Whiter than white

Germany's number one speaker brand makes a welcome return to the UK. Paul Messenger tries the pick of the bunch

Although black is the fashionable finish in loudspeaker-land, albeit with high-gloss highlights, it’s just one of just two alternatives available for this speaker (the other being high-gloss white!) This is such a beautifully styled, finished and presented loudspeaker, it clearly comes from a major brand with plenty of muscle. The Canton name might not be well known here in Britain, but it was founded back in 1972 and is Germany’s leading hi-fi speaker brand, with a large collection of different ranges in its portfolio.

The latest contenders

The Chrono SLs are the latest range to join the ranks, effectively upgrading and updating the original Chrono models, bringing much sharper and more modern-looking styling, alongside engineering improvements in enclosure, crossover and drive unit performance. By virtue of using relatively small bass and midrange drivers, the Chrono SL580 DC has a slim front view, while the enclosure edges are all slightly rounded, avoiding any sharp edges. Take the grilles off the front and the impressive row of shiny polished-alloy driver trims, that almost fill the front panel, supply plenty of bling. A neat trick is that the grilles can also be fixed onto the back as well as the front, so if you lose the sunglasses or children come to play, you can easily put these back on the front and cover up the drivers.

This three-way design uses twin 160-millimetre bass units, reflex-ported through the base of the enclosure. Shiny shock-absorbing spacers separate the enclosure from a small plinth, providing some mechanical decoupling and allowing the port to function. However, the plinth only barely increases the stability footprint of the enclosure itself, and the ‘spikes’ are really just blunt studs and are not too good for carpet-penetration.

Moving the metal

All four of the drive units used here have metal diaphragms. The single midrange driver is mounted at the top of the front panel, above the tweeter and in its own 4.1-litre sub-enclosure. The bass and midrange drivers appear to be identical, with concave dust covers creating dish-shaped diaphragms, roughly 98mm in diameter and using Canton’s proprietary S-shaped injected rubber surrounds.

The 25mm aluminium/manganese tweeter dome sits within a shaped and polished alloy front plate, which probably acts as a waveguide to control dispersion. A fixed mesh grille, that protects the dome from accidental damage, appears to incorporate a central ‘blocking’ annulus which presumably provides some phase compensation.

Fed by two pairs of well-insulated socket/binder terminals, linked when required by brass rods, the necessarily complex crossover network splits the audio band into three sections at nominal 300Hz and 3kHz frequencies, using 12dB/octave filters throughout. The bi-wire/-amp option of twin terminal pairs used here separate the bass section from the mid/treble.

Sheer authority

The SL580 was fed primarily from a system comprising a Naim NAC552 preamp and NAP500 power amplifier, driven from a CDS3/555PS CD player, a Magnum Dynalab MD106T FM tuner and a Linn/Rega/Soundsmith vinyl record player.

Clearly best kept well clear of walls, the measurements indicate that the sound might suffer from some excess warmth and richness, but it didn’t seem to be the case subjectively. There is ample punch and thump when the program content requires it, but it is invariably clean and free from unwanted enclosure colorations. Even male voices seem impressively free from chestiness or thickening.

However, the Chrono SL580 does seem a little lacking in weight, scale and sheer authority. Since there’s always the option to trade off sensitivity for absolute bass extension and since the sensitivity here is unusually high, one might query whether it might have been better to have accepted somewhat lower sensitivity in the interests of increasing the bass extension. One might also point out that brands sometimes deliberately opt for high sensitivity, as the ‘louder’ speaker often sounds more impressive when demonstrated under showroom conditions.

Shiny character

Bass end notwithstanding, the overall character here, though essentially neutral and attractively open, is also a tad ‘shiny’ and tends to focus the attention firmly and consistently on the upper midband.

Some try and attribute a ‘shiny’ character to the use of metal diaphragms, but this is by no means proven and seems more likely to be merely a myth. In fact, the more likely cause here is the minor unevenness seen in the measurements, especially in the relatively strong presence region (1-4kHz). Rather, metal diaphragms seem to give a clean sound with a notably low ‘noise’ floor, though fine details like instrumental textures sometimes seem suppressed.

The strong presence band does tend to be the most obvious feature here. It means that voices in general and speech, in particular, sound very clear and articulate, even when the speakers are playing very quietly and that is a worthwhile plus.

However, the down side is that things can often become a bit edgy, uncomfortable and even aggressive when the volume is turned up. While that explicit clarity at low listening levels is often welcome, this is not the sweetest speaker around and the presence dominance can become uncomfortable and somewhat fatiguing after a time.

The drive units and the tweeter are set somewhat below seated ear height, so the stereo image is rather lacking in both height and room-filling ‘airiness’. On the other hand, image focus and lateral positioning is exceptionally precise, though again the focus element seems to be concentrated on the midband and presence. Consequently there is a slight tendency to ‘spotlight’ features at the front of the soundstage, whereas low frequency and depth positional information seems rather more vague.

Good enclosure control and high quality drive unit design help provide a very wide dynamic range with a notably low ‘noise floor’. Dynamic expression and transient ‘bite’ is less impressive, as the midrange tends to lead the way here and the bass seems to follow in its wake.

There’s no denying the engineering competence of this Chrono SL580 DC. Value for money might not be dramatically high, but it still seems respectable enough and pretty much par for the course for a premium brand with premium presentation and proprietary high-class engineering.

The Chrono SL580 DC delivers an exceptionally clean overall sound, though the lack of genuine bass authority remains a pity. The tonal balance might well be a little too upfront for some tastes and although it can certainly be driven hard and loud with confidence, this is a speaker that’s happiest when operating at relatively modest volumes.

LIKE: Smart modern styling and a very clean sound
DISLIKE: Sounds a bit shiny and forward; lacks bass weight and authority
WE SAY: Clean and shiny in both appearance and sound, this  smart package leads with its midband and shows plenty of bling

DETAILS
PRODUCT: Canton Chrono SL 580 DC
ORIGIN: Germany
TYPE: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker
WEIGHT: 17kg
DIMENSIONS: (WxHxD)  170x990x290mm
FEATURES:
•25mm aluminium/manganese tweeter
•2x160mm aluminium/wave bass drivers
•160mm aluminium/wave mid driver
•Twin socket/binder terminal pairs
DISTRIBUTOR: Computers Unlimited
TELEPHONE: 020 8358 9593
WEBSITE: unlimited.com