- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created on Monday, 01 August 2011 01:00
- Written by Philip Beaudette
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
I find that expression a bit grotesque, but as awful as it might be, I can’t help but think that the expression lends itself rather nicely to the world of loudspeaker design. The task of any speaker is to reproduce sound, and a quick survey of the market reveals that there are myriad ways of going about this. By far the most common design is the direct-radiating transducer, which relies on cone drivers to move air and, thus, produce sound. However, horn, electrostatic, ribbon, and planar speakers also feature prominently in the market, and within each of these categories are many variations on how each approach is implemented.
The subject of this review is the Silver Reference 7 speaker ($5000 USD per pair) from American Acoustical Development (AAD), founded and owned by Phil Jones, who also founded Phil Jones Bass. AAD and PJB now belong to a single brand called Phil Jones Pure Sound. Although the direct-radiating Silver Reference 7 might seem somewhat conventional at first, I came to understand that Phil Jones’s philosophy of speaker designing is deeply rooted in his ideas regarding the best way to reproduce bass. Perhaps that shouldn’t have surprised me. Phil Jones is a bass player.
At 48.2”H x 7.6”W x 14.2”D, the Silver Reference 7 is the tallest speaker I’ve ever had in my listening room -- when I sat down to listen, the pair of them towered over me. Each speaker weighs 64 pounds and perches atop a thick, steel base that rotates through 180°, and to which are fitted four massive, adjustable, nicely polished floor spikes that bring the speaker’s height to an impressive 50”. That rotating steel base is one of the most practical features I’ve ever seen on a speaker. I spent considerable time experimenting with toe-in angle not only because I tend to obsess over such things, but because it was so darn easy.
Standing as tall as it does, the Silver 7 could easily have felt too big for my room, were it not for the fact that its profile, when viewed head-on, is so slim. This is made possible by the fact that each Silver 7 has three proprietary drivers of Kevlar and carbon fiber, each only 5.25” in diameter. These and a Helical Conductive Tweeter (HCT) comprise a 2.5-way design in which one 5.25” driver operates throughout the midrange and down into the upper bass, while the lower two are dedicated solely to reproducing the low end.
The tweeter is situated at the mouth of a small waveguide, the goal of which is, presumably, to help control the tweeter’s dispersion and increase its efficiency. Speaking of which, the HC tweeter isn’t your typical metal dome, but a flat Kapton diaphragm less than 0.002” thick.
The use of 5.25” drivers is hardly novel. The PSB Image 4T, a pair of which I bought as a student, employed two 5.25” drivers crossed over to a 1” tweeter in a 2.5-way design. What’s interesting is that, other than the tweeter, Phil Jones uses nothing but 5.25” cones in all four of his Silver Reference models. It’s more common for speakers nowadays to have slimmer, more décor-friendly cabinets, but most companies at least experiment with 6.5” or 8” woofers in their larger models. Not Jones.
Posted on the company’s website is a white paper dedicated to explaining the theory behind the use of more small cones vs. fewer cones of larger diameter. The paper explains why a single large woofer is like a heavyweight fighter: slow on his feet, slow to start, and even slower to stop. This is typically audible as woolly or plodding bass that lacks the tightness, control, and speed of the bass produced by multiple smaller cones.
Another white paper posted on the Phil Jones Pure Sound website could have been taken from a first-year biology textbook. It goes into some detail to explain the anatomy of the human ear, how its various components work to make hearing possible, why we are most sensitive to frequencies in the 2-5kHz range, and why we’re almost deaf to bass. If nothing else, I suggest reading it to get yourself thinking about the most important component of your audio experience -- your ears -- and why you owe it to yourself to protect them.
I mention these papers because, clearly, Phil Jones has spent some time thinking about sound and how we interpret it. He also seems preoccupied with resonance control, as evinced by the Silver 7’s sturdy cabinet. The speaker is made of MDF, and the thickness of its front baffle makes it possible to slightly recess the drivers. Inside, the enclosure is very well braced and damped at its primary resonance points, to reduce or eliminate any unwanted vibrations that would otherwise color the sound.
Around back are two sets of binding posts and, near the base of the cabinet, three ports that can be plugged with foam bungs (six were provided by Canadian distributor Blue Circle Audio; these do not come standard from AAD), to attenuate and control the speaker’s output to better integrate it with a room’s acoustic.
The front and rear panels are finished in a High Gloss Black paint, the gently tapered sides in High Gloss Cherry veneer. The Silver 7 is also available with a High Gloss Silver baffle and backside, in conjunction with side panels veneered in High Gloss Maple. The fit and finish were very good, and though I prefer the more modest, understated appearance of the Amphion Argon 3L, which I recently reviewed, I can understand why someone would prefer the more expensive-looking Silver Reference 7. In fact, one visitor to my listening room said just that: He was very impressed by the 7’s quality of finish and overall appearance.
The Silver 7 is manufactured in China; the excellence of craftsmanship is self-evident, and extends to the speaker’s interior, where Transparent Audio cables are used throughout. The Silver 7 isn’t inexpensive at $5000/pair, but its level of quality is very much in line with that seen in its competitors.
AAD claims for the Silver 7 a frequency response of 30Hz-40kHz, ±2dB, a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, and a sensitivity of 90dB. Based on my time with them, I found them a cinch to drive -- very little power was needed to bring them to life. I suspect the 7 could be driven by something as simple as a $500 50Wpc integrated amplifier, though its more natural companions are likely higher-priced tubed or solid-state electronics. Given that AAD claims that the Silver 7 can handle anywhere from 50 to 500W, it should be able to mate with a wide range of amplification.
The Silver Reference 7s sounded big, and performed best when placed as far apart and out into the room as I could get them. After I’d experimented with placement a bit, they ended up about 7.5’ from my listening position, their baffles 45” from the front wall and their tweeters 70” apart. When I tried pointing the tweeters directly at me, the soundstage was big, but I got a little too much high-frequency information; listening became fatiguing. I then toed in the Silver 7s so that their tweeter axes passed about 6” to the outside of my ears and crossed well behind my head. That way, I got an even bigger soundstage, with superb center fill.
With three ports on each speaker and six plugs supplied, the options of bass configuration were many. I ended up plugging each speaker’s two ports closest to the floor, which seemed to give the best balance of full, room-filling bass that was still clean and tight. With no plugs, the bass was overblown in my room. Some might find that extra low-end energy invigorating, but for me it was simply too much. I’d love to test the Silver 7s in a larger space, where I could remove all the plugs and really open them up, so to speak.
I listened to the Silver 7s with and without their grilles but could hear no difference; since I preferred to see the drivers, I left the grilles off for the rest of my listening.
According to AAD, the Silver Reference 7 is intended for use in larger rooms, and after I’d listened to the pair of them for only a few minutes, it was pretty obvious why. Don’t assume that the speaker’s slim dimensions and sleek profile mean that it sounds polite or timid. It sounded big, it hit hard, and it did both with ease. In fact, the Silver 7 seemed to thrive on high volumes. As I listened to “Cold War,” from Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Wondaland/Bad Boy), through the TosLink output of my Apple Airport Express to the onboard DAC of my Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier, the AADs sounded powerful and poised, and made it pretty clear they’d need to be played at deafening levels before I hit their limits. At high volumes, the Silver 7s responded with excellent clarity, and tight, deep bass that was plentiful without obscuring the midrange.
In fact, midrange clarity was another of the AAD’s strengths. Monáe’s voice in “Tightrope,” also from The ArchAndroid, was cleanly resolved atop quick, punchy bass that energized the room. Images were nicely laid out across the front of the stage, and it was easy to sort out what was happening there. The AADs were very easy to listen to -- I could listen for long periods without aural fatigue.
This lack of fatigue was a function not only of the Silver 7’s clarity but also of its neutrality. The 7s were adept at reproducing recordings as they are, with little editorializing or coloration. For example, the midrange was neither too prominent nor recessed, so the stage didn’t seem too forward or set back. Instead, the position and presence of the performers were dictated more by the recording than by the speakers.
Given that the Silver 7s liked to party, I pulled out some beats to put them through their paces. I’ve been listening to more hip-hop in the last few years, and, like much of the electronica I enjoy, the production is top-notch. Big Boi’s latest offering, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (CD, Def Jam B001437702), is a remarkable accomplishment from one of the genre’s elder statesmen. The energy and excitement of the music are contagious, and the sound is superb. Through the AADs the bass was deep, detailed, and abundant, while the midrange was open and clear, qualities that extended well into the highs. If you like your beats hard, the Silver 7s should get your toe tapping and your head nodding.
And it wasn’t just that the Silver 7s could dig deep -- they did so with such good definition, speed, and control that they left me little to criticize. The only problem I had was trying to tame their output in my room: there was simply too much. Unless you need subterranean bass at high volumes or plan on watching a lot of action movies, a subwoofer shouldn’t be necessary with these speakers.
The Silver 7’s deep low end added appropriate space to some recordings. When I listened to “New Light,” from Great Lake Swimmers’ Lost Channels (LP, Nettwerk 0670030893 1), the drum kit was toward the back of a stage that extended beyond the front wall of my listening room. I was impressed by the sheer scale of the sound, which helped to transport me to a venue many times larger than the room in which I was listening. I have some recordings made in cathedrals, and other than the music itself, one of the things I most enjoy about them is their ability to help me envision where the music was performed. With the Silver 7s, this came very easily; I could really appreciate the expansive sound reproduced by these speakers.
One thing that quite literally stood out during my time with the Silver 7s was the height of the soundstage: it was taller than anything I’d heard before. I suppose this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that the Silver 7’s tweeter sits at least 6” higher than those of most other speakers I’ve had in my room. PJ Harvey’s voice on her Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (CD, Island 5482532) hovered a little higher than usual, helping to create an even larger wall of sound for this album’s sometimes intimate, sometimes brash music. I stopped noticing this after only a few days with the AADs, and instead came to appreciate the greater sense of scale that this brought to the music.
The Silver Reference 7s arrived while the Amphion Argon 3Ls were still here. At $3900/pair, the Amphions are close in price to the AADs ($5000/pair), but the similarities stop there. The Argon 3L is a two-way design with just two drivers: a 1” tweeter at the center of a deep waveguide, and a 6.5” mid/woofer. The Silver 7 stands 10” higher than the Amphion and is clearly the bigger, more imposing speaker. Sonically, too, the speakers are cut from different bolts of cloth. The AADs created the bigger, fuller sound, with images more fleshed out, while the Amphions sounded more precise and transparent.
Given the difference in the speakers’ sizes, I wasn’t wholly surprised by the Silver 7s’ ability to convey a grander stage than the smaller Amphions. Still, the Argon 3Ls are no slouch in this regard, and had no trouble filling with sound a medium-size listening room. However, they couldn’t match the scale and effortless dynamics of the AADs. The greater driver area of the Silver 7s means that they can move more air than the Amphions and, all else being equal, can thus play not only deeper but with greater output at those low frequencies. The thump of the bass in “Flat of the Blade,” from Massive Attack’s Heligoland (CD, Virgin 5 9466 2), had more impact and weight through the AADs and gave this tune a stronger underpinning.
Whereas the AAD held a noticeable advantage in scale and fullness, the Amphion was the more precise speaker. Thom Yorke’s voice in “Codex,” from Radiohead’s The King of Limbs (CD, TBD TICK001CD), was better resolved through the Amphions -- it was as though I could hear the space around it. The Silver 7 did a fine job of retrieving detail, but couldn’t match the see-through quality of the Finnish speaker, which did a better job of resolving transients -- noticeable, for example, in the attack and decay of notes played on stringed instruments. Both speakers were able to create soundstages that extended well beyond the boundaries of the speakers themselves (and of my room, for that matter), with images that hovered clearly in space -- but with the Argon 3Ls I found it easier to hear into those stages and sort out what was happening. I heard this with Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 (CD, Reprise CDW 43327): audience sounds were a bit easier to make out through the Amphions than through the Silver 7s.
These speakers will appeal to different listeners. Their appearances are so drastically dissimilar that that alone might cause a potential buyer to choose one over the other, before listening to either. However, it is their sounds that truly set them apart; to be considered are not only what the shopper values sonically, but also the size of room the speakers are to be used in, as this will dictate to a considerable degree which speaker is best suited.
I’m sold on Phil Jones’s belief in the virtues of using multiple small mid/woofers to produce not merely enough but voluminous low-end output. This, married to a clean, open midrange and an extended top end, makes the Phil Jones Pure Sound Silver Reference 7 a well-designed, superb-sounding loudspeaker that will no doubt win the attention of audiophiles looking for a reference speaker in the area of $5000/pair. The pair of them sounded very full in my room, where they produced such an expansive soundstage that it was clear that their full potential would probably be realized only in a larger room. In the right room, with good (or great) electronics, the Silver Reference 7s could easily lay the foundation for a high quality of sound that would provide many years of listening pleasure.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers -- Amphion Argon 3L, PSB Platinum M2
- Integrated amplifier -- Bryston B100 SST
- Sources -- NAD C542 CD player; Thorens TD-160HD turntable, Rega RB250 tonearm, Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Type 4
- Interconnects -- AudioQuest Copperhead, AMX Optimum AVC 31 coaxial
- Power conditioner -- ExactPower EP15A
AAD Silver Reference 7 Loudspeakers
Price: $5000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Phil Jones Pure Sound
8559 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63114
Phone: (314) 814-3383
Fax: (636) 536-1338