Fried Q/4 loudspeaker
After spending the past two months listening to loudspeakers priced similarly to the ones I used to sell, I've developed a renewed appreciation for just how much progress has been made in loudspeaker design in the past ten years. Where inexpensive speakers used to have distinct midrange colorations that gave all music played through them a common tonal signature, unique to each speaker, the seven pair of loudspeakers reviewed in this and the last issue all have one thing in common: a relatively coloration-free midrange. Although they do have different tonal signatures, vary in their ability to resolve spatial detail, and have their own strengths and weaknesses, none of them is severely colored to the point that you wouldn't want to listen to music through them. This is most likely the result of both the dramatic improvement in raw drivers and the development of sophisticated measurement techniques over the last decade. Even the smallest speaker manufacturer can now afford a MLSSA system, whose capabilities cost several orders of magnitude more money just a few years ago.
Last month I reviewed three low-cost two-way loudspeakers (Tannoy E-11, Dana Audio Model 1, and the NHT 1.3), and was surprised by the overall high level of musicality they offered at their modest prices. In this review, I'll take a look at four somewhat more expensive, more ambitious products, such as the Fried Q/4.
Fried Q/4: $449/pair
I first heard the Fried Q/4 at the Chicago CES in June 1990. I was favorably impressed and asked Irving (Bud) Fried to send a sample pair. The Fried Q/4 is a major revision of the popular Q/3 loudspeaker, incorporating many design refinements over the previous model. Bud Fried is a long-time proponent of transmission-line loading (see "Manufacturers' Comments," Vol.13 No.4, p.243) and bases his designs on what he strongly feels is far and away the best type of driver loading. The Q/4 uses a variation on the transmission line called the "Line Tunnel," a large duct from the inside of the enclosure that vents at the cabinet bottom, the aperture running the width of the enclosure. The line tunnel is neither a true transmission line nor a reflex system but a hybrid of the two, according to Mr. Fried. Computer modeling was used to determine the best line damping for optimum bass performance. The line tunnel is said to effectively double the low-frequency radiating area while maintaining good transient ability, relieving internal pressure, and damping the low/mid-frequency driver. In addition, this loading is said to result in a gradual bass rolloff similar to that of a sealed enclosure (12dB/octave) rather than the more rapid rolloff typical of a reflex system.
The 8", two-way design is based on a polypropylene-cone woofer with an unusual "fillet" joint between the cone and surround. This irregularly shaped bond reportedly reduces and breaks up reflections to the voice-coil while reducing cone breakup and improving midrange detail and imaging. The custom-made woofer also features a Fried-developed vented pole-piece arrangement that results in more linear driver behavior. A 1" fluid-damped fabric-dome tweeter is mounted symmetrically above the woofer. Like the woofer, the tweeter is custom-made for Fried and sports the Fried name below the dome.
Crossover frequency is 3kHz, typical of 8" two-way systems. The computer-derived crossover features impedance compensation for each driver and variable slopes for better transition between drivers. Fried claims that the crossover point is undetectable by either ear or laboratory measurement. A thermistor protection circuit protects the drivers from overload. The Q/4s never shut off during the auditioning, even after extended periods at high playback levels.
Overall, the Fried Q/4 is well-built, sturdy, and appears to incorporate several design innovations for an inexpensive product. Its appearance is typical of an 8" two-way box loudspeaker. I'm not a fan of walnut vinyl veneer, but the speaker is also available in "black ash" vinyl.
The Q/4s were placed on the double-spiked Mission stands, and after some placement experimentation I settled on a little wider spread than the other loudspeakers under review.
What immediately impressed me about the Q/4 was its smooth tonal balance, especially the lack of an aggressive treble. So many loudspeakers err on the side of too much treble energy, either because it suits the designer's taste or a little zip in the top end is perceived as a marketing advantage. Not so with the Q/4s: their treble balance was right on the money—lively and detailed without being forward or pushy. This polite treble character made music unfatiguing and enjoyable during auditioning.
The treble smoothness was complemented by an open, unboxy quality through the midrange. Vocals were slightly laid-back and silky-smooth. The mids were quite uncolored, with natural timbres. I did detect a slight nasality to sax (Scott Kreitzer's Kick'n Off, Cexton CR-11264), but it was minor in relation to the Q/4's excellent midrange and treble presentation. The acoustic guitar from the Stereophile Test CD (track 12) was reproduced with a timbre very close to what I remember during the recording. The treble did have just a bit of fabric-dome tizz, but I was not annoyed by it. Indeed, the Q/4's treble presentation was welcome during the long auditioning involved in reviewing four pairs of loudspeakers. The Q/4s were unfatiguing and musical through the mids and treble, quite an accomplishment for a $490 pair of loudspeakers.