Reference 3A Taksim Loudspeaker

Right at the Point of Diminishing Returns

Equipment report
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Floorstanding
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Products:
Reference 3A Taksim
Reference 3A Taksim Loudspeaker

There is one last technological feature of the Taksim loudspeakers to mention: the “Magnetic Conduction Signal Wave Guides” that are inside the speakers’ binding post input connectors. The owner’s guide explains that “strong magnetism keeps the electrical signal flow aligned and random pathways for electrons, within and along the conductor, are minimized.” I have no way at all to judge if this premise is reasonable—the supporting materials that Tash Goka sent along to elucidate the technology rapidly outstripped the two semesters of college physics I endured many years ago. After careful listening over months, Goka reports hearing better dynamics, spaciousness, and detail—which I guess is good enough for me.

One of the most critical components in my audio system is the software for the Anthem Room Correction DSP algorithm that’s put to use whenever I introduce something new to my listening environment—speakers, cables, amplifiers, a change in the position of the sofa, anything. Measurements are taken with a calibrated microphone from eight room locations; the numbers are crunched and the eq settings uploaded from a laptop to my Anthem D2v processor. It’s quite easy to turn the room correction on and off while listening, but I can no more imagine assessing a speaker without it than I could a reviewer who has “tuned” his room by physical means removing every trap, diffuser, and absorber he painstakingly placed to optimize his acoustic milieu. With every loudspeaker I’ve measured in my room, there have been significant dips observed both in the midbass and around 15kHz, and those anomalies were present when the Taksims were calibrated. I ran room correction full-range for my critical listening all the way out to 20kHz.

I listened with pleasure to all kinds of music through the Taksims and never found myself gravitating to one genre or another because of some perceived shortcoming of the loudspeaker. In spatiality (as heard in recordings possessing this sort of information), the Taksims are soundstaging and imaging champions. The stage is wide and continuous from side to side and has good depth. Imaging is highly specific, and these speakers (predictably) love small jazz groups and classical chamber music. With Wayne Horvitz’s Sweeter Than the Day SACD, on which pianist Horvitz collaborates with guitar, acoustic bass, and drums in ten subtly adventurous jazz compositions, the four instruments are as present and palpably dimensional as I’ve heard with two-channel audio. Similarly, the Emerson String Quartet’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings delivers a believable representation of eight specifically positioned musicians performing together in real time—even though (in an engineering tour de force) the four players of the ESQ were recorded twice. Studio techniques with carefully produced 1970s rock can be savored; for example, the manner in which Rick Marotta’s drums were panned on “The Caves of Altamira” from Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam. The Taksims’ rock-solid imaging demonstrates the potential for listeners to more fully enjoy monaural “historic” recordings. I listened with amazement to the two-CD set (on the Pristine Audio label) that documents Arturo Toscanini’s celebrated all-Wagner program broadcast from Carnegie Hall on February 22, 1941. Through the Taksims, the soundstage had remarkable width and depth; solo instruments and the singers (Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior) were consistently localized in an intelligible musical context.

A capacity to reveal detail is another Taksim strength. Sometimes, that detail is of the “I never heard that before” variety—a warbling organ in “Line ’Em Up” from James Taylor’s Hourglass, or the way the drummer on the above-mentioned Steely Dan song frequently employs his kickdrum off the beat to contribute to the impression that the song is at once squarely metric and slyly syncopated. On other occasions, small instruments manage to make their presence known over an orchestra playing full-out; for example, the diminutive triangle in the third movement of Antal Dorati’s Mercury recording of Capriccio espagnol. Tonal neutrality was impressive. Among the best recordings I own to investigate this sonic variable is a compact disc accompanying The Miracle Makers, a gorgeous 13" x 13" hardcover book published by the Chicago-based, rare violin merchant Bein & Fushi. The book features full-page photographs of 30 famous violins, 15 from the Stradivarius workshop and 15 Guarneri del Gesùs. On the CD, Elmar Oliveira plays each of them, unaccompanied, in an excerpt from the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Reference 3A speakers faithfully distinguish the more elegant, sweeter, silkier sound of the Stradivari from the darker, earthier, more powerful sonority of the Guarneri violins.

The top octaves of the Taksims are open and airy especially, in my case, with room correction. One will learn that from just the two glockenspiel notes that begin Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 on an RCO Live SACD conducted by Bernard Haitink. In bass performance, room factors again must be considered. As above, every speaker I’ve had in my room has manifested a midbass dip of 5 to 10dB. With the Taksims, the ARC software measured a drop of 14 to 15dB centered in the 100 to 200Hz region, the largest I’ve ever encountered in my room. With the Anthem processor’s room eq turned off, not only was the bass light in quantity but there was also a bleached-out quality to frequencies considerably higher up. Engaging ARC fixed the second issue entirely. I’m guessing that the Taksims may actually be a bit reticent in the midbass (in any room) but not enough to compromise orchestral weight or one’s enjoyment of well-recorded rock and blues. The amount of low bass—that is, information 40Hz and below—is pretty substantial and one need not write off organ recordings by any account. I was impressed by the massive organ chords beginning the finale of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (played by Olivier Latry and the Philadelphia Orchestra on an Ondine SACD), as well as the long pedal point during the Lebhaft section of the first movement of Paul Hindemith’s Organ Sonata No. 1 (Peter Hurford on an Argo recording). Likewise, the Taksims generate a quite respectable quantity of synthesizer bass on the title track of Jennifer Warnes’ The Hunter. The issue is less bass extension than bass dynamics. It’s “slam” that’s missing from the Warnes cut and the phenomenally well-reproduced five-string electric bass on Kevyn Lettau’s Songs of the Police, a JVC/Master Music XRCD.

Another aspect of “power music” where a loudspeaker system with just two 8" drivers between them will inevitably fall short is scale. During my time with the Taksims, one of my Philadelphia Orchestra subscription concerts came up; the closing work on the program was Holst’s The Planets. Since the Orchestra moved from the Academy of Music to the Kimmel Center in 2001, our seats have been tenth-row center, and the sense of a lot of air being moved in a large space was almost overwhelming, especially during “Mars” and “Uranus,” and whenever the pipe organ joined in. Three days after the concert, I pulled out some favorite recordings of the work, all excellent sonically, to listen to with the Taksims—Mehta/LA, Previn/LSO, Previn/RPO, and Gardiner/Philharmonia. With all, up to an ff dynamic level, the Taksims were pretty convincing. But The Planets has passages marked ffff in the score—Holst “turns it up to 11,” so to speak. With these, the speakers could only hint at my experience in the hall 72 hours earlier. I did try the Parasound amplifier driving the Taksims, and The Planets was a little more commanding at the biggest moments, if less refined. I’ve heard plenty of big, complex loudspeaker systems that reproduce large-scale music considerably better than the Taksims (better, as well, than my own current reference, Wilson Duette Series 2s plus a WATCH Dog subwoofer.) But the distance, if you will, between the Taksims and those mega-buck products is no greater than that from the mega-buck products to the real thing. That’s just the way it is.

So, the Reference 3A Taksim does everything at least effectively and some things nearly as effectively as any product I’ve heard, at any price. I won’t pretend that it’s only bass performance and scale where the Taksims are bested—and do note that Reference 3A has two models that are bigger than this one—but, especially when it comes to matters of spatiality, tonality, detail, and that difficult-to-define metric of musicality, we are right up against that proverbial point of diminishing returns. Beyond that point, the hill gets pretty steep. I’d say the Taksims give me 85 percent of what I’m looking for in a loudspeaker system, given my musical tastes and listening environment. It’s a superb speaker and an exceptional value.

SPECS & PRICING

Type: Two-way, ported floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver complement: 1" beryllium tweeter, 8" hyperexponential woven-carbon-fiber mid/bass driver
Frequency response: 31Hz–40kHz
Sensitivity: 92dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Maximum recommended amplifier power: 150 watts
Dimensions: 10" x 46" x 17"
Weight: 88 lbs.
Price: $6990

DIVERGENT TECHNOLOGIES INC.
480 Bridge Street West
Waterloo, ON
Canada N2K 1L4
(519) 749-1565
reference3a.com

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