ProAc Response 4 loudspeaker Jack English June 1994
My March '94 review of the ProAc Response 4 was positive, but prolonged exposure to the speaker has convinced me that I wasn't nearly enthusiastic enough in my recommendation. In that review I described several speaker positions and the sonic consequences of each. After a great deal of additional experimentation, I now feel that my earlier suggestions were suboptimal. The 4s sounded good in almost any configuration, but each arrangement produced different sonic results.
I've found that the big 4s perform best when placed about a third of the way into the room from the rear wall (as I said in my review), but with the rear outside corner of each speaker within a foot of the sidewall. I aim the cabinets, with the grillecloths removed, directly at my listening position, which is a third of the way into the room from the wall behind the seat. In this arrangement, the speakers simply don't exist—they produce an extremely large, open soundstage which extends from side wall to side wall. Discernible layers of width and depth are coupled with pinpoint placement of the performers.
Remarkably, in this configuration, the 4s are as adept at re-creating image size as they are at re-creating space. Individual artists are never too large, full orchestras never too small; small ensembles sound like small ensembles, and live outdoor concerts sound just like live outdoor concerts. The 4s are simply conduits, never imposing space or size colorations on the source recording.
Having finally found what I felt to be the optimum placement for the 4s in my listening room (footnote 1), I was able to focus on other aspects of their performance. I now realize that the problems I mentioned in my original review were a result of the ProAc's splendid neutrality. The speakers act as panes of glass at the end of the sonic reproductive chain, their sound determined by what precedes them. They are superb reviewing tools, detailing whatever they're fed; but, unlike so many speakers with this capability, they're not analytical, inordinately fast, or ruthlessly revealing. Rather, they're inherently musical and enjoyable.
I didn't get the full measure of the 4s until I'd swapped dozens of pieces of gear into and out of my system. Quick or A/B comparisons were very difficult, as other problems in the system dominated what I heard. I've finally realized that the 4 is a remarkable tool with full-range frequency performance, soundstaging equaling the best I've heard, and the capability to reproduce whatever it's given. The music was too thin, rich, or sibilant only if something else in the chain was making it so. I could create or remove any number of ills by changing the equipment or source material.
The key which unlocked the puzzle of the ProAc was the occasional frustration I was having listening to music. I buy a great deal of a variety of music on both LP and CD, and listen to music as often as possible—I have a Discman in my briefcase and a boombox in my office. A recent purchase was the Crash Test Dummies' God Shuffled His Feet (Arista 16531-2). I first heard this in my car on FM 106.3, a small, alternative-rock station in New Jersey. I got the CD and enjoyed it on both my Discman and boombox for a number of weeks. But when I listened to it on my system with the 4s, I realized that what I'd been hearing was bad digital sound adequately masked by poor playback equipment. Through the 4s, all of the recording's shortcomings were laid bare, especially an insidious sharpness and edginess which made the music very hard to listen to.
On the other hand, I have enjoyed, but never fallen in love with, Jorge Reyes' El Costumbre (Extreme XCD021). When I saw that Glenn Hammett had listed it as one of his picks for recording of the year in The Abso!ute Sound, I was very surprised—over the years I've been consistently impressed with everything Glenn has recommended. I decided to listen again with the big 4s. Not surprisingly, the recording sounded splendid, with a large, spacious soundscape; layer upon layer of embedded musical detail; complex, precise rhythmic interplay; and prominent sounds throughout the frequency spectrum. It was musically and sonically gorgeous.
In short, the 4s sound stunning because they "sound like" almost nothing at all—this is why I had so much trouble with them the first time around. I heard problems and shortcomings in recordings and my system's other equipment that came and went as I changed components and source material. The more I listened to the 4s, and the more I recalled Lewis Lipnick's B&W 800 review, the more I realized that, while I could never say of the 4s' shortcomings that "there are none," I can say that I have yet to find any.
The ProAc Response 4 can compete with any speaker at any price. While $18,000 is a great deal of money, the 4's performance is state-of-the-art. It simply took me longer than I had expected to fully appreciate the splendor of this remarkable loudspeaker.—Jack English
Footnote 1: While I, too, found that this placement gave superb soundstaging when I visited Jack in March, the downside was that it had a deleterious effect on the speakers' low-frequency performance compared with the positions JE had originally used for his review. See the "Measurements" sidebar (Vol.17 No.5, pp.141-145) for more information.—John Atkinson