|Snell Acoustics .5 MK II 7.1 Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Ed Masterson|
|Tuesday, 01 July 2003|
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I ran the Snell speaker system along with the Aragon Stage 1 theater preamp and 2007 multi-channel amplifier, as well as with the ultra-high-end Linn Kontrol and Klimax Twin for the main speakers. Snell’s speaker adjustment features proved helpful in achieving the optimum performance of the system. In my setup, the center and rear surrounds sounded best with the bass adjustment switch set to the boundary position. The mains sounded best with the rear-firing tweeters turned on and the bass and tweeter control set to normal. My setup has the mains placed well into the room, away from front and side walls. Setting up the subwoofer proved to be the easiest that I have yet experienced. It took only a few minor adjustments to get the subwoofer to blend seamlessly with the rest of the system.
Movie soundtracks are getting better and better these days. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (Warner Home Video) is the latest DVD released in the Harry Potter series, and it is a sonic splendor. The wizardry throughout the movie provides ample opportunity for the audio engineers to wow you with surround effects. Tree climbing has always been a favorite with children, but the scene where the flying car lands in a magical “Whomping Willow” tree is sure to change that for some. In this scene, the tree is attacking the car from all directions. Big bangs, breaking glass and the angry moaning sounds of the tree filled the room. The Snell system had good dynamic range and succeeded in scaring the heck out of my kids. The team at Snell has done a great job of matching timbre in their speakers.
Later in the movie, a game of Quidditch (an airborne sport played on flying broomsticks) put this timbre matching to the test. This is one of the most intense surround effect scenes that I have ever experienced. The sound effects covered the entire frequency range, and the rears and fronts blended well, yet the transition between the bass and sub frequencies was even better – even with amateur setup skills.
Another great test of the system came when I watched “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks). The beach invasion is, in my opinion, the most gruesome war scene ever. As the boats approached the beach, the engines and people throwing up sounded real. When the door opened and the bullets started flying all around me, my natural reaction was to duck. The voices and low-level information remained intelligible, while the explosions were powerful enough to rattle my bones. I continued to be impressed by the blending of the subwoofer with the rest of the sound. I have rarely heard a subwoofer go as deep as the Snell sub and still blend so well. By the time this scene ended, I was emotionally exhausted. The Snell system did a great job of conveying the intensity and excitement of the event. In Chapter Six, the commanders discuss the status of the mission and the new orders on the table. This scene puts people and sounds of the camp everywhere around you. I could not help but notice that the voices coming from the center channel had a specific sound quality to them. This flavor seemed to depart slightly from neutral. Overall, the speaker system sounded very good and was very enjoyable, yet my impression is that the midrange was a little subdued or lacking in detail compared to the bass and treble. When compared directly to other excellent speaker systems at or above this price range, the Snell CR.5mk2 center channel could sound a little boxy.
“Minority Report” (DreamWorks), another great sci-fi thriller from Steven Spielberg, features tons of high-tech effects and thought-provoking scenarios. In Chapter Three, John (Tom Cruise), the chief of the story’s psychically driven “Pre-Crime” Unit, goes home and proceeds to talk to his automated home control system and view holographic images of his dead son. The system automatically turns on some background music and lighting. The music in this scene is made to sound like the way it would in his room. The Snells reproduced this effect with less detail than my much more expensive Revel speakers, but overall, they held their own, especially considering their price. In Chapter Eight, John walks through a mall area where all of the advertising billboards recognize him and attempt to get his attention. They do this by using his name within the advertisement. The Snell system did a good job of creating a believable sonic image all around the room – certainly a byproduct of the timbre-matching of the system.
The DVD “M.O.L.” by rockers Disturbed (Warner Reprise Video) has some very powerful performances. “Shout2000” is a remake of a Tears for Fears song in typical hard-driving Disturbed style. This is the kind of music video that I love to share with my neighbors. I started out at moderate volume, but quickly ascended to obscenely loud, thanks to the confidence inspired by the Snells. The Snell system performed best at moderate levels, but the sound started to harden a little as I approached ludicrous volume. I first noticed this hardening in the rears, followed by the center channel at the most extreme levels. In my experience, metal dome tweeters tend to emphasize any weaknesses in the high-frequency performance of the associated electronics. I would recommend being careful when combining this speaker system with inexpensive electronics, especially receivers. Looking toward smoother-sounding products from companies like NAD, Sunfire and B&K would be your best bet for silkly-smooth performance from a Snell setup.
With two-channel music, the E.5mk2’s predictably benefited from the better electronics and played louder without strain than the rest of the system. On the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (Mercury), any harshness or sign of strain were greatly diminished, no matter what electronics I chose to connect to the speakers. On Track Four, “Down To The River and Pray,” the voice of Alison Krauss was centered and set back nicely in the stage. The choral support filled in behind her. The stage filled my room, but did not extend beyond the speaker’s boundaries. Nothing jumped out or came across as overly aggressive, but the midrange lacked some of the liquidity that I have heard from some other speakers in this price range. With Track Eight, “Straight, No Chaser” from the Bush CD Razorblade Suitcase (Trauma Records), the E.5mk2’s played louder and louder without any more signs of strain than the other products that I have heard in the Snell’s price range. The guitar was rich and satisfying and the emotion in the music was well communicated, to the point where I actually started to feel depressed.