To Soundlab or not to Soundlab?

OK, I'm a long time planar / stat lover and have been running dynamics for the past two years and long to get back into 'stats.

I'm looking at the Soundlabs and wonder what experiences people have had with these things and what amp / cable combos have worked well with them. My preference is for near field / focused rather than distant / diffused, and a transparent sound with an emphasis on voal palpability with freedom from grain and a sense of full harmonic development. I listen at low to moderate volumes and listen primarily to femal vocal, small ensemble, acoustic and small scale electronic with the occaisional classical work thrown in for good measure.

My room is 18' by 13.5'with the system set up on the short wall with a live end / dead end treatment using a custom echobuster package. Front end is CD using a CEC TL2 with G&D Transforms mods and the Thor DAC with tube output stage. I use ultimate attenuators rather than a preamp.

Any thoughts on which models / options I should start tracking down to evaluate? And how about amp and cable suggestions?


Well I hope you don't mind a dealer replying...

I used to own Quads, both '57's and 63's, and I've owned several Maggies. I fell in love with Sound Labs a couple of years ago when I bought a pair without ever having heard them, and from there I became a dealer.

The Sound Labs excel at timbre; that is, getting the voices of instruments - the nuances of tonality and texture - right. The excel at this for several reasons.

First, Sound Labs use the thinnest diaphragm in the industry, .0001", as compared to .00048" for InnerSounds, .0005" plus conductor for Maggies, .0005" for Quads, .0006" for Acoustats, and .002" for Martin Logans. In other words, the Sound Labs use a diaphragm about 1/5th the thickness of the next closest brand. This ultra light, thin diaphragm can easily trace all the intricacies of waveforms, so that (for example) you can hear the separate voices in a choral work instead of a homogenous blend.

Second, Sound Labs are voiced a bit on the warm, forgiving side. They tend to not make a harsh recording sound any worse than it already is. In all fairness, Maggies also do this well. One difference, though, is the Sound Labs are incredibly articulate even at 50 dB.

Third, Sound Labs are unique among dipoles in that they maintain the same radiation pattern all the way up the spectrum, which significantly contributes to natural timbre. Let me explain. The ears derive timbre not only from the first arrival sound, but also from the reverberant field. Your ears expect the reverberant field to sound like the direct sound with the room superimposed on top. But because most speakers have varying directional characteristics at different frequencies, the tonal balance of the reverberant field cannot possibly be the same as the on-axis response. As the brain works to integrate these two tonally disparate sonic events (the first arrival sound and the reverberant field), the result is eventually listening fatigue.

Sound Labs have a figure-8 radiation pattern in the bass, as do all dipoles. But then as we go up the frequency spectrum and the panels become directional, their unique faceted-curved geometry maintins the radiation over a constant 90-degree arc. This effectively preserves that same figure-8 radiation pattern all the way up the spectrum! With Sound Labs, you can crank the volume a bit and walk out of the room (leaving the door open), and from the next room there will still be a convincing illusion of live music happening back in there. Note that from the next room all you can possibly hear is the reverberant field. The tonal balance stays virtually the same (you lose a little of the highs but that's inevitable). The result is a rich timbre and a totally non-fatiguing listening experience. You can literally listen for hours and never get tired of them.

Golly, do I sound like a salesman, or what??

Okay, now as far as which model to get, since you are most interested in nearfield listening and not in pushing the edge of the envelope as far as depth of bass or maximum loudness, really any of the full range models will work fine.

The smallest size is the Millennium-3. With these you will probably lose the highs when you stand up, and they are about 3 dB less efficient than the big ones. The reverberant field won't be quite as rich, since the M-3's radiate into a 60-degree arc. There is a little less bass extension, but it is every bit as articulate. For low to medium volumes, a superb speaker - with a beefy enough amp, you can dabble into fairly high volumes as well.

The next size is the Millennium-2/A-3. These are about six feet tall so depending on your height, you may or may not lose the highs when you stand up. The M-2's radiate into a 75 degree arc, and these are probably the biggest bang for the buck in the lineup. Given your room width, you'll get a bit wider soundstage with the M-2's than with the big M-1's.

The M-1/A-1/U-1's are the big guys, and I have customers who use them in rooms smaller than yours. These are six and a half feet tall, so unless you are very tall, you won't hear any diminishing of the highs when you stand up. I sell more of this size than of everything else put together.

Note that the big Sound Labs are about the same efficiency as Maggies. Also, Sound Labs are a difficult load. However, since you are not trying for the maximum volume possible, you have more amplifier options than most people. Atma-Sphere amps are superb at inner harmonic richness and detail; the MA-1's would work well for low to medium volumes, the big MA-2's even better. I've also heard good things about Viva amps, though I don't sell them. In solid state, the Warner Imaging amps work quite well. You will have many options.

Speaking of options, I very strongly recommend you get the toroidial transformer upgrade and the Cardas posts. If you live in a very hot, humid area, ask your dealer about getting a high output transformer as well.

The cabling I like best is the Magnan Signature; I'll explain why if you'd like.

If you don't have a dealer nearby, let me know and perhaps I can arrange an in-home audition for you, or otherwise make it easier for you.

Other planars to consider in the same general ballpark are the Maggie 20.1's, the Martin Logan Prodigy's, and the Quad 989's. You might also want to consider the Wisdom Audio line and the Audio Artistry Beethovens (if they're still made).

The Sound Labs are pretty much the ultimate expression of the full range electrostat. Sounds to me like they might work for you, so I hope you get to hear a pair.

Best of luck to you!

Duke LeJeune
i already owned soundlab a-1 and arc 600 ,it was really state of the art a cable the best choice in my house was purist dominus and fadel art gold line(distributor in usa is fanfare).
So if I can summarize, you think the M-2/A-3s will give a wider soundstage than the U-1,M-1,A-1s in my room and that the toroid transformer & Cardas binding post upgrade is worthwhile.

Given that, is there any meaningful trade-off in bass extension and dynamics between the M-2/A3 and U-1/A-1/M-1? And how much in real terms?

Also - is the difference between the A and M series models of the same size purely cosmetic? Are there any differences that effect the sonics?

And yes, I'd love to hear your comments on the Magnan cable. I own Nordost SPM biwire and Goertz MI-2 and AG-3 now. How would they compare in your experince?

Oh yeah, what is the sonic impact of the toroid transformer upgrade?

Thanks for the most informative post,

You'll never regret your choice of a Soundlab, go for the A-1's if you can. I'm using Atma-Sphere's MA-1's and on 95% of the material I listen to they are quite adequate.
Bryceeboy, you've piqued my curiosity. Would you please expound on that statement?
Sanderman -

Thanks for your kind words.

The only differences between the A-1 and M-1 are cosmetic, and the M-1 is less expensive and easier to ship (the backplate assembly detaches from the frame).

The M-2 is closer to the M-1 than to the M-3 sonically. The M-1 size has a bit more bass and a bit more lush presentation; I can detect no difference in dynamics. In my room (13 feet by 30 feet) I prefer the M-1's richness to the slightly wider soundstage of the M-2, but I could easily live with either.

The cables you have are very good for electrostats - the Nordost and Goertz are both very coherent cables. The Magnan sort of takes the Goertz philosophy a step or two further - the conductor is even wider and thinner, and the runs can be physically separated. I recently let a Sound Lab owner compare a set of Magnans to his AG3's, and he ended up buying the Magnans. Same thing with an SPM owner. Every Sound Lab owner I know of who has tried the Magnans has bought a pair. I personally tried SPM and MI-2 and MI-3 before I found Magnan, but I never tried the AG-3. By the way, the local Goertz dealer says that AG-2 is better than AG-3. Another cable that I hear very good things about is the Purist Audio line, in particular the Dominus, but I haven't tried it in my system (sounded great in Wolcott/Sound Lab/Purist Audio room at CES, though). I'm a try-before-you-buy believer when it comes to speaker cabling, so if you ever wanted to try the Magnans I'd ship you a demo pair to audition.

As far as the toroid goes, it is my understanding that it significantly reduces the amount of compression normally experienced in going through a transformer. The result is more openness, especially in the midrange. I have never heard a pair of the big Sound Labs sans toroid, as everyone I've spoken to says don't even think about not getting the toroid. I suppose if the only way you could afford the size you really wanted was to delay the getting toroid option then the standard transformer would make sense, but otherwise get the toroid if at all possible.

The toroid does present a lower impedance in the midrange and so makes the speaker a more difficult load. But given your reasonable sound pressure level requirements, finding a very good amplifier will be relatively easy for you.

I'm not sure I'm communicating well on the sonic differences between the M-1 and M-2; if not, drop me a line and we'll talk.
I owned a pair of the A-1s a number of years ago. Even had the B-1 bass panels for a period. They B-1s never worked right and when they were finally returned to the factory, it was discovered that one of the bass panels was wired out of phase. Even such luminaries as Jeff Rowland had been in my home and hadn't suspected that was the problem.

I now have Vandersteen 5s which I love and have no intention of replacing. But if I did, SoundLab is about the only replacement speaker I would consider. If you follow the excellent advice you are receiving in this thread you will be thrilled with any SoundLab product you buy.