Sound Quest Products – H 12 Horn Loudspeaker
Sound Quest Products – H 12 Horn Loudspeaker
Hybrid Romance: Horn & Woofer Come Together
After many years of having the good fortune to host a number of truly wonderful (and accordingly expensive) loudspeakers in my home, I will be totally honest and admit to experiencing a certain type of addiction that can easily happen when you live with these types of high-end audio products. Even though each pair of loudspeaker that has graced my listening room were of significantly different design, each had its own set of sonic characteristics. Each left a positive impression on me, my wife and the many visitors who had an opportunity to experience both casual and serious listening sessions here.
As we all know, capturing anything remotely similar to the live experience is truly a challenge but also one that audiophiles and music lovers alike are willing to continue to pursue. Interestingly, to many, speakers tend to be at the heart of many discussions especially when it comes to comparing what we actually hear in our home systems. After loudspeakers, the discussions tends to be the “amplifier.” (especially when the subject of power and dynamics comes up). Yes, I realize there’s much more to really good music reproduction than big speakers and powerful amplifiers especially when it comes to considerations around things such as musical finesse, imaging, soundstaging and other important audiophile related areas of focus.
But as times and circumstances change, I now find myself even more curious as to what might be available for less than the price of an Audi or BMW. Additionally, my curiosity for exploring what other types of speakers might be available today and something that would offer a solid value and fairly high return on investment, led me to reach out to colleagues at our publication for some advice and recommendations. During one of those conversations, I was informed that there was a company that was interested in having additional speakers in their product line reviewed. This quickly led me to speaking with Stephen Monte who owns NAT Distribution and also runs Quest For Sound, which is a retail shop located in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. In fact, our own Dave Thomas, had previously reviewed this company’s largish H 15 Horn Loudspeaker (review here). His overall impression of these speakers was very favorable and as such, he suggested I look into other speakers from this company. Several phone calls later and things were in motion for delivery of a pair of the speakers that were a step down from their top model. Not long afterwards, two rather largish wooden crates arrived carrying the slightly smaller model H 12 Horn Loudspeaker and I was now embarking on a new venture.
Of the many speakers I’ve reviewed, most all have been dynamic designs with multiple driver complements and configured as either a 2½ or 3-way designs. Each of these speakers have also had a variety of sophisticated drivers often custom designed by highly regarded speaker manufacturers to meet the specific design requirements of the speaker designer. Occasionally, I’ve drifted to other speaker types including hybrid designs with ribbon drivers for either the midrange and/or tweeter section, but ultimately I’ve come back to speakers with dynamic drivers covering the full frequency range. The SQ H12 Horn Loudspeaker would be my first venture into reviewing something using a horn compression driver for both the mid and high frequencies coupled to a 12” inch woofer for the bass. As such, and due to my previous experiences, I had no idea what to expect from this type of speaker, so I had a fair amount of anticipation awaiting set up and ultimate listening.
Removing the speakers from their individual shipping containers was relatively straight-forward. Both speakers came in separate wood crates with both mounted on a wood palate used in shipping the speakers from the factory. Removing the speaker containers from the palate simply required removing the straps that were wrapped around the boxes. Having an additional pair of hands and a strong back was definitely helpful despite the relatively manageable weight of the speakers, especially when separated into the two separate modules.
For the most part, all I had to do was remove the wood cover that is held in place by screws. Once open, the separate midrange/tweeter and woofer modules were exposed. Each module was separated by foam inserts and various shipping materials to protect them during shipping. Quick examination/observation – everything appeared to be in good condition with the speakers surviving the trip from the East Coast to the Midwest where I live. Considering the size of these speakers along with their pricing level, the fit and finish seemed appropriate – clean, attractive aesthetically with a nice wood veneer finish.
Initial set up was a breeze and without any issues. The bass modules were easy enough to push across my carpeted listening area. In fact, I initially positioned each very close to where I had success with various other speakers in my system. We then placed the midrange/tweeter module atop the bass cabinet per instruction making sure the four copper feet fit into the corresponding cooper base slots on top of the woofer module. From there – I took the cable connectors supplied by the manufacturer to connect the two modules to one another and complete the system.
Once that was done, it was then fairly easy to move the speakers so they were aligned such that they were toed-in slightly towards my preferred listening position. After doing this I installed the special spikes that were provided. These helped to anchor the speakers tightly to the floor which in my case is carpet over a solid concrete slab. The spikes provided firm footing and also provided slight elevation of the speakers such that they were resting on the top of the carpet. At times, I also used ART Q-dampers under the spikes to elevate the speakers just a bit more and this also seemed to work quite well. Also supplied were little modular footers that could be used for the speakers when sitting them on hard surfaces.
Essentially, the two separate enclosures fit nicely together with no observable blemishes and as a total speaker system provided a robust but attractive profile. The speaker cabinets are constructed of high-grade MDF with the sides and rear panels differing somewhat from the front panel (i.e., 22-22mm thick and 30mm respectively). Additionally, the front panel has a slight slope of a few degrees for the purpose of enhancing phase coherency with the upper horn module. Each woofer has a removable circular grill that is easily removable and also available in different colors. The grills supplied with the pair of speakers I received were black and offered a nice contrast to the warm wood finish. For almost all of my listening – I did so without the grills removed.
Next steps – General Impressions
Once the speakers were in place, getting my speaker cables installed and ready for action was a snap. Initially I went with a single speaker cable connection per the instruction manual along with the supplied cables for connecting the woofer module to the midrange/tweeter section. According to the distributor, these particular cables were made from the same materials as the internal speaker wiring. In addition, I had several different sets of cables on hand, including interconnects and speaker cables to allow bi-wiring. In reviewing the specs – it was clear that the fairly high efficiency rating (97db) along with a benign load presented by these speakers – would not be an issue for the types of amplifiers I had on hand.
Luckily these speakers were a review sample and did not require much break-in. Nonetheless, I did run music from my CD player in repeat mode to get the drivers moving. After several hours, I made my initial observations. Immediately, the dynamic thrust and overall impact were observable with the single 12” woofer doing an excellent job. This bass driver is a British made coated paper cone, weighing 7.7 kg and with a 350W power handling capability. Fortunately, my suspicion that something might be amiss with the dual ports was totally unfounded and the sound was without any noticeable chuffing type sound emitted from the ports. Overall, the performance was tight, powerful and with excellent extension downward. And the good news – this was just the beginning.
Next, I was most interested to check out how the horn midrange and tweeter would perform on their own as well as how they would mesh with the woofer section. According to the information provided, the tweeter is a 43mm horn-loading type mounted with a piece of titanium membrane that can work with higher frequency extension, and is embedded in an elongated horn structure of pyramid in shape. Initially, the observed sound seemed slightly closed in and not as open or effortless as I was expecting. However, the frequency balance throughout this range seemed right on point, it was just that the sound didn’t open up as I had hoped. In terms of tonal balance, the transition from the bass unit to the horn midrange/tweeter maintained solid phase coherency and was impressive.
However, the slightly nagging issue around the sound through the midrange and higher frequencies was bugging me. It was at that point when I remembered comments made in Dave Thomas’s earlier review of this manufacturer’s larger speaker, when he mentioned the sound through the upper range being somewhat irritating and unpleasant. My initial concern was that perhaps even though I had superb and highly respected electronics, that being solid-state might somehow would not be an ideal match for these particular speakers. A quick call to the manufacturer to discuss this issue and I was assured that in his experience, this should not a problem. I agreed but still the sound wasn’t where I thought it should be. Not wishing to even think about replacing my reference ASR for other electronics similar to what Dave Thomas did in his review of the larger SQ H 15 speakers, it was at that point I decided to do a bit of experimenting with different cables.
All I can say is that with some experimentation, including bi-wiring the speakers, it was a much different story from what I heard with these speakers out of the box and things were now starting to sound more like what I had hoped. Whether using superb cable offering from Wire World and/or Kimber Kable, the sound was basically transformed and leapfrogged forward with levels of improvement that were very welcome and easily justified going this route. In terms of the sonic performance particularly through the midrange/tweeter module – I was now able to enjoy this much better without the sound calling particular attention to itself. The sound offered a much improved level of musicality and blended much better offering a nicely articulated and open sound perspective. Additionally, the bass performance was improved noticeably as well.
Although not an absolute conclusion at this point, I am once again reminded just how critically important it is to ensure appropriately matched electronics and/or cables to extract the highest levels of performance from any given pair of speakers. For the most part, the particular speakers under review are easily transparent enough, especially through the critical midrange and higher frequencies, to quickly reveal what comes ahead of them. In this regard, some experimentation is justified and even warranted.
Next on my trek for making observations was in the soundstaging department. Fortunately, the soundstage was open with good dispersion in both height and width. My initial concerns were that these types of speakers might be somewhat less open through the mid and highs than my previous reference speakers. However, that wasn’t the case. In fact, I was given a nice surprise with a fairly broad sweet spot for my preferred listening position. Additionally, depth was nicely rendered complementing the width and height. Although I wasn’t able to achieve anywhere near the same level of wrap around 3D effect that I frequently observed during my time with the superb YGA Anat Studio loudspeakers – I also had to remind myself of the significant cost differential whereas these speakers were literally one tenth the cost of the YGAs. Nonetheless – the sound that I was getting was good overall and enjoyable.
Moving on to further auditioning and for checking out ultimate resolution, detail and transparency – it was only after switching to either sets of cables mentioned earlier in this review that was I able to achieve a higher level of performance in these categories. I should mention that over the past five to six years, the previous speakers I’ve had in my home were all very high resolution speakers that were also significantly more costly than the SQ speakers. As such, without allowing time for me to get totally acclimated to the sound of these speakers, it would not have been a fair comparison. Fortunately, I was able to keep the SQ speakers long enough to provide sufficient time for solid observations as well as more than adequate time for me to critically evaluate their performance overall.
Serious Listening and Enjoyment
OK folks, enough already. Let me get on with it and focus on how the SQ speakers handled recorded music, all sorts of music. For those of you who’ve read any of my previous reviews, you already know that I’m a die-hard jazz lover. However, this doesn’t relegate me to any particular genre of jazz and as such, even though I admire much of the more traditional, classic, bebop, swing and straight-ahead jazz, I also totally get into the more modern sound offered by any number of different artists. In fact, I’ll take some Miles, Modern Jazz Quartet, Dexter Gordon, Lou Donaldson, Toots Thielemans, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and others and I’m a happy camper. These recordings regularly fuel my musical appetite. Moving to more modern fusion era something from Pat Matheny, Weather Report, Yellow Jackets, or other and I’m jumping up from my seat. Beyond that, I’ll also take a heavy dose of good ol’ R&B, including tunes from both past and newer recordings. In fact, pull out some solid soul music from Motown, Philadelphia Sound, others and I’m toast. In terms of favorite artists, I love listening to female vocalists, both old and new. Artists such as Shirley Horn, Sarah Vaughn, Etta James, Diana Krall, Tierney Sutton and numerous others often provide much pleasure for my listening tastes. I also get my kicks with male vocalists such as Kurt Elling, Luther Vandross, Freddie Cole, Kem, Temptations, Smokey Robinson and many others. Although classical music isn’t quite my forte, when really good recordings with solid thematic music come along, count me in.
My point is this, with the SQ H12 speakers, I found myself reaching for a wide range of recordings and really enjoying the sound coming from them. In particular, if there’s one sonic characteristic I would use to describe the sound of these speakers, I would have to say, they possess the ability to center the music on a solid foundation of bass that gives the music a feeling of wholeness and density. The importance of this quality becomes quite evident and helps to enhance the focus and imaging of the music.
Some of my favorite recordings that were played throughout much of my time with the SQ speakers included pianists. Often in my CD player were artists such as Marian McPartland with her wonderfully warm and musical recording titledTwilight World [Concord Jazz]. The density and blend of the piano coming through the horn midrange with the nicely articulated acoustic bass and shimmering cymbals was a true delight and created an enchanting musical experience. The title cut came through with a deliciously warm, clear sound that was absolutely and thoroughly enjoyable. Another favorite cut on this recording is my longtime favorite “Blue and Green.” These speakers rendered the sound of this particular cut very nicely as they captured a very realistic tonality of McPartland’s piano along with capturing the musical essence of the arrangement.
Moving on to pianists of very different stylings, I was all over artists such as Ramsey Lewis and Herbie Hancock. In particular, on Lewis’ recording titled Time Flies [EMI], the sound projected with authority and precision, especially on “Open My Heart,” Lewis’ piano remained clear and distinct from the background female vocalists and provided a very commanding overall sound. Similar experience with Hancock’s special recording A Tribute To Miles, [Qwest/Reprise], as much as the music can become very busy, the SQ speakers were able to provide ample bass along with clearly articulated midrange and highs. Keeping these sounds from becoming congested were clearly attributes of these speakers and helped to keep me sitting in my listening chair for long periods.
Switching to some juicy R&B, listening to The Temptations’ Phoenix Rising[Motown] gave a somewhat different insight into the sonic capabilities of these speakers. For those who are familiar with the wonderful trademark sound of this highly entertaining and engaging group, creating the proper bass line is absolutely essential to propel their music in a way that favors their rhythmic approach for delivering great sound. Additionally, this longtime favorite group approaches the tunes on this recording with layers of rich harmonics.
For sure, the SQ speakers laid out the bass from this recording as it should be, and also rendered the complex mix of the individual voices in a very realistic manner. Although it’s been awhile since I had the wonderful YGA Anat Studio speakers at my place, I won’t soon forget their absolutely marvelous way of unraveling layers of dense music in the soundstage. I only mention this as a benchmark and reference for comparison. Although the SQ speakers can’t compete in this type of shootout, which is essentially unfair but still quite instructive, the good news is that they are in fact capable of uncovering complex music at a level where the performance is very enjoyable and at all times musical.
Another one of my favorite male vocalists is Kurt Elling. Elling’s voice is endowed with a rich, warm sound with amazing clarity and enunciation plus lots of wonderful texture. His recordings are also complemented with very solid and nicely rendered musical arrangements. For example – on his recording titled Night Moves, [Concord Jazz], this singer lays out a variety of songs with musical backgrounds that are sensuous and captivating. The SQ speakers capture the musical nuances of his vocal presentation and at the same time bring for his band very accurately. Again, the strength of these speakers seems to be in how they portray the foundation of music and in a way that music lovers will very much enjoy.
By now you might be thinking, “OK, I get it. These speakers do a really good job with the bass, power and dynamics.” However, how do they perform in terms of finesse and ease of dynamic flow? I’ll put it this way, they do a very good job indeed. Listening to music that is exquisite and loaded with lots of musical nuance and eloquence, such as Shirley Horn’s Here’s To Life [Verve], you can get a sense of this speaker’s ability to breathe life into a recording. From my many years of listening to recorded music, capturing this type of subtly is often a major challenge and not simply a matter of playing the music low in volume. It’s more about how a speaker system can realistically portray intimate scaling and in a manner that provides body and organic texture. Again, the SQ H-12s provide a nice sense of this and in no way ever renders the music anemic or under served.
Perhaps at the price range for these speakers (i.e., $6,800 retail), it’s hard to expect that they will provide the very last word in detail, clarity and ultra resolution. However, the good news is that the SQ H-12 speakers provide a nice tradeoff for high levels of deep inner resolution with warm, full bodied sound. This important performance characteristic is essential to allow the listener the ability to enjoy the flow of the music by listening into the music and with the ability to distinguish the individual performers. The overall sonic palate of these speakers can best be described as powerful, tight and solid with deep bass and strong dynamics. Also, throughout the full sonic spectrum, there is a good fullness to the music that provides a sense of body and texture, making the music feel organic and whole. Musical in all aspects and a speaker that will keep your toes tapping and your ears delighted.
Thanks to Stephen Monte for designing and developing a solid speaker at a reasonable price point for the performance it provides. Other good news is that there is yet a smaller and even more affordable sibling to the SQ H12. Although I’ve not heard them, I would imagine they retain many of the musical qualities of their larger brethren and should be well worth seeking out.
Size: 45.5”H x 16.5”W x 17”D
Weight: 120 lbs/each
Impedance: 4 Ohms nominal, 2.7 Ohms minimum
Frequency Response: 35Hz – 20KHz
Power Handling: 350W
Price: $6,800/pair retail
Name: Quest for Sound
Address: 2307-R Bristol Pike, Bensalem, PA 19020
Web Site: www.yg-acoustics.com
Sales Information (E-mail): email@example.com
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