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Madisound Solist DIY Speaker Kit

by June 13, 2004
Madisound Solist Speaker Kit

Madisound Solist Speaker Kit

From my DIY article on the Dynaudio design, referred to as Cirrus RK's hence forward, I have received numerous emails asking for details on the design. I know some people don't read articles in depth but it explained that Dynaudio drivers are no longer available to the public. In an attempt to match the Dynaudio drivers for the rest of my home theater speakers I have built a set of speakers completely available to the public. It is the Solist kit available from Madisound Speaker Components. The reason I chose the Solist was based on the use of Scan Speak drivers which I previously audition next to the more costly Cirrus RK's. During that audition, I found the Scan Speak Drivers performed very close to the Cirrus and were more affordable. In this article it is hoped that some of the risk factors of building speakers is removed (i.e. investing time, effort, and money without ever knowing how the speakers will turn out.)

The Solist kit is basically available four designs and prices. There are two different driver compliments and each are available with or without cabinets. Both driver compliments use the same mid/woofer in an MTM configuration therefore the cabinet size doesn't change.

Option 1 $840/pair

  • Qty two - 7" Carbon fiber paper Mid/Woofers - Scan Speak Model 18W/8545K
  • Qty one - 1" textile dome tweeter - D2905/9500
  • Qty one - Low pass crossover, 1 - high pass crossover, including Sidewinder 16 AWG coils, Solen polypropylene capacitors and Eagle metal oxide film resistors

Option 2 $1140/pair

  • Qty two - 7" Carbon fiber paper Mid/Woofers - Scan Speak Model 18W/8545K
  • Qty one - 1" textile dome tweeter - D2905/9500
  • Qty one - Low pass crossover, 1 - high pass crossover, including Sidewinder 16 AWG coils, Solen polypropylene capacitors and Eagle metal oxide film resistors
  • Qty two - Oak veneer (natural or black) finished cabinets

Option 3 $1110/pair

  • Qty two - 7" Carbon fiber paper Mid/Woofers - Scan Speak Model 18W/8545K
  • Qty one - 1" textile dome tweeter - D2905/9700
  • Qty one - Low pass crossover, 1 - high pass crossover, upgraded with Goertz copper foil 14 AWG inductors, Solen capacitors, Hovland Musicaps and Eagle metal oxide film resistors.

Option 4 $1420/pair

  • Qty two - 7" Carbon fiber paper Mid/Woofers - Scan Speak Model 18W/8545K
  • Qty one - 1" textile dome tweeter - D2905/9700
  • Qty one- Low pass crossover, 1 - high pass crossover, upgraded with Goertz copper foil 14 AWG inductors, Solen capacitors, Hovland Musicaps and Eagle metal oxide film resistors.
  • Qty two - Oak finished (natural or black) cabinets

I decided not to use the upgraded option since they were only to be used as center and surround speakers and I felt it wasn't necessary to get the more expensive drivers and crossovers. Being a handyman, I also decided to build the cabinets myself thereby reducing my overal expense to $840/pair thereby selecting option one.

Madisound Solist Construction and Auditioning

empty-box.jpgThe cabinets were probably the hardest cabinets I have ever constructed, not because they were complex but because I didn't design them myself. The drawing supplied from Madisound was almost completely sufficient. The only thing left out of the drawing was the measurement for the location of the braces but a quick call to Madisound and a new complete drawing was emailed. Working with the folks at Madisound was very easy and productive. Building cabinets straight from a drawing is not the easiest task. There is no cut sheet so all of the panel cuts have to be figured out considering the thicknesses of all the pieces. When designing cabinets myself the panel cuts seem to fall in place naturally as I design them. The cabinets were made of 3/4 inch MDF with a 1 inch MDF front baffle. It used two shelf type braces to give it a very solid feel. All drivers were recessed to be flush with the front baffle to minimize diffraction. Although the edge ports threw in a bit of a twist to the build, their design helped with extra bracing to the cabinet.

Speaking of the edge ports, I have read that they should be avoided but in this case I agree completely with the design. I didn't ask, but if the designers at Madisound used LEAP for the cabinet design I am confident that the design software compensates the calculation for edge ports. The reason I agree with edge ports in this design is that because in an MTM design, it is much more important to keep the mid/woofers as close to the tweeter as possible to have a proper acoustic center and minimize lobing effects.

After spending a few weeks building all three cabinets it was time to install the drivers and crossovers. I didn't complete my choice on the finish yet so I assembled them in the raw cabinet. Madisound is correct in saying that the Solists can be assembled in an evening with completed cabinets.

Auditioning the Speakers

It was finally time to crank them up and I don't mean loud. It is wise to go easy on new speakers until they have been moderately broken in so I let them play a while at a low volume. After they had been played for a few hours I turned to my old faithful listening tracks.

CD: Yes - Ladder
yes-ladder.jpgMore recently I have been starting with Yes - Ladder. With the Home World track I immediately noticed a strong authoritative bass which surprised me since the Solists are tuned down to just 40 Hz. This is a perfect example of showing that how low a speaker plays is not as important as how well it plays the low frequencies. So far I was thoroughly impressed with the Solist for it's bass. As I listened further I began to notice how forward the music was. The guitar was forward, the drums were forward and the sound stage was lifted but when Jon Anderson started singing his vocals seemed a bit more between the speakers. I then listened to Lightening Strikes and again it had authoritative bass and I could hear very good detail in the high frequencies. The mid frequency guitar parts sounded some what muffled but the Solists showed good pace and rhythm.

CD: Patrick O'Hearn Trust
patrick-o-hearn-trust.jpgNext up was Patrick O'Hearn's Trust CD. The title track has very low and consistent bass but I did not expect the Solists to play as low as the music but it did perform very well down to it's rated 40 Hz cutoff. The piano sound sounded a bit dull but other than that the transparency sounded good. I really like to listen to Flim and the BB's Funhouse track from Big Notes for detail and those Scan Speak 9500 tweeters did a great job. I can imagine how well the upgraded version with the 9700 tweeters would sound. While the mid frequencies remained back they never sounded edgy, but instead they were very smooth.

It was now time for the sound stage and imaging test. Anyone who has read our Von Schweikert VR2 review knows exactly how this song works. The sax was just where it was supposed to be, to right of the center and it didn't sound edgy but it also wasn't forward. The drum solo sounded excellent and I must admit, even better than my Cirrus RK's. The trumpet was very smooth without any edge although I personally like a little edge from a trumpet because when it is heard live and the player is blasting out a note it does have an edge to it. Same thing goes for a saxophone but I don't think many listeners like that edgy sound.

CD: Enya Shepherd Moons
enya.jpgFinally, I listened to Enya's Marble Halls from the Shepherd Moons CD. This track portrayed good tonal balance and excellent sibilance. The detail was also good but the speakers didn't have that open air sound that I expect from this song.

At this point I started to wonder about my opinion of what I was hearing from the mid frequencies so I had Gene listen to a couple of songs and they concurred with my opinion. Actually I didn't say anything to them up front so they agreed that the mids sounded too laid back without my influence. I started investigating why the mids sounded laid back instead of forward to us and since I had heard these drivers in the past I could only be led to one conclusion, the crossover. I called Madisound and got in touch with the designer of the Solist who in my opinion, has a tremendous knowledge of speaker design. After a long conversation it turns out that it was the crossovers and that he purposely brought the mids down when it was designed. Apparently after listening to the Solist with a flat designed crossover the people at Madisound thought it sounded much too bright and finalized the design by bringing down the mids. Keep in mind that there is a lot of mid frequency absorption in my room so a less treated room might sound too bright.

Madisound Solist New Crossovers and Conclusion

Again, the people at Madisound were great to work with, we talked about a redesigned crossover with a flat response. They sent me the original crossover curves and the newly designed crossover curves for comparison. I decided that the new design was flat enough although not perfectly flat and ordered the crossover. There was still a higher output in the low frequencies but that is inherent in the MTM design and the woofers will just be more efficient than the tweeter according to the designer.

After receiving the new crossovers and installing them it was time to re-listen to the same CD's with my notes at hand. Right away I could hear a difference, it is amazing how a few components changed on a circuit board can make such a difference in sound.

Starting again with Yes, Ladder Jon Anderson's voice in Home World was much more forward and it was more open than before and the guitar had much more presence. On Lightening Strikes the pace was still good but the bass didn't sound as authoritative until I turned the volume up. Listening further on “Face to Face” I could definitely hear the authoritative bass that I heard before the redesign. Anyone familiar with Anderson's voice would expect it to sound very forward; it wasn't as forward as the Cirrus RK's but they also don't have the slight edge that the Cirrus have. The Solist are still very smooth.

Putting on Patrick O'Hearn's Trust title track, the bass remained authoritative and tight. The detail was excellent and the piano was much better balanced. The balance remained with Flim & the BB's, Big Notes, New America track. The sax sounded very smooth with no edge and the tonality throughout the song was very good. At this time I started turning up the volume and what I found were some great dynamics and no sign of compression. Everything sound much more forward. The same existed on the Funhouse track which is all electronic except that the high frequencies started to sound edgy but the volume was pretty high around 80 dB per the RDC-7 display where I normally listen at the low 70 dB mark.

For my favorite test, sound stage and imaging, I played the faithful Malcolm Makes Haaj track from Terrance Blanchard. With the old crossover the sax sounded like it was at the back of the stage but not anymore, it was right up front and to the left just as it should be. The sound stage as a whole was not as high as the Cirrus RK's. The drum solo sounded the same as it did before but in the piano solo I tended to hear more of the drums than normal. The trumpet was also placed correctly on stage. The sax and trumpet did not sound as real as I like at first but when the volume was turned up these instruments were sounding very real. I finally started to hear that edge from both instruments as I would expect from a live concert when someone is blasting notes out on a trumpet or sax.

I now started to realize that something else was happening with these speakers. The drivers were breaking in beautifully. I didn't log the hours exactly but I would guess about 20 to 30. The more these drivers played the better they sounded. It wasn't because I was getting used to them either; I was still switching back and forth to the Cirrus RK's. I was also noticing how different they sound from the Cirrus RK's. There is a different timbre between the two which wasn't good news for me because I was trying to match the Cirrus sound.

I couldn't stop listening so I put on Steely Dan's Two Against Nature CD. The bass guitar sounded very tight. At low volumes the music was a little more forward than Fagan's voice but when he sang louder his voice moved forward. In comparing this CD to the Cirrus RK's, the Cirrus had a better balance between the vocals and the music. One more thing to note on this CD was that the sax here also sounded natural and real.

On Enya's Marble Halls the tonal balance and sibilance was still very good. With these speakers opening up I can now hear the airiness that I expect from this track. Also, the transparency was excellent. The same held for Carribean Blue, her main vocals were centered and the music and other layers of her voice surrounded the main vocals.

Suzanne Vega's voice on Tom's Diner sounded very centered and forward but again the sound stage was a little low. On “Into the West” by Annie Lennox the sound stage was definitely higher up. More importantly, it clearly had that “grab ya” feeling with no edginess that just gets you completely involved in the song. Music involvement is very important and that is exactly what was happening as these drivers broke in.


The Solists kits from Madisound delivered everything one would expect from Scan Speak drivers. I have a few suggestions based on the time spent with these speakers. First, if the Solist is going to be used as main speakers and a higher budget is allowed, consider the upgraded version. Even though I did not listen to the upgraded version I can't imagine they would sound worse. If you get option 1 or 2 you may not want to rush into the redesigned crossover. Consider the room in which they will be placed; is there a lot of reflection? Try the stock crossovers and let the drivers break in for at least 30 hours. If the mids still don't satisfy after thorough break in, contact Madisound for the new crossovers. I'm not sure if they will make this redesigned crossover an option or if they will charge for the LEAP design. Maybe if they get enough requests, they will make it an option to the kit. No matter which way the Solist is configured they deliver as good a sound as speakers for at least twice the price.


About the author:
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Ken Stein is a contributing writer and reviewer for Audioholics and he really REALLY likes his speakers (which he should, since he spent countless hours hand-crafting them himself.) Ken is an engineer with FedEx and applies his diligent attention to detail to his speaker and electronics reviews here at Audioholics.

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