Snell Acoustics .5 MK II 7.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Ed Masterson   
Tuesday, 01 July 2003

Snell Acoustics produces their entire line of loudspeakers at their factory in Massachusetts, the way nearly all manufacturers once did – by hand. It wasn’t long ago that most specialty speaker companies did just this, yet with the growing trend of manufacturing offshore, handcrafting has become less and less common. Snell still builds their own cabinets and assembles their speakers the old-fashioned way, which is the second biggest reason for their loyal consumer following.

The Snell Acoustic 7.1 speaker package being reviewed consisted of the E.5mk2 floor-standing speakers, the CR.5mk2 center channel speaker, K.5mk2 rear effects speakers, SR.5 full-range surround speakers, and the PS.10mk2 subwoofer. All totaled, this speaker package retails for a moderate $5,800. According to Snell, all of these speakers are carefully voiced to sound the same in order to work together as a complete music or movie surround system.

Snell E.5mk2
The E.5mk2 is a full-range floor-standing speaker, designed to be used either independently for two-channel playback or as part of a complete theater system. The E.5mk2 retails for $1,900 per pair and measures 42-3/8 inches in height, eight-and-one-half inches wide, 11.5 inches deep and weighs 46 pounds. Each speaker has a one-inch front-firing aluminum dome tweeter, a one-inch fabric dome rear-firing tweeter, and two six-and-one-half-inch bass drivers. Snell provides switches that allow the user to both turn the rear tweeter off and change the bass response in order to allow for the best placement of the speakers. There is also a switch that adjusts the tweeter output to compensate for bright or dark-sounding rooms. Snell specifies the frequency response of the E.5mk2’s at 37 – 20 KHz. This speaker should be an easy load for most amplifiers, with its higher than average sensitivity rating of 90dB. The ported cabinets are constructed of three-quarter-inch MDF on the front and sides and utilize double I-beam internal bracing. Two pairs of gold plated, five-way binding posts are provided for connection. The front baffle employs an additional layer of high-density fiberboard with a layer of neoprene in between. This sandwich design reduces resonance in the front baffle to improve midrange clarity. Two different finishes are available, hand-sanded, hand-oiled cherry veneer, or hand-painted black oak veneer. The grille covers are constructed of perforated, cold-rolled steel, with a black enamel finish.

Snell CR.5mk2
The CR.5mk2 center channel cabinet is constructed and finished very similarly to the E.5mk2, and is also available in hand-sanded, hand-oiled cherry veneer, or hand-painted black oak veneer. It has a retail price of $550. The CR.5mk2 uses two, five-and-one-quarter-inch bass drivers and a single one-inch aluminum dome tweeter in a sealed high-density fiberboard cabinet with the same sandwich design front baffle. The bass crossovers are designed so that one bass driver handles the low bass, while the other handles the midrange and upper bass. Snell specifies the frequency response as 70 – 20 KHz. The CR.5mkII sensitivity rating is 89dB.

Snell SR.5 Surround Speakers
The SR.5 full-range surround speakers have a sealed, high-density fiberboard cabinet and employ a modified bi-polar design. These surrounds are priced at $800 per pair. The speaker cabinets are trapezoidal in shape and measure 13.5 inches tall, six-and-three-quarters inches wide, seven-and-one-half inches deep and weigh 12 pounds each. The SR.5’s are available in a black or white painted finish only. Each speaker uses two three-and-one-half-inch high-frequency drivers and a single five-and-one-quarter-inch bass driver. Snell specifies their frequency response as 90 - 20 KHz. Snell includes a set of brackets for flush mounting to the ceiling or a wall.

Snell K.5mk2 Speakers
The K.5mk2 speakers were used as surround speakers, although they are not necessarily rear speakers. These speakers can be substituted as front main loudspeakers if you so choose for size and or budgetary reasons. The K.5mk2’s use a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a six-and-one-half-inch bass driver. Two pairs of gold-plated five-way binding posts are provided for connection. Snell specifies their frequency response at 48 – 20 KHz. The K.5mk2’s have a switch to adjust the bass response for installation on brackets, in cabinets, or on a stand.

The P.S.10mk2 Powered Subwoofer
The final speaker in the system is the P.S.10mk2 powered subwoofer. This $1,350 subwoofer has a 330-watt RMS amplifier and a custom-built 10-inch driver. The driver features a couple of unique design features. First is the unusual heat sink in the center of the speaker, where you would normally see the dust cap. This is said to help avoid overheating of the driver voice-coil during extended high volume listening sessions. The other is the double spider design, which is supposed to help reduce lateral motion of the driver and thus reduce distortion. The enclosure measures 16-1/8 inches tall, 15 inches wide, 16-1/8 inches deep, and weighs 57 pounds. The ported enclosure is constructed with three-quarter-inch MDF. Snell utilizes double H bracing to stiffen the enclosure in order to avoid cabinet resonances that can become a problem at higher volumes. The subwoofer has line-level RCA inputs, high-pass filtered line-level RCA outputs, and speaker-level inputs and outputs on five-way binding posts. For controls, the P.S.10mk2 includes auto on/off, volume control, low pass 12dB per octave crossover control from 50 to 125 Hz, and a phase switch. Snell specifies the output of the PS.10mk2 as 32 – 120Hz. The subwoofer is available in hand-painted black oak only.

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.

The Movies
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.

The Downside
The Snell theater package is not the most physically imposing system that I have played with, but mains and subwoofer are still large enough to be taken into consideration by your interior decorator. The Snell E.5mk2 speakers come up a bit short in the industrial design standpoint as compared to competitively-priced speakers from B&W and Polk. They are basically a typical box speaker, but the oiled finish gives them the look of fine furniture, which definitely will earn some points with the wife and interior designer.

If you have small children or a large dog, you may find yourself worried about the stability of these speakers. They are tall and narrow, which works well for sound-staging, but it makes them a little unstable. You will want to make sure that they are set up perfectly and or spiked thoroughly.

The SR.5 surrounds work well at modest volumes, but cannot handle as much power as the other speakers in the system. An improvement on the overall system would be a tighter match in power handling and output capability with the rest of the speaker system.

At nearly $6,000, the Snell system goes head to head with some stiff competition – Klipsch, Phase Technology, Definitive Technology are a few names that come to mind. The Snell speaker system provided me with enjoyable theater sound. Snell has done a great job with voicing these speakers to work well with one another. The subwoofer went deeper and blended better with the rest of the speakers than most that I have heard in this price class. Other than the SR.5 surrounds, this system has great dynamic range and is capable of reproducing all of the sound effects that you could throw at them.

This Snell system is fully capable of providing an enjoyable 360-degree soundstage and are best considered as a cohesive package. They do compete in an extremely competitive market segment and I don’t think the Snell system matched the midrange liquidity of some other products that I have heard in the $2,000 price range, such as the Martin Logan Aeon I’s or Revel M20 speakers. Neither the MartinLogans nor the Revels have the bass of the K.5mk2, even before you factor in the excellent Snell P.S.10mk2 subwoofer.

If you are looking for a speaker system that takes a handcrafted, American-made approach to speaker building, this system from Snell demands your attention and in-store audition. For movies and 5.1 music, the system synergy makes for an enjoyable experience that competes with, and in the bass really excels, over the competition.
Manufacturer Snell Acoustics
Model .5 MK II 7.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Ed Masterson

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