Product Review (October 2008) - Snell Acoustics
Series 7 Speaker System
(J7, LCR7, SR7, and Basis 300)

By Kevin Nakano


Snell Acoustics has a great reputation for producing audiophile speakers, so it is not surprising to see an impressive line of home theater models. We had the opportunity to review their Series 7 system built around a pair of J7 monitors ($1250 each), an LCR7 center channel ($1250), a pair of SR7 surrounds ($1600), and a Basis 300 subwoofer ($2000). Without a doubt, these speakers are built to the high standards that Snell Acoustics is known for with solid cabinet construction and great looks. The heavy cabinet helps reduces sonic colorations that often come into play on many less expensive speakers. The Snell Series 7 speakers are designed by legendary speaker builder and Snell’s chief engineer, Joe D’Appolito, Ph.D. Dr. D’Appolito is well known in the audio community for his contributions to the field and the famous Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange (MTM) speaker configuration called the D’Appolito array carries his name. More recently, Dr. D’Appolito has been working with senior design engineer David Logvin to direct new product development at Snell.

J7 Monitor
Our front left and right channels consisted of a pair of J7 bookshelf monitors (formerly the M7), which are by far the most impressive bookshelf speakers we have seen. In fact, it is somewhat of an insult to actually call them bookshelf speakers given the build and sound quality of these speakers. The J7 speakers sit 16" tall, 8" wide and 13" deep and weigh 28 pounds. The J7's are designed around a SEAS 1-inch silk dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch SEAS treated-paper woofer. Their narrow horizontal and vertical dispersion of ±15 degrees prevent significant floor and ceiling reflections and produces a focused sweet spot.

The sonic character of the J7 is slightly on the brighter brighter side with excellent resolution of detail and a wide soundstage. Snell recommends using an amplifier rated at 100-300 watts. Both the systems we used to test these speakers met this requirement. The speakers have the ability to produce high output levels (105dB per pair) even with the rather low sensitivity of just 87dB (1 watt @ 1 meter). The flared port on the back of the speaker helps the J7 produce bass extending down to 45Hz. Since we used THX processing when watching movies, our main channels had a crossover frequency set at 80Hz.

Back Connections
The hardware found on the back of the J7 is excellent with all-metal 5-way binding posts designed to work with bare wire, spades, pins, or banana plugs. The speakers come pre-installed with conductors that parallel the woofer and tweeter so that a single pair of speaker wires can be used. However, the J7 is specifically designed to be bi-amped or bi-wired which assures very low distortion and optimizes performance. In addition, each speaker (tweeter and woofer) has their own dedicated printed circuit board with high quality components including air core inductors. The Normal/Boundary switch allows the speaker to take advantage of the
boundary tuning features when the speaker is placed close to walls. This allows the J7 to blend in with the room’s furnishings. For most of our listening we preferred using the Normal setting since our review speakers sat on a pair of stands.

The crossover design in the J7 is constructed with separate printed circuit boards for the tweeter and the woofer. This design results in very low distortion, and optimizes performance when the J7 is bi-amped or bi-wired. The natural cherry or black painted walnut cabinet with solid metal end caps is as resonance free as they come.

J7 Impedance
Since the J7 monitors have the ability to be bi-amped or bi-wired, we included the impedance for both high and low inputs as well as the combined input in our chart. The J7's have a nominal rated impedance of 8 ohms. We found that the speakers had a minimal combined impedance of 3.9 ohms at around 2kHz. The average impedance of the speaker was approximately 10 ohms over the entire frequency range. Most amplifiers should not have difficulty driving the J7's and in our case both of our review systems produced exceptional sound with these speakers.


LCR7 Center Channel
Our center channel was handled by an LCR7. Ideally, we would have liked to have all three front channels the same. The advantage of this speaker is the driver arrangement makes the woofers and tweeter appear to play from the same point regardless of listening position. As a result, the speaker performs exceptionally well from many seating positions in a typical home theater. The LCR7 measures 19-inches tall, 7-inches wide and 8.75-inches deep and weighs 21 pounds. The design features high performance SEAS drivers (1-inch silk dome tweeter and two 5.25-inch paper treated woofers) and has a frequency response from 75Hz to 22kHz. The lower frequency roll-off is less steep than the J7 monitors due to the sealed enclosure. The LCR7 can reach sound pressure levels of 110dB with an efficiency of 90dB (1 watt @ 1 meter).

LCR7 Impedance
Like the J7 monitors, the LCR7 also has the capability to be bi-amped or bi-wired. The same Normal/Boundary switch found on the J7 speakers are available on the LCR7. The speaker has a nominal impedance rating of 8 ohms. The speaker had a minimum impedance of 3.1 ohms at around 3kHz. The average impedance of the speaker was approximately 5.4 ohms over the entire frequency range. Some amplifiers lacking sufficient current drive may have a more difficult time driving the LCR7 due to the lower impedance found at certain frequencies. However, our Denon AVR-5308CI receiver and Parasound HCA-2205AT amplifier easily handled the LCR7 without any issues.


SR7 Surrounds
Our rear channels utilized the wall-mounted SR7 surround speakers made from real wood and solid aluminum. The SR7 measures 11.75-inches tall, 10.38-inches wide and 5.63-inches deep and weighs 12.2 pounds. The speakers include a set of mounting clips that attach to the wall with screws, making it easy to hang the speakers during the installation. Due to the weight, it is important that the clips/screws are firmly attached and don't pull out, especially for those of us who live in earthquake-prone areas like Los Angeles. The SR7 surrounds are available in black or white with end caps made from solid aluminum plates. The shallow cabinet design contains a single 5.25-inch woofer mounted below a 1-inch cloth dome tweeter on the front. A pair of 2.5-inch cone tweeters are mounted and angled into the room on both sides of the speaker cabinet. However, all tweeters are not active at the same time.

The all metal 5-way binding posts provide the user with a flexible and high quality speaker connection. The switch on the back of the SR7 selects the front (Direct) tweeter or the side (Diffuse) tweeters. In the Direct mode, the speaker is configured as a wide dispersion direct radiator, which is perfect for localized surround effects. In this mode only the front speakers (tweeter and woofer) are active and the side speakers are disabled. If users want a more diffused surround, the Diffuse setting directs energy away from the listening area, performing like an array of theater surround speakers for a diffused soundfield. Here the side tweeters are active with the main bass driver and the center front tweeter is disabled. This flexibility allows the SR7 to be used in different setups depending on the user's needs. Regardless, the timbre is well matched and blends in well with other Series 7 Snell speakers. Interestingly, the impedance characteristics of the speaker changed significantly when switched between the two different modes.

The SEAS drivers used in the Snell Series 7 speakers are among the best available to audiophiles. Having built my own speakers in the past there is a certain appreciation for high quality drivers and components. Snell has taken these parts and incorporated them into some of the best enclosures we have seen. The result is a neutral sounding set of speakers with virtually no coloration, yet able to reproduce subtle detail not often heard in many home theater speakers.

SR7 Impedance
The Direct mode has a minimum impedance of 4.8 ohms at 4kHz, while the Diffuse mode has a minimum impedance of 2.9 ohms at 300 Hz. The average impedance in the diffuse mode over the entire frequency range is approximately 6 ohms. This mode may pose challenges to some cheaper amplifiers especially since many of the receivers have less powerful amplifiers driving the surround channels. Our Denon AVR-5308CI receiver and Parasound HCA-2205AT amplifier had no problem driving these surrounds. At least we did not hear anything that would suggest the amplifier was struggling. The frequency response of the SR7 is from 80Hz to 20kHz in the Direct mode and 80Hz to 15kHz in the Diffuse mode.


Basis 300 Subwoofer
The Basis 300 subwoofer is a nice complement to the impressive sounding Series 7 speakers. This subwoofer provides the bottom-end that is missing from the main front channels and rear surrounds and seamlessly blends in with the system. The Basis 300 features a long-throw 10-inch driver powered by a 300-watt A/B amplifier. A flared port sits below the bass driver in the lower left corner. The construction of the cabinet is impressive, measuring 17.0-inches high, 15.25-inches wide and 15.25-inches deep and weighing 70 pounds. The Basis 300 driver uses a neo magnet with a cast frame and is constructed from 3/4-inch MDF with full length bracing for rigidity. The solid enclosure design prevents colorations that often plague subwoofers by creating boomy, uncontrolled bass reproduction. The unit provides bass as lows 26Hz (23Hz at -6dB) at levels as high as 105dB in a typical 3000 cubic-foot room. We placed the Basis 300 in the front corner of our listening space.

Level Control
The Basis 300 has an elegant looking illuminated level control embedded in the top of the black anodized aluminum cover. The lighting comes from four LEDs below the control and is subtle enough not to distract viewers while watching movies in the dark. We liked having the control on the top of the subwoofer where it is easy to access. For those manually setting the level it provides a quick way to change it without having to adjust knobs on the rear panel. On the downside, curious children find the knob interesting and with the backlight it is not easily missed. We set the control near the middle position and let our processor adjust the level during its calibration process.

Rear Panel
The back of the Basis 300 has a variable crossover (50-150Hz) that is fully adjustable. The low-level in inputs route all frequencies below the manual crossover frequency setting to the subwoofer. All frequencies above the setting are routed to the high-pass outputs. The sub in and sub out connections have a fixed crossover frequency of 80Hz with a 12dB/octave slope. The phase switch changes the phase of the bass frequencies by 180 degrees. This can help in cases where sound cancellations are occurring due to the subwoofer placement. The main power switch controls the incoming power to the subwoofer. The power mode switch on the back of the Basis 300 allows the unit to be always on when place in the on mode. In the standby mode, the auto sense circuit is active. When an audio signal is detected, it will power on and stay active for at lease 10 minutes from the time it sensed a signal. This can save power when the subwoofer is not being used for extended periods of time. High level speaker inputs are also supported for receivers that do not offer line level outputs. However, it will be rare that speakers of this quality would be mated with a set of electronics lacking this feature.


System Performance
The Snell Series 7 speakers are by no means a typical multi-channel system especially at a combined cost of $7350. Build quality is exceptional and sets it apart from most of the multi-channel speaker systems we have seen over the years, especially when paired with some of the best stereo receivers at OneCall. We were very pleased with the performance we experienced with music as well as movies. Our first system included our Parasound AVC-2500u controller mated with a Parasound HCA-2205AT five-channel amplifier. Both products are THX-Ultra and the amplifier has plenty of power to drive these speakers. Our second review system took advantage of Denon's highly regarded AVR-5308CI receiver. This THX-Ultra2 rated unit has amazing sound from an all-in-one unit. In both systems the crossover frequency was set to 80Hz.

We were particularly interested in hearing how well multi-channel audio sounded with these speakers. We played several high resolution audio tracks from DTS's Surround 9 demo disc provided to us at one of the recent trade shows. Movie samples included Hero, Master and Commander, Lord of the Rings, I. Robot, The Day After, and Kill Bill. Virtually all of the movie clips included lots of action with aggressive surround material that exercised the audio system vigorously. We found movie dialogue to be pleasantly transparent with a smooth midrange on the front channel (J7's & LCR7). The timbre was closely matched across all front and back speakers making them a great match for multi-channel audio and movies. The subwoofer blended seamlessly with the main channels, providing deep, controlled bass when needed. Vocals and sound effects moved seamlessly across the front of the screen without any distractions. Moreover, playing the system at louder volume levels for extended periods of time didn't cause fatigue that often occurs with many systems. We particularly enjoyed The Blueman Group video Sing Along where simple sounds had fine textures with extraordinary detail.

Multi-Channel Music
One of our favorite multi-channel audio discs is Steely Dan's Gaucho, offered in dts 5.1. Our Denon AVR-5308CI did a great job reproducing this recording. As mentioned earlier, the surround speakers (SR7's) have a switch (Direct/Diffuse) on the back that changes the high frequency radiation pattern. In most cases when listening to music, we preferred using the Direct mode. This was certainly the case for all of our 5.1 music recordings. The Diffuse mode worked better with ambient surround material found in many film soundtracks. Placement of the surround speakers will also determine the best mode.

Conclusion
There is no doubt that the Snell Series 7 speakers offer customers great sound with excellent build quality, whether the need is for home theater or purely audio. While the cost of the system ($7350 retail) is significant, performance and build quality is among the best out there. These speakers reflect Snell's reputation in building a high quality product with exceptional performance. If we had to do it all over again with these speakers, we would have placed a trio of LCR7's across the front of our theater room and maybe two in the back as well. The Series 7 speakers have left a lasting impression in my mind of just how well Snell speakers sound. We will miss these gems when they get shipped back.

- Kevin Nakano






OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Review System #1

Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD+ A/V Processor
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Dish Network ViP622 HDTV Satellite and Terrestrial Receiver with HDMI
Blu-ray DVD Player: Sony PlayStation3 with HDMI 1.3
HD-DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player with HDMI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
DVD Player: OPPO Digital OPDV971H DVD Player with DVI Output
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
Media Server: Kenwood Sovereign MRH1 Entre
Remote Control: Remote Technologies Inc. T4 Controller
HDMI Video Switcher: Octava 4 Port HDMI/Toslink Audio Switcher
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
HDMI Cables: VizionWare Hi-Wirez 20-meter, Accell 45-meter UltraRun HDMI Cable
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables


Review System #2

Projector: Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
A/V Receiver: Denon AVR-5308CI THX-Ultra2 7x150W Receiver
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Dish Network ViP622 HDTV Satellite and Terrestrial Receiver with HDMI
Blu-ray DVD Player: Sony PlayStation3 with HDMI 1.3
HD-DVD Player: Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD Player with HDMI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
DVD Player: OPPO Digital OPDV971H DVD Player with DVI Output
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
Media Server: Kenwood Sovereign MRH1 Entre
Remote Control: Remote Technologies Inc. T4 Controller
HDMI Video Switcher: Octava 4 Port HDMI/Toslink Audio Switcher
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 20m DVI-D Cable
HDMI Cables: VizionWare Hi-Wirez 20-meter, Accell 45-meter UltraRun HDMI Cable
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables


Review at a glance


Snell Acoustics - J7 Monitors

  • Elegant industrial design compliments any decor
  • Acoustic design by Snell Chief Engineer Joe D’Appolito
  • 6.5-inch long-throw woofer
  • Low resonance 1-inch silk dome tweeter for better imaging
  • Discrete crossover boards for bass and treble for lower distortion and allow for biamp (biwire) and single amp connectivity
  • May be placed vertically or horizontally
  • Boundary switching
  • 105 dB output in typical living room
  • Bass to 40Hz
  • Available in black painted walnut and natural cherry. Custom wood and paint finishes available at an extra charge
J7 Spec Sheet

Dimensions: 8" W x 13" D x 16" H
Weight: 28 pounds
MSRP: $1250 each


Snell Acoustics - LCR7 Center Channel Speaker

  • Elegant industrial design compliments any decor
  • Acoustic design by Snell Chief Engineer Joe D’Appolito
  • 5.25-inch D’Appolito Array - dual woofers mounted over and under a low resonance 1-inch silk dome tweeter
  • Discrete crossover boards for bass and treble for lower distortion and allow for biamp (biwire) and single amp connectivity
  • May be placed vertically or horizontally
  • Boundary switching
  • 110 dB output in typical living room
  • Bass to 70Hz
  • Available in black painted walnut and natural cherry. Custom wood and paint finishes available at an extra charge
LCR7 Spec Sheet

Dimensions: 7" W x 8.75" D x 19" H
Weight: 21 pounds
MSRP: $1250 each


Snell Acoustics - SR7 Multi-Pattern Surround Speaker

  • Elegant industrial design compliments any decor
  • Acoustic design by Snell Chief Engineer Joe D’Appolito
  • 5.25-inch long throw woofer for extended bass
  • Switchable diffuse / direct dispersion control allows for flexible room placement
  • Front mounted 1-inch silk dome tweeter for direct mode
  • Side-mounted 2.5-inch tweeters for diffuse mode
  • Wall-mount bracket included
  • 100 dB output in typical living room
  • Bass to 80Hz
  • Available in black and white. Custom paint finishes available at an extra charge
SR7 Spec Sheet

Dimensions: 10.38" W x 5.63" D x 11.75" H
Weight: 12.2 pounds
MSRP: $1600 per pair


Snell Acoustics - Basis 300 Subwoofer

  • Elegant industrial design compliments any decor
  • Acoustic design by Snell Chief Engineer Joe D’Appolito
  • 300 Watt A/B amplifier
  • 10-inch long-throw woofer
  • Illuminated, top-mounted level control
  • Variable Lo-pass control
  • Compact 16-inch cube
  • 110 dB output in typical living room
  • Bass to 27Hz
  • Available in black painted walnut and natural cherry. Custom wood and paint finishes available at an extra charge
Basis 300 Spec Sheet

Dimensions: 15.25" W x 15.25" D x 17" H
Weight: 75 pounds
MSRP: $2000


Company Information
Snell Acoustics
300 Jubilee Drive, PO Box 3717
Peabody MA 01960

Phone: 978-538-6262
Fax: 978-538-6266
Website: http://www.snellacoustics.com

Source: Manufacture Supplied


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