Let’s face it, only a miniscule number of us are going to own hyper-expensive audio components. Sure, we can hear them at audio shows and in dealer’s showrooms, or read about them here, but that’s not the same as living with a system. My mandate from TAS is to find and review moderately priced gear that delivers high-end musical satisfaction without totally depleting your bank account.
When I first started writing about audio for TAS in 1980 this task would have been impossible; the gap between entry-level components and state-of-the-art gear was somewhat akin to the distance between the Earth and the Crab Nebula. But in the past five years this disparity has diminished to the point where the best “affordable” audio gear delivers more than merely a taste of high-end Nirvana—it can deliver your neighborhood grill’s filet mignon, but perhaps not Peter Lugar’s Kyoto aged steak. But too much beef isn’t good for you anyway…
Monday’s Blue-Plate Special
My search for inexpensive near-perfection led me to the Canton Chrono 502 speakers. Canton has been around since 1973 and fields an extensive range of stylish speakers aimed at both the high-performance and the lifestyle audio markets. I’ve never lived with or reviewed any Canton products in the past, so I had no previously formed opinions.
The Chrono 502’s basic design won’t grab your attention from a hundred yards away, or even ten yards away. It’s simply another smallish two-way bass-reflex box speaker—a design that’s been around since the early 1960s. What makes the 502 special is Canton’s choice of materials and execution. Based on the technology Canton developed for its high-end Ergo line, the Chrono speakers share much of the same know-how but cost 30% less due to more cost-efficient cabinet-design-and-manufacturing methods. The Chrono speakers use the same flared front plate as the Ergo, allowing the speakers to deliver excellent high-frequency dispersion and off-axis linearity.
The Chrono 502 employs a proprietary ADT-25 aluminum-manganese dome tweeter. Canton has used this tweeter design for many years, and with each new iteration Canton improves and refines it. The 502’s 7" aluminum midrange/woofer is also an exclusive Canton component. The 502’s wave systems (cone, dust cap, and surround) in the midrange/woofer driver is based on the technology developed for the company’s flagship speaker, including the sinusoidal surround and improved spider that provides a 30–40% increase in excursion, and a 3dB increase in output compared to previous designs.
You have a choice of three different cabinet finishes—black ash, maple, and satin silver-tone. However, anyone planning on using the Chrono line of speakers for a home-theater system should carefully consider the large quantity of shiny metal sported by these speakers. Even with the grilles in place the Canton 502’s drivers reflect light very efficiently. If you have a front-projector- based home theater, it’s hard not to notice the light bouncing off the 502’s cones. Maybe Canton will offer a “home-theater” version of the Chrono series in a satin-black metal finish. On the back of the 502s you’ll find rhodium-plated “five-way” binding posts that accept spade lugs, bare wires, or banana plugs. Be forewarned that the banana plugholes are slightly oversized so the plugs don’t stay in securely (at high volume levels the banana plugs can actually rattle out of place).
My home setup provides me with two different environments in which to review small speakers such as the Canton Chrono 502. First I listen in a near-field system where the speakers are less than two feet from my ears, then I move them to a room-based system where the speakers sit between six and seven feet from my listening position.
My nearfield system has CD and DVD sources courtesy of the EAD 8000 Pro DVDMaster player and transport, iTunes from a MacPro, and 96/24 sources from a Marantz 671 high-resolution recorder. The Marantz tracks are also downsampled in the MacPro to 44.1kHz resolution via a Spark ME recording program. Computer music files come out of the computer via USB and are translated to TosLink (to eliminate possible noise pollution and ground-loop issues from the computer) by a Trends UD-10 converter. All digital sources go to a Meridian 518 where they are de-jittered and upsampled to 24 bits before going to a Meridian 561 processor. From the Meridian 561 signals go via balanced analog outputs to a Bel Canto S-300 stereo power amplifier. My reference speakers in this setup include the ATC SC-7, Ariel Acoustic Model 5, and Role Kayak. All audio AC power goes through a PS Audio Quintet power conditioner.