In all my years as an audiophile I’ve never been captivated by the allure of horn-based loudspeakers. I admired their dynamic abilities, but they never made me want to own loudspeakers based on horn technology. However, during the past three years I’ve gradually altered my opinions about horn-based dipole designs. Why? Because my primary listening room changed from a room built from the ground up to hold my longtime reference Dunlavy SC-VI loudspeakers to a smaller one, located in the basement, that was definitely not built originally with audio reproduction in mind. In my current primary listening room, some speakers that sounded fine in my open-concept living room had too much midbass bloom when I relocated them into my basement listening room. In short, my new room is not an “easy” one to place speakers into.
At first, I was disappointed that my current listening room was not as flexible, friendly, and forgiving of loudspeakers as my old one was. But then, since I prefer lemonade to raw lemons, I decided to take on the challenge to find loudspeakers that would work successfully in my new room. I’ve tried conventional box-enclosure designs with omnidirectional bass propagation, as well as designs with more controlled dispersion and less room interaction. So far, the most elegant solution for my problem room has been Spatial Audio and its open-baffle dipole designs.
Spatial Audio’s loudspeaker designer Clayton Shaw’s first company, Emerald Physics, began in 1978 as a “project company,” where Shaw worked on prototypes for clients. In 2006 Shaw took his latest design to the Rocky Mountain Audio Show, where he met the owner of Underwood Hi-Fi, Walter Liederman, who was so impressed by Shaw’s work that he encouraged Emerald Physics to build what came to be the Emerald Physics CS2, which debuted at the 2007 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. In 2010 Shaw sold Emerald Physics and all its intellectual property to Underwood Hi-Fi and agreed to continue designing Emerald Acoustics loudspeakers for three years under a non-compete clause. The models 2.3 and 2.7 were Shaw’s last Emerald Physics designs.
In 2010 Shaw created Spatial Audio, whose first products were computer-audio installations using Mac Minis and a software suite that combined sophisticated EQ with the ability to handle multiple channels of crossovers. I reviewed the Spatial Audio computer system for The Absolute Sound in 2012. In 2014, Shaw released the first Spatial loudspeakers, the M1 and M2, followed in 2015 by the Lumina, M3, M4, and flagship X1. His newest design is the X2.
The first Spatial Audio loudspeaker that I had personal experience with was the M3 ($2495/pr.). It was the original loudspeaker I installed in my new room. I kept the M3 for approximately three years, during which time I tried a couple of more conventional loudspeakers in the same room. I quickly learned that some, such as the Studio Electric FSX, had a more refined treble and smoother midrange, but I could not get the midbass under control, so I went back to the Spatial M3s. When Spatial announced its new X2 loudspeaker ($9600/pr. in black, red, or white; $13,900/pr. in Baltic birch) based on the X1, but with an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) instead of a compression tweeter, a 15" woofer, and a modular design, I let Clayton know that I wanted to hear what the X2 could do. After the 2017 Rocky Mountain Audio Show, the demo pair that had been at the show, came back to my “problem” room.
After I’d lived with this pair for almost four months, Clayton Shaw revisited my room and replaced the original crossover circuit with the current production one. The loudspeaker went from 94dB sensitivity to 91dB. All listening notes were made using this current production crossover, which I much prefer to the original one, not only due to its improved linearity, but also to its decreased sensitivity, which makes amplifier noise less of a problem. The Digital Amplifier Company’s Cherry MEGAschino power amplifier that produced hiss at 94dB was dead quiet at the lower 91dB sensitivity.