Sound Lab makes what we believe to be the finest full-range electrostatic loudspeakers in the world. They use the thinnest diaphragm and hence have the best articulation, they give true deep bass response and have superb bass pitch definition, and have the most intelligent radiation pattern; which results in very natural timbre and tonal balance. At what they do well, Sound Labs are truly world-class.
One of the key differences between live music and reproduced music is that a loudspeaker's radiation pattern varies with frequency - an inevitable result of driver beaming. So the direct and reverberant fields have different tonal balances. Your ears derive timbre from not only the direct sound, but also from the reflections arriving within the first 13 or so milliseconds. Usually this reverberant field has a significantly different tonal quality from the direct sound. For example, imagine you are walking down the street in the French Quarter. As you go past a nightclub, you hear saxophone music coming out the open door. You can instantly tell if it is live or not. Note that through the doorway all you are hearing is the reverberant field response.
The faceted-curve geometry of Roger West's speakers preserve the same radiation pattern all the way up the frequency range, so the reverberant field sounds the same as the on-axis response. Let me explain: A dipole will naturally have a figure-8 radiation pattern in the bass. Now a wide, flat panel would start to beam in the midrange, but by using a broad, curved diaphragm Sound Labs radiate over a constant 90-degree arc (in the case of the A-1, M-1 and Ultimate 1) all the way up the frequency range. Thus, the figure-8 radiation pattern of the bass is preserved throughout the frequency spectrum. With Sound Labs, you can walk into the next room (leaving the door open) and there will be a convincing illusion that live music is happening back in there. In the listening room, the sound will be wonderfully relaxing and natural, and the speakers will sound good literally from anywhere in the room (though of course soundstaging is best in the traditional sweet spot).
A faceted curve has a distinct advantage over a continuous curve. A continuously-curved diaphragm, as used by at least one major manufacturer of electrostatics, is essentially a vertical section of an expanding cylinder. As the diaphragm moves forward, it also gets expanded, or tensioned. As it moves back, it gets relaxed. The mechanical stress of this calls for a much stronger diaphragm, and unfortunately stronger means thicker, and thicker means less articulate. Sound Labs use flat facets with an extremely thin diaphragm (.0001"; compared to 4 to 20 times heavier in competing speakers). The individual facets are angled by just a few degrees relative to each other, so there is no detectable audible beaming.
Sound Labs do have a couple of limitations - they are not very efficient, and are a fairly difficult load. Recent improvements have helped a lot, but they are still fairly demanding of associated amplification. Fortunately there are quite a few high-quality amps which can drive them well including Atmosphere and Parasound. We have more or less specialized in amplifiers that work especially well with Sound Labs.
The new narrow-pattern Majestic and M-1PX offer higher efficiency and better dynamics than the wide-pattern models, though at the expense of some sweet spot width. Which type is right for you depends on your listening style and, to a certain extent, your room.
If your taste is toward very loud listening, Sound Labs may not be the best choice for you, or if so then your amplifier choices are narrowed considerably. On the other hand, if you sometimes like to listen late at night but have to keep the volume down, Sound Labs will thrill you with their nuance and articulation, allowing you to hear everything going on even at quite low listening levels.
AudioKinesisis an authorized Sound Lab dealer.
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