A review of the Swans 6.1 HT speaker system
After listening to my co-worker go on and on about his new Swans 6.1 home theater system, I finally took him up on his offer to hear it for myself.
I remember hearing about this brand a few years back, it seems to have quietly faded off the map in recent months. As far as I can recall this is my first experience with Swan's setup.
The 6.1 HT consists of the 6.1F towers, the C3 center, R 3 bipole/dipole surrounds and the Swans sub-10. Not the flashiest naming scheme, but oh well.
Swan offers a few variations of the 6.1 HT, I was told that the biggest difference is the choice of real wood veneers or your typical speaker poly-vinyl chloride laminate.
This particula set was the Rosewood finished speakers. I'm told this option was $800 more than the the vinyl finish option, which isn't really all that bad, real veneer isn't cheap, vinyl is. The extra material and work over 6 separte cabinets could probably is worth around $800.
I'll say this about the fit and finish - these are among the absolute best I've seen, at any price point. As an amateur speaker builder and woodworking hobbyist I can really appreciate the work that went into this...it's not very often I'm blown away by the looks of a speaker. I didn't care for the rosewood color myself, but it blends in with his living room's decor perfectly. They do look rather exotic, if not a little too much like B&W speakers. The colored drivers are kind of cool, but might be an eyesore to some, the grills cover them nicely.
The only speakers we had for comparative reference where his Dynaudio Audience 82's...He paid $2100 ish USD a few years back, quite a bit more than the $1200 the 6.1F's cost, (and a few hundred more for than the non-veneered 6.1 optioin) I didn't bother hauling my Paradigm Studio 40's over, the 82's are a better speaker all around IMO, and are also a tower speaker. For a week now I've been hearing that these little Swan speakers were better than his Dynaudio's, so we put them to the test.
The living room is mostly enclosed along 4 walls except for the right rear, about 16 X 20 feet. The main speakers were placed along the shorter wall. We hooked the 82's and 6.1's up to his NAD T753 receiver (nice freakin' unit by the way). The speaker were placed somewhat side by side, so you'd have to move over a few inces to sit in the sweet spot. Best we could come up with, but the walls were about 4 feet away from all speakers so neither was disadvantaged.
We used Dire Straits "Brothers In Arms" CD, Pink Floyd DSOTM SACD, and Alisson Krauss "New Favorite" SACD to get a good feel for the speakers...The first, and most obvious thing we noticed with the Alisson Krauss disc was that the Dynaudio's really had more bass extension, and slightly better control of the lower bass notes the large acoustic bass on this disc displayed dispite being significantly smaller. That said, the bass on the 6.1 was very good, never sloppy, or too boomy at certain frequencies. Very defined and in synch with the rest of the speaker. In fact, we both agreed that the integration of the two large woofers with the midrange and tweeter was done much better in 6.1's. Not that the Dynaudio's are bad, they're not, but the bass seemed slightly, well, layered below the rest of the sound...odd.
A few people have commented to me on the inexpensive tweeter these speakers employ (Swan is owned by parent company Hi-Vi Research, a huge, mid-level/value leading driver company). I will say this, compared to the Dynaudio's the 6.1's are both more airy, and slightly more sibilant. I believe both speakers are a bit more on the bright side of neutral (which I absolutely prefer), but the 6.1's were cleary ahead. On some tracks this was good, but clearly with the female vocals onthe Krauss disc, the Dynaudio's tamed the brightness ever so slightly, and I would say were a bit smoother overall.
Both excelled in the mid-range, and this was where the Swans outperformed the Dynaudio's a bit IMO. The natural attack and timbre on strings, and the rich, smooth vocal presentation (male and female) was something else. These speakers were a bit more revealing in this area. Man I love that DSOTM disc.
Overall, we found the imaging of both speakers to be quite comparable, with the slight edge in soundstaging and the ability to place intruments going to the Dynaudio's. Actually both these speakers image fantastic, much better than most towers I've listened too under $2500. Also, the 6.1's were a bit more forward than the Dynaudio's, not much, but noticeable. It's quite obvious the narrow cabinets of the Dynaudio's helped the 3-d presentation. Placement a bit wider than 7 feet or so apart might have changed things? We spent almost an hour setting up so we didn't experiment too much.
As a stand-alone pair of speakers, the 6.1's are solid in my books. Going toe-to-toe with a quality speaker like Dynaudio is impressive. I think overall I'd give the slight edge to the 82's in performance, but preference could play a big part. My friend actually likes the 6.1's more...He says they're more seamless, and fun to listen to, and I agree, the larger speakers did tend to disappear a bit more. The trade off might be your desire for warmth/detail and bass extension. I should point out the Dynaudio's are 4 ohm speakers and require more than your basic HT receiver to drive adequately IMO, but at the price range of both these speakers I would think that's not really an issue of contention.
I think I should also point out again the huge price difference though. Say what you want about built-in-china, these are American designed, heavy, sturdy, and had no sign of being cheap anywhere.
I spent the rest of the evening listening to some 5.1 music from the SACD's and a few scenes from T3. The R3 surrounds are oddly enough a 4-ohm dipole speaker. I'm not a big fan of dipole or bipoles, but they seemed to blend in well as surrounds with the main speakers. The center channel didn't incorparate the same bass/midrange drivers, but was actually very clear and natural, and blended quite well. This HT system was very dynamic and tonally accurate, and at $2500-$2900 are a very good bargain IMO. The one weakspot of this whole system was the rather average performing subwoofer. It didn't play much lower than 30 Hz, and just wasn't the best I've heard in the $400-$600 range.
I think if I was building a Swan HT I'd drop the dipolar speakers and buy smaller stand-mounts to match the speakers. I haven't heard any of their smaller speakers but I have no reason to believe they'd be any less impressive. Towers are harder to pull off well IMO and Swan did a good job. Compared to some long time favorites like the Energy C-7's or C-9's, or the Paradigm Studio 60's, I think there's potential for more value and better performance in the Swans. Especially if you save $300 on the mains by electing to go with vinyl laminate instead of real wood veneer. $900 for the 6.1's is a steal.
It's always fun to find new speakers brands and demo them for the first time. The last year I've heard more on-line/internet-direct speakers than typical brick & mortar brands. I've always been somewhat skeptical of these internet only companies, probably because the reviews are always so rediculously positive....for example, my Axiom M3Ti's don't sound anywhere near as good as my Studio 20's did despite what you read in Axiom fan reviews (but I do like them a bit more than the Mini-Monitors which are $100 more). At the mid-level price category and below, I'm now a believer that better value can be purchased this way. I think this could very well be the future of audio. More and more smaller companies are enjoying success, and let's be realistic. When the big, established companies like B&W, Klipsch, Paradigm, see their market share slowly decrease, and the profit margins go down from more competition, it's a recipe disaster. I won't be surprised at all if there's some large changes coming for these companies in the near future. Especially when you consider how effectivel internet reviews are swaying people's decisions. It'd be nice if the industy could set-up speaker demo/show rooms, where they carried one of every model and colour, so you could actually hear the speaker first, and you ordered what you wanted.
Nice review kexodusc
Your impressions reminded me of the review done by ssabripo back in late April/early May. I think it's pretty impressive for the Swans that they're in the ballpark with Dynaudio much less holding their own so well. I've been curious about Swans ever since I saw their ads on Audiogon. They do have a bookshelf (2.1) which should do pretty well as a surround. Thanks for an informative and well written review.
I am in agreement with you about the state of the industry too. Something I've noticed in my local market (Detroit area) is that very few dealers are able to afford to carry much of an inventory. As a consequence, even though you're at a store you often have to order what you want and wait 1-3 weeks to get it. I think this helps the internet vendor since the store loses the advantage of an immediate sale. I am not saying this to criticize dealers either. It's an incredibly tough industry to succeed in. It just gives the internet guys another little edge.
Last I would love to see the audition system you suggest become widespread! It would be great to have one place where you could see, hear and compare different brands. Especially nowadays when you have such a bewildering array of good choices for every component. Well done and thanks much.
What was the related equipment?
Honestly, I wouldn't expect the Dynes to sound much better if they were being driven by a receiver. Dynes love current, I hope you were using a good amp with them.
Also what was the source? I know one of them was SACD, but if it was a budget player, then there's not much of a sense of what SACD can reveal.
Ming Da MC34-AB 75wpc
PS Audio Classic 250. 500wpc into 4 ohms.
PS Audio 4.5 preamp,
Marantz 6170 TT Shure M97e cart.
Arcam Alpha 9 CD.- 24 bit dCS Ring DAC.
Magnepan 3.6r speakers Oak/black,
Nice review -- they seem to offer a lot of value in this heated cabinet design horserace. I don;t think you can knock it for being made in China. If a competitor can offer the same or very similar sound or even better sound for half the money because they build in China then you will see more and more products being FORCED there even if it is not their choice to do so.
Did you notice that the company also offers some kits? They seem to be a bit "all over the place" when it comes to consistancy of design -- they have a dulcet speaker which looks like a Reference 3a Dulcet clone and you note the B&W N804ish clone. They look like an interesting company.
The related equipment was just a NAD T753 receiver and a recent model NAD power amp I don't know the model too, but was purchased a few years back with the 82's.. The home theater channels ran off the receiver, the speakers off the receiver/amp combo...there was a Marantz universal player, as well...never thought to look at the number.
Originally Posted by Geoffcin
As I said, I gave the slight edge to the Dynaudio's but if I was building a home theater, I'd have a hard time justifying their price tag for the performance against the Swans.
Just cheap 12 gauge wire and standard AR interconnects if that matters.
I don't think the Audience 82's would be any problem for that NAD receiver...
Interestingly enough, I don't think you could find 2 speakers with more obviously different "personalities" both in looks and sound. It's always really neat when you can hear two really nice speakers that sound so different but are fun to listen to at the same time.
One last thing the speakers were pretty much in the same physical location (with one Dyn and one Swan on the outsides though). Results could be different as placement changes.
Edit: The Player is a Marantz 6400...still don't know the NAD amp model.
I don't know much about the quality of the Marantz, but I disagree with the budget player comment...I own a budget player and a mid-level unit, they sound pretty much the same to me (except standard CD sounds terrible on the budget player)...Even the Pioneer 563A and 45A's I demoed for a week way back didn't sound any different from one to the next either, the 45A's superiority was all in the video processing IMO (that and it was built like tank compared to the 563A). Some budget players cheat on the SACD side, some don't. I dont' think either of these speakers are so great that they would benefit more than the other from a more expensive player. Maybe. I'll admit I don't have much experience with Dynaudio's speakers. They sounded pretty damn good to me, if there was more in the tank that a better player would reveal, I'd assume the Swans would benefit somewhat too though.
Last edited by kexodusc; 07-21-2005 at 04:25 AM.
Hi-Vi Research is the parent company of Swan, and have been building drivers for other manufacturers and the DIY crowd for years. They're designed in North America and manufactured in China with American QC (except for a few units made in Germany for some reason).
Originally Posted by RGA
In the DIY world HI-VI is a value leader and makes entry to mid-priced drivers...I'm almost finished a small Home Theater In a Box type DIY system for a relative that uses a 3" Hi-Vi full range driver with a filter network (not my design, borrowed from a acquaitance). They sound damn good for $20 bucks a speaker. I wouldn't worry about them being made in China, China's really catching up with the rest of the world in a lot of industries. Dynaudio recently was forced to leave the DIY market because of poor worldwide sales, their drivers were terribly overpriced for what performance they offered, had some QC issues, and just fell out of favour after a good run for many years. A few smaller companies have bought some of their older production facilities and still produce some of the popular Dynaudio DIY drivers under different names now though. On a side note, a lot of people are fully expecting Scan-Speak to fall victim to the same fate, either finding a niche as an exclusive driver manufacturer for a high-end speaker company(ies) or focus on just selling their own speakers. I think for a lot of companies, there'd be more money in selling speakers than just the parts.
From what I've read, the Asian market for Hi-Fi/home theater is several multiples that of North America, so it probably made good business sense for them to market Swans speakers to support their core driver business, I don't know much about the Swans brand in particular though, or how long it's been available in North America.
You're right about the copy-cat tendencies of their speaker cabients though...I think this is an Asian thing. Take a look at some Asian Hi-Fi sites, and you'll see all kinds of very unique speaker cabinets, and very blatant copies of established companies designs...I think it's kind of refreshing. There's absolutely no reason for us to still have boring box shaped speakers. The outsides of cabinets can be dressed up nicely for little extra cost and without impacting sound.
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