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Monday, March 21, 2011

Audiophile Review!
Legacy Audio Classic HD
Ribbon Tweeter Loudspeaker


Brevis...
Price: $4,350
Likes: tight bass, extended treble, build quality
Dislikes: zip!
More info: Legacy Audio


by John Gatski

I listened to a pair of Legacy Classic IIs for many years. thoroughly enjoying the 1990s-era, mid-sized tower — with its array of drivers (including a ribbon super tweeter and a rear-mounted “ambiance” tweeter). And a pair cost $2,700 bucks — direct from the factory. I eventually switched over to the larger Focus 20/20s to get sub-20 Hz bass, but always kept the Classic IIs around for comparison.
Priced at $4,350, the new Classic HD reviewed here has a lot to live up to in order to uphold the Classic name, but its sonic signature has evolved. Sure, the footprint is similar, and the exquisite, hand-crafted cabinet build is still part of the newer Classic HD identity, but the performance has been enhanced. Whereas the old version was a great performer with the right gear, the new version is compatible with more hi-fi and home cinema components in various acoustic spaces.

Features
The three-way Legacy Classics feature a custom-spec’d, folded-ribbon tweeter. This 1-inch dual-pole neodymium ribbon driver is designed with a folded Kapton diaphragm that extends high-frequency response with lower distortion and high-power handling. It operates from 4 kHz to 30 kHz. The old Classic II used three tweeters (a 4-inch ribbon, a 1-inch dome tweeter and a switchable 1-inch rear-ambiance tweeter) to deliver the treble.

“On all kinds of music, the treble/midrange balance was perfect. In comparison to the old Classics, the treble frequencies sounded slightly more forward, but in reality the instruments with ample high-frequency content sounded more accurate with the HDs.”

The Legacy-designed 7-inch midwoofer/midrange driver handles the frequencies from 450 Hz to 4 kHz. This midbass/midrange driver is constructed with a Rohacell-backed frame with silver/graphite reinforced weave. The neodymium magnet “concentrates the magnetic field in the voice coil gap,” according to Legacy, “the result is an ultra-smooth response with incredible dynamics.”
The twin 8-inch bass drivers, also Rohacell reinforced, enable bass down to a claimed 32 Hz with the help of two rear ports. The Classic IIs had two 10-inch bass drivers augmented by cabinet ports, and its bass response was rated to 22 Hz. Legacy President/Designer Bill Dudleston said that although the old Classic had a bit more deep bass, the Classic HD still has plenty of bass for music. My listening tests indeed confirmed that the speaker has great bass performance (Read more in the In-use section).
Like the Classic II, the Classic HD has a busy speaker connector bay on the rear-panel bottom. It includes a bass-compensation switch for locating the speakers near boundaries (side walls, back walls) and softening the top end in bright rooms. The Bass Trim button reduces the bass response at 60 Hz by 2 dB, and the Treble Trim reduces 2 dB at 10 kHz .


The speaker connectors on the new Classics are much better spaced to allow for larger spade cables; the old Classic’s speaker connectors were difficult to plug in with large spades; I always used banana plugs. But the Classic HD has plenty of space for big spade lugs — even for bi-wiring. I easily hooked up my Westlake Low-PE Distortion bi-wire cables, with their long, stiff, end sections that are hard to flex. The old speakers could not handle them at all.
As with all Legacy speakers, the cabinet construction is first rate with stiff, heavily braced cabinets with exquisite finishes. My test pair had a very attractive rosewood finish. The grills are magnet-attached, and unlike the Classic II, the HD is designed to be played with the grills on.
Spec-wise, the factory measured frequency response is listed at 32 Hz to 30 kHz, plus or minus 2 dB. In my room with speakers away from the wall, I measured a solid 36 Hz with only a -1.5 dB variance from the 1 kHz reference tone. The test tones and measurements were made via an AudioControl 3050 RTA.
Other specs include speaker impedance, 4 ohms; and sensitivity, at 1-watt/1 meter, 94 dB, which is 2 dB louder than the Classic II. Power handling is 400 watts RMS. The speaker measures 44-inches tall, 10.75-inches wide and 13-inches from front to back. The weight is a manageable 100 pounds each.

Direct-order specialty
Just to remind readers, Legacy Audio has sold direct to customers since the 1990s. Today, it has a limited number of dealers, but in this time of fewer hi-fi salon dealers, Legacy has more than 25 years of direct sales experience and service. Their generous try-it/buy-it policy allows a 30-day trial (held on your credit card). If you don’t like ‘em, Legacy will pick them up (the customer foots the return shipping).
According to Legacy, 98 percent of customers keep the speakers they order. Having tested half-a-dozen Legacy products over the years, I believe they are some of the best high-end-hi-fi speakers manufactured in the U.S. The Focus 20-20s are still used as part of my reference system.

The set up
I matched the Legacy Classic HDs with a number of amplifiers, including a Pass Labs 350-wpc MOSFET output, Bryston 14B 600-wpc bipolar output, First Watt F3 (7-wpc channel single-ended JFET output (also designed by Nelson Pass) and an original mid-1960s Macintosh MC275 stereo tube amp.
I connected the Classic HDs to the amps — with Alpha Core solid-silver (uni-wire) or Westlake Low-PE bi-wire cables. They sounded really good with either cable.
Preamps included the Legacy/Coda Preamp and Rogue Audio Model 99 Magnum tube preamp. Music playback sources included: Esoteric DV-50 universal player, Oppo BDP-83SE universal player, Benchmark Dac1PRE and Lavry DA10 D/A converters, and a Rotel RP-950 turntable wired with a AT-150ML cartridge.
All line components were connected with Alpha-Core solid-silver interconnects. The source and preamp components were AC connected via Essential Sound Products Essence power cords and power strip. Other speakers I had on hand for comparison included the Legacy Classic IIs, Legacy Focus 20-20s, the new Legacy Studios HDs and a set of Westlake LC 8.1s.

The audition
I placed the Legacy Classic HD speakers in my listening room about eight feet apart, angled in a few degrees. They were about three feet from the side walls. I listened to them with the grills on and off, but ultimately preferring to leave them on.
Having tested the two-way Legacy Studio HDs, I was familiar with the new Legacy sound — with its upgraded ribbon tweeter and silver-graphite bass/mid-driver. Those drivers are essentially the same as in the new Classic HDs.
I popped in the 24-bit/96 kHz Lawrence JuberGuitar Noir DVD-A (AIX Records) and sat down to listen. The first thing I noticed was transient response — very tight, and clear. Mr. Juber’s intricate picking was projected in a wide, detailed soundstage — with the 24-bit recorded guitar overtones clearly evident.
I played a number of jazz recordings from the Oppo ‘83SE via the Benchmark DAC1 Pre (analog input), including the DMP-produced Steve DavisQuality of Your Silence. In my listening room, this late 1990s DSD recording was relayed with a tighter, faster bass response than the Classic II. The Classic HD’s smaller bass drivers and a retuned cabinet makes the bass more realistic — like an accurate studio monitor. Even moved closer to the side walls, the midbass does not get flabby like the old Classics did.
On all kinds of music, the treble/midrange balance was perfect. In comparison to the old Classics, the treble frequencies sounded slightly more forward, but in reality the instruments with ample high-frequency content sounded more accurate with the HDs.
On drum and cymbals tracks, I noticed that the Classic IIs three tweeters (including the rear ambiance tweeter) added a bit more sense of space, compared to the new HDs. But I would gladly trade the Classic II’s extra air projection for the accuracy and balance of the Classic HDs.

“The Bryston 14B-SST, a really terrific-sounding, high-power bipolar amplifier (very neutral), showed its lack of color through the Classic HDs — with deep bass, pristine highs and a lack of harshness of other bipolar amps.”

I played some of my own home brew acoustic guitar and jazz guitar recordings. Again, the balanced accuracy and imaging were first rate with excellent transient response. A lot of detail in the upper midrange and low treble. On the Wes MontgomeryFull House audiophile LP, the cymbals sounded quite dimensional with that old analog tape signature.
A big portion of the Classic HD’s character is attributed to the standalone ribbon tweeter; it is not as mellow as the old Classic; it has more energy in the treble — without exaggeration. Legacy’s Bill Dudleston said that this ribbon driver costs more than other high-frequency drivers considered for the Classic HD, but its performance was worth it.
I agree. A combination of ultra-flat treble and fast transient response attributes with the tighter bass, and you have a hi-fi speaker that can work for audiophiles as well as home cinema. If combined with its sister center channel, the Silverscreen, and a set of Studios HDs for the rear (and Legacy subwoofer if you wish), you will have some serious multichannel sound.
Most of my subjective listening was done with the Pass X350.5 amplifier. But other amps matched well with the Classic HDs, too. The Pass Labs all-class A, XA-30 amp provided plenty of power for the Legacy tandem — with just a tinge of more warmness in the treble and midrange.
The Bryston 14B-SST, a really terrific-sounding, high-power bipolar amplifier (very neutral), showed its lack of color through the Classic HDs — with deep bass, pristine highs and a lack of harshness of other bipolar amps. Acoustic guitar sounded great with this combo as well.
Even my old Mac Mc275 sounded pretty good through the HDs, a term I never used when powering the old Classics. The Classic II was not the ideal speaker for traditional tube amps, such as the Mac. Midbass could be a bit mushy, depending on the music and the amp. The new Classic HDs have no such problem. They sounded good with the old Mac; bass was warm, but not overly so. And the old amp’s more-reserved high-end response matched well with the HD’s tweeter.
Powered by single-ended solid-state, JFET output First Watt F3, the modest 14 watt amp drove the Classic HD’s to fairly loud levels with ample, but tight bass and open top-end. Though Pass recommends 8 ohm nominal speaker load, the 4-ohm Classic HDs were sensitive enough to play moderately loud (92 dB or so) in a medium sized room.
Did I have any criticism of the Classic HD? There are some kinds of music that sound a bit dense in the treble. Highly processed modern pop music — with peaky high-midrange/low-treble enhancement — sometimes sounds edgier than the old Classics. The higher crossover may contribute to that slight edginess as well, allowing the midrange driver to work significantly higher in the frequency range than a two-way, like the Studio HD. However, since I mostly listen to high-resolution acoustic, jazz and classical music, I only noticed the treble edge on the really midrange/treble focused pop, dance music. Plus, you can use the treble switch to knock it down 2 dB.

The verdict
The Legacy Classic HD is a speaker that has shifted away a bit from its forbearers, but in a good way. The tightening of the bass and the ribbon tweeter frequency extension/finesse make for an audiophile tower speaker that fits well-recorded music. CD, high-resolution 24-bit PCM and DSD-based music are reproduced with great clarity in these speakers.
If you have the space, the classic HDs can also work as L-R speakers for home cinema or multichannel music setup. Just add the timber-matched Legacy center channel, some surrounds and a sub.
Although its priced in the audiophile league (you gotta pay for USA-design and manufacture), the Classic HDs are so well designed that you are likely to keep them for years. I have no doubts that the Classic HD — by virtue of its size, performance and price — will be one of Legacy’s most popular speakers. Stellar Sound Award recommended!

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