Proac Tablette loudspeaker
To cover the entire audio spectrum with only two drivers is a hard task, and most two-way systems end up with a crossover frequency around 2kHz—[at the top of] the critical midrange octaves. The Tablette, on the other hand, manages to reproduce almost the entire middle range from one driver, with the crossover at 5kHz.
To ease the demands on woofer cone excursion at system resonance, designer Stewart Tyler has devised a clever rear-facing port that is resistively damped via a bundle of paper straws, which butt against the back of the woofer cabinet. In other words, the back wave from the woofer leaves the cabinet (just as in a standard bass-reflex design), but the air has to fight its way through the paper straws, thus accomplishing the damping action.
All listening tests were done with the ProAcs affixed atop their "Super Stands" ($110/pair). Also, as per the importer's instructions, all the screws on the front baffle were tightened—and a good thing, too. Apparently the cabinet "settles" a little after assembly and the subsequent tightening is needed to avoid any spurious rattles and buzzes. Nevertheless, a sinewave frequency sweep elicited a persistent buzz, from both speakers at around their resonant frequency. Oddly, this was never audible on program material.
Optimum placement was found to be at least 3' from any reflecting surface, and slightly toed in toward the listening position.
The Tabiettes' strongest point is their middle-range performance. In fact, a more lucid, cohesive and focused midrange is hard to find anywhere. There are no boxy colorations, simply a clear, spacious soundstage. Vocals are reproduced with uncanny realism and resolution, sound sources are well focused in space, and imaging specificity is excellent, both in depth and in lateral positioning. The vertical image isn't quite as good, sounding slightly squashed.
This is not to say the speaker is perfect—far from it, in fact. One basic problem is with tonal balance. Not only do the Tablettes have no deep bass, but their entire frequency response sounds slightly tilted upward toward the high end. The sound is a bit forward, bright, and thin, tending to emphasize sibilants and other high-frequency transients. Associated components that tend toward a bit of brightness become unbearable on the Tablettes; if anything, a somewhat rolled-off amplifier or cartridge would be in order, with perhaps a bit of lower midrange warmth thrown in.
Another problem area is the reproduction of musical timbres from instruments whose lower range extends below 100Hz, where the Tablette's low end droops. The resonance of piano bass is noticeably diminished and cellos sound emasculated, possessing less body and heft than the live instrument. This should be read as an indictment, not of the Tablettes alone, but of the entire breed of mini-monitors.
Like most subcompacts, these cry out for a good woofer to flesh out the bottom octaves. Finding one that blends with them may be a problem. The only one I could find that worked was a homemade pair of subwoofers using 8" drivers in an "Isobarik" configuration. While not providing the ultimate in low-frequency extension, the 8" drivers are "quick" enough to blend well with the Tablettes.
At the high end, while the Scanspeak dome tweeter sounds civilized enough, it falls far short of the best high-frequency drivers in clarity and quickness of response. The treble range on the Tablettes is good but not great.
Although power-handling ability was remarkably good for a speaker of this size, the ProAc nevertheless started to show signs of distress at listening levels above about 95dBA (at 1 meter)—this in spite of maximum allowable power peaks of 150 watts (according to the manufacturer), which does seem to be stretching things a bit. I cannot recommend the Tablette for use in large listening rooms.
As readers of my reports may have noticed, I am a fanatic about midrange clarity and imaging. These happen to be the two characteristics in which the Tablettes outperform not only their direct competition, but also more expensive speakers as well. These speakers do serve the music more often than not but they possess such an unusual tonal balance that I cannot recommend them on their owe—not, that is, without a woofer.
Readers who primarily value a direct midrange and superb imaging, as I do, will really like these speakers. Of one thing I'm certain: the Tablettes must be auditioned prior to purchase. It won't take an extended listening session for you to decide whether the tonal-balance problems outweigh the crystal-clear midrange.
Footnote 1: See also the report on budget loudspeakers in this issue, and the recommendations therein. Of the seven in that report, however, only the Spendor LS3/5a is close to being as small as the Tablette.