Both Lenny and I noted that even though the midrange was prominent, the soundstage was shallow, appearing to extend no further than the front baffles of the speakers. Dynamics and pacing were good, however. We plowed through many great recordings—cuts from the Scott Hamilton Quintet’s In Concert disc, recorded live in Tokyo’s Yamaha Hall in 1983; the Dire Straits classic On Every Street; San Francisco jazz diva Kitty Margolis’ Left Coast Live; and violinist Viktoria Mullova’s passionate performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Claudio Abbado conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. In every case we were happy to sit there absorbed in the music without feeling in any way annoyed by the performance—an indication that this system would probably serve quite well for non-critical listeners. We both pronounced it “not bad” at the end of the evening. That’s a backhanded compliment, of course. Averaging our numerical scores (1–10 scale, with 1 equaling tolerable, 5 equaling good, and 10 equaling excellent), the Crutchfield system rated a 4.0. As in figure skating and gymnastics, the Russian judge tended to be less forgiving than the American.
Budgeted almost equally between loudspeakers and electronics, this system mated a Yamaha CDC-685 CD changer and Yamaha AX-596 integrated amp, both of them understated black boxes in the traditional Yamaha style, with a pair of Energy C7 loudspeakers in birch veneer with silver accents. Salesman Gary Gordon supplied a one-meter pair of Monster IL400 Mk II interconnects and a 10-foot pair of Monster Z1MT speaker cables with gold-plated banana plugs.
After attaching the decorative feet on the speakers, we placed the C7s in approximately the same spots in the room where the Polk monitors had stood. Although a design similar to the Polks (two-woofer two-way with front port) and only slightly taller, the C7s were much more robustly built, and far heavier. (The banana plugs were a needless expense because neither the Energy speakers nor the Yamaha amp would accept them—stripped bare wire was perfect.) We put the AX-596 in “pure direct” mode and had at it. Despite the lack of subwoofer support, the C7s delivered a not-insignificant share of deep bass—not as much as the Polk PSW12, of course, but bass of surprising depth and impact. It seemed rich with bass-heavy pieces like “Night Nurse,” comparatively lean with some of Zemfira’s songs, and just right with Dire Straits. Imaging was much better than with the Crutchfield system—on most recordings, the soundstage seemed to lobe fore and aft of the speakers. Dynamics were excellent, and tonal balance remained consistent regardless of how hard we pushed the system.
Lenny and I both noted softness in the treble and a lack of clarity in the upper midrange, a characteristic that would get the system eliminated from the Blue Ribbon round at the audiophile county fair, but one that made for easy listening for long periods. The soft upper end—attributable either to the C7s or to Yamaha’s “natural sound”—made music of every genre enjoyable, but not compelling.
Lenny thought the overall presentation was “boring,” but I thought most novice listeners would probably find it extremely pleasant. It’s the kind of system that could play background music all day at fairly loud levels without sounding intrusive or abrasive. Both the Yamaha amp and disc changer were well made and easy to use. The disc player, in particular, was a huge improvement over the Denon— quiet and responsive, with a tray that extended all the way out so you could view all discs at once. Curiously, the CDC-685 recognized our MP3 disc and appeared to play it—the display’s counter indicated so— but produced no sound. The Yamaha remotes were a joy to use—slim and elegant, with the most important functions obvious and easy to reach. I thought most new hi-fi fans would be overjoyed with this system and gave it a big thumbs-up. Lenny expressed some dissatisfaction with the soft upper octaves and marked it down accordingly. Aggregate score: 5.5.
Justifiably, we left this system until the end of the test run, expecting that it would probably outperform the others. It did, but not without some effort on our part. Salesman Patrick Pack had included a pair of Target stands for the B&W 602S3 loudspeakers, front-ported designs with proprietary “silver” tweeters and Kevlar woofers. I picked up the stands fully assembled, the pillars filled with sand and four spots of Blu-tack adhesive on the top plates to secure the speakers. We placed the Rotel RA- 1062 integrated amplifier atop the Marantz CC-4300 five-disc CD changer, joined them with the short AudioQuest G-Snake interconnect, plugged in the Type 6 speaker cables, and fired it up.