The Buggtussel Lemniscus
|The Buggtussel Lemniscus|
Grace Under Pressure
3 September 2002
Frequency Response: 25 Hz-22 kHz
Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 1w at 1m 91 dB
Amplifier Requirements: 10-400 watts
HF Driver: 1″ Aual (in-house modified Vifa)
MD Drivers: 2 x 4″ Cantilevered Kevlar
LF Driver: 10″ Cantilevered Kevlar (Focal)
Crossover/External: 300 Hz & 3 kHz
Dimensions: 51″ × 13″ × 19.5″ (H × W × D)
Weight: 155 lbs
Price: $6990 per pair
1701 B. Vanderbilt Ave.
Portage, MI 49024
I first heard good things about the Buggtussel line from Southern Maryland Irregular1 HAL some time ago, so when I happened into the Buggtussel room at T.H.E. Show in the Tuscany during CES 2002, I was quite interested in giving them a listen. What I heard, even under show conditions, was that this was a very promising speaker. In fact, the review models that I am writing about are the very ones I heard in Las Vegas.
To say that Dr. Kevin Blair has come up with a host of unusual names for his creations is an understatement. However, given that his Ph.D. was earned in neuroscience/zoology, the naming convention becomes far more clear. Every model in the line bears a Latin name derived from some part of neurology or the brain. When you look up the term Lemniscus in a medical dictionary you learn that it is defined as “the neural path that conveys the body’s sense of fine touch to the brain.” I must say, given this speakers ability to resolve information and uncover fine detail, the name is highly apropos.
The Lemniscus is 51″ tall, nearly 20″ deep and 13 ½” wide, making it a fairly large and visually imposing speaker in any listening room. Weighing in at a buck fifty-five each, these are not speakers that most listeners will be able to set up on their own. First, they don’t come in cardboard shipping cartons: They come in custom wooden crates. When Kevin and Doug Knudsen, Bugg’s business manager, kindly stopped by to drop off and install them for me, it took both of them working together to get them into my listening room and set up. Sometimes it is worth the struggle. But I get ahead of myself.
The speakers have a vertically arranged M/T/M array located near the top of each cabinet, and are built as a symmetrical pair, with the M/T/M array to the inside of each speaker’s front baffle. The 1″, highly modified Vifa tweeter that Kevin calls the “Aual”, is centered between two 4″ cantilevered Kevlar midrange drivers and is mounted on a 7″ high panel that is recessed 1″ from the rest of the speakers on the front baffle. To get a sense of just how special this tweeter is, you may wish to review my Buggtussel Factory Tour. The single 10″ Focal woofer is centered on the front baffle about 2″ below the lower midrange in the simply beautiful Blond Oak veneered cabinets. Finally, there are two 4 ¾” square foam covered ports, located side by side, near the bottom of the front baffle. These two ports are the launch point for the q-TSAL2 labyrinth that Kevin claims to be the zenith of transmission line designs. More on this design is available on the Buggtussel web page.
The crossover for each speaker is mounted in an external 13″ × 10″× 4 ¼” MDF housing veneered with the same Blond Oak. The crossover allows for single, bi- or even tri- amplifying or wiring, with three sets of sturdy, gold-plated 5-way binding posts. Both the speaker and outboard crossover cabinets stand on some substantial and gorgeous brass tapered footers called Power Paws. These footers are remarkably robust and not likely to break loose from the base of the speaker under the moving and removing necessary for normal positioning, unlike many feet I have seen on much costlier products. They are also not ground to a sharp point, but are rounded, to allow for easy placement on your bare hardwood or marble flooring. This is a thoughtful and practical footer, and I am very glad that someone has finally given this application some intelligent though.3
When the Lemniscus’ arrived, I was using a very effective biamp configuration consisting of the luscious Pass Labs Aleph 3 on the M/T drivers and a Hafler Trans-nova P-1500 providing duty for the woofers. The signal ran form my ultra-transparent Channel Islands Audio VPC-1 passive preamp, through the SCE Harmonic Recovery System, then through my own passive crossover to be handed off to the proper amplifier for duty.
The first thing that really got my attention with the Buggs in my system was that a speaker so large, with a comparatively large baffle area around the tweeter and midrange drivers, could create a soundfield so completely free of the speaker. For a big speaker, it does a simply remarkable job of getting out of its own way and pulling a complete “vanishing” act. This large box images as well as the best minimonitors I’ve had in my room. That is no small achievement.
One of my long time test recordings is the Q Sound™ Roger Waters’ rock masterpiece, Amused to Death [Sony MasterSound Gold SBM remaster/Columbia CK 64426]. This disc, besides being a rather dark commentary on human nature, is a remarkable recording that readily indicates how well a speaker system is integrated into your listening environment. It tells you very quickly whether they can “play well” with your room, revealing any room/speaker interfacing problems.
With “Too Much Rope”, the horse-drawn sleigh enters the soundstage from a point just forward of my listening position on the extreme left of the room, and exits just forward of the listening position on the right of the room, with just the slightest pulling forward of its location as it passes midway between the loudspeakers. This slight U shaped path of the movement across the stage is one of the best I’ve beard in my room, and indicates a phase coherency across the midrange/tweeter interface that speaks very highly of its design and execution. I’m still wondering how Kevin pulled this off with such a large baffle area around the tweeter and midrange drivers.
With “What God Wants, Part II,” the clarity and resolve offered puts the drum kit squarely and unflinchingly in its place. The full brassy “flavor” of the ride cymbal comes through like I’ve only heard on a handful of the very best speakers. The vocals are rich, not overly plump, and rock solid in their location.
With that said, I have to elaborate that, though extremely revealing and remarkably detailed, through all my listening with numerous amps, cables and front ends, the speaker never got aggressive unless the source material was. It offered me a remarkably transparent depiction of the musical event without getting all ‘hi-fi” sounding on me, which is anything but a given with “high performance” audio products, loudspeakers in particular. I attribute this superb performance to Kevin’s highly reworked tweeter. This is one magical tweeter and is to date the very best high frequency driver to have ever graced my listening room.
Moving on to “Three Wishes” from the Amused To Death disc, the enormously large and enveloping Q Sound™ effect of the Genie’s voice echoing throughout the soundspace is huge and engulfing. It is presented surrounding the entire listening position, even actually extending its envelope slightly behind my listening chair! This once again speaks very highly of the broadband balance and coherence of the Lemniscus’ design.
However, the power of the Genies “voice” on this remarkable recording didn’t completely convey the “weight” I’ve grown accustomed to, seemingly somewhat deficient in the lowest octave. Low bass speed and definition were very good, but not as articulate as I had hoped for and have grown accustomed to with my reference
VSA VR-4 Gen IIIs. They also exhibited a slight tendency toward congestion and slurring at the lowest of frequencies when really tasked.
This seeming slight lightness and lack of definition in the lowest reaches and a slightly lightweight handling of microdynamic events show up repeatedly in my notes, and over a wide variety of musically styles and recordings. Then too, I have to admit that I was not terribly happy with what was going on with large-scale dynamics as well – though I was fairly sure that this particular issue may not have been a limitation of the Buggs. I hypothesized that though they were rated at a reasonably high 91 dB efficiency, they just might respond better to a little more muscle. I was afraid that the Aleph 3/P-1500 combo, separately or in tandem, just didn’t have the might to make the Buggs Tussel.
It was about this time that John Ulrick sent me his new
Spectron Musician II, Class D amplifier. This is a 500 Wpc digital amp, and its insertion into the equation took everything up a level or two. With the Musician II in the chain, things began to gel that were only hinted at previously. With the “Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66,” from Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Recording [Sony SK 45818], the sparkle and shimmer of the piano were magical. Clarity, dynamics, octave to octave balance, purity of timbre and broadband focus were simply exceptional. Hammer strikes were clearly delineated, as was the wonderful resonance of his grand piano.
This amp wrought a great deal of improvement. Macrodynamic control, obviously suffering prior to its installation, improved significantly, as did the similarly afflicted control of microdynamic events. Piano hammer strikes and tom and snare impact were much better defined in attack and took on more individuality, but still seemed slightly under realized.
Inner detail was now uncovered with much more definition, but never with a harsh, stark illumination. This finely detailed material was given life through both its accuracy and delicacy, imparting the whole presentation with a naturalness and believability only hinted at before the insertion of the Spectron.
The speaker’s ability to resolve musical detail and individuality while keeping its timbral purity is exceptional. It has the ability to unravel complex arrangements, both of pop and classical recordings, with ease and surprising focus. Listen to the complex mix of numerous percussion instruments throughout the foreground of, and the vocal arrangements more to the center rear of the stage, on “Fair Game” from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1977 CSN [Atlantic SD 19104]. The Lemniscus’ unravel the individuality of each separate shaker and tambourine strike and resolved each of the trio’s voices to a distinct location within the soundstage. I’ve used this piece with many speakers for its ability to confound and trip them up. The Lemniscus’ came through with superior results.
Moving to the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Walter Hendl, the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole [Classic Reissue LSC-2456] was given newfound life. The purity of the violin as Henryk Szeryng demonstrates his range of control during the “Allegro mon troppo” is as good as I’ve ever heard from this recording. The rosin/bow/string synergy is so realistic you can almost see rosin flying off the gut on some of the passages. The Lemniscus’ offer a deftness and an adroitness typically found in much more expensive products.
Like any speaker, room placement and the resultant interaction is critical. Initially, when Doug and Kevin set them up, we had started by placing them in the same location occupied by my VR-4 Gen IIIs. After the little listening we did that night, Doug mentioned that he felt they might benefit by being a tad further apart and closer to the front wall. He was right. Yet even with all my room treatment, exhaustive placement experimentation and the muscle of the 1.3 horsepower4 Spectron, the deep bass never really exhibited the absolute extension and subjective control I have come to insist on. I suspect that the addition of the Buggtussel Tegmentum 12subwoofer, currently in house and being reviewed by our own Jon Gale, would make all the difference. I am also willing to acknowledge that this may have been a function of my room as it is a bit bass leaky. However, in my room, the sub bass octave (20-40 Hz) just wasn’t realized by the Lemniscus.
However, from the low bass all the way up through their upper most extension, the Lemniscus is a sheer delight. Pure, detailed, resolute and coherent midrange with a treble purity, focus and resolve that never goes etched or brittle, under any of my listening (except when such quality was present in the recording), put the Buggtussel Lemniscus at the top of a very short list of speakers in my experience. This tweeter is so remarkable that I am not sure I have ever heard its equal in terms of purity and resolution at any price.
The Buggtussel Lemniscus is a wonderfully crafted, musically nuanced and thoroughly involving loudspeaker. It is one of a preciously small handful of loudspeakers I have heard that is both very resolute and detailed, yet still lives squarely on the musical and magical side of the line than the analytical or “hi-fi” side. It has proven itself over and over during the last few months in my listening room, and, quite honestly, has been an absolute joy to audition.
Most won’t mind its somewhat lightish treatment of the frequency spectrum below about 40 Hz, but I have to mention it as it is the most obvious weakness of a speaker with very few others overall. I also have to caution about amplifier matching. Neither my Pass Labs Aleph 3 (30 Wpc) nor Hafler Trans-nova P-1500 (75 Wpc) was able to exact anywhere near the best from this speaker. In my experience, amps under about 100 Wpc just may not have the gusto to let them be all they can be. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
Though it is not an unassuming speaker, in either stature or price, its ability to get of its own way and get to the purity and message of the music is seductive and overpowering. Its timbral balance is exceptional, with just the slightest hint of forwardness when playing aggressive recordings. Its balance and coherence are so evenhanded that it completely disappears from the room, allowing the music to bloom and swell, making it one of the most enjoyable products I’ve ever had the pleasure to review. Though it bears a funny name, it has a heart (and tweeter) of gold and is most highly recommended.
1 Now known as the Backwoods Audio Society.
2 quasi-Thiele/Small Actuated Labyrinth
3 The only way this might be improved upon would be to use three, rather than four, footers. It would make the speaker much easier to level on uneven flooring. I wonder if anyone is listening.
4 746 watts equal one horsepower. Therefore, at 500 Wpc, the Musician II’s total output of 1000 watts is equivalent to 1.3 horsepower.
Wow! Thank you for such a gracious and thorough review. We have to agree with Greg that the Lemniscus is “an absolute joy…” It is always exciting to hear what others have to say about loudspeaker that we have spent so much time designing, developing, and building. When their response is this positive, it confirms our feelings that all of our time and energy were truly put to good use.
It is true that the names of our products are a bit “unusual”. While many music lovers pursue a “golden ear” philosophy, one should recognize that the ear is simply a transducer, converting a limited spectrum of air bound pressure gradients into complex neuronal patterns. These patterns are analyzed and interpreted within the brain. Literally, we hear with our brains, not our ears. Ergo, we name our products for the pinnacles of perceptual integration and behavior reinforcement.
We would also like to thank Greg for recognizing the quality and the work that goes into our tweeter. One of the reasons that we go to such extremes with this tweeter is to get the open, transparent sound usually associated only with ribbon or electrostatic drivers, but with out the constraints that accompany these technologies (designs).
There is more to the Lemniscus’ ability in “getting out of its own way and pulling a complete ‘vanishing’ act” than a simple MTM design. Our design takes into consideration the acoustic time aligning of the drivers, how the drivers interact with the cabinet and how our crossover interacts with the drivers in the system. In fact, our Acoustically Time Aligned crossover plays a major role in the speakers abilities.
We also agree with Greg that in smaller rooms, or lightly constructed rooms, there can be a lightness of deep bass. This will be true with most speakers that do not rely on a bloating in the bass spectrum. Unlike classic bass reflex , sealed box, or stuffed lines, the q-TSAL couples the bass driver into the room, allowing the system to interact better with the room loading to prevent unnatural, exaggerated bass. One of our goals when designing the Lemniscus was to create a speaker for larger rooms that could both handle great dynamics and remain focused and coherent, yet be equally listenable in smaller rooms.
Again, thank you to The Stereotimes and to Greg Weaver for such a positive review.
and the staff at
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