A Conqueror From The North
Audiophilia - Jan/97
Andrew Chasin auditions the Coincident Speaker Technology Conquest loudspeaker
Coincident Speaker Technology Conquest Loudspeaker Price: US$1495
Manufactured by Coincident Speaker Technology
51 Miriam Cr., Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, L4B 2P8
Phone: (905) 886-6728, Fax: (905) 886-2627
Email: [email protected], web:http://home.ican.net/~coincid
Given the limited time I had to cover this year's Canadian Consumer Electronics Exposition (see Volume 1, Number 1), it simply wasn't possible to visit every exhibitor's room. I was forced to pick and choose those rooms which I thought would be of most interest to our readers. Unfortunately this meant that some rooms did not receive any coverage in our show report, one such room being that of the upstart Canadian loudspeaker company, Coincident Speaker Technology. Once the show had passed, I began to hear from people who told me that they felt Coincident's room had one of the best sounds of the show despite the fact that their system was one of the least expensive. Needless to say this piqued my interest, and I decided to do a bit of research into Coincident's line of loudspeakers. One of the speakers which caught my eye was the Conquest, a floor standing version of their well-reviewed Triumph, that boasts a frequency response flat to 35 Hz and a price tag that places it in the very competitive under-$1500 range (all prices given in U.S. dollars). I contacted Israel Blume, owner and chief designer for Coincident, who kindly agreed to lend us a review sample of the Conquest.
At first glance, the Conquest appears to be a fairly typical two-way box loudspeaker. The enclosure is your basic rectangular box with the drivers mounted tweeter-over-woofer with no offset. The rear of the enclosure sports a single pair of gold-plated binding posts, and the bottom of the cabinet is machined for four threaded spikes (which are supplied). There are, however, several important aspects of the Conquest's design that aren't plainly obvious. For example, the Conquest's enclosure is constructed from a 1" thick hardwood MDF which is very rigid and inherently non-resonant.
The Conquest's driver complement consists of a 1" ferrofluid-cooled silk dome tweeter, and an 8" mineral-filled polypropylene cone woofer. While the drivers used in the Conquest are sourced externally, they are modified in-house in order to optimize them for use in the Conquest.
The Conquest's rated sensitivity is a relatively high 92dB @ 1W/1m. Coupled with a benign 8 ohm impedance, this is one pair of full range speakers that won't need to be driven by a he-man muscle amp. In fact, Coincident states that a 7 Watt amplifier is sufficient to drive the Conquest, meaning that this speaker should appeal to the single-ended triode crowd.
Although the review sample didn't sport any, grilles are available for the Conquest for an additional $35 per pair.
Once I had unpacked the Conquests from their coffin-like wooden shipping crates (that even UPS would have a hard time damaging!), I began to experiment with placement within my 12' X 16' dedicated listening room. Armed with a sound pressure level meter and a test CD, I repeatedly dragged both the loudspeakers and my listening seat about my room in an attempt to obtain relatively smooth low frequency response. Despite my best efforts however, I continually measured a 6dB suckout in the 60-100 Hz range. Now I wouldn't normally dream of placing a full range speaker like the Conquest within close proximity to the wall behind them, but on the suggestion of Israel Blume, I moved the rear of the Conquests about 12" from the rear wall and measured again. Sure enough, the suckout was ameliorated and the overall measured response was now quite acceptable. In fact, I was getting almost ruler-flat response down to 30 Hz, with considerable output at 25 Hz! For those keeping score at home, the final resting place for the Conquests left them about 23" from the rear wall (as measured to the front baffle), 27" from the side walls and about 81" apart. My listening seat was positioned about 10' 6" from the front plane of the speakers and, as suggested in the literature accompanying the Conquest, the speakers were toed in to fire to the outside of my shoulders.
Experimenting a bit with cables, I tried a pair of van den Hul M.C. D352 (an older vdH design) that I had in my cable stash. While I've had good results mating these cables with other loudspeakers, when partnered with the Conquests, the sound was too thin and bright. I obtained good results with Transparent Wave Plus but felt that this pairing would not be likely in the real world given this cable's fairly high price. Trying to find a balance between sonics and the financial realities of most potential customers for the Conquest, I ultimately settled on a pair of Audioquest Midnight Hyperlitz. This cable retained many of the benefits of the Wave Plus at a price more in-line with that of the Conquest. Although I didn't have any Wire World Orbit speaker cable on hand for this review, it should be a synergistic match for the Conquest since it is used for the Conquest's internal wiring.
I broke in the Conquests for about 50 hours using a variety of musical sources before attempting any serious listening.
First up was Jim Hall's Something Special (MusicMasters Jazz, 01612-65105-2), an excellent recording and a must-have for anyone remotely interested in this jazz guitar master. The first thing that struck me was the exceptionally articulate, tuneful and well-controlled reproduction of Steve Laspina's acoustic bass. Every nuance of Laspina's bass solos on When Little Girls Play and Lucky Thing was beautifully resolved by the Conquests. The subtleties heard in Laspina's bass solos and Hall's rhythmic accompaniment drew me deep into the music and compelled me to listen. The Conquest presented detail naturally, as a part of the musical soundscape, rather than in a hyped-up artificial way. Although it's been said that two channel audio does not inherently have the ability to portray any sense of height, I guess that nobody bothered to tell my ears that, as it was obvious listening to this recording on the Conquests, that Steve Laspina was standing to Hall's left, and Hall was seated between Laspina and Larry Golding's piano. On this recording, the illusion of real musicians playing in my listening room was quite convincing.
The Conquest's rendering of All Blues from Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue (the gold Super Bit Mapped Sony reissue, CK 52861) was superb. The Conquests presented a very wide soundstage, Bill Evans' piano placed far outside the edge of the left loudspeaker. The sound of Davis' trumpet floated in space free of the loudspeakers and had the right amount of brassy bite without any edginess. Again, the Conquests proved that they were champs at resolving detail, the spit remaining in John Coltrane's mouthpiece near the end of this track being clearly audible (all right, maybe that wasn't the most pleasant example I could have used, but you get the idea). While the Conquests pushed Jimmy Cobb's ride cymbal closer to the front of the soundstage than I've heard before, I was so captivated by the excellent reproduction of wood striking metal that I didn't think much of it. I've listened to this recording through many fine loudspeakers (some costing far more than the Conquests) and this was definitely one of the best renderings I can remember.
Gustav Holst's Suites For Military Band (The Cleveland Symphonic Winds, Frederick Fennell cond, Telarc CD-80038) demonstrated the deep, extended but well controlled bottom end that the Conquests were capable of. The bass drum in the March from the First Suite had good impact, while retaining good definition and no overhang. This was in stark contrast to some other full range speakers in the Conquest's price range which tend to turn this bass drum into a muddled boom, overpowering the rest of the orchestra. Soundstage width and depth were very good, the snare drum imaging to the far left and well behind the front wall of my listening room. The timbre of the woodwinds sounded just right and the triangle had good sparkle and definition. If you're wondering if the Conquests can play loud cleanly, then wonder no more - they sailed through this very dynamic recording at a sound pressure level of about 90dB without any signs of strain.
The Conquest's powerful and dynamic portrayal of well recorded symphonic music, had me digging deep into my collection. My notes from listening sessions devoted to Carl Neilsen's Symphony No. 1 (San Francisco Symphony, Herbert Blomstedt cond., London, 425 607-2), the Overture's of Malcolm Arnold (The London Philharmonic Orchestra, Malcolm Arnold cond., Reference Recordings, RR-48CD), Aaron Copland's Rodeo (New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein cond.) and many others, consistently contain phrases like "Deep, extended bass", "Great transient response", "Expose every subtle detail of the score", and "Powerful, dynamic presentation". While I'm not going to claim that the Conquests brought the sound of the monumental forces of a full symphony orchestra into my 12' X 16' listening room (what speaker can?), they presented a reasonable facsimile of reality, one that continually captivated my attention and drew me into the musical event.
Could the Conquests do the rock thing as well as they could do the jazz and classical thing? Most definitely! The Conquests ably pumped out the lewd, rude and sometimes crude You Oughta Know from Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill (Maverick Records, CDW 45901). Her vocals clearly cut through the wailing guitar track, with all their raunchiness intact. The throbbing bass track on Hand In My Pocket from the same disc, had excellent weight and authority. While the Conquest has the ability to do justice to well recorded rock recordings, it isn't a loudspeaker that will smooth out the rough edges of a shoddy engineering job. For example, Pearl Jam's 10 CD sounded bright, course and barely listenable at anything other than low volume levels - pretty much what I've come to expect from this disc.
Up to this point I had relied exclusively on the solid-state Aragon 2004 Mk.II for amplification, and although it sounded fine from the low bass up into the lower midrange, I began to notice that some recordings exhibited a trace of upper midrange/lower treble grain, as well as a tonal balance leaning towards the cool side of neutrality. Switching to the diminutive 20 Watt VTL tiny triodes completely banished any sense of grain or leanness previously heard with the 2004. While the VTL's didn't have quite the same grip on the bottom end as the Aragon, their lack of the solid-state amplifier's MOSFET mist allowed the Conquest's exceptionally refined tweeter to really strut its stuff. The high massed strings in the finale of Neilsen's Symphony No. 1 (my current torture test for a speaker's upper frequency purity) cut naturally through the Orchestra and were completely free of grit or glare. Listening to the Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Session, I felt like I could reach out and touch Margo Timmins as her silky smooth voice caressed every word of her rendition of Blue Moon.
I compared the Conquest to another Canadian speaker in the $1500 price range, the Mirage M-7si, and the considerably more expensive ProAc Studio 150 (a review of the Studio 150 appears elsewhere in this issue).
Getting right to the punch-line, the M-7si was not much competition for the Conquest. Where the Conquest had well-controlled, tuneful and articulate bass, the M-7si had boomy, bloated bass of the one-note variety. Where the Conquest had an extended, detailed top end, the M-7si had a top end that was rolled-off and dull in comparison. Given that these two speakers are priced nearly identically, don't even think about purchasing an M-7si until you've heard the Conquest.
The Conquest had stiffer competition from the Studio 150, which in my opinion is one of the best speakers in the $2500 range. The Conquest couldn't quite muster up as convincing a three dimensional soundstage as the Studio 150 - the Studio 150 had the ability to locate instruments with pinpoint accuracy in three-dimensional space, whereas instrumental placement within the soundstage presented by the Conquest was slightly vague in comparison. The Studio 150 presented more air around instruments which provided a stronger impression of instruments playing in a real space. On the plus side, the Conquest's bottom end was more detailed and extended than that of the Studio 150's. While the Conquests didn't convince me to retire the ProAcs from my system, at about $1000 less, there were times during my listening sessions when they presented a pretty compelling case.
I thoroughly enjoyed the three months that I spent auditioning the Conquests. Their combination of detail resolution, dynamics, smooth grain-free top end, timbral accuracy and low frequency extension, never failed to fully involve me in the musical experience. Although I'm sure that Israel Blume would be happy to sell you a Triad or Troubador Grand, the truth is the Conquest may be all the loudspeaker that you'll ever need. At its near-giveaway price, the Conquest proves that high-end sound doesn't have to come at a high-end price. Highly recommended!
Analog source was a Linn Sondek LP12, fitted with an Ittok LVII tonearm and a Linn K9 moving magnet cartridge. Digital source consisted of a Theta Data Basic II transport connected to a Theta DS Pro Progeny DAC with an XLO Type 4 digital interconnect. DAC and turntable were connected to a Conrad Johnson Premier II via a Transparent MusicLink interconnect. Amplification duties were handled by Aragon 2004 Mk.II and VTL tiny triode amplifiers. Amps and preamp were connected via an MIT MusicChord interconnect. Speaker cables used were van den Hul M.C. D352, Transparent Wave Plus, Wire World Atlantis and Audioquest Midnight Hyperlitz.
The Wizard Of AWEs
Andrew Chasin interviews the man behind Coincident Speaker Technology, Israel Blume
Israel, how did you get involved in loudspeaker design?
Coincident Speaker Technology and its predecessor, Concentric Speaker Technology was created because of my personal ultimate dissatisfaction with every speaker system I owned or auditioned. In my 25 years in high end audio, I owned most of what are considered to be the finest speakers, i.e. Quads, double Quads with Decca Ribbons, Acoustat X,II,III, II & II, Quad 63, Wilson Watts, Martin Logan CLS etc. Not any of these aforementioned speakers were well enough balanced to keep me happy in the long run. It was after extensively modifying a pair of Watts and in the process significantly improving them, that I became convinced that it was now necessary for me to design and build a speaker from the ground up.
Your first speaker, the Concentric Monitor, had low efficiency, was costly to build and was housed in a cylindrical enclosure. How did this design evolve into the efficient, relatively low-priced, more traditional box speaker that is the Conquest?
There is a very significant interim stage between the Monitor and the Conquest and that is the Troubador loudspeaker and the subsequent models that were constructed from our patented AWE (Asymmetrical Wall Enclosure). Using extensive computer modeling I was able to duplicate the sonic properties of a cylinder by the use of non parallel flat planed walls. The most significant advantage of the AWE is the elimination of internal standing waves. The speakers that ensued, the Troubador, Troubador Grand and Digital Master all incorporated this type of enclosure with results that have been widely admired.
In an effort to create a more affordable loudspeaker, the labor intensity of the AWE series of loudspeakers precluded this, the Triumph and eventually the Conquest were developed. In designing these speakers, all the same principles of the AWE speakers were incorporated with the exception of the non paralleled wall enclosure. While the enclosures of the Triumph and the Conquest look fairly conventional they are anything but ordinary.
The Triumph was developed to provide the audio world with a sub $1000 pr. loudspeaker that would sound as good or better than competing models costing 2-3 times the price. The Conquest was the logical evolution from the Triumph since we now wanted to create a floor standing version of the Triumph that would go lower in the bass due to the use of an 8" woofer instead of the 6 1/2" unit of the Triumph and because the internal volume of the Conquest is 45 liters versus 16 for the Triumph. An added benefit, the Conquest is 2db more sensitive than the Triumphs. We strongly believe that the Conquest is the finest sounding and best built speaker that can be purchased for under $4000 pr.
Cabinet design is obviously something to which you have dedicated much of your R effort. How is your patented Asymmetrical Wall Enclosure different from asymmetrical cabinet designs from companies like NHT and others?
Our AWE speakers not only have no walls parallel to one another (which the other speakers you refer to do not), the enclosures are additionally constructed out of an inherently non resonant material and tuned to a high fundamental resonant frequency.
Given that an AWE is not employed in the Conquest, how are internal standing waves dealt with in that speaker?
Enclosure dimensions were computer calculated to reduce resonances and internal reflections. The enclosure dimensions are equally significant in minimizing internal standing waves.
Without giving away too many trade secrets, tell me about the materials used in your cabinet construction and describe how you get away without using any internal damping.
In a determined effort to minimize resonances and maximize rigidity, a specially selected 1" hardwood MDF is used. The enclosure additionally is tuned to a high fundamental resonance frequency of 350 Hz. This high resonance frequency is not only sonically benign but it precludes the use of soft, spongy materials within the enclosure. Such materials are sonically deleterious due to the creation of internal reflections. Extensive testing and computer modeling in addition to countless hours of aural auditioning lead in the direction of enclosure tuning as opposed to the use of damping techniques. Our research has confirmed that it is far preferable to use an inherently non resonant material and tune it to a high fundamental resonant frequency than attempt to damp a low fundamental resonant frequency.
After experimenting with countless enclosure materials (i.e. granite, polymer composites and various thicknesses of fiber boards) it was ascertained that contrary to popular belief, thicker and denser is not only not always better, in virtually all cases higher mass significantly degrades sonic purity. The reason is as follows: It is a given that all substances have a fundamental resonance at a particular frequency. The higher the mass, the lower the fundamental resonance frequency. The type of material chosen will further determine the amplitude of that resonance. Resonances occurring under 100 Hz are impossible to damp sufficiently so that they are not audible. The common practice that most speaker manufactures use in an attempt to deal with these types of resonances is the application of heavy amounts of soft, absorbing materials. This however, creates more sonic anomalies than it cures. These reflections not only cause signal slurring from the drivers, but furthermore impair linear piston motion of the drivers. Transient slurring, increase in internal standing waves causing mid bass muddiness or alternatively mid bass suckout are the sonic by products of using damping materials in a speaker enclosure. As a further penalty, speaker sensitivity is diminished as well.
The approach taken for the Conquest's enclosure was to use an inherently minimal resonant material and further tune the resonance to an even higher frequency so that its amplitude would be low thereby obviating the use of damping materials. The end result is an enclosure with very little sound of its own.
As far as Coincident's drivers are concerned, do you design and build them in-house or do you source them externally?
They are sourced externally but some are built to our specs while others are heavily modified to significantly improve not only their sonics but their power handling capabilities and minimizing cavity resonances.
Can you give me any hints as to your future product plans?
At the moment things are very hectic here at Coincident. In the last 12 months we have developed and brought to market 11 models of speakers. At times I am amazed myself. We therefore do not anticipate much in the way of new product development for the rest of the year.
Thanks for your time Israel.