Visitors to Sanders Sound Systems’ small, second-floor room at T.H.E. Show in Newport encountered a demo that could have made a fascinating episode of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.
Among the commonly held beliefs easily disproved were: hybrid electrostatics can’t play loud, lack dynamic impact, roll off high frequencies, and have trouble integrating their cone-driven lower ends with their panels.
One by one, those stereotypes fell as a Sanders representative played a wide variety of test tracks ranging from classical works and acoustic guitar instrumentals to Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Denver-based Sanders was showing its new Model 10d floorstanding speakers, which come with a digital crossover and the company’s own 500-watt-per-channel Magtech stereo amplifier ($15,000 for the entire package).
While many electrostatic manufacturers curve their panels to try to widen dispersion, designer Roger Sanders prefers a flat sheet of mylar. While this decision narrows the sweet spot somewhat, he feels the pinpoint imaging and lower distortion is worth the trade-off.
Sanders, who sometimes is confused with Martin-Logan founder Gayle Sanders but is no relation, has been building electrostatics himself for more than 30 years. In that time, he’s tried a lot of different approaches and feels now his latest designs are reaping the rewards of that experience.
The Model 10d, for instance, sports a new aluminum woofer that Sanders says is the fastest he’s ever used and more than up to matching the electrostatic panel in speed. He also is offering a new room-correction option (which adds $2,000 to the system price) that allows him to get extremely flat response.
In a series of Mythbusters-style tests, all the components proved to be impressive performers.
The woofer, implemented in a transmission-line design, offered a more convincing portrayal of rock tracks than I’ve heard from any other electrostatic. And, unlike most of the show’s experiments, nothing blew up.
Part of the reason likely was the woofer’s strong, light cone material and motor design. Sanders’ digital crossover — adjustable up to 48 db/octave — undoubtedly played a part as well. In another test, the Sanders rep shut off the panels during Vaughan’s cover of “The Sky Is Crying.” Immediately, all of the singer’s vocals disappeared — not just decreased in volume, but totally dropped out — leaving only the throbbing bass and room-shaking kick drum of Double Trouble.
Another test, this one focusing on the room correction, showed a subtle but worthwhile improvement. Bass tightened and seemed to go deeper, and the lower midrange gained some air.
About the only quibble I could find with the 10d system — which Sanders makes in Colorado and sells direct with a 30-day, money-back guarantee — was its somewhat narrow sweet spot. You could tell the Sanders team was attentive to this issue in the unique way they set up their room at the Hotel Irvine. The speakers were pulled fairly far out from the back wall and angled slightly. In the listening position was only a single row of chairs — one behind the other — so all listeners would have each ear exactly the same distance from each speaker.
Even so, I found there was no extreme head-in-vice requirement to get good sound. Leaning 6 inches left or right didn’t seen to affect the presentation too much, but getting up and moving around did prove to be more detrimental than with curved-panel electrostatics. Still, the imaging of the 10d — when your head was in the sweet spot — could be breathtaking. I think buyers who like to listen in the nearfield, especially, would not have too great a problem.
The overall result of the Sanders system, with all equipment engaged, was an amazing transducer that mixed Quad-like magic in the mids with the solidity and unflappable dynamics throughout the frequency range of a top conventional cone design. While the Model 10d could handle rock and complex orchestral music with ease, it especially painted beautiful aural pictures on more spare vocal tracks such as Nelson’s “Stardust.” The latter song, instead of sounding like you were listening to a playback on a decent studio system, was closer to being there for the real thing.
So, did Sanders offer the best sound at T.H.E. Show? I think even the most skeptical members of the Mythbusters would be in agreement with me: Plausible, very plausible.