ProAc Response One SC loudspeaker Page 2

Two completely different discs that have lived in my most-played pile recently illustrate this in their completely different ways. The first, Chesky's wonderful CD of Wagner orchestral excerpts with Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra (CD161), has a stunning "Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music" recorded in All Saints Church, Petersham, in the UK. Here, the ProAcs re-created the acoustic space of a relatively large church. In absolute terms, that space was re-created as somewhat—maybe even quite a bit—smaller than was realistic, but there was no doubt that the musical stage was far vaster than my listening room, for example. The individual instruments had body and heft, and the soundstaging was both broad and deep. If you must have a 1:1 replica of the event, then no small speaker I've heard is going to serve. The Response One SCs created a scale model of the event, but it was an accurate model—and not a skimpy one.

The level of reproductive detail achieved by the One SC was remarkable. About 10 minutes into "Wotan's Farewell," the sound made to represent Wotan striking his spear on Brünnhilde's rock was almost scary in its verisimilitude—well, if not exactly scary, then certainly startling. I know it's coming and I still jump every time I hear it. (After all, that's probably what Wagner was going for.)

The other resident of my most-favored-CD pile is Jack DeJohnette's Oneness (ECM 1637, reviewed in this issue). Oneness doesn't pretend to U-R-There soundstaging, nor does it sound artificial or multitracked. It does have timbral truth and incredible dynamics; it even has air and space surrounding individual instruments. What it doesn't have, technically speaking, is a 3-D soundstage. "Jack IN," for instance, has Michael Caine's piano spread from the left to the right speaker, while DeJohnette's drumset and Don Alias' percussion share the right side of the soundstage, with Jerome Harris' guitar featured somewhat left of center. I don't think you could get that degree of separation in real life—the sound is obviously made-in-the-studio. But it's convincing on its own terms, and the ProAc Response One SCs reproduced all of the information while simultaneously getting out of the way of the magical music-making taking place on the recording.

This speaker's phenomenally clean midrange must have been at least partially responsible. It was remarkably fast and lacked any obvious colorations. Some folks might prefer the earlier One S for its ever-so-slightly-sweeter sound, but I think the SC iteration is (ahem) clearly better. The Response SC also played somewhat lower and somewhat louder before getting screechy. It still wasn't a headbanger's loudspeaker of choice, but I enjoyed listening to well-recorded rock and full-orchestral recordings through it.

As to bass response, it is a small loudspeaker, after all. I got usable response down into the 30-40Hz range in my room—which meant that the tuba on A La Carte Brass & Percussion's Go-Go and Gumbo, Satchmo 'n' Soul (CD, Wildchild/Mapleshade 04752) sounded full-bodied and real—which is good enough for me. But it may not be good enough for those who want deep bass to be a physical experience. Those folks should consider the Response Two, Three, or Four, perhaps.

Where the Response One SC did excel was in acoustic music of all stripes, but particularly small ensembles recorded naturally—and in vocal music, where it could reduce me to jelly. The tight harmony vocals on January's "Recording of the Month," Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79478-2), for instance, were preternaturally real.

Made small with art
Gosh, I hate to be an audiophile and actually talk equipment here, but the Response One SC was quite demanding of what I hooked it up to. I've already mentioned the bi-wiring angle, but you want to keep everything upstream as good as possible. The very accuracy I admired so much in this speaker insidiously exposed any inferior source component or amplifier. For much of my auditioning, I used the Mark Levinson No.39/Conrad-Johnson ART/Krell FPB 600 chain that has been my reference system for the last few months.

It may seem silly to connect a $2100/pair loudspeaker to a high-power $9000 power amplifier, but the combination was truly spectacular. When I exchanged the Levinson player for a Meridian 508-24 (review forthcoming), the sonic differences were readily apparent. I'll listen further with other components, obviously, but the ProAc certainly did not obscure the differences.

However, I was curious about using the ProAcs in some other systems, and in contexts more in keeping with their list price. I found the Krell KAV-300i integrated amplifier drove the speakers beautifully. They make a grand combo, although some listeners might find the sound a tad relentless in tonal presentation.

Far better, at least to my ears, was the Cary 300 SEI integrated. I was worried that this single-ended tube amp's extremely low output wouldn't drive the speakers to satisfactory levels, but, while there were definite constraints on loudness, I had no complaints listening in my room—your mileage may vary, of course. In fact, the Cary/ProAc combo was magical—I went back and re-listened to every CD left unfiled in my listening room, then went to the shelves and pulled out some more. There was a realness to the combo that went far beyond any item on an audio checklist. I just sat and listened and marveled.

I loved the ProAc Response One SC throughout my audition, but if you can pair it with tubes—especially triodes—you'll up the seduction factor by an order of magnitude.

Small wonder
I'm happy to say that the ProAc Response One SC proved every bit as special as I remembered its predecessor to be. If you own a pair of that model, the One S, the upgrade price of $500 can substantially improve on the speakers you already own. If you're looking for a high-quality loudspeaker for $3000/pair or less, then you should certainly listen to the Response One SC—you too may fall under the spell of this tiny titan. Other speakers may well play louder and deeper, but this ProAc is touched by magic. And if you already have a tube amp, you should listen to the One SC whether you're in the market for speakers or not.

Company Info
ProAc
Modern Audio Consultants
112 Swanhill Court
Baltimore, MD 21208
(410) 486-5975
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