September 2002Silverline Audio La Folia Loudspeakers
by Andrew Chasin
Personal experience has led me to be wary of loudspeakers that sport a laundry list of "the finest drivers money can buy." Those products often look good on paper but can prove disappointing in the listening room. Designing a great loudspeaker is more than just cramming the latest Scan-Speak or Dynaudio drivers into a well-braced cabinet, putting together a textbook crossover, and hooking it all up with expensive silver wire. The true art of loudspeaker design is all in the voicing -- that part of the design process where the design team sits and listens to their creation, and tweaks whatever design parameters are required to produce an audibly faithful replica of the input signal in a real listening space. A designer who can truly voice a loudspeaker can make less-than-exotic drivers sing and keep the speakers price within real-world territory as a result. Stewart Tyler has been doing this at ProAc for years.
While the Silverline La Folia may appear to be merely another dynamic speaker boasting the latest and greatest designer domes and cones, my time listening to this speaker has given me strong reason to believe that designer Alan Yun has thoughtfully voiced his product to play beautiful music, rather than impress the "my drivers are better than yours" set.
Unlike many other speaker designers, who often guard the internal details of their products like military secrets, Silverlines Alan Yun is quick to reveal what goes into his speakers in terms of drivers, crossovers and cabinetry. The $7999-USD-per-pair La Folia is a four-way bass-reflex design incorporating the pricey Dynaudio T330D Esotar 1 1/4" soft-dome tweeter, a Dynaudio D76AF 3" soft-dome midrange, a Scan-Speak 7" carbon-fiber/paper midrange/woofer, and a Focal 11" polyglass woofer. Crossovers to the drivers are, respectively from highs to lows, first order, second order, first order and first order, with the Focal woofer connected out of phase, perhaps because it fires to the rear. All other drivers are forward-firing. The tweeter, midrange and midrange/bass driver are housed in a 1-cubic-foot sealed box that's physically separated from the ported sub-chamber containing the woofer. The cabinet is comprised of both MDF and particleboard, and its panels are of a variety of thicknesses (between 1" and 3") in order to aid in the breakup of vibrational modes. If biwiring/biamping is your thing, youll be happy to know that the La Folia sports two pairs of heavy-duty five-way binding posts. Spikes are also included so that the speakers can be firmly anchored to the floor, and grilles for both the front and the rear of the speaker are supplied.
The La Folias sensitivity is quoted as 90dB with an 8-ohm impedance, which would make the SET crowd happy were it not for a stated minimum amplifier power of 50Wpc. Frequency response is given as a healthy 22Hz-28kHz. The La Folia is no skinny minny, however, measuring a chunky 12"W x 46"H x 20"D and weighing in at 120 pounds per speaker. The review sample delivered to me was finished in a lovely deep rosewood. Other available finishes include burl briarwood, sycamore, and high-gloss black.
Fortunately for me and my lower back, Silverline is located less than an hour from my home in Northern California, so Alan Yun and his son kindly delivered the speakers and carried them into my listening room. Alan spent a few minutes wrestling the speakers into place, but left me to my own devices for final placement and tweaking. Because of the rear-firing woofer and very deep bass response of the La Folias, the speakers wound up further out into the room (about 48") than most of the other speakers Ive had in my house. When placed too close to the front wall, the La Folias sounded boomy and congested, but they were much better balanced when given enough real estate behind them. Near the end of the review period, I moved my system and the La Folias into a 12' x 14' spare bedroom to see how they would fare (my main listening room is about 20' x 21'). No go -- the La Folias were far too bass-heavy for a room of that size. As with all $8000 loudspeakers, audition the La Folia at home before committing to their purchase.
I listened to the La Folias in the context of my usual review system consisting of the VPI Aries turntable/VPI Synchronous Drive System/Graham 2.0 tonearm/Transfiguration Spirit moving-coil cartridge analog rig, Audible Illusions Modulus 3a preamplifier with gold moving-coil boards, and Simaudio Moon W-5 power amplifier. All interconnects, power cords, and speaker cables are by Harmonic Technology -- Pro-Silway Mk II interconnects, Pro-9 Plus single-wire speaker cables, and Pro-AC11 power cords. All of the components are housed in a Finite Element Pagode Master Reference equipment stand.
Although the review pair of La Folias had been around the block a few times before being delivered to me (they saw duty at a couple of audio shows), I gave them more than ten hours of playing time before listening critically.
I must admit that I was skeptical about the sound of the La Folia when I saw its 11" rear-firing woofer and the sheer volume of the speakers cabinet -- the speaker appears much more slender and elegant in photos. I flashed back to the days when I owned the thump-thump-thump Mirage M7si and figured that the La Folia would, as the Mirage did, sound bass-heavy and inflict its ponderous signature on everything I listened to. Thankfully, the La Folia had no such negative traits. Instead, the La Folia took on the character of the music it was fed. On music with a heavy drum beat and bass line, the La Folia rocked right along, sounding appropriately forceful and aggressive. On small-scale jazz and light chamber music, the speaker sounded as graceful and delicate as the music dictated. The La Folia was the Rich Little of the audio world, possessing the ability to assume different sonic personalities on demand.
Im no bass freak, but the sheer depth and volume of the La Folias bass reproduction was impressive. Via the La Folias, the bass line on Tori Amoss Under the Pink LP [Atlantic 82567] literally rattled the shelves in the armoire behind my listening chair. I don't mean to imply that the La Folias bass was all boom, however. To the contrary, the speakers bottom end was impressively taut and tuneful and never failed to communicate all of the goings on at the lowest of lows. Owners of the La Folia will certainly not be wanting for a subwoofer.
Ive heard other speakers that make use of the much-ballyhooed Esotar tweeter but have always found them on the bright side of neutral. Not so with the La Folia. The top end of the Silverline speaker was wonderfully light, airy and extended. Violins and the upper registers of the female voice were rendered beautifully and never sounded edgy or ragged. I listen to a lot of live jazz and was continually impressed by the La Folias realistic reproduction of trumpets, saxophones and cymbals. Even going full tilt, horns had much of the requisite bite without any hint of glare, and cymbals crashed, sizzled and shimmered with nary a hint of the tizziness heard with lesser speakers. Correctly implemented and voiced for his design, Alan Yun has made the Esotar tweeter truly sing in the La Folia.
The Dynaudio midrange driver was no slouch either. The La Folias had me pulling out piles of female-vocal records from my collection and thoroughly enjoying them from start to finish. While most decent high-end speakers get the basic tone and texture of female voices reasonably correct, only the best can fully render all of the subtle inflections and nuances that make each vocalist truly unique. The La Folia was firmly in the latter camp, allowing me to appreciate fully minute details in a singers phrasing that had previously eluded me.
Audiophiles into hard-driving rock music will love the La Folia. With its impressive power-handling capabilities and its ability to play very loudly without strain, the La Folia didnt bat an eyelash when asked to belt out Rushs Permanent Waves [Anthem ANR 1 1021] and Hemispheres [Anthem ANR 1 1014] at 100dB peaks. Geddy Lees throbbing bass lines, Neal Pearts relentlessly brilliant percussion work, and Alex Lifesons searing guitar solos didnt phase the La Folias one iota. The big rosewood Silverlines just seemed to stare me down and chuckle, asking "Is that all ya got?" No need to unhook the La Folias for your next frat party.
While the La Folias could rock the roof off the house, they were equally at home with trio jazz and chamber music. The La Folias beautifully captured the understated beauty of the Bill Evans Trios Sunday at the Village Vanguard [Original Jazz Classics 1040]. The tinkle of Evans piano, the shimmer of Paul Motians snare drum, and the almost imperceptible fretwork of Scott Lafaro were all communicated as an organic whole by the La Folias. It was something of a cognitive dissonance to stare at the large, clunky La Folias and hear such subtly beautiful music emanate from them. How could such sounds come from a pair of massive wooden boxes with four seemingly disparate drivers and that honkin 11" rear-firing woofer? Its all in the voicing.
Negatives? While not necessarily a bad thing in some systems, the La Folias had a penchant for politeness in the upper midrange and lower treble. Recordings that leaned to the aggressive side on other speakers Ive auditioned were rendered more listenable through the La Folias. On the other hand, the slight lack of transparency in this region may be a negative in some systems.
I was obviously impressed with the sound of the La Folias, but, at around $8000 per pair, they represent a sizable investment for most audiophiles, myself included. So I spent some time comparing the Silverlines to the half-as-expensive Magnepan MG3.6/R to see what, if anything, was gained by the nearly $4000 additional investment.
Not surprisingly, the La Folia had it all over the Maggies in the bass department. While the MG 3.6/R has very good bass for a panel speaker (much better than its usually given credit for), it couldnt match the sheer power and volume of low frequency sound produced by the La Folias two dynamic bass drivers. The La Folia was also able to play louder and with less strain than the MG3.6/R, which should make it appealing to rock-loving audiophiles. In the Maggies favor is that terrific ribbon tweeter, one of the finest high-frequency transducers currently available. Although the La Folia's Esotar tweeter was most impressive, the Magnepan ribbon is more impressive still, sounding more airy and extended than the Dynaudio dome design. The MG3.6/R is also able to render the scale of a musical event more convincingly than any box speaker Ive heard, including the La Folia, which adds a sense of realism to large-scale jazz and symphonic works.
On a more practical front, the tall Magneplanar panels make integration with a rooms décor problematic, while the more traditional wood-encased La Folias, not a small speaker by any means, make a less intrusive visual statement.
If looks were not an issue and I didnt need the low-end slam and power handling of the La Folias, Id opt for the Magnepan MG3.6/R. The MG3.6/R is one of the finest speakers Ive heard regardless of price, and even at $4200 per pair theyre an unbelievable bargain. You could always add a subwoofer for around $2000 and still be ahead in terms of price.
On the other hand, if you listen to a lot of rock music at high volume, want subwoofer-like low-end performance without the space or integration problems, want a well-balanced and beautifully voiced design based on some of the finest dynamic drivers currently available, and want it all in a traditional floorstanding design, the Silverline La Folia is more than worthy of a lengthy audition.
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