Flatline Design 175 loudspeaker Page 3

There was a sacrifice in perceived depth when I moved the speakers back to the rear wall—the recordings had to provide most of the depth cues, without as much assistance from a deep room/speaker interface. The number of recordings that can provide most of the depth cues are fewer than you might imagine. With my listening chair about 12' away, the speakers were certainly able to "dissolve" the rear wall, but I got a 20th-row perspective of the orchestra, with a foreshortened front-to-rear perspective of the ensemble depth. Moving the chair closer, to about 9', deepened the soundstage again, without my having to give up the tonal balance I'd achieved.

I could have avoided some of this extended placement process by following Flatline's printed instructions and placing the 175s close to the wall. But why should I do that when I can confirm Perkins' findings and make more work for myself in the process? It's all just part of the dedication we Stereophile reviewers have to you readers—the greater good of high-fidelity, and humanity. Eh-hum.

Wires will be of concern to new owners, since these speakers reveal everything. TARA Labs RSC speaker cable in a bi-wired arrangement was superb—this cable has the ability to be very extended at both frequency extremes without being additive in nature. This allowed me to take full advantage of the ribbons on the top end without adding brightness, and also gave me the confidence that the bass was fully extended without added tubbiness. OCOS cable, by comparison, sounded veiled and grainy.

I found that all my low-capacitance interconnects sounded best. TARA Labs RSC Master, Kimber Kable KCAG, Music Metre Signature, and Discovery Cable were very good. The Music Metre added a very slight warmth and a hair more in dynamics, which was beneficial with the 175s: even after final placement, they still needed a bit of help to balance the dominance of the ribbon.

I used three preamps for listening: a homemade passive preamp; the Melos 333 line and phono stage, which sounded a bit warm and more euphonic; and a Sonic Frontiers SFL-2, which sounded cooler and very transparent. For these speakers, the Melos and the passive unit were the best matches.

This is one ribbon that works well with a good transistor power amplifier. I was first intrigued by their sound at two CESes, when they were being driven by solid-state amps. That's a big plus: If you don't own tube amps, you won't be forced to run out and buy them if you change speakers—quite a cost savings.

With the right recordings, and after optimal placement of the speakers in the room, the Flatlines with my Krell KSA-250 sounded quite good—even lush. And I was certainly able to hear the differences in recorded venues. With the Krell, the Flatlines gave the feeling that all the sound, good or bad, came directly from the recording site. I wasn't able to detect any grain or glare with the Krell that wasn't attributable to the recordings.

The ribbons told all. Poor digital remastering of analog originals, such as Dexter Gordon's Gettin' Around (Blue Note B21Y-46681), which features a nasal-sounding tenor and a collapsed soundstage, caused a non-audiophile jazz-musician friend of mine to react immediately. Conversely, a symphony-orchestra musician/audiophile friend, listening to good recordings well-known by him, judged tonality to be accurate.

Adding my own experience with recordings I know well, I was confident that the speaker/amp combination was delivering the truth. There comes a time when, after you've optimally set up your system, you need to put away your audiophile sensibilities and listen to the music. No, you won't need to ignore a lot of intrusive recorded defects with these speakers. With most recordings, the sound was Good to Lush; but the ribbons reached for greater heights in performance, making deficits in software more obvious.

Would you like to remedy that situation and add a bit of magic? As good as the Flatlines sounded with the Krell, I just knew that these speakers would be at their best with tubes. If the sound of the Flatlines through the Krell could be lush, the sound through a pair of Melos 400 tube monoblocks was the auditory equivalent of having my erotic zones stroked with a feather. With much sweating and exhaustion, an Audiophile Society friend and I lugged those mothers out of his house and into mine.

I'd have followed Shirley Horn anywhere after just a few words of "Return to Paradise" (Here's to Life, Verve 314-511 879-2)—so...achingly...sweet. The experience was repeated with Tobias Picker's Old and Lost Rivers (Virgin Classics 59007), which has a lot of upper-octave string work. Very smooth, very sweet. There's no question that the ribbons allow the magic of filaments to be heard better than ordinary dynamic drivers. This is the sound tubeoholics thirst for.