Sonus faber Toy/REL T1 Speaker System Page 2
The Toy Tower produced greater dynamics at both ends of the scale, particularly at the microdynamic level. Its midrange presentation was more supple and nuanced, producing enticing instrumental textures and delicacy that’s usually reserved for more expensive speakers. The smooth-sounding ring radiator was utterly effortless and free of tizzy and etchy artifacts that often infect speakers at this price point. It created a deep and wide soundstage that was free of hot spots. Overall, the speaker’s top-to-bottom integration, coherence, and freedom from congestion produced a mesmerizing and effortless mix of harmonic balance and spatial generosity—even with two-channel material.
Add the Toy surrounds, which produced a similar sonic and spatial picture, and you have a nearly ideal room-filling sonic bubble with the speaker locations submerged within the 3-D acoustic.
However, the center of this speaker universe is the Toy Center. Many music-in-surround mixers avoid the center channel because many center-channel speakers tend to “sound” rather than blend into the L/R mix for a variety of reasons. Often the only solution is to manually drop the center level when listening to 5.1-channel SACD mixes. Still, the attempt to reduce its tendency to beam, give away its location, and diminish its timbral differences is often a vain one. This isn’t so with the Toy Center.
There isn’t a better musical test of a surround sound speaker system than Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin’s World (Verve SACD). It’s a true 5.1-channel mix that doesn’t shy away from using the center channel. It mixes Hancock’s piano front and center with a sumptuous string section and a strong reliance on reeds and guest vocalists Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder. This superbly recorded disc mixed for 5.1 by the great Al Schmitt and mastered by Doug Sax is an audio extravaganza. It can sound either rich, glorious, and spatially coherent or tinkly, shrill, and spatially disjointed. If you wish to hear how far we haven’t come in the art of symphonic recording, get a hold of one of RCA’s Living Stereo SACDs produced from a three-track original master tape (recorded in the late 1950s through the early ’60s) and play it back on this system.
The Toy Tower system delivered this disc better in every way than any sub-$10,000 surround sound system ever has in my home theater. In fact, I preferred the sound to some more expensive systems. It may have given up some detail, sparkle, air, and that last bit of macrodynamic thrust compared with some far more expensive systems. But it gave up nothing in terms of tonal believability, textural richness, instrumental suppleness, three-dimensionality, and non-judgmental listening pleasure.
The Toy Center’s ability to disappear and submerge itself into the musical works, perched atop my 65-inch Hitachi boat anchor of a CRT-based RPTV was complete. Not surprisingly, the Toy Center reproduced soundtrack dialogue with equal transparency. Although two-way horizontal woofer-tweeter-woofer center-channel speakers usually suffer from off-axis lobing and irregular frequency response off axis (and the measurements may confirm that this one does too), it was not an issue subjectively. Dialogue intelligibility was excellent. Male voices avoided chestiness, female ones avoided shrillness, and the Toy Center’s sibilant performance was clean and free of illusion-spoiling artifacts. It wasn’t quite the “Brad Pitt’s hiding behind the screen” transparent performance that some far more expensive center-channel speakers have managed, but it was close enough. What’s more, the Toy Center produced excellent dialogue intelligibility at both high and low SPLs.
Speaking of SPLs
The Toy Tower system doesn’t play around when you crank up the volume. It can play loud in a fairly large listening room without audible strain or dynamic compression. And that’s with the Toy Towers running full range and augmented by the REL T1 subwoofer. If you like to rock out loud or watch movies at high SPLs, the Toy Tower system will give it to you. There’s nothing small about the volume, dynamics, or spatial picture that this system delivers. With that said, it’s important to consider the contribution that the REL T1 makes to both sound effects and music. Turn it off, and you’re still running the front L/C/R array full range. So it was easy to hear its considerable contribution in filling in the foundation, adding weight and especially the sense of a large space on appropriate musical and cinematic material. You’ll need a subwoofer to get the most from the Toy Tower system.With the REL T1 driven off the amplifier or speakers’ L/R speaker-level terminals, I achieved a level of seamlessness that wasn’t possible for me with most line-level-only subwoofers.
If the Toy Tower system errs on any side of the sonic fence, it’s toward warmth and richness, which it does without a noticeable loss of low-level detail. Given the bright, processed nature of many soundtracks, it’s the side on which to err. If you’re looking for an all-purpose system for both cinema and music at a price point that doesn’t break the bank, the Toy Tower system with REL’s T1 subwoofer will make you very happy even if you’re a picky audiophile. I speak from personal experience. The Toy Tower system is among the most listenable systems I’ve reviewed at any price.
Don’t let the small size fool you. In a small to medium-sized room, the Sonus faber Toy Towers (run full range) produce big sound with almost unrestrained dynamics, especially when you team them with a competent subwoofer like the T1. The tiny Toy surrounds perform with the same level of cleanliness, low coloration, and smooth dispersion. The real star within this constellation of speakers is the Toy Center. Whatever it might measure, it offers a degree of transparency, low coloration, and freedom from mechanical artifacts that you don’t often hear at this price point. When you put it all together, you have a relatively small, attractive, unobtrusive-looking, and well-balanced system. While it’s not inexpensive at $6,044, it won’t break the bank, either. It delivers nuance and delicacy with musical sources and head- and gut-throbbing punishment with effects-heavy movies. It’s a highly recommended system that proved difficult to return.