Moth Audio Cicada loudspeaker The Review
I've never been to Hollywood. In fact, I have only the vaguest notion of where it is (near Los Angeles, right?). But I do harbor a few ideas about what gets done in Hollywood, and until now, speaker manufacturing wasn't among them.
The Moth Audio Cicada is built around a 7" full-range, dual-cone driver with a small voice-coil gap, moderately large magnet assembly, and asymmetric mounting bolts. In other words, Moth's driver, which is built to their specifications in China, is a Lowther-alike. Its main and high-frequency "whizzer" cones are both made of yellow, parchment-like paper, and its single voice-coil is wound on the outside of a former that seems to be made of some heat-resistant plastic. (That last bit departs from common Lowther practice, where the coil former is an extension of the cone material itself, and the wire is wound on both sides.)
The frame is nicely cast from aluminum alloy and the cones are neatly shaped and glued, although other elements—the dual-disc ceramic magnet and molded plastic phase plug—look a bit cheap compared to the original. But consider: A comparable ceramic-magnet Lowther, the PM6C, retails for $495; the Moth Cicada driver, which is available for sale to hobbyists who want to roll their own, goes for just $119!
The Moth driver felt stiffer than the average Lowther, said stiffness appearing to come from the spider rather than from the foam surround, and the voice-coil gap appeared a bit bigger than I'm used to seeing in drivers of this type. That said, the Moth was perfectly well aligned and exhibited no sign of scraping (a common occurrence with Lowthers that pick up crud in their voice-coil gaps or have been damaged in shipping), although one Moth driver appeared to play very slightly louder than the other.
The Cicada's cabinet is neither horn nor transmission-line; it is, however, vented at the bottom, with three artfully shaped slots that give it a friendly, antique appearance. The cabinet is made of ¾" MDF, very nicely finished in a semigloss dark red. The inside is lightly braced and damped with thick wool felt. The Cicadas stand 42" tall (once you've fastened their well-made wooden bases to the cabinet bottoms), and measure 10" wide by 9" deep.
The all-around best position for the Cicada proved to be 34" from the back wall and 2' from the rear—a position from which, interestingly, no other speaker has worked well in the many, many days I've lived here. That gave me flat bass down to 80Hz, but the response rolloff below that was very gradual—so much so that there was audible bass all the way down to 31.5Hz! Up top, the rolloff began at 10kHz, although there was that little bit of prominence at 6-8kHz, even with the speakers aimed almost dead ahead. The only other anomaly was a mild hump at 400Hz, which may or may not have been room-related—and may or may not have made some vocalists sound almost imperceptibly husky (which, of course, suited June Christy well).
Out of the box, the Cicada had many of the typical Lowther strengths and weaknesses. On the pro side, voices and solo instruments had tremendous presence; for that matter, just about everything in their midrange had an open, hear-through quality. The Cicadas were direct and emotionally satisfying with virtually all types of music, and I enjoyed them every time I turned to them, regardless of my mood. They even sounded convincing at low and moderate listening levels: no need to crank them to get the juice out.
On the down side, notes below 100Hz or so had a slightly puffy quality, lacking in both color and impact as compared with other speakers—although the timing of the Cicada's bass notes was superb. Turning again to Misty Miss Christy, on the song "This Time the Dream's On Me," from Cisco Records' fine vinyl reissue of the original Something Cool (LP, Capitol T516), the upright bass was musically spot-on, propelling the song just the way it should. At first I thought the Cicada's cabinet vents were intended simply to keep the driver's free-air resonance reasonably low—with no other audible consequence. But they did contribute to sound output in the lowest frequencies, leading me to wonder if the cabinets weren't designed to behave like pipes at some range of frequencies.
Given the relatively large size of their high-frequency cones, Lowther-type drivers tend to be limited in their high-frequency response, and similarly tend to exhibit less than generous high-frequency dispersion. In those regards the Cicada had nothing up its sleeve, and fairly drastic toe-in was required for good stereo imaging. Unfortunately, as with "real" Lowthers, the Cicada drivers had that slight lower-treble peak (more than slight, actually, when first installed—but most of it went away in a matter of days), resulting in a bit of excess forwardness or "bite" when listened to directly on-axis. Finding a happy medium was tricky but possible; I wound up toeing them in only very, very slightly toward my seat.
It was a smooth ride from there, and over the weeks that followed I was impressed by the naturalness and overall lack of fuss with which the Cicadas played music—and how convincingly and almost eerily present they could make voices and instruments sound, even when positioned for "soft" imaging.
The evidently fast Moth driver reproduced notes with realistic attack and decay components, making piano music especially easy to enjoy. One of the best times I had with these speakers was playing Jorge Bolet's great live-in-the-studio recording of Wagner's Tannhäuser Overture, as arranged by Wagner's father-in-law (from the above-mentioned Liszt collection). I know it's grotesque, and I know it's absurd—like a perfect scale model of the Lincoln Memorial made of sugar cubes—but I love it: That arrangement can be very moving under the right conditions, and the Cicadas played it almost as well as my much more expensive Lowther horns. They sailed through Bolet's athletic crescendos with no more than 3W, making for an almost exhausting experience, in the best sense. (It's said that Liszt himself had to rest halfway through the piece.)
By the end of my time with them, I thought the Moths were the most dramatic speakers in the survey, overall. They did the best job portraying contrasts, going from believably soft to believably loud and back again, without egregious compression. And they had scale in spades. Given the task of playing a big-sounding recording such as Solti's Mahler Ninth (CSA 2220, a great London LP from 1967), they succeeded handily. The Cicada didn't have quite the timbral neutrality of the Meadowlark Swift—muted trumpets were a bit too muted, although not at all lacking in texture—but timpani had excellent pitch and acceptably good weight, and the orchestral sound was nicely balanced overall.
The Moth Cicada is a lot of speaker for the money in every sense—musically, and in terms of its build quality and appearance. Combining, as it does, the strengths and weaknesses typical of the ultralight dual-cone driver, the Cicada would make a great first speaker for anyone who thinks they can both appreciate the strengths of the genre and withstand the hurdles. Most people think T.S. Eliot's poetry is "difficult," too—but that's no reason to stay away from it.