The Sensible Sound, Nov-Dec/97

Manufacturer
: Coincident Speaker Technology, 51 Miriam Cr., Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 2P8, Canada; 905/886-6728 
Price: $1,495/pair 
Source: Manufacturer loan 
Reviewers: Kenneth M. Duke and John A. Horan 

     The Coincident Speaker Technology Troubador speakers are the focus of this review.  They are Canadian-designed and built speakers of the mini-monitor family, albeit quite large and with enough bass extension to almost qualify them as "normal" speakers. I define normal speakers as ones capable of reproducing most of the audible spectrum, approximately 50-15,000 Hz with sufficient power handling to recreate loud listening levels (90-100 dB) in the home listening environment.  Normal speakers also do not require stands, although tweak aftermarket suppliers may offer them to insecure audiophiles more as a very expensive (high profit) way to salve their insecurity rather than to offer real improvements in the sound.  Mini-monitors are small two-way speakers lacking bass extension to 50 Hz at real world sound pressure levels (some may extend this low or lower but only at reduced volume) and requiring tall (20"), usually expensive stands to lift the speaker up to ear height. 

     As I understand the origin of the mini-monitor concept, it was developed by British BBC recording engineers to fill their need for an accurate but small, easily portable speaker to use at remote recording locations.  The result was the LS3/5a design, a tiny 11-pound speaker with a midrange as good as the best available in the 1970s.  Because of this excellent midrange, it caught on as a home audio speaker and was widely sold as such (the BBC licensed the design to several British manufacturers).  It served to introduce many budding audiophiles, me included, to accurate midrange home music reproduction.  Its combination of limited power handling, poor bass, outstanding midrange, mediocre trebles, psychology (big sound from a small box), popularity, and relatively high price/high profit opened a whole new market segment and spawned numerous spin-off designs that attempted to improve the LS3/5a deficiencies and/or capitalize on the new market. 
 
     Today the mini-monitor is a well established segment of the home speaker market with dozens of models available.  The original LS3/5a design is still in production with relatively minor mods.  Many other models have gone beyond the original concept and are designed to be home audio speakers, not portable recording monitors.  The Troubadors are of this latter school.  They are home audio speakers that were designed for stand-alone (wooferless) use—they have to be mounted on stands unless you listen lying on the floor or have ears in your ankles.  I have commented before on speakers requiring stands, noting that the volume encompassed by the expensive, ugly, passive stand could be far better used if it were included as part of the speaker box itself along with a larger woofer, serving to improve bass extension and power handling.  Tiny rooms, mobile recording vans, and other special listening environments are in my opinion the only places where stand-mounted speakers are appropriate. 

     Enough for now on stands. On to the design features of the Troubadors, which are indeed interesting and unusual.  First, they are coaxial two-way speakers with a 1" tweeter mounted at the center of the 6.5" midrange/woofer. Coaxes, a common speaker design in the 1950s, have regained some popularity in recent years in car and home audio but are still rare in the latter.  The coaxial design offers a point source and reduces the front panel clutter, and its negative impact on imaging, that two separately mounted drives can cause.  It also permits the front panel to be smaller than that for the traditional two-way design with less potential for image-blurring diffraction. 

     The Troubador box has no parallel sides, a design that reduces or distributes resonances and reduces standing waves. This results in an oddly shaped box 16" deep x 9" tall x 11" wide, wider and taller in the rear than the front.  Each Troubador weighs a substantial 24 lbs and is very solidly constructed and nicely finished.  The enclosure is ported at the rear and has a single pair of quality metal 5-way binding posts. 

     The 6.5" midrange/bass driver is flush-mounted on the front panel with the 1" soft dome tweeter mounted at its center.  The cone of the midrange/bass driver is transparent and permits one to see inside the box, where I discovered a rigid cast metal frame supporting the speaker.  There is no grille or protective covering for these drivers, making them vulnerable to damage.  I believe the lack of such protection is in keeping with the accurate imaging approach used in the design of the Troubador—the structure of a grille can interfere with the image and detail.  The crossover point is 3.5 kHz.  Efficiency is reasonably high at 90 dB and the nominal impedance is 8 ohms, making the speakers compatible with low powered amps including the current nutball audiophile darling, the ultra low powered SE (single ended) tube amp. 

     As a side note, I have noticed surprising similarities among the three coaxial-driver, point-source speakers that I have auditioned over the past few years.  The first was the now-discontinued Tannoy 609, a large (for a mini-monitor), inexpensive speaker using a single 8" midrange/woofer with a 1" coaxially mounted tweeter.  The 6-sided box was of modest size, requiring stand mounting, and lacked parallel sides (except the top and bottom).  The Gradient Revolution was the other coaxial speaker using a 6.5" midrange driver with a 1" concentric tweeter in a small pyramid-shaped, non-parallel-sided box.  A separate "box" did double duty, holding two 12" woofers that radiate as dipoles and serving as a stand for the midrange/treble box. These coax speakers all had similar strengths, which may well have been a result of their similar designs. 

     Well, it’s time to set the Troubadors up and listen.  This leads us back to the stand issue. As mini-monitors, they need 30" stands, but since none were provided with the review speakers, I used my own—a pair of heavy duty wooden stands able to support 300 lbs or more. The design includes four 28"-tall support pillars a full 1.5" in diameter that are cross-braced to ensure rigidity. These pillars are attached to a 1"-thick top plate and are angled slightly outward such the area encompassed at the bottom of the stand is about twice that of the top, another means of enhancing stability. When not in use for audio, which is most of the time, they serve as breakfast stools at the counter in my kitchen. 

     The speakers were set on the stands 3’ from the back wall, 4’ from sidewalls, and about 8’ apart.  The listening position was 10’ distant.  They were not angled toward the listener. For most of the listening I used an Audio by Van Alstine (AVA) Superpas Omega preamp and an AVA ST-70i 25-watt tube power amp.  The 90-dB efficiency of the Troubador permitted the power amp to work well within its power envelope.  A Philips CD80 was the source. Copper wire of various, appropriate gauges was used to connect all the components. 

     The speakers appeared to have been previously used so I didn’t spend time breaking them in. I noticed no change in their performance during the two-month test period—the sound was outstanding from the outset. Musical and recording venue detail was excellently resolved, as good as any speaker I have heard, without being overly analytical or losing its musicality.  This detail emerged from a very dark, grainless background. 
 
     Excepting the bass, the frequency balance was quite neutral, neither warm nor cool.  Trebles were extended and airy and there was never any speaker-caused brightness.  The speaker gave a light, quick feel to the music reflecting in part the lack of bass, a characteristic of the mini-monitor genre.  I was unable to get the "flat to 45 Hz" response claimed for the Troubador in my large, bass-shy (not much bass reinforcement from the room) listening room.  This lack of bass robbed some music of its power and bloom.  However, I quickly adapted to the absence of the lowest couple of octaves of bass and went on to enjoy other attributes of the Troubadors’ performance. 

     Imaging was outstanding, indicating the success of the design.  The Troubadors gave a big boxless image noticeably larger than that of the reference speakers, making music played through the reference speakers appear to be 7/8 size in comparison.  The Troubadors filled the room with music. The image conveyed was precise, and individual instruments or sections of instruments were easily and correctly located.  Depth and height were similarly excellent. 
 
     These speakers bring the music to life. They gives music substance and body, a truly 3-D portrayal. I found that during "critical" listening sessions I had to force myself to take notes rather than just sit back and enjoy the music. 

     Overall the Troubadors offered a very sophisticated sound— refined, accurate, detailed, realistic, enjoyable.  In comparison to my reference speakers, the Gradient Revolutions, there were many similarities.  Both offer outstanding imaging and detailing with the Troubador giving a slightly larger image and perhaps bit more detail.  From the midrange up I would be hard-pressed to choose one over the other and would be delighted with either.  The biggest difference between the two is in the bass, with the Gradient being a normal full-range speaker having 2-12" woofers per side and response below 50 Hz.  The difference in the bass between the two was immediately apparent in comparisons.  I noted above that I quickly adapted to the Troubadors’ lack of bass; however, I could never quite forget this lack, and it did rob some music of its impact. Thus, I would not choose the Troubador over similarly priced speakers, such as the Snell Ds or Definitive Technology 2002s (while these two normal speakers are $300-500 more expensive than the Troubadors, the difference is mostly offset if the cost of the necessary fancy aftermarket stands is added to the latters’ $1495 price tag), which offer somewhat less sophisticated midrange, treble, and imaging but do have the missing bass.  However, I hear that the Troubador has a matching bass module called the Troubass (cute), which extends the bass response significantly in addition to serving as stands.  This would certainly solve the stand issue and could well fix the lack-of-bass problem too. Unfortunately, I am currently in the process of moving, and will not be able to audition the Troubador/Troubass combination for a while. But if and when I do, I will definitely follow up with further commentary. 

-KMD

 
     My original review of this product was lost in a hard drive crash and now I must give a very quick overview to meet a deadline measured in minutes, not days.  I love the Troubadors from Coincident. I have lived with these things for well over a year in my family room, a place inhospitable to all previous speakers ever having the misfortune to be placed therein.  The system in this room gets used by my whole family and many transient teenagers and twenty-somethings. The system is more abused than used and those who approach it all have a different idea about what sounds "good."  Under these trying conditions the Troubadors have satisfied every need, with compliments tossed from all around. 
     In my book, then, the Troubadors are a satisfying product.  However, not a perfect product. The Troubadors cannot fill the overriding longing for some undefined form of perfection that is usually circling behind the eye sockets of most audiophiles. For example, Troubadors DO NOT reproduce LOW bass, a cardinal sin it appears in this era of ears conditioned by home heater noise effects. 

     However, I have reached the point where I do not want my music screwed up with the ever-present real-world problems of low bass reproduction. I let my memory drive my brain to fill in the missing bass parts in the few recordings where they are resent—for me, this is a much more satisfying solution to the problem of bass reproduction without cobbling up the total presentation. The Troubadors image wonderfully, especially if mounted in free air rather than on a shelf top. I have placed them very near two room surfaces and still have been impressed, but they really become dimensionally projective when given free air placement. The total presentation above the midbass can be tonally true and artifact-shy to an amazing degree. 

     As a final note, however, I must comment on the amazing amount of time it took for these speakers to "break in."  Out of the box they sounded BAD: no other term for it. After 10 hours of listening they were a bit better, but I was still ready to send them back. When I called the company for return instructions I was told that at least 30 hours were required for quality sound to emerge. It took my samples at least 60 hours. I find it amazing that Coincident lets the product out of its hands without breaking them in first. Who on earth—besides some goofy reviewer guy—is going to spend this amount of money and then passively sit around listening to crappy sound for the first 60 hours?  Other than that, I have no complaints about these things—I love them, and recommend them highly for listening to music. Remember "music?" 

-JAH




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