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15 hours in and loving it :) (Read 377 times)
drford
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15 hours in and loving it :)
11/01/20 at 19:47:31
 
I’m very slowly moving toward SET-world Smiley and step one for me was to buy a pair of Caintuck Betsy’s with the F15 driver from Randy (picture down below – so pretty in Walnut). I’m writing my listening impressions after about ten hours – and I know the speakers haven’t really run in at all yet. However, I wanted to share my impressions as I hope they’ll be useful to someone like me who is new to the Forum and the whole “open baffle” thing. Are they really as magical as claimed?

I apologize that this is going to be a very long post. The highlight reel is I love these speakers. I’m running them with a pretty average front end (an *old* Marantz 6000-series SS amp and a Topping D50s DAC, so nothing special) as I get closer to purchasing one of Steve’s amps, but I have to do this in stages as I’m working to a budget.

From a construction standpoint, Randy did a great job. The woodworking is perfect, and the look in Walnut is lovely. I also personally like the look of the F15 driver a lot. Even better, my wife loves them in our front room, so they pass the whole Wife Approval Test. For those of you who are finding this writeup from outside of the forum, Randy is easy to work with, knows his stuff, and packs these like the jewel they are. I would not hesitate to recommend him as someone to work with online. Those of you who have been here for a while all know that, but as a newbie I had to figure it out for myself.

I’ll give you my audio impressions from sensible stuff that I’d normally listen to all the way to stupid things I played to see what the speakers COULDN’T do (if anything). It was pretty surprising.

The kind of music I listen to is acoustic jazz, ranging from small ensemble to Big Band stuff. While I like to rock out from time to time, mostly you’ll find Julie London, Michael Brecker, Cannonball Adderley, Bud Shank et al. on my system. I’m streaming from Tidal mostly at Master Quality. I’d love to play Vinyl, but I’ve moved around my whole life, and it just wouldn’t work for me. Maybe one day when I’m in the same place for a while.

First impressions scared me a bit… did I make a mistake? I immediately missed the bass from my Bowers & Wilkins and the Betsy’s sounded tight. What I didn’t factor in is it was a cold night, and I’d just pulled them off the UPS truck – they were quite cold to the touch. Fast forward one hour, and I was a happy customer. Open baffle sounded so different though, and it takes a little getting used to. The immediate feeling I had was the soundstage was huge and the insane clarity I was getting on the cymbals and snare drum. Both were so far improved that they were actually distracting (note: Not distracting any more now I’ve become accustomed).

The next takeaway was that I wasn’t tired after listening. I didn’t understand listening fatigue before because I’ve probably had to deal with it my whole life. When it’s not there, it’s a shock. I could – and did – listen to these speakers all night. Initially it felt like a softness in the sound, but that’s the wrong word as they are clear as crystal. Silkiness is probably a better way to put it. I now cannot listen to the tweeters on the B&Ws without cringing.

There is definitely less bass than I’m used to. For acoustic jazz it’s not noticeable, but on some (bad) recordings, it really is. However, I’d call these fully usable full range, and the bass dig improves with every passing hour.

My first real test was Diana Krall’s “Live in Paris” – in particular, the opening track “I love being here with you”. This track has meaning for me, as when I bought my first “good” piece of audio equipment, it was a pair of Audeze LCD-2’s which I demoed on a McIntosh amp and I remember my jaw dropping when the vocals came in. The sound is detailed and the percussion really is incredibly clear. The speakers melt into the room and disappear, and I’m immediately closed-eyed, tapping my foot. I’m no longer listening critically, I’m just enjoying the music.

Next up is a very simple recording by Diana – from her “Christmas Songs” album with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, “Count your blessings instead of sheep”. This is a very rich track, well recorded, with some real lushness in the background. Every breath and articulation comes through, and Diana is placed perfectly in the stereo imaging.

Okay, enough of Diana Krall, what about the Rudy Van Gelder release of Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else”. Cueing up “Autumn Leaves” I’m in Jazz heaven. The taps on the body of the drums (not the skin) come through in the intro in a way I’ve never heard before, and the brushwork behind Miles’ playing on the head grabs my attention. Interestingly, it’s these percussive sounds that reproduce best so far as the speakers begin to bloom – anything plucked, bowed, or struck seems to hover in the room. Over Adderley’s solo you can hear the ring of the cymbals from Art Blakey’s playing. I’ve never heard this as clearly.

Let’s make it a bit more challenging: Michael Brecker’s first solo album on Impulse! Starting with “Nothing Personal” the repeated bass riff in the intro is slightly too low for me. When Michael comes in, I stop noticing it, but in serious listening it’s the first time I heard something I wasn’t wild about. However, “My One and Only Love” is fantastic, perfectly balanced and Michael's mournful tone is reproduced perfectly (I was lucky enough to hear Michael a few times in person, most memorably at Ronnie Scott’s club, when he actually sat at our table during the set as we were right up against the stage and he “wanted to hear the band groove for a bit”… what a night). Again, I’m hearing things I have never heard before.

Onward. Something more modern: “Linus and Lucy” from the “Best of David Benoit”. I picked this as it’s more ‘in your face’ than the tracks before it. I figured the more groove-oriented sound would be a problem, but nope – it sounds great. Detailed, energetic, and not missing anything on the bottom end. Hmmm. So, unsurprisingly, the speakers reveal what’s in the recording; if it’s good they sound great, but if it’s not, they reveal that too. One recording I’m curious about is David Sandborn’s “Straight to the Heart” that features a version of “Run for Cover” that I don’t expect good results on because of the slap bass lines on the front end. However, the reproduction is fine. I end up listening all the way through the track to “Smile”, which the Lii Audio drivers handle effortlessly – the piano introduction by Don Grolnick is like I’m sitting there in front of him. When the track rocks out to Bullock’s guitar later, the drivers take that in their stride too.

Okay, one last piece of jazz and we’ll move on: Maynard Ferguson’s incredible “MF Horn 3” – specifically, “Awright, Awright”. It’s a good recording of Maynard when he was at his best (IMO) and can be a good test of a system. My new speakers pass with flying colors. My intent was to just play the first song and move on, but I end up listing to the whole album, which probably says everything you need to know. The opening brass stabs on “Nice N Juicy” have to be heard to be believed. The speakers clearly play full range on this recording. I could go on, but I think I can conclude that these are fine for jazz.

What about things I think these speakers might struggle with? How’s “Free Bird” by “Lynyrd Skynyrd”? Answer: great. Would a sub help here? Unsure. I heard little details I’ve never heard before and I know this track very well. It’s not what I’m going to be using these speakers for but yeah, I’d be happy to listen to this all day. Let’s go beyond the point of reason: Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch”. The mids and above are incredible, actually… but yes, on this track I do miss a bit of the bottom end, but I think I missed that with my B&Ws too. I played this because I didn’t think it would work. Another good low-end test is New Order’s “Age of Consent” but the Betsy’s eat that up just fine. No sub for me, I think, until I’ve let these run in and bought a new amp. Only then will I re-evaluate.

Classical and Chorale is amazing. Holst the Planets by Simon Rattle is very well reproduced in all its glory (Mars is a demonstration of the dynamic range that forces you to listen). Anuna sound fabulous (if you can find a good recording – some of their stuff, I hate but YMMV). The entire album by Louis Fremaux’s “Saint-Saens” is great. Yeah, I’m in love.

I apologize for this very VERY long post, but I was wishing for a little more detail when I was researching speakers so hopefully this is of use to someone; I wrote it for someone like me, who wants to have at least some idea of what they’re getting if they have to buy without a demo. In summary, I am very happy, and even in the HOURS of listening that writing this took, the speakers have continued to improve. These are incredibly clear and revealing speakers even with a mediocre front end feeding them. They are not remotely tiring to listen to, and they get VERY loud if you want them to without ever feeling too loud (I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense… but I was listening and enjoying at what I thought was a reasonable but robust volume and headed to the other end of the house to grab something and could still hear the music clear as day which means they were putting out some real dbs). For almost all music I listen to they are going to be perfect. Classical, jazz, and most rock sounds great so far – it’ll be interesting to see how the first 100 hours changes them. If the answer is “none at all” I’m still very happy indeed, but I suspect they’ll continue to come alive.

Next, to add a Decware amp! Thank you Randy, for your craftsmanship and for being a pleasure to deal with.


Richard

PS: The bass on "Nothing Personal" sounds better each time I play it, so I'm very interested to see how this evolves.

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Joey
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Re: 15 hours in and loving it :)
Reply #1 - 11/01/20 at 21:44:10
 
Thanks for the review Richard. I usually skip the long post by mostly one unnamed guy, but your musings were informative and entertaining. I guess I'm gonna have to build a pair of these methinks, been on the fence quite a while.
Do let us know how things develop in the coming days.
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Geno
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Without music, life
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Posts: 1095
Re: 15 hours in and loving it :)
Reply #2 - 11/01/20 at 23:22:24
 
The real jaw dropping will begin after you add a Decware amp. You ain’t seen nuthin yet Wink
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SE84UFO (25th Mods) / CSP3 preamp
Cambr. Audio CXN (ModWright) / Cambr. Audio CXC / ZBIT
Technics 1210 MK5 (KAB Mods)- KAB/Ortof ProS 40 cart / ZP3 (25th Mods)
Otari MX5050 R2R
ZLC Power Cond.
Lii Crystal 10 Open Baffles / Lii W-15 Bass Baffles
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drford
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Posts: 28
Re: 15 hours in and loving it :)
Reply #3 - 11/02/20 at 13:29:32
 
Thanks both - and yes it was a rather long post, thank you for reading it!

Sound continues to improve, and yes, one of Steve's amps is in my future.

Richard
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Randy in Caintuck
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Tube be ... or not
tube be ... it's a
no-brainer.

Posts: 857
Re: 15 hours in and loving it :)
Reply #4 - 11/02/20 at 22:25:27
 


Hi Richard,

Thank you so much for the detailed review of the Lii 15 speakers and the kind words .....

After retiring from the IT industry in 2015, I created Caintuck Audio to share my enjoyment of open baffle speakers with fellow music lovers.

Reports such as yours from folks who are hearing the same things that I am hearing are always a treat for me.

Best wishes and happy listening,
Randy

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CEC TL5N belt drive CD transport
Cambridge Audio Azur 851N DAC / Streamer
U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus turntable
Decware SE84UFO amplifier
Caintuck Audio Betsy Open Baffles
Caintuck Audio Lii 15 Open Baffles
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