Monsoon Audio FPF-1000 loudspeaker
Time no longer permits me to do much of that, but the cheapskate spirit hasn't died. When I saw Canadian company Monsoon Audio's new FPF speakers on the main floor at CES, not at the high-end venue, I got the old chill in my miserly bones: three-way planar-magnetic hybrids at $600–$1600/pair! The prototypes looked and sounded great, even though the demo was a bit too whiz-bang for my tastes. What tickled me was the hope that someone had found a way to make real high-end speakers for very little money. Send me a pair. Please.
All three speakers in Monsoon's FPF range are three-way designs and are actually made in China. They differ in number and size of drivers and, consequently, in cabinet size and crossover points. The big FPF-1600 uses two tweeters and four large midranges in a vertical array with a pair of 8" woofers, while the small FPF-600 has one driver each: a tweeter, a large mid, and a 6.5" woofer. The speakers I received had a pair of 6.5" polypropylene woofers in a vented, molded, 20-liter enclosure attached to a heavy metal base. The guppy's mouth-like vent on the front is large and flared to reduce compression effects, and low to the floor for, I assume, coupling. The plywood front panel ("blade," according to Monsoon) bears a vertical stack of two planar-magnetic midrange drivers and, between them, a single planar-magnetic tweeter. Crossovers are at 400Hz and 5kHz. Thus, the bass is front-radiating but effectively omnidirectional, while the mids and highs are dipole radiators. The walnut-veneered "blade" is tilted slightly back and curved gently forward at the top.
The FPF-1000's key attraction is its midrange drivers, which are based on the push-pull planar-magnetic technology introduced by Bruce Thigpen back in 1987 for his Eminent Technology line, and on which he based the first flat computer speaker, in 1995. With magnets arranged on both sides of a polymer diaphragm bearing conductive strips, the diaphragm can be driven in true push-pull configuration and the system is inherently shielded. Sonigistix licensed Thigpen's design to develop it for high-volume manufacture and reduced unit cost, and in the past several years have produced a highly successful and well-reviewed line of computer speaker systems using what they call Planar Focus Technology. It's likely that Sonigistix's success and the resulting volume production have permitted the use of such sophisticated construction in the midrange drivers of these modestly priced speakers. The tweeter is a planar-magnetic of Sonigistix's own design; its diaphragm appears to bear two vertical strip magnets whose orientation may help with horizontal dispersion—the membrane itself is rather wide for a tweeter.
My first impression of the FPF-1000 was that it was heavier and better-built than I'd expected it to be. I slipped the pair of them out of their shipping cartons and expected to carry them easily into position, but no such luck. At over 65 lbs and bottom-heavy, each unit needed to be grasped by the mouth of its port and the rear of its base and lifted with care. Sonigistix warns the user not to maneuver the FPF-1000 by its blade, which I can easily imagine breaking off in such an attempt. Still, the FPF-1000 is not a behemoth, and can be hefted by a moderately healthy adult. There's a choice of rubber feet for hard surfaces or spikes for carpeted floors, and the front grilles are removable (the rears are not).
Despite my general pleasure in the Monsoon's fit and finish, the multiway speaker posts are a pain for anyone who changes speaker connections frequently and no pleasure for those who don't. I've found such terminals on many other Canadian-sourced speakers: One can't easily grasp and tighten the nuts by hand because the terminals are set obliquely into a molded cup whose edges are in the way. One can't use a wrench because the nuts are knurled. Finally, although four terminals per speaker are provided to permit biamping or biwiring, the default jumpers for single-pair wiring are flimsy. The jumpers are robust enough for good electrical conduction, but are too easily bent and distorted when handled. I ended up using Monster X-Terminator locking banana plugs on the speaker cables to facilitate connections and preserve my temper.
Driven by two Bel Canto EVo 200.2 amplifiers used as monoblocks, the FPF-1000s sounded big and open right out of the box. I found the speaker a bit "tizzy" on top at first, but that perception faded after a few days of run-in, when the FPF became fairly neutral if perhaps a bit warm. The immediate presentation was what one might expect from a large planar system such as the Apogee Duetta, a pair of which once graced my room; the (mainly) dipolar FPF possessed the same ability to "throw" a large sound into the room with no sense of confinement.
Perhaps because the FPFs are so slender compared to the visual space between them, I was impressed with the amount of center-fill they provided. On large orchestral and choral music, the speakers delivered size and space well beyond what an audiophile might expect for their modest price. The upper treble was sweet and extended. So pleasant was the overall spaciousness and imaging that only rarely was I aware of the specific presence of the speakers themselves.
The only fly in that ointment was that, although clearly and cleanly reproduced, the sound of individual small bells or the orchestral triangle seemed to emanate directly from the tweeters—due, perhaps, to the width of the HF radiator.
Aside from this, the FPF-1000s never distracted my overt attention to minor and subtle details while I was listening for the music. One might assume that they were even smoothing away some of those details, but they provided more than enough resolution to distinguish between the CD and two-channel SACD layers of the Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble's Far More Drums (DMP SACD-10). The weight, size, and air of this wonderful recording was apparent from either layer, but the SACD seemed noticeably more open, its decay of ambience more extended.
The FPF-1000's sensitivity is specified as 88dB, a common rating these days—the speaker did not seem especially efficient or inefficient. But with all the driving power I had on hand, two of them handily created huge mounds of sounds, often with startling impact. That impact, however, was reserved for frequencies above the bass—the FPF lacked deep fundamental extension. But the mid- and upper bass were generous, and nicely balanced with the rest of the spectrum.