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2.1BC review - Had high hopes...

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  • 2.1BC review - Had high hopes...

    Swans Diva 2.1BC review.

    Final summary upfront: Did a couple of things very well, but disappointed in a number of other areas ? either something not right with my pair, or they won?t be keepers for me.

    A little background first: I?m a rehabilitated audiophile, or so I thought. Grew up in a family of music ? Father was the school system music director and I played trumpet for 8+ years in marching/concert/jazz bands. In the late 90?s/early 2K?s I succumbed to audiophile-wannabe-itis. You know, try this, it sounds better so upgrade, try next component area and find something better and upgrade, and repeat every 6 months?? Have heard many wonderful systems, and many expensive systems that didn?t sound all that wonderful! Some of my biases to help see where I?m coming from ? I tend to like soft dome/fabric dome tweeters better than metal based ? though not 100% (like I really, really enjoyed the sound of Audio Artistry speakers) and I prefer a very balanced and accurate response from the speakers/system, and imaging/soundstaging sits at the top of the list. My last ?audiophile? setup consisted of a pair of Martin Logan SL3 electrostatics driven by Sunfire amps, a DIY custom built semi-passive tube preamp, and an Adcom CD player. Got out of the audiophile mode when I decided to put more focus on involving more than a single-person activity (read family) and going into a quality Home Theater system  tried the Martin Logans but they only worked for the person in the sweet spot (me  ). Oh ya, another personal bias I have is that I audition HT components like speakers and receivers by primarily testing with 2-channel audio. If they can do 2-channel correctly, then they qualify for HT testing in my house.

    I have 2 HT systems: secondary system in downstairs living room with Toshiba 36? TV and Gallo Nucleus Micros with 8? ball sub for L-C-R?s and NHT Super Ones for the rear. Panasonic S-77 digital Receiver, and Panasonic DVD for the source components. The main HT system consists of a Definitive Technologies 5-speaker setup: BP2002TL?s for front, CLR2500 for center and BP2X?s for rears. The sub is an SVS 20-39 PC+. Source components are a lovely sounding Marantz 18ex receiver and a Panasonic RP-82 DVD player feeding a Sony HS-20 768p front projector onto a 110? Stewart firehawk screen.

    What?s happened here recently to start this sickness again? Well, part is a never extinguished longing for music that moves me ? my current systems sound ?nice? but don?t engage me with music anymore ? and my wife said I want music outside, now. I said I could use the NHT Super Ones outside but then I would need to replace them. She said do it, and that was the wrong thing to say to me??..

    Started off slowly??why not get the newest Gallo A?Diva Ti?s for the front and move the 2 Micro?s to the back and be done with it? Well, as an avid audio/video enthusiast for too many years, I?m a card carrying member of avsforum, and audioholics, and widescreenreview, and?..the list goes on. Thus, I just had to audition at the same time the well thought of OrbAudio (clone-like competitor to Gallo) micro ball speakers. All of a sudden I?m having ?fun? again doing the speaker set up, break in, testing, and pulling out all my old favorite auditioning CD?s! Got a good dose of the need for some speakers absolutely needing breaking in ? the Ti?s were just harsh and congested out of the box ? nothing like the older/smaller Micro?s. 3 days of music thru them changed their tune! The inexpensive Orb?s were a surprise fresh out of the box ? very open soundstage with less incremental improvement after 3 days of breakin. But, you know what, neither one floated my boat ? I knew they wouldn?t do any bass (need subwoofer by definition) but both also didn?t seem to deliver on the higher octaves as well (also found out thru measurements that neither could do upper bass as advertised). Soooooo, I decided maybe I could just try a couple of other speakers in the <$500/pr range to see if I could do better (and meet or beat the advantages a speaker with no crossover distortions and no speaker diffraction issues that the Gallo and Orb?s offered).

    How easily one slips back into an old habit. I guess one never forgets how to roll your own ;-) Took a trip into the ?big? city of Raleigh, NC and listened to a number of speakers, and started talking all things ?audiophile? and next thing you know it I?m listening to multi-thousand dollar Dali?s and Thiele?s and Focal?s and?. Just wonderful to hear what good speakers and good components can deliver. Oh, ya, back to listening to the sub $500 speakers. Well, I did find speakers that could deliver more quality audio for under $500 that bettered the Gallo?s and Orbs. One of the best I heard from ?small? bookshelves were the ERA Model 4?s!! Wow, they played music, but were $600/pr list and not the most friendly dealer to deal with. The result is that both the Gallos and Orbs went back and now I?m on a mission (or two). In fact, not only do I need to replace 2 speakers in my basic HT system, but now I want to upgrade my main HT system as well. I hate having ?good? ears ? only meaning that I have a taste for higher quality sound reproduction and poor sounding speakers just don?t cut it for me. There goes the kid?s college fund again??.

    Decided to look into the potential high-quality, high-value (but higher risk) direct internet sales route  unfortunately I do have a limited budget to work with so need to get the best bang for the buck as possible. A number of very good options exist out here, like Onix and Ascends and Selah Audio and the list goes on. I?ve heard about Swans in the past and then ran across a couple of great reviews and then wound up on theaudioinsider web site. Decided to make a call, and had a great chat with Jon. Being all fired up now and needing to replace the 2 speakers in the living room at a minimum, I just had to listen to something from Swan, so when I saw the Diva 2.1s available from my favorite computer parts store, newegg, I uncontrollably found myself clicking the mouse a few times and all of a sudden I get an email confirmation that a pair of 2.1s are being shipped to me! You don?t know the power of the dark side???

    They finally arrived in the big brown truck. Big box like others have mentioned. Opening the box, well, nice packaging - almost (but better than many). I hate styrofoam - it breaks/cracks too easily and there are always a hundred little statically charged pieces that get all over everything. I could see one corner took some impact from the gorillas at UPS - small rippling on one corner. And at that spot the corner styro pad was broken in half. 2 others were cracked. The inside box had no visible damage - that's good. But more styrofoam pads  inside. I'd like to recommend to HiVi/Swans - try using the cellular foam padding - much more durable, just as light weight, and no mess! That said, as I started off, very well packed and needed with UPS.

    Inside the inner box are my little babies nicely wrapped in a swaddling cotton cover. An extra layer of protection to care for the very nice polished (lacquer?) finishes on these speakers (and also kept almost all of the static cling styrofoam floaters off). OK, my second issue ? no white gloves!?! Did they stop providing these? Mine are missing? I got fingerprints on my new speakers!! I?m sure the sound is going to suffer now?.

    Sanus speaker stands were placed on order just after I got them. Put them on wooden stools about 19? high ? not quite high enough but sturdy. Set them up adjacent to my Def Tech towers so the spacing was about 9? apart and my listening position about 12? back. Fired them up, and immediately heard some good detail right off the bat, but let them play for a few hours before I could no longer stand it and had to listen to a couple tracks to get first impressions.

    2 or 3 hours go by, and I just have to listen to a couple of favorite, well listened to songs I?m very familiar with (from Steve Miller?s born 2B blue CD and Donald Fagen?s Kamakirad CD). Whoa ? there?s some inner detail there I haven?t heard in a long time, nice! Bass is tight, but on the lean side (can?t wait to take measurements), but the midrange was the weakest ? just didn?t have the openness it should have. OK, not a problem, let me ask the question on theaudioinsider forum for breakin period ? Jon responds 100 hours to be sure. Man, like that?s a week of 14 hours a day????????.

    OK, it?s been a week of break in and now a couple of weeks to play with them. Here?s what I use to test/audition the speakers with:
    2 favorite/top CD?s (for some reason, don?t know really, I always grab these two whenever I audition anything) that seem to be well recorded:
    ? Steve Miller ? born 2B blue (CAUTION ? very addictive CD; seems like some dorky songs at first (sitting here la la, waiting on my ya ya, uh huhuh) but they will grow on you. You?ve been warned! )
    ? Donald Fagen (aka Steely Dan) ? Kamakiriad

    Others:
    ? Stereophile Test CD2 ? measurement test tones and a few good test tracks
    ? The Sheffield/XLO Test & Burn-in CD ? a couple of very high quality recordings
    ? Chesky Records ? The Ultimate Demonstration Disc: Very high quality tracks to test for various aspects of sound reproduction/critical listening
    ? A bunch of other CDs as I?m in the mood: Peter Gabriel, Sting, Candy Dulfer, Bruce Hornsby, Wild Thornberry?s soundtrack, and so on??.

    Bass got a little lower, but still nice and tight. That was good and about what I expected for the extension of these speakers. The midrange did fill in some ? that helped, but something is not right here. Based on the manufacturer?s specs and performance charts and the few 2.1 review?s I?ve read, I was expecting much more. The mid-range seems too light weight ? male vocals seemed a little too much out of the throat and not enough deeper, fuller chest resonance? Listening to Steve Miller again for the 1001st time ? he sounds like he?s lost 30 pounds or so?? A great male vocal test track is track 9 of the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc (UDD) ? Grandma?s Hands sung by Livingston Taylor. It?s an a-cappella track with a couple of other natural acoustic sounds (like finger snapping ? each should sound real ? sharp as the finger contacts the palm but each one is slightly different. Believe me high resolution systems can easily discern this!). Sounds good on the 2.1s, but all of Livingston?s voice is not quite there. However, female vocals sounded just a tad better ? for example Rebecca Pidgeon singing Spanish Harlem was closer to hearing her in the room with me. I think another good example that something wasn?t right (again, to my ears) was alto saxophone reproduction. My brother, a band director, plays alto sax. I?ve heard them many, many times. The alto sax?s on my 2.1s are too skinny, or a little too small. Maybe lower to mid-midrange is missing something?

    Another area that I believe lies in the midrange band that didn?t quite perform as expected was differentiation of multiple musical elements ? again mostly noticeable with massed vocals (3 or more singing simultaneously), but also heard (or not heard) when many instruments are playing at once. On numerous systems I?ve heard distinct separation of instruments and the singers, but all singing together! It?s a stunning experience ? it?s when you hear the lead singer dead center as well as the back up singers in the background singing their harmonies on one system, and then hearing it on another set of speakers and you can distinctly hear/see 2 other singers separated on the stage by a couple of feet singing their individual lines, but together harmonizing with the lead singer. Very cool, but unfortunately my 2.1s couldn?t do this very well.

    An area where the 2.1s did great things ? higher octaves detail and smoothness. I know these are not the most expensive tweeters out there by any means, but what the 2.1s did that completely surprised me, did better than my $2200 BP2002TL?s and reminded me of my SL3 electrostatics were how high frequency sounds would shimmer and decay and not sound harsh at all ? very delicate and smoooooth. When you hit a cymbal for example, on a good recording and a high resolution system/speakers, you will hear what happens naturally ? that cymbal continues to vibrate at its fundamental note plus it?s higher harmonics and they keep on going on until the sound decays into the noise floor/or stops. These little speakers did this on many different instruments like cymbals, chimes, bells, etc. It even gave additional truth to other instruments that start with a lower, midrange fundamental but creates higher frequency harmonics. Nice job Diva 2.1?s.

    I guess every critical music listener places their own priorities on the different aspects of a speaker?s sound reproduction. That?s cool ? that?s why there are so many different speakers so that we all can find the ones that turns the cranks in the order that mean the most to each of us. If someone could ever make a speaker that was ?perfect? in every aspect then we?d all be buying the same speaker and **** would finally rule the world   

    So, again my bias and preference (yours will likely differ) is I place a very high value on imaging/soundstaging. If I can?t visualize the soundstage (real with truly high-end recordings or even artificial ones created in a studio mixing board) with each singer in their position and the drumset usually center back, and base guitar 2 feet back to the left and sax and keyboard right side, and??. You get the picture. The images also have to be ?real? ? meaning I don?t want to hear the singers mouth/voice coming from the center but about 2 feet wide versus 3? wide. Instruments must not move around the stage as they hit different frequency ranges ? a stable image must be there. What seems to go along with this attribute is that usually those speakers that perform this well will also disappear from the room ? what speakers? There is just a wall of sound in front of me and nothing seems to be emanating from any boxes to my left or right.

    This is where my pair of 2.1s dealt the no-go blow to me. They couldn?t disappear completely ? on certain tracks they would come in and out where all of a sudden I would be drawn to one speaker or another. Track 6 of the born2Bblue CD was a clear example of this ? the piano passages would not remain stable ? they would shift left to right side (maybe a little due to the recording?) but during the shifts the piano would temporarily come right from one of the speakers and then move back into the soundstage. Beeeep ? wrong answer for my ears. Same with vocals ? frequently the lead and many times the backups singers would have their voices move within the sound stage. This causes distractions and forces your brain out of the suspension of disbelief effect a good system can have while listening to music (or a movie soundtrack). The other major issue in this area I found with my 2.1s were the extremely narrow sweet spot ? I could not move my head more than 2 ? either way or the sound stage would collapse. 1? to 2? and the lead singer would go from a 3? mouth to a foot wide mouth, beyond 2? and the whole imaging and soundstage would collapse to that side. I varied the toe-in angle multiple times ? wound up with them intersecting about 1? behind my head. That is as bad, actually worse than my electrostatics were!! Listening to the music at the end of a movie this weekend and I was left center and my wife right center on the couch and that resulted in poor front soundstaging effect especially with the music soundclips.

    OK, also did some frequency response measurements. NOTICE: this is with my equipment and my room and not professional grade devices! Your results WILL differ from mine, but I show them for information and reference: Used Stereophile?s Test CD2 for the ? octave warble tones, Radio Shack analog SPL meter. Set the 1KHz ref level to 70dB so all readings are in reference to this 1KHz level. Note that the RatShack meter is not that accurate above 14/15KHz. I put a new battery within the last couple of weeks.

    Bass: (Hz dB)
    ? 200 -1
    ? 160 +2
    ? 125 +3
    ? 100 -2
    ? 80 -3
    ? 63 -6
    ? 50 -9
    ? 40 -8
    ? 31.5 thru 20 Hz below accuracy scale

    Mids: (Hz dB)
    ? 250 +2
    ? 315 0
    ? 400 -5
    ? 500 -2
    ? 630 +3.5
    ? 800 +4
    ? 1K 0
    ? 1.25 +1
    ? 1.60 0
    ? 2K 0

    Highs: (Hz dB)
    ? 2.5K +1
    ? 3.15 +.5
    ? 4K -2.5
    ? 5K -5
    ? 6.3 -2
    ? 8K +1
    ? 10K -1
    ? 12.5 -5
    ? 16K & 20K below accuracy measurements


    I also thought that there might be a chance that the speakers were not equal in output levels ? that could cause some of the above issues. However, I did run a full spectrum pink noise test track and measured each speaker individually and they were very close if not right on. Of course that?s a gross measurement and will not identify any specific frequency aberrations.

    I guess this is sounding quite negative, but let me say I wanted to highlight the areas that were of importance to me and there was such hype and high expectations before hand, that I felt a little let down. I should probably put this into a little better perspective:

    I like these speakers! All of the above areas I identified above that did not meet my expectations were not gross distortions of these speakers (perhaps the ?worst? item was the you must lock your head in a dead center vise or else you loose all imaging and soundstaging issue). The paradox of these speakers is that they do have a very sweet high end with wonderful decay and there are areas of very nice detail that I feel my current speakers at 3x the price don?t quite match! My Sanus stands came in and that put them on 24? risers and I took the front grill off ? I believe a small amount of additional clarity was gained, but it did not a complete fix for any of the areas of issue. Another aspect of this speaker that I love is the design/build quality (although I did not take these apart to check what?s inside). They exhibit bits of high end sound that I really like ? I just wish all aspects of this pair of 2.1s could match that. In fact, had these come close, I was prepared to boot out the main HT system and buy six of these and go to an identical 6.1 system for a seamless holosonic sound field (well, that?s my goal). Now, if I look at these speakers as only a $300/pr speakers, then they do quite well, and given the exterior build quality makes them still a great value.

    So, I guess I?ll end the review here. Either I was expecting a bit too much from these, or, I perhaps I have something defective in one or both of these speakers. I think no white gloves were now an omen. My question to Jon now is what are my options, if any other than send them back to newegg and it looks like I?ll take a 15% restocking fee hit. I only have 2 days to decide. These look so good I?d even consider modifying the mid/bass drivers or maybe there?s a crossover upgrade? Or maybe this is what they are and what my ears (again, applies to me and not necessarily to anyone else) require is what Jon is suggesting as a step upward are the new Dana series ? maybe the 630?s are the equivalent application upgrade. Hope to hear some feedback.

    Thanks for listening,
    daggerNC

  • #2
    Just curious, I'm assuming your amp for these speakers was the Panasonic S-77 digital Receiver. I myself have never cared for the sound of digital amps, especially for music (I prefer tubes myself), so was wondering if you had listened to the 2.1s using a different amp. Truth be told, and I'm sure you know as well as I do, that some amps and speakers combinations don't have that "synergy" thing happening. Individually, both the amp and speakers might be great performers, but for various reasons, some combos don't work. Also, was wonder about your speaker wire. I used to think wire was wire, but have come around and realize that your speaker wire can make a big difference. btw, I'm considering Swan 2.1s, as my Boston A-60 is getting a little long in the tooth, and I'm looking for speakers that have a good price/performance ratio in the $500 - 600 range that work well with tube amplification.

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    • #3
      daggerNC, had you read some of the other reviewer's experiences in this forum? The Swans are very neutral and tend to sound like what you run them with. You might want to experiment as others have with driving electronics and sources. With the right gear, the 2.1's completely disappear. I've heard it time and again. 8)

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