Never one to mince words, Apogee's Jason Bloom said quite categorically that manufacturers who ignore the affordable products for the glory-making flagships need their heads examined. 'Who wants another #40,000 speaker?' he asked, eyes raised skyward. Studying the world economy and the contraction of the hi-fi market, he decided that the next Apogee model would come in at the bottom of the range. At the 1989 Chicago CES, the company unveiled the diminutive Stage, and I swear I heard sighs of relief from the retailers in attendance.
The Stage isn't my 'truly proletarian' Apogee, which is something which would sell for below four figures; I'd like to see it if only to keep the anti-high-enders among you off my case. That
speaker is still on the drawing board. The Stage, meanwhile, is still costly at #2350 but not quite so unattainable, so the down-pricing policy (following Duetta, then Caliper) is continuing as planned. But there are two other features of the Stage which make it more appealing to a wider UK audience than its dearer siblings.
The most obvious of these features is the size, the Stage being even smaller than the Quad ESL 63. I mention that speaker specifically because it is the UK's premier panel speaker, it
sells in great numbers in this home market of allegedly tiny rooms and nobody ¬ever¬ bitches about its size. The Stage measures a mere 37 1/2in tall by 26in (at its widest point), the panel
itself being a couple of inches thick. Yes, it takes up more space than certain box-type systems because it must be placed a few feet into the room, but a pox on those who wheel out the old
analogy about the monolith in ¬2001¬. This speaker is nothing short of 'cute', and all that the word implies. [Note: to those who have never heard American as she is spoke: 'Cute' can also mean 'cheeky', but 'cheeky' doesn't have the aesthetic implications of 'cute', as in 'the Andrex Puppies'.]
The other feature, one which saves money, is the amplifier matching requirement. No longer must you consider an amplifier capable of arc welding. The Stage was conceived as a product to mate with 'a good 50-watter' (read: an amp that costs less than the speaker itself) and I've confirmed this by running the Stages with the Aragon 4004, my venerable Beard P100s (valves into an Apogee!!!!), the Solen Tiger and others. Reports from the field suggest wonderful pairings with the Counterpoint SA-12 and its recent replacement, and I'd expect that myriad affordable power amps from the likes of Musical Fidelity, Naim, Exposure, Hafler, Adcom, B&K, Muse and others would serve as nicely.
What this means is that the Stage needn't be approached as in the manner of the earlier Apogees, in that you had to double the price tag to include the amplifiers. You're still looking at
#2350 plus a minimum of another #500 for an amp, but that's a far cry from, say, a Caliper plus the least costly Krell. In addition to greater sensitivity, the Stage has a virtually flat impedance of 3 ohms or better, so Apogee's legendary amplifier-eating propensities are not present in the latest family member.
The method of squeezing a quart out of a pint pot -- we're talking genuine, sub-40Hz low-end response from a tiny panel -- and making the speaker easy to drive involves some canny thinking on the part of the Stage's designers. The magnets are much more powerful than those in the previous models, allowing for a more compactly array as well as an increase in sensitivity. Slightly heavier driver material, now featuring sandwich construction with the conductor on both sides of a plastics-based 'filling', and smaller drivers raise the impedance to a kinder level while lowering the coloration in the bottom octaves. This is accomplished by virtue of the sandwich construction's greater continuity, discernable when feeding the speaker with a sine wave for visible confirmation. The company spent over a year just in researching the material and the construction methods for this new technology, and it's paid off by making the ribbons no more adversarial than a good cone system.
These details aside, the Stage looks exactly like what it is: a miniature Apogee, right down to its trapezoidal woofer, long strip mid/tweeter and glass-fibre shell. The review pair, in anthracite with mahogany trim, looked like someone had cut off the top half of a Diva and placed it on the floor. That's what I mean about 'cute'. For those who wish to depart from the standard finishes of anthracite or taupe with wooden trim in mahogany or basswood, the company also offers silver trim, or all-white or all-black lacquer.
Another first for this Apogee is installation without the need to enlist the help of the local stevedores. The Stages weigh 60lb each, not a lot when you consider that Geoff Capes can schlep a London bus for a few hundred feet. Assembly, outlined comprehensively in the illustrated manual, involves only the fixing of the four feet with three screws each.
The set-up itself is absolutely straightforward, the Stage presenting only two options to the user. The first is the choice of single or bi-wiring (or, if your pre-amp has two sets of outputs, bi-amping; there will be no external crossover like the DAX for this model). The second is the use of a toggle switch above the speaker terminals to add a 2dB boost to the mid/treble region for room or system matching. One thing this mini does not require is a bass boost, as you'll see. As for the positioning, it's all outlined in the manual, with a thoroughness reminiscent
of the instructions for the Wilson WATT.
In essence, Apogee has taken the mystery out of speaker positioning with this model. The manual guides you according to room size and the distance of the listener from the speakers. An adjustable spike at the back of each 'foot' is used to fix the speaker closer to or away from a vertical position. The nearer you sit to the Stages, the more nearly vertical they should be.
Apogee even supplies a plumb bob to be used in conjunction with a chart in the manual. Hang the line from the rear upper edge of the speaker and measure the distance between the bottom of the speaker and the point where the plumb bob touches the floor (anywhere between 4 1/2 and 6 inches). You'd have to be right on top of the Stages to need them in a fully vertical stance; most will require a slight backward slope. This affects imaging, dimensionality, arrival times and treble quality, but the instructions are dependable so please don't start quaking with audiophobia.
Read more about the Apogee Stage on Page 2.