Coincident Speaker Technology
2021 TAS Editors Choice Award
The collected letters of Ralph Ellison, who wrote the classic novel Invisible Man, were recently published by Random House. Among them is a lengthy missive from Ellison in March, 1985, to a childhood friend that discusses their old mutual fascination with audio equipment. After describing how he built his own amplifier based on the circuit of a Williamson amplifier that had been discussed in Audio magazine, Ellison goes on to reminisce about what a treat it was to visit the home of the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini to help transfer a number of his early recordings to tape. But towards the end of his letter, he remarks that technological advances put the kibosh on his love for the hobby: “Never long on theory, I was simply too busy writing and teaching to make the abrupt transition from vacuum tube to transistor. As a result, I no longer enjoy the pleasure of hanging around surplus electronics stores, checking out new circuits, or stinking up the house with soldering flux.”
Ellison spoke too fast. As any audiophile knows, tubes have made a comeback since those dire days. In paying tribute to Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, who were recently inducted into the TAS Hall of Fame, Dick Olsher stressed the contribution they made to revitalizing tubes as a key part of modern audio systems. Indeed, a number of companies have devoted themselves to producing tube gear or, like Audio Research, never given up in the first place. Their pursuit isn’t a matter of nostalgia for the past. The truth is that tubes possess an ineffable quality that transistors, whatever their technical merits, sorely lack.
Enter Israel Blume, the president of the Canadian-based company Coincident Speaker Technology. In an interview with my TAS colleague Neil Gader in 2015, Blume remarked, “I listen to the best digital and my reaction is positive until I put a great LP on my reference turntable.” Blume not only manufactures loudspeakers but also a formidable line of tubed equipment that has a distinctly retro look to it. With a hefty power supply that can apparently drive a 100-watt amplifier and is connected to the phono preamplifier by an umbilical cord, Blume can hardly be accused of skimping on the hardware. The workmanship looks nifty as well, though I should note that the positive phono input was slightly wider in diameter than the negative one, rendering it somewhat of a chore to insert the RCA phono cables. (This was not the fault of Coincident, which does not manufacture the input jacks, but it would have been nice if someone had caught it at the factory.) The units do not contain circuit boards, but are based on point-to-point wiring. Blume has also included volume controls on the front, so that you can run the phonostage directly into an amplifier. If you run the phonostage into a separate preamplifier, then you set the volume knobs to maximum. The overall gain of the phonostage is 66dB, supplied by an internal step-up transformer and four 12AX7 tubes in two gain stages. Loading can be adjusted via a knob on the rear of the unit to four different settings you can specify upon purchase. To listen to the Coincident, I used the superb 12” Graham Elite tonearm with a TechDAS Reference TDC01 moving-coil cartridge and an Air Force Zero turntable. The power supply offers the option of lifting the ground via a switch. I didn’t need to lift it. In my system, there was no audible hum or buzz with the Coincident. It was dead quiet. In fact, I never even thought about the issue of noise.
One of the first things I did notice upon inserting the Coincident phonostage into my system was the sheer horsepower that it packed. Tubed amplifiers can often be deceptive. One hundred watts of tubed power can sound a lot more powerful than 100 watts of solid-state. You get can a visceral sense of the jolt of electricity being pumped into a loudspeaker. Something like that seemed to be going on here. The 66dB of gain sounded more like 75dB to my ear. Solid-state can sometimes sound a little wispy for all its detail. There was none of that with the Coincident. Instead, it had a fundamental integrity to the note, a solidity that could smack you around on dynamic pieces. Take the 45rpm version of Hugh Masekela’s album Hope that was rereleased by Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds. On songs such as “Stimela,” “Marketplace,” and “Ntyilo Ntyilo,” the Coincident not only seemed to pump gobs of air into the soundstage; it also delivered devastating drum shots. The sheer jet-propulsion force of this phonostage was also apparent in its lucid rendering of Masekela’s playing of the fluegelhorn on various cuts, where his guttural sound was conveyed with startling vividness.
Something similar occurred on Wynton Marsalis’ tribute to the New Orleans trumpeter Buddy Bolden. Jonathan Weiss of Oswald Mills Audio had alerted me about a year ago to the existence of a special 45rpm version of two songs from the soundtrack for the Bolden movie. I listened to both “Timelessness” and “Phantasmagoric Bordello Ballet.” Particularly on the latter song I was very impressed by the way the trumpets cut through the ensemble with a kind of roaring power. On an oldie but goodie, Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, the ability of the Coincident to deliver something akin to the true funky might of the bass and percussion section also was evident on cuts like “Pusherman.”
This power also manifested itself in a sense of control. An album that I like to play to induce a sense of shock and awe is the venerable Living Stereo recording of the RCA Victory Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s blockbuster Capriccio Italien. The rhythmic security of the orchestra, the relaxed sense of control, came through beautifully on the string sections. It almost goes without saying that there was a dynamic headroom to the presentation that helped to relieve the slight glare that can accompany this LP. But I think the tubes also had a salubrious effect, particularly in the treble. The woodwinds and brass had a sonority to them that tubes seem particularly adept at providing. It was as though the notes were rounder—and hence more lifelike—than most other phonostages would render them.
Throughout, the Coincident had a sense of drama and urgency. On the album Trinity featuring the pianist Tommy Flanagan, I had a sense of no wasted time. The piano notes were dispatched with crisp authority. And the bass playing of Ron Carter on the Gershwin number “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” oozed out with riveting control and depth. On the album Overseas Special, which was recorded in a Tokyo nightclub in 1982 with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown, and Herb Ellis, the Coincident displayed total control, setting each musician securely in his own space. For dynamic pieces, whether jazz, rock, or classical, the Coincident really shone. Its ability to offer a sense of scale was truly remarkable. But it was the warmth and weight of the Coincident that it was its most conspicuous characteristic. On a 45rpm reissue of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s album Second Helping, the burr of the electric guitars was highlighted. I’m not sure anything can convey the sound of an electric guitar better than tubes. On Kenny Burrell’s album In New York, I was transfixed by the pop and richness of his guitar work on the opening song “Pent Up House,” not to mention the remarkable interplay between him and the drummer Sherman Ferguson. On a more modern album, Lifeline, a remarkable recording issued by Yarlung Records, I was smitten by the creamy, luscious way the Coincident rendered the vocals. On the song “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen,” it was entrancing to listen to the crooning of the background chorus as Michele Mayne-Graves took the lead. On “Motherless Child,” Mayne-Gray’s solo had a relaxed and continuous quality, a sense of the lingering decay of the note, that I think transistors would be hard-pressed to match. Each syllable felt like it was hanging in the air, unhurried and unharried.
For sheer zest and energy, I honestly think you’d be hard-pressed to surpass it. Put bluntly, I’m pretty gobsmacked by what Blume has managed to accomplish. At this price point or even double, I’m quite certain you won’t find anything else that comes even close to its superlative performance. There’s a spooky magic to the overall sound that makes it a pleasure to listen to for hours on end. And so I did.
Specs & Pricing
Tube complement: 4x 12AX7
Frequency response: 10Hz–25kHz +/-0.1dB
Gain: 66dB, moving coil
Output impedance: 250 ohms
Maximum voltage output: 30V
Impedance: 3–10, 11–30, 31–100, 101–300, moving coil- adjustable to other values
Dimensions: 10.25” x 8” x 14” (power supply and phono)
Weight- Power supply, 18.5 kilos (40.4 lbs.); phonostage,14 kilos (30.5 lbs.) Total 71 lbs.
Price: $6499 US
COINCIDENT SPEAKER TECHNOLOGY
391 Woodland Acres Crescent
Maple, ON., LSA1G2(647) 221-1834