JMlab Micron & Micron Carat loudspeaker Page 2
The phono front-end consisted of the Aura turntable, Graham Model 1.5 tonearm, Rowland Complement cartridge, and the Threshold FET-ten/e preamp. The Theta DS Pre and Cary Audio processors were used with all digital program material. A bridged pair of Classé Audio DR-8 amps were used most of the time. The Microns were positioned atop 24" Chicago Speaker Stands and located about a third of the way into the listening room from the rear wall—at what has proven to be the optimal minimonitor imaging location.
It did not prove necessary to listen to the Micron considerably off the tweeter axis, because the lower treble did not really sound bright. However, to alleviate an extreme treble peak, it proved beneficial to toe-in the speaker until the tweeter axes crossed in front of the listening seat.
Sonic impressions: first sample
At no time could I completely relax and enjoy the music with this speaker; two flaws kept gnawing away at me. First, the upper mids, from around the crossover region at 4kHz through the lower treble at 8kHz, were consistently grainy and dry, sounding irritatingly rough. At its best, track 12 of the Audio Arts CD (Grundig MD&GL 3322) can be gloriously expansive. J.S. Bach's "Komm, Jesu, Komm" was tailor-made for sopranos, and on this recording they soar sweetly and naturally across the soundstage. With the Micron, however, I was hard pressed to discern any residual sweetness in the sopranos' upper registers. Instead of fleshing out the natural sheen of female voice, the Micron substituted a rough, parched textural quality.
The Lesley Test, track 13 of the Stereophile Test CD, suffered a similar fate. Textures sounded dry, and Lesley's vibrato was not well resolved. Another favorite soprano of mine, Julianne Baird (Dorian DOR-90126), also underwent the Micron treatment: the ripe tonal quality of her upper registers became slightly raspy! Hall reverb was somewhat indistinctly reproduced, so that it became difficult to precisely locate Julianne within the soundstage. She was sort of to the left of center on track 9, but I had no better than a vague idea as to where her diaphragm and throat were.
Adulterate the upper mids, and another obvious timbral casualty is the violin. For example, Itzhak Perlman's violin overtones (Bruch's Violin Concerto, EMI ASD-2926) sounded so dry and lacking in sheen that any reference to a live instrument lost credibility.
Misa Criolla (Philips CD 420 955-2) was reproduced within a wide and transparent soundstage, and instrumental outlines were decently focused. Dynamic shadings were also captured with a semblance of bloom and linearity, at least from soft to loud. Very loud passages, however, were noticeably strained and compressed. The Micron, in general, did not fare too well on orchestral music. Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (German EMI 7-634492), with José Van Dam as the Dutchman and Karajan at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic, was badly served by the Micron's emaciation of bass lines. The problem wasn't so much the lack of any deep bass below 65Hz, but rather the reduction of upper-bass and lower-midrange energy. This was the Micron's second big problem.
The Micron's tonal balance was too lean to preserve the weight and power of a large orchestra. But even on intimate music, the lower registers lacked conviction. Bach's Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord (Simax CD PSC 1024) were clearly and negatively affected. The body of the gamba was diminished, and the harpsichord lacked a healthy dose of natural brilliance. Male voice was also affected. Eric Bib's chest (River Road, Opus 3 CD 8017) was diminished, as was baritone John Shirley-Quirk's (Walton, Belshazzar's Feast, EMI SAN-234).
Treble transients were not well-controlled, sounding a bit smeared. The quality of the treble, in general, was rough, too prominent in the extreme treble, and lacking the airy delicacy of live music. Imaging, on the whole, was pretty good. Massed voices were well-resolved, and outlines were delineated with good focus—at least most of the time. But with all of its problems, I found it difficult to get excited about the Micron's imaging.
On the basis of its elegant façade, I expected great things from this miniature transducer. Alas, that from the mouth of a babe such disappointing sounds could emerge is indeed a tragedy.
Sonic impressions: second sample
This particular review underwent an unusually long but unintentional gestation period (over a year) for reasons that had to do mostly with overload at my end and gruelling publishing schedules. As with the Vieta minimonitor that I review in the next issue, the speaker was revised during this unfortunately extended period. After I had submitted the text of my review, JA felt it fair to request a second pair of Microns more representative of current production from the new US distributors.