In my room-based system I use a CEC TL-2 CD transport and Lexicon TC-20 Universal player. Both transports are connected to a Lexicon MC-12B HD processor, which uses balanced analog connections to connect to Bel Canto Ref 1000 monoblock amplifiers. The primary speakers are a Genesis 6.1 surround system augmented by a pair of JL Audio F112 subwoofers.
Pictures at an Exhibition
How do the Canton Chrono 502 speakers stack up in the firmament of small satellite speakers? Better than Sputnik but worse than a manned space station. Upon first listen the Cantons had a slightly grainy texture which improved after the first 50 hours but never went away completely. Fortunately, in terms of overall harmonic balance the Cantons didn’t exhibit any seriously bad habits. Their upper bass isn’t pumped up, so with only a bit of work you can blend them seamlessly with a subwoofer. I noticed some extra emphasis in the upper midrange/lower treble that gives pop music a smidgen of extra you-are-there life. Acoustic guitars’ upper registers benefit from this added harmonic attention. At frequency extremes the Cantons take the easy way out—they roll off smoothly in the upper treble and on the bottom are out of the picture by 65Hz. Unlike small speakers of yore the Cantons do a good job avoiding “eee” or “ohhh” colorations in the midrange, and their cabinets are well behaved until you crank the 502s up to their upper dynamic limits, at which point their box begins to sing along with the midrange.
The Canton Chrono 502s do a fine job of preserving the life and macro-dynamic excitement of music. Even at low volume levels they never sound dull or dynamically reticent. At moderate listening levels (up to 88dB peaks in my room-based setup) the Cantons held together very nicely and preserved much of the music’s essential character. Naturally, when I pushed against the speaker’s upper volume limits, they began to get untidy, but the same can be said of most small-enclosure speakers.
Matched up against the ATC SC-7s ($1200 per pair), the Chrono 502s’ slightly rough textural edge added a pervasive grain, preventing the Cantons from successfully resolving inner details with the same finesse as the ATCs. The massed strings in my 96/24 recording of the Boulder Philharmonic performing Pictures at an Exhibition lost enough detail that they sounded like one massed mega-violin instead of many individual violins playing together. On iTunes selections from my MacPro these resolution differences were less pronounced, but even with medium-resolution sources the Chrono 502s’ lack of textural finesse lowers their overall definition when compared to the ATC SC-7s. The Canton Chrono 502s’ imaging and soundstaging are decent, but don’t have the precision of the ATC SC-7s.
This salient fact was driven unequivocally home when I listened to my Boulder Philharmonic rehearsal test recordings through both speaker systems. I recently upgraded from a Grace Designs Lunatec V-2 mic preamp to the new Grace Lunatec V-3 preamp with internal ADCs. Both units also have built-in M/S decoders. I had to run a series of tests with the new V-3 to determine levels for the M and S mics to get the right center focus and accurate depth on stage. The Cantons made all the settings sound the same, yet they obviously were not; I couldn’t hear any differences when 2dB was added or subtracted from the S microphone. With the ATCs the effects of this level adjustment were obvious not only in soundstage centerfill, but also in instrumental focus and depth.
In timbre the Cantons acquit themselves well when compared to the ATCs. Except for a bit of extra energy in the upper midrange/ lower treble, the Cantons’ overall tonal balance closely matches the ATCs. I was especially impressed by the Cantons’ ability to mimic the lower-midrange and upper-bass character of the ATCs, since the ATCs have a sealed cabinet while the Cantons have a rear-firing port. The ATCs have better dynamic contrasts, especially in the mezzo forte to triple forte region. Above a certain SPL level the Cantons react like 70s-vintage limiters— they don’t get any louder, only ruder.
Steak or Chopped Liver?
Contrary to popular belief, reviewers like to write gushingly positive reviews. It’s very satisfying to discover a new product that kicks the stuffing out of the competition. Unfortunately the Chrono 502 isn’t quite such a product. Don’t get me wrong. The Chrono 502 isn’t bad, but it’s not the brightest star in the heavens when it comes to small speakers around $1000 a pair. Personally I preferred the ATC SC-7 due to its higher resolution and superior image specificity. But I wouldn’t warn you off the Canton 502 completely; some listeners will thoroughly enjoy its sparkling character and modernist good looks, but I do advise you to look and listen before you leap.