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Carbon 7 Monitors
as reviewed by Kent Johnson
I first heard Fritz Speakers at Audio Karma's AKFEST 2009. I had a chance to hear them again at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last fall. In both cases, I enjoyed what I heard. It took until this May, however, to get a pair of these speakers into my own system. The review pair are Carbon 7s, one of several models of stand-mount monitors from Fritz Speakers Audiophile/HighEnd range. Fritz also makes speakers for home theater systems as well as a line of full-range, single-driver speakers for use with SET and similar amplifiers.
The Carbon 7 is named for its 7 inch, carbon-graphite fiber, ScanSpeak 8545K mid-woofer. This driver is paired with a ScanSpeak 9500 28mm tweeter. Both of these drivers reside in a medium-sized but very dense cabinet. Each cabinet measures 16 by 9 by 11 5/8 inches (HWD) and weighs 30 pounds.
The woofer-mid crosses over to the tweeter at 2200Hz and utilizes a series crossover. I have always been curious about series crossovers but have no idea as to how to design one. The advantage of a series crossover is that it utilizes far fewer parts than a parallel crossover while offering a steeper cutoff between the drivers. You can get a 12dB crossover slope using a series crossover where the same number of parts would only result in a 6dB/octave parallel crossover. While this is technically interesting, it only really matters if it serves the music in a way that is transparent to the listener.
The Carbon 7 has a 2.5 inch flared port on the rear of the cabinet. There is only a single pair of high quality binding posts, which is, of course, the result of using a series crossover.
The pair of speakers sent to me were veneered on all six sides in a natural blonde oak finish and beautifully done. The fit and finish of the speaker is excellent, competitive with anything that I have seen at or above its price range. To my tastes, the oak was a little on the conservative side but other woods are available. Standard finishes also include maple, walnut, cherry, mahogany, and rose walnut as well as custom finishes. The minimal grills are held in place by magnets set behind the speaker's veneer. The speakers are very handsome with the grills on or off. I did my listening with the grills off.
As sent to me, the Carbon 7s retail for $1750 per pair. The review pair had been used at Audio Karma's AKFEST 2010 so it was thoroughly broken-in.
I used 24-inch stands for my listening. This was the height recommended by John "Fritz" Heiler, the speaker designer and builder. I found these worked well for my setup, especially since I recently replaced my sagging listening chair. My new chair sits me up a bit higher (no major butt depression yet). I could just see a sliver of the top of the speaker cabinet if I sat up straight. I played with the speaker height somewhat and I think these speakers work best with the tweeters at or just below ear height. I think it is worth experimenting with speaker height over a range from a full view of the top of the speaker cabinet to where the top just disappears from view.
I began with the speakers the same distance from the rear wall, about six feet, as my reference Magneplanar MG1.6s. This is great for imaging but, of course, deprives the speaker of virtually all bass reinforcement from the rear wall. After some experimentation, I ended up with the speakers positioned about 72 inches apart (center-to-center) and 96 inches from my listening chair. They were moderately toed-in. This worked very well in my room but again, some additional experimentation will probably prove rewarding. (With speaker reviewing, you have to stop worrying about set up at some point and just get on with the listening.)
I began listening with Eliane Elias' Around the City CD (Bluebird 82876 80228-2). This CD proved extremely useful for reviewing purposes. While all the tracks are Latin-flavored, there is enough variety in the music and instrumentation to test just about every aspect of a speaker's performance.
To begin with, there is female voice. While Eliane does not have the purest voice I have ever heard, it is well nuanced and emotionally revealing. This was clearly heard through the Carbon 7s which reproduced it without any additional sibilance and a generally mellow quality. Track 10, "Save Your Love for Me" reveals her as a very capable traditional jazz chanteuse. Low level details and subtle inflections as well as "breathiness" contributed to the sense of a real person within my listening space. Eliane accompanies herself as a background singer on the CD and her voice is often ethereal—appearing and disappearing like a shadow about the soundstage. Very subtle and enjoyable stuff.
Bass through the Fritz Speakers varied with the track. Track 7, "Tropicalia" opens with an electric bass that is big, deep, and loud. It sounded absolutely terrific. The Carbon 7s are capable of very impressive bass (the more so since they were getting no help from the room) that requires no apology for their size.
Excellent bass could also be heard in the lower registers of the piano, the acoustic bass, and the various drums used on this CD. Each of these instruments displayed excellent detail and texture as well as fundamental depth. More important, they sounded real and the bass worked to propel the rhythmic drive of the music forward. It's definitely toe-tapping stuff, assuming the listener is able to keep up with the beat on most of these tracks.
Treble performance benefits from using a series crossover as there are no capacitors or resistors between the tweeter and the signal itself. An inductor is used instead. (Sometimes the inductance of the voice coil itself is all the inductance needed.) Referring back to Track 10 again, the quality of the brushes as they caressed the snare drums was outstanding. Cymbals near the end of Track 5, "Segredos" benefited as well, sounding pristine via the ScanSpeak tweeter.
Without excellent transient response, drums just do not sound appropriately taut; their realism depends upon reproducing the initial hit with both speed and sharpness. When this is done well, the subsequent decay also sounds more natural. Well, there are a lot of drums, of many different types, on this CD and I did not hear any one of them that did not sound realistic to my ears. Of course, the same capabilities are necessary for the reproduction of the piano, which Elias plays superbly, and guitar, both of which are also used extensively. In terms of naturalness, the piano reproduction benefited greatly from both the Carbon 7s excellent transient response as well as its wide frequency range.
One given about stand-mounted monitors is that they should provide outstanding imaging. No problem here.
The soundstage produced by the Carbon 7s is deep and wide, traveling a couple of feet or so beyond the outside edges of the speakers themselves. Image height was also extremely good. The instruments within the soundstage originated from just about everywhere but the speakers themselves. By comparison, the MG1.6s are just too large to get entirely out of their own way. A certain amount of the music always seems to be occurring in their immediate vicinity. A smaller speaker like the Carbon 7, however, can truly disappear within the soundstage that it is reproducing, adding even more to the sense of being in the presence of the musicians themselves.
It was just a fluke that I started my listening with this CD and that it proved so useful. I did listen to a variety of other music as well.
I listen to a lot of chamber music and it is important to me that a speaker be able to realistically reproduce performances ranging from soloist to small orchestra.
Villa-Lobos Chamber Music (Naxos 8.557765) features various permutations of the quintet Mobius on this CD. Track 1, "The Jet Whistle" utilizes only flute and violin. The flute goes very loud and very high in several places during this composition. Through the Carbon 7s, the flute never crossed over into stridency or shrillness. It never lost its distinctive metallic resonant quality either. The violin sounded very natural as well, but this composition really is made to spotlight the flute's capabilities. The ScanSpeak tweeter did an excellent job of cleanly reproducing the high frequencies of both instruments.
"Quintette Instrumental for Flute, Violin, Viola, Cello and Harp" is the only composition to feature the entire Mobius Quintet. This is a lovely work with a large, open soundstage and very natural sounding instrumentation. The harp in particular is very lovely. It is also the only one to include the cello, which is woody, resonant, and mellow as heard through the C7s.
"Song of the Black Swan" is a short impressionistic piece for harp and violin. The violin provides the grace and tranquility of the swan, the harp supplies the ripples in the water. The emotional/visual correlation supplied by the music took no effort to appreciate. The Carbon 7s did the work.
Milt Jackson's Quartet (Prestige LP 7003-2) is a 20bit K2 remastering. This 1955 mono recording was one of the last ones, if not the last one, recorded before the advent of the Modern Jazz Quartet (at least as I understand the liner notes). All of the personal on this CD were part of the Modern Jazz Quartet but for Horace Silver. He was replaced by John Lewis.
Despite being mono (a condescension that really carries no musical validity here) there is still a very good sense of space within this recording. The notes of the vibraphone subtly move side-to-side within the soundstage, while blooming and decaying in a huge upward and outward bouquet of sound.
The only thing sonically that gives away the age of this recording is a shortage of bass impact. The bass is actually quite good, and well defined, but its impact is somewhat curtailed.
I have been listening to a lot of the Rudy Van Gelder reissue jazz recordings over the past year and this one is a great one among extremely good ones. The K2 remastering brings it about as close to live as technology permits. It is truly stunning. The Carbon 7s passed this music along with every subtlety intact.
Symphonic music is necessarily diminished in size when played though even the very best home audio systems. While you could potentially put your listening room in Westminster Abbey, there is no way to put Westminster Abbey into your listening room. Although, you can get surprisingly close. What a good system can do is provide a sense of the space, much of the dynamics, and almost total emotional insight into the music.
For a symphonic sample, I listened to Coronation Anthems by George F. Handel, performed by The Sixteen with Harry Christophers. (CORO COR16066)
This CD opens with a lovely rendition of "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" and gets better from there. Coronation Anthem HWV 261 features high male voices to the left, female voices center, and lower male voices to the right. These combine, separate and merge in ways that move the music throughout the recording space. The Carbon 7s did an excellent job of reproducing and separating the voices while keeping the soundstage wide and deep. There was an excellent sense of the cathedral's height within the recording space as well.
Organ Concerto in F Major, Opus 4, No. 4 opens with the higher registers of the organ and seems, at first, to be occurring within a moderately sized space. When the other instruments of the orchestra enter, however, it readily becomes apparent that the organ is a very large one in a very large space. Also apparent is the additional weight these instruments bring to the party. The C7s reproduced the excellent depth present in this recording and the additional weight of the orchestra with both ease and finesse. My only complaint about this composition is that GFH never gets the organ down into its lower registers and shows us what it can do. Within the context of what he does give us, the Carbon 7s had no trouble reproducing all that was there.
I recently picked up another of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Audiophile Collection recordings, this one titled Villa-Lobos/Ginastera (RPM28870). I have found all of these recordings to be very good sounding and thoroughly entertaining. This one happens to be exceptional. While I did not feel that I needed to mention another orchestral work to give further insight into the musical capabilities of the C7s, this CD showed a synergy that I absolutely had to mention. It seemed as if the music was written to show how good the speakers were and they, in turn, existed to show how spectacular the music was.
The various compositions on this recording showed me that what I had considered extremely good bass and imaging from the Carbon 7s could actually be somewhat improved. The orchestra's soundstage stretches well beyond either speaker and offers extraordinary depth. The bass impact produced by the orchestra, especially on the second track, "Huapagno" by Jose Pablo Moncayo Garcia demonstrated that the Carbon 7s had not actually shown me all of their potential bass performance either. The dynamics of the orchestra were stunningly impressive on this composition.
If you cannot visualize the locomotive and its train in Villa-Lobos' "The Little Train of the Brazilian Countryman," from his Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, sell the stereo system and don't look back. There is a reason that this is his best know work and the performance of it on this disc is simply amazing.
The rest of the compositions are also wonderful and equally well recorded. This CD's reference to itself as an "Audiophile Collection" is fact not hubris.
I found this disc for $5.99 at Borders and had a 33% off coupon as well! Get a copy for yourself, you won't regret it.
If there is one word that I would use to describe the Carbon 7s, it would be seamless. While seamless hardly covers all that they do well, it describes both their top to bottom frequency response, where sonically they are exceptionally well balanced, as well as how, musically, performances have a unity to them into which the Carbon 7s themselves never seem to intrude.
These are speakers that I would readily recommend to anyone looking for a full-range, high-quality speaker, monitor or not. They offer excellent value within a very competitive segment of the speaker market. Audition them if you can; if you can't, Fritz Speakers offers a full money-back guarantee should a purchaser prove to be unhappy with them. Based on what I have heard during my time with the Carbon 7s, I sincerely doubt that Fritz is spending any of his time doing refunds. Very highly recommended. Kent Johnson
Carbon 7 Loudspeakers