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AXPONA 2014: Sound Lab and the wall of sound

CT6A6417 Let's enjoy a hypothetical. Say, for the sake of argument, that you believe that panel speakers don't present bass with the same impact that cone speakers do. If that is the case, the hypothetical goes, you have two choices when designing panel speakers and you want it to have a strong bass performance. One, add cones. Cones can do "impact", right? Right! So, you can integrate them like Janszen or Martin Logan. Or you can add external subwoofers. Either could work. Two, you can go big. Go big or go home! Bass, in a panel, is a function of size of the panel. Want big bass? Get a big panel. Want mo' betta' bass? Get an even bigger panel. Let's just say that, given those choices, Sound Lab Speakers chose the latter. And when I say "big", I don't really think you have a clear idea of what I mean. 

Brian Walsh of Essential Audio brought the $35,840/pair Sound Lab Majestic 845 electrostatic loudspeakers are huge. Being ESLs, they’re also able to do what really good ESLs can, which is open a portal through time-space and take your ears for a ride on the way-back machine, to dump you directly in front of a live, and thoroughly memorable, experience. Two words: holy cow! Being an ESL, the Sound Lab speakers did best in a rather narrow venue, but being so big, that venue is larger than you’d think. That size also was able serve up serious bass, so that was very cool. I have no idea how big a room I’d have to have before the SO cleared such an acquisition, but there is something magical about panels, and ESLs in particular.

The Sound Lab speakers were driven here by a pair of equally monstrous OTL mono block amps from Atma-Sphere, the $41,600/pair MA-2 Mk III.2 and fed from a matching $16,940 MP-1 Mk III.2 preamplifier. Definitely a “Winter” set of amps.

The new $16,800 state-of-the-art Aurender W20 “Reference” music server played into a $8,995 Bricasti M1 DAC. An AMR DP-77.1 CD player was on hand for lovers of the silver disc. A giant brassy Kuzma Stabi XL turntable was also in use.

Teo Audio provided all the racks and all the analog cabling. These are the highly regarded “liquid conductor” cables I’ve heard about, but have never had a chance to handle. I wonder if they’re squishy? I’m kidding, but I do wonder about the physics of all this. Liquid conductors! Color me “constantly amazed”.

Power and digital cables came from Clarity Cables. Their new USB cable was in the system and I saw a sample up close. I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of their cables and have had outstanding results with their speaker cables and interconnects in the past, so it’s good to see them branching out.

Do you love panel loudspeakers? I do. There’s something about the coherence that a panel driver can generate that’s just insanely credible when painting sonic pictures. Pair that with an electrostatic speaker and you get transparency and immediacy and speed. That was on offer here, in AXPONA, even in a challenging room. And with a panel that big, bass was not an issue. I really am a fan, though I have no idea what kind of setup I would have to have to get the wife to clear a speaker of this size. Sigh.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

4 Comments on AXPONA 2014: Sound Lab and the wall of sound

  1. Gavin Hadley // May 12, 2014 at 1:13 PM //

    The panels in the MLs that I’ve owned had a life of about 12 years but were relatively inexpensive to replace…did it myself, very easy. Just wondering what it will cost to replace the panels on these big boys..

    • Mr. Hadley,
      I have no personal experience, but rather pass along recent advice from a close audiophile friend and business associate, a Sound Lab dealer and close neighbor of mine. We both live in close proximity to Sound Lab.

      Modern Sound Lab assembly and manufacture processes have evolved and improved over time. My best understanding is that modern Sound Lab speakers have reached a level where the service life is significantly longer than your past experience.

  2. The turntable system consisted of a Kuzma Stabi XL2 turntable, 4Point tonearm, and CAR-40 moving coil cartridge.

    Regarding room size, the room was 44′-5″ long by 19′-4″ wide with an 8′-3″ ceiling, which was larger than needed. A room half or slightly more than half that size would be adequate. For smaller rooms they make smaller models, of course. And they make the Majestic 945, which is a foot taller than the 845.

  3. Thank you, Scot, for the very good summary and great photos. By the way, the CD player was the AMR CD-77.1. Clarity Cable power distributors and Vortex power cords were used throughout, and we also used a Clarity Cable SPDIF (coax) digital cable.

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