Silverline Audio SR17 Speakers
by Mike Masztal
Having owned and enjoyed several stand-mounted speakers through the years, Ive developed an appreciation for their precision and soundstaging qualities. So when the opportunity to review the Silverline SR17s arrived, I jumped at the chance. The SR17 is the second in a series of quality stand-mounted speakers I am in the process of reviewing.
Twenty years ago, most small speakers were cheaply built particle-board boxes with inferior drivers and simple crossovers made of inexpensive components. Needless to say, the sound was nothing to write home about. But by the late 70s, several companies were serious about developing quality stand-mounted speakers for the audio community. The Brits (Rogers, Spendor, and KEF) tended to dominate this market, likely due to the fact that space constraints in many English homes precluded the use of large full-range speakers. Over the past few years, however, driver technology has advanced considerably, and companies like Dynaudio, Scan-Speak, Vifa, and Seas have developed drivers that have enabled speaker builders to develop their own designs.
Silverline Audio Technology owner and chief designer Alan Yun is no audio rookie. Although new to the US, he is quite well known in Hong Kongs audiophile circles.
In sibling rivalry with his oldest brother, Yun built his first OTL amplifier when he was ten and his first loudspeaker around the same time. That speaker used a 15-inch Tannoy coaxial driver in a cabinet resembling, as Alan put it, "a small refrigerator." By the time he started college, Alan had already built about 200 speakers, with ongoing speaker building during his college years. After graduation, he worked with the NEC computer company and became an authorized dealer in Hong Kong in 1983. As most of us can appreciate, his interest in audio was greater than his interest in computers, so in 1991 he opened an audio shop in Hong Kong and began selling his own Classics One speaker, of which over 4000 pairs were sold. The Classics were the first and only specialty loudspeakers built in Hong Kong. In light of the recent changes in Hong Kong, Alan decided to move his family to the US. He then started Silverline Audio Technology in Walnut Creek, California. Other models in the line include the stand-mounted SR12 and floorstanding Panatella. The new Corona and Monte Cristo were debuted at CES 98.
The Speaker Design
The SR17 ($2495) is a visual knockout. It has some of the most precise cabinet work I have ever seen. Each speaker weighs 25 pounds and is rock-solid, as my knuckles can attest. Finishes include satin black, cherry, and glossy piano black. The driver, crossover, and wiring assembly are personally done by Alan. Stated efficiency is 89 dB/w/m, and nominal impedance is 8 ohms. The shape of the speaker resembles that of a cathedral. This "vaulted-ceiling" design, with a rear tuned port on the top of the back panel, is claimed to accomplish a smoother waveform within the cabinet. Alan claims this design enriches the ambience and timbral shadings in the midrange and low frequencies. Drivers come from Dynaudio and are matched to one-half of 1% tolerance. The tweeter is the Dynaudio D28/2, and the woofer the 17WLQ.
The most unique part of the speaker is a newly developed "template" for the tweeter. This is a thick ring cut from a piece of solid aluminum alloy and precision machined. It helps the speakers achieve a more linear response with better dispersion of mid and high frequencies. This template also serves as the company logo. Alan stated that in the development of the template, eight were initially manufactured and subjected to both laboratory measurements and listening tests. Surprisingly, the anodizing process was found to affect sound in certain areas, such as with female vocals and stringed instruments. The colors of the anodizing compounds tested included black, pewter, copper, silver, and gold. Alan states that each did have effects on musical reproduction in subtle ways. The silver, gold, and copper compounds were sonically similar; however, silver and copper tended to oxidize easily. The pewter and black finishes were found to have a somewhat hardening effect on the music. Ultimately, the gold finish was chosen.
Source: CAL Delta transport, CAL Alpha DAC retubed with Brimar CV4004 tubes. Preamp: Aronov LS-9000. Amps: Aronov LS-9100 monoblocks. Interconnects: JPS Labs Superconductor. Speaker cables: Nordost Flatline, JPS Labs Superconductor. Power Cords: JPS Labs Digital AC, Analog AC and Power AC cords. All components were plugged into a homemade, non-filtered outlet strip that in turn was powered by a dedicated outlet. My listening room is 12'x18'x8.5' and complimented by Corner Tunes and homemade "room tunes."
In reviewing the SR17s detailed owners manual, I followed the setup instructions, using the speakers on 28" sand-and-lead-filled stands. (I did try using 24" stands, but found that the sound smeared at the critical midrange and upper midrange areas and the bass was not as well defined). The speakers were placed 24" out from the back wall and 30" from the side walls, facing straight forward. I did experiment with room placement, and as long as adequate distance (24" recommended) was maintained from the nearest walls, the speakers did not appear to be especially sensitive to room placement.
Boy, do these things disappear. The sonic attributes of the closely matched drivers and the dispersion capabilities of the tweeter template really pay off in this respect. With my eyes closed, I was virtually unable to determine where the speakers were located. Musical reproduction was extremely refined, like what one might expect from a studio monitor. The SR17 has precision in conveying musical nuance, but without the forward, in-your-face sound Ive heard from so many speakers. There seems to be two camps in the audiophile community: those who like the detailed, analytical sound, and those who prefer a musical, slightly euphonic sound. Although the differences between the sonic signatures of these type speakers can be great, many times the differences are slight. I find the SR17 to lean slightly toward the euphonic side, which I like. However, I get the impression that the SR17 plays only what comes from the source and would be very well suited to those who require precision too.
On the work of artists whose voices are difficult to reproduce, such as Loreena McKennits and Emmy Lou Harriss, there was no hint of artificial sibilance or hardness on some of the louder passages. One of my favorite reference recordings is John McLaughlins Live at the Royal Festival Hall (JMT 834 436-2), an excellent source for evaluating soundstage, spatial resolution of performers and instruments, percussion, and ambient decay. On "Jozy" and "Pashas Love," percussion transients were quick, dynamic and tonally correct. I also noted excellent spatial resolution on "Florianopolis." Pace and rhythm were great on tuneful songs like "You Cut Me to the Bone," from Robben Ford & the Blue Line (Stretch Records STD 1102).
The speakers handled hard transients often heard on rock/blues recordings extremely well. The soundstage on recordings like Ricky Lee Joness Traffic From Paradise (Geffen CD 24602) extended well beyond the outer boundaries of the speakers, and depth was also excellent. Bass tonality was excellent on songs like "Ode to Billy Joe" from Patricia Barbers Café Blue (Premonition Records Prem-737-2). Response went down to 40Hz and seemed to roll off steadily below that level, so rock or classical lovers might find a subwoofer a necessity. Recordings with mucho ambience, like Café Blue, are well served by the SR17. The speakers projected a tremendous amount of space around themselves. When the SR17s were played at loud levels, I was unable to detect any break up in the sound quality or shrinkage of the image. I doubt the SR17s would have difficulty handling any type of music.
Hats off to Alan Yun. His Silverline SR17 is an unqualified success. For audiophiles who prize a refined and precise sound thats ultimately musical too, the SR17 may be the ticket. With the addition of a good subwoofer, one could achieve first-rate sound for a reasonable amount of money. I personally look forward to hearing Silverlines floorstanding Panatella, Corona, and Monte Cristo speakers.
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