Monsoon Audio FPF-1000 loudspeaker Page 2

When I played some of my standard discs for low-frequency evaluation, the FPF never strained at levels that stressed my ears, but also never achieved the palpable impact obtained with the Revel Ultima Studios or other big speakers. Indeed, I've heard what seemed a better semblance of lower lows from the much smaller Paradigm Reference Studio/20, with its single 6.5" woofer. The FPF pumped much more air around the room and played much, much louder than the Studio/20 or the dual-woofered Studio/60, but I suspect that Monsoon has designed bass loading to maximize power output rather than extension. Of course, that's what a subwoofer is for—although I could not confirm it experimentally, the FPF should be formidable with a little help from a decent sub.

Given that Monsoon describes the FPF-1000 as a "home theater" speaker, you might think two of them would be happy with a hulk of a video monitor between them. That wasn't so. With dipoles, the reflection of the rear radiation and its interaction with the front radiation in the listener's part of the room depends on there being a relatively clear and open space between the speakers. Large absorbing or reflecting objects occupying most of this middle area wreak havoc with midrange balance. In my room, a low settee with decorative pillows usually sits between the speakers; I had to remove this before the FPFs could perform acceptably. With the settee in place, voices seemed nasal and overresonant, and the transition from the planar midrange to the cone woofers was quite noticeable. To minimize this in a home-theater setup, the FPFs should be very widely placed or moved forward from the plane of the monitor. For mainstream music listeners, this is merely a caution in case you're thinking about placing a chair or an equipment rack up front.

Unfortunately, the anomalies in the lower crossover region so clearly revealed by the presence of the settee did not completely disappear with its removal. Toeing-in the speakers, as suggested by Monsoon, made the problem worse, so I did most of my listening with the speakers firing straight ahead. (This is how I'd placed the Apogee Duettas and Stax F-81 dipoles in this room.) Removing the front grilles, as suggested by some Internet discussants, had a very minor effect.

The problem I was hearing was an irregularity in the region of the 400Hz crossover for which I found no cure, and which was acutely revealed by male voices. For example, James Taylor (Hourglass, Columbia CS 67912) came across pretty well, but Leonard Cohen (I'm Your Man, Columbia CK 44191) was all gruff rumble without his characteristic raspy edge, and Keb' Mo' (The Door, Epic BS 61428) sounded thin and lightweight. These guys didn't sound bad or indistinguishable from each other, but they sounded unlike they do with other speakers—or, in Keb' Mo's case, in person. Conversely, female voices—with the exception of Odetta and other women whose lower voices extend into the danger zone—were just right. And, because of the FPFs' superb spatial presentation, they seemed almost within reach.

There was a prominence of lower-clarinet and English-horn sounds with well-balanced orchestral recordings. At low volume levels this seemed to be mere spotlighting, but at high levels the prominence was more noticeable. Still, it didn't always get in the way, or prevent me from having a great experience listening to Ton Koopman directing Biber's Missa Salisburgensis (Erato 3984-25506-2). The clarity of the instruments and voices, solo or massed, was amazing. Despite the extremely long acoustic decay of the venue, the Salzburg Cathedral, the competitive senses of presence and ambience were deliciously balanced. The brass was glorious, the antiphonal effects striking, the lower midrange rich, and the low end quite sufficient for the forces employed. Only by direct comparison with the other speakers on hand could the FPFs be judged anything but stupendous.

Compared with the Paradigm Studio/60 or the more expensive Soliloquy 5.3, the Monsoon Audio FPF-1000 loses out in harmonic accuracy in the lower midrange and, to a degree, in absolute bass extension. However, neither of those other worthies can launch a vista of sound as wide and deep as the Monsoons, and neither could play as loud with such aplomb. As for other dipoles, I have had no experience in my own room with the ETs, Magnepans, or the New Form hybrids, and with the disappearance of manufacturer support and parts (footnote 1), it's hard to recommend Apogees as realistic alternatives. However, used pairs of Quad's ESL-63. don't cost much more than the FPF these days. Here, all votes would go to the Quads save for one abstention: The squat Quad just can't rock like the svelte FPF-1000.

Is the Monsoon FPF-1000 flawed? Yes, but so are all real-world devices, especially those sold at real-world prices. The major difficulty I had with the FPF-1000 concerned its frequency range, which can be greatly affected by positioning and acoustics. A seamless and dynamically stable crossover from monopolar bass to dipolar midrange is difficult to achieve, and greatly affected by proximity to large objects and room boundaries. I'd be very surprised if the Monsoon did not sound somewhat different in another room.

The lack of truly Stygian bass is hardly damning at this price, and was more than made up for by the FPF's power handling and spacious soundstage. Jaded as I am by speakers costing 10 times as much, I thoroughly enjoyed the Monsoons' visit, in much the way I relish discovering something new and different. So what if the FPF-1000 didn't live up to all my hopes? Expecting a $1200/pair loudspeaker to do everything perfectly is unreasonable.

Depending on your priorities, the Monsoon Audio FPF-1000 can provide a genuine glimpse of high-end sound in a graceful, inexpensive, and easy-to-use package. If you prize imaging and soundstaging as well as the ability to re-create realistic SPLs, you might find them to be right for you.

Footnote 1: See the Apogee Speaker Users website for information about a new source for parts and manuals, and the AudioWorld Apogee Users Group for general help and support.
Monsoon Audio
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