Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Canton Elektronik was founded in 1972 in Frankfurt, Germany, where the company continues to operate. Their lineup of hi-fi speakers is vast. Currently displayed on their website are ten series, beginning at the top with the Reference models, then the Vento line. Below the Ventos are Canton’s newest speakers, the Chrono SLS models, including the subject of this review, the floorstanding Chrono SLS 780 DC ($3798 USD per pair). Fleshing out the rest of the Chrono SLS line are a larger floorstander, the 790 DC ($4398/pair); the stand-mounted 720 ($1299/pair); the 755 Center ($999); and the SUB 800 R subwoofer ($1499). Canton describes the Chrono SLS series as something of a technical and cosmetic hybrid of the Vento and Chrono SL series, the latter being one series below the Chrono SLS models.
With so many Canton models to choose from, how did I choose to review the Chrono SLS 780 DC? I didn’t. Instead, I let the folks at American Audio & Video, Canton’s US distributor, decide what to send me. They seem to know me well -- as you’ll read below, the Chrono SLS 780 DC proved to be the ideal speaker to send to someone who values high performance and high value.
I got some of the technical information that follows from Canton’s website, but far more useful was their White Paper on the Chrono SLS series, which goes into great detail about all that went into the line, and which I recommend to those interested. What little I couldn’t find there I learned from Frank Göbl, Canton’s head of R&D.
Like the Chrono SLS 790 DC, the SLS 780 DC is a four-driver, three-way design comprising one tweeter, one midrange, and two woofers. The all-MDF cabinet (all of Canton’s speaker cabinets are made in Germany or Poland) is very well built and comes in a high-gloss finish of black or white that looks very modern -- no wood veneers in this line. A thin, attractive, magnetically attached grille can be easily attached or removed. High-quality feet with rounded ends are provided; these screw into the bottom plinth, to give the SLS 780 a firm footing. If you don’t want to use them, for fear of scratching your hardwood floor, clear, stick-on plastic bumpers are also provided. Each Chrono SLS 780 DC weighs about 42 pounds -- stout enough so that it won’t blow over, light enough for one person to move or carry.
The two woofers are mounted midway up the front baffle, the outputs of both augmented by a single port that vents through the bottom panel, which is separated from the plinth by about 1”. Canton positions the port this way to load the room even more than if the port fired to the front or rear. Above the woofers are the tweeter and midrange, the latter, unlike in most speakers, positioned above the tweeter. The woofers are crossed over to the midrange at about 300Hz, while the midrange and tweeter hand off to each other at about 3kHz. On the rear panel are dual pairs of gold-plated binding posts, to allow for biwiring or biamping (when the supplied jumpers are removed), or for single wiring (as I did). Canton specifies the SLS 780 DC’s sensitivity as a modest 86.5dB, but that’s somewhat of an understatement, as it’s measured with an input of only 2V. With an input of 2.83V, the industry standard that we use for our own measurements, the sensitivity rises to nearly 89dB. The SLS 780 DC’s nominal impedance is specified as 4 ohms.
The SLS 780 DC and SLS 790 DC use the same tweeter and the same crossover frequencies; the main differences between them are the sizes of their cabinets and other drivers. The 790 measures about 41.5”H x 8.5’’W x 12.1”D, with 7” woofers and midrange; the 780 measures 39”H x 7.7”W x 11.5”D, with 6” woofers and midrange. The 790’s bigger woofers and cabinet allow it to go down to 20Hz, compared with the 780’s low-end limit of 23Hz.
In fact, the SLS 780’s tweeter, Canton’s ATD-25 model, is used in all Chrono SLS models. Its specially shaped 1” dome is made of a new aluminum-oxide ceramic. Canton claims that the combination of this shape and the lightness and rigidity of the new material have “dramatically improved maximum sound pressure level, power handling and dispersion characteristics” over their previous tweeter, which had an aluminum-manganese dome.
Although the Chrono SLS speakers have midrange cones and woofers of different sizes, all of these drivers have similar designs, aluminum diaphragms, and unique, sinusoidal surrounds. According to the White Paper, “Canton has incorporated its highly successful sinusoidal surround geometry, which employs a double-curved shape rather than the half-round used in most drivers. This shape provides a much larger surround surface area for the same driver size, with resulting excursion limits 60% to 100% greater than those allowed by conventional surrounds.” These drivers are also said to have robust motor systems and long excursions, for high output and low distortion.
As their names imply, the woofer sections of the 780 DC and 790 DC incorporate Canton’s Displacement Control (DC) technology, trickled down from the Reference and Vento lines. Displacement Control involves including a high-pass filter in the woofer section to reduce a driver’s extreme low-end output, something that a small driver can’t and therefore shouldn’t be asked to reproduce, as it’s likely to generate lots of distortion. Canton’s claim that DC cleans up the bottom end appears to be true -- our measurements of the SLS 780 DC revealed very high output capability and extremely low distortion for a speaker of this size and price.
Drivers so robust should also contribute to a speaker’s long-term reliability and consistency of performance. In that regard, Canton provides a specification I haven’t seen from any other speaker maker: continuous power measured over hours: 140W of pink noise or 220W of music-program material, both for 12 hours. Remember, that’s continuous power handling. If true, that’s a true torture test that I’m sure most speakers -- even many really expensive ones -- could not withstand.
I did most of my listening to the Chrono SLS 780 DCs before we measured them, but right from the beginning I knew that their midrange was very neutral, completely devoid of the telltale resonances likely to show up on a frequency-response plot: The speakers reproduced voices in a completely natural, realistic way, with a total absence of colorations. The bass was far more full, powerful, deep, and clean than the speaker’s modest size had led me to expect, and the highs were exceptionally well extended and very refined overall. My early listening also revealed that the SLS 780s could play far louder than I needed them to with no hint of strain.
But at the start, they weren’t perfect -- the bass wasn’t quite as tight as I wanted, and the highs hinted at being bright when the speakers were aimed straight at me, with a high-frequency emphasis that made pop recordings that are already too hot, such as Adele’s 21 (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, XL Recordings), almost unlistenable. The SLS 780s’ soundstaging and imaging were generally good, but I knew that all of these qualities could be improved with some tweaking.
The solutions were pretty simple: I toed the speakers out and inserted the floor spikes. The SLS 780 DCs now fired almost straight ahead into the room, which put my ears about 20° off the tweeter axes. The highs still sounded thoroughly extended, but no longer bright; instead, they were now simply “lively,” even with Adele -- which is how I described the top frequencies of the Paradigm Reference Inspiration ($2599.98/pair) and the KEF LS50 ($1499/pair) when I reviewed them earlier this year. By “lively” I mean prominent, but not objectionably so. And the spikes firmed up the bass to a surprising degree -- there was now less boom, more punch, and just as much extension. Finally, whether it was due to the change in speaker angle, the spikes, or both, the soundstage depth and image specificity also improved -- it wasn’t the deepest stage I’ve ever heard in my room, but there was a well-defined layering of images within that stage, which made it easy to discern among what was more toward the front, what was more toward the rear, and what was in between. For instance, the oddball soundstage layout of the instruments in “Boundless,” from Bruce Cockburn’s Small Source of Comfort (16/44.1 FLAC, True North), was very easy to make out. Luckily, the Cantons’ clean, neutral midrange remained unchanged. So my tweaks had entailed no compromise -- I was now ready to hear what the Chrono SLS 780 DCs could really do.
Because what most intrigued me was the SLS 780’s ultraclean, neutral midrange, I played many recordings dominated by male and female voices -- with most of my music, the voice is what I tend to fixate on first. My favorite track on Small Source of Comfort is the darkly humorous “Called Me Back,” in which Cockburn’s voice is front-center on the stage. It’s not the best recording of his voice, but still, the SLS 780s nailed it with a clean, clear, uncolored sound that easily compared to the very best midpriced speakers I’ve heard in the last few years, KEF’s R500 ($2599.98/pair) and PSB’s Imagine T2 ($3600/pair) being at the top of that heap. In “Call Me Rose,” from the same album, Cockburn’s voiced is recorded in a slightly livelier and more visceral way -- and once again, I heard no colorations or deviations from strict neutrality of any kind.
Chesky’s The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings (16/44.1 FLAC, Chesky) features voices recorded in a far more natural sound that is palpable, present, and surprisingly close to real. Many audiophiles -- including me -- like to show off their systems with Rebecca Pidgeon’s cover of “Spanish Harlem,” or Livingston Taylor’s of “Isn’t She Lovely.” Suffice it to say that, once again, the voices on these tracks sounded as natural through the Canton SLS 780s as I’ve heard them through the PSB Imagine T2s and KEF R500s, and with nearly as much detail through the mids as I’ve heard from the Revel Ultima Salon2s ($21,998/pair).
The instrumental “Bohemian 3-Step,” my second-favorite track on Small Source of Comfort, prominently features Cockburn’s guitar. With this, the SLS 780s showed that their outstanding midrange presentation didn’t serve only voices well -- the guitar sounded completely natural and extremely clean, with outstanding definition. In another instrumental, “Comets of Kandahar,” the drums are placed very far back. The SLS 780s got the drums’ positions and sizes right, as well as almost their entire weight and impact, which more than impressed me. Canton specs the SLS 780’s low end as bottoming out at 23Hz, which seems a bit optimistic -- that’s how far down my Revel Ultima Salon2s reach, and they’re at least twice the size of the SLS 780 DCs and have three 8” woofers each. Still, I was getting impressive bass weight and impact from the Cantons at high output levels to below 40Hz -- far more than I expected from a modest-sized speaker at this price. What’s more, the SLS 780’s bass sounded punchier and somewhat tighter than that of the KEF R500 or PSB Imagine T2, which means the SLS 780 could not only hang with the best of its competitors, it could even outperform them in some ways.
The Chrono SLS 780 DC’s impressive bass, superb clarity through the audioband, and high output capability held steady when I played Sade’s Soldier of Love (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony). This is a highly produced album, but some tracks boast fairly natural capturings of lead singer Sade Adu’s voice and the accompanying instruments, along with some deep, deep bass that can shake the walls if your speakers can reach low enough. “Morning Bird” is a gorgeous song that has Adu’s voice dead center, the piano more or less around her, and the drums way, way back. Cello, violin, and tambourine are in the mix for good measure, the last sounding spellbindingly clean and refined through the Cantons’ tweeters.
The SLS 780s laid out a good-sized stage with Sade rock-solidly in the center -- her voice hung in space tangibly, with the proper weight and size. Mostly, though, I was bowled over by how clear and natural Sade’s voice sounded; how thunderous the rearward-placed drums were reproduced; the wealth of detail, particularly through the midrange, which allowed me to distinctly hear all the musicians, along with their placements on the stage; and how loudly I could play this track without the speakers seeming to strain. If Canton can produce sound like this from speakers selling for less than four grand per pair, I’d be thrilled to hear what they can do with a speaker costing twice as much.
The sonic strengths of Canton’s Chrono SLS 780 DC are many: a superbly neutral and clean midband; prodigious bass capabilities for the modest sizes of its drivers and cabinet; well-extended highs; very high output across the audioband; and good overall soundstaging and imaging. You might have to experiment with setup a bit to ensure that the highs aren’t too prominent, that the soundstage is as deep and the imaging as defined as they should be, and that the full bass remains tight and doesn’t overload the room. In other strengths, the SLS 780 DC’s build quality is excellent for the price, and its styling and finishes are attractively ultramodern. In short, the SLS 780 DC is a really good speaker.
But that doesn’t tell you how good a speaker it is in the contexts of its price and competitors. So let me add this: When people ask me to recommend a top-class, midpriced, floorstanding speaker, what almost always pop to mind are various models from such stalwart brands as KEF, Paradigm, and PSB. What I heard from the Chrono SLS 780 DC means that the next time I’m asked for such a recommendation, Canton, too, will be on the tip of my tongue.
. . . Doug Schneider
- Loudspeakers -- Revel Ultima Salon2, KEF R500, KEF LS50, PSB Imagine T2, Paradigm Reference Inspiration
- Amplifiers -- Anthem Statement M1s (mono)
- Preamplifier -- EMM Labs PRE2-SE
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Meitner Audio MA-1
- Computer -- Samsung laptop running Windows 7 and JRiver Media Center 17
- Digital interconnect -- AudioQuest Carbon
- Analog interconnects -- Nordost Valhalla
- Speaker cables -- Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L
Canton Chrono SLS 780 DC Loudspeakers
Price: $3798 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Canton Elektronik GmbH & Co. KG
Phone: +49 6083-2870
Fax: +49 6083-28113
North American distributor:
American Audio & Video
4325 Executive Drive, Suite 300
Southaven, MS 38672
Phone: (866) 916-4667
Fax: (877) 457-2588