POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 37
as reviewed by Jim Merod
I've been a big fan of Alan Yun's work at Silverline Speakers for a decade or so. I first met Alan when his company was in the early stage of emerging into audio reality. No doubt because Alan is a very charismatic man, and because we share similar tastes in music, it was easy to become interested in the Silverline speaker line.
I was first struck with how graceful yet modest Alan Yun's speaker designs are. The signature footprint of a Silverline speaker, from the outset, always has been understated elegance with enormous sonic presence. In sum, from the very beginning Alan Yun was able and interested to bring the audiophile market genuinely inexpensive speakers that outperformed their apparent cabinet and driver capacity. To put their success like that, in fact, understates their glory. Silverline speakers arrived on the scene with a noble attitude: to seductively kick musical butts with inexpensive products that outperform similarly priced speakers as well as far more expensive speakers.
The Minuet speakers are no exception to that early ambition. If anything, Alan Yun has taken his original small speaker designs and squeezed them toward greater miniaturization with larger degrees of audio output and higher reaches of distortionless sonic clarity. These extremely small music boxes so far outflank anyone's initial visual expectations that I'll essentially defy anyone to look at them cold, without a moment's hearing, and imagine their full musical pedigree.
Test Driving A Mini-Rolls Royce
Let's get this upfront right here. The Minuets cost $600/pair. What could anyone expect from such a drop dead "el cheapo" set of speakers?
Not what you get with these over-achieving little rascals, that's for certain. I've auditioned the set Alan sent for test driving long enough to be one hundred percent certain that I'm (a) still amazed at their sonic grandeur; (b) deeply gratified by their uncompromising musical truthfulness; c) blown away by the instant and ongoing pleasure they provide; and (d) scratching my noggin with perplexity as I wonder how Alan Yun has accomplished (in spades) that ultimate "audiophile triumph"—the creation of an audio product that outperforms its modest price point so thoroughly that it leaves a discerning listener reaching to compare its bold, delicate musical accomplishment to speakers several orders of magnitude more expensive.
Did I mention that the "Minuets" are a died-in-the-wool audio bargain?
I have none. For this money, you cannot purchase more than one decent unbalanced audio cable. Think about that. I have no reservations or quibbles about the Minuets at all ...unless it would be their deceptive and fragile name. These "small" speakers are "mini" in physical size only. Put Stan Kenton's roaring late-'50s big band through these "little" speakers: out comes the whole bloody take-no-prisoners aggregation: KENTON IN HI-FI... a classic album rendered without a jot of shrinkage or disappointment to anyone who grew up with that band and that music.
My set up for these user-friendly boxes was simple. I placed the speakers on lead shot reinforced stands (with smudges of blue tack to root their placement) and connected them to a mono-block pair of Viva tube amps ($20,000 each), from Italy. Those were fed by the prototype version of McCormack's new state of the art VRE-1 preamp.
Whap! Whomp! Stan Kenton's piano glissando came roaring from the Minuets as if the old silver haired fox were right in my room. The only concession to the speakers' underwhelming size that one finds is the amount of air that can be moved. The bandstand, the full reach and depth and height of the soundstage, cannot (of course) approximate what you hear with, for example Trenner and Friedl's $40,000/pair Miles loudspeakers. But, wow! With that single not to be dismissed exception, Kenton's roaring ensemble suffered no diminution of its essential dynamic force and musical complexity. All the multiple layering of sound, of horn sections, of bass slam and piano decay are evident without a moment's musical dissatisfaction.
You Like Singers?
Over the last twenty-plus years I've been able to record, in live performance, many of the most accomplished female jazz vocalists. I love great voices. No "instrument" is as difficult to record correctly (especially in concert) than a stunningly gifted female voice. For me, the litmus test of any speaker's resolving power rests with its naked presentation of the human voice.
I first chose Tierney Sutton's version of "Very Early," recorded live in the Bel Age, with Hollywood's spectacular view from the bar's wide perspective of Los Angeles out, beyond, and below. Tierney is accompanied by pianist Mike Garson—a vocal recording that, with each hearing (I've heard it dozens of times), grows more alluring.
The Minuets seem to love such beautiful voices as much as I do. They delivered Tierney's entire vocal range and deep-breathed reading of Bill Evans' classic as if Tierney were standing between their micro-footprints with her warm-hearted person revealed in full.
Jackie Ryan, recorded atop the Hyatt in San Francisco, with pianist Larry Vuckovich, presented the same discrete delicacy of vocal nuances and full-throated power. Mary Stallings with pianist Merrill Hoover also elicited that tingling "you are there" quality one longs for. Ditto Louciana Souza with Donny McCaslin in New York ...and Coral Thuett with guitarist Jaime Valle in La Jolla.
Simply put, Silverline's Minuet speakers are studio monitor grade monsters. They can (and will, here at BluePort) serve as mastering and post-mastering monitors. They are that good. In fact they are far better than monitors routinely used in a variety of expensive recording studios across the United States. You do not have to believe me there, but it's absolutely true.
Monitors Good and Bad
Why do I count Silverline's Minuets as "monitor-grade reference speakers? Because they are sonically neutral and transparent. Because they are uncolored but dynamic. Because the essential drama of great music and great recordings is reproduced effortlessly. Because they are, to my ear, virtually distortion free. Because they replicate the entire sonic range without stinting or crapping out. Because they are easy to place anywhere you want them or need them.
One of the first shocks I endured in the early days of my recording work was to discover, over and over, inferior monitors in so called "world class" recording studios in both New York and Los Angeles. To my youthful queries—why such demoted, less than accurate speakers on expensive recording consoles—I heard, again and again, that the monitors in question were the "industry standard" speakers. That such monitors had "done the job just fine" for a long while. And, besides that, why would anyone need more or better sonic replication since "most sound systems out there stink."
Such logic. Such masterful craftsmanship. Such mythology. I'm grateful that this circumstance has improved over the last five or six years. And I'm grateful that Silverline has created a truly bargain-priced speaker workhorse that allows anyone, on any audio budget, to enhance a studio's playback system or a home stereo or theater system.
I recommend the Minuets without diminution or reserve. They are genuinely one of the bona fide bargains in audio at present. To Alan Yun, my respects. To Silverline, best wishes for enduring success. To serious audio lovers, a warning. Before you pop thousands of dollars on the moment's "speaker of the year," etcetera... listen to these brave and accurate little reproducers of sonic complexity and musical thrills. It may be that, in an inflationary, perhaps recessionary economic world, Silverline is offering you an audiophile "gift." Jim Merod