Jaton Lyra HD-661DX Speakers
List Price $1,600
Optional Matching Stands: $200
The Jaton Lyra HD-661DX speakers are the next iteration of the original HD661 demonstrated at RMAF in 2007. This 2.5 way 24” tall speaker requires a short stand. They were presented in the same room as the venerable Green Mountain Audio Calypso speakers which I enjoyed considerably. The original HD661 sounded OK but the $10,000 Calypsos really captured the bulk of my attention. When asked to review the latest iteration in “DX” form, I felt guilty for not having spent more time with the Jaton speakers. What to really expect when the HD-661DX speakers arrived was a bit of a mystery.
The speakers were easy to remove from their packaging at only 22lbs apiece. No manual nor “congratulations on your purchase” message was present in the boxes. Something suggesting appropriate stand heights would have been nice. The optional stands are 22 inches tall. Self-stick rubber feet were present in the box and I applied those assuming that was the expectation. The speakers were set up in an out of the way area and played for a week before really listening.
The HD-661DX is a new 2.5 way version of the 2 way HD-661. The enclosures and drivers are the same, as is the MTM format placing the tweeter squarely in between the drivers. The crossover is all new. Jaton calls it a three way but measurements show that it is really a 2.5 way utilizing both drivers for bass duty and only the upper driver for midrange. The woofer cones are a magnesium alloy with a rubber surround and a powerful magnet. The tweeter is a quality silk dome. The crossover from the midwoofer to the tweeter is around 1.5Khz with the lower woofer augmenting only the low frequencies. The crossover is lavished with well respected high end parts like Wima capacitors and Vishay resistors.
The plastic cabinets curve in on either side of the tweeter in hopes of improving the imaging. A benefit to the curved cabinets should also be fewer standing waves from fewer parallel surfaces. The fact that the cabinets are plastic was interesting. The plastic allows a more rounded shape helping to increase stiffness of the walls. The stiffer walls require less bracing and the cabinets are pretty light. The speaker comes standard with a nine coat piano black lacquer finish. The cabinets are short dark and curvaceous particularly capturing the attention of males over the age of 12. I jokingly renamed my review set “Lola” during the review period. The styling was not so much in my taste but nearly all that saw them found them quite attractive. The supplied grills are tightly held in using four grill fasteners. The grills were odd in that they were solid except for a perfect circle cut around each of the three drivers. There was no chamfering of them either. Listening and later measurements showed that the grills absolutely destroyed the sound. When I noticed this, I thought of Thiel speakers whose grills are almost no affect on the sound in comparison.
After break in, the speakers were placed in my small listening room utilizing a Bryston B100SST, an external DAC AM modified by Pacific Valve, and a Pioneer Elite DV47a as a transport. Speaker wires were Kimber 4TC and the interconnects were BlueJeans LC1. Power was delivered through a dedicated 20 amp line, hospital grade outlets, and Audioquest and Volex power cords.
Placement of the speakers proved quite difficult. Getting the height right is quite critical with these speakers. A 18” to 22” stand should work well depending on how tall you are. The smoothest sound came with the tweeters at my ear level so 19” stands were just right
in that room. Next came distance from the back wall. Too close and the bass was exceedingly boomy due to the rear port. Too far out and the bass disappeared. The best response was found using the Cardas speaker placement method.
And The Sound?
The biggest benefit to being an audio reviewer, apart from getting to speak to the designers, is the pleasure to listen to great audio components in house, even if it is only for 30 days - our limit for time with components that are fully broken in before we get them. There there are the downsides. My time with the Jaton HD-661DX speakers was not as pleasant as I would have liked. After getting them set up, listening to them became increasingly agitating but that happened slowly over time.
Tom Waits voice in “Heartattack In Vine” sounded as if he had gained 100lbs. A boxy underdamped hoot was hard to ignore and masked out some of the detail. I suppose stuffing the enclosure would help that. A more disturbing characteristic was how edgy his voice sounded. “Eggs and Sausage” from his “Used Songs” CD, usually has a bit of a nightclub feel if the ambiance is reproduced faithfully. Through the Jaton speakers, the sound stage and detail were masked out by what seemed like extra detail but in reality was just an added edge to the sound. What should have sounded like “you are there” was more like “get me outta here”.
A friendly dealer once confided in me that Diana Krall sells a lot of speakers. Usually, when all else fails in a system, her recordings can sometimes still sound good. Even Diana Krall sounded bad with these. I had some friends over to listen to get a second, third, and fourth opinion. After lots of listening and swapping around electronics, we started just throwing Diana Krall into the mix. Heads slowly swayed in dismay; “Even Diana Krall sounds bad with these” was the conclusion. During that listening session, it became even more clear that these speakers lacked transparency. Some thought that maybe there was a problem with the electronics. That's when I brought out the affordable $300 HSU HB1 MK2 speakers and subwoofer. Bam! We have music again. We threw in a couple of sets of DIY speakers which were also just fine thank you. A set of Maggie MC1 speakers also proved to be just fine in their own way. We decided to keep the subwoofer in the mix to see if that would help. The really low frequencies gave the music a solid foundation but the lack of musicality persisted.
We also tried these in another system in the home. This is a lower end system in a larger room utilizing a Denon receiver and Panasonic transport. The sonic flaws followed the speakers into this system too but were less obvious.
The quotes I received were really too harsh to share here. The end result was that they agreed with what I was thinking:
The bass is both boomy yet does not go deep enough. It needs a subwoofer
The sweet spot is tiny when there is one
There is a lack of transparency
There is a subtle hash or edge to the sound which became fatiguing quickly
My friend Arthur Gould later quoted; “The speakers were like Prozac. No matter what was played the same emotion came through.” He had another analogy likening the output to that of a pasta maker. Everything came out the same shape.
With classical music such as an old recording from Copeland, at first it sounds like there is more detail until one realizes that they are actually hearing less of what they should be hearing. I won't go into details regarding more musical references as the measurements exposed something I had wondered about. I kept these speakers for three times the normal length wondering if they would sound better over time and just trying to determine what was really bothering me about them. That was until I measured them. Our mantra at Stereomojo is to do all listening tests and impressions before any measurements are done or at least keep the measurements from the reviewer until the reviewers impressions are made. In this case, I did my own measurements so I left it for last.
The smoothest frequency response was found with the grills off and on the tweeter axis. With the grill on, sharp peaks in the treble response were clearly evident. Measuring on the top woofer axis revealed a larger dip in the lower treble than when measuring on the tweeter axis.
The on axis frequency response seems OK. There is a slight rise in the bass starting around 150Hz that helps give these speakers there warmish quality. Some may like that. I would rather the bass stay flat or rise a bit at the lowest octaves. A dip around 3Khz to 4Khz was not apparent in my listening but it was to the microphone. It's smooth and broad and not really a deal breaker. So far the frequency response is looking OK other than a rise around 15Khz.
Above is the on axis and 30 degree off axis response response. On axis is in yellow. Note how the shapes of the curves criss-cross a bit in the upper midrange and lower treble. This helps lead to the small sweet spot.
This is the on axis response in yellow against the 45 degree off axis response. The 45 degree off axis response is actually smoother yet with a slight and smooth downward trend from about 200Hz on up to around 8Khz where is starts to roll off. This hints that maybe some peakiness from the woofers is contributing to the poor imaging.
The 60 degree off axis response is just a more extreme case of the 45 degree off axis response. Nothing spectacular here but at least all the off axis response curves follow a similar shape.
The impedance curve suggests that any very careful folks wishing to purchase these speakers might want to use an amplifier suited for 4 ohm duty. It dips to around 3 ohms from 150Hz to around 350Hz. The overall impedance may likely be considered 6 ohms as a whole however. A simple Denon receiver had no issues driving them although the small bump in the impedance around 4Khz may make these sound forward with a tube amplifier.
The impulse response shown below indicates that the drivers are not time or phase aligned.
The woofer close microphone response measurement is more interesting. Holding the microphone right up the top midwoofer revealed some interesting tidbits. That 4.5Khz spike is only down about 8db and very much within the audible range. There is another spike at 6.5Khz that is about 18db down and still within the audible range. Some of this is hidden by phase differences when one measures the entire speaker a meter away but the affects are still audible. This hints that the metal cone ringing may not affectively be filtered out.
Performing the same close micro phone measurement for the bottom woofer is also interesting. The bottom woofer is only down 18db at 4.5Khz and about 13db down at 6Khz. These are also in the audible range and could contribute to beaming and poor imaging but also hints, again, that the metal cone is having some ringing problems.
Things become more clear looking at the cumulative spectral decay (CSD) plot. One can see that the speaker is ringing from about 4.5Khz to around 8Khz. This is masking out the low level detail that contains the spatial cues and subtle nuance that help make a speaker recreate music instead of just noise.
Metal tends to ring like a bell when excited. Just setting the table results in lots of clinks as the silverware bangs together. Metal cone speakers are an extreme case of this utilizing thin sheets of aluminum or, in this case, magnesium and typically require some extensive filtering to sound decent. Joseph Audio uses his “Infinite Slope ®” 120db/octave elliptical filters in order to use metal cones effectively. Others use a notch filter with decent success. My DIY speakers at home utilize a similar but smaller SEAS driver as the Joseph Audio speakers but use a notch filter to tame a 7.8Khz peak successfully. I had tried a simple forth order (24db/octave) slope crossover and the results were similar to what I was hearing with the Jaton speakers. Only a good notch filter worked well for me. It is possible but less likely that the cause could be excitation of the woofer at higher frequencies due to a fundamental at some lower frequency. If that were the case, even a notch filter at the higher frequencies would not work.
There is no doubt that some people would love the Jaton Lyra HD-661DX for two-channel music reproduction. People love speakers like Bose and other brands found at Best Buy and even white vans. But our recommendations are not based on "regular people". Stereomojo is targeted at serious music lovers and those with at least a modicum of audio sophistication. The vast majority of audio review journals would end the review with some vaguely complimentary phrase and leave it at that. That's not us. We think our readers deserve a higher standard of honesty and integrity. Therefore, even though there may be those that would find these speakers attractive, in all honesty we cannot recommend the Jaton Lyra HD-661DX speaker for high end two channel listening. The the edginess, substandard sound stage, and lack of transparency detract from the musical experience. George from Jaton was informed of our findings and was very understanding that we have a responsibility to the reader to publish our findings. He mentioned that they have the responsibility of creating the best possible products for the customer and that they would take these findings into account with regards to the HD-661DX. George said that this model is actually designed to be more of a home theater speaker rather than a two channel audiophile model. Their other line dubbed " Real" is targeted at serious listeners instead.
Publisher's note - Normally when a reviewer comes to a conclusion that he cannot recommend a product based on his listening evaluation, we make arrangements to have the product reviewed by another reviewer in a different system and home. We know that much time, effort and money goes into the design, development, marketing and distribution of a product. Words mean things and we approach our opinions seriously and carefully. In this case, we decided to forego a second review because Bill had not only had several others listen to them, but he had also measured them and found that what everyone had heard was directly related to what the measurements indicated. But we didn't stop there. Even very objective measurements can be open to subjective interpretation. In an effort to garner a second opinion from a highly regarded and independent source, we sent the measurements to GR Research along with our comments to make sure what we said was correct. They were. In addition, nothing in the review, including the measurements, was disputed by Jaton.
I think it is also important to point out that on the front page of Stereomojo is found an advertisement for Jaton. We accept very few ads here and turn down more than we accept. Jaton did pay for a small add. It is well known in the industry that advertisements do play a role in review outcomes. Many times reviews never see the light of day if it turns out to be anything but positive. That is the stated policy of publications like Six Moons and Positive Feedback. That's fine. They have their reasons that have been stated and written publicly. It is the undeclared policy of many others.
For print magazines, manufacturers are often hit up for advertising money - often in the $20,000 range - before a product even gets accepted for review. It's never stated outright that money must change hands and it is never suggested by a reviewer, editor or publisher. It's handled by the advertising department. Very heavy handed and very careful, but the manufacturer gets the message. Of course, this is not always the case. They need to be able to point to one or two examples of things that were reviewed or otherwise "mentioned" - an important distinction - with no advertising evident. But there are ways around that, too. We find this practice unacceptable, which we think is borne out in this review. We think Jaton is a fine company. They have been around for a long time in the computer electronics field and are just recently dipping into the audio arena. We reviewed their amplifier and found it to be exceptional in quality and value. We think they have a lot of potential and working with George Cheng has been nothing but upfront and above board. He's a good guy.
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