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Published November 15, 2007

 

GOODSOUND! GREAT BUY

Duevel Planets Loudspeakers

Mars Attacks! That’s what I was thinking as I unpacked the tomato-red pair of Planets Duevel had sent me for review. That’s one of a half-dozen color choices available, each in a lightly textured vinyl laminate. Choice is good. However, what really stands out about the Planets is not the color so much as the pair of polished spheres strategically suspended above the upward-facing drivers. As the soundwaves from the drivers bounce off the spheres, these "planets" disperse the sound in a perfect 360-degree pattern. There are no cloth grille socks for all this to hide behind, so the Planets ($1295 USD per pair) are one of the most distinctive speakers you’ll find south of $2000. The pair of them have become quite the conversation piece around the house.

As unconventional as the Planets look, its driver complement is highly ordinary. That’s not a bad thing; some of the most competent speakers around use ordinary drivers. The single woofer is a 5" poly cone with an inverted dustcap. The inverted cap is a good idea for a grilleless speaker that draws a lot of attention to itself. We had friends over for dinner one night, and their four-year-old daughter took a great interest in the speakers. I’m afraid a standard dome dustcap would be in great danger from small hands. The tweeter is a 1" horn-loaded dome with a mesh grille over the diaphragm. Turning the speaker over reveals two downward-firing ports and a single pair of binding posts. The speaker is held up off the floor by four tall rubber feet.

One potential consideration for omnipolar, dipolar, or bipolar speakers is that, by their very nature, they interact greatly with the room they’re placed in. While placement is important with any speaker, it becomes crucial when the speaker interacts directly with every room boundary.

With that in mind, I decided to see what I could do with the Planets in my most challenging room, which is asymmetrical in layout and has openings on two sides. My initial reaction was that the Planets were never going to sound even halfway decent in this room, but I was wrong: with a little tweaking of placement, they worked out just fine. Odds are they’ll work well in most rooms.

Tweeters in or tweeters out

Duevel suggests positioning the Planets with their tweeters facing out, but the importer suggested I try them with the tweeters in. I had better results in two different rooms with the tweeters in, so I suggest that for a first try at placement. Maybe it’s a difference in average room size between the US and Germany, where the Planets were designed. Another suggestion from the importer was to make sure the speakers sat on a solid surface -- the ports in the bottom are designed to work at a specific distance from the floor. I have carpeted floors, but was able to easily resolve this issue by placing a single granite tile under each speaker. The bass immediately tightened up, so take this piece of advice to heart.

Otherwise, setup was a carefully choreographed dance, followed by listening. The boundaries closest to the Planets dramatically affected their tonal balance and soundstaging. To increase bass response and make the speakers a little warmer, move them closer to the wall; to make them sound leaner, move them farther out. Their distance from each other affected their imaging, sometimes dramatically. Inches count; when it comes to fine tuning, quarter-inches count.

Last, if your room is not symmetrical, then positioning the Planets asymmetrically may be called for. This can be time-consuming to get right, but it’s not difficult, and the results are well worth the effort. I followed some suggestions to place the speakers closer together to tighten up the soundstage, then gradually tweaked the placement from there.

Listening

Listening to Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain [CD, Sony/BMG 88697127622], I paused to reflect how amazing it is that, more than 45 years after this album was recorded, it still sounds fresh and innovative. I suppose that’s partly an indictment of the current state of the jazz scene, with its focus on light jazz, but that doesn’t diminish the achievements of one of the greatest musical talents of all time. Equally amazing is how well this recording has held up sonically over the years. On "Concierto de Aranjuez," the layering of the many instruments was plainly evident -- I felt I could almost reach out and touch some of the performers. I was somewhat surprised to hear this with the Planets -- omnipolar speakers can muddy the soundstage a bit. But, once they were properly set up, this was never the case with the Duevels. They delivered that signature expansive soundstage and provided excellent imaging as well.

Bruce Springsteen’s cover album of Pete Seeger songs, We Shall Overcome [CD, Columbia 82867], is a stroke of pure genius that was a little surprising from an artist who almost never records anything he hasn’t written himself, but The Boss inhabits these songs as if they were his own. The backing instrumentation is much larger than anything Pete Seeger ever did, but somehow it all works. This kind of expansive music is where the Planets excelled, producing a soundstage that was perceptually larger than the room they were in. Further, the coarseness of Springsteen’s voice came through with perfect clarity, adding to the realism. What was most surprising, given the Planet’s smallish woofer, was the incredible bass performance. It was enough for me to openly wonder where the second woofer was hidden. There isn’t one; it’s all done with very clever engineering.

I quickly came to realize that where the Planets would shine brightest was with orchestral music. With this in mind, I placed Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops’ Epics [Telarc 60600] in the CD player and gave it a try. Sure enough, this was a real winner, and showcased to great effect what these speakers are all about. This recording’s huge soundstage is as close as you can get to live without actually being there. In addition, the Planets projected power without the bass becoming overpowering or ill defined.

There was nothing in the Planets’ performance that I could point to as outstanding, but its overall presentation was nonetheless compelling. The tonal balance was good but not perfect. The bass response was very good for a speaker of this size, but still couldn’t match that of my larger reference speakers. Detail was very good, but not as well articulated as from the Paradigm Studio 100 v.3s in my reference home theater. What the Planets did do was offer a total package that presented the most coherent and musical sound I’ve ever achieved in my sometimes problematic family room.

Comparison

The Magnepan MC1s I have in my small theater were probably the best comparison speaker I had on hand and, at $1500/pair, fairly close to the Planets’ price. Both speakers are decidedly unconventional, and both pursue the quest for an expansive soundstage by using both direct and indirect soundwaves. The Magnepans are dipoles and, as such, radiate sound from only the front and back. The primary difference between dipoles and omnipoles, such as the Planets, is that dipoles produce a null to the sides, while omnipoles generate a more or less consistent 360-degree radiation pattern. Dipoles interact less with the sides of the room, and the sound changes as you move across the room. Omnipoles, on the other hand, interact with everything, and the sound changes very little as you move around the room.

This interesting distinction affects how each speaker type will be used. The Magnepans are at their best when the listener is seated in the sweet spot between the speakers. The sweet spot is of decent size, but it’s still best to be as close as possible to the center seat. The Duevel Planets, on the other hand, sounded good from just about anywhere in the room. It was still best to sit right in the middle for critical listening, but I have a chair close to the right speaker in my family room, and the Planets still sounded quite good from there. Sure, I lost all sense of imaging, but the speakers’ tonal balance was left essentially intact.

This means that the Planets are perfectly suited to a casual listening environment. That’s not to say that they’re not good for critical listening, only that they lend themselves well to a room where you want to do critical listening, but that is frequently used for casual listening. This perfectly describes the situation in my family room and, I suspect, in many family rooms across the world.

The bottom line

The Duevel Planets are wonderful loudspeakers. I have speakers that are more detailed, or that play deeper and louder, but I have nothing that produces such an expansive and coherent soundstage from nearly anywhere in the room. The Planets require a little more care in placement, but that effort can yield spectacular sonic results, even in a room as problematic as mine.

I was thoroughly surprised by the Planets. While they are not the perfect reference speaker, they provided quite possibly the most fun I’ve had listening to music in a long time. Speakers that don’t break the bank but that promote an emotional bond between the listener and the music are few and far between, but I’ve found a pair in the Duevel Planets. I can give no higher praise than that for any speaker.

...Jeff Van Dyne

Price of equipment reviewed


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