World Premiere Review!
There are many schools of thought concerning the best way to make a loudspeaker. There is no doubt the folks at YG Acoustics with the Carmel 2 floorstanding loudspeaker ($24,300) as reviewed here think differently. Some will point you at electrostatic or planar magnetic panels, but most designers have chosen the more conventional approach of using dynamic drivers. Some will insist that all crossovers are evil, and the only way to avoid this evil is to use a single dynamic driver. A lot of creativity has been expended in this direction, particularly for those who wish to partner these speakers with low powered SET amplifiers, since single driver speakers can be highly efficient. But most will say both the low end and the high end are compromised in either level or accuracy by this choice, and direct their attention to multi-driver boxes.
So now you have the high notes coming from one drive unit and the low notes from another (or something more complex) which makes it harder to convey imaging accurately. Hence the efforts of Tannoy, KEF and others to deploy a tweeter at the centre of the woofer. There are some wonderful speakers based on this concentric principle, but it is obviously harder to make a tweeter and a woofer in one mechanical system than to make separate drive units of equivalent quality. And so most high end speakers use two or more separate drivers in a box.
But should it be two, or are more drivers better? The argument for three drivers is you can optimize low, middle and high drivers placing less strain on each than in a two-way design. If you really want deep bass response you need a large diameter cone to push lots of air. If the woofer is larger than around 7" in diameter, you may not find a good tweeter that can sufficiently overlap with the woofer. So you will see two-way speakers with bass/midrange drivers up to around 7", and then larger speakers with perhaps a 10" woofer, a 4" midrange and a 1" tweeter. If you want to make a lot of noise, and you want deep bass, go for the three-way. Maybe even a four or five-way. Or you may even double up on some of the drivers.
But crossovers are evil right? They rob the amplifier of its control over the drivers, and introduce phase anomalies and other distortions and reduce overall efficiency. Some companies, like Reference 3A, have another solution. Connect the bass/midrange driver directly to the amplifier without a crossover at all. The tweeter is connected to a simplified crossover to adjust its level to that of the main driver. Other companies have worked hard to improve the quality of their crossovers and their drivers through the use of exotic components, materials and designs.
Some designers have made great strides in improving the physical characteristics of the drivers, and by doing so have increased their effective bandwidth and output capacity, while increasing linearity and lowering distortion. Progress in this area has been slow but steady, but there have also been the occasional great leaps forward. The introduction of the Bextrone cone, the sandwich cone, the use of beryllium and of carbon fiber can all lead to remarkable advances.
Yoav Geva, YG's chief designer, has a few ideas of his own (see this month's Enjoy the Music.com's intereview with Yaov Geva here). The first is to build a crossover design tool which would optimize both level and phase coherence at once, where often these are trade-offs. Next he uses aluminum instead of wood for his cabinets to give the drivers an ideal environment in which to work. Then the shape of the cabinet itself can be used to reduce standing waves. He is not alone on that score. Then he turned his attention to the drivers themselves.
YG Acoustics Designs
The tweeter in the Carmel 2 is the same soft dome unit found in the top of the line Sonja, and incorporates proprietary ForgeCore technology, again a product of the special in house CNC cutting machines and their 3D profiling capability. The magnet system typically serves as both its motor and its enclosure. ForgeCore optimizes both functions through the use of computer optimized highly sophisticated 3D geometries in the magnet system. Standard tweeters use stamped or laser-cut motors, which cannot produce these profiles. And is this a great leap forward?
What do these advanced technologies bring you, apart from higher costs? For BilletCore woofers, YG claim overwhelmingly superior dynamics, musical delicacy and low distortion, thanks to the high rigidity of the cone and the very tight tolerances this process can achieve. These drivers should also be extremely reliable because of the total lack of weak spots. For the ForgeCore tweeters, YG claim greatly reduced distortion and a sense of ease to the sound. They back up these claims with impressive published measurements of distortion.
The Sonja, Hailey and Carmel 2 all feature a new design aesthetic with complex curvature to the cabinets that make them at once both far better looking than the models they replace and significantly more rigid while offering sonic advantages inside and out. The aircraft grade aluminum alloy cabinet has a lustrous black finish and is machined to exceptionally high precision, a big leap over the original Carmel.
Another design pillar for all current YG speakers is FocusedElimination anti-resonance technology. This aims to combine the minimized turbulence of a sealed box design with the low friction associated with open baffle designs. The shape of the interior cavities, the bracing, and the almost entire absence of absorptive materials inside the box all feature significantly in this aspect.
I could go on. But enough with the technical details.
How Does It All Sound?
What about the human voice? Dina Krall's All For You [Justin Time JTR 8458-2] gives me plenty of clues. From the intimate "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" to the irrepressible "Hit That Jive Jack", Krall's voice is as raw and husky as you could hope – absolutely demonstration class. But the one song where Krall defers to Benny Green for the piano work, "If I Had You", well that's raising the bar another couple of notches. The extra low end reach of the Carmel 2 and the significantly greater dynamic range allowed this particular listener 4m55s of sublime jazz. You just get the feeling there's nothing in the way, no weakness in the chain of reproduction to spoil your pleasure. It goes without saying that the rest of the system has to operate at the same high level to get this degree of realism. So let me fill in those important details. First with the EMM Labs XDS1 as reviewed here in its very latest iteration, and then the equally fine EMM Labs Pre 2 preamplifier feeding a ModWright KWA 150 SE in its high bias position. String all this together with Nordost Valhalla power cords, interconnects and speaker cables and you have a system that screams transparency and resolving power.
But the magic, and the reason to fork out the asking price of $24,300 for a pair of two way speakers, comes when the sound field is more complex than a solo instrument or a jazz trio. Most speakers, even very expensive ones, begin to unravel when you throw in more and more voices or instruments. One voice will tend to obscure another, or strings will begin to sound like one big instrument. The Carmel 2 has the uncanny ability to keep the integrity of every instrument or voice in the mix. It makes orchestral music much easier to listen to, since it is far closer to a good concert hall experience than we are used to in our living rooms. Yoav Geva will probably tell you it's the extraordinary phase accuracy of these speakers, especially in the critical crossover region (and remember – there is only one such region here), and their extraordinarily low measured distortion levels. What I hear is every instrument firmly located in a three dimensional space, and playing as loud or soft as it should without affecting the sound or location of any other instrument. I think that's what Geva was going for, not maximum loudness, efficiency, deep bass extension or a pleasing warmth. And I think he got it with the Carmel 2. You want something that does the same but in a bigger room or at higher levels, a few extra pedal notes on the organ, then look at the Hailey or the Sonja, but prepare to dig correspondingly deeper into your bank accounts.
I've been living with these speakers for a few months now, and I didn't start my critical listening until they were thoroughly run in. I've found I'm listening to a broader range of music now, since they are comfortable in jazz, classical, spoken word, heavy metal, folk, tango, pretty much everything except the new Dylan album, for which I blame Dylan, not YG. I don't like that album anywhere, even though I love pretty much everything else he ever recorded. But I am also keeping some recordings, like The Retrospect Ensemble's Bach Harpsichord Concertos [Linn CKD 410] for the car, since I find them uncomfortably thin here. Surprising, since so many other Linn SACD recordings sound great.
I stand by that assessment, and the reservations I expressed. YG Acoustics have directly addressed the low frequency extension and the maximum sound pressure, not by supersizing the speaker, but by refining every element of it to push it a significant step further towards the ideal. The Carmel 2 sounds like a bigger brother to the Carmel, but actually it's slightly slimmer (41" x 9" x 13" versus 41" x 11" x 15"). The Carmel 2 is a thorough revision to its predecessor in virtually every particular way. it has bigger balls and greater finesse. I love how YG Acoustics have managed to keep the wonderful qualities of the Carmel but add so much to the lower frequency articulation, the midrange clarity, the openness of the upper frequencies and the overall level of realism. There's nothing for it. I just have to keep this pair.