Salk SongTower QWT Floorstanding Speaker Review
Design: MTM 2-way QWTL
Drivers: (1) Hiquphon OW2 tweeter, (2) Seas CA15RLY midwoofers
Response: 42Hz - 20KHz (+/- 3db)
Sensitivity (dB/2.83v/1M): 88db
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal
Recommended Amplification: 30 - 150 tube watts, 80 -250 solid state watts
Box Alignment: Quarter-wave transmission lineDimensions: (HWD) 44.5" H x 8" W x 11.5" D
- Highly detailed
- Great imaging
- Deep, linear bass
- Beautiful finish
- Forward presentation of some female vocals
- Soundstage could be wider
- Unconventional floor spikes
Salk SongTower Build Quality
Salk Sound is one of those manufacturers that have sort of crept onto the scene - at least to my mind. It starts with a post in a forum that sounds like, "Has anyone ever heard these speakers?" with a link. I often click on those links just to see what people are talking about. Most of the time that is the last I hear about those speakers. Not so with Salk. While you can't judge speakers on looks alone, if you could, Salk speakers would be near the top of the list. Any speaker as gorgeous as the ones that come from Salk is bound to attract attention. All of us married folk know that convincing your spouse of a speaker purchase is a lot easier if either the speakers are small and innocuous (ugh!) or look like works of art. Salk speakers are obviously the latter.
The SongTowers QWT are one of the least expensive in the Salk line starting at $1695 for satin black and $1795 for one of their "standard" veneers. Let me just say that the "standard" veneers are just as nice as many of the "premium" veneers from other manufacturers. If you are trying to match another color wood, the "standard" veneers can be dyed to match for an extra $50. The Salk speakers are all made to order so you'll be looking at a bit of a wait (30-45 days minimum) for their standard finishes. The joy, of course, of made to order speakers is that you are not limited to just the finishes in stock. Salk will use whatever veneer you'd like at a $300+cost added to the base price. That really isn't that much compared to other manufacturers. They'll even discuss with you the advantages and disadvantages of your veneer choices. But that isn't all. Salk sees the speakers they make as not theirs, but yours. They are making speakers for you. If you like a particular design but want to make some changes, they'll do it. Even if they think that the changes will be detrimental to the sound quality (like moving or removing the port), they will explain to you the sonic repercussions of your choices but if you insist, that's all it takes. There aren't many manufacturers of any size that will do that for you (unless you are some big shot). I guess to Salk Sound, we are all big shots.
First Impressions and Build Quality
You get the impression, from the onset, that the SongTowers are custom. While most speakers arrive in specialized boxes with molded foam endcaps, the Salks come in unmarked boxes shoved full of straight pieces of foam. Don't take this to mean that the packaging was inadequate - far from it. There was no empty space in the box and the speakers were well protected. I'd estimate that there was an inch and a half minimum of foam around the speakers with some areas having much more. The speakers and the plinths came in separate boxes and both arrived undamaged. You also receive a hand signed "birth certificate" with your speakers. All of the people that worked on the speaker (supposedly) sign the document. I'm sure there is more than one Salk owner with this framed in his listening room.
Unwrapping the speakers, the care and quality of the finish is evident. I opted for the Natural Curly Maple which has a very light yellow hue with a very interesting rippled grain. The plinths and that front plate around the drivers are raised and a glossy black. At the bottom of the front of the speaker is a milled aluminum plate with the Salk logo. I really like the way this looks and much prefer it over the typical plastic logo on the grill. The rear has the two five-way binding posts unceremoniously sticking out of the back (most speakers have them mounted in a plastic housing). At first I wasn't a fan of this as I was afraid that the speaker lying on its back (which I was going to have to do to remove the drivers) would damage them but the design of the plinth elevated the speaker enough as it was lying on its back so that posts were protected. I was surprised to find that the speakers were not bi-ampable. I've seen speakers at a much lower price point that are. Personally, I don't have an issue with this since I think it takes a very specific speaker design to require separate amps but most consumers would expect two pairs of binding posts. Since Salk builds their speakers to order, you could request bi-ampability though it would come at an additional cost. There is a large flared port at the bottom of the back of the tower. The front of the speaker sports the two Seas CA15RLY 5" woofers and the Hiquphon OW4 tweeter (a drop-in upgrade from the standard OW2 that adds $100 to the price of the speaker) in an MTM configuration.
The speakers are very tall (as you would expect with an MTM design in order to get the tweeter to ear height) at ~47" high. The tweeter is ~37" off the ground which is just about perfectly ear level for my seated position. The speaker itself is deep, but not very wide which makes placement a little easer than the other way around. The plinth on the sides and front only flare out an inch but the speaker feels very steady and solid. At 55lbs, your child or dog is going to have to really work hard at knocking these things over.
The finish on the SongTowers is impeccable with absolutely no flaws that I could find. The raised black area around the drivers and the plinths are a gloss black (called "black satin lacquer" by Salk) but not the high gloss "piano" finish that you see on some other speakers. The black finish is very nice and smooth and while reflective, doesn't seem to attract the amount of dust and smudges that the high gloss does. The "spikes" provided by Salk weren't really spiky - they have a sort of sparkly metal finish and are rounded at the tip. The threaded post actually detaches from the "spike" fairly easily. A little thread-locker would probably correct this. There are no provided rubber feet though the rounded tips should be fairly safe on hardwood floors.
The problem is that the spikes won't pierce a carpet which is sort of the whole point of the spikes. These seem to be mostly just for looks from what I can tell. Salk does have more traditional carpet spikes that are adjustable and much sharper available upon request (for an additional cost). The bottom of the speaker has a short raised piece which gives the speaker the appearance of floating off the plinth. This also means that if you added on some aftermarket outriggers, you'd end up with the appearance of floating off them as well. If the raised portion was part of the plinth and not the speaker, outriggers would be much more of an option.
Attaching the plinth is fairly easy though the screws are HUGE. A socket set is definitely recommended. Remember that the short side of the plinth goes towards the front of the speaker. The overhang of the back protects the binding posts if the speaker is laid on its back. The edges of the speaker are fairly sharp but not as bad as I've seen with some other Internet direct speakers. The black front plate is nicely rounded as is the top of the plinth. Personally, I am much more impressed with the looks of this speaker in person than I was when I saw it online. I thought the black faceplate looked a little weird from the online pictures but in person it looks very nice.
The grill is attached by magnets that hold it securely in place with no wobbling or vibrations during play. The magnets are flush with the back of the grill and the metal contact points are invisible on the front of the speaker. I really liked how the grill snapped securely into place with no real side to side movement possible. I never had to worry if the grill was centered because there was only one position for it. It also never seemed to mark, mar, or scratch the black finish on the faceplate. Salk recommends critical listening being done with the grills off as it can affect the sound (especially off axis). When taking measurements I noted that there was a slight change in the response with the grills on, but whether or not this would be audible is subject to debate.
Taking the speakers apart is only possible from the front by removing the drivers. I confirmed that the woofer was in fact the Seas CA15RLY though the tweeter was the Hiquphon OW4 instead of OW2. As we mentioned, Salk says that the OW4 is a drop-in upgrade/replacement for the OW2. The cabinet is constructed out of 3/4" MDF with three large braces up the length. The braces are all slightly inset into the cabinet and glued into place. At 55 lbs a piece, the SongTowers are well braced and very inert.
All the internal wiring was done with 14 AWG silver coated oxygen-free copper wire. The Hiquphon OW4 tweeter is enclosed in its own plastic backbox obviously provided by the manufacturer. The wiring for the tweeter is soldered on directly. The crossover uses very high quality air core inductors properly oriented to avoid crosstalk coupling, and audiophile polypropylene capacitors. At first I thought Salk was using hot melt for holding the parts down. It turns out that this was not hot melt but heavy-duty construction adhesive. A few years ago they started having problems with shipping damage. The cabinets arrived just fine, but heavy air coils were being ripped off of crossover boards (especially by UPS). They experimented with many different solutions until they came up with this adhesive. Once the adhesive off-gases (in about 24 hours) it bonds so well you have to use a chisel to remove components from the crossover board. This, coupled with the liberal use of tie-wraps has virtually eliminated crossover shipping damage. In fact, they have had zero failures in the two years or so they have used their present system!
SongTower Setup and Measurements
After you attach the plinth and spikes you are pretty much ready to go. Other than the other issues with the spikes, you don't really have any adjustments to be made with them. Most spikes have an adjustment nut that you can use to lock in a particular length, but not so with these spikes. You should be able to unscrew them if you need to level the speaker but you won't have any way of locking them into place unless you add a nut of your own. My room has a medium pile carpet which meant that all this was moot for me as the speaker sat nicely on the carpet with no wobble.
You'll immediately notice that the tweeter is slightly off to the side. This is done to control diffraction artifacts. The manual states that the tweeter should be oriented to the inside when setting up the speakers. The five-way binding posts are very accessible due to their mounting orientation and this makes for a very easy setup. I tried a number of different toe-in configurations and found that they tolerated almost any amount of toe-in except none (if that makes sense). With the speakers pointed directly forward, I heard a definite "hole" in the center during side to side pans. A moderate amount of toe-in pretty much eliminated the effect. Even with a drastic toe-in (directly at me) the speakers still sounded very good and the imaging tightened up even more. I'd suggest experimentation on your own but I went with a moderate toe-in (the cross-point about 3 feet behind my seated position).
Measurements & Testing
The QWT in the SongTower QWT name stands for Quarter Wave Transmission. The design is claimed to be a quarter wave tube variant of a transmission line cabinet but it doesn’t seem apparent to me. Without getting too technical, a quarter wave transmission line speaker design is all about increasing bass response above and beyond what you might expect from a ported design through the use of an extended tube. If you open up a conventional transmission tube speaker, you'll see a labyrinth with bends and corners everywhere (and usually only one driver but that's beside the point). One of the functions of all these turns is as a low pass filter… wait, I'm getting technical again. Let's put it this way, regardless of twists and turns inside of the box, in order to be considered a transmission line, it needs to have an open end and a closed end. If you stretch this definition, you could argue that any enclosure with a length is a transmission line. It'd be hard to make but you could make it (and not a lot of people would agree with you). The fact is that the SongTowers were supposed to be based on Martin King's work. The presence of a flared port pretty much negates this and makes the SongTowers just a calculated bass reflex design (like most other speakers).
Let's be clear here, I don't care what design they used or why they used it - this isn't a slam against the SongTowers in the least. They could call them the SongTower KoAS (King of All Speakers) or QWT (Quantum Wave Teleporter) for all I care. But, I feel it is important that we shed a little light on what exactly was the design in use (since it is part of the name). As you'll see later in the review, the SongTowers do exhibit quite a bit of bass and are highly linear. In the end that is what is most important.
Using the Sencore SP395A FFT Audio Analyzer, I measured the SongTower's in room on and off axis frequency response with 1/12th octave resolution.
SongTower 1 Meter Frequency Response (1/12th Octave) On Axis
SongTower 1/2 Meter Frequency Response (1/12th Octave)
Pink - On axis, Orange - 15 degrees off axis, Yellow - 30 degrees off axis
Disregarding the graph below 200Hz (due to in-room measurement inaccuracies) the response looks quite linear with a very smooth off axis response. The slightly recessed mid frequencies implies the tonal response of this speaker is a bit laid back or relaxed.
The Sencore consistently measures speakers about 1 ohm lower than they actually are. The Salk SongTowers present a fairly easy load that will work with most mid-fi receivers (even though it does dip into the 4 ohm range). Increased amplification would probably be appreciated for those with larger rooms. Once again, you can notice a saddle point centered around the loudspeaker's tuning frequency of 35Hz which is more typical in bass reflex enclosures than transmission Lines. In a true transmission line, you'd see a smooth line coming off that 67Hz peak and not the dip at 35Hz and last peak at 25Hz.
Salk Listening Tests and Conclusion
When reviewing speakers, I go through a particular ritual. I hook them up and just start living with them for a while. This satisfies the "break-in" crowd that believes that speakers need some sort of break-in (like new shoes I guess). I'm not one of those people. I always note my first reaction to the speakers to compare with my final evaluation. In this case, my first reaction was a raised eyebrow in surprise at what I heard. My first blush was a good one - a rare feat in my book. The official review was done with both a Denon AVR-2307CI powering a Rotel 1085 and the Emotiva RSP-1/RPA-1 combo. The Salk speakers seemed to play well with both combinations. Any mid-fi receiver should have no problems powering these speakers.
My next step is usually to put on a couple of albums with side to side pans to determine placement and toe-in. That done, I grabbed my trusty Rives Test CD II to determine if these claims about their bass response was all hooey or had a basis in reality. As I stuck the CD in and started it playing, I gathered together the stuff I'd need for the evaluation - paper, pen, laptop, etc. Much to my shock, I heard a low rumble. The first track on the CD is a 20Hz tone and I was hearing something from the SongTowers! Shocked, I turned around and checked it out. Sure, some of it was a bit of port noise (only really discernable from up close) but much was actual sound. The volume was low (probably 20dB lower than the rest I was about to play) but it was there. The second tone was 25Hz and the volume increased dramatically. On the fourth tone (40Hz) the speakers really hit their stride. Bass extension - oh yeah.
But extension isn't what it is all about. Plenty of speakers can honk notes at you without any hint of musicality. My reference speakers are the RBH TK-5CTs (cousins to the EMP 30T) which retail for under $1000. The TK's have served me well and have held up against speakers way above their price range. One thing they have going for them is a side-firing 8" woofer which provides a tremendous amount of bass. Sure the prices are different as are the sizes (the RBH's are about 75% the size of the Salks) but both tout their bass response. Plus, I can't have two speakers in the house and not compare them.
Yello - The Eye
I hate that I use this album so much but I do. It just has what no one else does - tons of tracks that use phase variance to simulate sound moving around the room. I often (and did in the case) use this album when determining placement and toe-in. There are also a lot of tracks that have a good amount of bass (and bass sweeps) as well as rich female vocals. The SongTowers did well with this material presenting a good amount of bass extension while keeping a richness to the sound that was quite evident. At first I thought the RBH's beat out of the Salk speakers in extension but decided that I was hearing more boom and not lower notes. The Salk speakers seemed more natural in their bass notes than did the RBH TKs. The overall presentation was very lifelike (for the type of electronic music it is) without being overly bright. The soundstage wasn't the widest I've heard but it was sufficiently large for the space.
Lorna Hunt - All in One Day
The first track on this album is a very good song for female vocals as and has a nice deep kick drum. Starting with the drum, I was surprised at the realism. At a high volume, the bass was both lifelike and tactile. The SongTowers seemed to have very little problem pushing out a lot of bass without any sign of strain or port noise. Lorna's voice on this track tends to be a bit fatiguing and the Salks didn't hide this. Not only that, but her vocals were extremely forward. Like "in your lap" forward. Something about the range of her voice seemed to put her very far forward in the soundstage (more so than I have ever heard before). The effect was a little strange and at times unnatural.
Rusted Root - When I Woke
This album is absolutely brutal to speakers - tons of percussion and instruments all playing over the top of each other. Add to that, a male and two female singers in most songs. Many speakers will degenerate into a muddy mess when presented such challenging material. Not only did the Salks stay together, but they presented a more coherent picture than I have ever heard before. I was not hearing things I didn't know I wasn't supposed to not hear (confused? It makes sense, believe me). Where I was used to a "full" sound, I now recognized it as a "muddy" presentations on lesser speaker systems. The Salks had an unbelievable separation between each and every note. You might be thinking I just could have said they were "detailed" and left it at that. Well, sure, but what fun is that?
Bang & Olufsen Vol. XIII - The Sound of Perfection
Yet another album I use way too much in reviews. Here, I was looking for a number of things including female versus male vocals and detail. Once again I noticed that female vocals were closer to me in the soundstage than the male vocals (not as bad as before but still noticeable). I also noted a number of instruments that were much more lifelike than I was used to. There was a kick drum that had the exact right note, a high hat with just the right cling, and more. I also spent some time comparing the performance of the RBHs to the Salks. I hate to put down the RBHs but I have to say in comparison to the Salks they were muddy. There, I said it. Of course, remember the RBHs are less than half the price of the Salks so I would have hoped they would perform worse (even though in the past they compared favorably to higher priced speakers). I also compared the bass on the RBHs to the Salks and found that I honestly thought they sounded remarkably similar. The RBHs seemed a little boomy at times but the Salks seemed a little weak at others. I kept scratching out my notes and adding new ones just to change my mind the next moment. I did think that the linearity of the Salks was better and their bass detail was better at lower volumes. On the high end, it was no comparison. The Salks crushed the TKs in detail - there was just so much more there with the Salks. That being said, I still think the RBH's are a great value at their price. I also think that the Salks are an equally good value at their price point. Since the TK's received (at my recommendation) the Audioholics 2007 Product of the Year Tower speakers under $1k award, this is high praise indeed.
While I rarely gush over speakers as much as I have the Salk SongTower QWTs, please note that they are not without their imperfections; just like the imperfections I could find on a supermodel if anyone would ever let me close enough to inspect one. The imaging is very good, the bass very deep and linear, and the detail is amazing. Female vocals sometimes come off as too forward, the soundstage is not as wide as I'd have hoped, and the speakers themselves are pretty large. Overall, though, the Salks are a very, very good speaker in a very, very pretty package. With the option of choosing your own veneer and upgrading drivers, there is a pair for everyone.
$1695 ($1895 as tested)
2700 Long Winter Lane
Oakland, MI 48363
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