Songer Audio S1 Field Coil Point-Source Loudspeaker Review
Singing a magnificent song.
Review By Bob Grossman
Do you remember as a kid when you first heard an excellent quality music system? It was exciting, right? That first time I heard music on a good stereo, I was completely mesmerized as if real musicians were performing in the room! It was an emotional experience beyond the thrilling sound. That feeling came back a few months ago at the Capital Audio Fest when I visited the Songer Audio room and heard the S1 Speakers for the first time. I had been listening to music in many different demo rooms with my good friend Ken Sternberg. We were also saying hello to industry friends and taking in the excitement of the festival. Something magical happened when we went into the Songer Room that distinctly grabbed our attention, like the first time I heard a stereo 60 years ago.
Ken Songer told us he is relatively new to the show scene. He has started his business with two speaker models. The Songer Audio S1 floorstanding speaker is a single field coil driver speaker and is what we heard at the show. Their S2 speaker is an open baffle design that shares the same driver as the S1 model but with the addition of a woofer. Songer has already won a couple of industry recognition awards from reviewers.
We asked Ken Songer about the innovative and beautiful design of his two models of speakers. He gave thoughtful responses that were detailed, knowledgeable, and sincere. I was impressed with the S1 speaker’s sound, design concept, and appearance. Songer welcomed hearing any genre of music selections from guests and encouraged us to play a variety of our music. Ken Sternberg suggested these speakers would be an excellent review subject.
I thought this was a great idea too since I have most recently been developing a system around high-efficiency speakers using a SET amplifier design. This is quite a different approach from my long-term reference music system that had used power-hungry Magnepan 20.7 speakers which needed the high-power amp models of the Rogue Apollo and Conrad Johnson Premier 8 monoblocks.
I like to do a critical evaluation of stereo equipment which includes a perspective and personal appreciation for the artistry, electronic design, and quality of materials that enable the sound system in our home. My previous perspective on stereo sound relates to experiences from sitting in the middle of an orchestra while performing on the bassoon. I also heard concerts in many of the world’s concert halls up close through my role as a music librarian traveling all over the world with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Thus, my orientation was used to live performances with huge sound levels from being up close to the musicians.
At home, the visual and physical impact of big speakers, giant woofers, and powerful amps was appealing. Now being retired, I attend concerts and hear music from the balcony, audience perspective. The quality of details, transparency with resolution, and sound imagery are just as important as ever, yet my interest and goal these days is for a refined and more distant natural soundstage. I value a fully saturated and layered soundstage with great musical dynamics and realism. When I am listening at home, I want speakers that are fully integrated and coherent throughout their frequency range.
I have been enjoying speakers that image and do the point source act of not calling attention to themselves while allowing the fully reproduced sound to arrive in phase and time alignment without the need for elaborate crossovers or the intervention of DSP. I appreciate a speaker with a sense of speed and immediacy with dynamics and transients as occurs with live music. I like speakers that have a beautiful appearance and fit into a room nicely as exquisitely designed and crafted furniture. I used to have a huge system with towering speakers that looking back was too overpowering for our room. My retirement life is about family time and creating a beautiful and welcoming living room to enjoy music in a relaxing way. Since our living room also doubles as the acoustical space for music listening, I want something that is aesthetically pleasing for guests and family.
There’s Nothing New Under the Sun
The Songer Audio S1 speakers are a special combination of old design ideas with modern execution. They manage to pull off their gorgeous appearance and musical sound by using an artisan-conceived combination of new and old materials with a combination of century-old speaker design technology. The use of a single driver with whizzer cones as a way of producing high frequencies without the use of a separate tweeter goes back to the earliest speakers that were made.
A smaller interior whizzer cone collar that covers high frequencies is attached to the voice coil in addition to the larger woofer cone. This way everything stays perfectly coordinated with the movement of both cones, thus allowing the higher frequencies to be heard all coming from one space and time-aligned source rather than a separately located tweeter.
Eventually, the limitations and difficult challenges of the whizzer cone design implementations evolved and gave way to the development idea of a coax driver with a miniature horn tweeter mounted in the middle of the main cone as was introduced in the 1940s era with the Altec-Lansing 604 speakers. Tannoy speakers use true point source Dual Concentric drivers’ that have seen many developments. These days Tannoy speakers are highly regarded yet go back in basic concepts to their introduction in 1947. Along a coax idea, I have a friend that loves his KEF Blade Speakers with their Uni-Q drivers.
I had previous experience with the field coil speaker models by Classic Audio T 3.4 based upon a radial tractrix horn and two 15″ woofers. From my conversations with Ken, I asked about the use of an active field coil driver, and about his power supplies which are made for Songer Audio by Whammerdyne Heavy Industries. He said before WWII, speakers used electromagnetic field coils because sufficiently small and powerful magnets were not yet available. With a field coil driver, the type of wire, the winding, and the voltage setting of the power supply can all be heard in how the speakers produce sound. The Whammerdyne power supplies are dedicated designs for these speakers, that optimize for a pure signal free of electrical and power line noise.
Ken Songer Influences And Design Goals
I want to thank Ken Songer for all his technical advice and explanations! Upon asking many questions during several conversations, I have included his background family experiences along with the development process and thoughts on both the S1 and the S2 loudspeaker.
Ken Songer said his father was an exceptionally gifted musician with the piano and guitar, who started playing piano by ear at age three then took piano lessons at age 4 from a famous Hungarian concert pianist Madame Lili Keleti. Songer’s father won many awards for his music and played formally with the Boris Sirpo Orchestra. His father’s live performances in public and at home had a huge impact on Songer’s love for music, as did shopping with his father to buy their hi-fi system when Songer was 4 years old.
Upon watching his father unpack and set up each piece of his hi-fi in their living room, he heard records played for the first time and was immediately consumed by the sounds. That cherished childhood memory was the beginning of his journey to eventually design and build loudspeakers as his creative music outlet so that others could experience that same excitement he felt when hearing a dynamic sound system for the first time.
Songer trained as a software engineer and approached speaker design with a vision of creating loudspeakers as a work of art visually, materially, and technically. He learned about the different types of magnets used in dynamic drivers and eventually discovered field coils, which had been abandoned in the 1950s because they were too expensive to be mass-produced. Songer rediscovered the acoustic merits of leather and washi paper as materials for his drivers, the first which he played in free air with no enclosure, paired with a subwoofer. The Songer Audio S2 model is a boxless loudspeaker based on those earliest listening experiences, which showcases the beauty of the driver itself.
Using his software design skills, he shaped the driver frame for the functional goal of drawing away excess heat from the electromagnet during operation. The rounded motor shape facilitates the smooth flow of the magnetic field in the circuit, for increased flux density in the magnetic gap. Polished nickel plating provides an elegant appearance but also reduces the inductance of the driver, which increases treble performance and reduces distortion.
The spider is a compelling shape, but its goal is centering the moving mass while at the same time imposing no weight upon it, nor adding any unnecessary resistance to its linear motion. While it sounds like an overnight sensation, the designs for the S1 and S2 took him over 20 years. It took 10 spent in active development until the results were achieved.
The Songer Audio 10″ point-source drivers use a powerful 1.7 Tesla electromagnetic motor which provides a constant, highly uniform gap density that is thousands of times higher than a permanent magnet. That stiffness translates into sound accuracy which allows the listener the freedom to tune the listening experience to his or her taste. The performance of the magnet is further enhanced by using a power supply that removes overlying AC signals and shunting electromagnetic back-force, which in other power supplies draws parasitically upon the electromagnetic field, causing unwanted distortion.
The voice coil and curvilinear cones are rigid enough tocapture the music signal operating in a strong, precise magnetic field. They have excellent radial strength that maximizes frequency response, optimizing the transfer of sound into the cones from the voice coil. The depth of the cones decreases cone distortion, particularly at low frequencies. Each cone and voice coil is handmade, from specially treated washi paper. Years of development invested in cone material and treatment have resulted in an excellent combination of transducer speed and damping. Rigorous refinement of cones size and curvature has minimized distortion and beaming to enhance off-axis performance. Despite the large 10″ diameter, the entire moving mass, including suspension, weighs just 12.25 grams. That is less than half an ounce.
The S1 relies on high-quality tube amplification to perform at its peak, because as a single driver design it operates across its entire impedance curve in the audible range. That matters to amplification choice because the output stages of vacuum tube and solid-state amplifiers behave differently. In a solid-state amplifier, decreased power is output as the impedance of any given driver in a loudspeaker increases. That makes solid-state a great match for multi-way loudspeakers, in which each discrete driver needs to only operate within the ideal range of its output impedance. Further, solid-state amplifiers are highly self-damping and field coil drivers are also highly self-damping, the combination of which can lead to the driver becoming over-damped. In listening, this can often be experienced as a reduction in bass performance.
Conversely, however, a tube amplifier delivers higher power as the impedance of a given driver increases, which offers the advantage to a full-range driver of equal power output across the entire driver impedance curve. Likewise, tube amplifiers have low self-damping characteristics, which makes them a great match for a highly self-damping field coil driver. These considerations make tubes an essential pairing for a single driver field coil design, in which the driver is self-damping, and impedance necessarily and naturally rises with frequency.
Because the inductance of the field coil is very low, the rise in impedance is not overly steep, so the S2 offers flexibility in terms of amplification. The Acoustic Elegance LO15 woofer paired with the Songer driver is crossed at 130Hz and performs beautifully with solid-state amplification, addressing any concern for over-damping, while the Type D field coil driver with dual forward and rear-facing whizzers delivers excellent treble performance with either tube or solid-state amplifiers.
Songer Audio S2 floorstanding speakers deliver excellent performance with single amplification and also include dual binding posts, so it can be bi-amp’ed as well to explore combinations of what may include both tube and solid-state options. Back home in Wilsonville, Songer Audio displays both S1 and S2 designs paired with custom-made Whammerdyne GM70 monoblock amplifiers and a MolaMolaTambaqui DAC to deliver the finest listening experience he has ever encountered.
The speakers arrived in heavy-duty and well-padded plywood crates that enabled the speakers to be safely shipped from Oregon to New Jersey where I live. I used a placement further back towards the rear walls and corners of the room to take advantage of room boundaries and acoustics. I spoke to Ken Songer a few times along the way for advice on finding what became a preferred listening spot and power voltage setting that brought out the best sound features for the speaker’s performance.
The Songer Audio S1 point-source speakers produced a prodigious musically engaging and lively sound. There is an alluring sense of elegant beauty that has an aura and sense of hearing music performed at a theater, club, or being present at the recording studio venue. The Songer Audio speakers have a brilliant and coherent presentation that enables the impact, speed, and pace of the music to be appreciated and heard. Their imaging ability is a magic act that is big, deep, and wide. It is something particularly friendly, relaxing, and non-fatiguing. The sound of music remains enjoyable even when listening from areas outside of the sweet spot chair. I think the resolution, transparency, and time alignment of the single source driver is what enables the S1 to have so much coherency with natural breath and sweep in the sound.
I often start my day by listening to solo piano records and a pot of Earl Grey tea. What a joy hearing Gieseking, and Michelangelo perform Debussy and Ravel. For Chopin, I have many records of Argerich, Zimmerman, Pollini, Barenboim, Ashkenazy, and Rubenstein. Jose Iturbi, Gonzalu Soriano, Eduardo delPueyo and Alicia deLarocha are favorite performers for Spanish repertoire. I find the powerful sound of a piano to be one of the most challenging instruments to portray realistically on a stereo system. I was especially pleased with the way the S1 speakers managed to portray the nuances and inner voices of piano recordings.
Regardless of whether the piano was engineered with an upfront and close sound or a more distant concert hall perspective, the S1 captured the essential full color, tone, and power of a grand piano. The closest experience and rendition to a live experience was listening to the beautiful and engaging Christoph Eschenbach recordings of Schumann [DG 2530 231 and Chopin DG 139 183]. These are some of the same pieces I remember hearing Maestro play in the music director suite when I was going in to meet and discuss his scores needed from the library.
I enjoyed many hours of orchestral recordings, especially repertoire from the baroque and classical periods. The loud, big dynamic presentations with impact were achieved for the big bands of Basie, Ellington, Kenton, and Ferguson along with the impressionistic sounds of the Gil Evans band and his classic arrangements for Miles Davis. The presentations were holographic for smaller jazz groups and instrumental ensembles such as both Miles Davis Quintets, the Blue Note recordings of Lee Morgan, Johnny Coles, Horace Parlan, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordan, Tina Brooks, Sonny Clark, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley, and Thad Jones. I purchased the new Mosaic release of Freddie Hubbard to listen to with the Songer Audio S1 loudspeakers. It was a special delight to hear the vocals of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Shirley Horn.
Bill’s Tuba And Sol’s Bassoon
With all the multitude and aspects of listening to music while evaluating speakers, the decisive moment is putting on a record of my bassoon teacher Sol Schoenbach. That is always my baseline for evaluating any piece of stereo equipment. Now I will admit it is not easy picking out which Schoenbach piece to play as he was the Principal Bassoonist for the Philadelphia orchestra for 20 years playing on the sessions from Disney’s Fantasia to other recordings that feature his solo performances. My favorite is to play the Columbia Masterworks MS 6421 recording of the “Romeo Cascarino Bassoon Sonata”. On the planned morning recording date, Sol and Romeo took a train ride up to NY. They managed to record this in one take and were finished and dismissed before lunch! I was delighted to find the Songer Audio S1 speakers conjure up such a close sound to my memory of sitting in Sol’s studio as a teenager and hearing him play his bassoon live.
Another demo record that never fails to bring out a few laughs when played for guests is Bill Bell And His Tuba. For those curious, I own both the Golden Crest CR 3015 mono and CR 4027 stereo versions. The Songer S1 loudspeakers were able to bring out the heft and weight quite successfully for their melodious and humorous playing. The speakers were adept at the fleeting arpeggios and rapid marcato articulations of his tuba in the very lowest octave of the tuba range. Bill Bell was also renowned for his deep, resonant bass voice. The Songer Audo S1 speakers were able to reveal all his words and diction of the songs he presented. The different perspectives and balances of instruments in the accompaniment orchestrations could easily be heard between the mono and stereo versions of the recording. Bill Bell was the solo tuba player for Toscanini and a member of the New York Philharmonic.
The Songer Audio S1 sound is one of engaging excitement with an excellent balance in all frequencies from bottom to top. The bass is strong and powerful to support the musical foundation and harmony or melodic lines for what my teacher nicknamed down in the cellar instruments and voices. The mids are full-bodied with a vitality that is very natural and clear. The highs simply sparkle, shine clearly, and glimmer as needed while never jumping out as harsh with sibilancy or glare. Could it be that the best tweeter is “no tweeter”?
The bottom spectrum of the music was always balanced, smooth, and full-bodied without using a separate woofer driver. I have no doubt much of this sound of coherency, transparency, and a resolution was possible because of the full range driver design of the Songer Audio speakers was able to achieve without any influences of a crossover along with the speaker efficiency allowing the use of my 18-Watt Art Audio Clarissa SET amp using 845 tubes.
I asked Ken about his choice of materials within his speakers, and he explained that everything was contemplated to create a work of art as beautiful in the musical sounds it presents as it is special to behold in a lovely furnished home. I related to his comments, knowing how important wood types are to the sound and feel of musical instruments. I knew the fit and finish of the keywork is vital for good playing technique along with the type of plating used for the bassoon bocal. All of Ken Songer’s choices of special materials had a cumulative result to create a beautiful sound more than just looking good.
As a comparison, the realistic mid-range and even-handed integrated characteristics of the Quad 57 electrostatic speaker are why I am so drawn to hearing and using them as my reference speakers. The Quad 57 has a reputation for being “the closest approach”. The Songer Audo S1 speakers impressed me with similarities to the renowned Quads yet had brighter, more detailed, and extensive highs with a deeper and more profound bass range. Time after time I looked and listened to the Songers and shook my head with disbelief that a single driver could play so loudly and clearly with incredibly fast dramatic dynamics and transients.
The Songer Audo S1 speakers are one of the fastest-paced speakers I have ever heard and are completely coherent in their delivery. The Songers easily played louder without the concerns of being pushed too hard like my Quad 57s. The Songers had more highs and lows than my reference Quad 57s. The Songers had a better sound dispersal into the room without the beaming issues of the Quad 57s.
While my opinions, experience, and observations all relate to past experiences and memories. I have found the Songer S1 Speakers to be a delightful and engaging musical experience long term. It does not always play out that first impressions manage to stand up to detailed analysis and longer use over the period of a couple of months of listening to a wide variety of recordings.
I am incredibly happy to have met Ken Songer at the Capital Audio Fest and had this opportunity to get to know him and his visionary S1 loudspeaker. They are a revelation and vital portrayal of the musical landscapes and performances on recordings. If it is a small ensemble performing, they can allow a listener to feel the musicians are in the room with you. If it is a larger work like an Orchestra or Big Band, they can make a person feel they are attending a concert and listening from out in the hall.
As a thoughtful comparison to the typical ideas we have about speaker designs, I found the Songer Audio S1 point-source floorstanding speakers to have the transparency of electrostatic and planer panels, the rapid immediacy and jump factor with a room-filling projection of horns, the point source imagery of compact monitors, and the quality bass fullness of speakers with a conventional large woofer. This is quite a remarkable achievement for a single full-range driver dynamic speaker.
There are many speaker choices available at various price ranges and acquisitions that need to be considered within the context of having a gorgeous music system. I think anyone will be able to appreciate the beautiful elegance of the majestic breadth and sweep of the music heard by the Songer loudspeakers. Songer Audo S1 point-source field coil speakers have a natural artisan wood construction and a driver with a polished bejeweled look. I appreciated the full range of these speakers’ refinements and artistry. Just as there are many types of music to hear and enjoy, there are many choices of speakers to recognize. I am fortunate and grateful for having the Songers take up a review period residency in my home. This has been a truly magnificent experience and they have my highest recommendation.
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|Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)|
|High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)|
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|Soundscape Width Rear|
|Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers|
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|Fit And Finish|
|Value For The Money|
Check out Enjoy the Music!
Type: Point source full-range ported loudspeaker
Driver: 10″ V3 electromagnetic speaker / field coil
Frequency Response: 29 Hz to 20 kHz (+/- 6dB)
Connections: Five-way Cardas binding posts, three-pin Cardas XLR power
Weight: 120 lbs.
Dimensions: 15″ x 47″ x 20″ (WxHxD)
$37,000 (pair, with power supplies)
2925 NE Glisan Street
Portland, OR 97232
Voice: (503) 709-3865