Apogee Stage Electrostatic Loudspeakers Reviewed

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Toe-in is not required due to a carefully determined dispersion pattern; the most that�Apogee�suggests is a mere 3/8in. As far as positioning near the walls is concerned a minimum of 36in from the back and 8in from the sides will suffice, but they do benefit from being as far into the room as you can place them. The only other requirement is a minimum of six feet between the Stages; I could find no upper limit (in a room with a 25ft wall), with even a 15 foot separation not creating a hole in the middle.

Read a review of the Apogee Scintilla here.

A word, though, about the bass from these babies; skip this paragraph if you have a room which allows you to site the Stages at least three feet from each wall. Some listeners have found that the Stages can sound a bit rich or bottom-heavy. Some tweaking was applied to the lower registers, a mild lift to augment the sound of a system which one can assume was designed for small rooms. For those who don't luxuriate in listening rooms measured by the hectare, here's a free tip from the Apogee underground and useful with a number of other dipoles: If you want to tame the bass and don't want to cover your rear walls with Sonex or glass-fibre or Tube Traps, take two small squares of felt, say 8x10in, and attach them to the rear of each speaker, behind the bass drivers. For under a quid, you have a crude but perfectly effective bass equalizer.

Anyway, I didn't have to do anything other than follow the instructions to the letter, any further tampering on my part resulting in butchery of the sound. And, oh!, what a sound! Considering that I almost didn't get to review these in time for my deadline (you try dealing with HM Customs on December 22nd), I must mention my relief at the way the Stages preclude the need for a run-in period or experimenting with positioning. And let me assure you that the initial frisson of ecstasy has been sustained after a concentrated 40 hours of listening.

The first ear-opener, the single greatest act performed by the Stages to win you over, is the portrayal of scale, and in all directions. All of the most memorable hi-fi components have one
or two tricks which defy their specifications, like amplifiers which drive far more than they should. With the Stage, it's the ability to provide height up to the top of a Diva, or six feet. I tested this with my opening volley, Willy DeVille's 'Assassin of Love', expecting the Stages to sound, well, small , but they rose to the occasion. But note that this is only possible when you've dialled in the right amount of slope relative to your listening position. Soundstage width extended just beyond the edges of the speakers, but this is not a width-limiting property; as I said before, the you can place them as far apart as you like in any normal domestic setting without tearing out the middle.

As for depth, hey, this little beauty drives a wrecking ball through that back wall, throwing rear images as far back as does the Diva. This, too, can be compromised by the wrong amount of
tilt, the wrong back wall material (undamped or thinly curtained is best) or not enough distance between speaker and wall. For those of you who think I'm going to suggest something ludicrous like 12 feet into the room, relax: such glorious depth was possible with the Stages a mere 40in into the room. And Apogee isn't kidding about toe-in. More than the maximum of 3/8in squeezes the images into those matchstick men not unlike actors in a wide-screen epic (or the credits, at any rate) when shown on the telly without the right lens compensation: tall and thin as if made from putty and str-r-r-etched upward.

What's placed within this soundstage is located with absolute certainty, edges clearly defined and relative depth preserved; if you want flat, featureless Viewmaster-style 3-D, you'll have to
listen elsewhere. Again, the Willy DeVille track is a cracker for showing off this aspect of the Stage's performance, but you might also check out one of the many well-recorded King's Singers releases and the HFN/RR Test CD's garage door.

But enough of the spatial characteristics. The next thing which elicits a smile is the mid-band, which is so clear yet so-o-o seductive. A surfeit of detail often leads to synaptic overload; the way the Stages present every shred of sound is so 'in balance' that nuances like audible breaths and minor rustles do not distract the listener. They merely add to a truly coherent whole. Because the Stages are so quick and controlled, crisp sounds never turn edgy; this is another way of saying that they offer just the right amount of lushness, hence my use of the term 'seductive' two sentences back. I found this to be the case with the rear toggle in the 'normal' position; even the slight, 2dB lift available in the 'high' position is enough to upset this
balance (in my system, that is). Those of you with slightly absorbent rooms or systems which tend toward the over-rich may benefit from the boost.

As for the bass, I'm almost embarrassed to say that the Stages deliver enough weight and extension as to make a larger system seem like pure overkill. With the Sousa track on HFN/RR Test CD II, Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus' and a dozen other weighty performances the Stages were capable of delivering all the mass you could possibly require. Slam and attack were perfectly preserved whether the bass was generated acoustically or
synthetically, so those of you with children (or with children who are allowed to play with their parents' hi-fi) will listen to otherwise odious recordings such as rap and house with a
different appreciation. You'll probably never grow to like the stuff -- lobotomies are a high price to pay for acquiring modern tastes -- but you'll marvel at the way silicon chips can plumb the depths of your hearing.

For any of you reaching for your chequebooks, I must also add a caveat. The Stage, for all of its precision, low coloration, speed, spatial excellence and top-to-bottom consistency, is shown
up in one key area by both its costlier relatives and a number of high-sensitivity, high-power-handling designs using other technologies. While the dynamics of this speaker are good enough to place it in the uppermost regions of audiophilia, it can sound a touch compressed when playing material with vast swings. The extra 5 or 10 Hz at the bottom and 3 to 11dB greater headroom available from bigger Apogees will be apparent if you play, say, the Sousa first on the Stage and then on the Diva. The heavy metal I used, much Metallica and ZZ Top, didn't reveal this side of the Stage because the levels are too close to constant, while delicate material such as solo acoustic guitar, however sprightly the playing, revealed nothing but a shade more richness when heard through the Diva. But if you feed both speakers some
crack-the-pavements marching bands or well-recorded big band material, you'll find that the Stage reveals itself to be, most assuredly, the baby in the Apogee clan.

That doesn't stop me from placing it in my hi-fi hot list. I adhere to a fairly rigid price-point-based list of faves, however dissimilar the speakers may be in design and intent. The speakers for which I would shell out real money if I were in a shopping condition, range from the Celestion 3 at #99, to the LS3/5A at #330, to the Celestion 3000 at #699 and so on, up to the Diva-plus-DAX at the uppermost limits. Without question, the Stage is now my personal choice for a speaker costing above #2k but below three grand, and even then I'm not so sure I could think of anything between it and the Diva which could tempt me. And I'm writing as one who doesn't have to worry about domestic acceptability, the wee dimensions not relevant in a large, dedicated listenig room. I feel like the lucky devil who realised that the only difference between the dearest Ferrari and the bottom model is an unusable top speed, so why not save the #40,000? I have a sneaky feeling that this speaker is going to rip holes in the high-end market...and it couldn't have arrived at a better time.

Additional Resources
� Read more floorstanding speaker reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com.
� Learn about the Apogee DAX crossover.

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HTR Product Rating for Apogee Stage Electrostatic Loudspeakers

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