In recent months, audiophiles have been raving about an Internet-direct speaker manufacturer, Salk Signature Sound. The company's flagship SoundScape Series is designed to be equally adept at home theater and music reproduction. The SoundScape line includes the SoundScape 8, 10 and 12 floor-standing speakers (the numbers coordinate with the dual eight-inch, single 10-inch and single 12-inch woofer, contained in their respective cabinets), as well as the C center channel and M7 mini-monitor. I reviewed a pair of SoundScape 10s, which cost $11,999 per pair. That's a significant investment for even the wealthiest audiophile but, when you consider how these speakers fit into the pantheon of audiophile floor-standing speakers, some might even consider them a bargain.
The SoundScape 10 is a three-way floor-standing speaker that weighs a hefty 130 pounds, with separate sections housing the woofer and the midrange/tweeter. Its driver array includes one RAAL ribbon tweeter, one three-inch Accuton midrange driver, and one custom 10-inch long-throw woofer. Two passive, horizontally opposed, side-firing radiators help reduce cabinet vibrations and port noise. Standard finishes include satin black, gloss black, and a few veneer options, but company founder Jim Salk can do a variety of custom finishes for an additional charge. The SoundScape 10 has a reported frequency response of 21 Hz to 100 kHz, with a sensitivity rating of 84 dB and a nominal impedance of four ohms. These speakers need a significant amplifier under any circumstances, as compared with speakers that have a 90dB sensitivity or higher, such as the Paradigm Reference S8s at about $8,500 per pair (toting a 93dB rating) or the Tekton Pendragons at about $5,000 per pair (packing a 97dB rating). Other highly touted speakers that come with low sensitivity include the Revel Ultima Studios, some THIEL products, and a few Bowers & Wilkins models.
The SoundScape 10 is famed for its bass response and extension, as evidenced by that 21Hz frequency-response spec. Even on a torture test like the opening scene of The Dark Knight, where Hans Zimmer laid in deep, complex orchestral bass lines, the SoundScape 10s fully lived up to their bass-worthy reputation. Compared with speakers like the Tekton Pendragons, the Salk SoundScape 10s delivered bass that wasn't punchy or boomy but better described as articulate, refined and controlled - yet still very low. From the deepest notes in the subwoofer range to the mid and upper bass, the performance of the SoundScape 10s' woofer section more closely resembled that of a high-quality sub like an REL or the JL Fathom than the woofer section of even the most reference-quality floor-standing speaker. These speakers reproduce bass attack and decay with a precision besting speakers far above their price range. I am not suggesting that you don't get a subwoofer for home theater applications, as many soundtracks specifically record audio for the LFE channel; for that, the above-mentioned subs could go subsonic. Still, you can rest assured that the Salks go low and do your bass right.
Orchestral music sounded rich yet hefty. The Salks demonstrated immaculate detail and precise separation of instruments. One of the most refreshing strengths was the speakers' ability to reproduce sharp but not harsh metallic sounds, such as classical guitars where the brightness of high-tension strings meets the soft textures of nylon. Compared with many of the speakers that I've auditioned in the $10,000 price range, the SoundScape 10s' imaging and, more specifically, accuracy of imaging were vivid and lifelike, yet never overly harsh.
Vocals were consistently open and airy for both males and females, regardless of genre, from Grammy favorites John Legend and Adele on her freshman album 19 (XL) to jazz singer June Christy's Something Cool (Blue Note) to Damrau's rendition of Mozart's Magic Flute. Every texture and punctuation in the voices was reproduced with pinpoint accuracy. The thing that stood out, though, was that the detail and accuracy were not analytical - i.e., while I heard everything in great detail, it did not detract from the overall musicality and emotion of the music. Rather, it was a supporting function that enhanced the experience. Whatever genre I threw at them, including trance and techno favorites like Alice DJ and David Guetta, the SoundScape 10s handled it with aplomb.
Read about the High Points and Low Points, the Competition and Comparisons, and the Conclusion of the SoundScape 10s on Page 2 . . .
The accuracy, detail, clarity/resolution, bass extension, imaging and instrument separation, attack and decay, neutrality and tonal balance (I could continue with a multitude of strengths) put the Salk Signature SoundScape 10s at a performance level several classes above their $12,000 price point.
Part of what has made Jim Salk's company so successful among Internet-direct speaker manufacturers is not only the product quality, but the service. Many owners have gotten their speakers serviced and upgraded for years after their original purchase, similar to the service many people love from top audiophile companies like Audio Research.
Salk speakers have a wonderful community of owners and enthusiasts who have created a support group that helps consumers get the most out of the ownership experience.
The SoundScape 10's weakness (or, I should say, least outstanding feature) sonically is soundstaging. I'm not saying the soundstage is bad, or even "not good." It's just that the speaker's other strengths are so overwhelming that its soundstage reproduction seems dim by comparison. Placement of sounds across height, depth, and width are accurate, but the soundstage did not seem hugely expansive. If you're looking for a speaker to trick you with its soundstage presentation into thinking that you are actually sitting in a giant stadium or concert hall, these may not be the right choice for you.
To get this level of bass extension into a speaker cabinet of reasonable size requires a beefy power amp. I wouldn't go with anything under 200 watts, but the more power you can bring your system, the better. If you want a SET amp as your next upgrade, look elsewhere.
Compared with other speakers in this lofty price class, the resale value on Salk products isn't quite as strong as that of, say, Wilson Audio, MartinLogan, or Bowers & Wilkins.
Competition and Comparison
At $12,000 per pair, the Salk Signature SoundScape 10s have plenty of worthy competitors. The Wilson Sophia 3 ($16,700), the Revel Ultima Studio 2 ($16,000), the B&W 802 Diamond ($15,000), the Thiel CS2.7 ($9,900), and the Paradigm Signature S8 ($8,598) all fall within range. Many of these speakers come with better sensitivity or more exotic finishes. They also come with traditional distribution, which allows for an in-store demo.
If you're looking for a reference-quality speaker that can handle a wide variety of musical genres with equal aptitude and provide a level of bass performance found in some of the best subwoofers - and you are prepared to pair it with the significant amount of power it needs - the Salk Signature Sou
ndScape 10 deserves to be on your short list for an audition. It's worth the time, effort and investment of getting these speakers into your home, as they are comparable to speakers costing 50 percent more.