July 2002Sehring 602 Loudspeakers
by Tim Shea
Theres nothing like German engineering. Take cars, for example. Sit in any German car and you know why youre there. Everything is solidly and purposefully engineered with a relatively stark, businesslike environment that defines German interiors. If you want style and flair, go Italian; if you want to be coddled in soft leather and wood, go British; if you want faultless reliability, go Japanese; and if you want affordable comfort, go American. But if you want a serious yet practical driving machine, the Bavarians make it. In fact, straightforward and sometimes even quirky design in the name of pure functionality has become the trademark of German style. Buttons are often big and rectangular, seats are not soft but are comfortable and ultra-supportive, gauges are simple and clear, and the odds are good that the basic color of the dashboard is black, and a lot of it.
With a German car, the focus is clearly on driving, and thats as it should be when your cars are meant to travel long distances at well over triple-digit speeds. This overbuilt, functional design is a style all its own, and one that I prefer because of its basic honesty and the fact that it clearly and effectively reflects the culture and environment from which it comes. In short, German cars are drivers cars first, and their prime objective seems to always be to put as little between the driver and the road as possible so that no part of the driving experience is diluted either visually or sensually.
So it goes with the Sehring 602 speakers, which cost $2695 USD per pair. They are a simple and straightforward two-way design measuring 15 1/2"H x 7 1/4"W x 12 1/2"D and weighing 20 pounds each (the height increases to 40 1/4" and depth to 14 1/2" with the SO passive bass module). But there are what Ill call elegantly quirky design elements at work here, some of which stand out immediately and exude some of that uniquely Germanic functional style. Most noticeable are the cabinets, which, instead of the usual wood veneer, are covered in a Nextel finish that apparently has its origins in the pro ranks and has a slightly textured surface that is said to reduce scuffs and scratches. Along with being practical and attractive in its own way, the 3/4"-thick MDF cabinetry is among the most inert I have encountered. I had no idea what the speakers looked like before they arrived, and when I pulled them from their boxes, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was that they looked super cool, and I have fairly traditional tastes. Theyre a little avant-garde but in a typically understated German way. Sehring offers a palette of color options, and the review pair sported a matte dark-green front panel with the top, bottom, and sides of the cabinet finished in a matte dark gray. The back was finished in matte black and is not as physically robust as the other sides and emitted a dull thunk in response to the knuckle-rap test.
The other design element that stands out is the coated aluminum midrange/woofer that extends about a half-inch outward from the front panel of the speaker and is surrounded by a ring of black felt, as is the tweeter, which in contrast sits flush against the cabinet. The tweeter itself is of the metal dome variety and sits behind a wire mesh grille. Both drivers are modified SEAS designs, and their sizes are not stated, although they look to be 1" and 5" in diameter. Sehring is rather secretive about their crossover design and performance characteristics, so whether this is a time-correct design remains unknown, but phase shift is said to be very close to zero.
Although the stated sensitivity is a very low 83dB, impedance is given as 8 ohms, with a minimum of 7 ohms, which should make the 602s suitable partners for tubes of sufficient power. In fact, Leo Massi of Hy End Audio Imports, importer of Sehring products in the US, uses a 30-watt tube amp as his preferred method of amplification. Frequency response is stated as 54Hz to 23kHz (-3dB) and reportedly drops to 48Hz with the SO passive bass module.
Some assembly required
Around back are a single pair of WBT binding posts that were a little tricky to use as spade connectors had to be inserted through a slot at the bottom of the posts, but once the spades were in, it was very easy to get a tight connection. Yet another quirky design element, at least for a monitor, is that the 602s are ported on the bottom through a series of ports, and this works in tandem with specially designed stands and bass modules that can be ordered separately. One of the nice features of the Sehring monitors is that you can start with stand-mounted monitors and upgrade to a passive bass module (also reviewed here, $895 per pair) or all the way up to a fully active version with a dedicated woofer and internal amplification.
The "rope" stands, which add the ST suffix to the speaker model and cost $349 per pair, warrant a little more ink, as they are truly unique pieces of work. They fall somewhere between modern art and erector-set chic, and I guess I would describe them as functionally cool in that they are structurally very interesting yet are clearly purpose-built. The stand is made up of very thin metal rods, two of which form a "T" that make up the bottom of the stand and one that rises vertically to support the top plate and the speaker. This minimalist structure is then braced by a series of crisscrossing cables that weave through strategically placed holes in the rods. As you adjust the height of the vertical rod with the spike that fits into the "T" base, the whole structure tightens up and becomes quite rigid. Its kind of like undoing tangled fishing line at first, but its very satisfying when the stands ultimately snap to attention, and given their "barely there" appearance, they play right into the sonic disappearing act the 602s are capable of. There is also a special base, the RG 600 ($169 per pair), that attaches to the top of the stands and has holes in it that align with the aforementioned ports in the bottom of the speakers. This base also serves to tilt the speakers back about 10 degrees and is said to further optimize performance.
Speaking of assembly, when I first went to set the 602s up in my room, I was totally flummoxed by the weird-looking connectors that were attached by wires and that hung from the back of the speaker. Turns out you need to unscrew the back panel of the speaker with the supplied allen key, flip it around, and connect those two wires to the corresponding plugs on the crossover unit itself and then re-attach the back panel (I was starting to think that Sehring was German for IKEA). I told you these things had some quirks.
So with everything now put together and ready to go, it was time to focus on ancillary equipment and setup. The setup part turned out to be a breeze, as the 602s felt right at home in my preferred placement that puts the speakers about five feet from the front wall and seven feet apart in an equilateral triangle layout in relation to the listening position. Being bottom ported, the 602s were perfectly happy closer to the front wall, but they didnt require room reinforcement and they really opened up once further away from the boundaries. I used a slight bit of toe-in to help lock in images, but despite the tweeters being mounted closer to one edge of the cabinet, I did not have a strong preference for them being on the inside or outside. I ultimately used them with the tweeters on the inside.
I preferred the Marsh Sound Design A400s amp with the Sehrings to my McCormack DNA-0.5 (Rev. A). Although the 602s worked fine with the McCormack, I found the relatively more laid-back nature of the Marsh amp synergized better with the Sehrings in the upper frequencies, and it also added a little more heft to the sound, which was welcome in the context of a small monitor. Suffice it to say the 602s are revealing enough that youll want to take care in mating them with suitable dance partners if you want to get their best moves.
If I were to liken the Sehring 602s on their "rope" stands to a car, it would be a Porsche Boxster. This is a good thing -- a very good thing. The Boxster is not the fastest or most powerful car, and it will not produce the highest G-forces around a turning circle or let you know if youve run over a piece of lint, but it yields one of the most enjoyable driving experiences available today. It communicates the feel of the road very well but does not overwhelm you with unnecessary information, and it is so well poised and balanced that it is almost impossible to put a foot wrong. In short, the car magically knows how to exist in the background as a tool, allowing you to enjoy the purity of the driving experience.
That, to me, is the essence of the Sehring 602. It simply knows how to present the music and nothing but the music, and then it gets out of the way. Detail is all there, but it never calls attention to itself or overshadows the listening experience. Likewise, rich tonal colors are presented but never in a way that suggests augmentation or coloration. The life and detail of the music seem to exist in perfect harmony, and in this way the 602s were able to present among the most pleasing and enjoyable listening experiences Ive had. I never felt like I had to think about the music; rather it seemed as if it was all just there in front of me, exactly as it was meant to be.
One of the first concerns I have with small monitors is their ability to flesh out the lower midrange, as I find any reticence in this area can really suck the life out of the music. Although its not tops on my audiophile hit list, I frequently use "Put Your Lights On" from Santanas Supernatural [Arista 19080] to assess whether a speaker has lower-mid cajones, as Everlasts closely micd vocals come across somewhere just north of a guttural growl, especially at the beginning of the song. Not only did the 602s surface all the vocal nuances and detail, but I was also able to feel the vocals through the floor and through the air, which is something that really surprised me given the 602's diminutive size. This was a very good start.
Next up was Coward of the County from Ginger Baker [Atlantic 83168] to see how these little guys could convey the guts of a weightier performance. I love "Cyril Davies," which is the first cut off the CD, as it contains some excellent trumpet, baritone sax, and piano solos underscored by Artie Moores thumping bass lines and Bakers driving drum riffs. The solos were absolutely all there in terms of tonality and scale, but I thought each of them lacked just that last bit of weight that can really drive them home, especially with regard to the piano. Surprisingly, though, Moores bass never seemed light and, even more impressively, never fell behind the rest of the music. Bakers bass drum also had quite a punch to it, although it did cause the woofers to object with a slight pop if I cranked the music up. One thing I did notice on this song as well as on "Bye Bye Blackbird" from Steve Davis Projects Quality of Silence [DMP 522] was that it was sometimes difficult to perceive the weight of a heavier ride cymbal. The sticking and initial attacks sounded perfect, but the meatier tones that seem to emanate from underneath and around larger and thicker cymbals seemed under represented. Although there may have been some limits related to how much sound can be mustered by two small boxes, overall the 602s managed to get admirably close to what the bigger boys can do.
Switching to the finesse side of things, I recently got a copy of the Opus 3 15th Anniversary Sampler [Opus 3 9277] that I am really enjoying. I particularly like some of the jazz pieces, especially those from Lars Erstrand et al. On "Body and Soul," Erstrand whips off a very melodic and clean vibraphone solo that is captured so faithfully by the 602s that I would swear the thing was in the room if my eyes were shut. The Sehrings showed themselves to be very quick and able to follow every mallet stroke, and the balance between the natural metallic tone of the instrument and the mallets hitting the keys sounded spot-on. I played this track at a rather high volume level, and the 602s just kept giving me more and more vibraphone without a hint of breakup or strain. From an imaging perspective, the piano resided anywhere from three to five feet outside the left speaker and almost seemed like it was entering the next room. There is also a tenor-sax solo that is very closely micd, and the 602s captured the entire instrument while managing to keep the breath as it exited the horn in perfect proportion to the wholeness of the sound, making it appear even more real.
Another strength of the 602s was their extraordinary ability to vanish physically in the room. In fact, Id have to say these little Sehring monitors pulled off the disappearing act better than any speaker Ive heard, and that is saying something given some of the stealthy characters Ive had in my listening room. The result is a living, breathing, three-dimensional soundstage that never seems overblown but is certainly never smaller than real life either. I dont think it hurt that the 602s were perched atop stands that barely existed in their own right.
As Emeril would say, I decided to crank things up a notch -- BAM! -- with Dave Matthews Bands Crash [RCA 66904], and the acoustic guitar that accompanies Matthews' vocals at the beginning of "So Much to Say" was exquisite, as was his voice. After that brief intro, things start to rock, and as with the Ginger Baker CD, the little woofers objected and demanded I drop the volume a notch or two (sorry Emeril). It is on tunes like this that larger speakers start to pay dividends, as the 602s, try as they might, could not provide the low-bass underpinning that is needed to pull the song along fully. "Say Goodbye" starts out with what is largely a drum/flute duet (dont hear that combo much), and the 602s showed impressive quickness tracking the drums, but they also captured the flute in a more complete way than Im used to hearing. The echoes produced by these instruments are also fully portrayed, which was no surprise. In general, the 602s always made me feel like I could hear way, way into any recording I played.
Adding the SO bass module
The 602s' expected inability to produce the lowest rumbles and dynamic punch made me eager to connect the 602s to the passive bass module that was also provided for review. As this unit is only meant to add another 6dB of bass, I was not expecting miracles. But some added heft sure wouldnt hurt -- or would it?
As Crash was still fresh in my mind, I left it in to see if the extra oomph down below would bring about that added level of involvement I was missing with the 602s alone. What I found was kind of a mixed bag in that with the port plugs left in the front-firing port of the bass module, there was a little additional sense of more bass, which did bring me a little closer to what larger speakers can deliver. With the port plugs removed, there was noticeably more bass, to the point that it changed the balance of the speaker from neutral to a little on the warm side. In addition, with the port plugs out, the added bass seemed a little wooly and even seemed to slow down the acoustic guitar a bit at the beginning of "So Much to Say." I experienced basically the same result in revisiting Coward of the County, where with the port plugs, the added bass provided by the bass module was not overly noteworthy, and without the plugs, it bogged things down.
Adding the bass module to the 602s seemed akin to putting a larger, heavier engine into a Boxster. Sure you could do it, but its such a finely balanced and thrilling ride to begin with that adding more can sometimes do more harm than good. And at their price, the bass modules are not a cheap option either.
Since the Sehring 602s are within striking distance price-wise of both my Soliloquy 5.3s and the Thiel CS1.6es that I recently reviewed, they seemed like logical competitors despite being dedicated floorstanders (the bass modules put the 602s in another price league, so only the 602 monitor and stands are compared here).
Given their larger cabinets and drivers, it should come as no surprise that the 5.3s and CS1.6es were able to go deeper and provide more dynamic drive down low than the smaller 602s, so lets take that as a given and score one for the floorstanders. From there, it really becomes a matter of taste and your philosophy of what sound reproduction should be all about, as these three speakers are all quite different in their execution, representing a nice study in contrast. The 5.3s are more about bringing life to the midrange and painting a beautiful and soulful sonic picture that can easily seduce you into sonic bliss if youre into what the speakers are about. At the other end of the spectrum, the uber-detailed CS1.6 will cleanly and faithfully communicate everything a CD and upstream electronics have to offer, so if youre into the absolute truth in recordings and associated electronics, youd be hard-pressed to beat the Thiels.
Then there are the 602s, which fall very nicely right between these two competitors. The Sehrings walk a fine line. They allow you to very clearly hear everything that seems to matter or sound right about a performance or recording without making you sweat the details, yet they also paint an extremely pleasing sonic portrait, seemingly without imparting any sonic signature onto it.
Again, these three speakers are so different that individual tastes and systems will ultimately determine which works best for you. But I hope this brief comparison at least provides a basic perspective on where the Sehring 602s fit within the speaker realm.
The Sehring 602s bowled me over with their ability to deliver detailed music in a satisfying way. They also look way cool and offer a tasteful departure from the wood-finished mainstream. That you can buy the monitors first and then upgrade through several interim steps is an added bonus, and although Id probably save my pennies and forgo the passive base module to get to the active version with the added woofer, at least the mid-level option is there.
Which brings me to possibly the 602s biggest limitation: The 602s alone do cost quite a few pennies as small monitors go, and there are several good floorstanders out there that will give them a run for the money. With the "rope" stands and plates, the 602s will set you back upwards of three grand, and at that price, I would wish for a little more heft and slam along with a little more meat in the lower-treble area. But then these speakers are more about quality than quantity, and if effortlessly listening to faithfully reproduced music is your goal, you'll be hard-pressed to come up with a more enjoyable speaker than the Sehring 602s. Like the Boxster, within their limits, the 602s are quite special.
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