JustingNZ

IPL Acoustics S4TL speakers

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I am another happy IPL customer. I thought I should build the S5TL speakers as our room is quite large, but Ivan at IPL and another customer of his made it reasonably clear that I should build the S4TLs.

Yes it is now July 2018, and I finally completed initial build and assembly of the IPL S4TLs I ordered in May. These use the Hivi 8" driver and the Fountek CD 3 Ribbion tweeter. I wanted these to replace my old 1997 TDL RTL2 speakers which are a similar sort of Reflex / Transmission line design. I was looking for more punch in the gut and better accuracy in low bass, and I hoped for greater clarity in mid-range and treble. Ivan has been refining this S4TL design for many years, maybe 20-25 years now, and perhaps now the cross-over and units selected are as near to perfectly matched as is possible. I followed his design exactly.

 
I have played them now for about 5 weeks and tested them against different speakers in different rooms. For comparison, we are talking about my TDL RTL2s, and a pair of approximately 2000 vintage Tannoy dual monitor gold HPD 15" speakers in 150 Litre Tannoy enclosures.
 
The IPL speakers are amazing, they reveal so clearly things that were only hinted at by other speakers, and even earbuds. 
They have such tight control over the bass, there is not a hint of boom, but the low bass is there. All the way down low, it plays musically, with no hint of the "sameness" boom you get from speakers with less range at the low end. Anything which previously sounded like it was at the low limits of my TDLs or the big Tannoys is now delivered tunefully, calmly and distinctly by the IPLs.


Massive Attack's "Protection" album is full of soft and soggy and very deep bass.  The IPLs maintain complete control over what really is very bass-heavy stuff, while providing such accuracy in mid range and treble that we were immediately hearing things we had not really noticed before. Again, the bass notes are clearly presented as separate, musical and melodic notes, always.


Police's "Walking on the Moon" (re-mastered) has such incredible attack on the pedal drum, it sounds like it is being hit with a wooden stick, not a soft pedal - there is a real crack to the impact that really belongs - you can hear it that way on headphones and earbuds. Sting's high tenor is all there, but with no hint of strain.

 
They are just as revealing of treble and mid-range. I heard fine and fast  cymbal work in "Sultans of swing" that I had never noticed, even on my earbuds. This occurs at the very end of the track just a few seconds from the end where the final short guitar solo is at its peak, yet there in all that loud sound is the super-quick, (maybe treble-time) tapping of that fine cymbal sound. Of course, now that I have heard this on the IPLs, I can tell that the sound is present in the earbuds and those other speakers, but I only hear it now because I know it is there, and where to listen for it. The clarity yet smoothness of the tweeter is amazing - I cannot imagine improving on that tweeter sound with these speakers - that balance seems to be exactly right - accuracy and attack without ear-piercing aggression or undue sibilance.


The mid-range is controlled and delivered very well by the Hivi 8" unit and the crossover appears to be invisible. We were able to listen to "difficult" music that screeched at you on other speakers - with the IPLs it sounds pleasant and controlled even at very high volume. We had a fun time dragging out "difficult" songs that we loved, and playing them really, really loud, without needing to turn the volume down when the previously screechy section of the song arrived. Prior to the IPL test, we always reduced volume for these passages.


Words to describe these speakers... revelatory, controlled and authoritative, but most of all, just plain musical. There is no colouration that I can hear, this is particularly obvious when listening to news reports and other human voice soundtrack from TV or movies - the speakers do not have any boxiness or bassy colour to them.
We have played these very, very loud, and also very soft in two different rooms. Both are big enough to hold these speakers, but they have quite different brightness. I have found that their positioning is both important and variable, it is worth moving them around a bit as even an inch or two  can make a big difference TO ALL ASPECTS of the sound. 


In my room, the speakers work well in two places - 12" away from the back wall, (not 10" or 15") and funnily enough, they work fine just 4" away from the back wall. Weird, but then again our room is a weird shape with a very high ceiling. Currently they are sitting 4" away (which is the nicest for WAF) and sound just about as good as they do at the 12" position. In my friend's room, they were also fine at about 12" from the back wall.


Am I happy? Well yes, these speakers have delivered everything that I was hoping for. Clarity and musicality, also the "feel" of very much bigger units than they actually are. There is a certain "Grandeur" to the sound of the 15" Tannoy Dual monitor golds, which while not necessarily accurate, is very attractive, and these IPL speakers go incredibly close to replicating that same sense of grandeur in almost every track we tried, but with a sound stage and an accuracy that is obviously far greater than that delivered by the delightful Tannoys.


I took advice from a person who has built 3 IPL kits, and I stuck rigidly to Ivan's design. The build was not as easy as it is for those with full kits from IPL. Because I live in NZ, I could not afford to ship the 50Kgs of MDF here. I had help with cutting MDF, but this was not a CNC machine - just a big table saw, and I had to cut the various holes etc myself. Nonetheless, the build was easy enough, the hardest thing for me being the soldering of the cross-over, and the fitting of the bracing and the foam. These were not really difficult to do, but it was fussy work for somebody with such limited DIY and electronics/soldering knowledge as myself.

 
I have seen comments from some people suggesting that these speakers have some lack of this or the other in the sound, or that they are "woolly" but I really think that must be room issues, incorrect stuffing, or placement issues (it makes a GIGANTIC difference with these speakers). Maybe earlier versions were not as well matched with cross-over and stuffing as they are now. I say this because the accuracy and separation of the instruments with these speakers is incredibly accurate, more so than our other speakers. The sound stage with earbuds is obviously more distinct, but the sound is not otherwise noticeably different, and these IPLs truly deliver something close to earbud accuracy and "crack" on drums,  and all other instruments, but with real gut-punch IF IT BELONGS. The IPLs do seem more revealing than the earbuds, but I do not really understand how that could be possible. I can hear the sounds on the earbuds, but had not noticed them before hearing it on the IPLs.


I have found that at times the IPLs sound LESS bassy than the other speakers we compared them to, but that seems to be at points to do with resonance and the limitations of the one-note sound at the lower end of those speakers with less range. The IPLs always sound more controlled and tighter. There is no point where the IPL speakers boom at you. So to our ears, they are the exact opposite of "woolly". Also, I may be just imagining this, but it seems to me that they did seem to get a little better once they had done a bit of work, though they were obviously and extravagantly amazing the very first time we connected them.


Again, am I happy? Yes, but these things show EVERYTHING, so trying to listen to Layla (Derek and the Dominoes) is now really hard, because you can tell just how awful the recording is, and that is the same for a lot of the music I love. Be warned, these are so accurate that they will show all the badnesses in your system, from source to speaker. I did not fully comprehend this warning when I read it myself, but it is oh so true. If you are thinking of upgrading some old speakers, and you want hifi, then these are for you. If you want to listen to poor quality recordings with the same pleasure you did before, then forget it and stick with what you have. Many of you will probably already have speakers better than these, but for the money that I spent, we have a very good pair of speakers with an extended and smooth frequency response, and brilliant speed.

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Super Wammer

Thanks for a very thorough  review. I do not live far from Ivan, and have often thought of going there to listen to some of his speakers, I may well go now after that review.:^

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31 minutes ago, greybeard said:

Thanks for a very thorough  review. I do not live far from Ivan, and have often thought of going there to listen to some of his speakers, I may well go now after that review.:^

That would be interesting. Maybe an active IPL project...?

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Super Wammer
29 minutes ago, Tony_J said:

That would be interesting. Maybe an active IPL project...?

Yes that would. His products seem to get very good reviews, and he has been selling his kits for many years, which tells a story.

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Super Wammer

Justin I can only echo the sentiments already expressed , thank you for such a complete and comprehensive view on these speakers and how they sound in your system . Sadly I am something of a construction klutz so have never really considered trying anything like this . I know both Tony and Colin are very much involved in this DIY speaker side and if either were closer I might consider trying one if they would agree to advise and help . Sadly they are both at opposite ends of the UK with me somewhere I suppose close to the middle. I have been convinced over the last few years that DSP is a powerful tool to help with getting good sound in your room and DIY speakers are ideal for this sort of input . Sadly I am just not proficient enough in the practical work to join in .

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8 hours ago, greybeard said:

Thanks for a very thorough  review. I do not live far from Ivan, and have often thought of going there to listen to some of his speakers, I may well go now after that review.:^

He has nice big house.  :D I went there on the bike to buy some planar tweeters several years ago.  I had a listen to some of his speakers there and they sounded pretty good.

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Super Wammer
6 minutes ago, awkwardbydesign said:

He has nice big house.  :D I went there on the bike to buy some planar tweeters several years ago.  I had a listen to some of his speakers there and they sounded pretty good.

Dick, I must give him a ring and arrange an audition. 

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Hi Everyone, I posted the review hoping to share some of the feelings that I had about this project. I did wonder whether anyone would actually be interested, and as some of you have kindly responded to the post, I will fill in a bit more.

I spent a lot of time looking at reviews, and luckily managed to communicate with some of the people who had built S2TL, S4TL and S5TL speakers before. I looked carefully at the drivers and read everything I could about them as used in different applications. The HiVi 8" driver seemed to have a big magnet, and very light but strong cone material, so that boded well for speed. I also have a lot of faith in the reflex/transmission line design, having built some "Daline" (decoupled anti-resonant line) speakers back in the '70s, and owning the TDL RTL2s which though relatively  cheap, were pretty good speakers in 1997.

It was a bit of risk to take from NZ, as there was no way to listen to these, and there is a lot of added expense getting them here. Nonetheless, we have been richly rewarded. I was advised to build the S4TLs for my size of room, but one of the people who has experienced S2TL, S4TL and S5TL  says that perhaps his favourite is the S2TL - it is all about room size apparently.

We do not have much spare cash in our lives, and this project was sanctioned by our wives as something we could do if we really wanted, though my other half has a "cloth ear" and thought that she would not be able to tell the difference between our old speakers and the IPLs. As soon as I connected 1 of the IPLs to the stereo (while it was still playing music on the 2 TDL Speakers), she said "wow, that is amazing!" It is that noticeable, even though at that time the IPL speaker was brand new and playing quieter than the TDL speaker I swapped it with. (I literally turned down the volume, pulled the banana plugs out of the TDL and stuck them into the IPL, and turned the volume back to where it was while it was playing at a moderate volume).

I am not an expert in any way, but have an ear that tells me what I like, and that will clearly not be the same as what other people may like. I would be surprised if anybody found anything objectionable about the IPL speakers, unless you like "warm" sounding speakers where some of that warmth is developed by the cabinets. Ivan's cabinets are designed to control the air behind the speaker, but are otherwise pretty dead and invisible. Listening to these is much closer to the sound you get from decent earphones and headphones. If you do not have a whopping big budget, want to get full-range hifi speakers for your system, and have the ability to go to Ivan's place, then I would recommend it, even if you need to take a train. If you take along a few favourite bits of music that reveal what is important to you, then I think a trip to Ivan's would be a joy.

Do NOT be surprised if you take something that sounds bassy at home, and it sounds relatively restrained with Ivan's speakers - they have incredible tightness and control over low bass. A lot of that "boom" that you get from many speakers simply does not belong, and it would be wise to listen to the music you are taking with good earphones or headphones first, so you know what the tracks should sound like without resonance effects.

Be aware that moving the speakers around a bit changes all parts of the sound spectrum, mid-range being affected just as much as bass in our room, but I am sure Ivan will have them placed correctly at his house. Clearly with such low bass, you are going to find places where there are standing wave reflections that null the bass sound in places, and if you stand in a back corner, you are going to hear too much. Walking around the listening room will show you all these oddities. Sometimes the perfect listening position will NOT be where your chairs are, and I don't think you can do anything to fix this, but I notice these inconsistency effects just as much with my TDLs  and with my friend's big Tannoys as I do with the IPL speakers, so it is not something that you must blame on the speakers, it is the room and speaker/chair placement that is at issue. At our friends house, the best listening position is actually in a walkway behind the settee, and it is like that at my house too, but if you place the speakers correctly, anywhere you sit, they are going to sound really good compared to any other correctly-placed speakers in the same room.

Final word on sound differences you may or may not notice. Without an A/B comparison of your own speakers with the IPLs,  you may not comprehend what you are gaining and missing. The very low frequencies deliver sound that you hear and feel, but they are not really part of what you are listening for when you test music you know. When a big pedal drum strikes, there is a low frequency sound that is an impact, not really a musical note, and it is in some ways too subtle to "hear" though you understand its presence with your ears and your gut. A fine example of this is the well-known "Sultans Of Swing" by Dire Straits. I know this song so very well, but I had no idea that the pedal drum in that was such a big drum sound until I heard it with the IPLs. There is a weight that is absolutely absent from my TDLs and the Tannoys, but is delivered by the IPLs.  Another difference is the accuracy of the higher frequencies and the ability of the IPLs to reproduce separate sounds as they were recorded, even in the middle of a very loud passage with many instruments that may sound "messy" on lesser speakers, the IPLs let you hear each and every part separately and clearly.

If Ivan would allow you to take your own speakers to IPL for the purposes of your test, then you will know if you want to change, and would comprehend the differences. Without this, you may come away without realising what a big difference there is. I say this because I listened to the IPLs, did A/B compares, then ran them in for a couple of weeks. When I swapped in the TDLs for one day early on in the run-in process, I remember thinking, "these old TDL speakers still sound pretty damn good" as I was still used to their delivery. After listening only to the IPLs for the last 2 weeks, I have changed back to the TDLs while I do the cosmetic work on the cabinets. NOW I notice the lack of those deep frequencies and the smoothness, speed, accuracy and separation of sounds in a way that I did not before - my ear has become accustomed to the IPLs and I mourn their (temporary) loss now that I have become used to them, and I can't wait to get them back into service.

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Bencat said 

8 hours ago, bencat said:

Justin I can only echo the sentiments already expressed , thank you for such a complete and comprehensive view on these speakers and how they sound in your system . Sadly I am something of a construction klutz so have never really considered trying anything like this . I know both Tony and Colin are very much involved in this DIY speaker side and if either were closer I might consider trying one if they would agree to advise and help . Sadly they are both at opposite ends of the UK with me somewhere I suppose close to the middle. I have been convinced over the last few years that DSP is a powerful tool to help with getting good sound in your room and DIY speakers are ideal for this sort of input . Sadly I am just not proficient enough in the practical work to join in .

Hi Bencat. I too am a construction Klutz, and had to get some help from people with equipment and skills to help with...

a) Cutting of MDF sheet. (NZ$120)

b) Soldering the cross-over. (NZ$60)

I could not buy the full kit, but if you did, I think the build would be very much simpler than the process I encountered. There WILL be joinery firms able to do the work for you, but it is really not about that I think. It is about having any budget for new speakers, and also, most importantly of all, is do you actually have any desire to change? If you go to Ivan's place for an audition, you can answer the important question, and if you think the sound quality of his speakers is worth GBP1000, then there are people in UK who build these kits as a sideline for that kind of money. 

One thing I will say is that Ivan may or may not have the Hivi 8" and Fountek CD3 type version of the S4TL speaker - you should ask him. That is the version I have and it is Ivan's current design for the S4TL using these excellent drivers. I do not have any idea what the designs using older units would sound like. I think you might be hearing a far lesser speaker if you cannot get to hear the newest versions using the new drivers like the S4TLs that I have built.

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Posted (edited)

Hi, 1st post on here so be gentle 😀

I have been actively researching these and reading reviews for a while. Very close to pulling the trigger and getting some. For me is a choice of these VS getting some more PMC’s (prob 20/23). But leaning towards these as they have blown away some 25/23’s according to one review I’ve read. 

Fortunately I will be able to go there. But my question is around the building. How easy/hard is it really? 

This is the bit that makes me nervous - I’ve not done woodwork since school (long time ago) and am pretty sure I’m a muppet at building stuff. Ps- I’d be going for the full kit. Has anyone ever built a set from the full kit that can answer this? 

Thanks in advance folks. 

Edited by Amormusic

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I see that nobody has answered you here, so I will say what I discovered. I was never any good at woodwork, and have done very little DIY. The panels need to be accurate, and mine were less accurate than the full kit would provide. The building of the carcase is reasonably straightforward.

I had some help with the cross-overs, as I have no soldering skills.

The profiled acoustic foam I found to be easy to handle if I cut it into sections, rather than trying to glue it all in a single long run. I made sure that the cuts allowed the foam to curl around the end of the internal baffle boards.

Many others had a lot of trouble with their veneer, I decided that I did not want veneer or all the trouble that it brings, and have painted the boxes in a satin black finish which actually looks great with our decor - it was the wife's pick. There is still a lot of work involved in painting these, we used a small roller, but at least the result is good and would be easily fixed if you damaged or scratched the boxes at any time. I also built a full-length grille in 12mm mdf rather than the half-grill in 9mm, and am happy with the result.

The biggest problem is patience - you need to take the time it takes. If you do decide to do this, you will be well rewarded. I was desperate to hear these, and found it really hard to be patient with the work, but you really must just bear the wait.

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On 09/10/2018 at 20:10, JustingNZ said:

I see that nobody has answered you here, so I will say what I discovered. I was never any good at woodwork, and have done very little DIY. The panels need to be accurate, and mine were less accurate than the full kit would provide. The building of the carcase is reasonably straightforward.

I had some help with the cross-overs, as I have no soldering skills.

The profiled acoustic foam I found to be easy to handle if I cut it into sections, rather than trying to glue it all in a single long run. I made sure that the cuts allowed the foam to curl around the end of the internal baffle boards.

Many others had a lot of trouble with their veneer, I decided that I did not want veneer or all the trouble that it brings, and have painted the boxes in a satin black finish which actually looks great with our decor - it was the wife's pick. There is still a lot of work involved in painting these, we used a small roller, but at least the result is good and would be easily fixed if you damaged or scratched the boxes at any time. I also built a full-length grille in 12mm mdf rather than the half-grill in 9mm, and am happy with the result.

The biggest problem is patience - you need to take the time it takes. If you do decide to do this, you will be well rewarded. I was desperate to hear these, and found it really hard to be patient with the work, but you really must just bear the wait.

Just spotted your reply. Thanks. 

Have decided to treat myself and will be buying a set in new year as a prezzie to self. 

Still unsure on the self-build element, so may get them built for me. 

Need to organise a visit to Ivan’s soon to hear them in person pre-buying. 

Will let you know my thoughts once in and run-in. 

Cheers,

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