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Reviews

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02 Sep 2007

The Pleasures of Presence — The Small Loudspeakers of Richard Sequerra

In the long ago, when the best source of music reproduction in the home was a handsome piece of furniture, fitted with hidden audio components, and usually called radio-phonographs, my family had one — from Avery Fisher I believe — that had among its controls a switch labeled ‘presence.’

Above: Sequerra Metronome 7.7Mk6

 

This was said to make music sound more ‘in the room.’ Later, a similar control (sometimes called ‘loudness’), showed up on several amplifier units in my long parade of audio equipment, with the same idea — something was done to boost the musicality of sound, regardless of volume level.

It was generally thought the frequency response curve was adjusted in the amplifier to boost response of the upper-mid into upper frequencies, perhaps 1000kHz to 1800kHz (all of this approximate), which gave a lift to the audible area where most musical sound occurs. This is arguable, of course, and one can never overlook the extremes, low bass to high treble, even up to many thousands of cycles-per-second, and as low as twenty cycles, for the nuances and colors of music — live or reproduced. If this is how ‘presence’ is achieved, so be it. Of course, those old radio-phonographs offered little high frequency or bass response, compared to today’s electronics, which run the full gamut.

These thoughts came to mind recently as I surveyed bookshelf speakers to replace an older pair that was sounding tired. I settled in for long listening sessions with the new Sequerra Metronome-7.7 Mk-6 speakers, driven by 100W per channel of Linn amp power with input from California Audio Labs high-definition CD converter/player. I sampled everything from beautiful modern recordings of Sibelius symphonic tone poems, a splendid recording of Schubert Impromptus by Andraes Haefliger, the elegant Swiss pianist (and son of the famous tenor Ernst Haefliger), a big Benj. Britten choral work — and even German salon music, and a few Argentine tangos — just to get a feel for the sound quality (see list). The word that kept coming back to me was ‘presence,’ especially after I added a Klipsch or Aperion sub-woofer (I tried both, both are excellent), to extend the deep bass response from about 50kHz, the low limit of most bookshelf units, down to 20kHz or thereabouts, to fill out the sonic landscape. What lovely sound, and from such modestly unobtrusive elements!

The hero of this piece is a senior audio and radio engineer based in Stamford, Connecticut, one of the great names in the audio profession for decades, Richard Sequerra. Though presumably retired from manufacturing, Sequerra is far from that. Over recent months he has hand-built in his own workshop some ninety units of the Met 7.7 Mk6 model, a concept he introduced some years ago, and continually refined. Sequerra told me in a telephone conversation, “This new Metronome is the finest monitor of its type I’ve ever built; I am so pleased with it.” The small speaker, often called a mini-monitor, is made of a handsome, ruddy brown African hardwood, with jet black base trim, retails for $1500 a pair, and they are on brief backorder. [Sequerra has an exclusive dealer in the US, Acoustic Sound, 1500, South Ninth St., Salina, KS, 67401; 800.716.3553.] I think it is fair to say these speakers are already collectors’ items and will only become more so.

I have a particular appreciation of small speakers, placed out of the way in bookshelves or cabinets, that do not call attention to themselves or become part of the furniture of a room. My collection does contain a pair of big floor-standing Thiel 3.6 speakers, and they are wonderful. In fact, you cannot compare mini-monitors with large floor speakers — they are in a different ball game; but both systems are capable of supplying fine musical reproduction. The only significant loss of music in moving from a floor speaker to bookshelf, is in the very low frequency areas — deep bass and cello strings, tympani, low piano or organ chords, harmonics derived from mid-range sources that will resonate in the lowlands of sound -- you really want these elements for richness and color.

Another more subtle point is what I will call — sonic geography. This simply means the physical arrangement of sound, say, across a stage or in a concert hall — so that one can hear, via good stereo, the positioning of instruments and/or the acoustical properties of the room. Sometimes the word ‘imaging’ is used to describe the phenomenon, but there is more to it. For example, Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony, has to my ear a quite distinctive sound, as does Symphony Hall in Boston; so did Arturo Toscanini’s famous (sometimes infamous) Studio 8H at NBC. I want to hear these room acoustics, as I experience music from them via recording, because they give the musical sound air and space, a quality of naturalness that we know from live performances. Large speakers can provide this quality of ambience, and in the case of Sequerra’s small monitors, he has managed to create the ‘space’ of recorded sound to a remarkable degree. Keep in mind, of course, the acoustical property has to be present in the recording in the first place.

With Sequerra Met 7.7s, I find these qualities of sonic geography and presence in remarkably plentiful supply. Specifically, Met 7.7 sound is quite forward and ‘in the room,’ even aggressive at times, and favorably so. ‘Up front’ is a frequent designation of this phenomenon, just as ‘laid back’ is used to describe the quieter more self-contained speaker (very often of English origin). The speakers also have a strong ‘throw;’ you can hear them at a considerable distance. My previous bookshelf speakers would not, even at high volume, penetrate through open windows into a nearby garden; the new Sequerras do that, to the extent someone asked as we sat in the garden the other day why the music was so loud.

Since I like this kind of energetic but detailed sound, I was pleased by the ‘now’ quality of the big Sibelius orchestra. The old Finnish master was a wizard at distinctive orchestration — fascinating, intricate use of woodwinds and flutes, with wonderful string writing (Sibelius was a violinist), and all the edges and colors are there via the Metronomes. Andreas Haefliger’s grand piano sound was decidedly present in the room, and singing voices sounded natural.

Voice is often a real test of loudspeakers, spoken voice, yet one rarely thinks of it as important to musical quality. To deliver a natural-sounding, easily understood radio announcement is a great challenge to speakers. The first sound I heard via the Sequerras was an FM radio broadcast from Santa Fe’s classical station. What a pleasant surprise! The muffled or timid tones of announcements were suddenly absent in the face of perfectly clear voices that I could — for once, easily understand. This quality carries over into musical reproduction and is one element of the Sequerra sound, especially with a generous back-up of amplifier power and the resulting ‘head room’ (dynamic range ability), that seems so engaging. I should make the point that this sense of ‘presence’ is also there a mid and low-volume levels. When I asked Mr. Sequerra about speaker tonality and ‘presence,’ he responded by talking about the interior insulation and damping factors of his little boxes, and how simple felt batting has come to play a key part in achieving his sonic goals.

To control resonance and sound artifacts inside a speaker cabinet is of concern to engineers — one wants the music resonating outside the cabinet, right there with the listener, and not farther back inside the box. Control of these factors is clearly a part of Sequerra’s success. It is interesting also that Sequerra uses not only a high-quality mid/bass European driver in his array, but also a Japanese tweeter that is adjustable by a knob on the back of the box. If the speaker is too bright in your room, adjust the control. This is unusual; i’ve seen such a tweeter-level control on Aerial speakers, and used it, but the opportunity is infrequent.

I recognize Opera Today is not primarily a forum for audiophiles or collectors of sound equipment. Yet, for many of us who enjoy fine music in true sound, these matters are relevant. (See below for specifications and details.) Let me sum up for the general reader: The Sequerra Met-7.7 Mk6 speakers were a pleasant surprise to my ears, for the quality and realism of musical reproduction. Combine them with high-quality amplifier and CD player components, always, to realize full musical quality. The addition of a solid sub-woofer, at a cost of only a few hundred dollars or even less, is needed to capture the low end of the musical spectrum. Adding the sub is easier than a listener may imagine; it is only a matter of connecting a couple of wires, and often your dealer will make the simple installation. I hope anyone who undertakes such a project experiences as much musical enjoyment as I have found, courtesy Richard Sequerra.

J. A. Van Sant © 2007

Specifications:

Sequerra Metronome 7.7Mk6 speakers

Price: $1500/pair

Dimensions: 11-inches height, 7.5-inches width, 13-inches depth

Weight: 16.5 lbs. per unit

Drivers: The 6-inch mid-range driver is by SEAS Fabrikker, Norway; High-frequency 2 ¼” tweeter by Foster Electric, Japan. Both are treated paper cone drivers, modified by Sequerra, much of it extensive and proprietary. The tweeter has added a shear radiator of Sequerra’s devising, which extends frequency response and controls resonance. Speakers are of enclosed box design to maintain a ‘Q’ of 0.75. Crossover point is 2.8k Hz

Efficiency: (sensitivity), 89 db/W/m.

Manufacturer: Sequerra Associates, 1929 Long Ridge Rd., Stamford CT 06903 (203) 968-0339 sequerra@optionline.net

Dealer: Acoustic Sounds, (800) 716-3553.

Associated Equipment for Testing: California Labs CL-15 high-definition CD player; Linn HV 5105 stereo amplifier, 100W/ch; Rotel RC980BX pre-amp control; Rotel RT990BX radio tuner; Cables and interconnects, all by Kimber Kable Klipsch Promedia 2.1, a good inexpensive sub-woofer; Aperion S8APR, 150W sub, a few dollars more, a powerful performer.

Recordings Used: Sibelius Tone Poems, Osmo Vanska, Lahti Symphony Orchestra, BIS CD 1125; Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 7, Leif Segerstam, Helsinki Phil. Ondine ODE 1007-2; Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 4, London Symphony, Sir Colin Davis, RCA Red Seal 09026-68183; Stephen Hough, The Piano Album, Virgin Classic 61498; Die Berliner, Vol. 1, Salonmusik, Berlin Phil. players, Koch 3-1814; Schubert Impromptus, Andreas Haefliger, piano, Sony SK53 108; Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Angela Cheng, piano, CBC Records SMCD 5195; Chopin selections, Nelson Freire, Decca 289 470 288-2; Brahms Serenades No. 1 & 2, Scottish Chamber Orch., Charles Mackerras, Telarc CD-80522; Gershwin, Songbook, Three Preludes, Sebastian Knauer, piano, Glissando 779; Tango Lesson (film score), Sony SK 63266; Benj. Britten, War Requiem, London Philharmonic, Kurt Masur, conducting, LPO label; Zemlinsky, Die Seejungfrau, Köln Orchestra, James Conlon, EMI 5-55515. R. Strauss, Josephs Legende, Ivan Fisher with Budapest Festival Orchestra, Channel Classics CCS SA 24507. Whew!

Other Information: Appearance: One does not choose Sequerra Met 7.7Mk6s for visual allure. This fits my earlier contention you wont need to feature small monitors as furniture — a plus for me! There is no grille cloth or cover — the drivers are right there, out front and obvious. The mid/bass driver is offset forward to the demure tweeter in order to achieve time-coherence, but the appearance is not offensive, you just have to be a bit careful about dusting. So, why no cloth cover? Mr. Sequerra strictly forbids it, even sheer silk will diminish the sound, the maker claims. My ear tells me he is correct.

Downside? Very little sonically. I’ll not suggest the Met7.7s offer the same dimension of sonic space/geography of a large floor-standing speaker, but for most music you will not need it, though in intense orchestral passages (for example the Richard Strauss/Ivan Fischer CD of Josephs Legende), or in large choral recordings, a slight sense of density may sometimes be encountered. The trade-offs of presence and the great up-front quality in the Sequerra sound are more than compensating.

Price? The $1500 list retail price is not discounted and the popular units are on brief backorder (August), I am told. It seems a reasonable price compared to similar units (all around $1800 pr.), by quality makers such as Aerial, Snell and Thiel, three fine speaker manufacturers whose products I personally use with pleasure. A buyer would be smart to audition several units before choosing. Noting the similarity of pricing, I jokingly said to one of the executives, “You guys must have had lunch on your pricing!” He laughed, “Well, I just figured $1800 is about the most I can charge for a two-way speaker.” That very well sums it up.

J. A. Van Sant © 2007

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