Snell E/IIIs: Excellent full range speakers from the early '90s
Dec 17, 2011
Review by Horswispr
Rated a Very Helpful Review
A pair of Snell E/IIIs were my main speakers for several years during the 1990s. They replaced Vandersteen 2Cis, a comparably priced speaker that sounded great but didn’t draw me into the music emotionally as much as I would have liked. During that time, I also had DCM Time Windows, which served as my long-term reference.
Recommend this product?
Snell E/IIIs were introduced in 1990 and received a positive review from Stereophile in 1991. According to that review, they were designed by Kevin Voecks with the help of Canada’s National Research Council’s speaker test facilities in Ottawa, Canada. The use of a 24db/octave crossover slope was supposed to minimize driver interference, and the use of a rear tweeter was supposed to fill in of-axis response above 6khz, adding to the speaker’s sense of “air.” The speakers use a ported design, so they should be fairly efficient.
An interesting difference between Snells and most speakers of their time was that the speakers were said to have been “fine tuned” after they were assembled, such that each speaker within a pair matched the other, and a reference speaker, in frequency response to a much greater extent than was normally the case. Physically, the Snell E/IIIs were pretty straightforward medium-sized (about 35” tall x 13” wide x 11” deep) tower speakers with nice real wood veneer sides and tops, and black grilles. A continuous dial on the back allowed for relative high frequency adjustment. They cost about $1000/pair in the early 1990s. Today, a pair can be had on eBay for under $300.
Set-up and Listening.
The Snell E/IIIs are pretty straightforward to set up. They come with high quality gold binding posts that can be used for bi-amping or bi-wiring, but I always used them with the jumpers in place. They are fairly heavy, but not so much so that your average audiophile can’t move them around for optimal imaging. My system during the time I had the Snells consisted of the following: Rotel 855 CD player, AR ES-1 turntable with Shure V-15IV cartridge, conrad-johnson PV-10 preamplifier, B&K ST-202 power amplifier, and an M&K V-2B subwoofer. The Snells were set up about seven feet apart, a foot forward of the back wall.
The sound of the Snell E/IIIs was nicely balanced, with tight and deep bass, and a good sense of air around instruments. There was a touch of upper-bass warmth, but it was balanced by a crisp high end. During the time I had these speakers, I was listening to a lot of Irish Music (Altan, Silly Wizard, Enya, etc.), and a lot of Keith Jarrett Trio, as well as classical works by Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, etc. I really enjoyed the Snell E/IIIs with the Keith Jarrett Trio because the speakers were dynamic and extended at the frequency extremes. Jarrett’s piano sounded lively and real, with a good amount to “plink,” and Jack DeJohnette’s drums sounded visceral and dynamic, with good attack. Cymbals also had a lot of air around them. Gary Peacock’s bass sounded full and tight as well. These are good acoustic jazz speakers.
However, I found hotly recorded Irish music to sound a little too hot. Aggressive fiddle was a bit too far forward in the soundstage, and I found myself wanting to turn the volume level down a bit. Female vocals also had just a hint of edge on them, though there was an excellent sense of space around female vocals. On Enya’s Watermark, I found myself fiddling with the speakers’ treble controls, trying to find that perfect balance between air and smoothness. Baroque music (my favorite classical era) sounded dynamic and spacious, but not quite as lush and relaxing as I might have liked.
On male vocals, like Gordon Lightfoot, the Snell E/IIIs sounded really good. The slight bass warmth led to just the right amount of heft to male vocals without adding the "chestiness" I sometimes hear in speakers like Large Advents and ADS 810s. The slightly lively trebles meant that acoustic guitars had a nice, realistic sound and feel to them.
Compared to my (at that time) reference DCM Time Windows, the Snell Es were more dynamic, with deeper and tighter bass, and more extended highs. They also presented more inner detail than the Time Windows. But the Time Windows were a little more “magical,” with that je ne sais quoi that made the music shine through and the speakers disappear. Female vocals in particular sounded really smooth, liquid and enjoyable through the DCMs. The overall relaxation factor was also greater through the DCM Time Windows. However, the DCMs were not as dynamic and couldn’t match the Snell’s ability to play loud without strain.
Compared to Spica TC-50s, which I also had during the time I owned the Snells, the Snell E/IIIs were much more dynamic, with deeper bass and a greater sense of ease at anything above moderate listening levels. But the Spicas imaged like no other speaker I’ve owned, and their inner detail at moderate listening levels was incredible. This is really an apples/oranges comparison, really, as the Snells are full range speakers, while the Spicas are tiny wedge-shaped “monitors” that blow up if you try to play deep bass through them.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the Snells. Like the Vandersteeen 2Cis, they are excellent full range speakers that may not be the absolute best at anything, but they do everything well. If I had to offer a criticism, it would be that they didn’t sound quite as liquid (for lack of a better word) as some full-range speakers I’ve had in my system, including DCM Time Windows and Cambridge Soundworks Towers. But it’s worth mentioning that the amplification I had at the time isn’t as smooth and liquid as what I have now. It may be that the Snells were simply revealing (slight) deficiencies earlier in the system.
Given that Snell E/IIIs are quite inexpensive on eBay ($300 or so, which is hardly more than a pair of nicely refinished Dynaco A-25s), I’d recommend them to anyone trying to put together a high quality full-range system at a bargain price. I’d think they’d mate well with liquid/smooth balanced gear, including the 1970s Marantz 2230 stereo receiver or some of NAD’s receivers from the 1980s.
Amount Paid (US$): 880
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