Review: Reference 3A Reflector monitors

Al M.

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A WBF member contacted me about these speakers, and asked me about their bass performance without subwoofers. So this afternoon I delved into the interesting exercise to find out. I had already known that bass performance of the monitors on their own was vastly improved since I had moved the subwoofers next to the speakers, rather than having them at the front wall as in my original review (see image in opening post). This was simply a matter of change in room acoustics.

I was really surprised. Rock sounded with good mid-bass weight, drums were fine and bass guitar was nice and articulate. That held for Black Sabbath and Joe Walsh "But Seriously Folks". The biggest surprise though was the jazz rock of the Trio of Doom (John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, Tony Williams). There was lots of weight on drums and bass, and even kick drum had some weight to it. I really didn't miss any heft in the mid-bass, and there is not really much low bass on this recording to begin with. I kid you not, it was so good that, on this and two other occasions, I slightly touched the outer part of the subwoofer drivers to convince myself that the drivers were indeed not vibrating and the subs were really off! They were, and it was confusing, to be honest.

Stand-up bass in jazz was really good too, and stand up solos had satisfying weight. The low register of piano was impressive, and it could even be thunderous when asked for.

All the latest changes in my system set-up (see link in previous post) obviously bore fruit also in the bass performance of the monitors in standalone mode. One thing that definitely helped was also the removal of the TubeTraps. These are known to cause some mid-bass suck out (on the positive side, they greatly help mitigate mid-bass boom in some rooms), and now the mid-bass of these monitors is really impressive. Certainly, there is little low bass, but even the repeated heavy bass drum rolls at about three quarters into Stravinsky's Rite of Spring had some satisfying weight. Yes, the extra low bass authority was not there, but it was not that I was really missing it that much.

I already knew that the mid-bass on "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish with the monitors alone was really good, and I confirmed it this afternoon. Sure, the earthshaking low bass of this and other electronica was not there, and turning on the subs showed again how impressive it is on this Billie Eilish track and entire recording. Yet you just don't get this kind of low bass from normal floor standers either, and calling any multi-way floor stander a "full-range speaker" per usual audiophile convention is ridiculous in my view. Only large floor standers -- and mostly just those with matching bass towers that already come with the design -- are full range, everything else is just not.

Anyway, I am really impressed with the bass performance of these Reflector monitors, in my wooden house (no enforcement by concrete walls) and with the speaker drivers 7 feet away from the front wall, i.e., without direct wall enforcement. The bass is just as good as other reviewers describe, and much better than I was able to report in my own original review due to room and system set-up.
 

abrich

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Mar 6, 2012
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What an excellent, comprehensive review, and very informative discussion! It was especially interesting for me because my room is about of the same dimensions (24 x 12 x 8), and we share with the OP similar tastes in music. For my amplification, on the other hand, an entry level PASS electronics is employed: XA30.5 and XP12. :)

Would you, dear experts, consider 30 W/ch adequate to drive the Reflector's providing at my listening position I almost never exceed 90 dB (am not sure about peak levels). Should I consider 92 dB Reflector's or look for more sensitive speakers instead? What alternatives would you recommend, please?:)

Please chime in!:)
 

Al M.

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What an excellent, comprehensive review, and very informative discussion! It was especially interesting for me because my room is about of the same dimensions (24 x 12 x 8), and we share with the OP similar tastes in music. For my amplification, on the other hand, an entry level PASS electronics is employed: XA30.5 and XP12. :)

Would you, dear experts, consider 30 W/ch adequate to drive the Reflector's providing at my listening position I almost never exceed 90 dB (am not sure about peak levels). Should I consider 92 dB Reflector's or look for more sensitive speakers instead? What alternatives would you recommend, please?:)

Please chime in!:)

Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed the review and discussion.

Yes, 30 W/ch is more than sufficient! I have driven these speakers very dynamically and to high volume levels with 15 W/ch push pull triode monoblocks. At your listening levels the Pass amp should never run out of juice.

The funny thing with monitors is that they are generally easier to drive than multi-way floor standers, regardless of specified sensitivity rating. The above mentioned 15 W/ch amps could also easily drive my older Ensemble Reference monitors specified at 90 dB sensitivity. On the other hand, in another system those amps "died" on floor standers specified at 96 dB (I believe) sensitivity, but with large woofers.
 
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Al M.

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This review:


has some more thoughts on power requirements:

"I primarily used the Reflector with four excellent tube amps: Finale Audio’s 829B Special, Copland’s CTA-506, Antique Sound Lab’s AQ1005DT 300B SET integrated, and my Triode Lab 2A3M SET amps. These amps range from 3.5wpc to 90wpc, and are priced from under $2000 up to over $8000. Remarkably, all of them drove the Reflector very well. Yes, even the 2A3 SET. Tash recommends at least a 300B (7-8 watts), but if you happen to have a single-ended 2A3, EL84, 6L6, etc., I wouldn’t hesitate to try it. As expected, the beefier amps got ‘more’ from the 3A’s. More detail, more woofer control – most of all, a better sense of effortless ease. But no one should mistake this for a hard-to-drive speaker – it’s anything but."

***

I looked up the specifications:

Finale Audio’s 829B Special, 18 W/ch (parallel SET)
Copland’s CTA-506, 90 W/ch
Antique Sound Lab’s AQ1005DT 300B SET integrated, 18 W/ch (parallel SET)
Triode Lab 2A3M SET amps, 3.5 W/ch

From this review:


it is clear that the Finale Audio 829B Special, 18 W/ch, is one of the "beefier" amps that the author referred to in his Reflector review.
 
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rblnr

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May 3, 2010
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Haven't ever owned Reference 3A speakers but always love their sound at shows. Too many speakers seem to slow down and drain some energy from the music, R3As get out of the way and let it flow. When I first heard them, they reminded of my old Epos ES14s of back in the day. I think they share some design principles, among them no crossover to the midwoof.
 

abrich

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Mar 6, 2012
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Thank you very kindly Al!:)

Glad to know my little amp will be adequate for the task of driving the Reflector's to satisfying SPL and with great dynamics.

I understand you have both subs directly connected to your Octave HP 700 preamp. My PASS Labs XP12 is not even in the same league, and I have a burning question if it will be up to the task if I follow your lead and try to integrate dual subwoofers (I LOVE pipe organ!) into my setup...

Do I understand correctly full signal spectrum goes to the Reflector's, and the subs handle everything below crossover point (is it 80 Hz in your case?)? How did you fine-tune your setup: "by ear" so to speak or with the aid of some fancy electronics?

You successfully employ dual JL Audio Fathom 112 v2 subwoofers. May I please inquire what other subs you auditioned before deciding on the JL Audio Fathom's? Could you also please publish the most recent photo of your listening room (I understand the subs were moved closer to the speaker stands)?

Could you also please elaborate a bit why you have two Isolation Transformers: one for the digital source, and one for your DAC? And, which is most puzzling for me, your Octave electronics draws power from the wall directly? I must be missing something here...

I am very sorry for all my silly questions, but I am not a Guru and just want to learn from the experts...;)
 

Al M.

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Thank you very kindly Al!:)

Glad to know my little amp will be adequate for the task of driving the Reflector's to satisfying SPL and with great dynamics.

You're welcome, abrich!

I understand you have both subs directly connected to your Octave HP 700 preamp. My PASS Labs XP12 is not even in the same league, and I have a burning question if it will be up to the task if I follow your lead and try to integrate dual subwoofers (I LOVE pipe organ!) into my setup...

Do I understand correctly full signal spectrum goes to the Reflector's, and the subs handle everything below crossover point (is it 80 Hz in your case?)? How did you fine-tune your setup: "by ear" so to speak or with the aid of some fancy electronics?

Yes, the full signal goes to the Reflectors, and the subs crossover point is set at 72 Hz (I think). I fine-tuned by ear.

You successfully employ dual JL Audio Fathom 112 v2 subwoofers. May I please inquire what other subs you auditioned before deciding on the JL Audio Fathom's? Could you also please publish the most recent photo of your listening room (I understand the subs were moved closer to the speaker stands)?

I had a REL Storm III sub before that, and chose the JL Audio Fathoms based on the great recommendation by a friend (MadFloyd); the positive magazine reviews didn't hurt either. Among other things, MadFloyd pointed to the high level of adjustability of the subs. This has saved my sound: I have used the E.L.F. (extreme low frequency) attenuation to avoid overloading my room, it is set to -12 dB at 24 Hz (so my speaker system doesn't run full-range either ;)).Without the attenuation I now would have some bass problems. Originally I wanted to buy the Fathom 110v2 subwoofers, but at the time they were discontinued. They are now back, apparently on popular demand.

Given the recent experiments above, where there monitors do well without subs, I have concluded that I must have set the subs at a relatively lower volume than I had previously, before the move next to the speakers, and the blending works great. With a lot of the music the subs don't do that much, but are always at the ready when the music asks for it.

Here is a picture of the current set-up:

DSC01972_cr.jpg
Could you also please elaborate a bit why you have two Isolation Transformers: one for the digital source, and one for your DAC? And, which is most puzzling for me, your Octave electronics draws power from the wall directly? I must be missing something here...

I wanted to not just isolate the digital from main noise, but also isolate the DAC from the noise of transport/re-clocker. In addition, I wanted to put as little load on each isolation transformer as possible (even though they are deliberately over-dimensioned, at 1000 W each). Previously I had the preamp on an isolation transformer as well, but I found out that this robbed the music of energy. The amp would be too much of a load, and the large capacitor bank of the Super Black Box (well, mine is silver; bottom shelf of rack on right hand side of amp), which supports the power supply, is supposed to clean up the power anyway.

I am very sorry for all my silly questions, but I am not a Guru and just want to learn from the experts...;)

All very good questions, and thankfully I am not a Guru either.
 

abrich

Well-Known Member
Mar 6, 2012
43
3
313
Thank you very kindly for your most appreciated help, Al!:)
Now I see my roadmap clearly, but one aspect: will my PASS Labs XP12 preamp be up to the task working in tandem with dual JL Audio Fathom 112 v2 subwoofers? If not, should I upgrade to the XP22 with more robust power supply (if that's important...)?;)
One more question, if I may...
You are using some very advanced signal and speaker cables (but the prices, OMG...) staying with the stock power cables? You do not feel they make a noticeable difference to the SOUND, Al?;)
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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Thank you very kindly for your most appreciated help, Al!:)

You're welcome!

Now I see my roadmap clearly, but one aspect: will my PASS Labs XP12 preamp be up to the task working in tandem with dual JL Audio Fathom 112 v2 subwoofers? If not, should I upgrade to the XP22 with more robust power supply (if that's important...)?;)

Any active preamp should be able to feed subwoofers. You only run into trouble with un-buffered passive preamps, i.e. just volume pots essentially. Even the Pass B1 buffered passive preamp (no gain) that I had in my system for a while carried the subwoofers easily. Your Pass has two outputs (RCA, XLR) so that it can feed both power amp and subs. If you want to use RCA for both, you can do it over a T-splitter.

One more question, if I may...
You are using some very advanced signal and speaker cables (but the prices, OMG...) staying with the stock power cables? You do not feel they make a noticeable difference to the SOUND, Al?;)

I don't believe in audiophile power cords. One time a Shunyata noise-reduction power cord seemed to help on the DAC, but I can get at least as good an effect cheaper with my isolation transformer.

There have been heated discussions at WBF on the subject of audiophile power cords, I am not interested in refreshing the topic.
 

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