ProAc Future One loudspeaker
Given how many years he's been at it, how many other speakers he's built, and how different the One is from any of those earlier designs you may have read about, owned, or may still own, Tyler could just as accurately have said: "I have spent an entire career building speakers I did not want to build. Until now." Not the optimal way to spend a career. Or is Tyler taking his cue from Charles Mingus, who, when asked to characterize the quality of his latest release, would invariably say, "This is the greatest record I've ever made"?
The Future One is unlike any ProAc you've ever seen or heard. It has a ribbon tweeter, an open-baffle midrange driver, and asymmetrical, bottom-ported bass loading. Why the sudden shift? It turns out that one of Tyler's first designs, 25 years ago, used a Decca ribbon tweeter, a Quad electrostatic midrange element, and a cone woofer. But it wasn't really practical for several reasons, and Tyler moved on to the more familiar and much-heralded ProAc moving-coil designs, which, as we now know, were not what he really wanted to be building. But the Future is. Tyler is at last building the speaker of his dreams because he's finally found a reliable ribbon tweeter that performs to his requirements, and he thinks he's figured out a way to integrate the bottom and midrange with it.
Appearance and Construction
Chest-high (4') and, at 75 lbs, surprisingly lightweight for a ProAc floorstander, the wedge-shaped, three-driver Future One carries a heavyweight price of $10,000/pair. This is due in part to the difficulties involved in making the complex cabinets, each of which is hand-built in the UK and takes over 16 hours to assemble. The enclosure is relatively wide (19½" at the base, 13" at the top), with a rear-sloping baffle, and there's not a parallel cabinet wall in (or out of) sight. All surfaces—front, sides, rear—are beautifully finished in a choice of nine real-wood veneers. The yew review samples got two thumbs up from Mrs. Fremer.
The three drivers are vertically aligned and consist of a 7" ScanSpeak carbon-fiber–impregnated paper-cone woofer designed to ProAc's specs, crossed over at 290Hz (at 12dB/octave) to a 5" transparent polypropylene-cone midrange with integral phase plug, which hands off the signal at 3.5kHz (18dB/octave) to the ca 2" ribbon tweeter, said to be no thicker than a human hair. ProAc claims that the custom-built ribbon has a response out to 30kHz, but they're not saying who manufactures it.
There's a big problem with fast, exotic tweeters: How do you get them to blend effectively with the slower midrange and bass drivers? Tyler's solution is to operate the midrange unit in free air, which eliminates back-of-cabinet reflections and allows the driver to move unhindered. A rear-cabinet flare is said to help couple the midrange driver's backwave to the air, dissipating it and preventing it from interfering with the front wave. In addition, the rear of the open tweeter/midrange baffle is lined with foam damping material to further reduce the possibility of reflected energy. The woofer is loaded into a bottom-ported, heavily braced and damped asymmetrical enclosure said to greatly reduce standing waves.
Set Up and Broken In
The Future One sits on a pair of cabinet-mounted cones at the front and a pair of stabilizer bars at the rear, these also fitted with cones. The bars jut out the speaker's rear, allowing for some adjustment of rake angle, but I didn't find the One particularly sensitive to changes in verticality.
More important in getting the most from the Future One was toe-in. I got the best combination of smooth extension, appropriate soundstaging, and image focus with the tweeter axes crossing just behind my ears, which meant that the speakers were toed-in but not aimed directly at my listening position about 8' away. The ProAcs produced their best tonal balance when placed near where the Sonus Faber Amatis work best in my room: about 3' from the front wall, 2' from the side walls, and about 9' apart. Of course, all rooms are different, but I've learned one thing from placing loudspeakers so close to the front wall: such proximity in no way inhibits the development of soundstage depth.
The Future One is biwirable via two pairs of high-quality rhodium binding posts. ProAc obviously recommends biwiring: the "jumper" provided is a thick pin that, if you try to use it, leaves a gap between the nut and the post so wide that any spade lug known to modern audiophilia will simply fall out. (Between this and the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista's steroidal binding posts, what is wrong with those Limeys?) I ended up biwiring, using Yamamura 6000 on top and Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista OCC on bottom. I tried a few other cables in my wire arsenal, just to be sure cabling wasn't affecting the sonic results. It wasn't.
While the Future Ones had been broken in somewhat by the importer, he warned me that they needed more. He was right. Out of the box, the tweeter's incredible resolution and clarity were obvious—but so was the tweeter, which was bright if still sweet, and only marginally connected to the sound of the rest of the speaker. But after a week of constant use the tweeter had mellowed considerably, and the two years of work Tyler is said to have put into the design and final voicing of the Future One was bearing delicate, detailed sonic fruit.
Balance and Resolution
The ProAc Response 2.5, which I reviewed in January 1996 (Stereophile, Vol.19 No.1), and the other ProAc towers I've heard, share a rich, warm, generous, almost ripe sonic balance. But forget whatever you might think of the big "ProAc sound"—the Future One is cut from finer cloth. It was much more lean, fast, and nimble, while still managing to sound sweet and rich.
While the single ported 7" woofer is said to extend down to 25Hz, the One's overall balance is on the trim side, particularly in the midbass. Though the Ones occasionally surprised me by cleanly plumbing the depths, lovers of pipe-organ music will need to augment them with a subwoofer. But everyone else should be satisfied with the One's firm foundation, and absolutely thrilled by its superb bottom-end pitch definition.