You're Surrounded! Page 3

Sapphire Audio ST2 Sapphire Audio is a new speaker brand, and just one look at the ST2 tower speakers that anchor this system tells you the company is trying to do something different. With their tall, slim design and glass-capped cabinets, the ST2s cut a dramatic figure. The speakers are finished with black vinyl woodgrain sides and satiny black lacquered front panels. Pop off one of the grilles, and you'll find a distinctive blue-tinted tweeter lurking beneath. Wow! sapphire audio st2

My first thought after setting up the slender towers was how perfect they'd look next to a large, console-type rear-projection TV. If you do go that route, make sure the set has ample surface on top - at over 18 inches wide and 12 1/2 inches deep, the system's SC center speaker is a real space hog. Both the SC and Sapphire's dipolar SS surrounds are designed to match the towers, presenting a united all-black front.

The reason I've said nothing so far about subwoofers is because the system doesn't have one. Sapphire Audio's first sub isn't due until later this year. Even so, with a specified bass floor of 30 Hz, the ST2s are designed to be pretty close to full-range.

To set up the Sapphires, I attached the supplied plastic feet and metal spikes to the bottom of the towers and then dug them firmly into the carpet (protective end caps are also provided for bare floors). After inserting the leveler foot into the center speaker, I aimed it up toward ear level from the low table it was sitting on. Meanwhile, I set the SS surrounds on high speaker stands against the wall on either side of my listening position - the standard placement for dipoles.

The Sapphires did a great job of rendering the spooky scene from Freddy vs. Jason where a stoner girl wanders away from a rave and into a cornfield. The system's surround speakers successfully captured the ambience of the booming PA system in the background, but also managed to deliver a solid image of the stalks brushing against the girl as she passed through. Skipping ahead to the roundtable discussion between the concerned cop and the teens, I found the SS center speaker up to the task of cleanly rendering the officer's authoritative lines as well as the kids' more mumbled banter. When I switched to an off-center seating position, the dialogue remained clear.

After the Sapphire system's realistic handling of the cornfield scene, I wasn't surprised to hear it pull off a good approximation of the Royal Albert Hall when I put on the Led Zeppelin DVD. During "Dazed and Confused," I had a sense of being smack in the middle of an enthusiastic crowd, and the scratchy, psychedelic sound of Jimmy Page's bowed guitar came across with equal power as it panned from the front to rear of the room. It was about this time, though, that I started to wish the system had a subwoofer. Although the bass guitar sounded clean, it didn't have much range at the low end, and Bonzo's kick drum lacked the bone-vibrating slam I'm used to hearing.

When I listened to stereo music on the Sapphire towers, their rock-solid imaging impressed me. Each instrument in jazz saxman Charles Lloyd's "Amazing Grace" was precisely positioned in the soundstage, which maintained its seamless quality even when I cranked up the speakers. Brass instruments came across cleanly, but there was also an edgy character to the ST2s' sound that I occasionally found fatiguing. These are definitely speakers that will sound better in a room with lots of rugs and curtains than in a spare, acoustically live environment.

With their slick, contemporary looks and good sound, Sapphire Audio's ST2 tower-based speaker system could be an intriguing addition to your home theater. At $1,750 for the lot, its price is right, but I'd recommend springing for a subwoofer, or at least for an upgrade to the ST2's bigger, more bass-heavy brother, the ST3.

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