The big first impression upon listening to the SP1s, the thing that grabs your attention right off the bat, along with the general electrostatic clarity is the extraordinary presentation of space. The sound picture is expansive in all directions. Depth of image especially is quite startling—on the Telarc Ravel-Borodin-Bizet CD, which has been one of my go-to orchestral recordings lately, the off-stage trumpet (Track 13) sounded as if it were in the next county. And when the orchestra came in with the on-stage players, the whole picture had a spatial scope unusually reminiscent of a real orchestra, considerably more so than usual. No speaker in a domestic room will reproduce the literal size of an orchestra as heard at close range—orchestras are on the order of sixty feet wide. But some speakers get closer than others to reproducing the orchestra’s scale!
Furthermore, this convincing spatiality was remarkably stable over changes in listening position. It is inevitable that some spatial cues involving time-of-arrival of transient cues will change with unequal distances from speakers to listening position. But with the SP1s this theoretical inevitability seemed almost obviated. A spatially convincing soundfield was spread over a surprising portion of the room. Of course, people are always saying things like this—people like stereo and like how it works. But with the SP1s, it was working in a way quite different from usual. The combination of wide forward pattern and dipole radiation from 750Hz on up was somehow creating a really unusual and unusually convincing impression of being spatially elsewhere in large venues when a large venue was the site of the recording.
I suppose everyone knows that I have a lot of admiration for speakers that place a big emphasis on direct sound, that beam the sound at you. But these are intrinsically for one listener alone and one who is not going to move. The SP1s managed to be very convincing not only in the one centered ideal position but over a wide area. How this works is not entirely clear to me in theory, but work it does. If you are after wide-open spaces, here you go.
The SP1s tend to remind one rather aggressively of how poorly a great many speakers with lots of drivers actually do stereo. Stereo perception is a robust thing and almost any pair of reasonably well-matched speakers will do stereo—after a fashion. But trying to put stereo together from a lot of drivers is a little bit like trying to make a photo by gluing together a lot of images from cameras at different angles. It sort of works but not really. Speakers that offer something very close to a real point source work for stereo in a way that the others do not. The details of this are not easy to put in words. But you will know it when you hear it. Single-driver speakers, whatever their other problems, illustrate this to an extreme. (I think back to the Ocellia Tillia, to which I gave a Golden Ear Award in 2002—once heard, never forgotten). And the SP1s really function very nearly as a single driver. They provide a quite different experience from floorstanders with umpteen drivers.
In short, through the SP1s the point-source nature of the imaging felt very natural. And compared to other hybrid electrostatics, well, when the chips are down, most instruments are not line sources. If you are willing to sit absolutely still in the vertical sense, the unusual imaging behavior of line sources, where the image moves up or down when you move up or down, will not be distracting. And, of course, line sources do have the advantage of bouncing little or no sound off the floor, in effect. But the SP1s, which are elevated above the floor a good bit, and which up to 750Hz have a symmetric driver arrangement that itself minimizes floor interaction, succeed in these ways in getting rid of the floor-reflection issue quite well on their own terms.