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Legacy Signature SE Set-Up & Listening

Legacy SE System

I set up and listened to the Signature SE’s in a 2-channel music system. The room was a small-to-medium sized 17 x 14 x 8 ft. These are very good-sounding dimensions, since the length (17) is a prime number, and the height (8 ft) is not a whole number multiple of either the length or width. Therefore, these dimensions do not lend themselves to troublesome, additive bass/room resonances. The room has six 2 x 3 ft acoustic wall treatments staggered around the four walls (one centered on the front wall, two each at different heights on the side walls, and one centered on the rear wall between the two windows). There is a large sectional couch for seating and the floor is carpeted. Overall, the room is just slightly on the dead side of neutral, and it sounds excellent: solid, uniform bass, good imaging and detail, very little “ringing,” but live enough to let the speakers blossom out and fill the space with organic sound. Excellent recordings, especially of small-scale ensembles like jazz trio or solo piano, can sound almost live in this room. I have tremendous confidence that this room allows equipment to sound as good, or bad, as it can.

The Signature SEs were set up about 1-1 ½ feet from the wall behind them and about 1 ½-2 feet from the sidewalls. I experimented with placement by moving them closer to the wall behind them, and I’d say there was very little change until the speakers were virtually right up against the wall. No doubt, part of that placement flexibility is because there is no rear-mounted port that is being “squeezed” up against the wall. Legacy claims the Signature SE is very tolerant of different room placements and I’d agree with that assessment.

The speakers have good horizontal dispersion and toe-in was modest—perhaps 5–10º or so. Set up this way, the speakers threw a very solid, well-defined image with a good phantom center. They sounded similar, but not identical, when seated vs. standing. The upper mid-range AMT is 1 x 4”, so its dispersion will be somewhat wider in the horizontal plane than vertically. The math indicates that a 1” radiating dimension will not be noticeably directional until 13,560Hz. (13560 is the speed of sound at sea level in inches per second. If you divide that by the radiating dimension of the diaphragm, you’ll get the CDF or Critical Dimensional Frequency, the point at which that driver becomes directional and starts to ‘beam’ its output like a flashlight.) But the 4” vertical dimension of the upper mid-range AMT indicates that it will be totally non-dimensional only below 3390Hz (13560 ÷ 4 = 3390), above which it will start to beam. The UMR AMT crosses over to the tweeter at 8kHz. So the UMR AMT restricts the vertical dispersion to a modest degree, and it’s somewhat noticeable when standing vs. sitting. It was not an issue at all when listening in the normal seated position. In this room, I am only about 10 feet from the speakers, so I am sitting in the Critical Field—neither totally far-field/reverberant nor totally near-field/direct. I have no doubt that in a larger room at a greater listening distance, this would be a total non-issue. To be clear here, this is merely an observation, not a criticism. I do all my critical listening while seated.

Associated Equipment

The rest of the system is simple but straightforward, and very high quality. The pre-amplifier/power amp combo was Parasound’s New Classic 2100 pre-amp and 2250 power amp, conservatively rated at 200/385 watts per channel 20-20k at 0.05% THD into 8/4 Ω loads, respectively. Legacy rates the Signature SE as a 4Ω speaker with a sensitivity of 92dB 1W/1M on axis. Needless to say, there was plenty of power on tap.

The CD player was the NAD 545 with Burr-Brown DACs. Considering the modest size of the listening room, this is more than enough clean, distortion-free power to ensure that the electronics never intruded upon the listening sessions in a negative way. Speaker wire was simple 14 ga. twisted-end, formed into a “J” and wrapped around the posts of the terminals. Basic Monster interconnects between the pre/power and the CD/pre. Nothing lunatic-fringe about the connectors and speaker wire, and more importantly, nothing that could even remotely be considered a defining or distracting influence on the sound.

Listening Impressions

Before I get to the individual discs, I’d like to speak about my general impressions of the Signature SE’s sound. I’ve been at this speaker game for a long time. I’ve owned many different speakers, from bookshelf to tower to 3-piece subwoofer/satellite. I’ve worked in the U.S. loudspeaker industry for several decades. Between the excellent speakers we made at the companies I worked at, the competitive models we brought in for evaluation and seeing/hearing virtually everything of interest at the various trade shows and on field dealer visits, I’ve heard ‘em all. “Decades” is a long time. Not very much surprises me anymore and I rarely do a double-take and go “Wha…..” when I’m listening to something.

Brubeck WSS.jpgThe first weekend I had them, I listened to the Signatures for several hours, first to "audiophile" recordings just to really push them to see how good they are, then moving on to music I just like (but not necessarily great recordings). One such album I love is the Dave Brubeck album Music from West Side Story. This was a long time favorite album of my Dad's and mine. It was recorded in 1959 and my dad probably bought the LP in, say, the mid-60's. So I've been listening to the album for 55 years and it's always been a huge favorite. Let's say I've listened to it twice a month on average during that time, 24 times a year. That's 1320 times. You'd think I know the album pretty well by now, right? I've heard it at home on a series of really excellent speakers, including AR Connoisseur 50t's, AR9's, Boston Acoustics VR-M90 floorstanders and VR-M50 monitors with their PV-1000 subwoofer. Great speakers all, many regarded as top-category speakers in their day. But yesterday I "heard things I've never heard before," as that old cliché goes. There is some subtle ghosting of brushes on cymbals by drummer Joe Morello behind Paul Desmond's alto sax that was never apparent before. It just jumps out at you—you notice something very subtle and quiet, but it's unmistakable. There it is, for the first time ever. After 55 years of listening to this album (a simple Columbia recording of a piano/bass/drums/alto sax quartet), something brand new hits me over the head. Same room, same power amp, same pre-amp, same CD player, same CD, same listening position. One change: From AR9 to Legacy Signature SE.

Aaron Copeland - Fanfare for the Common Man Fanfare Telarc.jpg

Telarc recordings had a depth of bass and an uncolored midrange character about them that made them fabulous recordings, and they still are, even to this day. But the Signatures did something on the opening strains of Fanfare that has never happened in my listening room before. As that gong is struck, followed by the double 8th-note bass drum hits, the Signatures just shook the room. Totally and authoritatively, with nary the slightest trace of distortion or labored exertion. Now you have to admit, the sound of a 5-foot-diameter gong being struck at lifelike SPL levels, followed immediately by two nether-region deep bass drum impacts is not exactly a sound that is heard frequently around the house. My wife bolts into my listening room from the kitchen, the double French doors flying open.

“What was that? What is happening? Is everything ok?”

“Everything is fine. It’s just Aaron Copeland,” I said, laughing. In the future, I will be sure to warn any other occupants in the house of what sounds may be emanating from my listening room, or better yet, I’ll do my listening evals when no one else is home.

For the rest of my listening tests, I used a mixture of my own tried-and-true CDs and some new ones that James Larson has used in his tests. I’ve generally used the same CDs when I evaluate new speakers, since familiar discs are a known quantity to me and they serve as a reliable test tool, one less uncontrolled random variable to throw the results and conclusions off.

no other speakers that I’ve tested for Audioholics or had in my home as personal speakers has matched the Legacy Signatures....

But many excellent reviewers—like James, who is one of the very best—don’t subscribe to that theory. They reason, quite plausibly, that they are experienced listeners and they can make worthwhile judgments on speakers using different material each time. Besides, if there’s a great new source, why deprive yourself of listening to it on the new speakers? Therefore, this list contains some items I’ve used in past reviews, some brand-new pieces and some discs I already had but hadn’t used in any review before.

Melody Gardot - My One and Only Thrill Melody Gardot.jpg

Gardot is a relatively new female jazz vocalist with a breathy, sensual voice and a commanding musical presence. Her albums tend to be meticulously-produced affairs, with well-recorded, natural instrumental backing. My One and Only Thrill is a 2 CD album, one disc recorded in the studio, the other a segment of a live concert in Paris. It’s a 2009 recording.

The last cut on the studio disc is “Over the Rainbow.” Yes, that Over the Rainbow. Wow, what a great rendition and great recording. Taken at mid-tempo with a modern 8th-note semi-funky/Latin-esque feel, it starts with a percussion vamp and then follows with a deep and powerful bass line, before Gardot’s vocals enter the scene. She is recorded very close-up, but there isn’t a trace of harshness or edge. The Signatures convey the power and depth of the bass with emotion and absolute effortlessness, while the vocals soar unaffected, suspended over the instrumental backing.

Kandace Springs - The WomWomen who raised me.jpgen Who Raised Me

‘The Women Who Raised Me” is a 2020 vocal jazz album by newcomer Candace Springs, recorded in 96kHz/24bits resolution. The title refers to the female singers who’ve influenced Springs the most, including Norah Jones, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Ella Fitzgerald and others.  Most of the album has Springs on vocal and piano, with acoustic bass and drums, and a few tracks adding trumpet and saxophone.

It’s a particularly airy and natural-sounding recording, with Springs’ voice being a bit more forward and the instrumentation more in the background. In other words, you cannot raise the volume of the instruments to a lifelike SPL without her vocals becoming way too loud. Nonetheless, this is a great recording and Springs’ voice is captivating and sultry, never edgy or grating despite the closeness. The articulation of the standup acoustic bass throughout the album is especially noteworthy. My favorite cut is the Michel Legrand classic What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.

Roberto Fonseca - YesunRoberto Fonseca Yesun.jpg

Roberto Fonseca is a Cuban jazz pianist who uses styles and sounds from many different kinds of music but is most strongly evidenced in his Afro-Cuban approach. This album is a nice mixture of Latin vocal and percussion, with a very strong rhythmic/melodic foundation. The music is captivating and alluring.

Sonically, this is a particularly interesting album, but not for the reasons you may think. It’s a warmly-recorded album with a prominent bass end, but not subterranean deep.  The percussion and the vocals provide the articulation demo and test you’d expect from percussion-oriented music, but it’s the bass end that really puts it to the speakers.

A speaker with even the slightest low-end exaggeration and mid-bass ‘bloat’ will turn this music into a low-fi mush fiesta. Here, the Signature SE’s show that true musical accuracy is as much about what a speaker does not do as what it does. On the Legacy's, Yesun is always clean, clear and completely enjoyable.

Steely Dan - Everything Must Go Everything must go.jpg

Steely Dan certainly needs no introduction. Their music is a common meeting ground for seemingly everyone: hard-core rockers, hip jazzers, country crooners and middle-of-the-road popsters. Everyone likes Steely Dan and why not? Their music is great and their recordings are superb. They took about 20 years off between the 1980 album Gaucho and their 2000 studio comeback album “Two Against Nature.” They followed up TAN with the 2003 studio album “Everything Must Go.” Despite the unquestioned musical excellence of these last two albums, Steely Dan’s live concerts are comprised almost exclusively of tunes from their first seven studio albums, not from these last two. That’s a shame. There is some absolute gold here.

The title track on Everything Must Go is a gem. A pithy, sardonic tale about a business that has to fold up in spite if its best efforts, this cut is characterized by a noteworthy naturalness in the midrange (vocals and instruments both) and amazing bass drum impact from drummer Keith Carlock’s kit. Played at healthy SPL, Carlock’s bass drum absolutely punches you in the gut. Actually, my previous speakers (AR9s with dual sealed 12’s in each cabinet) would literally rattle the window frames if the SPL was really cranked. So will the Signatures, but with a slightly “sharper” bass character than I remember from the 9’s. With full recognition that a person’s acoustic memory is notoriously inaccurate without an instantaneous A-B, the AR9 and Signature SE seem about equal in bass depth and power, but the 9 seemed to round things off a bit. In any event, no other speakers that I’ve tested for Audioholics or had in my home as personal speakers has matched the Signatures on this track.

Ariel Ramirez/José Carreras - Misa Criolla misa criolla.jpg

This is a simply wonderful Phillips recording of classical/vocal music. The first two cuts really test a speaker’s ability to resolve low-level detail and present a three-dimensional sonic landscape. Carreras’ voice is pure and delicate, and is accompanied by very subtle tympani strokes in the background. Properly reproduced, these strokes convey a sense of the mallet striking the drumhead and the resonant tail from the strike carries on long and quietly fades off behind the vocal. The Signature SE’s proved more than up to the task of speaking quietly, but with precision and authority. Lesser speakers smear these details together; the Legacy's kept things clearly delineated and precisely focused, without any artificial hype or an exaggerated top end. This is a tough test disc, highly recommended.

One More Thing

I need to add one more thing that has made itself known after living with these speakers now for over two months of daily listening. Yeah, sure, they are impressive in all the “usual” ways: they go deep, they play loud, midrange and treble details seem to emerge that you never noticed before, etc., etc. All that kind of thing.

But a lot of my favorite music is ‘60’s-‘70’s jazz, Miles Davis/Wayne Shorter/Chick Corea/Joe Henderson/McCoy Tyner and the like, residing on singularly undistinguished recordings on Blue Note, Columbia, Milestone and so on. The Signature SEs have an amazing ability to bring life and transparency—especially in the utter clarity and delineation of stand-up acoustic bass—to these old albums that is nothing short of extraordinary. This kind of quality only becomes apparent after months of listening, long after you’ve stopped trying to impress yourself with “audiophile” recordings.


Signature SE sideThe Signature SE is a quintessential example of a properly designed system and it produces terrific bass.  Remember, this is a stereo pair with dual heavy-duty 10-inch woofers and since bass is pretty much pure mono, it’s like having a single subwoofer with four beefy 10-inch woofers, augmenting a pair of super-quality 7-inch 3-ways with dual AMTs.  Four 10’s have about the same cone area as three 12’s. That’s an awful lot of bass/air moving capability. But to my ear, it’s much better than a separate sub, because it’s all integrated into a coherent full-range tower speaker. It’s hard to imagine a passive system having much better bass than this: supremely clean and as powerful and deep on music—even artificial electronic music—as one could want.

Getting new speakers is a big deal. It’s a major acquisition, a milestone for any audiophile. I’m fairly confident that these will be my last “important, big” new speakers.

Having said that and with a bit more than a half-century of critical speaker listening and evaluation under my belt (much of that time in the professional high-fidelity speaker universe), I can say without any hesitation that these speakers are something special.

There is a unique satisfaction and respect for the company (and its designers) that occurs when a speaker hits it on all counts. The Signature SE is a total success, in my view.

  • It has an effortless, confidence-inspiring low end. Yes, I realize it’s only “good,” so to speak, into the low-mid 20Hz region and there are bigger speakers and separate subs that will go lower and play louder. But in the ‘old days’ of my teens and my Dad’s hobbyist era, the benchmark for great bass was the opening low C 32Hz organ pedal tone from Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (the “2001” theme). If a speaker could do that, it was really something. In the 1960’s, that meant the AR-3/3a and maybe the KLH 5 and 12. Not very much else. For the Signature SE, 32Hz is child’s play.
The Signature SE is a total success, in my view.
  • I am more sensitive to and demanding of a speaker having minimal midrange coloration than any other single loudspeaker trait. There’s been a long succession of speakers I’ve owned and tested that have passed through my listening room and I have no tolerance for harshness, glare, murkiness, woodiness, nasality or anything of the sort. I’ll gladly give up 10-20 Hz in the bass to get rid of a honking, bleaty, splatty midrange. The thing I admired most about my previous speakers—AR9’s—wasn’t the impressive bass (although with dual 12-inch woofers in a large sealed enclosure, their bass was indeed impressive, right down to -3dB at 28Hz, bonafide), it was their refreshing lack of objectionable midrange coloration and harshness. The Signatures easily match that standard, and with a bit more relaxed detail and clarity.
  • Workmanship and appearance—Let’s face it: To a speaker aficionado, the looks are important. We have the amusingly self-deceptive notion that a really nice speaker cabinet is somehow akin to fine furniture. To our spouse, a speaker is a speaker, an intruder that ruins the décor. No matter the quality of the finish, some four-foot tall alien box is not a net plus to the room’s appearance. It is an unequivocal minus. However, Legacy is renowned in the speaker business for producing cabinets of unusually exquisite elegance and looks. My wife thought the Signatures were beautiful and even said she wouldn’t object if someday they made it into our large family room, should we ever re-do my listening room into a first-floor master bedroom so we don’t have to deal with the stairs anymore, 10-15 years down the road. She actually ok’d the family room—where the “public” would really see them! Praise doesn’t come any higher than that.
  • Value—How can one possibly say that a speaker that approaches five figures in cost is a value? Speakers of this price are so far beyond what 99% of the public would ever buy that the idea of a $10,000 “value” is risible on its face. But I submit that value should only be considered on a relative basis, not an absolute. You compare a Mercedes to a BMW or a Lexus, you don’t compare it to a Honda Civic. So how does this $10,000 speaker compare to other $10,000 speakers?
SE no grill  SE Grill

Legacy Signature SE (no grille left pic) ; (grille right pic)

Well, for starters, I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis of every single last $10k speaker out there. But one thing is certain right off the bat: Bass usually = dollars and there are an awful lot of speakers in this $7-10k price range that have what I call “40 Hz” bass. Good, solid bass, maybe even “2001”-level bass, but not shake-you-up bass. There are lots of Aerials, Focals, Viennas, Revels, etc. that can’t come close to matching the mid-20’s Hz bass of the Legacy Signature SE. All those others are nice speakers—good looking, nice uncolored mids, yada, yada, yada. But I put forth that these Legacy's do not take a back seat to anything near their price in any area, and will you just listen to that bass! It exceeds virtually all of them. I had contemplated getting Aerial 7T’s—$9,800 MSRP and by all accounts, a really great-sounding speaker. But it has two 7-inch woofers and by Michael Kelley’s (Aerial’s founder/chief designer) own admission to me they reach only to the mid-30’s at best. And two 7-inch woofers have less than half the cone area of dual 10’s. You’d need a sub. What? 10 grand and I still need a sub? No thanks.

...the Legacy Audio Signature SE is are the best speaker that has ever graced my personal listening space.

One last thought: There is something about the coherence and unity of the sound of a truly full-range tower speaker that no combination of smaller speaker and subwoofer can match, at least not to my ear. You can recite the numbers to me all day long and talk about putting the sub physically near the L + R so there are no phase and timing issues, etc. It still doesn’t sound the same. It may sound very, very good (I have Boston Acoustics VR-M50 monitors and the Boston PV-1000 subwoofer in another system, and yes, it is excellent) but it doesn’t sound as good as a full-range tower.

Like I said earlier—I’ve been at this for over 50 years. I’ve heard them all. I know what good sound is. The speakers I was directly responsible for in concept, design and final voicing at Boston Acoustics, Bose and Atlantic Technology have sold in the millions. Multiple millions. But with that said, the Legacy Audio Signature SE is, by a wide and clearly audible margin, the best speaker that has ever graced my personal listening space.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
author portrait

Steve Feinstein is a long-time consumer electronics professional, with extended tenures at Panasonic, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology. He has authored historical and educational articles for us as well as occasional loudspeaker reviews.

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Recent Forum Posts:

kevintomb posts on January 13, 2022 07:07
Fantastic review. Loved reading every bit of it. Yes it was all subjective, but written in a way that was easy to digest, interesting, and gave a lot of insight into the reviewers world.
Epsonfan posts on August 28, 2021 16:32
The speaker from legacy & weighs a ton
AcuDefTechGuy posts on August 28, 2021 15:16
Epsonfan, post: 1501465, member: 89748
7k has to be good.
What is 7K?
Epsonfan posts on August 28, 2021 10:20
7k has to be good.
AcuDefTechGuy posts on November 02, 2020 14:08
KEW, post: 1430042, member: 41838
Sounds like a conversation you should have with Shane at RBH. AFAIK, there is no downside to active (unless it is needing an AVR with pre-outs and an amp - IOW, you can't use an inexpensive AVR which is missing pre-outs. However, that is not an issue for most here)!
Shane Rich (RBH), Bill Dudleston (Legacy Audio), the late Siegfried Linkwitz and some other audiophiles and engineers/designers prefer 100% active. But if we're talking about subjective SQ, then it's just a matter of preference.

I certainly don't see any downside to SQ for a 100% Active system.

It's just a matter of preference.

I prefer not to spend $45K+ (even after discounts) on speakers. If I had a few more $$ millions to spare, that's a different story.
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