Chapman Audio Systems T-77 speakers
There are probably very few individuals in this hobby of audiophilia who ever get to collaborate on pushing a product to a new level. I had the pleasure over the past five months to be the Guinea Pig for development of Stuart Jone's latest masterpiece, a customized pair of T-77 speakers.
Stuart's Chapman Audio Systems (Chapman being his middle name) has been around in some form for decades now. He has moved from the field of solely manufacturing speakers into predominantly doing custom installations in Washington, his home state.
Many have thought he exited the speaker building sector when he stopped marketing them through dealers. Not so. He now works one on one with customers and sells directly to them.
His speakers are hard to find; on the net you won't see pictures of them often, nor does Stuart maintain a website. It's largely word of mouth and the discussions on the net. I have no affiliation with him other than a super-happy customer who feels his speakers deserve WAY more attention than they garner.
I have been blessed to become friends with him over the past year, as second hand pair of T-7's (note, the T-7's were made in greater quantities and can still be found in the used market if one searches enough; I did a review of them also) that I had acquired needed a dust cap to be glued down. Stuart instructed me how to remove the driver, ship it and reinstall it - after he courteously fixed it free of charge. This on a second hand pair of speakers which was approximately ten years old! I was impressed!
I lauded his T-7 speakers and he suggested if I wanted the pinnacle of his work, I needed to obtain a pair of the flaship T-77's. Having done so, I now review that model:
The T-77's are the big brother to the T-7's, incorporating many of the successful traits of the smaller speaker, such as the proprietary Chapman 10" polylaminate fiber cone woofer and dual port compression line bass, the hand wound coils, and handmade and matched crossover networks, and drivers horizontally and vertically time aligned. There is a lot of craftsmanship and artistry inside a Chapman speaker, and the sound reveals it.
The appearance of the T-77 (as with other Chapman speakers) is deceptive. Like the Rega Apollo cdp which I recently obtained, the box/cabinet is plain, unobtrusive. Looking similar to a cousin of the Vandersteens, the Chapman speakers have solid oak top and bottom plates. In the models I have owned, the top plate always removes to reveal the serial number and possibly more goodies. In the case of one pair of T-7's underneath lies an attenuation switch for treble; in the case of the T-77's the access space to fill what I will call the "Sand Box" (to be described momentarily) feature.
(I should say that I make a few comparisons to Vandersteen speakers. While respectable speakers I find their sound very warm, almost syrupy to my ears. I have owned the 1's as well as the 2CE's. The Chapman T-7's were imho a good deal more nuanced than the 2CE's.)
One can have their choice of endcap colors, or for extra charge have the entire speaker finished in wood of their choice.
They arrived double boxed and crated. Crating them was a very blessed decision, since a fork lift had hit the crate and penetrated the double boxes, only to stop short of the speakers themselves! TOO CLOSE!
The T-77's originally were designed to have grill material covering their drivers, again similar to Vandersteens. However, I requested removable grills, as on the 7's. This meant a remake of the entire face of the speaker - routing out the face, making new grills etc. This was a very time intensive project as this was the first of the 77's to receive such treatment.
Initially, I also requested the speakers be made biwirable. Stuart gently kept suggesting I reconsider. Eventually, I capitulated and am completely happy I did. The man KNOWS how to make a superb single wire speaker. Putting more vairables into the mix would not guarantee better performance, while possibly introducing a host of new potential problems.
The highest quality drivers (Scanspeak mid/bass for mids) and crossover components were used. Each driver wired with compimentary cable as opposed to a "one size fits all" approach.
The construction quality is second to none. Stuart is a perfectionist, and it shows in every aspect from design to execution to shipping. Literally hundreds of "ear hours" were given to tuning the sound of the speakers. Stuart had me send him a pair of my speaker cables to a/b with his. The speakers were tested in different listening rooms and with a variety of speaker cones/spikes. They were burned in for two weeks solid prior to final listening/tuning tests. (Not every T-77 could be given that much break in etc. but these were the forerunners, the speakers the design would be finalized with.
The most unusual feature of the speaker is what I have termed the "Sand Box". This is a sealed, sand fillable crossover network enclosure. Before I proceed further, note please that this is an entirely optional feature! One does NOT have to utilize the "Sand Box" to enjoy these beautiful speakers. The crossover network can remain empty, housing the electronics with narry a grain to be seen. In addition, one can also empty the sand again, if so desired - however the grill material must be loosened and rolled down the speaker to access the chamber from the back. Once the sand is in, it's likely staying in, and that contributes to a much heavier pair of speakers to move.
I'm quick to point out that the "Sand Box" feature is not an attempt to resolve an issue with the speaker's construction or performance. As I said before, I told Staurt I was willing to be the Guinea Pig and wait a fair length of time to customize the speaker. I wanted him to create the ultimate speaker, as good has he could after 30 years of experience and craftsmanship.
The sand chamber is a fairly unobtrusive design change to the speaker. It cannot be seen externally, only when the top oak plate is off. A recessed fill area (extremely nice, since spilled sand is contained and can easily be vaccuumed out!) allows for about 20 pounds of sand to be put directly into the crossover chamber.
This was a very unusual concept for customization, and had I not gotten to know Stuart, his skills and his passion for getting things right, I might have balked on it. As it is, I trusted his judgment and had him build it in. Again, his soft spoken experience was correct; it has made the speaker even better.
Again, the sand feature does not even need to be used, but IF it's used, you better make ABSOLUTLEY sure the sand you put in there is clean (no dirt, etc.) and dry! I baked it on trays filled to about 1.5-2" high at 350 degrees for an hour, then let it sit to cool to room temperature. You don't want to put hot sand into a crossover!
This is an ingenious idea, to isolate the crossover components internally at the same time as the cabinet is made more intert! The idea was to eliminate vibrations from the speakers to achieve better results with the crossover (outboard crossovers are essentially trying to do the same). That the cabinet is made more rigid/solid is easily ascertained by rapping on the cabinet. The T-77 is massively braced internally, but with the sand inside it becomes rock-like in its solidity.
I have taken quite a bit of space to explain the physical characteristics of the T-77's. Suffice to say that it was the exceptional amount of TLC to build them that resulted in a speaker worthy of consideration by any audiophile looking for the absolute best for under $10k.
The Chapman sound is CLEAN, CLEAN CLEAN! These are not warm fuzzy speakers like Vandersteens. These are not "wow em with a single facet like soundstage" as with Magnepans. These are hard core audiophile speakers. Built for systems with serious two channel components. (Here I freely admit that I am nowhwere hear as stratospheric as many in my upstream components, however I have tried to use the very best for the dollar. My cdp is the much lauded Rega Apollo, and the amplification is a set of Pathos Classic One MkII's bridged to mono).
These speakers are ruthlessly revealing while at the same time intoxicatingly listenable! Like an iron fist inside a velvet glove. They can carress you, or if you crank them up, crush you! And all the while do it with panache.
The T-7's can reach down to 28hz +/- 3db, an amazing feat for a speaker of dimensions 44x13x10 and only weighing 85 pounds! The T-77's capitalize on Stuart's knowledge of how to put bass in a tidy package by going down about another two cycles. One can get by most definitely without subs. I do have them paired with twin Vandersteen 2W's for music and HT purposes.
The same tweeter is used in the 7's as well as the 77's. However, the midrange in the 77's is handled by dual Scanspeak 5" mid/bass drivers. The choice of using midbass drivers was to select a superior crossover frequency setting for the tweeter. When the midbass drivers are calibrated properly to the tweeter, they yield a richer midrange than the midrange drivers!
The sound: Let's put it this way. There are dump trucks, then there is the Terex Titan. Now that's a SERIOUS dump truck! I had been using the extremely fine T-7's, but when the 77's went in, I thought, now that's SERIOUS sound!
The 77's are side-firing woofers. One of my main concerns prior to delivery was that the bass would not be "uncontrollable"; that I wouldn't have standing waves, suck outs in the bass at certain frequencies, etc. All worry was for naught. The bass is wonderful; rich, detailed, authoritative.
I use the "Usher" demo disc with the drum solo on track 2. Hearing it through the 7's, the drums were about five feet in front of me. Now, with the 77's it seems I AM the drummer! They are deeply struck skins that vibrate richly.
Even though the 77's are set a bit wider than the 7's, their sound is more uniformly distributed across the area of my loveseat. If I'm sitting off center, the sound of the farther speaker is extremely easy to hear. It doesn't seem as though the soundstage has shifted radically to the right or left.
Orchestrated music is excellent; one hears the embodiment of the orchestra, not just the 2 dimensional reproduction of it.
I listened to much guitar, for I used to play years ago. The 77's get the friction of the plucking of strings right. The high pitched "zing" (for lack of better term) of the finger sliding rapidly up the strings to the next proper fret is uncanny! One can hear the velocity of the plucking, that is, how fast the string is being plucked. When the string is not held down properly, the telltale vibration comes through clearly.
With the T-7's when I heard that noise from the improperly set chord, it was indistinct, and I initially thought the vibration was something loose in the room. The T-77's reproduced it perfectly, and I knew intstantly the sound was from the string in the recording.
One some jazz vocals, the sensitivity of the upper end is so fine, that I can visualize the singer as they draw back about two feet away from the mic midsong. Piano has the perfect weight as the strings are hammered.
here is were the sand added a last toch of realism. The natural acoustic instruments sounded excellent, until the sand was added. Then, they sounded perfect!
John Michael Talbot is an acoustic guitar player who is very meditative. One particular track, very early on in the piece a harp playing in unison accompanies him for several measures very softly. I had never heard the second set of strings until on the 77's! To be able to separate the strings with such deftness is amazing!
The great speakers reproduce what's on the cd or vinyl. I stick only with cd, for my own reasons. But a new bugaboo has reared its head. On older discs, the analogue tape can be heard in the background. Neither the 7's nor the previous speakers I owned could resolve sufficiently to cleanly hear the analogue tape! These speakers are so precise that one can instantly hear when the tape rolls as the track begins. This is NOT an issue with these speakers being unable to present a black background. They do that as well as ANY speaker I've heard including Wilsons, Sonus Fabers, Krells, etc. These don't mask anything, so you need a great source.
It's ironic; I left vinyl behind because I didn't want to tolerate the noise (snap, crackle, pop.. of the vinyl). Now, I've got such superb clarity that I'm hearing tape hiss all over again! Insane!
I rocked out last night to Canadian artist Tom Cochrane, who did a live set with the Edmonton Symphony. When I was up in Canada for a stint, I found his music enjoyable. His close miked, echoing solos and great! My room became the hall, and I was in the third row. The soundstage the 77's throw is so huge, with pinpoint imaging that if I close my eyes, my ears feel the boundaries of the room have been exploded. I'm AT the concert!
Recently, I read about the Ariel Atom supercar. Not flashy, not a 'Don't touch!" car, but rather a straightforward ergonomically designed monster - for $70,000. A man's economical go cart on steroids that will go toe to toe with the best - and I mean VERY best street supercars in the world. It's going to be put on the race circuit. That's what the Chapman T-77's are like. Designed for going toe to toe with the absolute best in the world. Monstrously purist sound. Part Terex Titan, part Ariel Atom - Incredible!
You can contact Stuart Jones at Chapman Audio 206-463-3008