PERFORMANCE: SONAPODS/ST-100 SUB
Any audio enthusiast who sees a couple of 1-inch drivers mated to a subwoofer is gonna smell trouble. While the SonaPod/ST-100 combination definitely can't do some of the things that conventional speakers do easily, in many ways it delivered far better sound quality than I expected. And in some ways, it delivered better sound quality than the speaker type I think it really competes with — i.e., ceiling speakers.
From the middle of the midrange to the top of the treble, the SonaPods sound astonishingly good. The best thing about them is the vocal reproduction, which I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't heard it. All of the voices I listened to, from female singers such as Holly Cole to deep-voiced male actors such as Leonard Nimoy, sounded quite natural and better than they would through most ceiling speakers. (Those plastic pieces in front of the woofers on ceiling speakers cause considerable unevenness in the midrange.) The treble sounded clear and even, although not as airy and detailed as it would with good conventional stereo speakers.
I noticed that the SonaPods produced a big, ambient sound with less of a sweet spot than most speakers do. When I moved my head to the side, the sound didn't change as much as it would with most conventional stereo speakers. However, the SonaPods can't deliver a solid center image, at least not when mounted high in the corners. The sonic image draws your attention up toward the speakers — which isn't realistic — but this effect isn't as noticeable as it is with ceiling speakers.
Certain recordings revealed the system's weak spots. When I played "Words We Never Use," from Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith's first CD, the percussion that begins the tune seemed to be toned way down, which I took as evidence of the gap between the subwoofer's response and the response of the SonaPods.
Also, some singers' voices distorted noticeably, although I couldn't identify a particular characteristic that made them distort. The deep, deep voice of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartman sounded fine, but the high alto of Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto made the SonaPods sound like they were being driven too hard. Go figure. I also noticed distortion in some of the lower notes of guitar recordings.