King Model 3000– Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers
|King Model 3000– Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers|
|…Everything That is Great about Electrostatics!|
The hi-end speaker discovery of the year.
My love affair with “full range” electrostatic loudspeakers began with Peter Walker’s phase coherent, Acoustical Quad Model 57s. Compared to conventional speakers of their day they were a revelation. What the ESL 57s did right, no other speaker could quite match. They were a window on the sound with unmatched transient response and transparency, vanishingly low distortion, no cone driver “hangover” and none of the typical colorations of box speaker systems. But there were considerable limitations: they did not play loud; they lacked dynamics and extension in the low bass; treble beaming resulted in a narrow listening position; room placement was a challenge; they required a high voltage polarizing supply and were susceptible to arcing; and large orchestral works, rock, and similar contemporary music, lacked a certain amount of punch. In spite of their obvious limitations, what the Quads had accomplished with the 57s set the stage, and provided a goal, for future improvements in conventional speakers. At the time that they were introduced, I don’t believe the typical audio “front end” was able to take advantage of everything the 57s were capable of.
The original 57s were the center of my hi-fi system for twelve years. But over the years, dynamic coil speakers improved considerably and I turned to conventional box speakers for some of what was missing from ESLs. Never far away, however, was my obsession with full-range electrostatics. And several ESL/Planar speaker systems followed, beginning with the Quad 63s. Walker’s original approach in the 57s, had two “large” bass panels on either side of a narrow mid-range/tweeter. With the 63s, Walker completely re-designed the ESL by creating time-delayed concentric rings which act as a point source, enlarging the radiating surface, and making the ESL 63s a true doublet, by eliminating the rear absorbent material. The most significant improvements were more spacious sound, and improved bass, dynamics, and reliability. I reveled in the improvements my pair gave me. But never completely satisfied, I turned to other planar speakers; the Acoustat X, followed by the Acoustat 2+2, and the Apogee Stages. The 2+2s had better bass and dynamics than the 63s but were nearly 8’ feet tall and beamed so much that I nearly required a vice to keep my head in the sweet spot. In many ways the Stages were the most rewarding and, in retrospect, I regret ever having sold them. They were small, a mere 3 feet tall and rather appealing, and yet had all of what is so engaging about the sound of ESL/Planar speakers. Both Bill Brassington (Brass Ears as he was known, and something of a legend among manufacturers and audiophiles, especially in the tri-state area) and I had the Stages and always lamented their departure. There are other ESL/Planar speakers with which I’m very familiar, but I’ve tried to limit the comments to those I’ve actually owned. The Piega P10s, hybrid ribbons, have been my reference speakers for several years.
My long experience with ESL/Planar speakers is by way of an introduction to the review of the King – Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers. At the time of this writing, the King ESLs presently have no American distributor. I arranged with King Audio Ltd., the manufacturer in Hong Kong, to supply a pair for review.
FEATURES AND SPECS
Weighing in at around 70 pounds, the King Model 3000 is an imposing speaker, standing, roughly, 72” high, 28” wide, and less than 2” deep. – not including the base. Think a reasonably large room for these relatively large speakers. The speaker, a true doublet, has seven bass panels and five mid-range/tweeter panels (the Quad 2905 ESL has six panels). The two-way crossover is at 1.2KHz. Both dividing networks are low attenuation with 6dB per octave slopes, and parallel configurations.
The polarizing supply is somewhat unique: Instead of the typical 3000-5000 volt AC supply, the King requires DC 11-15 volts, 120 mA, supplied by a small AC-DC adaptor – included. It will also operate on a 12V7.2 Ah/20HR sealed, rechargeable lead battery – not included – that eliminates the additional AC wall connection. (King supplied Panasonic LCL 12V7.2P batteries for this review). The batteries (and chargers) are not expensive and are available from a number of Internet battery supply houses.
Since sensitivity is very low, 83 dB/1 watt/1 meter, consider an amplifier preferably 200 watts or more; King states 150-200 watts. The manufacturer rates the system frequency response, 32 Hz – 24 kHz, +/- 3 dB. The manufacturer supplied “SPL vs Freq” graph shows a remarkable and relatively flat response from 175 Hz to 24 kHz. My own in-room measurement, using a simple digital SPL meter, from 1 kHz to 31.5 Hz, varied only +/- 3 dB, with the exception of a system resonance around 55 Hz. At 31.5 Hz, response was down only -3 dB relative to 1 kHz! Measurement was taken at my usual listening position, about three feet from the back wall. Nominal impedance is 6 ohms and minimum impedance 1.8 ohm at 20 kHz.
There are easily, removable speaker grills in the front and rear of the speaker; most of my listening was with the front grill removed. Both left and right sides of the speaker are finished in rounded, blond hardwood. The rear base has connections permitting bi-amping or bi-wiring and the DC polarizing input (a blue light which indicates the polarizing supply is active). The speaker sits on a stand that permits the unit to be tilted toward the rear. I tilted the panels slightly and angled the speakers no more than 5 degrees toward the listening position. The speaker was located about eight feet from the rear wall and about 30” from the side wall. I positioned the speakers so that the mid-range/tweeter panels were on the outside, closest to the side walls and firing down the length of the room which is about 25’ by 15’. This gave me the widest imaging and ideal stereo spread and depth.
Unequivocally, the King Model 3000s are the best sounding speakers ever to grace my living room. But not only do the King ESLs require a good size room for best performance, but they also require a lot of power. Initially, the speakers were connected to the Aesthetix Calypso Line Stage and the Ayon Audio 52-B Reference Monoblocks (photo left). I spent a considerable amount of time making sure that the speakers were placed in the best possible position in the room, i.e. location, angle, and tilt; after all, electrostatic speakers can be a real challenge. I began my intense listening sessions following more than 200 hours of speaker break-in. After a couple of weeks of listening to quite a number of CDs and LPs, there was no doubt that these were some really serious speakers. What were in doubt though were the amplifiers. The Ayon monoblocks are single-ended class-A tube amps that provide about 50 watts per channel. The Ayons are outstanding amplifiers, but it was becoming apparent that a lot more power was required to drive the power hungry Kings.
When the music didn’t demand much power, the sonics were excellent; but let the music get complex, and the Ayons seemed to gently crap out. About that time, Kevin Zarow (Vice President, Marketing, Marantz) sent me the latest models of the Marantz MA-9S2 Reference Monaural Power Amplifiers and SC-7S2 Reference Control Amplifier. The MA-9S2s put out 300 Watts into 8 Ohms, 600 Watts into 4 Ohms. Well, this was “a whole new ball game”. The Marantz left little doubt that the King ESLs required powerful amplifiers to drive them to their full potential. Those of you that follow my reviews in Stereo Times will remember from last year’s review of the earlier Marantz Reference Amps, that I went bananas over them. I would have never thought that the MA-9S1 could be improved upon – Marantz proved me wrong with the new MA-9S2. I kept the Aesthetix Calypso Line Stage in the system, but later in the listening sessions I switched to the Marantz SC-7S2. Both line stages left little to be desired.
Earlier I referred to the excellent frequency response as indicated in the “SPL vs Freq” graph as well as my own digital measurements. Those measurements simply confirmed what my ears had already told me. Recording after recording was reproduced with the smoothest and most detailed and transparent sound I have ever heard from any speakers in my room. Since the living room is a very lively room with two small oriental area rugs, a lot of bare wood, one very large window, and not much in the way of absorbent furniture, any tendency for speakers to favor any part of the mid-range or treble becomes very apparent. I discovered early on that the speakers were just a wee bit more transparent with the front speaker grills removed. My listening sessions were done with both power supplies; the AC-DC Adaptor and free standing rechargeable batteries. There was a slight difference between the power supplies. With the batteries the sound emerges from a cleaner (blacker, if you will) background; with the AC-DC Adaptor the sound is a little warmer. The key words here are “slight difference”. If you did not use the alternative batteries, you would never miss them.
The Kings did so many things right that I almost don’t know where to start without seeming to overstate my impressions. I don’t expect to hear really impressive, perhaps unbelievable, low bass and stirring dynamics from electrostatic speakers. But that’s what my experience was with “Storm” from Britten’s, Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Elgar’s, “Finale” from Enigma Variations; Paava Jarvi, conducting the Cincinnati Orchestra (Telarc SACD 60660). Nor, did I fully expect to hear the low bass and dynamics of the organ accompaniment of Saint-Saens’s, Organ Symphony #3, band 4, as it thundered in my living room (RCA Victor Living Stereo, SACD 82876-6887).
Seal’s voice in the cut “Don’t Cry”, from Seal, seemed to be suspended, hovering among the instrumental and vocal accompaniment that was spread across the wide and deep sound stage, and so detailed and clear in this classic CD recording (ZTT Sire SB 945415). I can also say the same about Gilad Atzmon on soprano sax, with piano, bass and drum accompaniment, playing “Petite Fleur”, band 13 fromThe More We Know: 30 Years of Enja Records, CD (ENJ 9400), a jazz recording with really impressive bass dynamics and transparency. That the speakers are doublets contributes to the spacious sound. The complete lack of any cabinet coloration was highlighted in a recording of a solo cello (a recording I’m unable to identify). I mention it because the instrument seemed to emerge from the blackness with its full timbre and weight and as near to the sound of a live cello as I ever expect to hear – palpable in its sonority.
I’ve written about this recording before, here reissued on CD by JVC (JVCXR 0226); Benjamin Britten’s, Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Britten conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Superbly recorded by Decca in 1964, it has gobs of orchestral detail of all the instruments of the orchestra. It sounds wonderful on my own reference system, but the King 3000s brings a new level of transparency and detail, with transients, dynamics, extended bass and treble, wide staging, depth, and layering to die for. On some systems the recording can sound a little bright but the Kings kept everything in perspective. By the end of the recording, I was practically breathless from the sonic experience.
I would like to sum up my listening experience with the excellent CD recording that I played on several occasions just prior to writing this review: Prokofiev’s Cinderella, with The Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy (London 410 162). I mention this because my wife and I attended the American Ballet Theater production of Cinderella in New York City on July 7, 2007. It struck me that the sound of the recording reproduced on the King ESLs approached the live sound I was listening to at the Met (my first such experience with live versus reproduced sound).
The King ESLs are, for me, the hi-end speaker discovery of the year. The Kings have everything that is great about electrostatic loudspeakers – a window on the sound, with outstanding transparency, detail and transients, and none of the limitations of box speakers – as close as you can get to “you are there” sound. The downside of ESLs? You won’t find it here – the Kings have unbelievable bass and dynamics, a great mid-range and sweet extended treble. Suitably placed, with powerful amps, and in a room large enough to accommodate them, you will experience a wide, deep soundstage without beaming – no need to find the one and only listening spot where they sound the best. These speakers are not limited to small jazz groups or classical chamber works – they will make the most of large orchestral works, opera, pop, rock or anything you want to throw at them. Price? – Probably around $7,000 a pair (and a steal at that price). Couple these speakers with amplification like the Marantz MA-9S2 Reference Monaural Power Amplifiers, and you’ll have a system made in heaven.
King – Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers
– Frequency response: 32 Hz ~ 24 KHz
– Sensitivity: Equivalent to 83 db / 1W / 1m, measured at 4 meters
– Impedance: Normal 6 ohm
– Audio power ( min / max ): 80 / 450 Watts ( music )
– Power input: DC 11 ~ 15 V , 120 mA ( AC-DC adaptor included ) or
– 12V7.2 Ah/20HR sealed, rechargeable lead battery
– Size: 720 ( W ) x 41 ( D ) x 1800 ( H ) mm
– Weight: Net weight 32 Kg / Each
Price: $7,500.00 USA
Hong Kong Head Office
King’s Audio Ltd.
Flat B, 25/F, Capital Trade Centre,
62 Tsun Yip Street,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2345 2323; (852) 2345 2778
Fax: (852) 2345 8788
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