Flatline Design 175 loudspeaker Page 4

The bass was slightly looser with the Melos. I imagine that most or all tube amps will behave similarly, since they have less ironclad control in that region than do transistor amps. The Melos measured the way it sounded: about 0.5 to 1dB more at each 1/3-octave step than the Krell. Had I kept the Melos amps longer, I would have moved the speakers slightly out into the room again and taken advantage of that bass bloom. If the Melos is representative of the best tube designs out there, then tube-amp owners will be able to take advantage of the Flatline 175s in a unique way: the ribbons will show off the tubes, the warm bass of the latter offsetting the lean bass of the former.

The perceived depth with the best EMI records was about 6', beginning a few inches behind the ribbon; the width was as wide as the room. The space thus created was filled with a large, delicate, detailed, open sound with precise instrumental placement. The speakers didn't layer the sound in specific rows, as I've heard on a few systems, but there was plenty of fill, with specific placement of sound within the outlines of the soundstage.

Lateral dispersion was excellent at the seated position—no such thing as moving your head a few inches and losing it, as with many electrostatics. Vertical dispersion was more critical, but a seated position which placed my ears anywhere from 2' to 4' off the floor was fine.

As already often stated, these speakers excelled in their ability to produce detail, delicacy, lack of distortion, refinement, transparency, and coherency. All these qualities were interdependent, resulting from the performance of the ribbon and its effective mating with the dynamic drivers.

Though they placed me close to the music and threw a large wash of sound, the 175s were proper English gentlespeakers. From an austere perspective, they opened a window on the world. Such a sound is but one choice from the palette of those available to audiophiles who like their music ordered, neat, and unruffling. But—and here's the rub—these speakers need additional microdynamics. Meaning what? They were able to play plenty loud, but in the ebb and flow of the music—the rise and fall of instruments in normal musical passages—they needed more "jump factor." Contrasts in level (as opposed to definition) on the accents of individual notes, and contrasts in the levels of ensemble sections, were somewhat staid in impact, and needed to be more "there."

Small dynamic accents helped define rhythmic drive and mood. Expected accents on material familiar to me were somewhat understated, my expectations remaining unfulfilled. The Flatlines need looser hips. There also seemed to be a bit of congealing of dynamics in the lower midrange—playing the speaker at moderate listening levels made this more apparent. The speaker bloomed better when goosed up a bit, but that's not the whole answer. Giving the knuckle-rap test to the side panels told me that the cabinet is very rigid, but could be better damped. Perhaps cabinet resonances contributed to this problem. I don't know.

How we place this criticism in the context of this or other speakers is tricky. All speakers have deficits, and most become significant with long-term listening. Most of us choose our speakers because they do well the things we like, their shortcomings usually matching our own blind spots. This microdynamics issue is one I'm sensitive to, but, in the context of this speaker's assets, will probably be of only moderate concern to most listeners. It can definitely be worked with in matching wires and cables, and in room placement.

I just couldn't get away from the 175s' assets. The ribbons were simply magical on material that has delicate shadings in the treble range. On Frank Bridge's The Sea (EMI ASD 3190), the separation of instruments in the string section, the definition and purity of the triangle, and the sweet sound of the woodwinds were unmatched. The horizon and the glint of sunlight on the waves went on forever. It was titillating.

On Frank Sinatra's "Blues in the Night" (Only the Lonely, Capitol C21Y-48471), every tiny vocal inflection of the master at the height of his career was conveyed with a startling intimacy that caused me to appreciate even more an oft-heard performance. The bass region was adequate but understated, illustrating the desirability of tweaking the setup and associated components for additional bass warmth and extension, to balance the ribbons' performance.

The Flatline Design Model 175 is a tweaker's dream—every change will be heard. Fussing with them to maximize performance and minimize faults can produce potentially mind-boggling realism. With the right material, they tickled my sensibilities and produced a large, intimate sound that had ultimate transparency and refinement.

So tweak away: Utilize room boundaries for additional bass, toe-in the speakers in small to average rooms so that the rear of the tweeter can "see" the room's rear corners, position the speakers as far apart as is reasonable without damaging the center image, and tweak with dynamic, slightly warm-sounding cables.

Are the Flatline 175s worth 4500 bucks? Yes, but they've got stiff competition in this price range from Dunlavy, Thiel, Paragon, and others. The 175s' assets are definition, transparency, open, lush sound, and a large stage. You'll have to pay careful attention to setup, and the speaker's best qualities must match those that get you emotionally involved with the music. Though the 175s are not the most widely distributed speakers, you should hear them if you want to make an informed choice in this price range.