I was surveying the second hand market for a new pair of speakers. My criteria were: airy, involving and natural voice reproduction, punchy bass and overall value for money. I had decided to try to find a pair of Snell EIII's, JBL Jubal or Summits, Klipsch heritages or fortes. I wanted a pair of classic speakers that have stood the test of time. I was furiously scouring ads (anyone know the feeling?) when a pair of AIIIi's came up for sale. I didn't know much about them, but I knew hey were the bigger brothers of the Snell E's. Just how big, I had no idea of.
I called the seller and the price seemed right ($1800), and we made an appointment for me to test them out. I was met by a couple of refridgerator-sized speakers, where the bottom half was a beautiful walnut veneer, and the top half was covered in grillcloth. It might not have been love at first sight, but it was close. Whenever I find something out of the ordinary, I am interested. That's just me.
The seller (great guy, by the way), had allready moved house, but kept the speakers in his last apartment along with his mp3-player and Adcom-amp for testing.
He turned it on and I was impressed. He was not, since he had heard them on more adequate source material. There was definetely potential. Voices came through on certain tracks, as did a deep and resolute bass. After just a few tracks we made a deal, and I took the fridges home, half expected to be beheaded by the wife.
But she loved them! I woudn't go so far as to say that she cried from joy, but gradually she took them into her heart, much helped, of course by the way these speakers can reproduce the voice of Leonard Cohen!
They look like something that would fit right into the coolest 60's lounge-style interior imaginable. They are large, but laId back. They can be placed close to the back wall, so no loose cables across the floor, and no having to sneak around them on the way to the kitchen!
Best of all: Because the grill-cloth expands well over most of the top of the speakers, there is no space for flowerpots on top of them.
Oh..the sound. When connected to my Sony TA-F5A 2x100w amplifier and my Rega Planar3 recordplayer, the sound is downright amazing. As mentioned: Cohen, but also Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Sinatra are these speakers' favourite dishes, but any type of jazz, soul, funk or other well-defined recordings are superb. The old CBS recording by Bob Dylan and jazz from EMC are especially recommended. Gret attack. Autoritative bass. Extraordinary musicality. Fluent and grainy, every detail lingering sweetly in your ears. Hm..How to describe music..it just makes you want to pull out all your old records and hear them again, because this was how they were meant to sound like. You are transported directly to Bruce Springsteens "Nebraska" or to the "Sigapore" of Tom Waits.
I have listened to Martin Logans, Klipsch LaScalas and RF's, B&W's but none have provided such a total package of musicality, loyalty to the musicians or the general FRIENDLINESS that these speakers provide. That's right. These want to be your companion and your friend.
But, however. When Dylan does his most acrobatic and high-pitched harmonica sections, they get somehow steely in the treble. This was easily cured by substituting the Sony for a Harmon/Kardon Twin Powered 730 receiver. However, this classic piece of audio history is only 2x45 watts, and the result was a bit of shyness in the bass. Klipsch-lovers love this receiver for its deep and warm sound, which is a good match for the sensitive Klipsch's and their somewhat metallic horns.
Snell AIIIi's however are power-hungry, 4-Ohm and low sensitivity, so quite a bit of Wattage must be presented. Peter snell recommended at least 2x100 watts of amplification for the Snell AIII. My opinion is AT LEAST 100w/channel in 8 Ohm.
I am currently looking for a poweramp to satisfy these speakers. They are allready the best I have heard, but they deserve more than a vintage Sony and an Ortofon $50 pickup. The speakers are keepers. Now it is just a matter of finding a system worthy of their prescence.
Where to start? In the past year I realized I needed to 'grow up' and get away from my Infinity R5s and Sony integrated. I started by getting a used Krell setup (300i integrated amp and Kav300cd). The guy who sold me the cd player was nice enough to throw in a set of very nice homemade speakers (all Focal drivers, ugly as sin, weigh a ton) and while those speakers were a huge improvement over the Infinity's, I still wanted to upgrade (free speakers didn't feed the monkey.)
I spent months on Audiogon, watching used speakers come and go. Each time something caught my eye, I would scour the web for reviews and product information. Everytime, it seemed like almost there, but not quite.
And then, up came a pair of Snell III A's.
As you can tell, 10 reviews and all of them five outta five. Lemme sing the praises:
With my old homemade speakers, the Krell components were super bright: too bright. CRAZY bright. Now that I have the Snells in place, the whole shebang falls nicely in place. The Snells are laid back, but not enough that I feel that I am losing information. Nor are they muddy. The midrange and bass are excellent; silky is the word that comes to mind. The high range is there, but doesn't make itself known. It does its job without getting in the way.
These Snell's sound exceptionally good with acoustic guitar, strings, jazz and vocal. I've got Beck 'Mutations' in right now, and wow, clarity to the extreme. Cymbals have metallic depth, acoustic guitar actually resonates, his voice is floating front and center and all the pieces have great presence and location. Its funny, because when I first plugged in the old homemade speakers, all sorts of musical information surfaced that I had missed. Now, with the Snells, its not just new information surfacing, but its like the entire mixes are different there is so much new depth and clarity. I've been surprised several times to discover what I thought was instrument X or Z making a noise is not X or Z at all, but G. And these are albums that I have been listening to for 10 - 20 years.
The bass is excellent. I have to tip the hat to the Krell for that a wee bit: they are legendary for their bottom end presence. But the Snells are really able to reproduce the bass realistically. Soul Coughing (another band) incorporates an upright bass, and shew, you can feel it in your gut. You can hear the way the string is struck, and the changes in tone (attack, decay... you can actually envision the string vibrating.) Pretty cool.
The Snells I have have gone through two owners previous. The previous owner had both woofers rebuilt. [Never get rid of the woofer drivers in a Snell IIIA: they are long throw, heavy duty 12" woofers, and they simply don't make them like this anymore.] Everything else is stock (which means the entire set up is pretty much stock.)
I can say, get these if you can. They are 4 amp and 'insensitive', so they take a toll on amps. I am running 150w per channel, and I would say that this is the bottom line. I am getting great sound, but certainly not shaking down the walls. You will need some room to let them breath, but I right now have them in a teeny room and they are knocking me out... I haven't even bothered to fidget with their placement, that sound that great right where I dropped em the first day.
Nothing sounds like these Snells. Occasionally I came see a complete drum kit in the corner of the room it is so lifelike at louder volumes.
Some of the purest bass and finest overall three-way sound you can imagine. These are older and you'll likely have to re-foam the woofer. Mine had sign-off from P. Snell in the woofer box -- how cool is that?
This review is based on Snell AIII, the original, not with the suffix "i".
Bought these wonderful speakers from new back in 87. Have loved them ever since. They have been the backbone in my various systems ever since. Have lived in small and big appartments with them. Everywhere they have been fantastic. With the best equipment and cables they are music at it's best. Needless to talk about frequency range and other technical stuff. It's all there, if it's in the recording you put into them. The speakers are VERY revealing. I have been able to hear the difference between soft and hard coins sitting under the spikes supporting a wallmounted VOYD turntable with Benz Ruby on a Helius Cyalene tonearm! It makes a lot of people laugh, but it is the plain truth. I have played them seriously for years with tube amps of all kinds with 7 - 25 watts. 300B's matched them very well. For the past 4 years a Musica from Sonus Faber has powered them through Cardas cables.
I would consider upgrading them, had I the money for SF Amati Homages, but I am sure they will keep growing with every other improvement in my system, as they have done for so many years now. They are the kind of speakers, that you can use to evaluate the smallest changes in your system, laugh about strange recording techniques on CD and vinyl or just be amazed by how differently records are produced regarding amount of (or lack of) ambience and inner detail. Or you can choose to sit back, forget it's a HIFI system and just travel into the never ending layers of sounds and dreams on the best recordings. I would like to point out, that even early Beatles songs live and sparkle, given the right equipment.
It never stops amazing visitors and friends how the speakers can go from seemingly no bass or for that matter very rolled off highs to the direct opposite by putting on a different recording - or just another song from the same album. All of a sudden everything is there, if it's ment to be.
If you can live with their big size, get a pair second hand. They will be your true servant in your strive for a very neutral and very MUSIC based system. Isn't that what it was all supposed to be?
I was impressed before I changed the capacitors to metalized paper in oil (lucky to get a big remainder). But now I am completly overvelmed. The sound is distributed round in my living room homogenious and crystal clear. If I ever start to build myself again, I have to incorporate the virtues of the AIII.