I chose the C711 for review because I was looking for a mid-sized full-range floorstanding speaker that was transparent and revealing enough to use in evaluating other products while I’m in my temporary listening space. I also wanted to hear firsthand the coaxial ribbon driver than I had seen being made during a visit to Piega several years ago (see sidebar). I’ve enjoyed music through the C711 nearly every day for the past ten months, with a couple of months hiatus to review the Monitor Audio Silver 300 (Issue 282).
The C711 is well balanced tonally, with a fairly extended low-end and enough weight to give the presentation a sense of solidity and foundation. The midbass is a bit ripe, with a full and rich rendering that favors warmth of tone colors over the last measure of textural resolution. I enjoyed the C711’s lack of overhang on transients; bass notes started and stopped quickly without any hint of the bloat or slowness on kick drum that can dilute the sense of rhythmic drive. (We erroneously use the term “fast” to describe bass performance, as though a sense of quick attack is conferred by the woofer’s ability to move rapidly in response to a transient input signal. In reality, what we perceive as “fast” bass is actually more attributable to a lack of overhang—the woofer stops quickly after the transient is over.) At any rate, I think that the choice of a sealed enclosure with woofers and passive radiators in the C711 is a good one, and one that allows a successful marriage of dynamic drivers with a planar midrange/tweeter.
Although the C711’s bass is adequately deep, dynamic, and tuneful, there are other loudspeakers in this price range that go deeper and deliver greater dynamic and textural resolution. But bass isn’t the C711’s raison d’être. The ubiquitous cone midranges and dome tweeters in those other speakers are simply no match for Piega’s coincident ribbon driver in speed, resolution, transparency, and, perhaps most importantly, a complete lack of the hard and brittle character of virtually every dome tweeter. We’ve become inured in reproduced music to the treble sounding somewhat mechanical and metallic, with a bit of extra sizzle on cymbals, tizzy vocal sibilants, and violins overlaid with a sheen that diminishes their liquidity and beauty. When I’m in a concert hall, the most salient reminder of how reproduced music falls short of the real thing is how utterly liquid, gentle, and free from glare the strings sound. In life they have a gossamer-like delicacy that’s a far cry from the steely sound of so many recordings played through so many loudspeakers. Some of the blame lies with recording technology and techniques, but loudspeakers are a big contributor. The Piega C711 goes a long way toward mitigating this artifact of reproduced music. For example, the romantic sweeping string section during the middle of the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances was reproduced with a lushness and harmonic rightness that sounded closer to what one hears in the concert hall. Similarly, jazz violinist Regina Carter’s instrument on her album Rhythms of the Heart had a warm rich quality that emphasized the instrument’s body rather than the strings. (The great mastering engineer Doug Sax once described to me his impressions upon hearing heard digitally recorded music for the first time: “The violin sounded like a buzz saw! It was a joke!”)
Although my description might suggest that the C711 has a darkish tonal balance, or that it obscures low-level detail in the name of liquidity, the truth, in fact, is the opposite. The upper midrange through the lower treble is lively, open, and immediate, with an “illuminated from within” quality that provides a clear view into the soundstage and the instruments within it. (Jonathan Valin coined that wonderfully evocative expression to describe the sound of Audio Research electronics.) I would go so far as to say that the C711 is more forward and energetic in the midrange and treble than most speakers, but can get away with it because it doesn’t overlay the music with the metallic-sounding artifacts of cone midrange drivers and dome tweeters. The result is a presentation that is at once full of verve and life, richly detailed and highly resolving, yet doesn’t affront the ear by sounding bright. Instead I heard an exquisite combination of resolution and ease—the Holy Grail of hi-fi, in my view. Resolution often comes at the cost of sounding clinical and fatiguing; the sense of ease is paid for with a diminution of fine detail and softened transients. It’s interesting to note that when we refer to a cable, for example, as “bright,” we’re not suggesting a boost of high-frequency energy (which is impossible) but rather to a distortion that we perceive as excess treble. Two products with identically flat frequencies responses can be perceived as having different amounts of treble. This is also why early CD sounded simultaneously bright and lacking air and extension. Similarly, because Piega’s coaxial ribbon driver is so low in metallic-sounding artifacts, it can sound at once forward and relaxed in the midrange and treble.
A parallel exists with how transient speed is perceived. Cone-and-dome speakers often make transients sound etched, leading to quick listening fatigue. It’s not the speed that causes the fatigue but the artifact the accompanies the transient. The C711 is about as fast a speaker as I’ve heard in the midrange and treble (another is the MartinLogan Neolith), yet it never sounds clinical or analytical. Rather, the C711’s extraordinary transient fidelity reveals the mechanisms by which instruments create sound (thereby increasing timbral realism) as well as the subtle dynamic inflections that convey the musicians’ expressions. Listen, for example, to the track “Contractor’s Blues” from the great Count Basie album 88 Basie Street (original Pablo LP). The incomparable Joe Pass takes the last solo, coming in with a tremendous sense of swing. The drummer picks up on this and partway through the solo drives the swinging rhythm even harder with gentle rim shots on the snare that kick it up a notch. The Piega effortlessly reveals such seemingly small details, but it’s these details that distinguish a good hi-fi from a music-making machine.
There is, however, a slight penalty for the C711’s exquisite delicacy, transient speed, and resolution: the midrange through the treble isn’t as hard-hitting dynamically as I hear from the best cone-based speakers. The transients are lightning fast, but there’s a little less weight, impact, and body behind those attacks. This character gives the C711 a somewhat polite rendering (despite the lively midband) that is better suited to some music than others. For example, the pop of a snare drum doesn’t quite have the knock-you-back-in-your-chair impact of cone-based speakers. Steve Gadd’s superbly recorded drums on the new Chick Corea album Chinese Butterfly didn’t quite convey the full measure of his trademarked power-playing style. Similarly, piano wasn’t quite as percussively vibrant as I’ve heard from cone-based speakers. Concomitantly, instrumental textures tend to be a bit light and ethereal. Although highly resolved and beautifully detailed, tonal colors lean toward the cool side rather than sounding robust, richly saturated, and full-bodied.