When people find out that I review audio products, they
often want advice about what to buy. On the one hand, Im happy to help them find
something they like and want. On the other, Im uncomfortable suggesting products at,
say, a cocktail party. While there are some products that I think nearly anyone would
enjoy without having to break the bank (the Slim Devices Squeezebox comes to mind), there
are just too many variables to consider for me to rest easy recommending products without
talking with someone in depth. Not only are there the obvious questions about budget, but
also about where the system is to be placed (a busy living room? a solitary listening
room?), what sort of listening it will be used for (casual? obsessive, audiophiliac
"I heard the subway rattling under the orchestra"?), whos going to use it,
and so on.
What the breadth of these questions indicates is that there
is no single holy grail that all music systems are assembled to attain. Nowadays, the
hardest thing for me to recommend is any kind of playback hardware, because more and more
people are inclined to store their music on their computers -- and what good is a CD
player to someone who no longer buys CDs? The easiest things to recommend, I think, are
speakers -- no matter what format people store their music in, the chain must end in a set
of speakers. For many music lovers, the Prelude loudspeaker ($1200 USD per pair) from
Silverline Audio is likely to serve that need.
The Prelude stands 40" tall but is only 5" wide
and 8" deep. I love its tall but compact design, even if its base does have a
slightly larger footprint than that. Its perfect for those who have smaller rooms
and cant sacrifice floor space to behemoth floorstanders, but dont want to
resort to bookshelf speakers. The review pairs nice vinyl finish of simulated dark
brown rosewood (cherry vinyl is also available), along with the slim cabinet, will likely
generate spousal approval.
The Prelude is a two-way, bass-reflex design with a claimed
frequency response of 35Hz-28kHz, a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, and a sensitivity of
91dB. Its single 1" aluminum-magnesium dome tweeter is crossed over at 3.5kHz to two
3.5" aluminum-magnesium mid-woofers; remove the grille and youll see that the
tweeter sits between the woofers in a vertical array in the Preludes upper half. On
the rear, at the bottom of the cabinet, are beefy binding posts that permit biwiring.
Directly above the posts is a small bass port.
I was surprised to learn that Silverline speakers are
warranted for only 90 days for defective materials, one year for labor. I cant
remember reviewing a speaker that had a warranty shorter than three years. On the one
hand, it seems reasonable to think that if theres something wrong with a speaker,
its likely to show up soon, if not immediately. On the other hand, $1200 is a
significant investment for many people; knowing that you can count on warranty service for
years to come might make the price easier to swallow and provide peace of mind. For me,
that peace of mind is important.
I used the Silverline Preludes in two systems. I first
paired them with my Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier, connected via Analysis Plus
Silver Oval-In interconnects to a Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter that was fed data from a
Slim Devices Squeezebox and a Rotel CD-1070 CD player. The two sources were connected to
the DAC1 via DH Labs Silver Sonic D-75 digital interconnects; the speaker cables were
Analysis Plus Big Silver Ovals.
I also used the Preludes with my B&K AVR-307 receiver
and Denon DVD-2900 universal player. The Denon was connected to the B&K with Analysis
Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects, and the speaker cables were Kimber Kable 4PR. Later,
I did more of my critical listening with the Rogue Tempest amplifier, as the general sound
seemed slightly more laid-back and liquid; the system driven by the B&K was more
up-front. Both sounded enjoyable, but I had to make a choice for the review.
Usually, Im skeptical about "break-in" --
the idea that the fundamental sound of a speaker or electronics component will improve
after a certain amount of use -- if only because its unclear to me how we could
accurately identify such a change by any means other than relying on our aural memories,
which are never as good as we think they are. Determining whether the sound has actually
changed or whether were deceiving ourselves into thinking it has changed is a
In the case of the Silverline Prelude, however, Im
certain their sound changed during my auditioning of them, and for the better. When I
first unboxed and set up the Preludes, I wasnt impressed -- they sounded extremely
congested, and didnt compare even with a pair of speakers costing much less that I
was reviewing at the time. But the owners manual states clearly that the Preludes
need to be broken in, so I went along and, for the next few weeks, used them only for
casual listening and TV sound. Then, when I began to listen more critically, the Preludes
seemed to have become entirely different speakers. I comfort myself with the fact that
because speakers have moving parts, there is a reasonable explanation for how use over
time might indeed fundamentally change the sound. As those moving parts loosen up, perhaps
sound is affected after all.
Love [CD, Capitol 3 79810 2] consists of original
Beatles recordings remixed by producer George Martin and his son, Giles, for a Cirque du
Soleil show. If you dont own it already, I say stick with the original albums; Love
strikes me as somewhat self-indulgent and showy. If you really need remixed Beatles, try
Danger Mouses Grey Album, which mixes Beatles music with the vocal
tracks of Jay-Z -- or dj BC Presents the Beastles, which consists of
Beatles/Beastie Boys mash-ups. You wont replace your Beatles albums with them, but
theyre cleverer than Love. Still, Loves version of
"Help!" showed how well the Preludes let all the instruments and voices come
through with their own senses of space and detail, uncongested by each other. There was
little depth of soundstage, but the guitars and voices were all distinct and enjoyable.
Continuing my 60s revival, I listened to The
Freewheelin Bob Dylan [CD, Columbia CH 90321], which contains two of my favorite
songs, "Girl from the North Country" and "Dont Think Twice, Its
All Right." On both tracks, Dylans guitar had the right timbre, and his
harmonica, which can sound harsh and unmusical through poor speakers, didnt suffer
from being overly bright. I had recently listened to this music with a very expensive
system, and while Im not going to tell you it was just as good through the Preludes,
the experience did help illustrate the law of diminishing returns.
Casa, a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim by
Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto [CD, Sony Classical SK 89982], rarely left my CD player
when it was released. Ryuichi Sakamotos piano came through life-sized, and it was
easy on tracks such as "Inutil Paisagem" to hear the varying force with which he
hit the keys, especially in the passage that begins close to 3:30 into the song. Paula
Morelenbaums voice was as seductive as ever, and the interplay of her voice and the
light cymbal strokes on "Fotografia-Photograph" highlighted the Preludes
ability to depict depth; I heard the cymbals clearly behind and to the left of her voice.
As I was preparing this review, My Life with the Thrill
Kill Kults The Best of TKK [CD, Rykodisc RCD 10694] arrived, filling me with
nostalgia for high school and college, when almost all music seemed exciting and fresh. My
Life with the Thrill Kill Kult are no longer as interesting as they were then, but their
heavy, dance-influenced bass lines and rock-like percussion provided a good test of the
Preludes abilities in the low end. The hypnotic bass in "Sex on Wheelz"
was clean and lean, and deeper than Id imagined these slim towers were capable of.
This track has a very busy mix, with guitars, keyboards, voices, percussion, and sound
effects all seemingly mixed at the same level, but the Prelude handled it well, the bass
remaining predominant. The most impressive part of the speakers bass was its depth
-- Im sure those who are used to being sold the need for a subwoofer will find it
I pitted the Silverline Preludes against a pair of Quad 21L
loudspeakers that have served me well for years. Like the Silverline, the Quad is a small
floorstander, but its wider and shorter, and has a single 6.5" woofer, a 25mm
cloth-dome tweeter, a rated sensitivity of 88dB, and an impedance of 6 ohms. The Prelude
and 21L are very close in price -- the Quad costs $1300/pair.
The comparison highlighted how speakers can excel at
different aspects of musical playback. The Prelude had slightly more detail, especially in
the highs and upper midrange, but the Quads threw a deeper soundstage, and the sonic
presence seemed more solid. On "Mood Indigo," from Duke Ellington Meets
Coleman Hawkins [CD, Impulse! IMPD 162], the Quads solid imaging gave
instruments a sense of physical weight in the room, but the Preludes gave the light cymbal
strokes at the beginning of the tune stunning clarity, and Ellingtons piano was
easily heard under the louder horns as the track progressed.
Although its a big musical leap from Ellington and
Hawkins to Gabriel & Dresdens self-titled CD [Organized Nature ORGNCD001], which
gave both pairs of speakers a bass-heavy workout, I ended up with similar impressions. The
Silverline highlighted and clarified some high electronic notes in "Tracking Treasure
Down" that the Quad downplayed, but the Preludes overall presentation was more
ethereal and seemed to float in the air -- Molly Bancrofts voice, for example,
seemed to float in the air. Both speakers bass performance was good; I wasnt
able to find a particular problem in either.
The competition for speakers in the $1000-$1500/pair range
is stiff. Philip Beaudettes recent review of the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 made it
sound as if that model is a must-hear, and, after years of use, I continue to enjoy my
Quad 21Ls. If a speaker is to survive in this range, it has to distinguish itself.
The Silverline Audio Preludes size makes it ideal for
spaces that other speakers would overpower, and it excelled at reproducing the details of
every recording I listened to. If I were purchasing speakers in this price range, the
Prelude is among the models Id like to hear before making my decision.
Price of equipment reviewed