ProAc Response Two loudspeaker
You know the score: just when you think you've never heard your hi-fi rig sounding better, you invite some friends over to show it off. And as sure as Michael Bolton wears a truss, they hate it.
"The bass could be a little less boomy," says the guy with the minimonitors at home.
"Heavens, it is a bit hard on top, old salt," sniffs the chap with the vintage Quads.
"Ugh! Listen to that boxiness!" yelps the guy with the Maggies.
It's all about MY-fi. The minimonitor freak doesn't ever hear any real bass, so full-range systems sound too thick to his ears. The squire with the old Quads hears life through a feather pillow, so anything on the bright side of dull's going to irk him. And the Magnepan fan? Those people don't think reality sounds as good as their beloved panel speakers.
The high end has fallen and it can't get it up!!
I'm serious; most high-end speakers only sound great with certain kinds of music. Hey, that's peachy if you only listen to one kind of music, but what if you listen to all different kinds of music? What are you going to do, hump your "finesse" speakers into the room when you want Chopin and your "rock" speakers when you want Iggy Pop?
It seems to me that the farther out on a limb designers go to perfect one parameter, the more they ignore the rest of the spectrum. Witness the majority of high-end designs, where one or two astonishing strengths come at the expense/neglect of other areas of performance. So we kneel at the hi-fi altar, happy to sacrifice things like bass, guts, and tonal balance for speakers that only do a few things right. (Wow—that sounded like Allen Ginsberg. I have been staring at this monitor too long.)
Jumpin' Jack's ProAcs
While we were in New York last year for the AES convention, John Atkinson, Robert Harley, Tom Norton, and I tripped over to New Jersey to see Jack English. I was especially glad to see Jack, as he was a new Stereophile writer and I wanted to explain audio reviewing to him.
After a while, Jack invited us all down to his basement to check out his listening room. His system looked first-rate: Conrad-Johnson and Theta electronics, Versa 'table, the works. And sitting on the receiving end of all this high-dollar gear were his ProAc Response Three speakers.
I had two reasons to like the ProAcs. One, Jack didn't say a word about them. No "wait'll ya hear these babies!" No "strap yerself in, boys; yer in fer the ride a' yer LIFE!" Jack just put a record on, stood back, and let the music play.
And the second reason?
THOSE PROACS KICKED ASS!!!!
Man! We sat there and listened to records for hours, digging it all to the max. It didn't matter where I sat: center, off-center, over back by the table o'munchies—the Response Threes sounded GREAT! Of all the new speakers I heard in '91, only two absolutely blew me away: the $65,000 Apogee Grand, and the $6500 ProAc Response Three. After hearing what the Three could do in Jack's basement, I was dying to check out the lower-priced Response Two, so I made a long-distance call to the distributor from Jack's kitchen while everyone else was downstairs digging Kraftwerk, and I got me a pair.
The $3000 ProAc Response Two can be thought of as two thirds of the flagship Threes: remove one of the two 6.5" Scanspeak polypropylene bass/midrange drivers, switch out the 1" dome tweeter for a ¾" Scanspeak unit, chop the cabinet down to size, and you've got the Response Two. Unlike the Three, though, the smaller ProAc has no internal cavity to fill with sand; getting the best bass out of the Response Two means using just the right stands (see "Harsh Reality Time"). And unlike many minimonitors, the Response Two's Scanspeak woofer has been designed with an extra-heavy-duty magnet/voice-coil assembly for higher power handling.
The bass-loading of the Response Two is identical to the big Three's. Ostensibly a ported design, the ProAc's single front-mounted port is stuffed with thin-diameter drinking straws all along its length. By increasing the airflow resistance when the little Scanspeak driver has to really PUMP, designer Stewart Tyler is better able to control the driver when the going gets tough, which is quite often when you're trying to do Bootsy Collins justice with a 6.5" woofer. To borrow some of JA's lingua nativa, the Response Twos come in "handed" pairs, the tweeters being mounted off-center to break up cabinet-edge reflections; ProAc recommends that you set the Response Twos so the tweeters are on the inside edge of the cabinets.
Like the Threes, the Response Twos have as high a level of fit'n'finish as any speakers I've seen. Every inch of the ProAcs reflects attention to detail, from the countersunk hexbolts that LOCK the drivers to the cabinet to the excellent Michell rhodium-plated binding posts recessed into the speaker's back, two pairs of which are provided to allow the user the option of bi-wiring. As far as cabinet philosophy goes, ProAc is clearly in the Avalon/Hales camp: both drivers are nth-degree tightened down to a beefy 1"-thick MDF cabinet which, owing to the Twos' smallish size, is one solid li'l chunk of wood. Don't let the minimonitor dimensions fool you; the Response Twos are heavy, man, heavy.
The only thing I didn't like about the Response Two's cosmetics was the grille. Not only did the raised inner frame mess with the imaging, but the little gold "ProAc" badge at the bottom is in this hokey-ass Olde English script that screams "CAUTION! EFFETE PIPE-SMOKING AUDIOPHILE ON THE PREMISES." Hip the ProAcs do not look with their grilles on, nor do they sound as good, so I left the grilles in the shipping boxes. Unless you're one of those Society for Creative Anachronism freaks who like to dress up in Friar Tuck getups on the weekends and pretend your BBQ chicken is really roast wildebeest, you won't miss them.
My response to the Response Two
How did Jack English put it in his ProAc Response Three review in Vol.14 No.9?
"Whew—these are killers—KILLERS—K-I-L-L-E-R-S!!!"
So are the Twos! SO ARE THE TWOS!! S-O A-R-E T-H-E T-W-O-S!!! The $3000 ProAc Response Twos are some of the very best speakers I've heard at any price, but that's not why I love 'em so. No, the reason I adore these ProAcs is because—they're NOT audiophile speakers!
You heard me; all the amusical quirks and finicky demands and glaring weaknesses that audiophiles expect—nay, relish in their various fave-rave speakers are ABSENT in the Response Two.