependent on set up as well - that will never go away.
Ack, I understand that preference for a single linear driver with a narrow radiation pattern. But that was then. Do you think there has been progress in this area with some contemporary dynamic speaker designs? Specifically, coherent, well integrated drivers and better behaved tweeters? I remember you writing after a Magico M3 audition that you really liked its tweeter/mid performance and that it set a very high standard in this regard, or something like that.

Yes, absolutely there's been major improvement indeed, and moreover in the design and execution of tweeters. The M3 does indeed set a very high standard in this regard. Lately, I have actually come to like the speaker after its positioning was changed more to my thinking at the dealer's, excepting any low end output below 50Hz or so; and this is something I mentioned to Al the other day. So with subs, I would tend to think this speaker can sound wonderful indeed, IF set up properly. But one thing I've always craved wrt tweeters is the ability to tune the output at the crossover level, a la Wilson von Schweikert and others; ditto for bass, again, a la Wilson
 

Al M.

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Recently I tried again to put the speakers closer together. I had them pretty far apart, 8.1 ft tweeter to tweeter (with distance of about 8.6 ft from ear to tweeter) because I wanted to have a wide soundstage. They had already moved closer together by two inches from my original position, with no drawbacks. Yet when I tried to move them even further together at the end of last year, soundstage width diminished noticeably, not to my liking.

Since the distance between speakers can influence tonality, about 10 days ago I performed another test. This time I moved the speakers a full four inches closer together (ca. 7.7 feet tweeter to tweeter), two inches on each side, while more or less keeping toe-in the same. With the change, the distance tweeter to ear was also reduced, at no change of listening position.

As for soundstage width and overall size, this produced an outcome unlike my earlier attempts: On a number of recordings of orchestral music (where width especially matters to me) apparent width did not seem affected at all, as far as I could tell, with perhaps an exception on just a few recordings. The system still threw a large soundstage (including depth). I listened for this in the dark, as I now usually do anyway, thus eliminating the visual influence of seeing the speakers closer together.

Peter A reasonably suggested that the greater toe out of the speakers that I have now (see above) makes moving them closer together more immune to a reduction of perceived soundstage width. Perhaps a superior spatial presentation and imaging by my Octave HP 700 preamp, which in April replaced a Pass B1 buffer, also plays a role. I cannot exclude the possibility that the installation of ceiling diffusers earlier this year may be partially responsible as well for the lack of influence on perceived width on orchestral music by moving the speakers closer together. -- On chamber music recordings, on the other hand, the perceived width is somewhat reduced, which is actually beneficial for realism.

What I did notice right away was improved tone on orchestral massed violins, yet another step forward in what already had been very good, in some cases astonishingly so. There was a somewhat softer 'edge' to their sound, including when they play fortissimo, which appears to be closer to the real thing. 'Silkiness' of sound further increased. On the other hand, cutting brass retained all its fierce intensity with the new speaker position. Some string sound that was problematic, like on my favorite complete Haydn symphonies set with Dennis Russel-Davies conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, recordings that are otherwise excellent in terms of transparency of simultaneous musical lines, now moved partially into the rather believable column (depending on the particular symphony recorded). String sound that already seemed astoundingly good, like on the early Naxos recording from 1990 of Mozart Symphony No. 40 with the Capella Istropolitana under Barry Wordsworth, now seemed superb.

Distortion notably decreased. The forte violins after about 30 seconds into the above Mozart symphony recording now were clean, while they slightly distorted prior to the speaker position change. Also a number of other distortions vanished or substantially decreased, once more showing that the speakers can play much louder without distortion than I had initially given them credit for. Apparently the speakers previously had been too close to the side walls. Again, never underestimate the contribution of room acoustics to the sound.

While the tonal balance was not influenced very much, tonal depth and tonal density increased with the change of speaker positioning, further increasing realism.

Finally, a week later I also changed the level of toe in at the new speaker position. The speakers are now toed out even more than before, so that the angle of toe in is only about 10-15 degrees. The image below shows the view of the right speaker from the listening position. String quartet sound became yet again a touch more wooden, and the sound of massed orchestral violins improved even further. It is now 'toned down' in upper harmonics even more and sounds 'thicker', closer to what I typically hear live. At the same time, the sound acquires more of a feathery 'see-through' quality, also closer to live. This is very much in antithesis to the old feared 'digital brickwall' massed string sound; optimized playback and set-up shows that Redbook digital has come a long way! -- Interestingly, high pitched metallic percussion, such as triangles, rings through just as much as before.

It will be interesting to experiment with speaker set-up even further. I keep enjoying the discovery of just how much these speakers, and the system as a whole, have to offer. I had known already a long while ago that these speakers were keepers, and each improvement in system or set-up only confirms this assessment even more. They are just so impressive and enjoyable, on any musical genre, especially combined with high-quality subwoofers.


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infinitely baffled

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Al can i ask you about the ASC sub traps in your signature?
What do they bring to the party?
 

Al M.

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Al can i ask you about the ASC sub traps in your signature?
What do they bring to the party?

They clean up the sound and improve rhythm. The ASC product page has my comments (under "A Moritz"):

http://www.acousticsciences.com/products/subtrap

Those comments were from back when I had a down-firing REL Storm III sub, but I am convinced that the front-firing JL Audio subs will benefit from the SubTraps just as much; they would brutally shake my wooden floor (which does not have any concrete or other support) if they directly sat on it, with an inevitably muddied sound as a result.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Al can i ask you about the ASC sub traps in your signature?
What do they bring to the party?

I have quite a collection of ASC Tube Traps and Tower Slims and large square panels. I don’t know what they do.

However I know that theoretically the 16” round Tube Traps provide some bass trap absorption in the corners, and I am confident they do something good acoustically.
 
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infinitely baffled

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They clean up the sound and improve rhythm. The ASC product page has my comments (under "A Moritz"):

http://www.acousticsciences.com/products/subtrap

Those comments were from back when I had a down-firing REL Storm III sub, but I am convinced that the front-firing JL Audio subs will benefit from the SubTraps just as much; they would brutally shake my wooden floor (which does not have any concrete or other support) if they directly sat on it, with an inevitably muddied sound as a result.

I see...they are managing the interaction between your subs and your wooden floor.
I have a concrete floor myself so probably less of a need
 

Al M.

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I see...they are managing the interaction between your subs and your wooden floor.
I have a concrete floor myself so probably less of a need

Very well possible. However, the description in above ASC link reads:

"The SubTrap floats the sub off the floor to eliminate sympathetic structural vibration and at the same time adds a bass trap to damp the buildup of room modes that couple to the subwoofer."

I would assume, while the first part falls away in your situation, the second function could still hold.

Further down the link also says:

"By raising the sub off the floor and putting a SubTrap under it, the subwoofer is effectively decoupled from the vertical room mode. Excess bass buildup is reduced and the playback volume of the subwoofer can be cranked up much higher than before."
 

PeterA

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I also wonder what getting that large driver off the floor does, if anything. It might reduce floor/bounce interactions.
 

Al M.

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I have quite a collection of ASC Tube Traps and Tower Slims and large square panels. I don’t know what they do.

However I know that theoretically the 16” round Tube Traps provide some bass trap absorption in the corners, and I am confident they do something good acoustically.

I once started a thread on the effect of the ASC tube traps,

ASC tube traps: effect of their absence

I must say, I was astonished reading back that stuff, I had forgotten a good part of it.
 
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ack

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And FWIW, Al's system exhibits fascinating rhythm!
 
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Al M.

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