Fried Compact 7 loudspeaker
I had originally not intended to write about the Compact 7, in that its price of $1795/pair is substantially more than that of the original Fried Q, ca 1976, adjusted for inflation: $1050/pair in 2008 dollars. However, the combination of my looking for a speaker that people could buy once and buy right, and the fact that Fried sent a letter suggesting that I audition the Compact 7, tipped the balance. (Since the days of the Q, Fried's trademarks and designs have changed corporate ownership at least twice. Irving "Bud" Fried, who served as Emeritus Director of the current enterprise, died in 2005.)
My first listening impressions of the Compact 7 as driven by either the April Music Aura Note or Arcam Solo Music CD receivers, were generally favorable. I immediately noted that the Compact 7's trebleas heard via the tape hiss on Julie London's "Cry Me a River," from Time for Love: The Best of Julie London (CD, Rhino R2 70737)was not as extended as that of the Renaissance Audio MLP-403.5 that I wrote about in August. This I chalked up to the new crew's following Bud Fried's desire that a speaker that rolls off at the bottom also roll off at the top. The overall tonal impact was decidedly mellow, but not unpleasantly so. Raising the speakers above 28" helped somewhat, but didn't effect a night-and-day change.
In their favor, the Compact 7s were incisively dynamic, and created a large and well-defined center image. Tenor Brian Cheney's voice on Puccini's "Che gelida manina," from a privately made microphone-comparison recording, was notable in those regards. But there was also something that struck me as a bit offcertain parts of Cheney's range sounded a bit veiled or hollow (the singing term is covered), while others did not.
What crystallized the problem for me was listening to Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall. The applause at the end of "Mansour's Gift" sounded hollow, as if the audience were clapping with cupped hands. Once I'd heard a clear example of this coloration, I could hear it on other recordings. My curiosity aroused, I asked JA to measure the Compact 7.
As shown in the "Measurements" sidebar, the Fried Compact 7 significantly departs from linear frequency response on axis. A huge suckout spans 15kHz, the deepest part of which (at 3.2kHz) is about 16dB. There is also a suckout from about 260 to 500Hz, with a trough of about 7dB. These doubtless account for the hollow coloration I heard, and compare unfavorably with Stereophile's 1990 measurements of Fried's Q4.
Fried's website states that "Loudspeaker design and performance has [sic] little to do with producing a flat frequency response." I would not go quite that far. I will say that I have enjoyed and even recommended several loudspeakers whose design goals cause them to not measure well but that sound realistic in-room (Shahinian's Obelisk is the prime example). My problem with the Fried Compact 7 is not that it measures poorly, but that I heard a coloration that was obvious enough to require further investigation, and that JA's measurements confirmed and explained. I can't recommend the Compact 7 on the grounds of either performance or price, but you may conclude otherwise after an audition.
Those looking for a successor to the old Fried Q near its inflation-adjusted price of $1050/pair should be happy with Renaissance Audio's MLP-403.5 or Eminent Technology's LFT-16. Those whose speaker budgets reach as high as $2000 have many more options, including an LS3/5a descendant such as Harbeth's HL-3PES-2.