Before you spend big bucks on a new set of speakers, maybe
you should check out the Only Slightly Used section first.
Review by Francis Vale
Take an English style monitor speaker and steamroller flat all of its voice coils.
Stretch the now thoroughly flattened upper midrange/tweeter coils into a long
and narrow foil ribbon strip. Now pull taut the lower midrange/bass units into
a thin trapezoidal sheet. Finally, get the air moving both front and rear, dipole
style. And what do you have? An Apogee Caliper Signature loudspeaker.
The Calipers' dynamic range and bass handling qualities are squarely
in the mid-sized monitor class of speakers. Like their British brethren, the
Calipers have a smooth, transparent midrange, are laid back in their presentation,
and do wonderful things for human voice.
Unlike most of the monopole Brits, however, the Calipers throw a huge,
solidly 3D soundstage. This is a result of the Calipers' dipolar design. A dipole
speaker fires its sound front and rear, but the sonic backdraft is out of phase
with the front, causing cancellation lobes that effectively cancel out sound
at the Apogee's sides. Quads are also dipoles.
A true bipole, like the Mirage speakers, on the other hand, radiates
its sound all in phase, and in a spherical pattern. True bipolars are therefore
more 'spacious' in their sound, but are also more susceptible to side wall reflections
than a dipole.
The 3D spaciousness of the Caliper's soundstage is one of its strongest
points, and lends it a greater sense of realism. There are those who will object
to this type of presentation, preferring a more tightly focused, thump in your
chest sound. This is strictly a matter of taste. But we would argue that in
a real life concert with acoustic instruments, the sound is by nature very diffuse.
After all, the notes are not beamed straight at you, like some sonic laser.
Whatever, the audiophile world seems divided into two camps: Those who
like planar speakers, and those who like conventional straight ahead domes.
This ongoing disagreement is obviously good economic news for the seemingly
thousands of speaker makers out there.
The Calipers do a number of things very well. But always bear in mind
that even though they are stylistically imposing, at four foot high, two and
half feet wide (narrowing to two feet at the top), and two inches thick, the
Calipers are still midsized monitor-class speakers. The Caliper's bass, provided
by a 37" by 14" panel, is effectively AWOL below 50Hz or so. When
the bottom end really gets busy and starts to dive, doubling is not uncommon.
And if the bass hits below 30Hz with any kind of punch, the bass panels will
start to flap around like a wounded pigeon.
Disconcerting though this sight may be, it apparently does no harm to
the speaker. Thus, there can be a gnawing sense that the lower foundation is
somehow absent; but this loss is very source material dependent.
The Caliper's upper mids and highs produced by its 37" x 1" ribbon
are a different story, however. On vocals, the sound is uncolored, and
the treble soars. The female vocalist's heart wrenching lament on Henryk Gorecki's
Symphony No. 3 (Elektra Nonesuch, 79282-2) will pierce you like a bayonet. Even
older vinyl recordings transferred to CDs do well. 'Detour Ahead' by Billie
Holiday is vibrantly blue, and soulfully satisfying (Blue Vocals, Vol. 2, on
Blue Note, D-124729). So long as the source components hang in there, female
vocals are not at all steely.
And for male blues vocals, you cannot beat Muddy Waters, Folk Singer,
on the gold Ultradisc from Mobile Fidelity, (UDCD 593). On the Calipers, Muddy's
anguished laments are so striking, you can get paranoid about the chain gang
boss comin' to get ya for slackin' off.
In our rig, we use a Cary SLP-90L line-level tube preamp which helps
tame CD harshness. In addition, the Rat Shack 3400 CD that we use as a transport,
coupled with an Enlightened Audio Designs 1000 Series II DAC via an Ensemble
Digiflux 75 cable, also treats voices very well. The 3400/EAD combo may not
have the low end bass punch of a Krell or a Levinson player, but the Calipers
probably couldn't deal with it anyway. The 3400, amp, pre-amp, and DAC all sit
on top of the remarkable Black Diamond Racing Pyramid
Mk3 & Mk4 Cones (see accompanying review, this issue).
As a general statement, acoustic music does very well on the Calipers.
But pianos, when they choose to thunder, can be an exception. For example, Arvo
Part's 'Te Deum', (BMG 78118-2003-2) which uses a 'prepared' piano for sonic
shock effect, just doesn't have the shuddering impact that it should. However,
this CD's vocals and strings are especially well treated. The emotion still
comes through. Other en masse vocal works also do very well.
Rachmaninoff's 'Vespers' (Telarc, CD 80172) for Russian Orthodox sacred
services is beautifully rendered on the Calipers. Voices are always kept distinct,
and never get muddied up by the Apogees. Another good example of how evangelic
these Calipers can be is a John Taverner work, 'The 'Protecting Veil' (Virgin
Classics, 7590522). This piece's opening features an incredibly sustained series
of high register notes, which, at first, you think are played on solo violin,
but are actually being played on a lone cello. The Calipers do artistic justice
to this virtuosi string work.
Large orchestral pieces, thanks to the holographic qualities of the speakers,
are well treated. Although the lower notes may get slighted, the sense of orchestral
attack and driving crescendos come right on through. The IVth movement finale
of Respighi's 'Pini di Roma' (on BMG/DG D135381) positively soars. It makes
us proud to be Italians.
Speaking of whom, Astor Piazzola, the Argentinean-born creator of nuevo
tango, comes through in all his quintet's glory on the wonderfully recorded
1987 Central Park Concert CD (Chesky, JD107). The highly accurate dipoles make
it quite easy to spatially locate all the instruments in a very solid soundstage.
Piazzola and his Bandoleon (an accordion-like instrument) convincingly move
about, never getting masked over or confused with the other player's instruments
as they run through their exotic riffs. Best yet, your wallet is safe from Park
Another CD having roots in a far off place is 'Talking Timbuktu' (BMG/Hannibal
D103178), with Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder on guitars. This CD is an amazing
blending of Afromusic (Mali, in particular) and jazz. The two guitarists create
cascading, rhythmically undulating waves of music that the Calipers pass through
unhindered. If you don't move to the rhythms of these two players, then bequeath
all your gear, as you are dead.
Brass also fares well. Mile Davis' quixotic horn playing in The Miles & Quincy
Live at Montreux concert (Warner Bros. D135011) stays intact. The drummer,
thanks to the deep Apogee 3D soundstage, plays his kit in the next door apartment.
The very good looking, anthracite gray Calipers like to have their volume
cranked up. At low listening levels, the sound will tend to recede. At higher
levels, the sound really starts to open up and otherwise hidden details begin
to emerge (as will the neighbors in our high rise apartment building). But this
is not a rock and roll speaker. It won't get down and dirty. It is too sophisticated
in its presentation. Others may just call it laid back. So if your taste swings
in the funky direction, then indulge yourself, and buy some head banger Cerwin
The prior incarnation of the Calipers presented a very difficult load for
an amplifier. It was not uncommon for the impedance to drop to two ohms or less.
The Caliper Signature edition solved that load problem, and the nominal 3.0
ohm impedance stays relatively flat throughout the frequency range. Nonetheless,
at 84 - 85 DB sensitivity, they like the juice. So, a high current amp with
at least two hundred watts is recommended. We use a 200 watt/channel Rotel 990BX,
which at $995, is a genuine sonic bargain. The Rotel pumps out the current,
and doesn't get flustered when heavy demands are made on it.
The speakers have four binding posts, and are designed to be easily biamped
or biwired. We biwired the Calipers with a custom made 'hyperlitz-style' cable.
Apogee's Symo cable supposedly gives the best results with their speakers, but
we have not had a chance to try it. Some cable comparisons may be in order here,
as the speakers are quite revealing of source components. E.g., Gordana's suggestion
to acoustically isolate the CD 3400 made a large sonic improvement; as did the
addition of the Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Cones. So changing cables around
may also produce a gain. (Can excessive cable tweaking ruin a marriage?)
Being dipoles, the Calipers like room to breathe. The factory recommends
36" to 48" out from the rear wall, and at least 8" from the side
walls. In our room, 38.5" was optimal. Apogee also recommends that no more
than 3/8 inch toe-in be used. We concur, and in fact, got best results with
the speakers aligned perfectly parallel to the rear walls. Speaker separation
is suggested to be 68" to 78". We found 82" to be best. A plumb
bob is also supplied by Apogee to accurately position the tilt back angle at
five and one half degrees.
No question, Apogees live up to their reputation for being fussy about
set-up. An inch either way can make big difference. You will have to fiddle
with them, which at 85 pounds each, makes for some exercise. Gordana & Francis pushed them around (Don't believe her. Francis did all the sweaty pushing) for
several trial and error months before getting the sound pinned down. But the
results were worth it.
One last word about positioning: Keep your Apogees away from direct sunlight!
Last summer, we bought another John Taverner CD, "Thunder Entered Her" (Virgin
Classics). The 'Angelis' opening of Tavener's choral work is dramatized
by an organ playing in a sustained lower register. The Apogees sought to take
wing with the angels every time we played this section. The flapping of the
bass panels was so bad, we gave up trying to play the CD. This was the only
recoding in our entire collection that caused this disconcerting effect.
But while going over our listening experiences for this review, we dug
out the disc one night, and played it. Mirabile dictu! The offending organ suddenly
filled our apartment with intestine massaging notes. The Apogees sailed right
through this once tortuous passage. But yet, nothing had changed in our system.
In the morning, just to be sure, we played the piece again. Still no problem
-- but -- the right speaker, which can sometimes collect direct sunlight, flapped
around more than the left.
We originally purchased this disc in July, and had always tried playing
it during the afternoon. This was now fall, and it played in the evening and
morning without problems. Bingo! The summer sun is at a different angle, and
is able to shine its rays much more directly onto the speakers, especially the
rear of the panels. What should have been a mild flap had turned into a ribbon
We spoke with Apogee about this thermal heating problem. To be fair,
they said this problem was a first, so far as they knew. After we talked some
more, it seems that the unusual position of the speakers relative to the direct
summer sun was the likely culprit. The afternoon sunlight was probably able
to heat the metal frames holding the ribbon woofer panels just enough -- a 1/4" would
do it -- to let them flap around like they did. Moral of the story: Treat
your speakers like sleeping vampires, and keep them out of the direct sun.
One bum rap the Apogee's seem to have gotten is their being a highly
singular, 'sweet spot' speaker. That is, they supposedly 'beam' the sound along
a narrow listener path. We collectively disagree. Assuming we haven't been fighting
about the relative worth of changing around cables, we can sit comfortably close,
and both of us will get a realistic rendering.
There is also a three way position toggle switch on the speaker's rear,
marked low, normal, and high. This is just a 1.5 ohm resistor, and provides
approximately 1.5-2.0 DB adjustment for the tweeter. Unless your room is very
bright, we found that it works best set in the high position (i.e., the resistor
is out of the circuit).
In sum, the Calipers are highly transparent, uncolored, cast a huge,
solid, 3D soundstage, and have a wonderful midrange and treble. Feed them quality
sources, and both you and they will be very happy. But they are laid back, and
don't like deep bass too much. It is a speaker well suited to smaller rooms.
Like Dirty Harry said, know their limitations. But used intelligently,
the Calipers will give you no end of listening pleasure. Although they are no
longer marketed by Apogee., used Caliper Signatures can be readily found that
cost less than a $1,000. 'Pre-listened' Caliper Signatures are Great Cheap Treats,
But what would happen if the inexpensive Calipers were to be paired
with a good quality, low price subwoofer, like Hsu Research's $850 HRSW12V?
This system combo may yield sonic satisfaction way out of proportion to your
modest investment. Naturally, we just had to try this Apogee/Hsu combo out.
To find out what happened, see you next issue!