Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Speakers

By Arthur Salvatore - High End Audio

Introduction

The (2017) Mk. II update of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme (PRE) speakers is a serious and important improvement over the original model (which I've owned for almost a decade). In fact, the overall extent, scale and scope of the sonic improvements, provided by the Mk. II, are unusually large, and hence requires more than just a simple and cursory description.

Accordingly, the review/essay of the PRE MK. II below is my best attempt to provide a thorough, useful and relevant perspective of these new models for both an original PRE owner, and for all current loudspeaker enthusiasts as well.

My History with the Pure Reference Extremes

The "original" Pure Reference (a single enclosure, now long discontinued) joined my system in late 2007. The "Extreme" (two enclosure) version of the Pure Reference, which I had incessantly lobbied for, replaced the original model in late 2009.

Later on, in Spring 2010, I "doubled up" the Extremes, by stacking a second pair of the PRE on top of the first pair. Finally, in Spring 2017, I added a pair of Acapella ION Super Tweeters. Each of these three changes, all of which provided serious sonic benefits, are well documented, described and discussed in my PRE essay linked below.

All during the 8 years of the PRE's existance (2009-17), a number of minor changes were made to the speakers. However, none of these changes were truly significant enough, even cumulatively, to actually cause a change to the model designation. Finally though, in Fall 2017, it happened. Coincident made an announcement that a new version of the (two-enclosure) Extreme was now available. It was designated by the manufacturer as the PRE "MK. II". For all the important details of my history with the PRE...

Here is a direct link to My Comprehensive Essay/Review of the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers. I highly advise reading at least part of this earlier essay to fully understand and appreciate this current review, which is (or will be), in reality, just an (important) "Addendum" to the original essay/review. (Example; The original PRE review discusses my entire personal loudspeaker history, going back to 1972, amongst many other subjects and issues addressed about speakers etc.)

The Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II's Various Upgrades

According to a phone conversation I had with Israel Blume, owner and designer of Coincident, and later confirmed on the Coincident website, there are several changes to the original PRE (which he feels are of "significant proportions").

  1. The new Coincident Statement cabling will be used internally. 
  2. The Accuton ceramic midrange and tweeter are the latest improved versions. 
  3. The crossover components are also improved, along with some slight adjustments for further improvements.

The subwoofer also has a new inductor and the new internal Statement cabling. The selling price of the new Mk. II is $ 29,995 for a pair, which is $ 3,000 more than the final $ 27,000 price of the original Extreme. Blume claims that his costs for all of the various Mk. II updates are "substantial".

It must also be disclosed that the PRE II, both the subwoofers and the monitors, were compromised in route by the shipper (UPS). I was able to repair (and even improve) the subwoofers on my own (with the assistance of a neighbor), but the PRE II monitors had to be shipped back to the manufacturer, since the work required greater skill and I also wanted to be absolutely certain that they would be performing at their highest potential level. Thankfully, the monitors arrived back quickly, and even improved as well, so it's another satisfying "lemons into lemonade" audio experience.

"Breaking-In" the new PRE Mk. II

I received the PRE II in February 2018. During the first listening period, between February and March 2018, I was only able to play the PRE II for less than 100 hours before I sent them back to the manufacturer. However, even then, we were still very impressed with them. When they returned, a long stretch of bad weather severely reduced my playing time, so it ended up taking more than 6 months for the PRE II to fully break-in.

I performed my most challenging listening tests and experiments when they reached 370+ hours. That number is the total hours of play from the time they were built. It even includes the hours they were initially used as demos by the manufacturer. While they were breaking-in, I could hear the PRE II improve over time, though most (and all) of the (significant) improvements were experienced in the first 200 hours. I felt the PRE II generally "plateaued" in performance once they were over 300 hours, and any changes I have observed after that were definitely subtle.

Important Note - All of the sonic descriptions of the PRE II, which can be read below, can only be completely verifiable if, and when, they are fully broken-in, as described above.

Direct Sonic Comparison - The "Original" PRE versus the new PRE Mk. II

My very first sonic impression of the PRE II, of any type, was that it was "more immediate". Further, in an interesting confirmation, an "associate" visited me around two weeks later, and that was also his first impression, at least verbally. As per my usual auditioning protocol, his statement was purely spontaneous, and conveyed without any prior request or description from me.

However, this was just the beginning, because the PRE II has many other important sonic improvements when compared to the original PRE...

Transparency, Precision, Speed and Detail - The PRE II has greater transparency, enabling much more musical information to be heard, and discerned, in the back of the recording space (which now sounds, by comparison, "illuminated"). It is also faster, more precise and more detailed than the original PRE, and the improvements in these general areas were actually large enough, in at least in one instance, to be observed in another room.

Homogeneity and Separation - The PRE II is less homogeneous than the original PRE, which was aleady excellent in this regard. Using different, though directly related, audiophile terms; the PRE II is superior in separating the instruments and vocalists, both in the front and the back of the soundstage/recording venue.

Sound-Floor - The PRE II also has a lower sound-floor than the outstanding PRE, so more of the numerous subtle sounds of the recording, which expose and reproduce the "individuality" of the musicians, instruments and recording space, are now audible. This is so important because, with a higher sound-floor, this information would be otherwise forever lost. To be clear, the PRE II has the lowest sound-floor I've ever experienced (with the original PRE now in second place).

Dynamic Acceleration and Shifts - In a related area to the above, the PRE II is also a little more "dynamic", with more convincing "shifts" and an even less "mechanical" sound than before. It is important to note that this was another attribute in which the original PRE was already exceptional to begin with.

Bass and Cohesion - Maybe the single most important sonic improvement was in bass/midrange cohesion, which I (and especially my associates) have long felt was the original PRE's most easily noticeable "weakness". This particular improvement requires a detailed explanation...

The bass of the PRE II is significantly more detailed, tight and controlled than the original model. The new subwoofer is also a better sonic match with the PRE II's new midrange driver. This occurs despite the fact that the new midrange driver is itself now faster than before. This could only mean that the subwoofer improvement is even larger, or at least more noticeable, than the corresponding improvement in the midrange, because the critical sonic/performance gap between them has been greatly diminished.

In fact, the bass/midrange transition (and/or "cohesion") of the PRE II is at least as good, and maybe even superior, to any other speaker I've ever heard using dynamic drivers. Further, though not nearly as easily noticeable, the PRE II's midrange/tweeter cohesion is also improved, which is a surprising sonic bonus, since the original PRE was already the best I had ever heard in that regard.

To summarize and clarify this critically important subject: The PRE II is, by far, and without a doubt, the most cohesive multi-driver dynamic speaker I've ever heard or, in other words, the PRE II is the multi-driver system which comes the closest to sounding like a single-driver system.

Finally, I recently went back to my original review of the PRE, and I would say that while it still holds up very well, despite all the system changes and experiences since then, the one prior evaluation I now regret is that I over emphasized the strength and accuracy of the subwoofer/midrange transition. The PRE's bass/midrange transition was, and is still, excellent, but it was not as good as I described back then.

Soundstage and Focus - The PRE II's soundstage is slightly larger than the original PRE, though it's not as large, nor does it have the "scale", as the original PRE when it was "Doubled-Up". (I would estimate that the PRE II has around 20% of the PRE's "Doubled-Up" soundstage enhancement.) Much more important; the PRE II has substantially improved focus, and its "sense of space" is also noticeably improved. The end result = The various musical recordings reproduced with the PRE II are more intelligible and organized.

Purity and Cleanness - The PRE was already noted for its purity, but the PRE II is slightly improved even in this regard. I can now only compare the PRE II's cleanness to electrostatic speakers, and even then only at their finest.

Naturalness - The overall tonal balance of the two models is nearly identical but, even so, the PRE II still sounds more natural. I believe this is because of the combination, and the accumulation, of its greater purity, a lower sound-floor and even fewer micro-deviations in its frequency response.

Also Important - What has NOT Changed with the PRE II

The most obvious similarity between the two models is their appearance; they are virtually identical, though I will attempt to find a subtle difference which would make it easy (if not definitive) to distinguish them from each other. Also, as I mentioned above, the "overall tonal balance" is basically identical and, if there is a difference, too subtle for me to describe, at least for now.

The frequency range of the two speakers is also very similar, though I feel that the PRE II is slightly more extended, and open, in the extreme highs. Also critically important from a practical viewpoint; the PRE II is just as sensitive and easy to drive as the original PRE, which means that no technical compromise has been made to achieve the superior sonic results.

Finally, to be clear as possible, the PRE II does not have even one disadvantage, even insignificant, when it's compared to the original PRE; in sonics, aesthetics or drive capability. (Though, of course, the selling price has risen.)

Listening to the PRE II Monitors "Solo"

I listen to the PRE/PRE II using the monitors "solo" (with the subs off) most of the time, and it's possible that other PRE owners share this proclivity to some degree, so it may be important for those listeners to learn that the PRE II monitors go a little lower in the bass. Accordingly, the PRE II monitors now sound more "full-range" on their own, though this is, obviously, a relatively minor advantage when compared to all of their other sonic improvements.

Further, it required around 300 hours of play before the PRE II monitors broke-in sufficiently to observe the improved bass extension. In fact, they actually sounded leaner in the first 100 hours or so of play.

The PRE Mk. II Vs. The Best Speakers I've Heard

In my initial review of a decade ago (links above and below), I compared the original PRE to the best speakers I had heard in the (generally accepted) most important sonic categories. Those performance evaluations will now be updated for obvious reasons, but my previous sonic "References" will not be changed, due to the fact that I haven't had the opportunity to hear, with my own ears, any improved standards during this period.

I have already sufficiently discussed several sonic categories above, so I will try to avoid repeating myself, but others require greater detail and perspective:

Immediacy and Purity - The PRE II is superior to any dynamic system I've heard in both of these categories, and it's extremely close to the finest electrostatics ever made (Martin-Logan, Audiostatics, Stax etc).

Soundstage and Focus - The PRE II is now "competitive" with, and only slightly bettered by, the finest omni-directional speakers in focus, such as the Morrison and MBL. In other words, the PRE II no longer has a noticeable disadvantage in this category, as did the original PRE. Further, its soundstage is as good as the finest I've heard. Bottom Line - With the exception of slightly inferior focus compared to the finest omnis, the PRE II is at least equal, and almost always superior, to any speaker I've heard.

High-Frequency Reproduction - The PRE II is improved in this area; in purity, speed and extension, but it's obviously not in the league of the best tweeter ever available; the Acapella Ion Super Tweeter. The PRE II has the finest dome tweeter I've yet heard, but I don't believe it is the very best available of its type either. However, none of the superior dome tweeters I'm aware of possess the core strength of the PRE II's tweeter, which is its unprecedented ability to provide a near perfect cohesive match with its corresponding midrange driver. This capability is much more important, in its effect on overall sonic performance, than just simply improved speed and extension.

Bass Reproduction - As I explained above, I overestimated the quality of the bass of the original PRE in my initial review. However, my evaluation error was relatively small, so it took a number of changes (improvements) in my system, over a 10 year period, to finally expose it. So, how does the PRE II's (improved) bass reproduction compare to the best I've heard, with my perspective of today? Actually, it ends up being in almost the exact same position as was the original PRE: The best, overall, I've heard. Why?

Further Explanation: The Original Apogee Speaker, now almost 40 years old, is still my ultimate bass frequency "Reference", since it is unsurpassed in all these important areas: Impact, definition, immediacy, control and linearity. The Apogee's only weakness is that it doesn't extend down to a useful 20 Hz. If it did, it would be "the best" period, even after all these decades, and without any qualification (except it is extremely difficult to drive). Of all the speakers I've yet heard, the PRE II comes the closest to the Apogee in its strengths, while simultaneously still extending down to a solid 20 Hz.

Tonal Consistency, Naturalness, Inner Detail, Transparency - The PRE was already equal to anything I've heard in all these areas, and the PRE II has even improved on those high standards.

Dynamic Response or Scale (Soft and Loud) - The best horns (Avantgarde Duo/Trio) still have an advantage in dynamic acceleration in the midrange and highs. However, the PRE II is dynamically consistent in the full-frequency spectrum, unlike horns, which almost always have dynamic response problems at lower frequencies. The PRE II is the most "dynamic" speaker I've heard full-range. I further believe that only the top Avantgarde models, and even then only with their "Basshorns", will outperform them in this category.

Sound-floor, "Completeness" and Low-level Information - The PRE II is the finest speaker I've heard in these related categories, period. (The original PRE was the best.)

"Individuation" - Is the vitally important (and rarest to achieve) ability to individualize each and every musical instrument, voice, recording space, LP/CD, and even each separate cut of a LP/CD. It is actually the end result of the cumulative ability to excel in each of the other categories already discussed above. The PRE was already the finest I've heard in this category and the PRE II is even better.

An Alternative Evaluation - Using Numbers (Instead of Words)

For some readers, it may be possible that a "numbers only" experiment will further clarify my sonic assessment of the PRE II. Why? Numbers are the most precise descriptive method possible if the goal is to objectively evaluate the performance of the PRE II in relation to all the other speaker I've heard. However, there must be a prior understanding that the numbers will also be completely consistent with my subjective (word) descriptions and evaluations, previously posted above.

First, the (completely arbitrary) parameters: Imagine 10 individual "Performance Categories" and a scale of "1 to 100" in each Performance Category, with "1" being "Atrocious" (or the worst performer imaginable) and "100" being "The Best Possible Performance" (at our current level of technology). This would mean that the highest total score possible (in theory, but not in reality) would be "1,000" (10 X 100).

Some Examples: Using this system, while also being consistent with my previous posts, the Morrison speakers would score the highest possible "100" in an "Imaging and Focus" category, and the original Apogee would also score a 100 in a "Mid-Bass Impact" category. So, using these categories and scales, where does the PRE II stand in comparison with all the speakers I've heard?

I have no idea what the PRE II's actual exact final score would be out of a possible 1,000, and I don't want to even take a guess at it. However, the combination of my experience with the PRE II, along with intellectual consistency, inevitably leads me to two strong convictions:

  1. The PRE II will have the highest total score of any speaker I've ever heard (it will be the closest to 1,000), and from a more subtle (and contrarian) perspective, though maybe even more important to some ultra-critical listeners...

  2. The PRE II's lowest individual score, of the 10 categories, will be higher than any other speaker's corresponding lowest score.

This is an important achievement, and much more than just a back-handed compliment. It means that the PRE II's most noticeable "Weakest-Sonic-Link" (whatever it is) will be less "noticeable" than any other speaker's "Weakest-Sonic-Link". In actual practice then, the PRE II is the speaker that is the least likely I know of to be "annoying" to an ultra-critical listener.

  1. The Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II does more things 'right' than any other speaker I've heard (it's the most 'complete' or 'natural').

  2. The Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II also does less things 'wrong' than any other speaker I've heard (it's the most 'accurate').




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