Street buzz is a force to reckon with. When an audiophile whispers to me that a piece of new equipment sounds unusually good, I'm interested. When two manufacturers of other equipment independently tell me "You've got to listen to this speaker," I get excited.
Nineteen days after J. Gordon Holt died, my daughter and I drove west on NY Route 20, passing lawn sale after lawn sale on our way to the supermarket in Richfield Springs. Each sale promised a pleasant waste of time on that hot afternoon, but only one caught my eye: There, among the Avon bottles and the 8-track tape cartridges, were two large bookshelf loudspeakers, dressed in walnut veneer and light-colored fabric grilles. AR 3s, I thought. Or maybe Large Advents. "They'll still be there when we come back this way," I said, stupidly.
The Mirage OM-6 loudspeaker, from Canadian manufacturer Audio Products International, mightily impressed Stereophile's Tom Norton when he reviewed it back in November 1997. But with its "omnipolar" design and powered woofer, the OM-6 wasn't a speaker for those of us with more conventional tastes in speaker design. So when I heard that Mirage's Ian Paisley was working on a high-performance two-way minimonitor based on the OM-6's drive-unit technology, I asked API's affable PR man, Jeff Percy, for review samples.
Cyrus is the name given to the higher-priced line of loudspeakers made by England's Mission Electronics. The entire Mission loudspeaker line includes six products under the Mission label and three under Cyrus. Mission also manufactures a wide range of electronics and CD players. The company has a long history of audio innovations, both in loudspeaker and electronic design. Among Mission's claimed "firsts" are the first polypropylene-cone drive-unit used in a product (1978), first widespread use of MDF loudspeaker enclosures (1981), and first CD player from a specialist manufacturer. Interestingly, Mission also makes IBM-compatible personal computers.
The $900/pair Cyrus 782 is a two-way design employing dual 7" (175mm) polypropylene-cone woofers and a single ¾" (19mm) fabric-dome tweeter. The drivers are arranged in a D'Appolito configuration to simulate point-source radiation characteristics. Both woofer and tweeter were designed from scratch by Mission. The polypropylene woofer cones include a "mineral loading" that reportedly increases cone rigidity, thus decreasing cone breakup. Additional woofer design features include a shaped pole piece to increase linearity during high cone excursions, rigid steel chassis to reduce driver resonances, and a tight tolerance between the voice-coil and magnet to increase sensitivity.
I haven't been shy in these pages regarding my love for the Mission 731i loudspeaker (reviewed in November 1996, Vol.19 No.11). It quickly became my reference standard for an entry-level audiophile speaker. Subsequent to my review, Mission significantly improved the speaker by introducing a silk-dome tweeter (see Follow-Up in April 1998, Vol.12 No.4). I bought three pairs: one for my home recording studio, one for my faux outdoor summer-home system (guest bedroom windowsills, pointing outward), and one for portable use to drag to friends' parties when their sound systems are not up to snuff.
I had intended that my recent exploration of what was available in the world of high-performance minimonitors—the Era Acoustics Design 4 ($600/pair) in January, the Stirling LS3/5a V2 ($1695/pair) and Harbeth HL-P3ES2 ($1850/pair) in April, the PSB Alpha B1 ($279/pair) in May—was to end in July, with my review of the American Acoustic Development Reference Silver-1 ($1550/pair). But there was one more real-world–priced, stand-mounted model that piqued my interest before I return to cost-no-object floorstanders in the substantial form of Sonus Faber's new Cremona Elipsa ($20,000/pair): the Gold Signature GS10 from Monitor Audio ($1495/pair).
While audio writers find the siren song of cost-no-object components an ever-present temptation, I do ask Stereophile's reviewers to be on the lookout for affordable products that sound better than they have any right to. So when I listened to an inexpensive system based on Monitor Audio's Silver S2 loudspeaker and Musical Fidelity amplification at Home Entertainment 2002, held at the Manhattan Hilton in May 2002, I followed my own instruction and asked the US distributor of this English model to send me review samples.
As much as I'm tempted by the impressive sweep and scale with which some of the large, full-range loudspeakers endow music, for some reason I find myself more at home with more compact examples of the breed. This is not through lack of familiarity with large speakers, a pair of B&W 801s occupying pride of place in our living room (which also serves as my wife's listening room). Yet I find myself hankering after that ultimate soundstage precision that only minimonitors seem capable of producing: the loudspeakers totally disappearing, vocal and instrumental images hanging in space, truly solid—the prefix "stereo-" is derived from the Greek word stereos, which means solid—so that a rectangular, totally transparent window into the concert hall opens at the rear of your room. In addition, the necessarily limited low-frequency extension offered by small speakers makes it much easier to get the optimum integration with the room acoustics below 100Hz.
I believe Ken Kantor said it first: a couple of years ago, in his September 1990 interview with Robert Harley (Vol.13 No.9), he remarked that "there's no reason why a two-way 6" loudspeaker can't be the equal of almost the best speaker out there from a certain frequency point upward, with the possible exception of dynamic range." When I read those words, they rang true. If you put to one side the need to reproduce low bass frequencies and can accept less-than-live playback levels, a small speaker can be as good as the best, and allow its owner to enjoy the benefits of its size—visual appeal, ease of placement in the room, and the often excellent imaging afforded by the use of a small front baffle.
Back in the summer of 1968, I bought a secondhand pre-CBS Fender Precision Bass guitar for the grand sum of £35 (then about $75) (footnote 1). It was so cheap because the previous owner had pretty much scratched the sunburst finish to ribbons. The P-Bass may have looked like roadkill but it played like a dream, so I decided to refinish its body. Paint stripper removed the remains of the original nitrocelloluse lacquer, leaving me with a white wood body—ash, I understand—which I carefully sanded and stained. Contrary to what you might expect, the finish of an electric guitar does have an effect on the sound, so I thought long and hard about how I was going to varnish the body. I ended up applying thinned gloss-finish polyurethane, which I then sanded, repeating this process some five or six times, using finer and finer sandpaper, until the application of a final coat of varnish gave as close to a mirror-smooth finish as I could get...which wasn't anything near as perfect as the piano-lacquer rosewood finish on the samples of the Monitor Audio Studio 6 loudspeaker that Monitor Audio USA sent for review!
I first became familiar with Israeli speaker manufacturer Morel, founded in 1975, back in the late 1970s, when they had a drive-unit plant in the UK. Their drivers have always been well-respected—I was mightily impressed with a sample of their T33 1" soft-dome tweeter when I had the opportunity to measure it a decade or so ago—so when I heard their Octwin 5.2 dual-speaker system at the 2002 CEDIA conference, I asked for a pair for review.
For years, I have espoused the use of the same speakers (except subwoofer) in all positions for multichannel music. To have no speaker in the system contributing a different voice to the choir seems as intuitive as having the room acoustics not color the sound. Of course, this still doesn't guarantee perfect timbral match—positioning and room acoustics usually impose some unique characteristics under all but the most perfect and symmetrical conditions. You can hear tonal imbalances even between the left and right speakers of most two-channel systems simply by switching pink noise between them. On the other hand, there's no reason to superimpose on these unavoidable differences the additional imbalances inevitable with using different speakers in a multichannel array.