Israel Blume's first loudspeaker design, almost 10 years ago, was a four-piece leather-covered monstrosity that needed an extremely stout solid-state amplifier to drive it. Fortunately, Blume has evolved, both in his design creativity and his vision of what constitutes an easily driven loudspeaker for the masses. He discovered the magic of single-ended triode amps (and other lower-powered tube designs), and decided to focus on producing fine high- and ultra-high-efficiency loudspeakers. We have covered his Super Eclipse (see review, TAS 124), the Total Eclipse (Golden Ear, TAS 133), and now the Victory, in some ways his most successful design thus far.
At 97 dB/watt/1M sensitivity and a nominal impedance rating of 14 ohms (never dropping below 10 or going above 18), this speaker is the model of what may be driven easily and successfully by SET amps, or by virtually any high-quality amp that has at least 5-10 watts on tap. All you 2A3 and 300B tube lovers now have another option, one that is both more linear throughout its operating range and possesses more and better-quality bass down to about 35 Hz than you have gotten from the more traditional horn designs.
Excluding the bottom octave, which was, according to the designer, sacrificed to hit a price point, the Victory is a first-rate achievement in transient response, transparency, tonal neutrality, and revelation of detail. Credit for this goes to the excellent isodynamic planar tweeter Blume has chosen for the highs. This Canadian-made driver is composed of extremely light Kapton film placed between two rows of neodymium and barium ferrite bar magnets, with flat aluminum conductors that cover over 90% of the diaphragm's vibrating area. More a specialized quasi-ribbon planar magnetic driver than a true ribbon, this tweeter provides a level of grainless purity I have heard before only from pure ribbon designs like those from Raven and Magnepan, but with a bit more physical robustness. Blume says that the relatively large driver area, in addition to a custom-fabricated massive front metal plate and a special heat-conductive compound used internally, dramatically increase the dynamic range of this transducer over "stock" form of the driver. In any case, I heard a great purity and dynamic bloom from these speakers, with horizontal dispersion characteristics that allowed excellent imaging and soundstage reproduction on a par with fine true ribbons.
In a classic D'Appolito driver layout, the tweeter is flanked by two 3-inch Vifa low-mass fabric midrange dome units, and the low end of the victory is handled by an over-under pair of Seas treated-paper 6.5- inch woofers.
The Victory can sound a little tipped toward the highs if the speakers are not set up optimally; I found that pushed within 36 inches of the rear wall, toed in slightly, the balance that Blume had assured me was in the speakers appeared as if by magic. I was hearing fast, tight, and extended bass to the mid-30s, open, liquid midband response, and well-integrated, superbly extended highs. These latest speakers' port tuning is conceived to make the best use of SET amps and others that inherently lack the last word in bass control and definition compared to solid-state monsters with output impedances of less than 0.1 ohm. The Victories are almost over-damped, compared to what most folks accept as "normal" these days. But when used with a good SET or other low-powered tube amp with an output impedance of around 1 - 2 ohms, the speakers possess bass from the mid-30s and up that is fast and punchy, well articulated, and with exemplary pitch definition and a refreshing lack of overhang. If you want to use a solid-state amplifier or a tube unit with a tighter bass-damping factor (a great example is the Wolcott Audio Presence monoblocks), you can access the inside of the Victory cabinet by removing the bottom woofer; you can then adjust the port tuning to give a little more bloom and a little less of a tight squeeze in the mid-bass. Clever touch.
But having to shove the beasts so close to the rear wall slightly compromises the openness and depth of the soundfield the Victorys can produce, though the trade-off for more visceral bass is worth it, in my opinion. Correctly situated, the Victorys have a rather electrostatic-like sonic thumbprint, in that they are so fast to respond to transients, and so clear and open-sounding, without a trace of grain or woolliness, that there seems to be little or nothing between you and the music save an open window on the recording.
A great disc to showcase the midrange strengths of the Victorys is Nancy Bryant's 45-RPM double
album [Neon Angel, Acoustic Sounds APO 2013]; this extremely clean LP set is recorded with super dynamics and a voice that, though well-encoded in the grooves, will give many systems fits, as they try to reproduce Bryant's sudden shifts in timbre and intensity. The Victorys, however, follow every convolution of her singing as if on rails, and their transparency and purity allow you to hear deep into the (already low) noise floor of the vinyl pressing.
A test that I use often to get mid-to-low-bass balance issues resolved is the first movement of Solti's Mahler Symphony No. 5 on London (2-LP set CSA 2228); the bass drum on this record is recorded with a somewhat heavy, boomy sound. With the Victorys, I first got almost no impact from it. But once I found the correct positioning, the balance of the entire system snapped into focus, and that drum acquired the proper weight and power, along with some of the best definition and control I have heard from this disc. It was so much better than I was used to that I was tempted to think the Victory were perhaps a little over-damped, but as I switched amplifiers and preamps and played a bit with cables, I came to realize that I had been listening for years to bass systems that were sloppier and not doing the record full justice.
So I waded through CDs and LPs that featured revealing and difficult bass information. Reference Recordings RR-70 CD includes a performance of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite that features a superbly recorded hard-hit bass drum that can actually damage speakers if it is played past the limits of the driver or amplifier in the system. Through the Victorys, I could hear the initial transient crash, and then the explosive wave that follows, and finally the clean decay of the drum's vibrations in the hall, all encompassed in one sonic envelope, with minimal smearing and exceptional clarity.
The relative excellence of the Victory's bass prowess is matched by its agility and dynamic capabilities. Listen to the massive crescendos on a recording such as Elgar's Coronation Ode (EMI ASD 3345). These speakers can start and stop on a dime, and despite their not having as great a mid-bass authority of, say, the Alón Exotica, the overall precision and articulation of bass dynamics, as well as their ability to finely delineate dynamic nuance across the whole frequency spectrum, particularly at the micro end of the scale, make the Victorys terrifically satisfying performers. Listening at low levels late at night to material such as Lieder and softly sung choral works showcases the their ability to delineate the tiny transitions within songs, down to the breathing patterns of singer. I am not a detail freak, but I have to confess that it becomes addictive to hear such buried detail emerge in the correct sonic balance with the rest of the music.
It is in the highs that most people will find either bliss or dissatisfaction with these speakers. Those who long for great extension and superior rendition of overtones and instrumental air will be delighted; those who like a slightly more subdued, soft, and warm sound up there may be less enchanted. Do not misunderstand me: There is nothing grainy, spitty, or etched about the Victory's tweeter performance; it simply is better than most of the competition and so revealing that any deficiency in either equipment or software will be made immediately and unpleasantly apparent, to a degree that some may find unsettling. This does not bother me, and I am willing to jockey the speaker around the listening room and try different combinations of electronics in order to get the balance of the system in the zone that I find natural and correct.
Which brings up the second part of this review: the Victory speakers are extremely revealing of source, almost more so, in some ways, that the Alón Exoticas that I wrote up last month. This is a good thing for me as a reviewer, because I can more easily discern subtle differences among ancillary components. But some listeners who have heard these speakers with me want a little more accessible, warmer balance to the sound.
And here Blume's 300B parallel SET integrated amplifier comes into play. I used the Victorys with a variety of amplifiers, both solid-state and tube, and the one that sounded by far the most well-rounded and capable with these speakers was the Coincident SIP 300B, a $2,995, tube-rectified, 18 watts per channel parallel SET honey that is sold factory-direct (unlike the speakers, which move through a conventional dealer network), and that seems to have been tailor-made for this speaker. Blume readily admits that the amplifier was designed using his own speakers as a reference.
The speed and extension, both in the highs and in the bass, of the Wyetech Labs Topaz 572 SET are reasonably well emulated by the SIP 300B, but without the Wyetech's almost ruthless neutrality. The warmth, liquidity, and slightly golden glow of the De Havilland 845 SET is also audible through the SIP 300B, with greater top-end extension and a far more healthy punch and transient authority than you'd expect from an 18 wpc amp. This is a serious performer; the fact that Blume has the things custom-made for him in China by the same factory that produces the Antique Sound Lab equipment imported by Divergent Technologies speaks well for the amp's high performance. This manufacturer is somehow able to coax frequency extremes and dynamic authority from amps that do not seem possible from single-ended triode designs, and does it for far less money than other manufacturers. And, because manufacturing costs are sharply reduced overseas, when this particular combination is looked at from a cost/value standpoint ($6,998 full retail), this pairing is as close to a bargain as one is likely to get at this performance point.
Now, this is not to say that we have a speaker here that works its magic with only one amplifier; that would be a fundamentally poor choice in a commercial sense. I have used several other amplifiers such as the Plinius SA 100 to great effect with the Victories. With 100 wpc of Class-A solid-state power, the speakers sit up and take notice, and their bass response becomes almost miraculously taut and punchy, with even greater low-end extension. But the trade-off is a slightly dryer sound signature across the frequency spectrum and bass damping that many will feel is a bit much. Though remember that the speakers' ports may be adjusted internally to restore a bit of warmth. The Vaic VV52B ST 30 wpc SET integrated amp also worked exceptionally well with the Victorys, providing even greater drive, dynamics, and mid-bass authority than the SIT 300B, but that amp goes for $8,000. The Zanden 7000 845 13 wpc SET amp is another great match, sharing many of the same qualities as the Coincident SIT 300B, but again, at a much higher price.
In the end, the persuasive synergy of the Victory with the SIP 300B and the excellent balance of strengths are so satisfying that I would be remiss not to discuss it. And for consumers trying to take some of the guesswork out of a purchase such as this, and who do not need to listen at super-high levels (though 18 wpc will with the Victories will produce peaks in the neighborhood of 110 dB in the nearfield), the SIT 300B/Victory system is a good pairing. It makes a strong argument that a thoughtful matching of a high-efficiency, easy-to-drive loudspeaker and amplifier can result in quite respectable tonal accuracy and dynamic authority, with the sense of palpable, dimensional body that SET designs are so good at.
Even if without the SIP 300B amp, however, the Coincident Speaker Technology Victory must be
counted as a success. It joins its cousin, the Coincident Total Eclipse, as one of the best three or four systems to pair with SETs that I have heard. It does well what it was designed to do, and provides excellent all-around performance in a reasonably sized package. There are compromises, of course, mainly in the lack of deep bass and a high end that, despite its excellence, may prove a little forward, but the rest of the frequency spectrum is well served, indeed. The level of transparency, tonal accuracy, dynamic authority, and harmonic integrity available with the Victory is of a high enough caliber to make for an extremely desirable and satisfying loudspeaker system. A benchmark product, in the best sense of the word.
Coincident Speaker Technology
51 Miriam Cr. Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada L4B 2P8
Phone (905) 886-6728; fax (905) 886-2627
Price:: $4,599 US/pair
Frequency Response: 36 Hz - 40 kHz
Impedance: 14 ohms (never dropping below 10 ohms or going above 18)
Sensitivity: 97 dB @ 1M - 1W
Power Requirements: 3 watts - 100 watts
Dimensions: 42 x 9 x 14 inches
Weight: 92 pounds
Driver Compliment - per speaker
Tweeter:1 Isodynamic planar magnetic 6-inch unit
Midrange: 2 Vifa fabric 3-inch units
Woofers: 2 Seas paper treated 6.5-inch units
VPI HW-19 MK IV turntable w/ JMW Memorial 10.5 arm and SAMA (Stand Alone Motor Assembly), VPI Synchronous Drive Unit motor controller; Lyra Evolve 99, Sakura Systems/47 Labs Miyabi and Dynavector DV XV1 MC cartridges; Marigo Audio Labs MR 20.2 PH/F, Hovland Groove 2, and EX Cell Power Solutions Groove Tube phono interconnects; Siltech Gen 3 and Gen 5 interconnects, Siltech LS 180 Gen 3 speaker cable, Audio Magic silver interconnects; Stealth Audio Silver and gold interconnects and silver ribbon speaker cables; Alón Black Orpheus speaker cables; Wyetech Labs Jade (tubed) and Plinius CD-LAD (SS) linestage preamplifiers; Plinius M-14 and EX-CELL Power Solutions Microgroove Plus phono sections, Forsell Air Reference CD Drive; EAD TheatreMaster DAC; Custom Power Cord Company Green Hornet coaxial digital cable; Coincident Speaker Technology SIP 300B SET stereo integrated amplifier; Wyetech Labs Topaz 572B stereo SET amplifier; Vaic VV 52B ST integrated amplifier; Zanden 7000 845 SET stereo amplifier; De Havilland Aries 845 SET mono amplifiers; Conrad-Johnson Premier Four tubed stereo amplifier, Plinius SA-100 SS stereo amplifier, Custom Power Cord Company Top Gun HCFi A/C power cords and super power blocks; Arcici Suspense Rack
Manufacturer's Comment: I would like to thank Scot Markwell for a review that accurately describes the true nature of the Victory and what makes it so special and unique. He got it and effectively communicated it . The Victory was designed to be an attractive, reasonably sized and priced loudspeaker that could be used with virtually any amplifier, especially (but not limited exclusively to) low powered Single Ended Triodes. We sought to extend the boundaries in what was possible in such a design, especially in being able to create a loudspeaker that simply reveals more musical information fed to it than any other. The Victory will neither conceal nor veil the music it is asked to reproduce. It is a pertinacious purveyor of the truth. It is NOT, however, sterile, lean or edgy. It is harmonically complete and truthful to the source. Depending upon what type of listener you are, that may either be a curse or a blessing.
The Victory is a messenger that merely conveys the information relayed to it. Most audiophiles, upon hearing the Victory for the first time, are simply amazed at their speed, detail, transparency and purity. For most it is a revelatory experience. Scot identified the acknowledged compromise in fulfilling our design mandate, namely, the absence of sub 30 Hz response. To attain the lowest octave would require a speaker with an enclosure more than twice its current size and multiple large size woofers. Such a speaker would have also prove quite expensive. We have, in fact created this speaker. Called the Total Victory, it sells for $11,500 US.
For a large majority of listeners, however the low frequency performance of the standard Victory will prove more than satisfying. In creating the Victory, a design which took more than 24 months to come to fruition, we overcame obstacles that previously seemed impenetrable. High sensitivity has traditionally meant poor power handling capability and very limited low frequency response. The Victory not only can easily handle hundreds of watts, its bass is flat to the mid 30s.This means that the Victory can be successfully mated with flea powered and muscle amps alike and everything in between. The listener can choose the amplification of his choice. Again, a unique development that heretofore was not possible.
The response to the Victory by consumers, retailers and reviewers has been overwhelming. In fact, the Victory has become the best selling model in the Coincident line up. The speaker is obviously fulfilling a desired niche in the market place.
Also noteworthy is the introduction of the Coincident amplifiers, the SIP 300B mentioned and used by Markwell, and the MP300B ( the mono bloc version of the SIP 300B). These represent breakthrough components in terms of value and overall quality. While I agree they sound heavenly with Coincident speakers, they mate beautifully with any appropriate speaker system.
I would like to end this comment by stating that Scot Markwell not only has amongst the best ears in the business, he is a genuinely nice guy and a pleasure to associate with.
Israel Blume- Pres.
Coincident Speaker Technology