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Equipment Review

June 2004

Final Sound Model 700 Loudspeakers

by John Crossett

 


Review Summary
Sound "A you-are-there sense of realism" -- " clarity, speed, and soundstaging prowess"; "sometimes-you-hear-it, sometimes-you-don’t bass response," however; "definitely a speaker to consider if your tastes run toward vocalists -- especially female."
Features Tall, thin and "strikingly good-looking" electrostatic speakers; "all of the electronics (the power modules and transformers to keep the panels charged) are housed in a separate silver-finished Central Unit box, which comes with a 12V wall-wart power supply."
Use "The Model 700s come with their own custom-braided 16/4 UL-approved speaker cables…. This carries not only the current to keep the panels energized but also the musical signal." "Your speaker cables are needed to run from the power amp to the Central Unit."
Value "If their considerable virtues outweigh the inevitable shortcomings inherent in all speakers, then they will satisfy long after the newness of their purchase wears off."

The Dutch have made a number of wonderful contributions to our modern world: beer, cheese, tulips, fine art, wooden shoes and windmills. But one thing the Dutch have never really been noted for is making world-class loudspeakers. I have no idea why this is -- many other European countries have managed to accomplish this feat. It's just one of those unexplained mysteries of audiophile life.

Fortunately, the Model 700 ($5995 USD per pair), the second-from-the-top speaker in Final Sound’s Reference line of electrostatic speakers, will go a long way toward rectifying that situation. The Model 700 is a loudspeaker that can hold its own among the best panel speakers the world has to offer, and it's designed and built in the Netherlands.

Build quality

Final Sound has put quite a bit of thought into the construction of the Model 700. With their black, vinyl-clad oval wooden bases; twin round silver end panels; and black, perforated, semi-transparent metal grilles, the 700s are strikingly good-looking in a high-tech sense, and are very thin, which ensures that their footprint will be extremely small. The 700s measure 73.2"H x 11.3"W x 2"D and weigh in at 21 pounds each. They are said to be 86dB sensitive and offer a fairly stable 4-ohm impedance (dipping to 3 ohms at 20kHz), which makes Final Sound's recommendation of 90-150Wpc to power them completely understandable. Stated frequency response is 45Hz-25kHz, belying the full-range look of the speakers. All of the electronics (the power modules and transformers to keep the panels charged) are housed in a separate silver-finished Central Unit box, which comes with a 12V wall-wart power supply. This will fit neatly either in your equipment rack, above the power amp, or just about anywhere else you might like to place it.

The Model 700s come with their own custom-braided UL-approved speaker cables, which you can run them inside your walls with no worries. This carries not only the current to keep the panels energized but also the musical signal. At first I wondered about this feature, feeling, as I’m sure many of you do, that it might compromise sound quality, not to mention keep one from experimenting with different speaker cables. Your speaker cables are needed to run from the power amp to the Central Unit, which, in my case was only about six inches (I ended up placing the Model 700s' electronics box right above my power amp). Also, you’ll need banana plugs on one end of your cables -- that’s the only way to connect them to the rear of the Central Unit, as the connection is made via two small holes next to Final Sound’s own speaker-cable connectors. As a further impediment to cable swapping, these connectors are of a unique type that, while they make plugging them in a breeze, will keep you from substituting easily should you so desire. The power/signal cables connect to the speakers under their bases using the same plugs (though a bit smaller) as those that connect to the Central Unit. And the bases, incidentally, do not offer floor spikes, just small semi-round feet. This makes the speakers a bit unstable on thick carpet.

One final word of warning for those unfamiliar with electrostatic speakers: The panels are electronically charged at all times with enough voltage to cause injury or a visit from the Grim Reaper if touched. So please do not stick anything through the holes in the grilles. As the robot in Lost in Space would say, "Danger, danger Will Robinson!"

Setup

The Model 700s easily slipped right into the spots vacated by my Magnepan MG1.6/QRs. Both speakers are dipoles, meaning that they radiate sound in phase from the front and out of phase from the back, so similar placement makes sense. They ended up four feet from the front wall, 34" from the side walls, and toed in ever so slightly. I did find that the Model 700s were extremely sensitive to room placement in one particular regard. If you look closely through the metal grille at the membrane of each speaker you will see that rather than being made of a single, unbroken sheet of Mylar -- remember, the Model 700s are full-range electrostats – the speaker is divided up into three distinct sections, each one narrower than the other. My first setup placed the narrowest sections on the inside, and while I was pleased with the sound, I was never completely satisfied. Swapping sides, so the smallest sections were now on the outside locked the sound completely into place and opened up the soundstage fully. All the observations that follow were made with that setup.

The system in which the Model 700s were installed included a Sunfire Stereo power amp (I used an AudioSource Amp 100 briefly, just to hear if it had the power to drive the speakers; it did, but not the sonics) connected to the Central Unit via Alpha-Core MI2 speaker cable. The preamp was an Audio Research SP16. Front-end components were a VPI HW19 Mk IV turntable, Butternut Audio-modified Rega RB300 tonearm, and Clearaudio Aurum Beta S cartridge for vinyl, and a Marantz 8260 for SACD and CD playback. Interconnects were mainly Alpha-Core TQ2, with DH Labs BL-1 for the sake of variety.

The sound of speed

Electrostatic speakers have always had a reputation for being extremely agile sonically and light on their collective feet, and the Model 700s did absolutely nothing to dispel this. If I could only use one word to describe the sound of the 700s, it would be speed. You can almost call these speakers "the fast and the furious" (although they have a bit of a problem with the furious part, as I’ll discuss below).

One exciting thing the Model 700s did during my time with them was open up new sonic vistas on each and every album I played. Even with albums that I thought I knew backwards and forwards, the Model 700s revealed aspects I’d not heard before. For instance, listening to the new Steely Dan SACD of Gaucho [MCA B0000868-36], I could for the first time easily pick out Michael McDonald’s background vocals as a clear and distinct entity, and the album as a whole displayed an openness that I had not heard previously. Both of these from an album I’ve listened to on a multitude of systems since its release nearly 25 years ago.

Electrostats have always made a strong point of portraying a you-are-there sense of realism. The Final Model 700s didn’t disappoint in this regard either. I pulled Dave Bailey’s One Foot in the Gutter [Classic/Epic LP BA 17008] and Dexter Gordon’s Our Man In Paris [Blue Note ST-84146] out of my bulging LP racks and gave them a spin. In both cases, I was transported to two distinct recording venues (on two different continents no less). And in those venues there were, standing in front of me, real, honest-to-goodness musicians playing their instruments in their own acoustic space, just for my personal listening pleasure. The joy of this type of experience is almost indescribable, but the Model 700s' clarity, speed, and soundstaging prowess were responsible for it.

Vocal music, too, was convincingly portrayed through the Model 700s. I listened to a wide variety of vocalists, everyone from Billie Holiday to Carmen McRae, Sarah Pierce, Chris De Burgh, Roy Orbison and John Prine. All were given the high-resolution treatment of the Final Model 700s, and I was easily able to distinguish characteristics that make each voice unique. These are definitely a speaker to consider if your tastes run toward vocalists -- especially female. There was also a breath-taking purity of tone to Patricia Barber’s Nightclub [Mobile Fidelity UDSCAD 2004] that was akin to drinking an ice-cold glass of Poland Springs water after a diet of the city-scrubbed variety. The vocals, as expected, were in-the-room clear. But it was the instrumental tones that were breathtaking. Barber’s piano sounded full-sized, with a felt-padded-hammers-falling-on-metal-strings sound to die for. And the guitar was startlingly real, with string and body sound in almost perfect proportion.

It was only when I began listening to the bass lines that I realized all was not perfect. Over the course of listening to a number of different albums, I came to understand that the Model 700s' bass tended to enjoy the game of hide and seek. For example, Ray Brown’s Soular Energy [Pure Audiophile/Concord PA-002 (2)] was enjoyable, but Brown’s bass, usually full toned and mixed to the front of the stage, was diminished in both power and location. While still woody and detailed, it lacked the depth, body and resonance I’ve heard via other speakers. Yet, on John Prine’s Bruised Orange [Asylum GE-139], I heard the bass line rendered more clearly than I had previously experienced.

And while this sometimes-you-hear-it, sometimes-you-don’t bass response kept the Model 700s from being a great full-symphony reproducer, it didn’t seem to harm the speakers' way with chamber music. My copy of the Fine Arts Quartet with Yuri Gandelsman playing Mozart String Quartets [Lyrinx LYR 2214] sounded superb. The openness, clarity, and clear demarcation between musicians were beautifully rendered. The cello was reproduced fully, from its lowest notes on up.

However, the Final Model 700s are not great rock-n-roll speakers. They just don’t move enough air to add that certain raucous rawness that makes most rock sound real. Chris De Burgh’s "Patricia the Stripper," from Spanish Train and Other Stories LP [A&M SP-4568], was just way too polite to be totally convincing, although at the same time its presentation was still thoroughly enjoyable. The ability of the Model 700s to sort out the different musical lines added a compelling reason to listen, even to more complex rock, despite the occasional lack of deep bass.

Comparison

Electrostatic and planar-magnetic speakers have enough in common that a comparison of the Final Model 700s and Magnepan MG1.6/QRs ($1725 per pair) should be somewhat illuminating, even with the large price difference. Both are tall, thin dipole speakers, and both tend to like a fair bit of quality power to sing properly.

The Model 700s sounded much quicker than the Magnepans -- which was a bit of a surprise, as I’d expected very little difference in that regard given the two speakers' similar stature. The Model 700s' crystalline quality, their retrieval of inner detail, and their uncanny ability to capture the soundstage -- both in width and depth -- were their greatest assets, and these set them apart from the MG1.6/QRs. The Magnepans, on the other hand, while remaining within at least shouting distance of the Final speakers in these regards, added fuller and deeper bass and a greater sense of three-dimensionality.

Listening to the new LP Like Minds [Pure Audiophile/Concord PA-003 (2)] -- a complete and utter winner of an album, by the way -- from Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, and Roy Haynes, really displayed the differences between the Final and Magnepan speakers. On the 700s, Burton’s vibes just shimmered, each note hanging in the air between the speakers. Roy Haynes drums were better served by the Model 700s -- if not having anywhere near the weight of the Maggies, the drums definitely had more snap and detail. The MG1.6/QRs, on the other hand, tended to flesh things out more, adding weight and roundness to each instrument, especially Corea’s piano.

One area in which the Model 700s are completely victorious over the MG1.6/QRs is in appearance. You’ll be far more likely to have the Model 700s gain domestic acceptance just on their looks alone than you ever will with the Magnepans. And, when the sound is factored in, well….

Summing up

It’s the ultimate goal of every speaker manufacturer to build the perfect loudspeaker -- one that does all things for all people. And it’s an admirable goal to be sure, but one that has almost no chance of being accomplished -- preferences being what they are. So it is the duty of listeners to judge speakers by how closely they come to reproducing the elusive personal standard of musical perfection, while still upholding the criteria each of us has for overall fidelity to the musical signal.

I've lived with dynamic and planar-magnetic speakers, but my short visit with the Final Sound Model 700s makes a strong case for electrostatic loudspeakers -- to say I was impressed with the Model 700s' sound would be an understatement. The speakers' strengths (realism, openness, clarity) are Samson-like, so powerfully do they move the music into the room and along to the listener, and their weaknesses (peek-a-boo bass) are, in turn, more Delilah-like, in that by the time you come to discern them you’ve already fallen in love. If the Model 700s' considerable virtues outweigh the inevitable shortcomings inherent in all speakers, then they will satisfy long after the newness of their purchase wears off.

Either way, with the Model 700, Final Sound has accomplished the twin goals of putting Dutch speakers firmly on the audiophile map and building a superb reproducer of music.

...John Crossett
johnc@soundstage.com

Final Sound Model 700 Loudspeakers
Price: $5995 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

Final Sound LLC
500 W. Cummings Park, Suite 2500
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: (781) 938-6416
Fax: (781) 938-6415

E-mail: Kathleen@finalsound.com
Website: www.finalsound.com


Final Sound responds:

First of all, we’d like to thank you for your insightful review of our Model 700 and for the opportunity to comment. Your courtesy is very much appreciated.

We would like to comment on a two points.

Bass Response. Specifying the frequency response of a standalone electrostatic panel, if done according to established standards, yields numbers which are somewhat deceptive. It is in the nature of the panels to be extremely flat into the low-frequency areas when run at the low levels that standard frequency-response tests call for. This results in the 700’s low-frequency -3dB specification of about 45Hz. The standard test does not take into account the fact that as level increases, electrostatic panels tend to "compress" the bass as the Mylar literally "runs out of room" to move the volume of air required. When reproducing most "natural" acoustic material at a reasonable level, the bass output of the Model 700 panel is sufficient, and of course very, very clean. As a practical matter, however, the intended use of the Model 700 requires a great deal more bass output than a panel of its size can produce. Therefore the Model 700 was intended from the outset to be used with a reasonably powerful, very flat, woofer/subwoofer, generally crossed over at 40, 60, or 80Hz for first-, second- or fourth-order crossovers, respectively. Final produces a suitable 10" bass unit called the S200 that is flat from about 28Hz (in room) to around 250Hz and so is usable with a wide range of panel sizes. In the case of the Model 700, however, almost any subwoofer of suitable quality is acceptable, since almost all of them are flat up to 100Hz or so.

To summarize, the 700 was never intended to be used without bass enhancement of some sort or another.

Final wire. Unlike normal speaker wire, which works in an environment of predominately inductive load and very low voltages, the Final wire works with a highly capacitive load and extremely high voltages. As a result, the design specification of Final wire is fundamentally different from normal speaker wire. The inability to cable swap is not just a matter of connectors. In fact, the insulation of any normal speaker wire (even the exotic sort) would quickly break down and present the system with what amounts to a dead short.

Once again, on behalf of everyone at Final Sound, thank you for your perceptive and informative review of our Model 700.

James M. Tuomy
US technical support
Final Sound LLC

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