February 2001Audio Concepts, Inc. Jaguar 2000 Loudspeakers
by John Potis
I first became acquainted with Audio Concepts about five years ago, and I've reviewed their products positively in the past. The company's Sapphire III monitor is still, to my ears, one of the best things going for around $1000 USD, their subwoofers are wonderful performers for the money (and beyond), and I called the little ACI Emerald loudspeaker a "gem."
The original Jaguar loudspeaker began life in 1994, at which time it quickly earned a Stereophile Class B recommendation. It was one of two products for the Dzurko Acoustics (a sister company of ACI) line of loudspeakers, which was intended for regular dealer distribution -- in contrast to the ACI line, which has always been sold factory-direct. The original Jaguar sold via dealers for $4000 per pair. With thick front and rear fascias machined from slabs of Fountainhead, a stone-like composite material, the Jaguars were expensive to produce. Ultimately Dzurko Acoustics withdrew its speakers from the market and liquidated stock through ACI. But the Jaguar didnt die there. Interest ran so high that ACI sold both plans and parts for the speaker to untold numbers of fans who wanted to build the speakers themselves. Obviously, Mike Dzurko had trouble getting the speaker out of his blood too, and to welcome in the new millennium, ACI introduced a re-designed version and dubbed it the Jaguar 2000.
Gone now are the expensive and difficult-to-fabricate Fountainhead pieces. In their stead are thick and heavily braced MDF walls. The new Jaguar is roughly the same size as the old model, but it has a new look and shape. Where the previous model required expensive stands to support the sizable cabinets, the new and reduced $2599 price includes dedicated stands that are constructed from MDF and fillable with sand or lead shot. They bolt to the bottom of the speakers. The Jaguar 2000 measures 20" tall, (43.5" on the stands), 11.5" wide and 20" deep. The speaker weighs in at a beefy 47 pounds and once perched on the filled stands can tip the scales at upward of 100 pounds.
The aforementioned construction and bracing includes, according to ACI, "variable wall thickness, 1" minimum MDF with an extensive interlocking bracing structure using a heavy steel L-shaped ring epoxy embedded as part of the woofer mounting structure." ACI specs the Jaguar 2000 as having an 87dB/W/m efficiency, an anechoic frequency response of 45Hz-20kHz, +-3dB, and usable in-room bass response down to the 36-40Hz range. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms, with a minimum of 6.5 ohms. The tweeter is from Scan-Speak and is a 28mm soft-dome, ferrofluid unit featuring an aperiodic second chamber. A 175-mm cast-frame long-throw driver also from Scan-Speak and featuring an ultra-stiff hand-treated fiber cone with rubber surround performs the bass and midrange duties. The motor system features a vented pole piece and "impedance stabilization." Two pairs of gold-plated binding posts are provided for biwiring, and ACI recommends amps of between 50 and 300Wpc. The crossover utilizes a fourth-order Bessel alignment at an unspecified frequency, and the enclosure is vented via a rear port. The Jaguars are available in standard clear-lacquered cherry finish. Custom woods and finishes, including rosewood (the finish of the review samples), maple and macassar ebony, are available on special order.
The speakers arrived by UPS in excellent condition and the unpacking was somewhat uneventful except for the fact that the stands were unaccounted for. The Jaguars came in heavy-duty boxes (emphasis on heavy) that I expedited to the basement. After a couple of days without the arrival of the stands, I fired off an e-mail to ACI to alert them to the fact that I had not received the stands. ACI quickly wrote me explaining that the stands were in a sub-box at the bottom of the shipping box that contained the Jaguar 2000s! What looked to be the floor of the box once I removed the speakers was actually the top of another box. Sure enough, upon closer inspection of the boxes, I did find the boxes containing the parts for the stands, and the shipping cartons didnt seem quite so heavy as I returned them to the basement.
Assembly of the stands was easy and required only a good screwdriver, but I highly recommend the use of a powered one because construction requires the insertion of many very long wood screws.
Into the listening room
Initially I set up the Jaguar 2000s in my smaller listening room. This is a rectangular room of about a 150 square feet in which I put smaller speakers, always along the long wall because they generally work well there. But the Jaguars didnt. The first thing I noticed was that the speaker sounded rather dark and fairly dull, particularly while I was seated in my fairly low Ikea listening chair. Noting the fact that slouching in the chair made matters worse, I wondered if a higher seating position would make things better. I traded the Ikea chair for my computer chair, which sits several inches higher, and indeed this worked better. As the Jaguar 2000s sit fairly tall, with the tweeter about 39" off the floor, it seems that a listening height that placed the ears at least just below the level of the tweeter was pretty much mandatory, particularly when listening in the relatively near field.
Now the speaker sounded better balanced, but it just seemed a bit slow. Soundstaging was not what I expected from an ACI product -- or any other speaker. While the Jaguar 2000s possessed the ability to throw images outside their physical boundaries, the fact was that I was not getting the sense of space, and the images seemed to appear out of nowhere only to disappear again. That said, I was impressed by the bass response of these stand-mounted-though-not-really-small speakers. Bass went deeper and with greater authority than any stand-mounted speaker Ive reviewed for SoundStage!. The midrange was clean, and the treble was particularly sweet and forgiving. But the total sonic package left me wanting.
I decided that perhaps a change of venue was in order. I moved the Jaguar 2000s to the thrice-the-size family room. Immediately I knew I was moving in the right direction. Sitting about eight feet in front of them, I found that seating height was no longer as critical. I would still recommend a fairly tall listening chair, but things sounded quite good from my Ikea chair. In the larger room, the presentation was transformed. The new listening distance provided the Jaguar 2000s tweeter the opportunity to fully integrate with the midrange/woofer and achieve a much better balance. While the speaker continued to reside on the sweeter side of neutral, the soundstaging capabilities were dramatically enhanced by a much better and more extended treble. The entire soundstage was now illuminated, where it had remained in the dark before. Transparency also took a giant leap forward.
During the course of the review period, one thing became obvious about the Jaguar 2000s: These are a vocal-lovers dream. They have a way with vocals that is so natural as to be beguiling. No matter what I threw at them, the vocal reproduction was always something that impressed. Even large-scale choral arrangements such as that of Carl Orffs Carmina Burana [RCA Red Seal 09026 61673-1] were notable for the sense of individual voices making up the massive choral arrangements. This sense of detail blended with the sense of depth, placing the chorus well back on the stage where it belonged, yet soloists were projected from the stages foreground with an easily perceptible distance between them. I find the triangle a particularly useful instrument for evaluating tweeter performance as speakers can vary widely in its depiction. The better the performance, the more tangible the triangle will sound. The Jaguars offered a triangle that was suspended in space above the speaker with crystalline clarity. Very convincing. Equally convincing were the width, height, depth and layering of the soundstaging. Alas, there are no miracles here, and as good as it is, the 7" woofer is no match for this most dynamic of orchestral pieces. As good as other aspects of the speakers performance were, in the end the Jaguar 2000 is a stand-mounted speaker and will fall a little short in this respect. Still, the Jaguar 2000 was every bit as good as any speaker in its class, and better than most.
Joe Jacksons Body & Soul [A&M CD 5000] was another story though. This well-recorded piece is presented with a more immediate perspective and sounds substantially more dynamic and alive. Like the Orff disc, this one could stand as a tutorial to illustrate the concepts of imaging and soundstaging. Where the Orff discs soundstage perspective was always appreciably behind the speakers, Jacksons soundstage started right at the speaker and fell naturally back. Image solidity was among the best Ive heard and probably the best Ive heard in the Jaguars class (almost as good as I get with the JMlab Mini Utopia). "Not Here, Not Now" depicted bass registers on the recorded piano that were wonderfully linear and balanced, with no distracting discontinuities. In that light, the same can be said about the bass guitar, which was clean and the antithesis of lightweight. This is very good performance for a stand-mounted speaker.
Imaging and soundstaging freak that I am, I found there was one thing about the Jaguar 2000 that I think warrants mention: On this disc, as well as most discs, the speakers did not render as great a sense of air as some other speakers can. While I dont want to imply that the music took place in a vacuum (the speakers were not nearly that dry), I did sometimes long for the added sense of space that some other speakers can lend to the experience. Ill quickly add that some of the better speakers in this regard also have some of the brightest trebles around, something Ill never trade for "air." I think this represents a trade-off on the part of ACI. I think the decision was made to preserve the listenability of the Jaguar 2000 at the expense of the last iota of upper-octave detail. I know people who will list this characteristic as the speakers greatest virtue and others who would list it as its greatest fault. For those who belong to the latter group, I would emphasize that in the grand scheme of things, this really is a minor fault and the Jaguar 2000 doesnt miss the mark by much. For you who belong to the former group, this may well be your speaker!
I brought back from CES 2001 a copy of Mark Levinsons Live Recordings at Red Rose Music sampler [RRM 01], a dual-layer SACD/CD. This superbly recorded disc sounds very good as a regular CD, which is how I used it. On "Little Dogs Day," Kim Cattralls voice was focused and perfectly centered between the speakers. Equally focused was Mark Levinsons bass, placed just inside of the left speakers. Again the power of the upright bass was unexpectedly good given the size of the Jaguar 2000. The rich and resonant tonality was as enjoyable as the weight. Cattrall's vocal as well as the vocal on the next track ("Going Back to Louisiana" by Bill Sims) were reproduced as cleanly, naturally and free of artifacts as I could expect from speakers costing much more. The Jaguar 2000s only lacked the last iota of transparency found in more expensive speakers. Acoustic guitar throughout the disc was portrayed with impressive tonality and natural ease, neither obscuring nor emphasizing either frequency extreme.
Low bass on "My Fathers Eyes" from Eric Claptons Chronicles [Reprise 0 47553-2] was impressive for its depth -- if not for its ultimate power. While not as potent as the bass offered up by the twice-the-price Silverline Sonatinas, the bass of the Jaguar 2000 is impressive nonetheless for its relative depth and clarity. It far exceeds that rendered by other stand-mounted speakers Ive had through here, such as the Tyler Acoustics Taylo Monitor or even the Reimer McCullough, neither of which can match the Jaguars bass authority.
As the Jaguar 2000 represents a possible upgrade for ACIs Sapphire III customers, there will be inevitable comparisons between the two loudspeakers. First, in every parameter the Jaguar 2000 is an improvement over the venerable Sapphire III, with the possible exception of one that will come down to a matter of taste. The Sapphire III has a slightly more forward upper-midrange/treble region than the Jaguar 2000, lending it a more energetic sound. Which presentation you prefer will come down to a matter of personal preference, but I do believe that ACI did the right thing voicing the Jaguar 2000 as it did. Over time, the virtues of the smoother and less fatiguing nature of the Jaguar 2000 will become apparent.
The rest of the differences are not as much a matter of taste as they are a matter of fact. Without question, the treble integration is better with the Jaguar 2000 than the Sapphire III. Particularly when pushed, the treble on the Sapphire III can sound a little strained, a little tipped-up, and a little ragged in comparison. Although both speakers share the same tweeter, the Jaguar 2000 crosses over to the tweeter at a higher frequency than does the Sapphire III. In the Jaguar 2000, the tweeter doesnt have to work as hard and is able to maintain its composure to a higher degree. And there is simply no comparison between the two speakers where bass is concerned. The Jaguar 2000 is nearly twice the size of the Sapphire III, and its 7" Scan-Speak midwoofer is widely recognized as a superior unit, particularly where the production of bass is concerned. The Jaguar 2000 goes deeper and with more authority than the Sapphire III could ever hope to.
The one area where the speakers show a familial likeness is in the midrange. The Sapphire IIIs greatest strength is its clean and uncolored midband. Ditto the Jaguar 2000; its every bit as clean and resolving in the midrange as the Sapphire III, but as I've noted, it is a bit more laid-back. Some would describe it as more musical and less analytical. Those who will not find favor with the new Jaguar will be looking for a more forward, dare I say, more aggressive speaker. The Jaguar is not a speaker that reaches out and grabs your attention with pyrotechnics. Its a decidedly more relaxed production that charms over the long haul. You can listen all day without fatigue.
Although its been a while, the original Jaguars once spent a considerable amount of time in my home, and they left a lasting impression. While I wasnt able to do a side-by-side comparison, I can confidently state that the 2000 version is a different speaker and a much-improved one. For starters, the bass is better balanced now and more neutral. No matter where I placed the original speakers, I suffered too much bass boom. In fact, in an effort to dial down the bass, I actually had to high-pass filter the original speaker and use a subwoofer. The Jaguar 2000 now has a slightly warmer flavor overall, and if my memory serves, the treble has also been reeled in just a touch. Without question, these changes have served to make the Jaguar 2000 a much more musical speaker.
In absolute terms, I could list several speakers in the Jaguar 2000's price range that can outperform it in one area or another. You can find more transparent speakers (though, not many in the class); you can find a speaker with a more immediate sound that lets you hear into the recording in a way that the relaxed presentation of the Jaguar 2000 does not; you can find speakers that lend a better sense of air. But what you will not find is a single speaker that outperforms the Jaguar 2000 in all of these parameters. While the Jaguar 2000 may not be the clear winner in each area, it is consistently near the top, and like the Tour de France racer who doesnt always end the day with the fastest time, the Jaguar can finish the race as the declared winner after all is taken into account.
In the end the Audio Concepts Jaguar 2000 is a stand-mounted speaker with front-of-the-pack bass performance and dynamics that belie its size and price. It combines these with virtues inherent to stand-mounted speakers (imaging, soundstaging, and relative lack of coloration) and an easy-to-take musicality that you can enjoy all day long. Those listeners seeking an up-front, in-your-face presentation should look elsewhere as this speaker probably isnt for them. But those in search of a natural, musical, and fatigue-free speaker with nearly full-range reproduction and outstanding soundstaging ability would do well to consider the ACI Jaguar 2000.
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