ProAc Response Two loudspeaker Page 2
"Ok, put your head riiiiiiiiiiight there! Now, is that a soundstage, or is that a soundstage?!"
"Ungh...I—I think I hear it—"
"YOU MOVED YOUR HEAD AGAIN!! Aw, forget it!"
LATER with that audiophiliac nonsense! The Response Twos give you the same tight, holographic imaging as speakers like the Wilson WATTs, Celestion 700s, and Spica Angeluses, no matter where you wanna sit. Set up well away from the side and rear walls, the ProAcs just simply disappear, leaving behind an ambient soundfield that changes very little with head movement. I had a friend over to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand The Weather LP over the Twos, and while he sat digging it all from the sweete spotte, I was well to the right and sitting on the floor; the ProAcs still sounded fantastic. This freedom of listening position just may be the secret of the ProAcs' success; freed of having to situate your head just so for the speakers to focus, you subconsciously relax more with the Response Twos.
(Lessee..."relax more": optimum state under which to enjoy music, feelings of happiness, and euphoria...NAWWWW! Who wants that?)
Of course, for the most accurate imaging, center o' the LaZBoy is best, but the Response Twos' soundfield stays solid over a much wider area than the typical "head-in-a-vise" audiophile special. Which means you can get up and dance if the mood strikes. Which means that more than one person can enjoy them at a time. Which means that [GULP] other people can join the party, too!
Which means these're not audiophile speakers.
No more fear of real music
"Led Zeppelin?! Joe Ely?! You don't understand, man—these speakers do one thing and one thing ONLY: driven by my 5W single-ended triode OTL tube amps, they will put Jän Ulmstegt and her Happy Little Dulcimer right here in the room with us!!"
¡Cojones! If there's one thing that chaps my hide, it's a speaker that only "works" with certain kinds of music. Take the Sound-Lab A-1s (please); Muse was using them at the Stereophile Show in LA this past April, and the sound was great with music of a, eh, genteel nature. But when I put on Nirvana's "Breed," they just couldn't do it. No, I'm sure Roger West doesn't include Nirvana in the design loop, and he'd be nuts if he did; full-range electrostatics don't rock'n'roll. Never did, never will. The Sound-Labs sounded wonderful at sane levels with the white—er, I mean, right kinda music, but what if you like all sorts of music?
You buy ProAc Response Twos, which sound great with everything: hard rock, acoustic jazz, solo piano, you name it. Stuart Tyler has struck a balance with his Response series of speakers that is as chameleon-like as any speaker I've heard. Driven by the VTLs, Nirvana's Nevermind just flat LEAPED out of the ProAcs, with electric bass thumps and kick-drum whumps I never would've expected out of British minimonitors with 6.5" woofers. The Response Twos, while physically small, do not sound bass-shy; these are very full-sounding speakers, and if there's no real sub–40Hz bass to speak of, the bass that is there is tight, clean, and powerful. In fact, ProAc's unusual straw-assisted port-loading seems to combine the best attributes of ported bass (greater SPLs for a given driver excursion, ability to coax a lot of bass from small enclosures/woofers) and sealed loading (tighter-sounding, more transient purity, better pitch definition).
At the other end of the musical spectrum, Lyle Lovett's cover of "Friend of the Devil" off the Deadicated CD was portrayed by the Response Twos in vivid, crystal-clear relief. Many fine speakers will give you the outlines of the acoustic guitars' images; the ProAcs fleshed these images out from front to back, endowing the guitars with a breathtaking sense of 3-D realism. Believe me, I've heard my share of acoustic guitars, and I can tell you that I haven't heard a speaker that can better the Response Two when it comes to creating the illusion of an acoustic guitar in your listening room. All the body of the instrument, the wood and steel tone, the glassy sound of brand-new strings—it's all there in just the right proportions. From the Chopin recording on the first Stereophile Test CD to Metallica's "Enter Sandman," the ProAcs sounded GREAT. Which means no more agonizing over whether to go with the hyper-clear "accurates" that can't rock'n'roll, or the rock'n'roll animals that can't deliver correct timbres. Which means that no matter what kind of music you like, the Response Twos will be the right speaker for the job.
Which means these're not audiophile speakers.
No more Morris the cat
You remember Morris, don't you? That fat, finicky, orange pussy who'd only deign to eat din-din if he was fed just the right cat food? A lot of audiophile speakers remind me of Morris: this one needs tubes, that one needs solid-state, this one needs just the right kind of solid-state—who NEEDS it? Who wears the PANTS in your listening room, you or your speakers?!
Well, the ProAcs don't mind what you drive them with; as long as the amp's got some finesse, the Response Twos are happy. In terms of timbre and dynamics, the big VTL 225s were the best match for the ProAcs, but the $1200 Muse Model One Hundred MOSFET amp wasn't far behind, giving the little Response Twos an even tighter and more powerful bottom end. The sound was slightly harder, and image depth wasn't as well-defined as with the big tube amps, but overall the ProAcs sounded killer with the solid-state Muse. Even a little 35W tube amp like the Nobis Cantabile worked well with the Response Two, given the obvious dynamic limitations. Which means that with the ProAcs, you're no longer limited to just a handful of "proper" amplifiers. Which means that, tube or solid-state, you're going to get great sound with the Response Twos.
I think you know what that means.
Harsh reality time
Unfortunately, there is one teensy-weensy detail: the ProAcs absolutely, positively MUST be used with Target's custom-designed RS2 stands.
"Whew! Is that all?! We thought you were gonna tell us about some fatal flaw in the—"
The RS2 stands cost 700 clams.
Sorry, but it's true. The ProAcs are astonishing only when sitting on these muy expensivo sand- or lead-fillable heavy metal Target RS2 stands; used with even the excellent $350 Sound Anchors models I also tried, the Response Twos lose most of their incredible imaging precision and startling-for-the-size bass. I did hear some good sound out of the ProAcs when they were mounted inside RoomTunes's new $600 Speaker Clamp at the 1992 Stereophile Show, but those crazy things look like torture-racks, fer chrissakes! I don't want to know what kind of freakazoid would have those things in their house (footnote 1). No, until some boyz in the hood like Arcici or Merrill take up the challenge, the British-built Target stands must be considered mandatory.
I did the majority of my listening with the ProAcs coupled to their stands with four li'l blobs of Blu-Tak, but at the request of the importer I also tried out some $100 rubber damping mats called Standwiches. These ¼"-thick grey rubber sheets reportedly absorb resonances, and sure enough, the "before/after" cartoon drawings in the literature show a drastic reduction in squiggly lines emanating from the cabinet used with a Standwich. In actual use, though, the Standwiches soak up more than just squiggly lines; I thought the ProAcs sounded less dynamic, "slower" overall with the mats. Stick with the Blu-Tak; it's cheap, effective, and you can use what's left over to stick particularly insightful "Miss Manners" columns up on your fridge.
Son of harsh reality time
$3000 is long green indeed for a pair of minimonitors, even world-class ones like these ProAcs; add in the cost of the Target stands, and you're looking at something close to a $4000 speaker system. For four grand, you could have Martin-Logan Quests or Apogee Centaur Majors, or even Hales System Twos or Spendor S-100s with a cool thou left over to buy that ivory back-scratcher you've been eyeing. Are the little ProAc Response Twos really in the same league as these big guns?
Got a real big room and like your music real loud? Then go with the bigger speakers; the ProAcs kick butt for being so small, but they're not miracle-workers! In the 19.5' L by 11' W by 8' H dedicated listening room I set up in my new house, the ProAcs played as loud and clean as I wanted, but I got the impression they were right on the verge of losing it. Matter of fact, I did blow a tweeter once when I was cranking the Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels greatest hits CD on Rhino, but that's one of those discs that sounds best when your amp's about 6dB into the red anyway. A call to the distributor got me a new tweeter lickety-split, and I never had another problem with the speakers. The point is, though, if you've got a bigger room than mine, the Response Twos might not be up to the challenge of those larger speakers, at least not in terms of ultimate dynamics.
However, if you've got a small-to-medium-size room like mine, the ProAc Response Two may be the best speaker you can buy under $4000. I'm serious; they're that good. The $3299/pair Celestion SL700SE is the ProAc's natural rival, in terms of both price and size, but I feel the Response Two offers a higher overall level of sound quality than the little Celestion. As good as it is, the 700SE doesn't have nearly the bass extension or the dynamic capabilities of the ProAc, and for sheer freedom of listening position, the ProAc wins hands down.
I also tried using the ProAcs with the Muse Model 18 active subwoofer after Muse's Kevin Halverson whipped me up a personality card for the Two. Kevin said his measurements showed a remarkably smooth response for a 4th-order vented system. Anyway, the combination was KILLER! Just as with my usual Spica Angeluses, the ProAcs can play insanely loud once you free their woofers of having to handle the lowest two octaves. I've heard speakers that sounded better than the ProAc/Muse combo, but I can count them on one hand while making the peace sign. Funnily enough, the $6500 price of the Model 18 and the Response Twos with their Target stands is about what you'd pay for ProAc's Response Threes. Which way would I go? Hard to say without hearing them both in my room. Maybe Richard Gerberg will send me back the Twos plus a pair of Threes so I can find out.
And maybe next month's Stereophile will feature a centerfold of Dick Olsher wearing only a Graham tonearm.
I don't have to tell you I loved these ProAcs. As thrilled as I was with what they could do, I was even more impressed by what they did not. As antithetical to the whole hi-fi–nut syndrome as any I've heard, the ProAc Response Two is a stunning product that delivers a quality of sound most audiophile speakers only hint at. If, like me, you're sick of playing the "hot speaker of the month" game and just want to ENJOY YOUR MUSIC, leave the audionuts to their speaker-angst and audition the Response Twos. At almost $4000 with stands, are they expensive? Yes. Are they worth it? Without a doubt.
Footnote 1: Yes, it was the dreaded Weavers, I'm sad to report.
Footnote 2: Oh, wait—yes, I do. YOU!!! AI-EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!