rippingdragon

SGR CX4F In-Depth Speaker Review

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The SGR CX4F’s have now graced my living room for over a month and I’m finally ready to put pen to paper and get this review out. For anyone who has been following my writings, I’ve done a number of such reviews for other products in the past. To date this however, has been the hardest one to do both because I’ve already stated the most obvious traits of the CX4F’s in another thread and because there is just so much depth and nuance to these speakers that it is hard to do them justice in the written word, especially without using the heavily worn and often tossed around audio clichés. These same clichés which I’ve often seen casually thrown around in reviews of the countless speakers that have left me disappointed and unimpressed in my lengthy auditioning.

As an advanced warning, this review is long. Given the length and the effort I’ve put into it, I think it’s also important to let you know what my motivations are for writing this review upfront and hopefully remove any potentially perceived biases. Firstly, I was not asked to do this review by SGR nor was I offered any cash or product incentive to do so. I paid full retail price for the CX4F’s to the dollar. My motivations are instead entirely personal. Hi-Fi and music are very important hobbies to my personal well-being and happiness (I will elaborate further on this point later in the review). My past experiences have also been fraught with difficulty, confusion, and misdirection. I’ve found it to be a bit of a minefield out there. Then I stumbled upon SGR looking for a system for a friend thanks to this forum. From the very first visit to SGR, it’s been entirely different than anything else I’ve experienced. It’s been so utterly positive that I almost feel a social responsibility to share my experience. Everyone’s experience may not be as positive as mine or the speakers may not suit their needs as well as they do mine, but I personally could have saved a lot of time and effort had I gone to SGR first and I really wish I had known about them earlier. This is not about helping SGR’s bottom line, but instead about providing some advice and guidance to others who are a bit daunted like I was by the vast choices in audiophileland. I’ll still be happy if no one reading this review even ends up with an SGR product (even though I would like to see them rewarded for their hard work). I’ll be satisfied if all this does is provide an interesting read. It is however, my hope that this review provides at least one person with even a little bit of knowledge that helps them make a more informed choice about their next upgrade (SGR or otherwise) which brings them that little bit more happiness and long term enjoyment. Furthermore, I really enjoy the actual writing process and while I do it for a living (technical documentation in IT), it’s very rare that I have the opportunity to write about a subject that I am so passionate about. I’ve really enjoyed flexing my writing muscles and creating something I care about (as opposed to most of my output at work).

Before getting into my review, I think it is also important to state that despite being very enamoured with my speakers, I’m not saying that they are categorically better than other equipment out there. I have a very specific set of requirements and the CX4F’s just happen to nail those on the head. I still enjoy, respect, and appreciate the other speaker designs and technologies that I will be comparing the CX4F’s too, even though I ultimately didn’t take them home.

A bit of background on my most recent audio journey and preferences might prove helpful here. I have strong preferences for the following sound traits/characteristics (many of which are interrelated and all of which add to my overall musical engagement which is obviously the number one priority):

  • Resolution/transparency. I like for each note to have depth where you can hear all the way into it from the initial attack all the way to the end of its long decay. The note’s fundamentals and harmonics should always be clear. I find a smoothed over and veiled sound distracting and unnatural.
  • Separation. All notes and voices should be distinct from each other. Each distinct instrument’s line should be easy to follow.
  • Fast/Airy. I love speakers with a good transient response. There is something about fast speakers that just gives me goosebumps.
  • Dynamics. A dynamic system makes music more exciting and lively for me.
  • My preferences for each part of the frequency range are as follows:
    • Deep and clean bass. I listen to a lot of music with low bass content (usually centred around 30Hz) that must be well represented and must not intrude on other parts of the frequency spectrum that I equally enjoy.
    • Mids and Vocals. Just like bass, a speaker’s ability to specifically handle vocals is worthy of special mention in my book. I like vocals to be presented in an articulate and natural way. A little bit of richness and body are nice but I don’t like these aspects to be over exaggerated. Acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments are also my favourite instruments and I want them to be conveyed naturally. They should be twangy and highly textured.
    • Highs. Crystal clear. Cymbals should sound like cymbals. No sibilance or screeching. But this should be achieved without smoothed over treble (as I find this leads to decreased resolution).
    • Overall coherency. These individual portions of the frequency spectrum must then be stitched into a cohesive whole with all parts working together as one.

    [*]Versatile. I listen to a large range of genres. If I were to very broadly categorise my music I would say I listen to 50% epic music (e.g. electronic, orchestral, progressive rock/metal) and 50% intimate music (folk, singer/songwriter, ambient electronic, etc…). So I want a system that handles large scale complex music with authority as well as presents a delicate and intimate portrait for small scale music.

    [*]Wide soundstage and precise imagining. I want to be surrounded by the music with distinct voices floating in very concentrated points across the stage. I find this really adds to the “being there” feeling of sharing the room with the musicians.

    [*]Non-fatiguing. It’s not a good day unless I’ve listened to at least 6 hours of music. If some work commitments prevent this from happening I get cranky. On the other hand if I have the time but the speakers in my lounge are too fatiguing for me to get a full day’s listening in, it’s time for some new speakers.

    [*]Value for money. I work very hard for my money and do not part with it easily or lightly. I also have a number of other competing priorities for my money (like the daunting task of saving for a house deposit in this ridiculously inflated property market). Getting the best for my dollar is an absolute must as well as getting a system that will last and not require constant upgrades to try and fix something wrong with it.

    [*]Neutral/accurate. I find differently emphasised portions of the frequency spectrum a bit distracting and unnatural.

    [*]Musical and emotionally engaging. This requirement goes without saying but is hard to nail down in terms of how it is actually achieved. It can also be subjective to individual listeners.

It may sound like a large shopping list. As such, it wasn’t something I was expecting to get close to, especially for this kind of money. In fact, my previous system was worth significantly more in terms of RRP and it still didn’t have this list exhaustively covered. I previously had Dynaudio C2’s (RRP $16,000) and a Musical Fidelity KW500 integrated amp (RRP $12,000). I’m also sure that by now you are wondering where the review is in this thread, so let me take this perfect opportunity to segue by saying that the CX4F’s feel like they were made especially for me. They are what I’ve always been looking for but have until now been unable to find in a speaker. They deliver the above traits in spades, even when compared to my high standards and when compared against the best individual traits of the many speakers I’ve listened to. I’ve heard them bested in a few areas by other speakers (but only by a small margin), but I’ve personally felt that the other speakers have made large trade-offs in other areas to bring about an improvement in this single area. SGR have chosen the best trade-offs to align with my preferences. However, I believe trade-offs to be too strong a word in this case as I feel the CX4F’s have been optimised so well that very little is actually sacrificed. Therefore, the SGR CX4F’s also have great potential to also fit the requirements of people who have different sound preferences and priorities to me.

The SGR’s do everything in this list exceptionally well, with at least with a 9+ rating on my subjective 10 point scale. They may not offer the absolute best of everything but they work together the most seamlessly and cohesively of anything else I’ve listened to (short of the SGR MT3 systems). In my prior auditioning sprees, I’ve listened to a large number of systems costing $25-30,000, usually with speakers costing $15-20,000 range and fronted by electronics with a combined costing in the $10-15,000 range. I’ve even had some limited experience with a few systems costing up to and even above $50,000.

For simplicity we’ll assume that a 10 is the highest possible score achievable in each category with today’s technology and a budget of $30k. I’m assigning a 9.5 score to anything that is not only the best I’ve heard in this range but also the best by a significant margin. This still allows for the fact that there could be a better speaker out there in any of these categories that I have yet to hear (because to be fair I haven’t heard anywhere near them all, nor has anyone else).

While the scores I have assigned the CX4F are already exceptionally good (I wouldn’t have bought them otherwise), the scary thing is that these ratings are while using my Slim Devices Transporter as a Preamp and Source. You wouldn’t think it fair to compare my system with a RRP of $12,500 to others costing $30,000. Especially considering that in the back to back comparisons I’ve previously done comparing the Transporter’s Preamp section to that of a dedicated Preamp, the Transporter’s Preamp stage drops resolution and dynamics as well as introduces a bit of harshness to playback. This is an interim solution and I was expecting to have to make a few allowances for this. Instead, I have only been immensely pleased with the overall result even with this known compromise in my front end. Not only does my current system hold its own weight against the more expensive systems I’ve heard, it actually has some of the best outright performance for both my overall preferences within a large number of individual characterises. If the sound I have in my room now was the final result, I would have been stoked. The fact that this is just a stepping stone and I still have money left in my budget for a better front makes this easily the best purchase I’ve made in audio so far.

By now, you should hopefully have a pretty good idea of the general sound signature of the CX4F’s. If you are satisfied with my word on it and are already getting tired of reading you can skip to the conclusion. For the rest of us, I’ll now explain how I’ve come to these scores and give you a little more detail and some examples from my listening:

Resolution/Transparency – 9.3

Low Bass: 9.2

Mid and Upper Bass: 9.4

Midrange: 9.3

Highs: 9.2

This is tied for the highest resolution system I’ve heard to date with the MT3’s (I think the resolution is actually a tad better across the mid-bass to midrange region on the CX4F’s with the MT3 winning in the lower bass and highs). Resolution also leads to excellent detail retrieval, which in the CX4F’s case can be experienced across the entire frequency spectrum. This isn’t just artificial detail you hear in any speakers that have a boosted treble. The CX4F’s also deliver detail and texture in the bass as well as whispery, hauntingly clear vocals. The overall clarity across the entire frequency range that is created by this high level of resolution really does it for me, as I feel like I am hearing just the pure music.

NB: in all fairness, I haven’t had as much experience with electrostatics as I would have liked (and this is an area I often see them rated highly in) so I have down rated the midrange and high resolution scores from what I think they deserve to allow for the possibility that it may be possible for electrostats in this price range to beat this performance. I’d love to hear some more electrostats but with some of my music even though they are not suitable to my needs re: versatility and low bass content which is why a number of salesmen have refused to demo electrostats to me based on my music selections. However, the resolution I’ve heard here is definitely the best I’ve heard from the large number of traditional box speakers I’ve listened to using any number of driver materials and technologies (from carbon cones to silk domes to ribbon, air motion transformers, or diamond tweeters).

Separation – 9.3

The separation is outstanding and the best I’ve heard in this price range. The MT3’s have the ultimate edge in this regard and would get the 9.5 rating but they’re in another price league altogether. I haven’t heard anywhere near this level of separation from anything else I’ve listened to in this price range. Even in complex mixes individual voices and instruments are crystal clear, easy to follow, and pop-out from the mix. This separation is just as strong at both higher and lower volume levels where I’ve heard other speakers start collapsing.

A great example of this came from listening to Cold Water by Damien Rice off of the album O. There is some excellent and subtle interplay between a lead male and female voice as well as a grouped backing choir. I’ve never heard all of the voices so distinctly split.

Fast/Airy/Speed – 9.4

Bass – 9.5

Mids – 9.4

Highs – 9.3

The CX4F’s are incredibly nimble. I would say they start and stop on a dime, but that would be selling them short. The quick rise time leads to what is described as an “airy” sound which immediately became a requirement for me the first time I heard a speaker produce it properly. The CX4F’s fortunately really deliver in this area. This trait is often used to describe highs but surprisingly with the CX4F’s it’s also apt for all frequencies even down to the bass. The midrange speed/transient response adds an amazing clarity and ethereal quality to vocals and makes the attack on stringed instruments nothing short of stunning. I’ve heard some ribbons do this a tiny bit better in the very upper registers and again electrostats may have the edge here (but not the ones I’ve heard). However, the bass “speed” is like nothing else I’ve heard. I’ll elaborate further on this aspect in the Bass section below. Furthermore, the drivers quick settle (stop) time leads to a very clean sound as there is no extra sound being produced after the signal has gone.

The real standout track for me in this regard has been the song Igmatik by ABAKUS off of the album That Much Closer to the Sun. The track itself is very cruisy but has some decent bass in it. The CX4F’s are effortlessly in control and the song presentation is very quick and clean.

Dynamics – 9.3

This is the best I’ve heard in this price range, even when compared to the high efficiency speakers I’ve heard. Quick swings in volume are done with ease. Especially in conjunction with the great transient response, the attack on the instruments is portrayed accurately which really adds to the dynamic reproduction capabilities of the system. I find dynamics really hard to describe without using audiophile clichés so apologies in advance for saying the CX4F’s possess excellent “jump factor” and “PRaT” (both of which I again find are created by a combination of excellent dynamics and transient response). Some esoteric horn systems may be better in this area but I haven’t been impressed by the few I’ve heard in my limited experience with this technology.

Edited by rippingdragon
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Preferences for individual parts of the frequency range:

The following ratings are the most subject to personal preference. For the other more objective aspects (e.g. resolution or dynamics) I think it would be possible for two speakers to be similarly ranked across multiple listeners in a direct comparison. However, the following are all based almost entirely on my personal preferences.

Bass – 9.2

Bass tightness and control – 9.3

Bass tone, texture, and detail – 9.3

Low-bass impact – 9.3

Mid-bass impact – 8.7 Neutral - 9.0 when tweaked with the adjustable dials

Bass seems to be a tricky beast for all speaker designs to master. The bass on the CX4F is also very special and unique in my Hi-Fi experience so I think it’s worth a little bit extra attention.

Firstly it’s hard to believe the bass depth you’re hearing is coming from such a moderately sized speaker (especially relative to some of the monster sized speakers out there). When I’ve played the CX4F’s for guests, I’ve had a number of them ask where the subwoofer was located and always enjoy seeing the shock on their faces when I tell them I don’t have one. I’m hearing a lot of new low bass content, even compared to my Dynaudio C2’s which were rated to be -3dB at 28Hz. I know Stuart rates his equipment very conservatively and that the CX4F’s also have a much shallower roll-off due to being sealed which probably accounts for this large difference.

The CX4F’s bass is very clean, tight, and fast thanks to the transient response, sealed cabinet construction, and the critical damping of the cabinet. While I am objectively hearing more bass, subjectively sometimes I think I am feeling it less. Some tracks don’t have impact in the places I’m used to it and others have way more impact than I am used to. I think I’ve finally pinned down what I am experiencing. When there is low bass (<30Hz) present I am feeling more bass in the form of room pressurisation thanks to what I assume is more low bass output (which I’d love to confirm with some measuring gear sometimes). This bass is felt by the entire body. However, when there is only mid-bass content, the usual impact/slam (the kind you feel in your chest) i*s different than what I’m used to. It’s still there and it’s still strong but it passes much quicker than any other system I’ve listened to. Some systems pin you down with chest slam, whereas the CX4F’s instead hit quick and then release you as the hit passes through you almost instantly before dissipating**. I would put this down to the incredible cleanliness of the CX4F’s bass in the time domain. The drivers settle really quickly so there is no overhang and additionally there is very little added cabinet resonance. So only the impact from the initial transient is delivered without augmentation from additional driver and cabinet resonance. So there is a trade-off present for absolute chest-slam in favour of clean bass with excellent speed, dynamics, tightness, and tone. This is probably the single biggest trade-off in the system to my mind and might be the one that takes the most to adjust to. However, it’s a trade-off I'm more than happy with and I listen to 40% electronic music. The mid-bass slam is the only single aspect I like about my C2’s, even if I rate the overall bass package of the CX4F’s better. Overall, I’m actually getting more bass and I’m really enjoying the low bass impact and the other finer qualities of the mid-bass.

As an example one of my go to reference tracks has been Ott’s Queen of All Everything off of the album Skylon. This track has an amazing build to an awesome bass line midway through the song. When this bass first comes in the impact is a little weaker than I’m used to. However, moving on to the next track on the album, Rogue Bagel, there is now substantially more bass impact than I am used to. The overall quality and presentation of the bass is preferable on both tracks on the CX4F’s even though I miss some of the impact on Queen of All Everything.

The mid-bass also does something I’ve not experienced from any other speaker. Even though the impact isn’t as heavy, it is so intense that it actually gets my heart rate elevated with the right kinds of music. This could potentially be the realistic transients and dynamics triggering fight or flight responses in the brain. Sounds a bit like ****, but whatever it is, it’s very enjoyable.

NB: After writing the above, I did some further research into my old speakers. While I couldn’t find any exact measurements of the C2’s, Stereophile does have measurements for the C4’s which showed a 5db peak in the mid to upper bass. So I messed around with the mid-bass driver level adjustment dial on the back as well as using the parametric EQ settings to simulate this hump. This made some fairly significant inroads into improving the quantity of the chest thump. The quality (e.g. the speedy dissipation of the thump) still remained the same though. With tweaking I would revise the score to 9.0 (for reference I would rate the C2’s as still slightly edging them out for chest thump with a score of 9.1).

My ideal 9.5-10 bass would have the excellent quality of bass that the CX4F’s do with a stronger/longer mid-bass impact. However, I don’t think this is physically possible to achieve both of these goals simultaneously and I’d choose the trade-off the CX4F’s have implemented any day of the week.

Midrange – 9.1

Vocals – 9

Stringed instruments – 9.2

The CX4F’s vocals are superb and the best I’ve heard on any solid state system. I feel like I am selling them too short by rating them at a 9. However, I do remember hearing what I thought I were more enchanting vocals on some tube systems but this was very early in my audio journeys (at which point I had no reference, was easily impressed, and of course subject to the faultiness of audio memory in general). I have more recently heard some tubed systems that I’ve found to be so overly syrupy and sweet that they were distracting (and I wonder if now as my experience in audio has increased whether I would find the same of the past tubed systems I’ve listened to). The CX4F vocals are very clear and detailed. The low level resolution and decay gives the singer’s a naturally “breathy” voice. The presence of vocalists is also excellent thanks to the imaging and soundstaging. Especially exciting to me is the way multiple vocalists are separated and distinct within the soundstage floating hauntingly in space.

Other instruments are easily the winner in the midrange. While I find some vocal enhancing systems often sacrifice the portrayal of these instruments by making them sound sluggish, this is certainly not the case here. Plucked and strummed string instruments are my personal favourite and acoustic guitar is produced very accurately. The sound is blistering fast, twangy, and full of detailed and clear harmonic content.

Some standouts on stringed instruments have been anything by Rodrigo Y Gabriela and a cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Jake Shimabukuro performed on a ukulele. Both are recommended no matter what system you have for some fun and speedy acoustic music. I’ve also only recently been getting into Angus and Julia Stone and both the guitars and the vocals are really doing it for me on the new system.

Highs – 9.2

The CX4F’s manage the very difficult balance between providing detailed highs with excellent resolution while still being easy to listen to and free from fatigue. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on any extension or detail and I still feel the listenability is top-notch. While excellent, the tweeter is just short of the best highs I’ve heard. I would give that credit to some (but not all) implementation of the Scan-Speak Revelator tweeter. Overall, I find the Revelator to be a technically better tweeter, but it is less forgiving than the CX4F tweeter on poorly recorded and mastered material. I rate the CX4F’s highs over implementations of both the acclaimed Dynaudio Esotar2 tweeter and the B&W Diamond tweeter (rated 3rd and 4th respectively) that I’ve heard.

Coherency – 9.3

I don’t like presentations where a particular portion of the frequency spectrum is emphasised or stands out. Even if it is because this one particular portion is better, I still find that it makes the other portions of the frequency spectrum sound that much worse in comparison. Fortunately, the CX4F’s have been designed in such a way that the different parts of the frequency spectrum are all of equal quality and similar in character. They all have consistently excellent speed, resolution, dynamics, and clarity. The further effort that has then been put into the crossover design is readily apparent as the drivers are all stitched together into one seamless whole. I can’t tell where one driver stops and the next begin without getting close enough to put my ears to the drivers.

Versatility – 9.5

I could further qualify my listening patterns into the following broad genre mix: 40% electronic (IDM, Ambient, Psytrance, Tehcno, etc…), 30% acoustic (folk, singer/songwriter), 20% Rock (mostly indie), 10% Other (including Orchestral, Soundtracks, and other oddities). Due to the CX4F’s incredibly balanced and neutral nature I find the CX4F’s to be equally enjoyable across this large mix of varied program materials. Many of the speakers I’ve auditioned have been voiced for particular types of music with which they handle well but have fallen apart with other types of music. Furthermore, I like the CX4F’s voicing (or lack thereof), and to my ears and my preference, I think they sound better in all of the genres that I listen to, even when compared to speakers voiced specifically for that genre. I can appreciate that others might enjoy certain colourations that make certain types of music more enjoyable, but I personally prefer a neutral and balanced presentation of all of the genres I listen to.

Furthermore, because the speakers are so transparent, they easily bring out any differences in the equipment you put in front of them. This would be very useful and beneficial if you want to add a different flavour to your sound. Admittedly the CX4F’s speed and resolution may make them sound relatively lean if your reference is a full tube system. By lean I’m referring to the thickness/fatness of notes and not the bass. Furthermore, I wouldn’t describe the CX4F’s as lean in the overall big scheme of things, only relative to some types of systems. Fortunately, there is still plenty of room in both the preamp and DAC output stage for tubes if you want more richness and body to the sound. If someone is planning on doing so, please let me know and I’d love to come over for a listen!

Additionally, the adjustable dials on the back allow you to tailor the frequency response of your system if you want some added warmth (boosted mid-bass) or more prominent/forward vocals (boosted mids), etc… So you can further change flavours without having to change equipment if you are so inclined.

Last but not least, the CX4F’s are also versatile in relation to the rooms they will perform well in with a plethora of level and bass management options including: -3dB to +3dB adjustments for each driver as well as parametric bass EQ. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for you I don’t have any experiences with the effectiveness of these tools in tackling room issues to share with you as my current placement gives a very even bass response. However, as way of example, all who have heard handysteel’s system have said that the CX3B’s perform admirably in a very small room thanks to the bass-shelf filter and the ability to tone down the highs. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve also heard both the CX3B and CX4F easily fill the very large listening room at the SGR headquarters. I’ve of course frequently heard the CX4F’s effortlessly fill my large open plan living room at home as well.

Soundstage and Imaging – 9

This aspect is again more subject to personal bias and people may fall in the exaggerated and diffuse sound field camp or the pinpoint and precise imaging camp (I belong to the latter).

The soundstage is nearly on par with that from the best rigs I’ve heard. One caveat: the soundstaging is as to be expected very dependent on placement. I’m still working on finding the right balance in my system. As I pulled them further apart and further off the back wall I had the soundstaging increase to what I would rate as a 9. However, I lost the bass smoothness in this node as it changed which bass nodes were being activated. I’ve since moved the speakers back a bit closer to the back wall and have achieved a better bass response in room but at a loss of soundstage depth and width. I would rate the soundstage in my current position as an 8. But I know with a little more positioning trial and error and maybe a little help from the bass management options, I can find a place that offers a smooth bass response and a better soundstage. The soundstage emanates from well beyond the sides of the speakers and has excellent depth (if they are pulled out far enough in the room). The imaging within this soundstage is very precise. Instruments and voice float in a pinpoint and very clearly defined space in front of you. The soundstage and imaging capabilities are maintained at all volume levels from very low to very high.

With electrostatics and other dipoles, you can get a slightly larger soundstage but the imaging tends to be more diffuse, exaggerating the size of the singers and instruments. Some people prefer this because of the enlarged “presence”. I personally prefer the pinpoint imaging because when a voice occupies a more realistic and defined space it enhances my feeling of the singer being in the room with me, so I am happy to stick with these particular box speakers in this regard.

Non-Fatiguing – 9

To me this single aspect is tied for equal importance in system selection with musical engagement (which is determined by a combination of all of the other traits listed in this review). In fact, poor relative performance in this area was the reason I sold my old system. The tweeters on the Dynaudio C2’s were being run outside of their comfort range leading to slight distortion in the upper midrange. While the first-order crossovers and only being a two-way most likely contributed to some of the attributes I liked about the Dynaudio C2’s sound (e.g. coherency and transparency) it unfortunately let this distortion through. I have very sensitive ears and I’ve become more and more susceptible to this distortion and it has caused my ears increasing levels of fatigue as time has progressed. I do however appreciate that everyone’s ear are different and not everyone finds a little of this distortion displeasing, in fact some might find it enjoyable and I have often heard it spoken of as a positive attribute of a speaker and usually described as “energy”. For the record I also find higher volume levels (anything above 90 dB) painful and uncomfortable no matter how clean the system and recording and I’m sure many of you listen to this as your comfortable/normal level. The CX4F’s on the other hand are an excellent example of the advantages of active crossover. Not only do the CX4F’s retain (and even out perform!) the magic transparency and coherence of the C2’s (which are what many purists would consider an ideal system again thanks to being a simple two-way with first order crossovers) but they also restrict each driver’s operating range to drastically reduce distortion leading to a much less fatiguing and smoother sound. In my previous system I experimented a bit with valves in some of the equipment I auditioned. The KW500 integrated amp I settled on even had some tubes in the preamp stage. I also auditioned a few CDPs and DACs with tube output stages as well. This helped a little in disguising the problem but in the end was just a band-aid solution.

Thankfully, with the CX4F’s I now have a very solid foundation to build on. Future upgrades can now entirely be targeted at genuine improvements in sound (or to tailor a particular flavour of sound if you are so inclined) instead of as a band-aid to try and cover up a fault. I cannot emphasise enough how pleased I am of this fact. I’m no longer chasing my tail.

The listenability of the speakers ended up being even better than I was expecting. In my auditioning I had proved to myself that they were utterly non-fatiguing for well recorded material (I would score them a 9.5 if this was the only type of music I would be listening to on them) but I had only listened to a few poorly mastered tracks on them during my auditions, which they seemed to handle reasonably well. I wanted to test this out more so once I got them home I chucked on a few more poorly mastered and compressed albums, and for such a high resolution system, this poorly mastered material was surprisingly listenable. On my old system such recordings used to sound genuinely bad. Now they sound acceptable. Most of the time I will still listen to the well-recorded material because it is a better listening experience overall, however, I have a lot of lo-fi music that has absolutely brilliant musical content that I am really enjoying ripping out on the new speakers. The CX4F’s have done the best of any high resolution system I’ve heard at handling both well recorded and poorly mastered material. The only way to conceivably score higher on the listenability would be to drop to a lower resolution system and smooth over the nastiness in recordings with some of the more mushy valve designs available (not that all valves are mushy), but this would be at the expense of some of the other aspects/scores and would reduce my personal engagement to the music.

Edited by rippingdragon
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Value – 9.5

The value here is impossible to describe without using superlatives. I still struggle to believe it myself and had I not listened to them myself I would have found it very difficult to have accepted anyone else’s word on it. The best way I can attempt to get this across to you is to illustrate by way of my own personal example. While auditioning for my previous system I was auditioning speakers themselves that cost more than twice the CX4F’s, this is before factoring in the additional costs related to powering these passive speakers. Put very simply, $8,480 worth of equipment replaced $28,000 RRP worth of equipment ($16,000 for the Dynaudio C2’s and $12,000 for the Musical Fidelity KW500). Performance-wise and for my preferences, I think the CX4F’s outperform the C2’s in almost every aspect. The only thing I miss about the C2’s is some mid-bass impact and their physical presence with their towering height.

I’m still struggling to get my head around the fact that anyone would have put speakers this good on the market for this price. I happily paid the full $8,480 asking price and in all honesty I easily would have paid twice the asking price and would have still come on here and raved about the value. When I listed my old system for sale, my intention was to buy the much more expensive SGR MT3FSL’s as I didn’t expect that the CX4F’s (still on the drawing board at the time) would be anywhere near capable enough to meet my performance requirements at their intended price point. However, as I heard iteration after iteration of the CX3B prototypes and later the first prototype of the CX4F’s I had drastically realigned my beliefs about what performance was possible in this price point. Even though I had the money to afford the MT3FSL’s the performance was so close (slightly better in some areas and slightly worse in others) that I just couldn’t pass up the CX4F’s.

I will be the first to admit that I don’t think many of the standard retail brands I auditioned in the past represented good value at their RRP’s. So much so that in the past, I have been a strong advocate of second hand purchases, of which both my Dynaudio C2’s and Musical Fidelity KW500’s were. It has therefore been a joy to find a new product that actually beats the value of a second hand system from a mainstream brand (assume a second hand value of $14,000 for my old speakers and amps combined using a very rough 50% of RRP calculation). If a used pair of CX4F’s cost $8,480 just for the product they would have still represented exemplary value. The fact that they are brand spanking new, I get full warranty, and that SGR has provided the best service I’ve ever experienced in any transaction I have ever engaged in is really just the icing on the cake.

I will hopefully never have to sell these speakers (notice I wasn’t foolish enough to say never upgrading…) as even if I could get close to full retail for them on the second hand market, the value is so good I think I could still make easily make them work for their money’s worth in a second system. They are also good enough to really put off the idea of upgrading far out of my mind. Hopefully after I get my source and preamp sorted, this should be the end of my journey for at least the next 5 years as I get my career and hopefully a house sorted.

Even with the C2 and KW500 example, I think the value claims are still pretty extreme and are therefore worth some further back-up by justifying how it’s actually possible to provide such value. In my mind I think the four following factors are largely responsible for this value:

  1. Excellence in design and optimisation extracting as much sound quality as possible from the given components.
  2. SGR’s refreshing business policy and ethics. The speakers are priced at a margin they need to operate their business and not at what the market can bear. However, to be honest, having seen how much time and effort Stuart has poured into the design of these speakers, I don’t know how he is ever going to recompensate himself for this time at their current prices. Especially given the costs of the large number of high quality components in each speaker.
  3. Direct to public sales model equals less margins in the chain and a lower cost to customers. I have also listened to products from a number of other direct to public manufacturers and while the value has always been much better than that offered from most of the standard international brands, I have yet to find anything that matches the value of SGR equipment. So I will put this down to the fourth and final factor:
  4. Leveraging economies of scale. The boxes are mass-produced in China to save cost (but don’t worry, they haven’t skimped on quality) and the rest of the assembly is aided by semi-automated machines (e.g. Wave Soldering and numerous CNC machines) in SGR’s new factory.

Neutral - 9.5

I am a strong believer in choosing a system that sounds best to your ears. I would have no theoretical problem with purchasing a system that had purposefully introduced colourations if they provided a more enjoyable sound to my ears.

However, after lengthy auditioning I have found myself time and again drawn to accurate and technically well-implemented speakers. To my ears they sound the most “musical” and pleasing across the broadest range of music. However, not all so-called “accurate” speakers have tickled my fancy. I have found many to be harsh and clinical and if my experiences were limited to those speakers I could understand why some people have the preconception that accurate speakers can’t be musical. I think this is due to some supposedly technically well implemented speakers hiding behind perfect measured performance in only one or two areas, like flat frequency response. However for a speaker to be truly well implemented there are many more aspects which need to be accounted for including power/off-axis response, resolution, distortion, transient response, time-alignment, dynamics, diffraction, etc… The CX4F’s are objectively neutral in the frequency response and they both sound and measure very evenly within my room. Furthermore, as you have read above, I think they really nail these other aspects as well lending them a sound I would describe as musical which leads on to my next topic...

Musicality and Emotional Engagement – 9.5

Any speaker with an even frequency response and high resolution, such as the CX4F, is faced with a great challenge as any nastiness in driver behaviour will shine through very clearly. I think small amounts of undisguised distortion and cone-breakup often lead to what people call a clinical sound, which I am happy to say is not at all evident when listening to the CX4F’s.

Furthermore, I personally find listening to the CX4F’s a very emotionally engaging experience and while I can’t guarantee everyone will, I think I’m a pretty tough benchmark. You may disagree and that’s ok. However, for those on the fence about these speakers and with negative preconceptions about accurate speakers in general, I highly recommend you challenge them by actually giving them a listen. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised and find them as musical as I do. For now, I must digress from the musicality of these speakers, as this is a topic that belongs to and has been done to death in the Great Debate forum.

I consider myself a tough benchmark for emotional engagement because as you may have read on the past Movember thread on SNA, I am a recovering sufferer of depression. Now contrary to popular belief, depression can have very little to do with being sad or emotional (at least in my case). It instead depressed (i.e. supressed) my emotions all together making it difficult to feel happiness or even sadness. I’ve since made significant lifestyle changes and have mostly recovered but I can still always feel it creeping in behind my back and unfortunately my emotional system has never fully recovered. As such I still find it very difficult to get an emotional rise from anything. Music and Hi-Fi are so incredibly important to me because they are one of the few things that can still engage me emotionally, and even then, it can still be a great challenge. I’m happy to say that the CX4F’s perform beautifully in this aspect. The level of emotional engagement that the CX4F’s bring me accounts for much of the excitement about them that I have shared here.

For me, my stereo is not just another trophy possession. It is an extremely integral part of my personal happiness and well-being. I therefore spend a disproportionate amount of my income on it. I should also add that working for this income is also responsible for a large part of the stress that impacts my depression. So my money is very hard-earned, and not easily parted with (see my comments on value above). The fact that I purchased the CX4F’s to fill such a critical need in my life should speak much louder than all of the words I have written here. I’ve never made any other purchase that has improved my quality of life this dramatically. I’m not saying that they will have as a profound impact on your life as they have on mine because the fact that I really love this hobby and that I listen to a lot of music share an equal role in my happiness regardless of the equipment used.

Other Remarks:

There are some other areas which I find nice to haves but are not as important in my buying decision but may be more important to some readers. They are as follows:

Fit and Finish – 9.5

The quality of all of the individual components is indisputably of high quality. The wood finishes are matched to perfection and you can lose yourself starting into the depth of the gloss finish, especially with the rich wood textures underneath. The leather on the baffles is also seamlessly applied and looks very professional. The aesthetics of the speakers are more open to subjectivity and personal preference. I personally find the curves to be very elegant and love the imposing look of so many drivers. You may or may not like the looks, but both my partner and I think the CX4F’s are stunning.

Low Level Listening - 9

Good low level listening is a nice to have for me but has never been a requirement because it only makes up a small portion of my listening time and I’m willing to sacrifice performance here for it to sound better in full swing. I’m fortunately enjoying the CX4F’s at all volume levels as they still perform solidly at low levels. However, now that I’ve got the best of both worlds, it might be hard to live without in the future and may become a requirement for future purchases.

Rating of Old System

For perspective, I’ll now give my old system (Dynaudio C2 + Musical Fidelity KW500 + Slim Devices Transporter used as a Transport and DAC only) a rough rating using the same scale and categories. Unfortunately I no longer have it here for comparison so it is done by memory and some leeway (say + or - 0.2) should be factored into the scores:

  • ·Resolution – 9
    • Low Bass: 8.6. Mid and Upper Bass: 9.1. Midrange: 9.2. Highs: 9.1.

    [*]Separation – 9

    [*]Speed – 8.5

    • Bass: 8. Mids: 8.8. Highs: 8.7

    [*]Dynamics – 8.5

    [*]Bass – 8.5

    • Tightness: 8.6. Tone, texture, detail: 8.3. Low bass impact: 8. Mid bass impact: 9.1.

    [*]Midrange – 8.8 (ignoring the distortion in the upper midrange which I’ve marked down the Listenability score for instead)

    • Vocals: 8.8. Stringed Instruments: 8.8

    [*]Highs – 9

    [*]Coherency – 8.7

    [*]Versatility – 9

    [*]Soundstage and Imaging – 8

    [*]Non-Fatiguing – 7

    [*]Value – Average (no better or worse than other standard retail brands when new)

    [*]Neutrality – 8.5

    [*]Musicality and Emotional Engagement – 8.5

    [*]Fit and Finish – 8.5

    [*]Low Level Listening - 8

Conclusion

There are a few key points I’d really like to reiterate because they have been what’s stuck with me the most throughout this whole experience. Firstly, I think the CX4F’s are outstanding speakers and represent sensational value. When talking to Stuart about his design approach, he speaks heavily of “optimisation”. I really understand what he means by this term now after having spent some serious time with the speakers. Maximum performance gains have been provided with excellent sound quality across many facets of reproduction and this has been done with surprisingly little sacrifices in return. Furthermore, the CX4F’s are superb chameleon speakers and have the ability to cater to a wide range of tastes.

On a personal and more important level to me than the objective performance of the speakers is the enjoyment I’ve been able to extract from them. I’ve easily been averaging ten hours of use a day of over the past three weeks thanks to some time off from work and the ability to work from home. They’ve radically refreshed my music collection and renewed my interest in music. Every time I think I know what they are capable of they surprise me again when I play an old favourite or find a new incredible piece of music for the first time. Not only am I listening to more music, but I’ve also noticed a change in my listening habits. I’m listening a lot more to whole albums without jumping around and picking favourite songs, which is surprising because there is still so much music I am yearning to listen to on them. Even more surprising has been the way that I am finding new favourite songs on old favourite albums. Including albums which I thought I knew well and was previously getting tired of. My only real complaint now is that even when listening to ten or more hours of music a day, I still don’t have enough time to listen to all of the music I want to…. It’s a tough life :mad: s

Finally, I have quite a bit more to say but this review is already very long in the teeth. Hopefully I have time to talk a bit more about the following in a future post:

  • The overall SGR experience and level of service. This has been nothing short of extraordinary and is easily worth an entire post just to detail how well I’ve been treated.
  • Some details about the physical aspects of the design that have led to the performance I’ve described. I really enjoy learning about the design aspect of speakers and I’ve talked in great length with Stuart about this topic and would love to share some of that information with the community.

If you've made it this far, you probably deserve a medal. Thanks for reading!

Edited by rippingdragon
Formatting

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Guest Drizzt   
Guest Drizzt

Incredible effort Rahn, great stuff. I hope its safe to post now ? If not, just ask the mods to remove this post :mad:

I haven't read all of it yet, but ill come back to it.

Thanks for going to the effort RD.

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Decky   

I would just like to thank you for your effort, time and energy to write this review - on behalf of SGR Audio and Audiomarketplace.

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G'day,

Wow. Very detailed and informative review. As a SGR CX4F owner I can only say "I heartily endorse this event or product".

I also agree with your observations regarding value for money. I too paid full retail price for my CX4F speakers and consider them to be an absolute bargain: a speaker that includes amplification, the quality of the sound produced, the room EQ features available, the fit and finish, and the ability to plug in two sources simultaneously. It really is an amazing system for the price. I don't know what other products are comparable (maybe one of the ADAM speakers perhaps?).

I've recently put my CX4F speakers into storage (due to a move overseas) and miss them terribly. Reading this almost makes me want to fly straight back home to Australia and get them producing music again.

--Geoff

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JohnA   

will read later, but thanks for taking the time and making the effort to post such a detailed review.

Looking forward to reading this later tonight

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I always had at the back of my mind that if I was to ever move to floorstanders, I would look at SGR - this has just made that a certainty! Almost makes we want to find the next reno project so I can design a room big enough

The standmounts are just too large for my situation currently

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Gee Emm   

Good effort there Rahn

I enjoyed reading your review.

Graham

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Decky   
I always had at the back of my mind that if I was to ever move to floorstanders, I would look at SGR - this has just made that a certainty! Almost makes we want to find the next reno project so I can design a room big enough

The standmounts are just too large for my situation currently

I doubt very much that your "situation" is worst (read smaller) then mine. CX4Fs (CX3s) are very "flexible" speakers and they can easily fit into small rooms. The only limitation, as usual, is SPL. Going too loud makes the stereo imaging focus to colapse. Apart from that - no issues at all.

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Excellent review Rahn!

I only have about 12 hours on the clock of listening to my new babies, so I will leave my comments for a month or so too. Suffice to say I am grinning from ear to ear.

I would like to thank you for taking the time and effort to write this review.

I would also like to go on the record as paying full retail for my CX4F's. Being an accountant, I spoke at length with Stuart and Harry regarding the CX4F's and CX3B's and I still think they are undervaluing them and must have missed or undervalued some costs (most likely, Stuart, Harry and Anne's labour costs).

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leck   

Spot on review and very well put together. Well done!

I was lucky enough to have a short listen to the floor standers recently and was just so impressed with what they have put together there. Excellent speakers well worth every penny of the RRP. I put some heavy consideration into getting the bookshelves as I am deeply infatuated with them but to do so, I would have to move on my SGR reds and that is just not happening.

SGR really have it nailed in terms of product, service, price and customer satisfaction. Excellent work as always.

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I doubt very much that your "situation" is worst (read smaller) then mine. CX4Fs (CX3s) are very "flexible" speakers and they can easily fit into small rooms. The only limitation, as usual, is SPL. Going too loud makes the stereo imaging focus to colapse. Apart from that - no issues at all.

I hear what you are saying Decky - my standmounts have to sit on a cabinet, I can't use stands, and the physical dimensions of the CX3's are just too big.

Maybe the next upgrade in the next house will find a space for them - in the meantime I hope I get a chance to hear both at some point in time

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LFD   

Wow. Thanks for the detailed review.

Excuse me if you have explained this before but.

What sort of room is your system in?

Did Stuart spend some time "tuning" the speakers to the room?

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tricka   

Excellent review Ripping Dragon. Great structure and enthusiasm. Thank you for the read. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Regards

tricka

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JeffK   

Thanks Ripping Dragon. I haven't read your review yet but will tomorrow when I will have more time. Nevertheless the effort you have put into this is much appreciated.

Jeff

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Great effort Rahn,

Boy that was a long read, and I did read the lot. I think I need a beer now.

As a CX3B SGR owner I have to agree the speakers always put smiles on my face, and I to listen most nights for at least 3 hours and never get bored. I just love them, and can not wait until I can fit them in a larger room.

And guys the floor standers take up the same floor space as the bookshelve's. I have them in a 3.1 X 2.6mt mt room.

Cheers

Mark

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Todd   

Wow, Ripping Dragon. That they inspired such a thorough and detailed review speaks volumes. I reckon you might be pretty darn good at that job of yours (or any other writing you might care to try).

Enjoyed the read. Listened to the CX4Fs a couple of weeks ago with a family member who is shopping. Good chance they will be joining the family :P I too was absolutely bowled over by the value for money on offer.

Thanks again for the write up! cheers, Todd

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Grimmie   

That's a wonderful read RD.

You display a deep knowledge of what exactly you want and like in your listening tastes, and convey this to us most directly, honestly and passionately. Enthusiasm and pleasure are there for all to see and I loved every word of it. Well done mate.

My experience was every bit as positive, (if rather more drawn-out,) and my impressions of the Warrendyte crew every bit as admiring. The pleasure I get from my music through the MT3 system is invaluable to me too and whatever I paid for it over the last two years has been every day a bargain.

With the new factory premises and construction methods and the finalising of so many of their products, the 'gestation periods' we have endured during development may well now largely be a thing of the past and customers able to hear exactly what they are purchasing as they do so.

I think I've quoted a few times before," I love it when a plan comes together"

Thanks for the review RD

Grimmie

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wolster   

I also enjoyed the read and the effort that you put into the review, Ripping Dragon.

I would love to hear these one day.

The only thing I missed was the pics, Could you please tell me which post the pics are in? :P

Cheers

wolster

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jaspert   

That's a marathon.:P Great effort and review with excellent context, RD. SGR should be proud of their ability to bring these direct to the local market at the current price.

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wixy   

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that it is possibly the best written review there has ever been, well done!

In my opinion the CX4F speakers have sensational looks. It’s great that SGR are not following the traditional 'rectangular timber box' look common to many (but not all) Australian speaker manufacturer’s, you’ve gotta applaud their efforts.

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bigears   

A bloody great review RD!!!!

I know exactly what you mean about how these speakers make you feel.

My CX4Fs make me sigh every time I play them.

Which is a godsend, after nearly a decade in the Hifi/HT industry its nice to be wowed still every once in a while.

Thanks again

Bigears

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