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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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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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

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Mar 6, 2012
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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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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.
 

Al M.

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DSC02408_cr.jpg

DSC02404_cr.jpg

DSC02397_cr.jpg

Above: Pictures of my current set-up

After 5 years:
Re-evaluation of the Reference 3A Reflector speakers


Since the review in 2018 my system has made great progress, and so has the performance of my Reference 3A Reflector speakers in combination with the JL Audio subwoofers (for a summary of steps of improvement, see post below).

Especially the orchestral performance has advanced tremendously, and now it is effortless and clean to the point that it well compares with much bigger speakers in that respect, at the rather loud levels that I prefer to listen to, with orchestral peaks at 95 – 97 dB, with occasional excursions up to 100 dB (C-weighted, measured on a Reed factory-calibrated SPL meter); it would be much easier to achieve effortless sound at slightly lower volume levels. I did not expect to get to this level of effortlessness, given the design limitations of the monitors as a two-way system, but this is the outcome that I hear.

Also separation of instruments on large-scale orchestral music is great, to the point that you can keep following small side voices that continue undisturbed as the music around them greatly increases in dynamics, activity and density – and there, separation of instruments is upheld as well, with minimal congestion. Here the performance also compares favorably with much larger high-quality speakers.

Yet also on all other music the speakers sound much better than even in my then already positive review 5 years ago. The sound is just much cleaner, there is even more detail, and depth and body of tone have increased substantially.

Now I have the feeling that my choice of speaker system was -- for my room and my taste -- an excellent one for ALL music, from girl with guitar, small scale chamber music and piano over rock, jazz and heavy electronica to large-scale orchestral.

Of course, the speaker system is not perfect. Nothing is. For starters, it cannot fill a large room with loud music, no monitor can. Physics remains physics. Yet for medium-sized rooms like mine or smaller rooms these speakers may well be quite close to an ideal solution. They certainly are for me. (For the dimensions of my room, see signature; if reading on the phone you may need to turn it sideways to see signatures below posts.)

I really like the combination of timbral purity, palpability of sound and great micro-detail in the midrange (exquisite on string quartets, for example) with tremendous liveliness and excellence in dynamics, both on the level of macro-dynamics (which can be outright brutal when asked for) and on the level of small volume changes that convey so much of musicians’ expression (physically palpable micro-dynamics are immediately obvious on acoustic guitar, for example). In addition, I love the intimacy on some small-scale music that high-quality monitors can excel at, and this one certainly does; at the same time the speakers can also throw a very deep and quite expansive – within the room’s limitations -- soundstage on large orchestra. Rock can sound powerful. As for the astounding dynamic performance of these two-way monitors, this is helped by the fact that the mid-woofer is directly coupled to the amp, in a crossover-less manner (and apparently also by the resonance-free cabinet, see my main review).

This speaker system performs at a level where I have to conclude that further improvement of performance without incurring a decrease in strength of performance in any other area – or to narrow it down, in all those areas that are particularly important to me – would be possible only at multiples of the price that it costs (and even then I am not sure if no compromise compared to what I already have would have to be made). The speaker system is that good, in my view.

And with a much pricier option it is questionable if the solution would fit into my room. I am not willing to make the mistake of putting too large speakers into too small a room. The subwoofers would not count towards a price comparison, they would have to stay anyway. I happen to think that subwoofers are needed for almost any speakers, including the so-called “full range” ones (the term as used is mostly a misnomer, frankly); only for large speakers that already come with their own bass towers in the design package this may not be the case.

This speaker system remains the one of my choice, it is not going anywhere. I keep being very happy with it after almost 5 years, and now even more than ever.
 
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Al M.

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Important steps in the process to achieve the current excellent performance of the speaker system in my room, compared to the original review:

1. Sound Anchors Signature stands for the monitors
2. ASC ceiling diffusers
3. Octave HP 700 preamplifier

For these, see also post #35 and #38 on this speaker review thread, with links to my reviews of the items/components. Granted, I was happy with the orchestral perfomance even then, especially after the preamp acquisition, but my critical perception of it had continued to sharpen, also by ongoing exposure to friends’ systems with larger or much larger speakers, yet progress has continued as well.

Further steps of improvement (apart from diverse other changes in system set-up and acoustics, whuch can be traced in my system thread):


4. A complete change in subwoofer set-up, see also here (post #503 and following). The resulting change in acoustics has also dramatically improved the bass performance of the speakers without subwoofer.

5. High-quality audiophile power cords (ZenWave in my case), rather than stock cords; I am eating crow on this one, several times over. Extremely important for achieving a distortion-free, effortless sound in my system. See here for initial impressions (post #689) and see here for further updates (including a Furutech power distributor), post #710 and following.

6. A change from KT150 to KT120 tubes in the power amp (post #747 here).

7. An upgrade of the Schiit Yggdrasil Analog 2 DAC to Schiit Yggdrasil LIM DAC, see also here (post from Sept 16, 2022 in the comments section), as well as a prior inclusion of an Empirical Audio reclocker between CD transport and DAC. Nothing beats a clean source for achieving a distortion-free, effortless sound.

8. An adjustment of speaker height, see here (#761 and following).

By the way, the toe-in is now very different from the one described in my 2018 review (much less).
 

Ron Resnick

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Congratulations, Al! I am very happy for you!
 

jadedavid

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As a fellow Ref 3A Reflector owner, I can attest to the extreme quality of sound/music that these monitors can produce.
They do require care in set up and equipment matching but once you get them dialed in they are magical.
Congrats Al M on your excellent system.
 

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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Greater Boston

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,511
3,152
738
Greater Boston
As a fellow Ref 3A Reflector owner, I can attest to the extreme quality of sound/music that these monitors can produce.
They do require care in set up and equipment matching but once you get them dialed in they are magical.
Congrats Al M on your excellent system.

Thank you! Great to meet here a fellow Ref 3A Reflector owner who also loves these speakers. It's good to see we agree on careful equipment matching and set-up required for these speakers. They are extremely revealing musically, yet this virtue makes them also also very revealing when it comes to problems in system and acoustics. They are not forgiving speakers, nor should they be.

When I had the lower monitor model, the Reference 3A MM DeCapo speakers (very good for the price), I thought I was finally done with my room acoustics. Not so. I started on an entire new journey with the Reflectors (my room is very difficult acoustically, I must add). Yet the end result was fully worth all the effort!
 
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