You would think the addition of a cone woofer (and cone-woofer enclosure) would slow down transients, but it doesn’t—or at least it doesn’t to my ear. Plucked strings—like those of Joan Baez’s guitar or Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg’s fiddle—still have the kind of “snap” that’ll put a smile on your face: They’re just that much quicker, more immediate, and more lifelike than what you hear through cones, even great cones like those of the Magico Mini II. The nice part is that, as noted, this speed now comes with greatly improved tone color, so you don’t just hear the snap of the string; you also hear the resonance of the guitar or violin body. Indeed, while not as luscious or as dense in color as the timbres of, oh, a Gamut L-3, the Source’s tone colors are still pretty damn luscious.
And that resolution! A friend of mine, a good listener, compared these things, justly, to giant headphones—they have that kind of upfront, super-clear, super-detailed, super-immediate presentation. Little things that get swallowed by the mass and inertia of cone drivers—like the trailing edge of the tiny grace note on the piano that launches the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra [EMI] or, as I mentioned in my review of the fabulous TW Acustic Raven AC-3 turntable, the glistening “finish” that the plucked harps add to the doublebass pizzicatos in the Passacaglia of this same great concerto—are reproduced with magical clarity. Voices, like Joan Baez’s on “House Carpenter” [Vanguard] or John Shirley- Quirk’s on Lutoslawski’s Les Espaces du Sommeil [Sony Classical], are reproduced with so much more detail about the way the vocalist is shepherding his breath or expending it that the sense of hearing actual singers singing is greatly increased.
On top of this, the Source has very good bass. No, it’s not a Mini II in the bottom octaves (and certainly not an MBL 101 E), but it’s a good deal more than respectable down into the low 40Hz range. Those bass and harp pizzicatos on the Lutoslawski, the powerful Fender ostinatos on Chris Isaak’s “Dangerous Game” [Reprise], the big pedaled chords of Brooks Smith’s Steinway on the Kreutzer Sonata (and just as remarkably, the sound of Smith letting up on the sostenuto pedal) are fast, clean, detailed, and full-bodied. If the bass is a smidgen “slower” (oops, there’s that “s” word again) than the electrostatic midrange and treble—and it probably is—it didn’t bother me. In other words (and unlike every other hybrid loudspeaker I’ve heard) I wasn’t plagued by the thought that I was listening to two different and incompatible drivers. Where I think you do hear the difference in the cone bass— and perhaps its enclosure—and the electrostatic panel is in soundstaging, at which the Source is no world-beater. Whether it’s the narrower more beamy dispersion of the line-source ’stat or the higher distortion of the woofer or the resonance of the woofer’s enclosure, the Source doesn’t image much “outside the box.” It images beautifully “between the boxes,” but it is consistently “forward sounding,” and its stage is consistently more restricted, less expansive, and less deep than that of, say, the Focal/JMlab 1007Be or, frankly, the $550 Magneplanar MMG. To this extent, you do hear the Source as a sound source.
But that, folks, is a minor price to pay for such an elegant, highresolution, and affordable piece of gear. This is a slender, attractive speaker that, unlike the Maggie 1.6QR (its only competition, in my view, below $2k), will tuck away neatly in smallish rooms. Best of all, it is an extremely lifelike speaker, giving you more realism of timbre and dynamic than anything at its price point should—or than I thought could. Although its impedance dip in the top treble would seem to mandate a solid-state amp, I also tried it with tubes and if you can live with a very slight softening of the topmost octave, the combination is otherwise wonderful. My new favorite sub-$2k speaker, the Source goes immediately on the TAS Short List and will be a top contender for 2008 Budget Loudspeaker of the Year.