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Monday, October 17, 2011

Audiophile Speaker Review!
Westlake Lc8.1 Main/ LC8.1SW
Main L-R/Subwoofer System




Brevis...
Retail Price: Lc8.1 main/pair, $6,229;
LC8.1SW subwoofer/pair, $13,499;
Likes: tight bass, silky top-end;
Dislikes: They ain't cheap!
More info: Westlake Lc8.1


by John Gatski

Some audio components are timeless in their sonic signature and functionality. Take the Westlake Audio Lc speaker series. Continually refining these hi-fi/pro speakers since their introduction in the mid-1990s, Westlake always endeavors to make this series sound right: no bloated bass, harsh, unnatural midrange or ringing treble.
I have listened to the Lc8.1 bookshelf speakers in my home cinema system since 1996. The two-way, eight-inch woofer, 1-inch dome tweeter speaker is one of the best balanced speakers I have ever heard. Good bass to 45 Hz, excellent crossover smoothness and a natural top-end via the old school textile dome tweeter. And did I mention a heavy duty cabinet that is so well braced, you feel or hear no sound-coloring vibration — even at 90 dB plus.
The Lc8.1 has undergone a few tweaks over the years, including a special internal wiring path to eliminate what designer Glenn Phoenix calls “Phoenix Effect Distortion.” It has been mated with an absolutely divine, optional Westlake subwoofer, the Lc8.1SW, that brings bass down to 32 Hz, making a set of four speakers perfect for music — and quite satisfying even for the depths of home theater.
Recently, Westlake sent me a pair of their latest Lc8.1s and matching Lc8.1SW passive subwoofers for a long-term listening test. The idea was to see how the speakers compare in today’s 5.1 and high-resolution stereo listening worlds. I had reviewed the original system, in the late 1990s for the late, great Audio magazine.

Features
The current Lc8.1, priced at $6,229 per pair, contains a custom-designed, Westlake 8-inch woofer and a 1-inch SEAs tweeter. It also incorporates a patent-pending, wire ground system to lower what is called Phoenix Effect Distortion, a hard-to-measure audio phenomenon, Westlake President Glenn Phoenix claims, robs audio components of their last bit of accuracy.

Big band music and well-recorded pop, with good kick drum showcased the Lc8.1SW’s bass impact with authority, yet not a hint of blubbery mid-bass exaggeration or bass overhang. I don’t think you can do better in music bass reproduction than these Westlake subs.

Constructed of medium-density fiberboard, the 31-pound, front-ported enclosure is 18-inches tall, 10-inches wide, and 12-inches deep. To achieve optimum time coherence with the tweeter, the woofer portion of the front baffle is 1-inch in front of the tweeter mount. The Lc8.1 is equipped with heavy-duty binding posts for single wiring, and the attractive grill is removable. The speakers can be, optionally, magnetic shielded, and they come in a "professional" black finish or the traditional hi-fi walnut, known as the Lc8.1F.
To satisfy demand of hi-fi listeners who wanted more low-end out of a pair of Lc8.1s, Westlake engineered the passive Lc8.1SW, (now priced at $13,499) a few years after the Lc8.1 main speaker was introduced. The idea was to give the Lc8.1 more complete bass reproduction for music. Each sub contains two front-mounted, 10-inch woofers that are augmented by twin ports. The subwoofer is designed to work specifically with the Lc8.1, with its custom-designed 68 Hz crossover frequency and 12 db-per-octave slope. (I also mated the subs with some other similar-sized speakers and achieved satisfactory results).
Frequency response of the Lc8.1SW sub is rated to 36 Hz, plus or minus 3 dB (32 Hz at -4 dB in my room). When combined with the Lc8.1 main speaker, the factory rated response is a very tight 36 Hz to 18.5 kHz, within 3 dB. The Lc8.1SW subwoofer is the designated stand for each Lc8.1 main speaker. It measures 28 inches tall, 14 inches wide, and 15 inches deep. Though no amp is on board, the Lc8.1SW ain’t no lightweight; each sub weighs 100 pounds, with the custom crossover’s 17 components contributing 20 pounds to the heft. Overall, the sub/main system is 46-inches tall.
The Lc8.1SW subwoofer has bi-wiring capability with five-way binding posts for the high- and low-frequency inputs. A pair of included 10-gauge Westlake jumper cables link the two sets of posts for single wiring. A set of port plugs and a T-handle wrench to install them are included with the subs as well; the plugs are meant to be inserted into the Lc8.1 main speakers' ports to further "tighten" the bass of the system when using the subs.
The Westlake Lc8.1/Lc8.1SWs can be used for main stereo listening or used as part of a surround system for music or home cinema. For the latter, you can use the tandem for L- and R-duties, routing the LFE and low-bass to the main speakers via your processor and using matched speakers for center and surround. Another Lc8.1 or Westlake Lc265.1 center channel would make a suitably matched center channel speaker, and the Westlake Lc 4.75 speakers would work great for surround.
For music listening in stereo, the Lc8.1 system is simply amazing, it gives almost all the bass spectrum for most music — with a tight, fast bass quality and airy accurate top end that really showcases the detail.

The setup
For the home cinema 5.1 system, I connected the Lc8.1SW subs' jumpered bi-wire inputs to the left and right outputs of a three-channel Carver A-750X THX amplifier (rated at 250 watts per channel) with 12-gauge MIT speaker cables. Each subwoofer's high-pass outputs were connected to the Lc8.1 mains, located on each side of the Sony XBR4 52-inch LCD, using the supplied jumpers. Since I did not have another Lc8.1 main for a center, I used my normal center channel, the horizontal Westlake Lc265.1 (the pre Low-PE Distortion version), which is located on a stand just behind and above the LCD. This speaker has different drivers, but the timbre and output characteristic were close enough to match the Lc8.1s.
I decided to make the test system 100 percent Westlake by using my 1990s-generation, Lc8.1 mains, normally used for reference L- and R-front channels in my home cinema setup as surround speakers The rear Lc8.1 speakers were powered by a Carver A-500X stereo THX amp (using MIT cables) and positioned them against the side walls, aimed at the listening position.
I used the AudioControl Maestro M3 surround preamp as the source selector and signal output. I set the Maestro processor's main speaker selector to "large" and enabled the LFE to be mixed into the front channels, negating the need for a separate .1 subwoofer channel. I also routed the bass from the rear channels to the Lc8.1/Lc8.1SW system by selecting “small” option from the M3 setup menu.

The animated Blu-ray, Bolt, and the earthshaking soundtrack of the Terminator-Salvation BD showcased the Westlake system’s home cinema audio accuracy with a very clean bass, that is fast and natural.

My normal system uses the older Lc8.1s, the Lc265.1 (without out the Low-PE Distortion wiring), Paradigm Sub 15 subwoofer and NHT One surrounds; the powered sub measures down to 20 Hz. With my audio analyzer, the Westlake test system still measured a very good 32 Hz to 19 kHz, within 4 dB. And, I might add, pretty darn good subwoofer performance for subs that are located away from side boundaries.
The animated Blu-ray, Bolt, and the earthshaking soundtrack of the Terminator-Salvation BD showcased the Westlake system’s home cinema audio accuracy with a very clean bass, that is fast and natural. The Lc8.1 mains performance sounded a bit more energetic on the top end than my late-1990s versions; perhaps the innards of the older ones need some refreshening. Also, the Low-PE Distortion design of the of the latest models may also contribute to its enhanced treble accuracy vs the old Lc8.1s.
It should be pointed out that since the combined impedance is 2.5 ohms per channel, the system needs an amp capable of delivering at least a couple of hundred watts into at least four ohms — especially if you want to the play them clean and loud.

Audiophile finesse
I also set up the Lc8.1 mains and Lc8.1SWs in my audiophile room. The speakers were powered by a Pass Labs X-350.5, using Alpha-Core solid-silver wire. An Oppo BDP-95 universal player, a Benchmark DAC1 Pre DAC and Essential Sound Products Essence Reference power cords and power strip completed the ensemble setup. Audition music included high-res Blu-ray music, DVD-As and downloaded HD Tracks 24-bit music.
The speaker system performance was awesome! The smoothness, lack of raggedness in the crossover frequencies in the midrange and treble made these worthy speakers for listening to 24-bit music. My Gene Bertoncini nylon string guitar SACDs sounded wonderfully live. Big band music and well-recorded pop, with good kick drum showcased the Lc8.1SW’s bass impact with authority, yet not a hint of blubbery mid-bass exaggeration or bass overhang. I don’t think you can do better in music bass reproduction than these Westlake subs.

The Westlake Lc8.1 speaker system is not cheap in price or in build. This handcrafted-in-USA quartet will set you back about $20,000 grand. But if you are looking into high-end speakers, this modular approach is one way to get that high-end sound reproduction.

Other than the subwoofer lacking internal power, and the fact that the subwoofers have to be co-located with the main speakers, there really are no serious negatives with these speakers. By the way, I tried other speakers with the subs, including Legacy Studio HDs (the new ones) and the Lipinski L-505s, a dual 5-inch woofer, one-inch dome tweeter, a speaker that has relative little low bass below 70 Hz. The Westlake subs made the Lipinskis come alive, giving them a much-needed shot of 40 Hz-50 Hz bass to match their smooth midrange and treble.
The Westlake Lc8.1 speaker system is not cheap in price or in build. This handcrafted-in-USA quartet will set you back about $20,000 grand. But if you are looking into high-end speakers, this modular approach is one way to get that high-end sound reproduction.

The verdict
If you have almost $20,000 cash to spend on a high-end speaker system, I totally recommend the Westlake Lc8.1/Lc8.1SW system. You get tight, snappy, but fairly deep bass performance and that smooth, detailed, accurate airiness that Westlakes are noted for. They work splendidly for dedicated stereo listening, and handle all but the deepest subsonic bass of a home cinema system. Anyway you set them up, they get an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

©All original articles on this site are the intellectual property of the Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Personal Audio Review!
Shure SRH940 Headphone:
All-Round Sonic Accuracy
For Audiophiles, Professionals







Brevis...
Base Price: $375 retail;
Likes: bass and treble response, comfort;
Dislikes: Nothing major;
More info: Shure SRH940


by John Gatski


**Shure has been making really good headphones for a couple of years. I own the closed-back SRH840 and use it quite a bit for listening to portable 24-bit players, as well as various home recording studio and audiophile playback devices. However, Shure has significantly upped the accuracy in its new SRH940 flagship headphone.
**Priced at a very reasonable $375 retail ($299 on the street), the SRH940 is Shure’s top-of-the-line headphone and sports premium touches, including audiophile-quality, detachable coiled cable, an extra straight, non-coiled cable, replacement airpads and a handy carrying case. Designed for professional audio engineers, SRH940 is also ideal for audiophiles who desire a headphone that provides accurate response across the entire audio spectrum with smooth high-end extension and — unlike most headphones today — a tight bass.

Features
**The made-in-China SRH940 sports 40-mm neodymium drivers, open-back design with polycarbonate frames, and soft, user-replaceable ear pads. The headphone, minus the cable, weights in at light 11 Oz. Factory specs are 5 Hz to 30 kHz, no tolerance listed; sensitivity is rated at 100 dB at 1 mW at 1 kHz; impedance is 42 ohms at 1 kHz.

Comfort/convenience
**The SRH940 feels light enough, and its adjustable arms make it easy to accommodate different head sizes. The pad’s ear pressure is light and isolation is decent for a closed-back design; this makes them a good choice for pros who work in noisy environments. I did hear a little outside-the-earcup mechanical noise from the ear-piece hinges when moving my head about, but that is typical of headphones with the solid bands and ear-cup hinges. With the head motionless, it is mechanically quiet.
**Shure has equipped the SRH940 with such niceties as the extra ear pads, the extra cord the 1/8-inch-to-1/4-inch adaptor and the carrying case. All in all, a nice package and a lot lower in price than I thought it would be.

The audition
**I sampled the SRH940 with several sources that output 24-bit audio, including an Oppo BDP-95 universal player connected to my Benchmark DAC1 Pre DAC/headphone amp, Sony PCM-D1 handheld 24-bit Flash recorder/player, TASCAM DR-100 handheld Flash recorder/player, Audio by Van Alstine EC tube/FET preamp headphone amp, Rogue Audio Model 99 tube preamp headphone amp and an 1990s-era USA-made Mackie 1402 analog mixer. Intra-component connection was made via Alpha-Core Goertz solid-silver interconnects, and all components were fed AC through Essential Sound Products Essence power cables and power strip to keep the juice extra clean.
**All sources were 24-bit and included prerecorded DVD-As, SACDS, hi-res downloads from HD Tracks, and personal recordings of stereo acoustic and jazz guitar mixes. For comparison, I listened to AKG K702 open-back phones ($799 list), the SRH940‘s little brother, Shure SRH840, Sony’s venerable MDR-7509, and some older Ultrasones.


The Shure SRH940 delivers a refreshing shot of bass clarity in the thumpity-thump world of today’s pop music.

**I first listened to "Out On The Weekend," the first cut from the DVD-A 24/96 version of Neil Young - Harvest. The Oppo ’95 fed the 24-bit audio to the Benchmark DAC1 Pre. The intro of the acoustic guitar, bass and drums in 24-bit offers clean, transient detail and slight bits of reverb out on the edges of the drum beat. Good speakers and headphones transmit these sonics with subtle precision, The SRH940 did as well, conveying an openness in the top-end that allowed me to hear those subtle audio cues. Hence, the image was detailed and wide. I can see why the pros would use this headphone to accurately check their mixes and for full-up headphone monitoring. Also, I quickly noticed from the outset of the test that the Shure has tuned this headphone for bass accuracy with a much tighter, focused midbass versus many popular ‘phones available today.
**I played a number of other cuts of acoustic music, especially guitar and string-based bluegrass and country music. The delivered sound always had the focus on the detail; I could hear things clearly that other headphones mask in their enhanced midbass or midrange. The accuracy and clean transparency also made for extensive, enjoyable listening sessions on jazz and classical genres. Violin and cello tones were especially good.



**Moving on to midbass-heavy pop music, the Shure’s bass tightness actually enhances the headphone listening experience on this kind of music. Most headphones today, tune the headphones to have extra dBs of midbass in the 120 to 200 Hz region. And when you play music that has been EQ’d and enhanced in those frequencies through the aforementioned bass-emphasized headphones, the sound becomes bloated and muddy, losing clarity and diminishing midrange and treble. The Shure SRH940 delivers a refreshing shot of bass clarity in the thumpity-thump world of today’s pop music. On some music, old 60s and 70s pop, I did notice that midbass was a little too lean, but overall, I still prefer the 940‘s tightened-up bass to a headphone that pumps up the low-end too much.
**Versus the Shure’s SRH840, the top-end and midrange were, generally, similar, but the SRH840 has a bit of enhanced bass boost and some midrange boost versus the '940. The AKG K702 has a similar top-end to the Shure, but with just a tinge more midbass and image width. The AKG also is a bigger headphone with a very cushy ride on the ears, but it costs way more than double the Shure SRH940.
**These aforementioned sonic characteristics held through all the sources that powered the SRH940. The handheld players, of course, offered a bit less detail than the high-end rack sources and standalone DACs, but I was pleased how my TASCAM DR-100 and Sony PCM-D1 portables mated with the SRH940. In fact, I used the headphone numerous times when making live acoustic guitar recordings with these handhelds.
**As mentioned, my only quibbles were the mechanical noise I heard when moving my head and that bit of leanness in the midbass on some music, like big band and jazz and older pop. Otherwise, this headphone is spot on.

The verdict
**I really like the new Shure SRH940; the headphone offers a much-welcomed tight bass, airy top-end and wide, detailed soundstage — coupled with a comfortable wear factor. For picky audiophiles and studio pros who like their audio (especially the bass) on the accurate side of the boom scale, the SRH940 is just right.
**Combine its performance with a nice set of accessories and an under $300 street price and you got yourself a winner! The SRH-940 certainly gets an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award in my book.

©All original articles on this site are the intellectual property of the Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.



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