Have you owned Sound Labs Electrostatics?

I have owned the Martin Logans, a hybrid electrostatic and the Astatic Electrostatics, and liked certain things about both. Both were limited in dynamics for the known reasons, excursion of the mylar is limited; blending of the bass dynamic drivers with the faster electrostatic panel in the ML. I have heard the Sound Labs at the CES, and found them to be enchanting. How good are they? Have you owned them? What kind of power in an 18x21x two story room would they need? Are they biampable? All information available would be appreciated. I have heard wonderful things about their sonic purity and soundstage etc. Tell me more if you have owned them please.
Hello Lrsky,

So you got the hear the Sound Labs at CES 2003, eh? Which room - the once at Alexis Park with Parasound JC-1's, or the one at the St. Remo with Atma-Sphere MA-2's?

I happen to be a Sound Lab owner and dealer, as well as a dealer for both of these amps. So, feel free to take my comments with as many grains of salt as you need.

"How good are they"? At the things they do well (inner harmonic detail, natural timbre, coherence, long-term fatigue-free listening, lack of coloration) they are probably unexcelled. Their limitations are in the areas of maximum SPL (typically in the upper 90's at the listening position) and of course size, price, and positioning requirements. There is also a rather significant hidden amplifier cost to really get their full potential.

"Have you owned them?" I bought my first pair unseen and unheard several years ago, and liked 'em so much I crossed over to the "dark side" and became a dealer. I've owned or am otherwise familiar with all current models. In my living room right now are a pair of A-1's.

"What kind of power in an 18x21x two story room would they need?" There are quite a few amplifiers out there that will drive them well - some of which I sell, and some of which I do not sell. I would say 150-250 watts tube or 300-500 watts solid state ought to do just fine in your room.

"Are they biampable"? They normally come configured for single amplification, but can be factory-configured for bi-amplification.

"Tell me more if you have owned them, please". I have yet to hear a loudspeaker that is so relaxing as the Sound Labs. You can literally listen to them all day long and never get the least bit fatigued. You can listen to them at very low volume levels - say 60 dB or below - and still hear everything that's going on. You can sit way off-axis and still hear a convincing soundstage. You can literally listen from anywhere in the room and the tonal balance is pretty much correct (unless you are so tall that when you stand up your ears are above the diaphragms). Because you can hear all the details at non-damaging sound pressure levels, your hearing isn't taking a pounding (and at very high sound pressure levels the ear actually loses its ability to hear many details due to a psychoacoustic phenomenon called "masking"). The big Sound Labs do something very few loudspeakers can do - the create a reverberant field with the same tonal balance as the first-arrival sound. This contributes to natural timbre and long-term fatigue-free listening. Note that live instruments naturally give you a tonally correct reverberant field, but few loudspeakers do because their radiation patterns are not uniform across the frequency spectrum. Sound Labs have the lightest diaphragm of any electrostat; the most intelligent radiation pattern of any electrostat; and are the only truly full-range (down into the upper 20's) electrostat made.

Larry, I'd be more than happy to talk your ear off about Sound Labs, whether or not there's a potential sale for me (you may already have a dealer nearby, or you may be shopping for a used pair - I don't know and it doesn't matter; this is my hobby and passion first and my business second). Call me toll-free at (877) 473-7262.

Also, fire away with any follow-up questions you might have.

Best of luck to you on your quest,

I own Soundlabs, click on my “system” to see the Ultimate Ones in my room and an old image of the A-1.

The biggest problem with Soundlab, the distortion is so low that even at 100 DB they sound like a whisper. I frequently clip my 250 watt amps before thinking they are loud.

It’s even worse when an inexperienced visitor listens. I had one argue with me while playing his favorite compact disc. Having asked me to increase the volume three times, I told him we were listening at maximum power for the amp and louder than the artist could sing at our listening distance.

“No way,” says he “Were at a maximum of 75 DB and no more.“

I tell him based on my experience we are over 90 DB. So, after some discussion , my sound pressure meter shows over 100 DB peaks at 12 feet .

The visitor would not believe the meter, saying it was defective. Just goes to show how ULTRA low distortion can fool the ear. If you live anywhere near me, you are welcome to listen. Like Duke, I can order from the Soundlab factory.
Larry, I've owned Sound Lab U-1s for about four years. Before that, I had Quad ESLs (57s), Acoustat 2+2s, and Audiostatics. I find the Sound Labs have all the best qualities of the others and a lot of advantages. Sound Labs can play quite loudly, they are quite dynamic (macro and micro), the bass is prodigious and tuneful, there is no beaming of treble, and the sound of the panels driven full range is seamless. I find it easy to listen to music for many hours without fatigue. For me, there is no going back. They play every kind of music imaginable very, very well, from chamber music to big band to hard rock.

The backplates (interface electronics) contain two audio transformers, with a crossover at about 500 Hz, as the impedance variation with only one transformer would make the speakers virtually impossible to drive. The frequency ranges are combined on the panel, which is driven full range. Sound Lab can build or modify backplates for biamping if desired, which may result in greater clarity and dynamics.

As for power requirements in your room, I would have to say it depends upon your listening habits but anywhere from 100 to 400 watts are recommended. I think the 100 watts minimum should be considered as tube watts, although there may be exceptions. Higher powered amps have been used to good effect, and Sound Lab has used amps up to 800 watts on their speakers. There is no hard and fast rule as to which is better, tube or solid state. Rather, it may be a matter of preference. I've achieved excellent results with both, as have others.

Time for a disclaimer. I became a Sound Lab dealer a while ago, wanting to share my passion for the finest music reproduction and as a delighted owner. My enthusiasm as an audiophile spills over, which may sometimes get in the way of being an audio salesman, but life's too short for compromises. I had heard Sound Labs at some of the shows through the years and finally bit the bullet and have been happy ever since.

Larry, if you get to Chicago you're welcome to visit for a good long listen just to check them out, no obligation whatsoever. If you're in another dealer's territory I'll refer you to them, and you can still come and have a great time here. People who fly in know I offer complementary accommodations and offer full travel reimbursement upon purchase.

Brian Walsh
Albert and Duke,

How do you think the SoundLabs would sound with a pair of bridged Classe CA-201 amps? I believe they bridge to 350 or so watts apiece.

Have you heard these driven by any Classe gear? How did that compare to your higher-end amps?

I realize this is not your first choice, but wondering about getting in a piece at a time...

- Eric
Lrsky, Yes the bridged Classe CA-201 will drive Soundlabs with ease. Like others here I prefer tubes but the Classe is a good amp and with proper set up of the speakers you would have excellent sound.
I auditioned a pair of Sound Lab U-1's and would agree with all the comments above concerning how natural, unfatiguing and seamless they sound. I did have one caveat, which ultimately prevented me from considering a purchase at that time: I did not find the soundstaging to be precise or well-focused. Placement of performers seemed a bit 'diffuse', not pinpoint.

I wonder whether this may be due to the panel elements of the SLs, each of which sends sound out in a slightly different direction. I'm sure this has advantages, in terms of widening the sweet spot and achieving a natural reverberant field, but could it have something to do with the less-than-sharp soundstaging I heard? Or could the soundstaging have been the result of the room we listened in (no more than 11 by 15)?

Anyway the sound really was so non-fatiguing that we listened for hours without getting tired. I may check out SLs again some day.
Albert, not only are your posts thoughtful and articulate, your home is just beautiful. You are obviously a person of very discriminating tastes in all regards. I'll bet you system is wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
My wife is, and always has been delighted with the sound of electrostatics. I always joke that women hear better than men except at night time, (I know, bad taste sex joke), but it is really true.
The A-1 was owned by a good friend and he claimed them to be the most neutral, tonally, texturally, with lifelike portrayals of the performers. The only negative I ever heard was ongoing maintainence issues. They break, and repairs are tough because of size. Have you had any problems with them? I hesitate to mention this, since rumours are hurtful to the manufacturer, and only that, rumours, sometimes prompted by jealousy of competitors.
Any input on that is appreciated. I can't physically move them, to rebox etc, so this is important.
Again thanks for the input.
My thoughts were to use a Spectron (500wpc) along with his feedback cable, which without, the Spectron is incomplete, I am told. Then the First Sound Preamp, and the Electrocompaniet front end. In my size room, that should make for a pretty lifelike portrayal of performances, sizewise etc. Also, realistically how deep does the bass really go on the A-1 in a room large enough for it to develop?
I've listened to them at length at one of my customer's homes. They are WAYY up there with me too. So far up the speaker tree that choosing is a matter of taste. It's the only electrostatic on the market that can go deep in the bass without resorting to hybrid technology. Their low level presentation, natural timbre, and sheer sense of speed at all frequencies is amazing. True you can mate a sub pretty well to an electrostatic, and true a big sub will go deeper with more authority but you will lose out that 'one driver' sense that only a huge electrostatic can provide.

The cost of course is a huge object in your room with a backpressure wall force that could tip a humvee. I guess you could keep them by the front door to enforce the 'no soliciting' sign.

Personally I prefer tubes with planars. That combination of 'life' and presence on a huge scale is to me the ultimate in sonics. They seem to benefit more from the use of tubes than other types of speakers.

I wouldn't go below 200 watt tube or 400 watts solid state with those monsters. The more the better with those.
Lrsky, Soundlab has had some maintenance problems over the last few years. There was an issue with some defective insulation, bad bias controls and even failing of the high voltage supplies. Soundlab seemed to be “snake bitten” for awhile and my personal pair met several failures.

I complained about my recurring problems and Soundlab ask me for my serial number. A few days later a new pair of speakers were flown in via Delta airfreight and were screened with my old number. Only requirement was to put my old speakers in the crate and return them to the factory.

My speakers were out of warranty, yet Soundlab went the extra mile so I would not be disappointed. I have NEVER in all my years of audio, dealt with an audio company of such integrity. This is clearly above and beyond all requirements.

Better still, whatever issues they once had appear to have been resolved. Since the replacement I have had no problems and the new pair performs better than any Soundlabs I have ever heard. They have obviously found whatever issues there were and dealt with them by upgrading.

As for the comments of Calanctus. I cannot disagree. Soundlabs are not a point source, so rather than “head in a vice” imaging, they sound more like a live presentation. If you attend a concert and stand, move a chair or two, or even a couple of rows over, the sound stays pretty much the same. Big Soundlabs (particularly the M-1, A-1 and U-1) show this trait. Not to say the image is exactly the same in all parts of a listening room in a home, but the sound is surprisingly good in all parts of the room and even several rooms away in another part of the house.

This may sound odd, I call it the bathroom effect :^). Visitors who use our rest room which is through two doors and 50 feet away from the speakers, often remark that the piano (vocalist or whatever) sounds like a live performance from a distance.

This is an odd point to bring up but all who own Soundlabs will smile and understand exactly what I am describing.

To achieve this, the larger models drive almost two square yards of material, using an ultra quick high voltage supply. The bandwidth is near 24 HZ in the bass to above 45 KHZ in the highs, all with near perfect phase integrity.

Certainly there are speakers that play louder, but I can think of none that do more things correctly in the reproduction of music. In the end, if a speaker allows you to set aside your disbelief, and believe that what you are hearing is real, you have achieved your goal.

Soundlab does this better than anything I have heard. You should at least listen to a properly set up pair before making your final decision.