Apogee Scintilla Loudspeakers Reviewed

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Like a brace of the monoliths in 2001, a pair of Apogee Scintillas stands in my listening room, framing whatever system I'm using at the time. They will never leave that room, unless I win the Lottery and find myself in possession of the music chamber they deserve. Somehow, confining them into a space measuring 12x18ft is not unlike owning a Ferrari in London: you're never out of second gear.

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They remain my most cherished components - inherited after the company folded - and not just because I maintain that the Apogee Scintilla is still the greatest loudspeaker ever made, nearly a decade after the company's demise. They have a special place in my heart because of the collective soul of the people who made them. The late Jason Bloom and his father-in-law, Leo Spiegel, formed a team like no other I can recall. Their yin/yang relationship resulted in products that combined both pure science and audiophilic insanity in a way I've never seen matched.

Jason and Leo complemented each other so thoroughly, and in every way, that the blend of their talents couldn't help but produce a masterpiece: Leo's cool, clear thinking and Jason's fevered, emotional response to everything, Leo the scientist, Jason the aesthete - music to art to wine to cars to clothing. Guys, we're talking Lennon and McCartney, Lerner and Loewe, Rolls and Royce.

They burst upon the hi-fi scene in 1982 with no previous industry experience. Jason was a hard-core audiophile and vinyl junkie, but his career prior to Apogee was as a dealer in fine art. Leo Spiegel was an engineer recently retired from Northrop, who spent his life in the aerospace industry - for real, as opposed to many in audio who claim to have done so. In fact, Leo was a recipient of the Tony Janus Award for significant contributions to the aviation industry, and had worked with high precision engineering projects such as the inertial navigation system for the B52 and devices for the calibration of Sidewinder missiles.

What came in handy, particularly in speaker design, was Leo's experience with high intensity magnetic circuits. Along with a friend, Gary Walker, who parted from Apogee early on, they embarked on their audio adventure designing speakers. It was Leo who suggested working with true ribbons.

Their first design was called the Full-Range, a wall of a speaker as impractical as it was wonderful. It certainly was successful enough to attract the notice of the audio community, with most high-end manufacturers, including the then-equally-virginal Krell, deeming them of reference calibre. Krell, in fact, would play no small role in the Apogee saga, for the two companies were virtually inseparable during their early years and used each other's wares at shows. It was an alliance that was truly mutually beneficial because of an Apogee quirk: Apogees ran at obscenely low impedances, and Krells looked at such loads with disdain.

A three-way design loudspeaker using true direct-radiating ribbons for the midrange and treble and a 'quasi-ribbon' for the bass, the Full-Range stood close to 7ft tall and consisted of two panels: the trapezoidal woofer section and the mid/treble enclosure. The woofer and the 80in ribbon tweeter could be directly driven thanks to a high-enough impedance, but the 0.1ohm, 2in wide midrange ribbon had to be matched via a transformer.

It was the second Apogee product, the Scintilla, that put the brand on the map because it was smaller and less-expensive than the Full-Range. Crucially, it bore no transformer. As history won't let us forget, it was also the speaker that marked Apogee with the single-ohm curse. 'Amp killers' they would be called, and so they were, but it was a red flag before the bull that is audio. The Scintilla set a near-impossible performance parameter that amplifier manufacturers are still trying to achieve, even though it applied to very few speakers other than the Scintilla. That genuine 1 ohm impedance has become the litmus test for every amp purporting to be the King of the Hill.

Selling for a heady £4950 in the UK 20 years ago, the Scintilla used a smaller version of the Full-Range's woofer and a five-ribbon array for frequencies above 500Hz, in a panel 3.5in thick top-to-bottom. Far more manageable than the Full-Range at 4ft 10in tall by 2ft 9in wide at the bottom, tapering to 2ft 5in at the top, the Scintilla sat on its own rectangular aluminium base-plate measuring 15.5x19in. Although spikes were provided, the 10-stone weight rendered the need for the floor-coupling spikes as '...purely academic,' according to Martin Colloms. The base-plate also tilted the speaker back by around 5 degrees, courtesy of two strong metal struts.

An open-backed bipolar bass radiator, the woofer consisted of a single sheet of aluminium foil 12µm thick, hand-slit, that occupied the outer section, while the narrow inner aperture contained the five vertical ribbons. Slightly pleated horizontally, the slots provided the conductor pattern. The rear of diaphragm over the slots was sealed with Kapton tape of high temperature stability as well as good mechanical properties, and it could move up to ±6mm down to a limit of 20Hz. According to Jason, each Scintilla enjoyed a radiating roughly surface equal to eight 12in woofers.

Above 500Hz came the true ribbon mid/treble section, made up of five ribbons: four 0.5in wide and one 1.9in wide. The latter, centrally-located ribbon rolled off above 3.5kHz, while the 05in. ribbons, two at the front and two at the back, covered the area above that. Martin observed that, 'An interesting twist occurs here since the central mid element naturally operates as a dipole, with "in theory" the rear radiation is out of phase with the front. However, while the front flanking treble ribbons are run in-phase with the main ribbon, as one might expect, the rear-facing treble ribbons are wired in reverse. In effect, the HF range is unipolar, representing a pulsating cylinder mounted in the 2.25in wide vertical slot in the baffle. In the overlap region between the mid and upper treble ribbons, the sound is reinforced to the front but decayed to the rear, forcing a cardioid-type response in this range.'

Read more about the Apogee Scintillas on Page 2.

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