July 2002Silverline Audio SR11 Loudspeakers
by Troy McHenry
Silverline Audios SR11 minimonitor is the newest addition to the company's Reference Monitor series and is situated in terms of price between the SR12 and SR15 at $1495 USD per pair. As Silverline's website declares, the SR11 was designed to not only perform as a speaker for audiophile hobbyists but also as a reference monitor for audio professionals.
The first thing that hit me as I pulled the pair of SR11s from their foam crypt was the incredible weight of the speakers. Each is only 12"H x 8"W x 10"D but weighs in at 22 pounds. I have shoeboxes larger than these speakers! The other physical attribute of the SR11 that comes to mind is the shape. The front face is a trapezoid and visually appealing.
The review pair of SR 11s came in a beautiful rosewood finish. Some of the other finishes available, all at no extra cost, include sycamore as well as high-gloss finishes in black, racing green, red, and white. The rear of the speaker has a port near the top, directly across from where the tweeter resides. Below are two pairs of gold-plated binding posts, which allow for biwiring/biampimg.
Lets get technical
The SR11 is a simple two-way bass-reflex design with a crossover point set at 3500Hz. The drivers consist of a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 4" carbon-fiber/paper midrange/bass driver. The advertised sensitivity is 87dB, with 8 ohms listed as the impedance. No information was given as to how the sensitivity was measured, but given the time I spent with the speakers, I suspect this number is accurate. Given Silverline's quoted specifications, just about any amp except a tube amp of low power should be able to drive the SR11s without problems. The recommended power of 15-200W further validates this observation. The manufacturer-quoted frequency response is a wide 48Hz to 22kHz..
The owners manual provided with the SR11 could only be described as sparse. Its rare these days to see an owners manual without a single picture of the product or diagram of its use. Since were audiophiles and perhaps not visual learners, this shouldnt be a problem. After reading it cover to cover, which took less time than listening to a Britney Spears song, I realized why the manual was so vague and nondescript. Nowhere did it actually name the speaker -- or any other speaker for that matter. It was a general manual for all of Silverlines speakers. One thing I can say, though reluctantly, is that all the important steps in setting up and care of the speakers are covered in the manual. But for the cost of the SR11, Id like to see more in the way of accompanying paperwork.
After playing around with the SR11s at a couple of different listening heights, my Lovan Affiniti 24" stands seemed to make the best match. Sitting in my lounge chair or sofa, the tweeter was at ear level with these stands. At first I didnt toe in the speakers, just to determine what sort of soundstage they could produce with minimal setup. After awhile, however, a little toe-in helped firm things up. I have a tendency to place speakers near the front wall because I have high ceilings; bass and reflections usually are not a big deal. With the SR11, this proved to be a bad idea. Their ports fire to the rear, so placing the speakers any closer than a foot or two from the wall made the speakers sound closed in and muffled.
At first, I biamped the SR11s with Chord Rumour 2 speaker cables, my Arcam Alpha 7r power amp driving the tweeters and Arcam Alpha 8P integrated amp driving the midbass drivers. The sound was so bright and forward that I ended up driving the SR11s with only the Alpha 8P and a run of Transparent Audios The Wave 200 speaker cables for the duration of the review.
After the speakers were appropriately set up and broken in, I finally settled down and did some serious listening. The first album Im getting in the habit of playing when Im listening to new equipment is Alison Krauss & Union Stations New Favorite [Rounder 11661 0495 2]. The whole album is superbly recorded and features the vocal talents of Krauss and Dan Tyminski. I personally like the first two tracks the most. "Let Me Touch You for Awhile" sounded great over the SR11s. Krauss voice was clear and full, and the guitars that accompany her throughout the song never sounded blurred or dull. Krauss voice, though full, did seem a little forward for my tastes. All Silverline speakers are advertised as a stable 8-ohm load, perhaps for those SET amp owners out there. Maybe some of the warmth of tubes would have put Krauss back a little bit instead of in my face, as she sounded.
The second track off the album, "The Boy Who Wouldnt Hoe Corn" sports Tyminskis ever-popular vocals. The song starts out with a strong, slow guitar chord that opens into Tyminskis lone voice. The song has a haunting chill throughout, even when it picks up pace. The SR11 captured that chill perfectly. When the song picks up pace and more guitars join in, the SR11 didnt miss a beat. That rising action was spot-on. Tyminskis voice seemed up front and full, but not too forward, as it appeared with Krauss. The lower registers of Tyminskis voice and the guitars were full and realistic.
Listening to jazz, I found the SR11 very capable of reproducing drums and cymbals with ease. On the terrifically recorded album, The Roy Haynes Trio Featuring Danilo Perez & John Patitucci [Verve 31454 35342 7], Haynes' drums sounded very good, and the attack of the drums and the imaging were equally adept. On the tracks "Wail" and "Question and Answer" the spatial placement of the piano, drums, and bass seemed perfect. Again the bass was in line with the rapid decay of the drums being perfectly delivered after each note. My only gripe with how the SR11s sounded was that the piano didnt seem as alive and full as the drums and bass. I could hear the piano fine, but it didnt have the depth and soul Im used to. The sound of the piano seemed two-dimensional and sterile. It seemed the piano was a little more distant than the rest of the band as well.
To test the above observation I played a selection of tracks off of Great Pianists of the 20th Century: Martha Argerich I [Philips Classics 456 700-2]. On the third movement from Rachmaninoffs Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op.30, the piano seemed more full than Perezs on the Roy Haynes album. Listening to the final movement, the lower notes were more real and lifelike and stood out more than the higher notes. Still, even the horns and string section seemed to be more in front of the audience at all times than Argerichs piano. However, when I was listening to the horns and strings, the sound was very good. I just wish the SR11s could have captured this with the piano as well.
Most audio systems can perform flawlessly on well-recorded albums. For a real test, I like to listen to something where the performance is five stars, but the sonics are lacking. Miles Davis The Complete Birth of the Cool [Capital 243 4 94550 2] is a perfect example of this. While this album is newly remastered and co-produced by Mark Levinson, the live performances were recorded in 1948 and leave something to be desired. Although I still prefer the studio version, the live version of "Move" seemed a little more dynamic with the SR11 than what I was used to hearing. The SR11 kept the music from becoming musical mush, which is apt to happen with this album since there are several horns and drums playing together simultaneously. What the SR11 did well was keep the instruments separate in space.
After listening to the SR11 in depth, I switched to my favorite minimonitor, which Ive owned for several years now, the $545-per-pair Linn Kan. Like the SR11, the Kan is a two-way design with a rear-firing port.
The first piece of music I used to compare the SR11 and the Kan was again the first track from New Favorite. The Kan, in comparison to the SR11, has a more rolled-off top end, and the bass really isnt there. But in the midrange, the Kan was more full than the SR11, and Krauss didnt seem like she was in my face anymore either. Along with Krauss amazing voice, the rest of the instruments still stood out as well as with the SR11.
Playing Jennifer Warnes song "The Hunter" off of the CD of the same name [Private Music 1005 82089 2], the bass was well extended and full through the SR11. The first low drum beat really hits home. The Kan does an excellent job as well, but with the limited bottom end, the impact is missing. Warnes voice is clearer through the SR11 as well. What was missing through the SR11 was the emotional connection that I felt more through the Kan. The Kan did a better job of reproducing the fullness of Warnes voice than the SR11; the SR11's timing and flow seemed to be off a tad.
Listening to classical music through the SR11 produced varied results. The first movement of Duo for Violin and Violoncello, Op.7 by Zoltan Kodaly off of the album, Music for a Glass Bead Game [John Marks Records JMR 15] sounded clearer and more concise through the SR11. There was improved emotional impact over the bluegrass and pop music I listened to earlier. The SR11 put me right there in front of the violin and cello. The Kan performed well but didnt have the depth the SR11 could muster. The instruments really did have a three-dimensionality about them when played through the SR11s.
Of course, this is really just a sampling of what each speaker can do, so your mileage may vary as you spend more time listening. However, the Kan, at a little over one-third the price of the SR11, showed itself to be an able competitor.
The Silverline SR11 is an interesting breed of loudspeaker -- for its shape and claimed consumer and professional use. I think in a studio, where clarity is sought above all else, the SR11 would perform admirably. In an audio system with tube amplification, the SR11 may sound wonderful, as long as the amps have enough power to drive the speakers, with their claimed 87dB sensitivity.
But in my room, with my equipment, the SR11 rarely made me want to tap my foot to the music or hum along. Perhaps my Arcam equipment wasn't an optimal match, or perhaps what the SR11 has to offer is not what I value as an audiophile. Whatever the case, you should definitely hear these speakers with your equipment before deciding to buy.
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