Snell Acoustics LCR7 Speaker System
Snell's new LCR7 speaker system stopped me in my tracks at last year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The look was so new and fresh, yet elegant, and there was just something about the way their aluminum ends set off the speakers' curves that spoke to me. Yeah, I'm a sucker for style; but, when I learned that the legendary speaker designer Joe D'Appolito had a hand in creating these snazzy Snells, I was hooked. I doubt there's another designer with more name recognition—he lent his name to the ubiquitous woofer-tweeter-woofer arrangement—a.k.a. D'Appolito array—way back in the early 1980s. His goals for this new generation of Snells were disarmingly straightforward: to have them play loud with low distortion, provide an amplifier-friendly load, and produce razor-sharp imaging. Even a cursory audition of an LCR7 speaker will prove that Joe D'Appolito isn't resting on his laurels.
The LCR7's standard finishes include hand-sanded, hand-oiled real-cherry or satin-black-walnut veneers with 0.25-inch-thick machined "silver" or satin-black aluminum end caps and matching perforated metal grilles. They're gorgeous; since Snell is one of the few speaker companies that still crafts their cabinets in house (in Haverhill, Massachusetts), they can offer custom wood veneers or painted finishes for a modest surcharge over their standard prices. Hey, I admire companies that still design and build their products in the good old U.S.A. Just say the word, and Snell will chrome-plate or paint the aluminum caps for a nominal fee. The possibilities are endless. I've heard that glossy white cabinets, white grilles, and "silver" aluminum-capped LCR7 speakers are such a popular combo that Snell is considering making it one of the standard options.
While most of the better speaker manufacturers prescribe a minimum frequency-response variation for their suppliers' tweeters and woofers, Snell goes the extra mile and has their factory technicians hand-tune each crossover network to compensate for the drivers' response irregularities. A computer runs test tones and measures each speaker's response, and the technician then notes the difference between the desired reference curve and the speaker's actual frequency response. The hand-tweaking process continues until the speaker measures within Snell's unusually tight tolerances. This painstaking effort ensures that the completed speaker measures within +/–0.5 decibels of the original Series 7 Master Reference prototype.
When I poked around inside the LCR7's cabinet, I noted that the speaker features separate woofer and tweeter crossover boards. This was something that Snell pioneered in their earliest days; today, it ensures that you wind up with the exact sound that Joe D'Appolito designed into the speaker. When you stop and consider that all of that extra effort is tucked away inside the speaker and is therefore invisible to the end user, this level of obsessive build quality is all the more amazing. That sort of rigorous attention to detail is unheard of at the LCR7's real-world prices. And, finally, if you ever party out of bounds and blow a tweeter or woofer, Snell's replacement drivers are matched to the originals' precise tolerances. I like that.
Around back, I was impressed with the spiffy all-metal biwire connectors on the LCR7 and K7 surround speaker and that Snell includes a boundary switch to tame the bloated bass/midrange you get when a speaker is placed too close to a wall. If your LCR7 speakers are more than a foot away from the wall, just leave the boundary compensation switched off.
The ICS Sub300 subwoofer conforms to the classic cube shape, albeit one decked out with Snell's handcrafted wood veneers—it has sort of a butcher-block look to it. And sure, all of the satellites' custom aesthetic options apply to the subwoofer, but the standard finish is satin-black paint. I also appreciate it when subwoofer designers are thoughtful enough to put the volume control on the front panel. Thanks, Joe. By the time you read this review, Snell will be offering a very similar-sounding sub, the Basis 300, which matches the LCR7's aesthetics.
I teamed the LCR7 system with my trusty Pioneer DV-45A DVD player, Sunfire Theater Grand III pre/pro, and Ayre V-6x power amp for this review. I can't say exactly why, but getting the front three LCR7s, the K7 surrounds, and the sub to blend took a little longer than usual. It finally clicked when I placed the sub directly behind the left LCR7.
Sounding Out the Snells
My first impression of the LCR7 system's sound was of its remarkable immediacy. The midrange is reach-out-and-touch realistic, and my Sinatra at the Sands CD sounded especially sweet—Old Blue Eyes' voice was utterly natural, and Count Basie's swinging big band wasn't the slightest bit inhibited by the speakers' trim size. The sound is incredibly precise, clear, and direct. Bam, it's there. If you want mellow or laid-back, keep looking.
Blasting Metallica's Some Kind of Monster documentary DVD, the Snells just laughed off the band's ferocious assaults; the little speakers reveled in the physicality of the music. The band's jams had an undeniably real, in-the-room sound. On a somewhat more subtle level, I could feel the palpable tension of the supersized egos bouncing around the studio, but I sensed the LCR7s' portrayal of depth might be a little flat. The ICS Sub300 subwoofer did justice to drummer Lars Ulrich's dexterous bashings; the guy is a true genius.
I had such a good time with Metallica, I popped on the recently remastered DVD of the Who's Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. Wow, I can't get over how good it sounds, or is it just that the band is obviously having such a great time? The Snells' imaging is so focused and precise, I can clearly hear the drums, guitar, bass, and Roger Daltrey's voice, each one in its own space. But it's the sound of John Entwistle's bass that catches me off guard. Most speakers reduce his sound to a rumbling drone, but, through the Snells, I can hear every note.
To give my ears a bit of a rest, or so I thought, I settled down to watch the Forgotten DVD and was immediately drawn into the story. Julianne Moore stars as a grieving mother whose 9-year-old son was killed in a plane crash. The psycho-cum-sci-fi flick keeps you on the edge of your seat. On well-mixed DVDs like this one, the Snells projected a vast, wraparound soundscape, and the ICS Sub300 pounded out low-end fury with a vengeance. There's a scene near the end of the film where the villain screams so loud he shatters all of the glass windows in a large hallway. I jumped straight up from my couch!
So, yes, I admit it, it was the LCR7 system's distinctive style that initially beckoned me, but, when I listened, I was sold. I have a feeling that the same scenario will be repeated in a lot of Snell dealers' showrooms all over the world.
• Snazzy style
• Dynamic sound, precise imaging
• Handcrafted in the United States