Legacy Audio Signature SE Floor Standing Speakers Reviewed

Published On: August 27, 2012
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Legacy Audio Signature SE Floor Standing Speakers Reviewed

Many people search an elusive blend of elements when it comes to a loudspeaker, wanting the speaker to be dynamic yet detailed without coloring the audio. According to reviewer Brian Kahn, the Legacy Audio Signature SE may have that blend.

Legacy Audio Signature SE Floor Standing Speakers Reviewed

  • Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.

Legacy_Audio_Signature_SE_Floorstanding_Speaker_review_large_keyart_close-up_newsletter.jpgWhen my managing editor first approached me about this review, I knew very little about Legacy Audio. The images that popped into my mind were those of Legacy Audio's large, ten-driver speaker systems with lots of wood and a very strong, semi-retro design motif. The sheer size and complexity of those large speaker systems are a little overwhelming for some, but I quickly learned that Legacy Audio's line has a full range of speakers, including those geared towards use in the center channel and surround channel positions, as well as subwoofers. The speaker reviewed here is Legacy Audio's new Signature SE, a floor-standing tower design that is a scaled-down version of Legacy's popular Focus SE.

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding speaker reviews written by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
• Find the right amplifier for the Signature SE in our Amplifier Review section.

After doing some initial research on Legacy Audio and its recent offerings, I became anxious to get my hands on a pair of the Signature SE speakers and sit down for a listen. The Focus SE and Signature SE are much simpler designs than Legacy's flagship ten-driver Helix or Whisper HD speakers, yet they are still four-way speakers with six and five drivers, respectively. There are different schools of thought regarding speaker design. On the one end, there are those who use one or two drivers to cover the entire frequency range (such as planar or electrostatic speakers) and others who use a large number of drivers. Proponents of planar type speakers often tout improved coherence throughout the frequency range. The multi-driver camp typically acknowledges the potential for lack of coherence, but contend that well-designed crossovers and proper driver selection greatly diminish any coherence problems and let each driver perform within its optimum range.

Legacy_Audio_Signature_SE_floorstanding_speaker_review_pair.jpgThe Signature SEs I received for review came in a beautiful Black Pearl finish and retailed for $6,995 per pair. Other finishes are available for the lower price of $5,995 per pair. The Signature SE is fairly large at 48 inches high by 12 inches wide by 13.75 inches deep. It weighs a very solid 110 pounds. A quick glance even from a distance reveals a large rectangular box, but a closer look reveals some nice design touches, such as a wedge-shaped bevel on the front corners that adds some style and reduces the visual bulk of the speaker.

The enclosures on my sample were beautifully finished and looked amazing in a well-lit room. The attention to detail and finish went well beyond the one-inch-thick MDF cabinet with the fourteen-step finish. The back panel sports two sets of nicely-finished metal five-way binding posts and heavy-duty jumpers for those who do not bi-wire. The binding posts are set on a metal plate that also holds two switches that provide 2 dB of trim at 10kHz and 60 Hz, for controlling overly bright rooms or a typical room resonance region, respectively. The attention to detail continues to the bottom of the speaker, where there are four elastomeric feet with threaded inserts to accept black chrome/brass feet. Legacy Audio is thoughtful enough to include matching discs to protect delicate floor surfaces.

The traditional black speaker grille hides an interesting baffle, which holds five drivers. Working up from the bottom, there are two ten-inch spun aluminum woofers, a seven-inch driver that is made of a proprietary silver/titanium/graphite composite weave over a rohacell core. In addition to this exotic blend of materials, the driver also has a second magnet under the phase plug, which is said to increase performance. In addition to these cone drivers, there are a pair of ribbons that come from the larger Focus SE speaker, a one-inch dual-pole neo-ribbon folded Kapton diaphragm tweeter and a three-inch dual-pole neo-ribbon vapor-deposited Kapton diaphragm midrange, which are mounted in their own sub-enclosure at the same height as in the Focus SE speakers. The height of the woofers was also carefully selected and designed to couple with the room boundary set by the floor. Those who have been following speaker design for a while may note the similarities between the Legacy Audio tweeter and those designed by Oskar Heil. As an entire package, the Signature SE has a nominal impedance of four ohms and a sensitivity rating 92dB at one meter with one watt of power. Claimed frequency response is 22Hz-30kHz, but the manual is silent as to whether this is a +/- 3dB measurement or if some other window was utilized.

The Hookup
The speakers were well-packed, yet easy enough for one person to remove from the box, although two people would be preferable. Due to some delays in receiving the review samples, I had to set the Signature SEs up in a downstairs listening room rather than my main listening room. While this room sounds different than my primary room, I have listened to quite a few speakers in it and am familiar with its sonic qualities. I utilized McIntosh and Krell integrated amplifiers for an extended break-in process (Legacy recommends using the -2dB treble switch until the 30 hours of break-in is complete) and then switched to my reference McIntosh C-500 and MC-501s for my critical listening. The source unit was McIntosh's MCD-500 throughout. Power conditioning was provided by Tributaries and cabling was Kimber and Transparent Ultra.

I initially set up the Signature SEs up about eight feet apart, with the rear of the speaker cabinets just under two feet from my front wall, with a slight toe-in. I quickly found that these speakers needed many, many hours of break in. Before the speakers were fully broken in, the highs were harsh and forward; thankfully this subsided once the initial process was over.

The Signature SEs are very sensitive to positioning. While the tonal balance did not dramatically change when I moved the speakers a few inches either way from their final positions, the soundstage changes were dramatic. After much experimentation, I ended up with the speakers about six-and-a-half feet apart and toed in to where they were aimed at a point just behind my head. In short, if you audition these speakers, make sure that they are fully broken in and experiment with positioning if you are not happy with what you hear at first.

Even before the speakers were fully broken in, it was apparent that they had very deep and dynamic bass. The Signature SEs handled every bass torture test I could throw at them, from the electronica of The Black Eyed Peas' from their album The E.N.D. (Interscope) to "Train Song" on the audiophile standard album It Happened One night by Holly Cole (Blue Note Records) . The synthesized bass lines of the Black Eyed Peas and the Crystal Method were reproduced by the Signature SEs with speed and power. The impact of the notes was visceral and sharp, especially the leading edge of the synthesized notes. On the other end of the bass spectrum, the acoustic bass on Holly Cole's "Train Song" was as detailed as I have heard, while remaining relaxed and natural.

Read more about the Legacy Audio Signature SE's performance on Page 2.

I wanted to test bass performance as a part of a complex musical passage in order to get a better feel of the speaker's overall balance. Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (Telarc SACD) has been getting a lot of play at my house and is a large-scale dynamic piece. The tracks Fortuna Imperatix Mundi "O Fortuna" and "Fortune plango vulnera" are complex pieces that probe both the sheer dynamics and the detail capabilities of a system. The Signature SEs remained well-balanced and had remarkable clarity at a variety of listening levels, never losing composure. It was easy to discern the individual elements of the performance without any sense of artificiality. With careful positioning of the speakers, I was able to obtain a very good lateral soundstage, going well beyond the outer edges of the speakers while keeping a strong center image and individual localization of instruments. The only area where I felt the Signature SEs fell a bit short was the sense of scale. In this room, I have played this same piece through my Martin Logan Summits and, while not nearly as dynamic, they portrayed a much deeper soundstage with more three dimensional layering.

I listened to a variety of other tracks, paying particular attention to the soundstage, including Dave Matthews Band's "Say Goodbye" on Crash (RCA, CD) and Fairfield Four's "Roll Jordan Roll" from their album Standing in the Safety Zone (World Entertainment, CD). With both of these tracks, I was able to obtain a good lateral soundstage, but depth remained a somewhat compressed in my room. The effect was much less noticeable on smaller soundstages, including Livingston Taylor's "Isn't She Lovely" from the album Ink (Chesky CD) and Dean Peer's album Airborne (ILS, CD). Taylor's voice was full of body and very natural-sounding, and his whistling was as realistic as I have heard. The sense of space was slightly smaller than what I have heard with other speakers, yet it never seemed compressed or incorrect. I ended up listening to most of the Airborne and found the relative positioning between the drums and bass to be solid. It is worth noting that this album is very well recorded, with lots of detail and dynamics, all of which were done justice by the Signature SEs.

My young son has been interested in classical music, as he has been listening to it on some educational shows. Never being one to let a chance to do some listening with my son slip away, I quickly found some albums by the composers he asked about, Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky. We listened to both Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni (Brilliant Audio, CD) and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (Telarc, CD) (requested by my son as the "cannon song"). The Signature SEs had no problems with reproducing the proper dynamic range on either the micro or macro dynamic scales. They always remained clear and composed, allowing individual instruments to be heard. As before, the soundstage's sense of depth was smaller than what I had come to expect with these recordings, but I was still able to discern layering between the instruments. I paid particular attention to the string sections, especially the violins, as it was here that I heard the only hints of transition between the different types of drivers. As I noted before, when a larger number of drivers and crossover points are employed, you raise the odds of losing coherence across the frequency range. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Legacy Audio (and chief Bill Duddleston) maintained coherency across this four-way system, which utilizes both cone and ribbon drivers. However, when listening to the violin, there was a slight thinness in the upper ranges that I suspect was centered right around 2.8 kHz, which is the crossover point between the larger ribbon driver and the seven-inch cone. The fact that this was so small and limited is a true testament to the design of the speaker and the parts therein.

Legacy_Audio_Signature_SE_floorstanding_speaker_review_front.jpgThe Downside
The Signature SEs need to be positioned very carefully. While this is true of most high-performance speakers, it is even more necessary for the Signature SEs. There were a few areas where other speakers I have been spending a lot of time with lately excelled in comparison.

As expected, my MartinLogan Summits provided a more coherent transition through the midrange and into the upper octaves. The Signature SEs had better dynamic range and could keep pace with detail in comparison. The Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamonds are the newest addition to my listening room and I found that they had a better sense of space or air around the higher frequencies. Again, it may be the combination of speakers and rooms, but I was able to achieve deeper, more three-dimensional images with the Bowers & Wilkins and MartinLogan speakers.

In all fairness, I'm comparing the roughly $6,000 Legacy speakers to speakers costing twice as much in the MartinLogans and four times as much with the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds.

Competition and Comparison
It's hard to draw comparisons to the Legacy Signature SE, to as I have not heard many other speakers like it. Other current systems incorporating ribbon type drivers include those from Golden Ear and Sunfire. The Golden Ear Triton comes closer, but from my very limited listening with the Golden Ear, the Signature SE is more dynamic and refined. Perhaps the Acoustic Zen Adagio would be a close match in general, but a bit more romantic in character. Most comparably-priced floor-standing speakers in this price range would struggle to meet the speed and clarity of the Signature SEs. For more on these speakers and other floor-standing models like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Floorstanding Speaker page.

The Signature SEs produce that elusive blend of detail, neutrality and dynamic range that lead to both a realistic sound portrait and an enjoyable listening experience. Many speakers get close, but lean either towards romanticizing the sound or stripping it down to something cold and analytical.

While I found the dimensionality of the soundstages created by the Summits and 800 Diamonds to be deeper and more three-dimensional, the soundstage of the Signature SEs was still respectable in depth and very good laterally, once properly positioned.

Despite their small footprint, the Signature SEs provided deep, powerful and clean bass. This held true even with the less powerful integrated amplifiers. I left the bass level trim switch in the neutral position. Even though the -2dB position was probably more accurate in my room, I liked the bass. The Signature SEs performed fine with the integrated amplifiers, but also benefitted from the additional resolution of the McIntosh separates.

The midrange was extremely clean and natural. Voices were naturally resolved and easily identifiable as distinct, even within a group of vocalists. Likewise, instruments remained distinct. Working our way up the frequency range to treble, the Signature SEs' character remained in place. The slight thinness I heard in the upper midrange when playing back stringed instruments was slight and not noticeable in all but the most critical of listening. The ribbons provided extended and detailed treble that significantly betters that of earlier ribbon designs once break-in was completed.

Overall, it is hard to find fault with the Signature SEs. They are attractive to look at and even nicer to hear. In comparison to the other speakers I have on hand, which range from twice to four times as expensive, the Signature SEs held their own. There were areas where the other speakers excelled, but even given the large price discrepancy, the differences were relatively small. If I were putting up my hard-earned money, I would take a close look at the Legacy Audio Signature SEs.

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding speaker reviews written by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore subwoofers in our Subwoofer Review section.
• Find the right amplifier for the Signature SE in our Amplifier Review section.

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