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  Soliloquy 6.5 Loudspeaker

      Date posted: March 24, 2002

Soliloquy 6.5 in Maple

Sugg. Retail: US $6399.00
9″ W x 53″ H x 13″ D
Soliloquy Loudspeaker Company
2609 Discovery Drive, Suite 105 Building A
Raleigh, NC 27616 U.S.A.
www.solspeak.com

(An AIG Online Exclusive)

      North Carolina based Soliloquy, which has been gaining attention for impressive sound and luxurious build quality over the past several years, has recently capped off the top of their range with a new speaker. A heavyweight in the literal sense, clocking in at 130 lbs per channel, the new 6.5 is Soliloquy’s attempt at taking their high value approach significantly up-market, creating a speaker they hope will duke it out successfully with established contenders costing far more.

     Glancing across the spec sheet quickly reveals that the folks at Soliloquy, most notably designer Phil Jones (formerly of Acoustic Energy, Boston Acoustics and Platinum Audio), are taking their assault on high-end speakerdom most seriously indeed. The 6.5 is by no means inexpensive, but a glance at the spec sheet, much less the speaker itself, quickly dispels any notion of cheapness in its construction or design. In fact, considering its 53″ height, the materials involved, and the superb quality of the finish, it’s easy to get the impression that the 6.5 is very attractively priced before you’ve even heard a note of music through it.

     The 6.5 is nothing if not substantial. Its tall but narrow cabinet is constructed of 1 inch widths of MDF on the sides and a mighty 1.5 inches on the baffle. Inside the cabinet the 6.5 uses what Soliloquy calls “window-pane” bracing with 1 inch thick frames of MDF adding extra rigidity to the cabinet. The woofer and mid/tweeter sections of the speaker are also separated internally, and, while a groove cut into the exterior of the cabinet between the two sections suggests otherwise, this is a one-piece box. Soliloquy did, apparently, consider a two-box system. In the end, however, they felt that the much increased cost and complexity of such an approach (ie. external jumpers, extra biding posts, docking mechanism etc.) would not yield commensurate gains in performance. My samples were in a lovely rosewood but the speaker is also available in curly maple and British cherry.

     Soliloquy says that the 6.5 is designed from “the driver up” and this, naturally, includes the drivers which are designed by Phil Jones himself and made in his AAD factory in the orient (Soliloquy is the importer/distributor of AAD speakers in North America). In this sense a medium sized company like Soliloquy is able to exploit many of the same advantages enjoyed by larger companies capable of making their own drivers and other components in house. Again, this helps keep costs down, but it also frees the designer from constraints and compromises involved in trying to package often disparate, out-sourced components into a design they were never specifically intended for. Since successful speaker design is basically good synergy of drivers, crossover and box, this is no small advantage.

     Mated to the 6.5’s big box is a silk dome tweeter with an edge wound aluminum voice coil, a 2″ doped paper midrange dome, and three 6.5 inch polyfiber woofers, all of which are magnetically shielded. The trio of woofers is set up in what Soliloquy calls a “staggered network array in which only the uppermost woofer hands over to the midrange while the middle one crosses out an octave lower, and the lowest one crosses out 2 octaves lower.” This helps reduce “midbass heaviness”, they say, eliminating much of the overlap between drivers. More interesting, perhaps, is what the drivers are mounted on. These so-called “wave-launch” plates are 3/8″ and 1/4″ thick slabs of machined aluminum designed to decouple the drivers from the cabinet and thereby minimize unwanted box resonance, making the cabinet as sonically invisible as possible. If you ask me, they look pretty darn cool to boot and come in black or silver.

     Around back are two pairs of very robust, well spaced binding posts, and a large, flared port. Adding to the speaker’s substantial weight and rigidity is the 1/8″ solid steel plate at bottom which protrudes beyond the speaker’s corners and features threaded holes for Soliloquy’s absolutely fantastic spikes. While some may quibble about the way it looks, this outboard spike design is utterly brilliant from a practical standpoint, giving the speaker not only the added stability of a larger footprint, but allowing the big, beefy spikes to be mounted and adjusted without having to tilt or lift the speaker. Ok, I admit, to get the threads started on the spikes you do need to do a small amount of tilting, but once they’re in you can just crank the knobs and watch the speaker lift off the ground. Subtle adjustments to get everything solid and level are an absolute breeze, requiring just a few twists of the appropriate knob at the top of each spike. Believe me, when you’re trying to spike a 130 pound speaker and there’s no one around to lend a hand, this is a serious design benefit, one which carries through the entire Soliloquy line.

For Those About to Rock

      I started out placing the already broken-in Soliloquys around 3 feet out from the short wall of my roughly 20 x 14 listening/living room. The speakers were around seven feet apart and my listening chair just over 10 feet away, basically mimicking the positions of my resident Energy V 1.8’s. I also started out listening with my own gear, driving the 6.5’s with my Musical Fidelity A3CR amp and preamp through Wireworld Orbit speaker cable in bi-wire mode.

      What I heard, right off the bat, was impressive sound with a number of standout characteristics. First and foremost, I could hear that all the effort that Soliloquy had put into controlling box resonance was paying off handsomely. The combination of the cabinet’s heft and bracing and the wavelaunch plates made for a speaker with great tactility and lightning fast decay. Once a string was plucked, a drum struck, a bow lifted, the sound dissipated in an extremely natural way; very quickly but always in proportion to what the recording’s acoustic demanded. If the sound was dry, as is the case on most studio recordings, the 6.5’s were crisper than fresh iceberg lettuce, making for a very lively, punchy sound.

Soliloquy 6.5

     Superb resonance control and the high quality drivers probably had a lot to do with the 6.5’s excellent rendering of massed strings and voices. In fact, on complex, densely layered material in general the Soliloquys really shone, pulling apart tightly interwoven musical lines as discrete entities and thereby making it easier to “get inside” the music. My notes are peppered with references to great string sound, both in terms of delineation and “rosin on the bow” detail, which combined with prodigious dynamic capabilities and world class bass (both subjects I’ll be getting to in more detail below) will make the 6.5 a great match for fans of large scale orchestral works.

     In their initial positions the 6.5’s were making very good bass. Control and damping were so good that the big Soliloquys quickly dispelled my concerns that they might overwhelm the room. Instead they sounded rolled off on the very bottom and perhaps even a little over-damped. Finding it very hard to believe that a speaker this large wasn’t going to give me serious bass right down to the 20hz region I decided it was high time to start moving em’ around. Once I had moved them about six inches closer to the front wall the bottom octave fleshed itself out very nicely and the speaker’s overall balance improved substantially.

     The added weight, slam and authority were not only intoxicating, but suspiciously concurrent with the emergence of my inner teenager. How did I know? No, my face didn’t break out, nor did my voice begin to crack, and I didn’t indulge in any prolonged bouts of confused sulking, but I was struck by a long dormant, but undeniable urge to play Pink Floyd’s The Wall, really, really loud. I pretty much OD’d on this record as a teenager and don’t revisit much (if ever) but I did have the foresight a few years back to burn some of the best tracks from a friend’s much coveted, very expensive British EMI import remaster (I believe that the current available crop of Floyd remasters are basically the same discs, but much cheaper).

     Listening to my old 80’s Columbia CDs of this album I never fully realized how well engineered it is, all of Roger Waters’ angst, anger and anguish coming through with visceral clarity and impact in the EMI version. The clean, crisp delivery of the 6.5’s remained in full evidence but getting them a little closer to the back wall had really upped the ante on the speaker’s bottom end slam. And my oh my, the drums! Feed this speaker some well recorded drums and you’ll ready to “run like hell” in no time. And here is as good a place as any to get into the 6.5’s dynamic capabilities, which, as an inevitable correlative of killer kick drum reproduction, were top notch. While wallowing in teenage abandon I played a whole whack of loud rock in addition to the Floyd, reveling in the Soliloquy’s ability to convey all the nuance and subtlety of crunching, wailing, multi-tracked guitars (a la Weezer). Again, if you like it big, clean and loud, the 6.5’s will deliver in any genre of music.

     Yes indeed, I was impressed and definitely enjoying my time with the speakers. I did have a few misgivings, however. The Soliloquy is definitely a high resolution speaker, as any speaker in this price range should be. In the top end especially there is a wealth of detail on offer, which, when listening on axis, I found to be a little too much of a good thing. Firing the speakers a little more straight ahead (not to mention moving them back a few inches as previously noted) helped considerably. Moving my listening chair back a little further (closer to 12 feet) helped too, but I still found the speaker a little aggressive on top, although better sonically integrated after the position changes. Perhaps the already lively sounding Musical Fidelity A3CR was just a little too hyper for this speaker?

     With this in mind I asked the folks at Soliloquy what amps they felt suited the 6.5 best. Their answer came in the form of a cardboard box containing the Marsh Sound Design A-400S stereo amplifier, which, it just so happens, Soliloquy is distributing in North America. (You can read my full review of this amp, and matching preamp, elsewhere in this issue) Now it may appear to you, as it did to me, that Soliloquy might have sent me this amp more because they were selling it than because of its synergy with the 6.5s. What are the chances that they just happen to distribute the perfect matching amp for this speaker? Such cynicism and skepticism! How jaded I’ve become! Well folks I’m here to restore your childlike trust. I’m happy to report that the Marsh A-400S might as well have been made for this speaker and, after hearing it drive the 6.5s, I’m not the least bit surprised that Soliloquy decided to pick up the brand.

     All the qualities I had head with the A3CR were still present with the Marsh at the wheel, but the top end was now much more forgiving of edgier, brighter material and the speaker sounded better balanced overall. This top end smoothing didn’t happen at the expense of detail either, the sense of air and ambient detail remained and I never felt that the sound was being dulled, just de-caffeinated a little, which is exactly what this speaker wanted. The soundstaging, which was very good before, bloomed into huge, lush sonic images hanging well outside and in front of the speakers. The amp may have been more laid back, but this is definitely an up front kind of speaker, so you can expect to feel like you’re sitting near the front of the hall. The bass bloomed a little too, remaining tight and tuneful but filling out the very bottom octaves with a little more fullness than the A3CR, which has a punchier, more mid-bassy character. On some very bass heavy recordings I felt there was a little too much bottom, but a bigger room would likely soak it up nicely, and, in case you haven’t picked up the hint yet, this is most definitely not a small room/nearfield speaker, my 14′ X 20′ space probably near the minimum required.

     The 6.5’s also seemed to thrive on the extra power (250 watts compared with the 125 of the Musical Fidelity), positively lighting up when played loud and pushing out thrilling transients. On acoustic music, and especially jazz (Mingus’ Ah Um on vinyl was a particular standout) timbral and textural detail were decandently rich and satisfying. With either amp driving it seemed like the Soliloquy’s had resolution to burn, from top to bottom.

     The synergy with the Marsh amp was such that there wasn’t much to find fault with, sonically. Some might quibble that images where occasionally larger than life, something which I suspect stems largely from the unusually high position of the tweeter and midrange driver. The upside, of course, is that music meant to sound BIG, does. Either way, this is not a speaker well matched to either nearfield listening or a low chair, that’s for sure. Some will also find the 6.5’s a little bright, especially when listening to a less than top notch digital front end or in a room which is either too small or too live. And, as already noted, choosing the right amp is as important as ever. These caveats aside, however, I’d have to say that the Soliloquy 6.5 is a rousing success, capable of the kind of high resolution, full bandwidth, ultra-dynamic sound that folks shopping for big speakers crave. If you count yourself among this group you’d be well advised to give the 6.5’s a listen. A heavyweight at a middleweight price, the 6.5 doesn’t just pack a punch; it’s a contender.

Aaron Marshall

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