Coincident Speaker Technology Partial Eclipse Mk. II Loudspeaker-Follow Up
by Ricker Becker
Enjoy The Music
John, an audiophile from Alaska, wrote:
I'm very interested in the Coincident Partial Eclipses and was interested in your review of them. However, most of the review is taken up with a description of the speakers and your setup and tweaking efforts. How would you describe the way the speakers actually sounded in the scheme of loudspeakers? How did music sound through them?
While your review gives some clues, I had trouble gauging your impressions, which were mainly given either very generally or in terms of changes in sound as you played with the setup, a few comparisons with the VR4s, and some comments in the context of your measurements.
I realize that I'll need to audition them myself. But I'm just curious,
Funny you should ask. I am about to begin writing a follow-up review that should come out in October. Part of the vagueness was due to the fact that my system had a lot of other "uncertain" elements, which precluded a more definitive description of the Coincidents -- the cables in the system, in particular. Other equipment that I have had the pleasure and task of reviewing since then has taught me a lot about the Partial Eclipses over the past year. If you follow my subsequent reviews, you will see a steady progression and improvement in my system, and, hopefully, my reviewing skills.
The Partials have proven to be far better than when I wrote the review. In fact, am still not sure I know just how good they really are. Given the vintage of my DAC, which though I have been able to improve it significantly, still lags a bit behind the times. The parade of equipment that I reviewed since the Partials almost always produced significant improvement in the quality of the music. That the Partials were able to reveal those improvements is as much a compliment to the loudspeaker as it is to the component being reviewed. Even when something was amiss, such as when the Tungsten Carbide balls in the Symposium Acoustics Rollerblocks took the focus of the notes over the edge into irritability, the Partials let me know something was wrong. A change from 18 gauge mil-spec interconnects to 24-gauge improved the overall focus of the system, and allowed me to use the Tungsten Carbide balls with no ill effects for even greater clarity.
The drivers of the Partials are capable of outstanding clarity if the rest of the system up-stream can deliver it. The use of Symposium Acoustics shelves and Rollerblocks, as well as some newer isolation products, has all improved the clarity and focus of music through the Partials. The Symposium Isis Platforms used under the loudspeakers seemed to suck a lot of cabinet induced distortion out of the music at a relatively modest cost. Resting on pieces of architectural slate, the Isis Platforms also afforded more stability to keep the loudspeakers from being accidentally knocked over, as well as protection from the dreaded vacuum cleaner.
At the time of the review, had trouble reconciling or evaluating the transparency of the Partials. They did not sound as transparent as I remembered other Coincident loudspeakers sounding at the Montreal shows. Was not sure whether that was a result of something in my system or in the acoustic properties of the most important component-the listening room itself. I mentioned this to Israel Blume at the last show, and he kindly loaned me a pair of his CST-1 loudspeaker cables to replace the 14-gauge mil-spec wire I had been using. While the mil-spec wire, at a cost of maybe $15 for the pair was both cost effective and appropriate when my system was in the $5000 range, it was easily bettered by the Coincident cables. Not so much in focus, which was slightly improved, but the $600/6' pair of CST-1 cables gave me the high level of transparency that I had recalled from the Montreal shows. Given the $3,300 cost of the loudspeaker, this reasonably flexible cable is a very sensible investment.
I also had the opportunity to try two, more expensive cables. Joe Skubinski of JPS Labs kindly loaned me a $1,000/8' pair of his Superconductor+ cables. This cable is reportedly non-reactive with a wide variety of loudspeaker loads, and I used it with excellent results with another, more expensive pair of loudspeakers I have in for review. This is not much of an issue with the Coincident loudspeakers as they are designed to be a very easy load to drive in keeping with Israel's goal of designing high efficiency loudspeakers for tube amplifiers. (The loudspeakers work very well with solid-state amplification, too, by the way). The rather stiff Superconductor+ took the focus, sound-staging and transparency of the Coincident loudspeakers up another notch. At almost a third of the cost of the loudspeakers, one might question the wisdom of spending so much on cables, but the benefit was clearly audible.
A third set of cables were tried with the Coincidents actually cost more than the loudspeakers themselves! Yes, the result was heavenly. The point in mentioning it here is that the Partial Eclipses are worthy of much more expensive equipment than they are likely to be paired.
Which brings me around to amplification. My Plinius SA-100 Mk III, with 100 watts in "Class A", was plenty of amplifier for the Coincidents. And while it is generally regarded as a respectable amplifier, reading a past review of it led me to suspect that the rather modest soundstage depth I experienced might be attributable to the Plinius. The arrival of the much less expensive Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks proved to be a revelation of what the Coincidents were capable. The monoblock configuration seemed to stabilize the soundstage even further, but it was the additional liquidity of these tube amplifiers that gave me an even fuller measure of both focus and transparency. The air and inner detail surpassed what I had heard with the Plinius. With the Mahis in triode mode and minimal feedback setting, the experience of listening to live performance recordings through the Partial Eclipses was just about like Being There.
Mind you, the Manley Mahis put out only 20 watts in triode mode, but that was sufficient, even in my large (6000 cu. ft.) room for all but the most demanding music at modest levels (87 db at the listening chair). And with the soft clipping of the tube amps, I could rock the hood on a warm summer night without the music becoming irritable. Would it be any better with, say, the more powerful Manley Snapper? Possibly, but the change from the EL-84 tubes in the Mahis to the EL-34 tubes in the Snapper might also cost something in the quest for more power. I can't say. What I can say is the synergy between the Mahis and the Partials results in consistently high musical listening pleasure that I never found irritating or analytical. The soundstage depth increased appreciably, and the image size varied appropriately with changes in the volume. The music I love moved me emotionally.
Are the Coincident Partial Eclipse Mk IIs the Be-All/End-All loudspeaker? Of course not! I am currently reviewing another loudspeaker that cost four times as much, that betters it in a number of parameters. The more expensive speaker reveals the Coincidents are slightly on the warm side of neutral, meaning their response curve is not quite as flat, the focus is slightly softer and the transparency is not quite as clear. The bass of the Coincidents is not as taught, but it is more prominent, though both loudspeakers seem to go as deep-to, or slightly below 30 Hz. The treble of the Coincidents is not quite as resolving of cymbals, and the expensive brand gets the piano dead right, by comparison. Factoring the house brand of cables for each manufacturer, and the appropriate stands, the cost ratio stretches to almost 4.5 times.
Does this mean the Coincidents are not worthy of recommendation? Quite the contrary! The differences mentioned above were relatively small, though the two loudspeakers are clearly distinguishable. The Partial Eclipses are an extremely inviting, easy to listen to, loudspeaker, worthy of much more expensive components than they are likely to be paired with. They can be listened to endlessly without fatigue with either tube or solid-state amplification. They are very good in a modest system, and they are outstanding when paired with an excellent system. I am stretching the limit, perhaps, running these speakers in such a large room. But for large rooms, Mr. Blume has the new Super Eclipse that uses the same drivers, doubling up on the woofer and midrange. And the Total Eclipse reigns above that. These larger Coincident models would doubtlessly be able to move more air, given the greater surface area of the drivers.
My experience with the Manley Mahis causes me to lean toward tube amplification with the Coincidents, though they also work well with the solid-state amplifiers I have used. Hold off on buying a subwoofer until you are sure you really think you need one (or two). The bass, while not iron fisted tight, is slightly prominent. it is also very satisfying and good for below 30Hz in my large room. The song "Poem of Chinese Drums" on the Burmester CD III is simply stunning! You can view my measurements, taken in-room at the listening position, in the initial review.
I covered the aesthetics of the loudspeaker in my original review, and I'd like to add that the vast majority of women who have visited in the past year have expressed admiration for them without me soliciting any response. While not a visual or sculptural work of art, the entire Coincident line exudes quality worthy of very fine homes. The light cherry finish has darkened to a medium tone that fits into both contemporary and country décor, and there is also the traditional cherry finish for traditional décor, and black for contemporary décor and for the purist. The Partial Eclipses are of modest size and were not visually invasive of my large listening room or my smaller (17' x 20') video room, though optimum placement will probably be about 4' out from the wall.
Having the opportunity to live with, much less audition these loudspeakers has been a rare, wonderful and completely unregretable experience. My ambivalence to purchase the review sample was swayed by Linda's appreciation of how great they looked in the video room. Little did I know at that time how great, and how great a value these loudspeakers really are. Nor did she realize how little time they would actually spend in the video room. They've been my reference loudspeaker for the past year. In the Grand Scheme of Loudspeakers, how do they sound? Pretty much like the music you play through them, two degrees soft of Neutral...depending on the rest of the system, of course, with a slightly prominent bass.
Which brings us around to the problem of auditioning these loudspeakers, John. With only 10 dealers in the United States, and a few more scattered around the globe, the likelihood of having an opportunity to actually listen to them is remote. A review of the literature will show you the almost universally rave reviews covering a wide range of Coincident models over a wide span of time. This should be a major clue. Would I recommend you buy them sight unseen? If they were appropriate for the size of room and amplifier power of your system, it would be a very small leap of faith. And after the break-in period, if you're not satisfied, there is probably something else in your system that needs improvement. This loudspeaker is not a band-aid for an ailing system, but a pathway for developing a great one. Very highly recommended.
Many of us pay lip service to the importance of system synergy when matching components, but we read reviews and (largely) ignore the system in which the product was reviewed, as if each product had its own irrefutable identity and character. I am as guilty as the next person of jumping to the "conclusion" when reading a review. Having now reviewed a modest number of products and "tweaks", I have even greater reverence for the system context. And I now list my system in substantial detail at the end of my reviews.
Let me know what you decide, John.