Source Technologies 1.6 WC
This is yet another review that has resulted from our new feature "Stereo for Cheap Bastards" or S4CB as our readers dubbed it. S4CB is a special series of reviews of stereo gear with a price of $1,000 or less. We asked our readers to send us the names of components that they owned, knew of or had heard about for us to review. We have received requests from all over the world, many for brands of which we had never heard. Like Source Technologies. We have contacted every single company for whom we have gotten requests. Imagine that; a high-end audio publication that actually listens and responds to its readers! We have scheduled several reviews, others are considering our (your) request and a few others have indicated no interest. We encourage to keep sending us those requests because we have discovered several otherwise unknown products that are extraordinary values - the Holy Grail of Cheap Bastards like us. Publisher
One of the most satisfying parts of being a Stereomojo reviewer is not just that the chicks dig it, but I get to find product that represents a solid value hiding in plain sight. If you drop a pin on Google maps just northeast of Hartford, CT you will be in South Windsor, the home of Source Technologies. For fifteen years John Sollecito has been the brainchild of this successful loudspeaker specialty firm bringing to the table over twenty years of design expertise. John has spent time designing for other “brand name” manufacturers and in his credentials sits the “JSE infinite Slope”, a floor standing speaker which was the first of its kind to utilize ultra-high order crossover topologies up to 120dB/octave!
Fast forward to today: 6.5” bookshelf loudspeakers are a dime a dozen. It is as if a manufacturer was to exclude such a stable from a product line, they will be burned at the stake! They range drastically in price, quality, sonics, build, and it is nearly impossible to research them all. In come the 1.6’s. They are fairly standard with a very handsome wood finish a thick, high gloss acrylic back, and an absolutely shameful pair of spring loaded binding posts. This one really got under my skin as it was impossible to use my banana plugs, never mind spades with them. Luckily my MIT speaker cables have interchangeable tips with a pin which fit well into the “bare-wire-only” accepting terminal. Frustration aside, their flat-out cabinet heft meant I did not have to use the stands I built for the terminator boxes on the MIT shotgun series that can act like an oversized anchor for small to medium bookshelf speakers pulling them off the stand and to the floor. For a medium-sized bookshelf of 16"h x 8.2" w x 8.5"d, they are very well built. The highly scientific “knuckle” test and “lift” test back up my conclusions though you will not see these methods in an AES journal anytime soon. The rare earth magnets in these speakers are confined to the duty of securing the grills to the front baffle. This leaves a nice clean finish to the 1.6’s without the normal puncture wounds left from the female side of plastic grill fasteners.
A handsome soft dome tweeter with a wide surround hides just beneath the grills. I was told it is a flavor of the Vifa DX25 series. This remarkable tweeter represents an amazing value due to its low resonant frequency, extended response, and wide dispersion. It is also not the tweeter pictured on the website. It is nice to see continuous improvement is not gloom and doom or a means of sacrifice for cost reduction. After all, we are warned about this top secret action in almost every manual we get with just about every piece of audio gear. The woofer is a proprietary wool/carbon composite which seems to have a sturdy cast frame and strong motor. Source states this special composition provides extremely well control and damping of the cone ridding it from resonances that linger after a given sound is played. The benefit is increased inner detail, speed, transient attack, and better imaging. If you are a euphoric audiophile that fears good engineering will rid the sound of good, lifelike distortion and send the sound to a robotic world of cold analytics fear not, this driver is very lifelike! It maintains the genuine midrange that music demands. It is always nice to see a company utilizing their own drivers as it shows a seriousness so many others just to not have. It defines their products as truly exclusive with attention to detail not always found well beyond $795/pr.
It is stated in their website Source using premium crossover components with polypropylene capacitors and 2% (tolerance) air core inductors. While I am always tempted as a loudspeaker designer to open the Pandora’s Box of another’s design, I respect the opportunity to spend time with the products and did not verify this claim with tools and some grit. I find the sonics of a good crossover to be rather distinct. There is better transient attack, a quieter background, bigger soundstage, and more information that seems to work together when the crossover components are of premium quality. These aforementioned qualities the 1.6s had in abundance.
Where does a $795.00USD 6.5” 2-way bookshelf set my expectations? Fairly high. There are some great offerings in this price range, including small towers. Up to this point they seem to fit the bill. It is when I pressed “play” the story of these began to unravel… But not until after three painstaking weeks of aggressive break-in!!! It truly took that long for the 1.6’s to lose a very unattractive glare in the upper midrange. It was the longest any speaker has ever spent without ears for it to play to in my system. The glare did suppress itself, however as you will see in the measurements, there is a slight rise in distortion around 1.8Khz that never went away. I am unsure this was annoyingly audible, but it did seem audible nevertheless. This is a stout reminder of the ongoing, tedious, and cantankerous holy war of measuring with a microphone vs. measuring with ones ears. Loudspeakers are very complex devices, simple squiggles are very good litmus tests as to their performance, but do not always reflect their sound.
The Black line represents the overall, in-room response. What you see here is actual, in-room performance. The double-dip around 125Hz and 160Hz is a room interaction that is typical in my listening room. You will see it mirrored again at 475Hz and 525Hz. Overall the response is very flat and well behaved. The Dark Blue line represents the THD. The two most important distortion traces are the red 2nd order distortion, and the magenta 3rd order. 3rd order harmonic distortion is the root of all evil. It is what destroys the sound of loudspeakers making them gritty, grainy, and tends to make them shout. The 1.6’s have a very low amount of 3rd order distortion. 2nd order distortion is much more pleasant. Some say it is not very detectable, and it is one of the primary reasons tube lovers love tubes! It is the soft in soft clipping, and if you have to have distortion, 2nd is the way to go. For the most part, the 2nd order distortion defines the whole curve. This seems to contribute to the 1.6’s very appealing, neutral sound. These little Source Technology 1.6’s measure as a good HIFI speaker should. There are no major issues in the Waterfall either. The plot does show a little storage in that 1.5-1.8K region, but nothing glaringly obnoxious.
The 1.6’s measure well reinforcing there was some care taken in their creation and any thought of “good enough for an entry level speaker” was not accepted as an engineering concept. Clearly, the message from source states they are here to compete no matter the price-point.
It all adds up wonderfully too. In my primary system, I found them to have a very coherent sound top to bottom. They had amazing inner detail and micro-dynamics but lacked hard hitting, big impact. There are not many 6” 2-ways that provide such a feel, and the ones that do have a price tag with at least one more zero than these lil’ ones. The bass response was very articulate and did not seem to quite get to the 45Hz in-room as their specification states, but there was no boom or thump added to give the appearance of deeper bass than the speaker can rightfully do. I believe this was largely responsible for the enjoyable and accurate reproduction of instruments that hang out in the lower registers. Running the line of tonally neutral, the 1.6’s were not forgiving with less than ideal recordings. This was a good thing! It meant this little speaker was being true to the source material. They did shine their brightest when reproducing well recorded music with enough complexity to unravel. They are refined and were not as “fun” on rock recordings and hip hop as a Klipsch RB51 or PSB Imagine B though I did find them to be engaging, and that is a trait not every speaker possesses! Worth mention is their capability to keep it together at high volumes. Fed with 250Wrms from my Carver Sunfire amp, I had a hell of a good time and was flat-out amazed when cranking music from Blue Man Group’s “Audio”, Hugh Masekelah’s “Stimela”, and Amen Tobin’s “Supermodified”. They held together through dynamic extremes and reproduced them faithfully without sacrificing one bit of integrity. Qualities that are more to add to the list where their action speaks miles of their design.
In Eric Clapton’s 2010 album simply titled “Clapton”, the Source Technologies kept Mr. Clapton’s voice true without being nasal. This was one of the first signs of greatness and I have been frustrated by so many loudspeakers on this critical test. After easing a bit into the first track “Travelin’ alone”, the foot began tapping to this driving tune that feels as if it is constantly rolling forward. His mild, signature guitar work was not lost in the shuffle and had great body and texture, while the standard blues beat laid on the backside of the timing. His slowhand work was unraveled well on the fifth track “How deep is the ocean”, a jazz standard, written into a fusion of sorts which tip-toes the line carefully of Blues and Jazz. It’s well done sonics made me lean back and just listen, and was perhaps the only time I wished the 1.6’s possessed more authority down low if nothing else to “fatten” up the sound.
Alright, so they like my biggun’ of an amp that basically will replace an arc welder if needed. What about something smaller, perhaps tube based? I enlisted my good friend Kevin for a listen with his Prima Luna Prolouge II Tube integrated. This lil’ 40W/ch., Goldline KT88 driven integrated has a surprising amount of drive while maintaining the qualities of a tube based system. We wired up the 1.6’s and got an OBI imported CD of “The Very Best of Diana Krall spinning in his Virtue Audio CD player. I find this recording to be a little deeper in stage, and a little less fuzzy than her off the shelf standards. When the bass established the foundation for which “All or Nothing at All” is built, we looked at each other because it seems we had the same thought! It was very well done, with great pace, dynamics, and truth to the sound that had us tapping our toes in no time. The Bossa-Nova on “The Look of Love”, was presented well, with smooth strings and woodwinds. I was able to pay no mind to the rise at 1.8K as mentioned earlier, and if it was anything detrimental it would have definitely shown during the barrage of female vocals, woodwinds, and strings. At no time did the Source Technologies feel like a sub kilo-buck investment. We continued to listen for quite some time to everything from Hendrix to Mozart and I could not help to feel that any speaker that mates with a system and gets me “music rolling”, is a sound investment.
Cheap Bastard Test
I am a cheap bastard. I send e-cards on birthdays because they are free, I buy stuff on sale and modify to fit my needs, and never pay full price for anything. Cheap? Hell, most call it smart! So I stared to wonder how these would sound on a cheap-o system, knowing that there is a strong following which believes the speaker is where the money should be spent in an audio system. I have a 3 season bar room which I have an old Pioneer SX-205 receiver and Kenwood 5-disc changer. Once I grabbed some 16awg zip-cord I had lying around (which was perfect for those repugnant spring clips) I set them on my bar at each end, cracked open a cold one and tuned into some local radio stations. In other words I gave them the largest opportunity to disappoint that I could. Most times when hooking a resolving and truthful speaker to a less than ideal system, they are not forgiving enough and seem to let all of the nasties through. Most times it results in a dramatic exodus from the room by me holding my ears. However the Source Technology 1.6s did well. They were not forgiving, but sounded good enough to still be enjoyable. It was, however, a waste of talent. The 1.6’s will most definitely appreciate a better home in a status matched system.
I was reflecting on them quite a bit as I packaged them for return to Source Technologies. I concluded that there is no reason they should not sound as gratifying as they do. They are backed by years of experience in the industry, a solid engineering foundation, and built on a love for music. This shows in the final product from fit and finish to fidelity. The Source Technology 1.6 loudspeakers are a definite value at $795/pr.
I have never heard a Source Technology product before this opportunity. I am certainly glad I have and can say the 1.6 loudspeakers fits a wide range of customers. First, there is the beginner to the 2-channel listening world. The Source Technology 1.6 will mate well with both low and high power amps, while maintaining a truly high fidelity experience. Next is the serious audiophile looking for a 2nd system. Sure, they do not reach into the lower octave very well and then there are those binding posts to contend with, but they will satisfy a finicky ear. Lastly, the budget conscious audiophile. For those who are stretching the budget and have $3,000 to spend on an entire system that needs to be lived with for years to come, the 1.6’s are a sturdy and satisfying choice for the back end and years of enjoyment.
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