What It All Adds up to
As described, the Sanders offer what is very close to “facsimile reproduction,” a literal replication of the signals on the recordings.
So what is the effect of this in listening terms, one might ask. The most immediately striking aspects in musical terms are the purity and the neutrality of the sound. Female vocals are bewitching in their absence of distortion. The Sanders are right in there with the Carver ALSes and the Eminent Technology LFT-8bs for low perceived distortion, which is to say that they are at the top rank for this (cf. my ET 8b review on theabsolutesound.com). But the Sanders offer in addition to the low distortion a smoother frequency response than the ETs, which have a few quirks in that regard (though they have a much lower price, however). Purity and smoothness—the Sanders offer a really beautiful reproduction of the mid–to-upper frequencies. Sopranos individually or collectively in a chorus are gorgeous, as are violins. Violin recordings being as they are—no fault of the speakers—may tempt you to cut the top slightly. And you can easily do that with the crossover box. However much that some audiophiles eschew such things, penalty-free correction of balance errors in recordings—many of which are too bright—is a very useful thing in musical terms.
The Sanders are also outstanding in unraveling complex musical textures. While many speakers have some transparency in the higher frequencies, as frequency goes down, the transparency tends to be obscured by a certain muddle; some sonic confusions arise. Much of this, indeed most of it in my opinion, arises from room interaction. (Gradient of Finland showed many years ago how transparent speakers tend to be if one hears only their anechoic output. It is the room around that is primarily responsible for the increasing confusion as frequency diminishes.) The Sanders with their strong differentiation against adverse room effects, arising from their dipole radiation pattern and their superbly precise (as well as room-corrected) bass maintain transparency and clarity from the top on down. Nothing turns to mush!
I wrote long ago of how the directionality of the Gradient 1.3s put them among the speakers that one might want to use if one needed to write down an orchestral score from listening (cf. regonaudio.com/Gradients.html). The same principles apply here: woofers correctly loaded by the floor, and floor bounce eliminated by the directional radiation from the crossover to the panels on up, as well as the elimination of sidewall reflections. If you listen to complex music, you will hear the difference from speakers with lots of floor and ceiling bounce in particular. Hear the difference—and like it, too. There is nothing quite like hearing what is actually on the recording.
There are lots of good stories about conductors hearing small things in the midst of full orchestral activity—Stokowski noticing the missing third trombone part in one of the most tumultuous parts of the Rite of Spring and stopping the rehearsal to find out what had happened (the third trombone had left his part at home and was doubling the second trombone). Live, this sort of thing is impressive all right but believable. But in most audio, it can seem like a remote dream. With the Sanders, these stories seem not only plausible but also reproducible. Listening to my various ensemble and orchestral test pieces—the Bach/Sitkovetsky Goldberg Variations, the Mata/Dallas Symphony Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, one hears everything there is to hear, but with no sense on the other hand of detail being shoved at you unnaturally. Inner parts are revealed exactly as they should be. This is genuine resolution in the real sense.
Playing recordings with real spatial information on the Sanders speakers gives a remarkable sense of immersion in the original venue’s acoustics. The Water Lily Blumlein recordings from Philadelphia and St Petersburg make one feel almost as if one were there in the respective concert halls. (Disclosure: I worked on these recordings.) So do the direct-to-disc Brahms recordings recently made by the Berlin Philharmonic (vinyl only), also done with Blumlein microphone technique.
It is worth remembering that when Harry Pearson, many years ago, was formulating his ideas about “soundstage,” he emphasized strongly that this had to be distinguished clearly from the generalized sense of space generated by reflections off the walls and that ideally only the direct sound would play any role. With the Sanders speakers, one hears this point acutely. (N.B., It is possible to use the sound of wide-dispersion speakers to reveal real spatial information if one does this correctly, but it won’t happen by accident. See my review of the Carver ALS speakers on theabsolutesound.com.)
The fact that the Sanders, because of the vertical size of the panel, presents a sonic image that is not fettered at a particular height while not theoretically predicated one way or the other (stereo does not have theoretical height impression) will add for some listeners an additional dimension of realism. Certainly those speakers that make one feel one is looking down at the music diminish the naturalness of the spatial impression. Point source speakers that present the height at ear level can be very natural, however. But there is a special impression generated by speakers that are enough like a line source to float the images vertically (so that the image moves up or down if the listener does), which to me seems natural as well, in a different way.