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Legacy Signature SE Floorstanding Speaker Review

by Steve Feintein August 20, 2020
  • Product Name: Signature SE Floorstanding Speaker
  • Manufacturer: Legacy Audio
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: August 20, 2020 22:00
  • MSRP: $ 7795/pr. – $9,895/pr., depending on finish. ($8395 as tested, in Brown Sapele Pommele wood veneer)
  • Buy Now
  • Application:    Sealed enclosure, low sensitivty to room placement
  • System Type: 5 driver, 4 way
  • Tweeter:         Dual Air Motion System- 1" AMT super tweeter, silver HF wire
  • Midrange:       Dual Air Motion System- 4" AMT upper midrange
  • Midwoofer:    7" Silver Graphite, cast frame
  • Subwoofer:    Dual 10" spun aluminum diaphragm, rubber surround, long throw suspension with cast frame
  • Low Frequency Alignment:  Sealed, adjustable damping
  • Inputs:            2 Pair binding posts for Treble and Bass
  • Recommended Amplification:          20 - 300 Watts
  • Freq. Response (Hz, +/-2dB):          22-30K
  • Impedance:    4 Ohm
  • Sensitivity:      92 dB ([email protected] 1m)
  • Crossover (Hz):         180, 2.8kHz, 8kHz
  • Dimensions HxWxD (inches):          48 x 12 x 13.75
  • Weight (each):           106 lbs

Pros

  • Very smooth wide-range sound, top to bottom
  • Particularly impressive bass response—deep, taut, detailed, but without any exaggeration
  • Can play extremely loud without any noticeable distortion
  • Combines solid imaging with spacious, widely-dispersed sound
  • Beautiful cabinetry and impeccable build quality

Cons

  • Use of grille pins and rubber receptacles instead of magnetic grille attachment mars appearance sans grille (Legacy is looking at changing this in the near future)
  • No printed manual included

 

Legacy Audio is a small high-end audio company specializing in high-performance loudspeakers, subwoofers and system electronics. Founded in 1983 by engineer Bill Dudleston, Legacy began by producing passive full-range floorstanding speakers and has expanded its offerings over the years to include bookshelf speakers, powered subwoofers, center channel and surround theater speakers, fully-powered floorstanding speakers employing very sophisticated DSP frequency response shaping and room equalization, and separate pre-amp and power amp electronic components. The company previously sold its products on a direct-to-consumer basis, but has added a few select retail dealers and from time to time and does a traveling “road show” to demo its products to audiophiles in different parts of the country. Legacy also maintains a full demo showroom at its corporate headquarters in Springfield, Illinois.

Today we’re looking at the Signature SE, a relatively compact passive floorstanding model. Legacy’s lineup of “Stereo Left-Right/Mains” speakers is comprised of 11 models, the first six of which are passive. The Signature SE is the second most expensive passive speaker, exceeded only by the Focus SE which we reviewed back in 2013.

Basic Description of Signature SE

The Signature SE is what I would call a mid-sized floorstander. At 48 x 12 x 13 ¾” HWD and 106 lbs., it’s clearly larger than a typical entry-level 3-foot-tall 60 lb. floorstander, but it’s not some 5-foot 160-pound Room Dominator. My listening room is mid-sized at most (14 x 17 feet) and the signature SE’s look quite nice there, not too large at all. Expectation and pre-conceived notions play a big role with loudspeakers, and these are no exception. Given their modest size, one’s expectations about ultimate bass response and overall refinement of sound are somewhat tempered. But considering Legacy’s reputation and the near 5-figure price, it’s natural, on the other hand, to expect a lot, to be wowed on an absolute scale. There definitely aren’t any thoughts of, “These will be good considering the price or size” with these speakers. The Signature SE’s had better deliver.

Do they? We’ll find out.

Arrival and Packaging

The speakers arrived on a wooden pallet, via Fed Ex Freight. I was prepared to offer the driver a generous tip to help me get the speakers directly into the house, but he said he was prevented by legal statute to not “cross the threshold.” So they ended up in my garage, which is at basement level, one level down from our living/listening floor. Yikes. These are big speakers, especially in their shipping cartons. Clearly beyond the capabilities of my wife and I (we’re in our late ‘60’s) to get up the front walk and into the house. So I called my young strong friend Jason to help out.

 Sigs in garage.JPG

Mission Impossible: Legacy Signatures in my Garage

Jason is in his mid 40’s and as strong as can be. He’s ex-Army and an MMA expert. This is someone you want on your side. But, even more importantly, Jason is an EE and was the head speaker engineer at Atlantic Technology when I was there from 2003-2013. (I had a dual role as Director of Marketing and Manager of Product Development/Engineering.) Jason did both finished system design as well as transducer design. He headed the design effort that produced Atlantic Technology’s excellent AT-1, which utilized their outstanding H-PAS bass loading technology. The AT-1 had an MSRP of $2500/pr. yet it was on Stereophile’s Recommended Components Loudspeakers Class B for three years running. Speakers in Class B include pricing up to $20,000/pr. Think about that. He also did the amazing Atlantic Technology IWTS-30 LCR in-wall speaker—the acoustics, the voicing and the transducer design—the first in-wall speaker to earn THX Ultra 2 certification for flat frequency response, low distortion and high SPL capability.  His body of work is impressive and his ear/musical knowledge is second to none.

So we got the speakers up from the garage and in the front door. These things were really packaged nicely. A heavy-duty outer carton with generous foam endcaps held things securely in place. Hard cardboard reinforcements at each corner ran the length from top to bottom. The speakers themselves are a good four inches in from the outer surface of the carton, so they’re well out of harm’s way. Each speaker was clothed in a full-length velvet bag, beautifully adorned with a silver Legacy logo. Most of Legacy’s speakers are very large, monstrously heavy affairs. The company obviously knows how to package its products for safe transport. They better know—the alternative is simply not tenable.

signature inner.jpg 

Signature SE inner packaging

The care and obvious engineering thought that went into the packaging was most impressive. They made it to my house from halfway across the country like they were going around the block. This was a great first impression.

Editorial Note: Humorous aside
I keep most of the cartons that my stuff comes in, downstairs in the basement. Not just high-end audio gear. I have various boxes for wet vacs, coffee makers, radios, wall clocks, you name it. My wife hates that I do this, although I suspect that it’s a trait shared by most audiophiles. We just have a certain respect and regard for equipment—of any kind—and we keep the boxes for that future day when safe transport becomes necessary.

My wife hates this. In all honesty, my wife and I get along great and are perfectly compatible, patient and accepting of each other in virtually every way. She’s simply a fabulous person—smart, funny, compassionate, a 5-star chef, etc.— and I appreciate my good fortune in being married to her beyond what I can put into words. But she gets annoyed that I save boxes, drives her nuts. Well, she’ll be happy to know that I’m not saving these Legacy boxes. They’re just too big. I’ll keep the velvet bags, but I’m never moving these speakers. They’ll either stay in the house forever or I’ll give them to Jason if/when I lose my hearing due to old age.

Drivers and Bass Configuration

The Signature SE is a 5-driver 4-way sealed system. It is not a classic “acoustic suspension” system like the old 1970’s AR-Advent-KLH speakers with their ultra high-compliance, low-resonance/low Q woofers.  (See my article: Sealed is not Acoustic Suspension )

I had a very informative exchange with Bill Dudleston, Legacy’s founder and head engineer. I asked him a series of very detailed questions regarding the Signature SE’s design and he answered me in great detail. Here is that exchange:

First, my questions to Legacy:

Dear Mr. Dudleston,

My name is Steve Feinstein. I have spent many decades in the U.S. high-fidelity speaker market in product development, marketing and engineering with companies such as Bose, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology. Many of the products my teams worked on went on to become best-selling models, with many highly reviewed “Editor’s Choice, “Product of the Year,” etc. awards and recognition over the years. You’d know a lot of them, I’m sure. I was fortunate to work alongside many talented and innovative people.

Working for a company that has specific marketing/sales goals and choosing equipment for your own personal listening can often be two different things. It doesn’t mean that you’re disingenuous or insincere—you always try to produce the very best products you possibly can within the sales and marketing environment that you’re operating in. It’s just that when it comes to your own personal listening, those constraints aren’t necessarily there any longer.

I have always favored the full-range floor-standing speaker. To my ear, nothing can match the coherency and power of a full-range speaker powered by appropriate amplification. I am also a subscriber to the maxim that there’s “no substitute for cone area.”

It might surprise you, but I regularly listen to a set of fully-restored, mint-condition AR9’s. With their dual sealed 12-inch acoustic suspension woofers and their 4-way design with an 8-inch lower mid operating from 200-1200Hz and dome upper-mid and dome tweeter, they exhibit an effortless, widely-dispersed response that is a delight to hear, even to this day. Their factory-spec’d -3dB LF point is 28Hz. Julian Hirsch measured their real-life in-room FR at ± 3 dB from 30-19kHz. They still sound quite good.

But….there is a time for everything, no? I think the time for me is now. Your Signature SE certainly has caught my eye. But I do have some questions that I hope you can answer.

The Signature SE is listed as a “sealed” speaker, but is it a true acoustic suspension speaker with low-Q woofers that have a low FAR (20 Hz or so)? Or is it merely “sealed,” but using higher-Q (.45 Qts or higher) drivers? There’s a difference between “acoustic suspension” and merely “sealed.” [See my article “Sealed in not acoustic suspension”] Either way can be made to work nicely; I’m just curious as to your actual design approach on the Signature SE.

Also, you list the Signature SE as having “adjustable damping.” Could you expound on this? Exactly how do you mean? Is the damping adjustable by the end-user?

Then, Bill Dudleston’s response to me [and full credit to Legacy for a very prompt and in-depth answer]:

The goal with the Signature SE was to build a floor standing speaker with seamless response, wide dynamic range and full bandwidth.  Having a big brother in the Focus SE boasting dual 12” subwoofers in the Focus SE already, I opted for a slimmer design that can be placed close to boundaries.

I opted for low mass diaphragms woofers with excellent lower midrange qualities that could reinforce the 7” midrange over a couple octaves with a soft slope low-pass filter. The Signature SE uses a pair of 10” woofers with QTS of 0.46 and linear Xmax of 7mm, each with a sensitivity of 88 dB.  These two drivers naturally benefit from mutual coupling to raise the sensitivity further.  The low bass employs a 2nd order high pass filter to prevent over-excursion below 30 Hz.  This filter trades off impedance for a boost at 35 Hz.  The Q of the filter is set to provide 2.5 dB boost before rejecting the very lowest frequencies.

This is additive to the response of a close-mic response of the woofer. Mutual coupling of the drivers and room boundaries (in a sealed system, room gain typically adds 9 to 12dB of lift at 20Hz tapering to 1dB at 110 Hz.) can be to useful at lower frequencies to increase radiation impedance which can reduce distortion, but if the user doesn’t employ active room correction, it’s very nice to have a room damping contour in the problematic 60-85Hz range when the system is placed close to boundaries.

So in summary:  Within the woofer’s passive crossover s a high-pass filter, a trap filter which is employable to shave output in the 60-85Hz range by about 2 dB to avoid boominess and then the shallow HP crossover underpinning the lower midrange.

While the box is sealed it is not an infinite baffle or acoustic suspension design. It is instead a synthesized alignment combining the acoustic and electrical filters we might otherwise employ with DSP in our more sophisticated models.

Maturing as a loudspeaker designer I have learned to treat the real world situations we encounter in application.  I have been very fortunate and by bringing questions to Don Keele, David L. Clark, Earl Geddes, Tom Danley, Ken Kantor, Roy Allison, Arnie Nudell and Ed Villchur over the years, I have gained insights from their dedicated lifetimes.   For this I am extremely grateful.

Thanks for your interest.  My best,

Bill D.

Nonetheless, sealed is sealed. The bass on the Signature SE emanates from one point only—the direct radiation from the woofer cones. As such, there is not any time delay, phase inconsistency or other anomaly that can be attributed to a vented system, where the woofers “hand off” their low-frequency responsibilities below a certain tuning frequency to the vent/port, often located several inches away from the woofers. Die-hard sealed aficionados will swear until the cows come home that bass from a sealed system is unsurpassed, embodying those elusive, indefinable, unmeasurable qualities of “fast, tight” bass. There is no intent here to pull this review off course and turn it into some wild “sealed vs. ported” argument. That’s not necessary. Properly designed systems of any kind can produce terrific bass, within well-known tradeoffs. Let’s agree on that.

This speaker uses dual 10-inch aluminum-cone woofers with 2-inch voice coils and bullet-shaped aluminum phase plugs. These are beefy drivers—cast baskets and substantial magnets. The highly-scientific, extremely-precise “fingernail-flick-against-the-cone” test—a test that only the most modern and up-to-date loudspeaker testing labs is capable of executing properly—reveals that the Signature SE’s woofers are tuned quite low and the test quite accurately predicts that the system is capable of effortless, prodigious low-frequency output in a medium-sized space.

 SE 10-in woofer.jpg

Legacy Signature SE 10” woofer with cast basket

Crossing over at a very low 180Hz, the woofers make way for a 7-inch “midwoofer” with a silver graphite cone in a cast frame, also with a bullet-shaped aluminum phase plug. (When Legacy says, “silver graphite,” it’s not clear if they’re referring simply to the color of the cone or if the cone’s material composition contains some actual silver.) This driver handles the range from 180Hz to 2800Hz and is responsible for virtually the entire midrange. It is commendable that Dudleston has designed the system so that only one driver handles five straight midrange octaves, uninterrupted by any crossover circuitry or nearby overlapping driver interference. This midwoofer is quite an authoritative, capable driver, clearly responsible for the natural-sounding midrange and it’s a major contributor to the overall effortless quality of the system.

The aluminum phase plug on the woofers and midrange serve to increase the power handling, since it forms a direct heat exchange path from the driver’s pole piece to the outside air in the room. In the case of the 7-inch midrange, the bullet shape of the phase plug can also tailor the dispersion characteristics at the higher-end of the driver’s range. There is no dispersion effect for the woofers (they operate below 180Hz and are effectively omni-directional anyway) and having their phase plugs be the same shape at the 7-inch driver is simply a welcome cosmetic consideration.

SE 7-in mid.jpg 


Legacy Signature SE 7” midwoofer with cast basket

From there, the system crosses over to a dual AMT upper midrange/tweeter element mounted on a common faceplate. The 4-inch upper midrange AMT handles the range up to 8kHz and the 1-inch tweeter AMT takes over above 8k. Mounting the two units very close together (within an inch and three-eighths) on a common faceplate presumably enables them to act as a virtual acoustic “point source,” since the two radiators are less than a wavelength apart (.81 of a wavelength, actually) at their 8kHz crossover frequency. Such an arrangement yields the “coherent point source” acoustic benefits of something like the KEF Uni-Q driver, but totally avoids the dispersion-restricting/diffraction-producing “tweeter in a cave” problems inherent in that design. The Legacy shows a very insightful, intelligent design.

SE Dual AMT.jpg

Legacy Signature SE dual AMT upper-mid and tweeter on common mounting plate

Editorial Note: Historical Aside
The AR9LS of 1982 used what AR called a “dual dome” upper-midrange/tweeter arrangement. The
1 ½-inch upper midrange dome and ¾-inch dome tweeter were mounted on a common faceplate and driven off a single large magnet structure. Their crossover frequency was similar to the Signature SE’s—7kHz. Since the two domes were within a wavelength at crossover, they operated acoustically as a virtual point source.

AR9LS.jpg

AR9LS with “Dual Dome” from 1982

As a matter of fact the AR9/90/9LS/9LSi series was somewhat similar in overall design to the Legacy Signature SE. The ARs were sealed systems, with dual 12-inch woofers (9), dual 10-inch woofers (90), and a 12 + 10-inch woofer arrangement (9LS and LSi). They were 4-ways with 8-inch midwoofers and the two dome upper-range drivers (the LS/LSi having the aforementioned coincident “dual dome” array). Their crossovers were 200, 1200 and 7kHz—fairly similar in concept. The Signature SE’s have a great advantage in avoiding that 1200Hz heart-of-the-midrange crossover, but it could be considered to be a modern version of that basic AR design approach, using the very latest materials, manufacturing methodologies, driver designs, cabinet bracing conventions and far higher-quality crossover componentry and internal wiring. Dudleston is on record as saying that he respected the AR9’s design, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that some of that respect—perhaps totally subconsciously—manifests itself in the execution of the Signature SE. In any event, being a veteran audiophile with a very long memory into past products gives me an unusually-long half-century vantage point from which to make observations and posit “what ifs.” Interesting to think about, that’s all. I’d venture a guess and say I’m one of only a bare handful of Signature SE owners in the universe who has detailed, first-hand knowledge of both those old AR speakers and these new Signatures. My Signature SE’s replace a set of meticulously restored mint-condition AR9’s in my main system, so the comparison is direct and fascinating.

Signature SE Enclosure

The cabinet is made from 1 1/8-inch thick MDF with very substantial internal bracing.  The slight extra panel thickness leaves a substantial amount of “meat” for driver mounting, even after the routing for the drivers’ frames.  There are four internal braces for the cabinet, quite a lot considering it’s only 48-inches tall.

The cabinet tapers front-to-back from 12 inches wide across the front to 9 ½ inches wide across the back. The top panel tapers down from 48 inches high in the front to 46.5 inches high in the rear. This means, of course, that the cabinet’s walls are not parallel, which greatly reduces the incidence of audibly detrimental standing waves within the enclosure. The top panel’s side edges are chamfered down and the top half of the cabinet’s tall front edges are cut back in a sculpted shape that reduces the boxiness of the cabinet’s appearance. It looks flat-out great. The quality of the Brown Sapele Pommele wood veneer is simply outstanding, and the total look garners that all-elusive WAF—the first speaker in my experience to do so. As can be seen in the picture, this is a very heavily-braced cabinet and the informal “knuckle-rap” text confirms it.

SE cab.jpg

Legacy Signature SE cabinet under construction, showing thick internal bracing

 
SE crossovers.jpg

Legacy Signature SE crossover in two sections, with high-quality parts.

On the back panel are two sets of nice beefy binding posts, to facilitate passive bi-wiring or bi-amping if either of those snake-oil approaches appeals to you.

There are also two switches to the right of the binding posts that provide a subtle degree of tonal modification/room equalization. One is a high-frequency switch that simply shelves the response above 10kHz down by 2dB to tame any harshness in too-lively rooms. The other is a low-frequency switch that reduces the speaker’s output between 60-85Hz by about 2dB, to remove any mid-bass “bloat” caused by placement or room-dimensional problems. In my room—which has very cooperative dimensions for bass reproduction and is treated acoustically for a near-perfect balance of damping vs. reverberation, I didn’t need either of these controls, but I did verify that they worked as intended. Legacy describes the Signature SE as having “adjustable damping,” but never expounds on that in any detail, either on their website or in the owner’s manual. Presumably, the 60-85Hz control is what they mean by adjustable damping.

The speaker came with rubber feet already installed (thank you, even though the electronic PDF manual said the rubber feet needed to be attached by the owner). In one of the two cartons, there is a small white cardboard box containing adjustable-height carpet spikes that screw into the bottom of the rubber feet. I have never used carpet spikes on any speaker I’ve ever had. I suspect that the inclusion of these spikes is more to satisfy some unrealistically-critical reviewers who will then say, “Ahh, spikes. Good.” than it is to meet a real-world demand. I don’t know anyone who wants to poke holes in their expensive Karastan. I certainly never would. I remember writing the “Carpet spike installation and warning” slip-in sheet for an expensive Boston Acoustics tower back in the early ‘90’s and I showed the preliminary instructions to an audiophile lawyer friend of mine. He said to me, “You must be crazy. I’d never do this.”

Sig spikes.jpg

Box containing carpet spikes

I do like the brass straps that connect the bi-amp terminals for conventional single-wire use. They’re insulated and have a nice printed ‘Legacy’ logo. If a stray wire strand somehow makes its was over from the + side over to the – side and touches a strap, no worries. Obviously that’s highly unlikely, but the logo’s insulation is a classy touch.

Signature SE terminals.jpg

Rear panel terminals and contour switches

The grille frame appears to be MDF painted a smooth satin black. The frame itself is fairly thick—about ¾-inch—and the edges of the cutouts are not angled away from the drivers. Instead, they present a nice, flat, diffraction-inducing surface to the drivers, which, when combined with the fairly heavy grille cloth, may explain why I preferred to do all my listening sans grilles. The fact that the Signature SE’s driver array looks so cool with its dual AMT faceplate and black aluminum bullet-shaped phase plugs on the woofers and midbass cone drivers I’m sure had nothing to do with it. I’m a speaker professional, after all, with decades of experience. I’m above being influenced by a cool-looking driver array. Right?

Sig grille frame.jpg

 Non-beveled ¾”-thick grille frame

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Recent Forum Posts:

Irvrobinson posts on August 23, 2020 10:15
jeffca, post: 1413546, member: 48611
I've always been fascinated by Bill Dudleston's larger designs. He creates some very compelling speakers and I'm a fan of DSP and active designs.

I do, though, depart from not just his, but everyone's speakers when it comes to the efficacy and necessity of $8K, passive, monkey coffins such as this.

A well designed 2.2 sub/sat system will give you superior performance for the same price or less. The reasons are manifold: true active bi-amping, low bass not polluting the mids by having separate cabinets, the freedom to place the satellites where they image the best while placing the subs where they offer the smoothest in room performance, etc. These are substantial advantages you can't get from any single cabinet loudspeaker.
.
It is a bit more of work to set it up, but the pay off is worth the pain. Anyone who will spend $8K on a pair of speakers should know enough to sort out a sub/sat system in about the same time as these boxes.

39118

What crossover frequency do you use for the pictured set-up?
Kvn_Walker posts on August 23, 2020 10:11
Some people might value floor space. 2 speakers is 2 speakers. 2 speakers + 4 subs is taking up the square footage of 6 speakers. “technically better” doesn't always translate into “ergonomically feasible.”

Then you have power usage. One amp or five?

If it works for some, that's fine. But if someone is happy with 2 speakers and an amp, more power to them.
Grandzoltar posts on August 23, 2020 08:44
If by kick butt you mean spl in the mids and upper then yeah definitely 7' towers will out play. But 2-4 strategically placed subwoofers of 15" will offer a smoother response its no theory its measurable. All in one boxes are cool its a technological accomplishment. Show us some rew plots to test your theory.
VMPS-TIII posts on August 22, 2020 14:55
jeffca, post: 1413546, member: 48611
I've always been fascinated by Bill Dudleston's larger designs. He creates some very compelling speakers and I'm a fan of DSP and active designs.

I do, though, depart from not just his, but everyone's speakers when it comes to the efficacy and necessity of $8K, passive, monkey coffins such as this.

A well designed 2.2 sub/sat system will give you superior performance for the same price or less. The reasons are manifold: true active bi-amping, low bass not polluting the mids by having separate cabinets, the freedom to place the satellites where they image the best while placing the subs where they offer the smoothest in room performance, etc. These are substantial advantages you can't get from any single cabinet loudspeaker.
.
It is a bit more of work to set it up, but the pay off is worth the pain. Anyone who will spend $8K on a pair of speakers should know enough to sort out a sub/sat system in about the same time as these boxes.

39118
I have both setups in the form of Canton Vento 9.2 Reference Bookshelves matched with HSU subs in one room and VMPS 7' SuperTower III's matched with a VMPS TallBoy sub in another. It's pretty clear the 7' towers kick butt compared to the bookshelf/Sub setup.

My experience is your theory doesn't always pan out. It's possible you can get a good sound with separate bass and tweeter boxes but there are more factors that determine the final power and quality of the setup.
jeffca posts on August 22, 2020 10:00
I've always been fascinated by Bill Dudleston's larger designs. He creates some very compelling speakers and I'm a fan of DSP and active designs.

I do, though, depart from not just his, but everyone's speakers when it comes to the efficacy and necessity of $8K, passive, monkey coffins such as this.

A well designed 2.2 sub/sat system will give you superior performance for the same price or less. The reasons are manifold: true active bi-amping, low bass not polluting the mids by having separate cabinets, the freedom to place the satellites where they image the best while placing the subs where they offer the smoothest in room performance, etc. These are substantial advantages you can't get from any single cabinet loudspeaker.
.
It is a bit more of work to set it up, but the pay off is worth the pain. Anyone who will spend $8K on a pair of speakers should know enough to sort out a sub/sat system in about the same time as these boxes.

39118
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