Friday, May 20, 2005

Dream monitors / small speakers

I have a soft spot for small speakers ("mini-monitors"), mainly because I once owned a pair of ProAc Response 1SC on Tangent R24 stands. I plan to update this post with short news of exciting new small speakers.

Totem has introduced a Signature version of its acclaimed Model 1 mini-monitor. I still greatly miss Totem's Arro speakers, which I kept in my study and then foolishly sold. Although Arro is a ultra slim, compact floor standing speaker, its miniature size puts it in mini-monitor class. And not only the size, but the way Arros disappear and soundstage resemble more mini-monitors than floor standing speakers. Note, though, that Arros present a typical dilemma of high quality mini-monitors: physically small they can be, but they require substantial investment in quality upstream components in order to sound best. My experience is that all best, small speakers can easily accommodate upstream components costing 2-3 times more than speakers themselves.

The speaker on my personal short list is Harbeth Super HL5. This particular speaker received TAS' Golden Ear Award 2004 (full review in TAS 149), and was also much appreciated by Sam Telling in February 2005 issue of Stereophile. SHL5 is the latest embodiment of the classic BBC-inspired (ugly) box. There seems to be three distinctive features in its design: first, mid/bass driver made of proprietary RADIAL material; second, Audax titanium-dome supertweeter (cross-over at around 15kHz, tweeter is SEAS aluminum-dome); and third, cabinet made of thin walls is designed to resonate, much like real instruments.

Sam Telling said "... one of the finest speakers to come my way", and Robert E. Greene in TAS review " ought to listen to it just to explore one direction of the boundaries of the possible."

UPDATE: I noticed that Harbeth Super HL5 was also reviewed in Stereo Times in October 2004. Paul Szabady: "The consistent and lasting impression of the Super HL5 is its exceptional ability to get to and to communicate the heart of music. Never, at any price or design type, have I heard a speaker that so completely got out of the way and let the music speak for itself." He concluded the review by saying "The Harbeth Super HL5 is a true masterpiece of speaker design."

In courteous terms one can say that SHL5 looks old-fashioned or classic, for my eyes it's one ugly duck with those available veneers. But heck, it's the sound which matters .

BTW, funny thing about those supertweeters, i.e. that what you can not hear actually affects what you can hear. You can experience the same effect with subwoofers; adding sub into system clearly affects reproduction of mids.

Another great mini-monitor apparently is Legacy Victoria LE. Unfortunately for us europeans Legacy Audio is not well distributed within the EU - and based on various positive reviews it should be. Victoria LE was subject to TAS review in issue 152.

Robert Harley utterly liked this over-sized, truncated-pyramid design, which incorporates a ribbon tweeter. The review has the following extracts: "The Victoria combines the classic virtues of a mini-monitor with the bass extension and weight of many floor-standing speakers; "...image focus was razor-sharp..."; "... the Victoria had some special magic that kept me clued to the listening seat." ; and finally "In the very competitive USD 3.500-per pair loudspeaker market, the Victoria is a standout bargain ..."

In May 2005 issue of French Haute Fidelite TAD's studio near-field, the Model TSM-300, was reviewed. TAD is Pioneer's professional / audiophile spin-off, and its drivers and speakers are highly admired among connoisseurs. TSM-300 combines a single 1-inch titanium HF compression driver on a proprietary round aperture horn, flanked by two 6-inch edgeless structure woofers. Frequency response is said to be 35 to 35k Hz. At EURO 1.067 per speaker this seems to be one hell of the deal. Haute Fidelite highlighted precision, resolution, energetic drive, and soundstaging. Value for money, 5/5 stars.

BTW, TAD has another Website, which presents their homeaudio products, like the famous Model-1. From that product family model CM-1 might be another super minimonitor with its Beryllium cone midrange driver and Beryllium dome/cone high-frequency driver. So far I haven't see any reviews.

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