Equipment Review No. 3   June 2002

The Silverline LaFolia Speaker
$7,999

2170 Commerce Ave. #P, Concord, CA 94520. ph 925.825.3682. sales@silverlineaudio.com; www.silverlineaudio.com

Not often do I have speakers come in twice for audition. The LaFolia is the certain exception to that rule, and I welcomed the opportunity to look at this speaker thoroughly - even if it took a little longer than originally expected. I wanted this speaker for review from the moment I heard it in Las Vegas the first time a couple of years ago and am glad that I had the chance to review it. I’ve learned much from it.

Tale of the tape. The LaFolia is a 4-way design. It has four drivers, three on the front panel, and one at the rear. The three drivers on the front include a 1" Esotar tweeter from Dynaudio, a 3" dome midrange from Dynaudio and a 7" mid-bass driver from ScanSpeak (paper/carbon composite). On the back of the speaker is an 11" Focal woofer. From what I could tell, the 7" paper/carbon driver and the 11" woofer are electrically crossed over 150 Hz. However, since the 7" driver is contained within its own sealed enclosure and the 11" woofer is ported, the response characteristics will differ as will their mechanical roll off rates. The electrical crossover points are at 150 Hz, 2000 Hz and 4500 Hz. 8 Ohms impedance. 90 dB efficiency. 160 lbs. each. 46" x 12" x 20" (HWD). Is bi-wireable. On loan from manufacturer.

Set-up A racehorse of a loudspeaker; set-up must reflect that fact. Because the speaker adds so little of its own personality to the playback, there are no overriding colorations to cover-up mistakes made elsewhere. When I set the speaker in “the usual” speaker placement spot, bass power was good, but imaging suffered. To get both of those aspects of the sound to coalesce, the speakers had to be moved in a little closer to the back wall (45") and closer to the side walls. (Further apart, the exact distance will depend on the width of your room and how far you sit from the speaker). Take the time to get this right; when placement is exact, the sound takes on a life seldom heard from a mechanical reproducer.

Both times I had the speaker in for audition it reacted negatively to my standard speaker wire. It was light and tight with my old Sonoran Desert Cable (amazing imaging though). Washed out and phasey was the presentation with the TG Audio HSR (a real surprise). Going to the JPS Super Conductor got the tone and dynamics right, but the imaging was off, but only by a little. The Empirical worked well too, much like the Super Conductor. It was with enormous surprise then that the best speaker cable I could use with this speaker were some homemade runs that I had made from 6 awg wire purchased at Lowe’s. I couldn’t make this up it was so crazy. Over a year ago I purchased some 6 awg. heavy strand wire. Twenty feet pink, twenty feet white. I cut them to 6 ft. lengths and then put them in the Big Rig for directionality (both sides of the amplifier output is powered, so directionality may be one direction on one leg, and the opposite on the other foot. Big time spender me. Anyway, regardless of the amp used, this speaker took off to new sonic heights with the home brew speaker cable, and I have no idea why….but it did, that is for sure.

Having told you how cable picky this speaker was. I’m now going to tell you that it was very tolerant of the power amplifiers put in front of it. Again, don’t ask me why, that’s just the way it was. I did have some favorites with it, however. Truly exceptional sound was obtained with the Monarchy SE-160 mono bloc amps. Lowe’s cables, Monarchy hybrid mono amps - oh momma, spank me! Perhaps the closest thing to home playback ecstasy this side of $20,000. The Marsh 400S also paired well with this speaker and cable, fast and spacious with scary image placement and dimension. Come to think of it, the Edge M8 sounded a lot like the Marsh, but with deeper more concussive bass, slightly better three dimensional aspects and not as bright. For some reason, the Belles Power Modules 350A performed slightly less well than the others with this speaker, but came on extremely strong with the Coincident Victory (a great combination). Hey guys and gals, these kind of comparisons are the result of having a speaker twice, and for a good period of time on each occasion.

Break-in was a booger. The midrange dome with this speaker came in quickly, unlike that of the Victory. What took forever were the bass drivers. Remember the 7" in front and the 11" on the back? I thought they were going to take forever to mesh and start filling the room. It took months. Messed my mind a little too. For a while (and I told some people this so listen up now) I was convinced that the phase was wrong with the 11" woofer. So convinced was I that I reversed the leads going to it, and for a period of time obtained better results with the large woofer out of phase. Now, the reason I did that was due to a serious suck-out in the 80-160 Hz range. A suck-out the size of the Grand Canyon was making percussion male vocals and a bunch of other things small, real small. A common side effect of an out of phase driver, so I reversed the woofer. Worked great for all of three weeks, then the bass started getting big, bigger than all outdoors big, and the after affect was my head starting to hurt as I listened. Putting the woofer leads back made everything better - no better than that - near perfect. In all fairness and accuracy, I’d say that it will take almost three months of 24/7 to get these drivers all singing together. A pain indeed, but it feels so good when it’s over.

Sonics In many ways the LaFolia reminded me of the Osborn Epitome with extra woofers. Both of these speakers move serious air, both have superb bass response (once break-in is complete), and they sound complete in a power/dynamics kind of way. They both image very well. But with the LaFolia there was an added refinement and sophistication that the older Osborn could not quite keep up with. Better drivers with the LaFolia? Yes. Not worlds better, but the Esotar has few peers (read the Victory review for one peer) in the highs, and the combination of the 3" Dynaudio mid with the 7" ScanSpeak are better performers than the single Focal 6.5" on the Osborn. The woofers are both Focals, maybe even the same driver. One thing for sure, the use of the 3" Dynaudio mid-driver in the LaFolia results in a smooth and convincing transition from the 7" driver to the tweeter. The same was a bit of a rough spot with the Osborn.

When I started listening to the LaFolia I was not prepared for the revealing nature of the speaker and the way it would cause me, compel me, drive me to make corrections in cabling, interconnect direction, and AC polarity. Positioning in the room was extremely important, as was every aspect of system set-up with this speaker. But it was worth it. It was worth it because of the results I obtained in the end. I think some people are going to feel this speaker is a real pain in the posterior, and for those, all I can say is nothing ventured, nothing gained. With the LaFolia, I can honestly say that all of the work was worth it, worth every minute of it. This is why.

When this speaker is right, and the system in front of it is right, the sonics are flat out remarkable. For instance. The King Crimson HDCD re-issues are excellent recordings made better. “Islands”, one of my favorites, is a great recording and is an outstanding device to assess the qualities of a system. After the last cut, Islands, there is a silent gap after which an outtake from one of the classical sessions (most likely from Song of the Gulls). Interestingly, the outtake actually has better sonics than the rest of the recording, probably due to the outtake not being subject to the mixing and processing that the rest of the recording was. Anyway, the outtake is pretty amazing to listen to on a top-notch system. It actually seemed as if I was there! With the LaFolia, the session took on a life and vitality in my listening room that bordered on scary. Perfect placement with dimensionality and great inner detailing is how I would describe it…it was tactile baby!

Let me note right here, that while the LaFolia uses a dome midrange driver similar to the driver used in the Coincident Victory above, it is not the same driver. The LaFolia has none of the darkness in the mids that the Victory exhibited, instead being open and neutral, without an attendant colorization showing through on all material.

What does the speaker get wrong? One reader said that a friend of his felt that the tweeter was elevated in output compared to the midrange dome. I didn’t find that at all. But I would note that in some instances I thought the midrange dome was a little elevated, especially at the top of its range. And this may have been what the reader, or his friend, was hearing. Also, under some conditions I would say that the speaker was very revealing, but lacked some bloom. Which, incidentally, was the area that most enchanted me about the speaker the first time I heard it, but had to send it back.

What is bloom? It’s not related to tone as one might think. To me, bloom is related more to the way a speaker fills a room with energy while reproducing the complete harmonic envelope. It’s like this: Say you are listening to a recording of a church organ. A big, wet recording with lots of decay and rich harmonics, it’s almost as if one could bathe in the sound so rich and complete it is. Most speakers give you some of the wet, and some of the decay, and for the most part, we as listeners are happy with a partially wet and partially ambient playback - but instinctively we want more. The LaFolia captures a large part of the wet ambient, about 85% I’d say. Pretty darn good, but I’ve heard one speaker that gets a little closer to, say, 95% of what’s on the recording in terms of bloom. Maybe if I had some more time to break the speaker in. . . .

Speaker placement is critical with the LaFolia. With the rear firing woofer, placement too close to the wall can result in a thunderous peak around 50 Hz. Too far out into the room and things start to thin out. It seems apparent to me that Alan has voiced the speaker to be approximately 24 - 48 inches out into the room. Between those two point I suggest one fine tune the placement for the special requirements of their room and listening needs. Also, with a rear firing woofer like this, side wall placement will affect how close you want to get to the rear wall. Experiment and have fun.

Conclusion This is a demanding loudspeaker that pays back diligence and fine tuning with a superb sense of realism and energy. It is well made, utilizing some of the finest drivers one can assemble. The LaFolia trumps my old reference, the Epitome, in some important respects, primarily in finesse and seamlessness. And it even out shown the mighty, and much more expensive KAS, in terms of soundstage and depth (though bass and air moving ability still has to go to the KAS). It’s obvious then that the LaFolia exceeds expectations derived from its price point, and performs at a level more commensurate with speakers costing thousands more. A very good loudspeaker.

- Martin DeWulf

Reprinted with permission from: Bound for Sound Report
Martin G. DeWulf, Editor & Publisher
108 East Division Street, Kewanee IL 61443
309.856.5515   309.853.3193 fax
E-mail: bfshifi@cin.net

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