[Note that this guest review is by Wolfgang Kemper of HiFi Statement, our affiliated journal in Germany, edited by good friend Dirk Sommer.]
The famous New York Mercy Sound Studios has been working with Legacy Audio speakers for years. Now, thanks to the distributor Notabene-audio, Legacy Audio is also represented in Germany. The Signature SE Premium is part of the passive speaker line, designed for stereo and home entertainment.
Wolf Tiling, who imports Legacy Audio products to Germany, came personally to setup the speakers. During a visit to the US, he learned about the Legacy range of products at an audio convention, talked to the management of Legacy Audio and was more than impressed by the listening experience of the displayed speakers. But since there was no distribution in Germany, Tiling, who studied economics and is an experienced sales manager, decided with his wife Dörte to found their own company, Notabene-audio, to introduce Legacy speakers to German audiophiles.
The worldwide-acclaimed company Legacy Audio is celebrating more than 30 years in business, and is proud of its successful history. Engineer Bill Dudleston and his father-in-law, the carpenter Jacob Albright, combined passions to found the company in 1983. Jacob Albright assured excellent craftsmanship, and today his vision of the products is continued by a select team. All the cabinets for the speakers are built by Legacy Audio themselves. Reflecting the confidence they have in the quality of their cabinets, drivers and every component of their products, Legacy Audio offers a full seven-year warranty.
Without the front covers the Signature SE show their five-driver design
But Legacy's good reputation doesn't only stem from their professional line of products. They're also putting a big focus on the development of home audio speakers and electronics. Their professional and home audio divisions overlap in many respects. A great example is the Wavelet DAC-DSP-Preamp, which contains both a programmable active crossover and an option for room adjustment. The Wavelet is a perfect fit for the part-active speakers to achieve high-end playback in the home. "Part-active" means that the speakers contain an internal amplifier for the bass. The rest of the drivers are passive, and driven by an external amplifier. Recently, the Powerbloc2 Amplifier has been added to complement the Legacy line of passive speakers. The Signature SE Premium is a classic passive speaker with a completely closed cabinet. Striking is the installment of two Air-Motion-Tweeters (AMTs) for frequencies above 2800 Hertz.
The supplied front cover hides the drivers
Virtually all Legacy Audio speakers are made to order. There is practically no stock of finished goods in Springfield. The left and right speakers are precisely pair matched during tuning. Of course all parameters are registered to ensure that if a replacement is needed, the exchange part is as similar to the original part as possible. The five drivers in the Signature SE are manufactured by three different companies, but they're all built according to Legacy's specifications. This can be seen on the front of the AMTs. "Air Motion Legacy" is engraved in proud letters into the solid aluminum enclosure around the tweeters. The square formed funnel-like opening optimizes the dispersion pattern characteristic, and leads to a perfect harmony between the two nearby placed AMTs. Chief-engineer Bill Dudleston uses low mass systems which have the capacity for high acceleration, and thus clean transient response. In his opinion, the speed of the membrane is crucial for a uniform radiating behavior. So they all should have a similar response behavior. Transient response and efficiency are two fundamental criteria for music reproduction at Legacy Audio. Consequently, Legacy developed components with extreme driving characteristics, like magnetic field-strength up to two Tesla. Thanks to that, a surprising amount of dynamic range in the lowest frequency spectrum can be achieved.
The duo of two Air Motion Transformers behind the massive aluminum front plate with funnel-shaped acoustic coupling orifice
The first Signature was built back in 1992. The current Signature SE, first built in 2013, is the result of continuous refinement and improvement. In the past Bill Dudleston preferred ribbons for the upper frequency range, because they allowed for the most correct music reproduction, in his opinion. However, the limit in dynamic range particularly made him look for other solutions, as well. The development of the bigger, part-active Aeris speaker brought the desired improvement on the previously used ribbons for the high frequency spectrum. For the first time the dual Air-Motion-Transformer was used. Although the 4" AMT is capable of reproducing frequencies up to 28 Kilohertz, the smaller AMT takes over at 8000 Hertz to ease the work.
One of the maxims of Bill Dudleston when designing speakers is to operate the drivers used in their optimum frequency range. That's why the smaller, one-inch tweeter supports its bigger brother at very high frequencies. That allows for a better impulse behavior and more uniform dispersion up to 30 Kilohertz. Both AMT segments are built with high-magnetic neodymium bars. The Legacy AMT is slightly over-damped to prevent resonances in the lower frequency spectrum. In every AMT the signal current flows through two upward and opposite downward extending conductors. This induces a signal-flow-dependent magnetic field "around" the conductors glued to the membrane. The Kapton membrane is suspended between magnetic rods on the back and the pole plate on the front, thus allowing air to be set into motion. The air motion is controlled by the opening and closing of the accordion-like folds. The Legacy-AMT has a linear impedance of 4.5 ohms. The double AMT is, due to its constructive characteristics, significantly better than ribbons or simpler AMTs in terms of dynamic range and power handling, due to the larger surface area of the diaphragm. Thanks to its high quality materials, the AMT can cope with temperatures of almost 400 degrees Celsius.
Midrange chassis with the special membrane…
The conical midrange driver, which takes over below the dual AMT drivers, and works down to 180 Hertz, uses a cast-aluminum basket and a very strong magnet. It is installed in a separate, closed housing chamber inside the speaker. The seven-inch woven membrane is made of pressed silver-titanium-graphite fibers to avoid partial oscillation and to achieve similar impulse accuracy as the dual AMT. As with the two woofers, there is a phase plug in the center of the membrane to prevent unwanted frequency response dips, which otherwise may occur depending on the cone diameter. The Signature SE's two 10-inch-long-throw woofers feature a powerful magnetic drive to allow for a precise low frequency control down to 22 Hertz. The Solen capacitors of the crossover are connected via silver wire from Kimber Kable to the AMTs. The remaining components are connected point to point by oxygen-free copper wire. The acoustic insulation of the cabinet is done with polyester-fiber. The included black chromed brass spikes can be screwed into the 4 rubber-feet.
…and the strong magnetic drive
The rear port terminal has binding posts for bananas, spades and bare wire cables. The two pair allow the Signature to be used in bi-wiring or bi-amping mode. They are factory-connected by massive copper bridges. For the listening test I used the van-den-Hul-D-352-Hybrid-cable, which was recommended and delivered by Wolf Tiling. The control panel of the Signature SE has two toggle switches titled "Trim" to adjust the AMTs and the two woofers by two decibels. Through these, the speakers can reduce the stimulation of room modes or be adjusted to the personal taste. The switches cause only quantitative, but no qualitative changes. In my personal music room, I liked it best to keep the AMTs switch on the linear position and to decrease the woofers by two decibels. During my listening I also tried out different configurations, but always reverted back to the described set-up.
The cabinet of the Signature SE in the premium version impresses with the finest of surfaces. The multiple layer Black-Pearl finish of the tested speakers isn't only high quality, but also original. There are lots of silver-grey speckles mixed into the black lacquer, which draws the attention away from dust that will inevitably set on the speakers. Technically, and thus sonically, the Premium version is identical to the other versions of the Signature SE. If you like one of the five standard surfaces, which also includes black oak, you can save 600€ per pair compared to the premium version. On the other hand, you can also get the Signature SE in exotic finishes for 400€ extra. But the Signature is not only a brilliant piece of craftsmanship on the surface. Thanks to the extensive knowledge of woodworking and joinery that Jacob Albright brought into the firm, the Signature SE is both pleasant to look at and provides rigid casing. Internal bracing supports the one-inch thick MDF-cabinet. The sloping front doesn't only prevent standing waves but also adds to the living room friendly look. The speakers play well in smaller rooms, and thanks to the closed cabinet, they still perform great when positioned near to a wall, which may not be the case with some vented cabinets.
The two woofers are working jointly in the low frequencies
Bill Dudleston's scientific research in technical and acoustical areas is not only used in his speakers, but has earned him wide recognition. The press has been praising his products, and recently he even found his name placed alongside Nobel Prize laureates and statesmen of the Mid-West in the regional Hall of Fame. He is also listed in the American business Who's Who. Bill Dudleston has built Legacy monitors for Arista, Sony, the Universal Music Group, Epic Records, and archival organizations like the Stradivari-Violin-Society. Multiple Grammy winning producers like Rick Rubin, Antonio "LA" Reid, and mastering-engineer Herb Powers are using or have used Legacy Audio to work with artists like Sheryl Crowe, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mariah Carey, and many more. Re-Mastering-Engineers like Steve Hoffman used the Legacy speakers for work on the remasters of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.
A view of the frame and the magnetic drive of the woofer
Right after Wolf Tiling set up the speakers slightly toed in and left me for my testing, I started with my vinyl collection for a first listening test. On the turntable side, I used the Audio Exklusiv 103 pickup mounted in my Bardo turntable. I was amazed by the spatial representation that beat my Triangle Grand Concert significantly in depth and openness. Even at low frequencies, the Legacy delivers decent volume without exaggeration. The Legacy speakers remind me of the Model One from Ubiq Audio, which really impressed me a few months ago. Just as then, I experienced with the Signature SE an imposing sonic balance, which is not over-analytical but provides a complete picture of the music with three-dimensional depth. The tonal match of the Legacy brings back memories of days gone by. Incidentally, the great speakers at that time were mainly of American origin. Even though I normally like clear and defined set-ups best, the Legacy's impressed me with their power in the lower octaves. Its way of matching this power with transparency, speed, and clarity sets the Signature SE apart from its competitors. The dual AMT ribbon combination is quite sensible. Even with amps that tend to be (overly) clear with high frequencies, the AMT works well, although its whole potential is of course only unleashed with the right amp as a partner. The Spectral DMA-100 worked great with the Signature, but was outperformed by the Air Tight tube mono amps. With these amps the Signature produced a clarity and an ease of musical performance which I have never experienced before. The effort put towards choosing an amp really pays off.
But that doesn't mean that you'll have to spend a fortune to get a well-working match. The Dayens Ecstasy III integrated amp, which costs around 2800€, worked great with the speakers: This combination has made me slightly addicted to the Signature SE. The chorus of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana played from the Telarc CD seemed to stand in a broad formation inside my music room, and the instruments played with impressive dynamics and power. The Third Symphony (Organ) from Camille Saint-Saéns conducted by Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, played from vinyl, sounded on the one hand warm and compact, but at the same time provided wonderfully constructed details. The organ supported the orchestra powerfully, while the brass players sounded clear without being too sharp or unpleasant to the ear. Clear voices like Katie Meluas from the Piece by Piece album—streamed from Qobuz—sounded truly astonishing, and the instruments built a wonderful sonic image.
Coupled as close as possible: The midrange chassis and the AMTs
I'm not sure how often I listened to Joni Mitchell's Lady of the Canyon to enjoy the fascinating resolution, warmth, and glory of sound produced by the Legacys. Like I said, it's hard to part ways with these speakers. It is good fun to listen to any genre through the Signature, which shines even with hard rock, like with Free, Live, recorded on 9/13/1970 in the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, or the Amon Düül II Song "Archangel Thunderbird" from the Yeti CD. I do not know very many speakers that are so versatile on such a high level, and can convey any musical style as holistically authentic. Despite the homogeneity and the amount of sound, details don't get lost, but instead impress. That is an outstanding feature of Legacy's. The plucked upright bass feels powerful but never boomy with the Jazz trios, a piano sounds full of energy, and the notes clearly accentuated. String arrangements of classical music are interpreted with splendor, delicacy, and accuracy but also transparency and warmth—that is hard to find. Legacy Audio has a sound that doesn't lull you, yet presents the details with relaxed ease. Add to this the astonishing dynamic capabilities; these speakers brake for nothing. This applies not only to the bold or rough, but especially to the essence and the vitality of fine instrumentation.
The rear-port and control panel are high-grade builds
The Legacy Audio Signature SE is a really versatile speaker with great tonal balance. The ability to match the pleasant and colorful sound with such an intense resolution paired with excellent dynamics is amazing. It was about time that these Americans could be enjoyed and acquired here in Germany.
- Computer: Apple MacMini (El Capitan), Amarra 3.0.3, Audirvana Plus and Qobuz
- DAC: Antelope Zodiac plus or Audio-gd- Master 7
- CDP: Primare DVD 30
- Turntable: Brinkmann Bardo with Musical Life Conductor 10", Kenwood KD-990
- Pickup: Audio Technica AT33PTG/II, Clearaudio Da Vinci
- Phonosage: Plinius Koru, Primare R-20
- Preamp: Audio-gd Master 9
- Power-Amp: Spectral DMA-100, Air Tight ATM-3, NAD Masters M 22
- Accessories: Audioquest Diamond or Carbon USB, Inakustik Blck&White NF-1302, van den Hul D 352-Hybrid, MudrAkustik Max Powerline, Mudra and Audioquest NRG-X2 Mains-Cable, AHP-Pure-Copper-Fuse, Groneberg wall socket, mbakustik absorbers
- Rack: Creaktiv Audio with absorber shelfs, Finite Elemente Pagode, Audio Exklusiv d.C.d. basis
- Design: 5 chassis, 4 way
- Tweeter: 1"-AMT neo ribbon with folded Kapton foil
- Midrange: 4" AMT neo ribbon with folded Kapton foil
- Mid-Woofer: 7" Chassis with silver-graphite membrane and cast frame
- Sub-Woofer: 2 x 10" spun aluminum diaphragm, rubber surround, long throw suspension with cast frame
- Cabinet: Sealed
- Frequency response: 22Hz – 30kHz (+/- 2 B)
- X-over frequencies: 180Hz – 2.8kHz – 8kHz
- Impedance: 4 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 92dB (in-room, 1-m-distance, 2,83V)
- Recommended amplification: 10 – 300 Watt
- Binding post: 2 pairs
- Dimensions: 122 cm (H) x 30,5 cm (W) x 35 cm (D)
- Weight: 48 kg (each)
- Finish: Black Pearl, Rosewood, Natural-Satin, Sapele
- Guarantee: 7 years
Price: from 8.900€ (standard) to 9.500€ (Premium) and 9.900€ (exotic); Price incl. VAT
Distributor for Germany