January 2006

The original Commodore Record Shop in New York City was just nine feet wide. If you were a jazz fan, those were the best nine feet in the city.” [David Hinckley, from his article published in the NY Daily News, 11/10/04] 

“The Commodore Music Shop was a wondrous cluttered hole-in-the-wall where you would go at lunchtime or after work and hear tumultuous talk and brave new music.[George Frazier, music critic]

At one point in his brilliantly funny and poignant one-man play, 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal talks about how as a child, he saw his first movie perched in the lap of Billie Holiday in a movie theatre in New York City. At the end of the movie (which incidentally starred Jack Palance, who Crystal would much later honor as host of the Oscars), the hero leaves a small boy who then cries out for him to return. At this point, Crystal remembers looking up at Billie Holiday from his place in her lap to ask her whether the hero would ever return. To this, Holiday simply shook her head and stated in her classic bluesy tone: “That man ain’t NEVER coming back.” 

It was Billy Crystal’s uncle, Milt Gabler, who established the legendary Commodore Record Shop in New York City in the late 1930’s and went on to record some of the greatest jazz and Dixieland bands of that time on his Commodore Records label. In 700 Sundays, Crystal tells stories of joining his father, Jack Crystal, working alongside his uncle at the Commodore Shop, and how as a child, he attended many of the great late night jam sessions held every Sunday evening at the Central Plaza ballroom, with such greats as Coleman Hawkins, Eddie Condon, “Hot Lips” Page, “Pee Wee” Russell and many others. Billie Holiday was singing one evening in such a jam session when she was approached by Abel Meeropol, who had written a song about lynching in the South, which would later become Holiday’s famous rendition of “Strange Fruit.” Columbia refused to record such a controversial song, but it was the courageous Milt Gabler (after hearing Holiday sing it one evening in the basement of the record shop), who negotiated with Columbia to allow Holiday to record it on his own Commodore Record label. 

In 700 Sundays, Crystal also recounts the many nights his father would spend listening to his cherished record collection at home, in the small living room of his childhood house. I would bet that Jack Crystal and Milt Gabler would have loved to have listened to a pair of Silverline Audio’s SR11 mini-monitor speakers. These talented guys clearly lived for the spontaneity of live music and for the recreation of this experience in their recording endeavors. Similarly, if you enjoy hunkering down in your own small listening space at home to truly listen and explore your favorite recordings, the SR11 is a great companion to join you on such a musical journey. 

First, the SR11 is designed to sing in small and modest spaces and its beautiful appearance and compact technical design fits admirably into the category of classic mini-monitor virtues. The SR11 incorporates a 4” carbon fiber mid/woofer that crosses over to a 1” soft-dome tweeter at 3.5kHz, reaching maybe half or more an octave higher than other minimonitor designs. The nominal impedance is 8 ohms and sensitivity is rated at 87dB. On the rear of the SR11 is a 1.75” port and a pair of gold-plated 5-way binding posts to allow bi-wiring, which is absolutely recommended. The SR11 is a beautiful pyramid shaped contender, weighing in at 12 lbs with excellent fit and finish. My review pair came in high gloss black that would catch any discerning eye, and when placed on my 24 inch Sound Anchor stands, they made a polished and unobtrusive presence in my small (8’ x 12’) listening space. Quality speaker stands are a must, as well as good height to get the tweeter up to near ear level. Placement of the SR11 was easy as Boston Cream pie: about 1’ from side and rear walls, with definite improvements as they were placed further out from boundaries. My listening position was about 6’ from my chair to the tweeters, nice and close to discerns every nuance this speaker offered. 

I partnered the SR11 with both hybrid and solid-state integrated amplifiers. On the solid-state side, the folks at Harman Specialty Group, here in Bedford, MA generously offered the venerable Mark Levinson 383 integrated ($7500) for this review. The 383 is rated at 100W into 8 ohms and has a dual mono design where left and right audio circuits are powered by separate power supplies. In its preamp section, the 383 disconnects unused input signals and ground connections as well as converts unbalanced input signals to balanced signals all the way up to the amplifier’s final current gain stage. It has always been a favorite of mine, producing wonderful full fledged sound with great transient power and a knack for getting into the inner details of the music. I also paired the SR11 with the beautiful and sophisticated Pathos Logos integrated, which combines a pair of Sovtek 6922 input tubes with three pairs of MOSFET output transistors per channel, delivering about 18 watts of pure Class A and rated at 110 W into 8 ohms. 

Swing That Music!
Now, let’s talk about the sound and music produced from the SR11, and start with one of Milt Gabler’s own Commodore Recording Label favorites, the great Coleman Hawkins. (I was fortunate to hear sax great Jimmy Heath play at Berklee College of Music here in Boston recently, and he played a tune he dedicated to Hawkins, entitled “The Song of the Saxophone,” joking with us that “Hawkins was THE master, LONG BEFORE Coltrane.”) Prestige has recently issued a Profile disc on Hawkins [PRCD 5804-2] and right from the get-go, on “I’m Beginning To See The Light,” Hawkins’ broad and swinging tenor sax takes center stage with the SR11 in place. This swinging tune involves both Hawkins and a large ensemble of players, so it was a good test of the SR11’s mettle in imaging and soundstage. The SR11’s imaging was a sheer delight, with Hawkins blowing off on the left, with perfect solidity, accurate dimension and rock solid stability. The stage extended uniformly between the speakers and even extended a foot or two behind and to the near sides of the speaker planes. Joe Thomas extended his trumpet solo into the stratosphere without any hype or glare on the right side of the stage and Vic Dickenson chimed in with a plunging trombone solo, caressing slightly off to Thomas’ right with proper rounded brass tone. The range employed by the trumpet, trombone and tenor sax on this cut highlighted another great virtue of the SR11: it sung and swung with one articulate and lifelike presentation. There was a smoothness, a coherent naturalness as one first encountered Hawkins’ ingenious honking way down low on his tenor sax, continuing up through his melodious full midrange and finally, to his soaring, grain free sultan of swing on top. You may need to get some ventilation after all of the ambiance and smoky delivery that Hawkins generates on his sensuous take of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” which the SR11 portrayed with all of its claustrophobic weight in the midrange and treble, offering a natural, satiny finish to this great version. Lifelike and true is the best way to describe the SR 11’s delivery of Hawkins’ mastery, with spot on imagery that Milt Gabler would have really dug in his 1940’s living room. 

Moving from Hawkins to that modern day swing and boogie we call rock and roll (gestated from that earlier swing era) the SR 11 was a surprisingly moving performer, even with its understandable limitations on deep bass extension and dynamics for such a small monitor design. I am reluctant to tell you about my own desk pounding and air guitar pyrotechnics as I listened transfixed to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’sromp through “Be The Rain!” the final pumping cut from Greendale [Reprise 485332] through the ML 383 integrated and the SR11 in my small office space. Even at a relatively high volume, the SR11 showed minimal compression and congestion, with Young’s signature guitar warmth and power cords inundating my senses. Everything was natural and highly visceral: taut bass quality (didn’t miss those last few bass octaves), cymbals splashy and naturally metallic, (although a bit too hot at high volume) and Young’s exhortations through a megaphone (“I believe in action, when push comes to shove!”) nicely portrayed over a stable, dynamic and free flowing power trio, imaged to perfection. The SR11 can boogie with the best of them in such modest surroundings and again, its virtues of seamless presentation in the frequencies where meaningful music happens just gets to the core of musical intention – here, Young’s anger, rage and defiant calls to “Save The Planet.” 

Turning from electric to acoustic bass driven music, please grab a copy of Brian Bromberg’s Wood [A440 Music 4001] if you haven’t heard this amazing player and his dynamic trio. On Bromberg’s solo take on the another classic, “Come Together,” the SR11 really shone a dynamic bass side, complete with fine inner detail of hand slapping wood, great harmonic richness of long held bass notes and Bromberg’s expressive strides up and down the neck of his instrument. Tautness, natural inner detail and technique were the keys to explore here, not necessarily depth. With the tube based Pathos Logos powering the SR11, there was an added dimension of warmth in the midbass which some might prefer to the proficient clear quickness that the ML 383 brought to the show. Either with tubes or solid-state, the SR depiction of bass was consistently lifelike with great inner detail to explore. 

When that tweeter joins the fray above 3.5 kHz, get ready for some fast and clear treble from the SR11.On my favorite theme song, “I Won’t Grow Up,” from Rickie Lee Jones’ wonderful Pop Pop [Geffen 24426], Jones’ fragile and playful soars were portrayed with clarity and nuance, with not a hint of softness. Ditto for other female vocalists, like the tender Rosa Passos in her great duets with Ron Carter on Chesky’s Entre Amigos [SACD291] where again the SR11 conveyed an uncanny fragility up top, with no candlelight or added softness. Some might prefer a bit more warmth up top, but I enjoyed the quiet and quickness and again, sheer naturalism, of these female vocalists. Partnered with the Pathos Logos, there was a beautiful delicacy to the SR11’s treble, which some might find a bit too dry. I thought it more liquid and very enticing and natural. 

Moving from female vocals to the Stradivaris, don’t forget about James Ehnes and his magnificent recordings on the Analekta Label. The way Ehnes plays his violin, (an ex Marsick Stradivarius of 1715) on French Showpieces-Concert Francais [Analekta FL23151], I am sure he could have brought something new to any of Milt Gabler’s free flowing jam sessions!Here, at the conclusion of Saint-Saens’ poignant “Havanaise,” Ehnes creates a delicate evaporation of the melody with trailing high treble notes, (behind a soft beating tympani), and the SR11 presented this moment in breathtaking inner detail, fragility and perfect quiet. Sure, the depth and breadth of the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec is not as big and bold as with larger speaker designs, but within the confines of its smaller, intimate scale, the SR11 did a wonderful job of placing all woodwinds, brass and strings in proper perspective in a lifelike stage in my small listening space. The quiet, clean presentation of the SR11 made for great inner detail exploration, whether it was the plucks of the violas or Ehnes’ rich timbre. 

Take It Home!
Milt Gabler once said: “If you love jazz, you can’t stand still.” He was referring to both learning about the innovators of jazz as well as those who came before, the writers and stylists who inspire and teach the younger generation of musicians. If you too enjoy this kind of musical exploration, the SR11 is an exceptional piece. It allows music to flow from midbass to treble in a thoroughly natural way, with top-of-its-class imagery and lifelike presence. At its price point, the SR11 has a lot of competition. In comparison to other very good monitor designs I have spent time with, including the Von Schweikert VR-1 ($995) and the Totem Model One ($1600), the SR11 places tops in its class in terms of natural presentation, quiet and lifelike treble and imaging. I would opine that the VR-1 and Totem both were warmer in the treble, with also more warmth and spaciousness in the mid bass regions. However, the SR11 strikes me as a more integrated champ, with all parts singing in a cohesive voice, extremely lifelike. It has been awhile since I heard the Rebel2 monitor from Penaudio ($1500), which also possesses a natural, quiet and magical treble region. However, I would still place the SR11 as the pinnacle of what I have heard to date for coherence from top to bottom in the frequency range it offers. So, get back to your special small listening room, hunker down for awhile and put this peach of a mini-monitor on a pair of quality stands and let it capture you. If I could, I would send a pair up to Milt Gabler and Jack Crystal to let them enjoy them too! Thanks for the legacy, Commodore!

Nelson Brill


SR11 Specifications
Design: (Bass Reflex; 2 way)
Drivers: 1” x 1’’ soft dome tweeter and 1” x 4’’ paper midwoofer
Frequency Response: 48-22,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 87dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover Frequency: 3.5 kHz
Recommended Power:15-200 wrms
Dimension: (H x W x D): 12” x 8” x 10”
Weight: 12 lbs.
Finishes: Rosewood, Sycamore, High Gloss Black, Red, Racing Green, White
Speaker Connections: Bi-wired
Price: $1,500

Company Information
Silverline Audio Technology, Inc.
935 Detroit Ave. Suite C
Concord, CA. 94518, USA
Tel: 925-825-3682
Fax: 925-256-4577


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