AOM Logo January 2000


@udiophilia.com continues its audition of the new 5.3 floorstanding loudspeaker from Soliloquy High Fidelity Loudspeaker Company

Anthony Kershaw

My introduction to the Soliloquy 5.3 loudspeaker was given under the auspices of Canadian distributor, Audiopath. The sound of the gorgeous-looking floorstanders was, as mentioned in last issue's sneak peak (http://www.audiophilia.com/hardware/sol53pt1.htm), "as clean as a whistle, with excellent dynamics and a tendency toward the spectacular". A further two months at home with them snuggled in my listening room did little to change my initial reaction.

The original design was developed by Dennis Had, owner of Cary Audio Design and designer of some of the finest amps this side of Nirvana. I am not privy to what precipitated Had's departure from the speaker world, but his loss was Bernie and Brock Byers' gain. As new owners, the brothers have taken Had's design and run with it, dishing up superb looking, excellent sounding high end speakers for what, in reality, are close to mid fi prices. With a new facility in Raleigh, North Carolina, it seems that Soliloquy intend to be here for the duration.

My preamble to this review mentions the specifications of the design and manufacturing excellence, both making for an easy load on my amplifiers and placing to rest the concern for the speaker's longevity. I should add that along with the easy loads, bi wiring, super cabinetwork, and the like, Soliloquy add a rear-mounted, three-inch port (metal, to reduce chuffing), document clearly and concisely, and offer a five year warranty. The company indicates a one hundred-hour break in period, with improvement up to the five hundred-hour mark! Serious auditioning took place well into the suggested period, the speakers sounding quite acceptable, if bass shy, right out of the box.

Associating with the Soliloquys were amps from ARC (D 125 - a powerhouse of blended technology), SimAudio (their Moon W3, a smaller but still classy cousin to the W5 behemoth), and the new Assemblage SET 300B from Sonic Frontiers' budget division, The Parts Connection (budget price, but not sound - full review forthcoming). The sound from old faithfuls like the Arcam Alpha 6 CD player and VPI Mk 3/Audioquest PT 7/Benz Glider combo justified their excellent reputations. The 5.3s were single wired with van den Hul cable.

Room placement proved embarrassingly easy. The speakers sounded fine placed without real attention to detail, sounding just that bit cleaner and deeper when room boundaries were aired out a little. Optimum placement in my asymmetrical listening space was three feet from the back walls and three feet from the side walls, with the boxes toed in approximately fifteen degrees. Soliloquy suggests 2/3 feet from boundaries and 10-30° toe in. A serious note: One must adhere to Soliloquy's suggestions when moving the 80lb enclosures and their respective spikes. An audiophile's foot (or worse) would never be the same without real care in the tweaking department.

Looking very much like kin to the ProAc 2.5, the 5.3's front drivers do a very creditable job in relaying musical information cleanly, with good bass attack, crystalline treble, and a pleasant midrange. With the Soliloquys' 90dB sensitivity, even the eight-watt Assemblage produced a full, rich tonal spectrum. The more powerful amps drove the easy load with absolute command and control, if without the finesse and neutral palette of the single ended Assemblage.

Coming after reviews of the exalted Verity Audio Fidelios and my superb reference Gallo Solo Nucleus (sadly discontinued, if the audiophile grapevine is to be believed), the 5.3s just about held their own and led me on some very musical journeys. After a particularly long stretch of listening, my thoughts wandered from pure musical essence to the exciting and visceral world of "hi fi". I noted this type of sound, not beloved in many audiophile circles, in my original assessment. The speakers boast music aplenty, but the voicing of the drivers does seem on the hotter side of neutrality. This led to larger than life presentations on varied source material from the chamber music of Mozart (Piano Quartets/Menuhin Festival Piano Quartet/Naxos 8.554274) to Reiner's magnificent Ein Heldenleben (CSO/RCA 09026-61494-2). All of this grandeur is not necessarily a bad thing. With the 5.3s, audiophiles can live on the wild side, and still have enough left over for most of their sensitive musical needs.

Piano recordings fared especially well. Naxos has given us rich and varied discography of late - masterful Rachmaninov from Idil Biret, stunning Dohnanyi from Marcus Pawlik and introspective Janacek from Thomas Hlawatsch. Though sourced from different producers and recorded in different acoustics, Naxos' house sound remained consistent on all three CDs, with bell-like treble, thunderingly clear bass, and middle octaves of decidedly rich tone. The Soliloquys did an admirable job in capturing and deciphering the complex lines of the three composers. Of the three, I have a great fondness for Janacek's music, and his piano works (used to great effect in Philip Kaufman's film masterpiece, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) are just as quirky, reflective, and chock-a-block with odd time signatures. Hlawatsch's performances are wonderful - his tone is lovely and the wistful nature of his interpretations match Janacek's mood. The subtle interplay between left and right hand was a pleasure and noticed distinctly through the 5.3s, also hinting at a slightly over zealous use of pedal. Very nice detail, here.

The old audiophile standby, The Buena Vista Social Club (Nonesuch 79478. Quite new, actually, but old in audiophile chronology), proved the Soliloquys adept at stage width and depth. Ry Cooder's Cuban crew whooped it up nightly for about a week. What a CD! I have heard this recording on many speakers (sounding best on Verity Audio Parsifals via Cary single ended amps), and while the Soliloquys did not match this combination, for thousands less, I got a wonderful sense of space and detail, with toe tapping rhythm all the way.

Strings, percussion, brass and woodwind sound varied in quality from recording to recording. Some turkeys remained while the great ones sounded true to their famous lineage. Athena's pressing of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances was terrific, with powerful whacks at the outset and the cramped quarters of the Dallas high school auditorium sounding quite claustrophobic. Instrumental timbre on this and other fine performances was good, but remained in third place when compared to the more expensive Nuclei and Fidelios. Imaging was good, too.

The singing voice was well characterized, with the tweeters sending off a little sibilance at times. Ian Bostridge and Bryn Terfel are two of this decade's finest vocal artists, able to convey the text in very emotional ways and never stretching the voice beyond their considerable talents. Bostridge's The English Songbook (EMI 7243 5 56830 2 1) and Terfel's The Vagabond (DG 445 946-2) were a great audition for the Soliloquys and the Assemblage SET 300B. Although the SET was unable to produce thunderous levels, this was by far my favorite combination (on both the 5.3s and Gallos, 90dB each, the Assemblage had problems when singers, sopranos especially, thumped out chest tone). However, this amp has increased my enjoyment of CDs tenfold. No hyperbole here. On lesser amps, Vagabond highlights some of the worst qualities of digital - harsh at times, quite uncouth if truth were told. The Assemblage was a superb match with the 5.3s (interestingly, Soliloquy's SM-2A3 monitor loudspeaker is especially voiced for SET amps of low wattage), with Malcolm Martineau's piano tone and Terfel's magnificent bass-baritone rich and harmonically truthful. On English Songbook, Bostridge's tenor voice rang true and clear. I heard him live recently in London singing Britten - he is an amazing and singular talent. This is the spirit I heard through the speakers, his voice brought through with natural ease.

Kudos, then, to Dennis Had for his vision and to the Byers for bringing it forth. The Soliloquys, a mere US$1895.00, are certainly among the finest at this price I have heard, with excellent range and dynamics, a banner sense of space and timing, good vocal/instrumental timbre and precise information retrieval. The Byers brothers have achieved what many consider the impossible: produce an elegant floorstanding speaker that sounds wonderful for a low price. They should most certainly be on your audition shortlist. As I said in the preamble: "at US$1895.00 a pair, the 5.3s must be regarded as one of the first audiophile bargains of the Millennium."

The Soliloquy Model 5.3 loudspeaker
US$1895.00 a pair

Distributed by Audiopath
9108 Yonge Street
Richmond Hill, Ontario
Canada L4C629
Tel: 905-886-7810
Fax: 905-886-6920

Web: http://www.solspeak.com

Source of review sample: Canadian distributor loan


MANUFACTURER'S RESPONSE

Dear Anthony Kershaw,

from all of us at Soliloquy a heartfelt thank you for a very positive review of our Model 5.3 loudspeakers. It is wonderful to be recognized for producing affordable products that don't cut corners.

There are, however a few factual errors which require correction.

The brand name Soliloquy was indeed started by Dennis Had of Cary Audio when he introduced his two models 5.2 and 8.2 in the late 90s. To this day there is a great friendship between him and current owner Bernie Byers. However, those two designs that made up the Soliloquy line under Dennis' ownership have long since been discontinued due to revised pricing, revoicing and an altered appearance. The current eight models of the Soliloquy line adhere to some of the original design principals of SET compatibility but are from-the-ground-up new designs wholly authored by Soliloquy's new design team.

Dennis Had did provide the crossover design for our special application model SM-2A3 and is openly credited for this contribution. However, that is the entire extent of his remaining business association with Soliloquy.

Soliloquy used to be merely a Cary Audio-owned brand name and short-lived attempt to provide Cary dealers with SET-friendly speakers from the same source. Since the sale of both the name and the rights to the original two designs to present owner and president Bernie Byers, Soliloquy has become a full-blown and independently owned company. While we value Dennis' friendship and his comments during occasional beta-testing sessions, we would like to be recognized for what we are.

Soliloquy High Fidelity Loudspeaker Company is a company owned and operated by the father and son team [they're not brothers but you couldn't know that] of Bernie and Brock Byers who manufacture and distribute proprietary designs that are connected to the original Dennis Had efforts only by sharing the name Soliloquy.

Thank you for correcting the applicable sections of your review accordingly.

Feel free to contact us with any further questions or if you wish to take a look at any of our other models. We would be delighted to oblige and once again thank you for exposing our efforts to a greater audience.

Sincerely yours,

Srajan Ebaen

Soliloquy Sales 760-633-2228 land 760-505-0334 mobile
sebaen@gateway.net
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