|Final 0.3 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Tuesday, 01 May 2001|
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While the speakers sounded fine as soon as I hooked them up, they continued to improve as they were broken in over the next few days. I listened to the Final 0.3's on their own, as well as with the two subwoofers mentioned above. Martin Logan Scenarios ($1,995 per pair) and Ascents ($4,000 per pair) were kept handy for comparison purposes. While the Final 0.3 is closer to the Aerius, which is one model step above the Scenario, I did not have a pair of Aerius’s on hand for comparison.
While listening to the Final 0.3's, I revisited much of the music used in my review of the Conrad Johnson MF2500 power amplifier. One of the first discs I reached for is a favorite jazz album of mine, Bill Berry's For Duke (Realtime Records). This instrumental album is extremely well recorded and demonstrated the Final 0.3's soundstaging abilities. My initial impression was that the Final 0.3’s had more height in their soundstage and a slightly fuller body than the Scenarios. I confirmed this with another jazz album I have been listening to recently, Fourplay's Between the Sheets (Warner Bros.). Chaka Khan is a guest vocalist on this album and her voice had more body through the Final 0.3's than through the Scenarios. Overall, I found the sound of the Final 0.3's, from the midrange up, to resemble the Martin Logan Ascents more than the Scenarios.
I wanted to give the lower midrange a thorough evaluation, so I listened to Robbie Robertson's self-titled album (Mobile Fidelity) and Enya’s Watermark album (Warner Bros.). The transition between the dynamic woofer and electrostatic panel is very difficult to do well. I was impressed by the Final 0.3's smooth and unexpectedly good transition between transducers. I felt that the transition was smoother on the Final 0.3's than on the Scenarios. In my opinion, this is due to two things. The Final 0.3’s have a significantly larger panel area than the Scenarios do, which allows the Finals to be crossed over lower. The Final 0.3's also have a metal alloy seven-inch driver, instead of the eight-inch driver in the Scenarios. The smaller metal cone driver has characteristics similar to the electrostatic panel, allowing for a smoother transition.
The Finals continued to provide a large soundstage and full body without any sacrifice to clarity throughout both albums. First, I listened to the Finals with a subwoofer. I then came back and played these albums again without a subwoofer. The Finals’ low end was not extended in the manner of the Scenarios. On both the Robbie Robertson album and the Enya album, especially on the track "The Longships," the woofer on the Finals bottomed out at louder listening volumes.
The louder listening volumes also brought another detail to my attention. The Final is not an easy speaker for an amplifier to drive. Electrostatics are known for being hard on amplifiers and one can see why this is so with the Finals. I would recommend using an amplifier of not less than 200 watts per channel. I used a 240-watt-per-channel Conrad Johnson, which never broke a sweat powering the Finals. When I used a 125-watt-per-channel B&K amplifier, I immediately detected compression at anything above moderate listening levels. I also tried a 200-watt-per-channel Adcom amplifier, which provided sufficient power to drive the Finals without strain. I was easily able to discern the differences between the amplifiers at all listening levels. I hope my Finals stay around for a while as review samples, as they are quite good for evaluating amplifiers. The Final loudspeakers are tremendously revealing and will benefit from the best electronics and hearty amplification.
With their great amount of detail and large solid soundstage, I found that the Final 0.3’s provided a very exciting listening experience. These speakers encouraged me to bring out stacks of CDs that I had not heard in quite some time. On Don McLean’s American Pie (Mobile Fidelity), I found the title track to aptly demonstrate the Finals’ strengths, as did "Fever" on Elvis' Elvis Is Back (DCC Compact Classics). On both tracks, the male voice was portrayed with great tonal accuracy and a sense of weight to create the impression that I was listening to a live performance rather than a stereo system in my house.
This sense of realism was slightly diminished when I listened to more raucous music at higher listening levels, especially with amplifiers other than the Conrad Johnson or without a subwoofer. For example, Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (Warner Brothers) opens up with "Poundcake," which one must play at arena rock levels. The Final’s, being driven by the B&K 125 watt per channel, did just fine with the Eddie Van Halen opening power drill trickery, but when the full power guitars and drums kicked in, it sounded as if the Finals were being held back. These speakers need some serious power behind them in order to do rock ‘n’ roll. The Final 0.3's lack of low end also becomes apparent with dynamic rock passages. While the woofers did not bottom out as much as they did on the Enya album, a subwoofer was missed when not in the loop.
With that said, the Final 0.3's can still be fulfilling without the megabucks amplifier and subwoofer. As I began to write this review, I was playing Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms (Warner Brothers) at fairly low to moderate listening levels. The low-end impact was missing from the "Money For Nothing" intro, but the song remained engaging due to everything else this speaker does right. On "Your Latest Trick," the Final 0.3's continued to impress me with their pinpoint imaging and fullness. I stopped writing and listened to the rest of the album, thoroughly enjoying every minute.
The Final 0.3's are not without fault, as should be expected with an electrostatic loudspeaker. For the Finals to do their best, it is imperative that they be driven by high-quality electronics, especially the amplifier. I recommend not less than 200 watts per channel of good amplification. A good deal of physical experimentation in positioning is required with these speakers. It may be time-consuming, but trust me, the payoff is well worth it. The sonic qualities of the speakers are phenomenal for electrostatic speakers this size once they are properly positioned. The major shortcoming of the Final 0.3 is their lack of bass. The transition between the woofer and electrostatic panel is very smooth, but this is done at the expense of low-end extension. I would recommend experimentation with a high-quality subwoofer such as the new Paradigm 10 inch, the Sunfire True Sub Jr and the least expensive Monitor Audio subwoofer and perhaps even filtering out the lowest frequencies from the Final 0.3's to prevent the woofers from bottoming out.
If Final’s first American speaker is indicative of things to come, I would say they will do very well. Not only do the 0.3's look stunning, they sound great. If you have the room and the inclination to set them up properly, they can easily compete with other electrostatics on the market. They have a different sound than their main competitor, Martin Logan, especially through the lower midrange. The comparison is akin to tube versus solid state, with the Finals being the tubes, slightly fuller as compared to analytical. That is not to say the Finals are soft and will hide faults in your equipment – this is not the case at all. Indeed, I recommend using the best equipment with them, as they will greatly benefit from it. The Final 0.3's, when properly set up and driven by good electronics, sound magical. I highly recommend that you give them a listen.