As I was preparing to write this review, I had an epiphany: Speakers are a lot like women. They come in all shapes and sizes, they are born to communicate (but frequently have their own versions of reality), and they have the power to seduce yet they can also drive a fella nuts.
Actually, in some ways speakers pose some tough competition for the Venus set. I mean, think about it: You get to pick the exact speakers you want and you only pay for them once; if you decide to get hitched the only accessories youll need are speaker cables that are usually a heckuva lot cheaper than a ring (one of the few contexts where cables actually seem like a bargain eh?); you only need to share one room with your speakers, and its not the bathroom; speakers only talk when you want them to, and for once you actually get to control the conversation; and last but not least, if you decide to upgrade, speakers dont take half of everything you own.
And finding the right speakers is a lot like dating in that were pretty much looking for the same qualities -- looks, brains, and personality. Unfortunately, hitting the trifecta in either case can be a long, frustrating, and costly process. Some are absolutely beautiful but cant generate a coherent thought, some have lots of personality but are not completely in touch with reality, and some manage to be both smart and engaging, but you don't find them physically inviting. In any event, the payoff is that once you find the right pair (of speakers, that is) youll likely be happy for a very long time.
I remember my first foray into the world of loudspeakers back in the 70s, and much like my first few dating experiences, it was more about looks than it should have been. Those speakers had lots of drivers and a big honkin woofer. Hey, they must be good, right? As my experience and tastes evolved I realized that what was inside was ultimately just as if not more important than good looks, and during a long yet fun and interesting search I eventually stumbled upon a pair of speakers (and wife) I was proud to call mine. Those speakers were from Soliloquy, and the wife is from Long Island. To me, the Soliloquy speakers nailed the trifecta so much so that the 5.3s became my reference speakers and remained so for several years. Needless to say I was very interested to hear what the company viewed as the next step up from my beloved 5.3s -- the 6.2s.
5.3 + 0.9 = 6.2
For those unfamiliar with Soliloquy, it is worth mentioning their basic business model, which to me makes a whole lotta sense. All drivers used in the Soliloquy product line are designed in-house and then manufactured to spec in China. In addition to allowing for complete control of the design process from the ground up without the need for an expensive internal design/manufacturing facility, the scenario also keeps costs way down versus buying drivers off the shelf and then designing around them. Soliloquy also keeps value high by only using three basic drivers to spawn a veritable smorgasbord of product offerings -- from small bookshelf speakers to monster floorstanders. If only my wife were as budget-conscious (just kidding, Dear).
The Soliloquy 6.2s ($2699 USD per pair) are an attractive, traditional two-way floorstanding design that while not large cannot really be considered small either. I guess Id say theyre kind of in the Mama Bear class, measuring 9"W x 42"H x 13"D as they do. One of the first things youll notice about any Soliloquy speaker is their impressive pound-to-square inch ratio, and the 6.2s clock in at a beefy 90 pounds. This is due to Soliloquys firm belief that cabinet resonance has no place in the sound chain, so they use 1" high-density fiberboard (not medium-density fiberboard, or MDF) all around and further damp the cabinet internally with a variety of inert materials that add to their mass. Even the extra wood from the driver cutouts is used internally to further shore up the rear panel -- very resourceful. All this girth is supported by a metal plate on the bottom of the speakers that juts out at the corners allowing for the decidedly unfeminine and industrial-looking yet attractive spikes to reside outside the speaker structure itself. This is an elegantly simple design element (now found on numerous speaker brands) that looks great and functionally makes it much easier to adjust and level the speakers. Anything that makes this process easier is a good thing. This design also gives Soliloquy speakers much of their unique look in a sea of otherwise unremarkable boxes -- theyre kinda like speaker jewelry, in keeping with the female theme here.
Also making life easier and worth noting are the two pairs of substantial binding posts that are flush-mounted near the bottom rear of the cabinet. These are not merely for show -- Soliloquy recommends biwiring their speakers, and as all four binding posts are nicely spaced with good-sized nuts, all cables can be connected with relative ease. The one caveat is that the binding posts are thick in diameter, so those with narrower spade lugs on their cables may need to make use of that one hole nobody wants to use.
Getting more to the heart of the matter, the 6.2s are a two-way design incorporating the same 1" dual-chamber silk tweeter found in most all Soliloquy models along with a 6 1/2" mica-polymer composite midrange/woofer. The crossover is a second-order design and hands the midrange/woofer to the tweeter at a relatively high 2700Hz. The result is a stated frequency response of 28Hz to 20kHz +/-3dB and recommended power range of 8 to 300 watts. Sensitivity is rated at 89dB, and the 6.2s further support their womanly sensitivity with a very tube-friendly 8-ohm nominal impedance.
Setup and use
Some speakers are very user friendly. You can plop them down almost anywhere within reason, and with a little tweak here and there have pretty much all youre going to get from them. While I did find the 6.2s sounded fine doing this, these are speakers that really blossomed when given some space to do their work. Soliloquy recommends that the speakers be placed anywhere from 18 inches to five feet from the front wall (measured from the rear panel of the speaker), and it wasnt until I got them 44" out that the speakers really decoupled from my room. At this point, the bass blended nicely with the rest of the sonic picture, the soundstage opened up dramatically in all directions, and the speakers flat out disappeared as a sound source. In this position the speakers were a little over six feet apart and ten feet from my head. Center-image specificity changed rather significantly with toe-in, and I ended up with the speakers aimed just outside my shoulders. Maybe not surprisingly, this placement ended up being very similar to where my 5.3s were situated. Suffice it to say that the 6.2s can work in a variety of positions, but like many good speakers they will reward you handsomely given a little experimentation and real estate.
Last and certainly not least, I have found that Soliloquy speakers take considerably longer to break in than most others, and the change in sound is quite dramatic. I usually dont make such a big deal about break-in and personally think that many times its at least overstated and more a function of ones own ears breaking in, but in this case its for real. Ive been told its a function of uncommonly hearty and stiff rubber surrounds and spiders, which they are -- Ive seen em and held em. But whatever the reason, I would not attempt to judge these speakers until theyve had at least 300 to 400 hours on them, lest they sound bright and anorexic.
OK, enough chit-chat.
Frequently the thing I notice first about a speaker is the character of the tweeter, which comes across immediately as one of three flavors: bright, polite, or neutral. But it was the midrange that definitely stood out for me when I first heard Soliloquy 6.2s. Although not one of my audiophile staples, Ill never forget the impact of what came forth as I put on "Put Your Lights On" from Santanas Supernatural [Arista 19080] the first time I heard it on the Soliloquy 5.3s. Conducting a direct A/B comparison to a lot of the leading competition at the time resulted in no comparison or competition. The Soliloquy 6.2s reached down and dug out the guts of Everlasts opening vocals such that I could feel him in the room with me. Captured were all the rolling undertones and guttural rumblings produced by the obviously closely micd vocals, while the competition mustered no more than a mere surface reconstruction by comparison.
It may not be surprising, then, that this was the first disc I put in to evaluate the 6.2s once they loosened up, and yep, déjà vu all over again. This time the visceral impact was slightly lessened but with an obvious increase in clarity and focus -- a more-than-fair tradeoff and an overall improvement. Although Ive heard this song on several speakers, the only speakers Ive heard to date that have pleased me to the same degree with Everlasts vocals were the ATC SCM50s, with their amazing dome midrange (at several times the price of the 6.2's, by the way). This level of vocal impact was not limited to Everlast and manifested itself just as strongly while listening to Diana Krall, Patricia Barber, James or Livingston Taylor -- you name it.
And this way with vocals likewise carries over to instrumental performances. On the Opus 15th Anniversary Sampler [Opus 3 CD 9277], at the beginning of "Body and Soul," the sax enters in an intimate way -- intimate not only in the way its micd and played, but also by the breath as it exits the horn. What the 6.2s do very well in addition to capturing the emotion of the performance is maintaining the balance and coherence between the instrument and breath so they communicate the whole story as one event. Ive heard this track on other speakers, and either the sax loses some of its earthy tone or the breath consumes part of its performance, and as a result its not nearly as convincing or involving. If youve gotten this far youve probably surmised on your own that the Soliloquy 6.2s are absolutely not a sterile-sounding affair, and if an ultra-expressive "reach out and grab you" midrange is something you desire, the 6.2s rank among the best Ive heard regardless of price.
Of course theres more to a speaker than the midrange (although some would argue not much more), and the Opus recording also highlighted some other notable strengths of the 6.2s. On the same track as I mentioned above, there is a piano in the ensemble. It is a more distant rendition -- you dont feel the piano as much as hear it from a bit of a distance. What is remarkable is that the damn thing resides three to five feet outside the left speaker, which in my room puts half of it in the adjacent hallway. On other setups Ive heard, the piano tends to cling more to the left speaker itself, which is OK until youve heard it the other way. And the 6.2s manage this feat without seeming the least bit gimmicky or phasey about it -- the piano just is where it is, and thats that.
Another noteworthy element in the same song is the vibraphone that lives just inside the right speaker. Dynamically, rhythmically, and tonally the 6.2s really nail this instrument and bring it right into the room. Unlike the piano, the vibraphone is more closely micd, and again there is such a natural and complete balance of mallet hitting keys along with the resulting tonal ring from the metal keys and pipes that there just doesnt seem to be anything missing. Obviously this is a high-quality recording, but the point is that the 6.2s uncover all of it and dont appear to mask any of it. Even when the vibe playing becomes a little more aggressive, the 6.2s hang right with it, never yielding and never hinting at cone breakup or dynamic compression. In spots, Lars Erstrand adds a little twist and physically taps the music paper on the stand during quarter- or eighth-note rests, and despite this rather odd improvisation, it is still very easy to tell exactly what it is without even thinking about it or having a visual clue.
Speaking of not having a visual clue, I think it is worth noting again the ability of the 6.2s, despite their still-formidable Mama Bear size, to absolutely vanish sonically in a room. There are obviously other speakers that can pull this off convincingly, but the 6.2s are definitely among those speakers that have the ability to really bring the entire performance into the room and then, like a good referee, just get out of the way. This really helps in enjoying a musical presentation to the fullest with little or no distractions or indications that youre actually listening to audio equipment.
Moving up to the higher frequencies, I pulled out the Steve Davis Projects Quality of Silence [DMP 522] to assess the 6.2s ability to do detail and air. I guess if I were to sum it up Id say the 6.2s are very detailed in a natural way. By that I mean that while the 6.2s may not subjectively extend or shine as well as some other speakers, they still seem to portray all the detail you expect to hear. I never felt cheated out of anything, yet I was rarely overwhelmed by detail. On "Bye Bye Blackbird" the cymbals were suspended nicely in a three-dimensional space -- to the point where I could fairly easily make out the layers of cymbals both left to right and front to back. The lower treble seems to be a particular strength, as all the underlying tonal shadings, colors, and weights of individual cymbals were more completely available than with most speakers Ive heard. There did seem to be just a slight reticence in the metallic bite and sheen of the cymbals, though, which was also apparent as just a touch of softening of the snares as they were snapped against the resonator head of the snare drum. I would note, however, that this perception changed markedly with different cables, amps, and preamps, so this could be very system dependent. So while the 6.2s silk-dome tweeter may not soar with some super tweeters out there, it does convincingly capture the necessary details while rarely overstating the case.
That pretty much leaves us to the bass-ment to see if this babys got back. To test extension, I put on the title track from Bill Frisells Gone, Just Like a Train [Nonesuch 79479]. The bass line at the beginning of the title song plods along in the depths, and the 6.2s went right to the bottom and really came across as if they were much larger three-way speakers with a good-sized woofer. I also found the 6.2s overall tonality and definition to be very good down in this range, and although dynamic impact was impressive, youll still need a subwoofer to get the most out of pipe organs and movies.
Where the 6.2s had a bit of a problem was with fast-moving low-bass notes. Specifically, the ultra-low bass line in "Behind the Veil" from Jeff Becks Guitar Shop [Epic EK-44313] trailed the musical flow a little bit in a few spots. My system has gone through some changes recently and is likely contributing to this somewhat, but I still think this could be an area to listen for in the context of certain systems and musical preferences.
Since I had the Soliloquy 5.3s ($2299) in my system for several years, a comparison to their big brother is warranted. Both speakers disappear and cast a life-sized, holographic soundstage, but there are significant differences as well. The smaller 5.3s, with their dual midrange/woofers, actually have more slam and power than the 6.2s, with the latter still having the edge in extension. At the other end, the 5.3s have a more ethereal, almost bipolar-transistor-like presentation that comes across as a little softer and more diffuse than the more direct and detailed presentation of the 6.2s' tweeter. And while the 5.3s also project a tad more midrange power, they fall short of the 6.2s in clarity and coherence. Although both do double duty well, Id give the nod to the 5.3s for home theater and the 6.2s for music given the characteristics I note.
I also had the Thiel CS1.6es ($2390 per pair), a Reviewers' Choice and year-end award winner, on hand for a short while when the 6.2s arrived, and this made for some very interesting comparisons. First off, both are so good in so many ways that I could happily live with either despite their being quite different in design and sonic signature. The 6.2s sound like a bigger speaker, which they are, and convey a more voluminous soundstage with more impact both in the bass and midrange regions. This tended to make the Soliloquy speakers sound a little more involving and brought about more of a "they are here" experience. Although both speakers are nicely detailed, I would have to say that the Thiels had the edge in detail, extension, and energy, which also makes them a little harder to match with other equipment. The Thiels were also more flexible and easier to place in the room than the 6.2s, no doubt in large part due to their front-ported design. Although imaging was a strength of both speakers, Id give the edge in front-to-back delineation to the CS1.6es --they were absolutely exemplary in this area.
Ultimately I felt like a figure-skating judge in comparing these two. The Thiel CS1.6es excelled in technical merit, while the Soliloquy 6.2s aced the artistic category. No matter how you score it, these are two of the top offerings in a very competitive price segment, and which is better will depend purely on which one seduces you.
The Soliloquy 6.2s offer a lot for the money, and they are one of the few speakers out there that strongly appealed to both the left and right sides of my brain. Build quality is better than you have a right to expect at these prices, and but for a couple very small nits at the frequency extremes and the speaker's penchant to want its fair share of real estate to really shine, this is a speaker I find hard to fault. The midrange in particular is downright delicious and is well balanced by an excellent upper and lower supporting cast. Imaging and soundstaging are first-rate, and dynamics are as good as can reasonably be expected in the 6.2's price range.
All that is well and good, but when it comes down to it, what the Soliloquy 6.2s do best is bring the performance home and make it hard to remember that youre listening to audio equipment. Now that is a compelling basis for a long-term relationship.
Copyright © 2003 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved