AV123 Onix Reference 1 Mk.II loudspeaker Page 2

This little bookshelf speaker's bass reproduction was quite impressive. On the aforementioned Kraftwerk track, the bass synthesizers and electronic bass drums sounded fairly natural, if a bit rounded at the bottom, but there wasn't quite as much slam as I've heard from this track through larger floorstanding speakers. The organ-pedal notes in the Rutter Requiem seemed very natural, though they never quite shook the room. However, I noticed no pedal notes missing in action. I had a similar reaction to the bass drum in the denser passages of Stravinsky's Firebird: it was convincing without being lease-breaking.

At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, I generally found the Reference 1's high-frequency reproduction to be fairly extended and natural, though I felt the mallet attacks in Tyler Mack's louder marimba passages in the Kohjiba track were maybe a touch too metallic-sounding.

Listening to recordings with tremendous dynamic range through the Onix Reference 1, I never had any sense of compression, coagulation, or limiting in the wider dynamic swings, which is quite unusual for a bookshelf speaker of this size. Moreover, the softer end of the dynamic spectrum always breathed in a linear, organic fashion. In Chris Jones's solo at the beginning of "Fruit Forward," from my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), the timbre of his fretless bass was pure and clean, with a spectacularly broad dynamic envelope—it sounded just as it did when I was sitting next to him on the stage of Merkin Hall that evening. Similarly, during the denser, higher-level passages of my piano cadenza in the same track, the Reference 1 captured the drama of the spectacular Steinway D concert grand piano I was privileged to play that evening.

Recordings of small jazz ensembles were the easiest way to show off the Onix's strengths. Cueing up "The Mooche," from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), I marveled at the silky, liquid blend of Arthur Baron's trombone and Marty Ehrlich's alto sax. Harris's ingenious arrangement of this tune makes his group sound like many more than a mere five players. During Steve Nelson's vibraphone solo, the syncopated interplay of Harris's bass and Billy Drummond's drums was breathtaking—the Reference 1 reproduced every transient and perfectly paced nuance of phrasing with no blurring or hesitation. I did find Harris's acoustic bass guitar and Drummond's bass drum to be a tad warm near the bottoms of their ranges, however.

"A Touch of Trash," from Patricia Barber's Modern Cool (SACD/CD, Premonition/Blue Note/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2003, CD layer) was also quite stunning when the thundering bass of Michael Arnopol enters to provide a solid foundation for Barber's rich, silky, naturally sibilant voice. The dynamic swells in this tune were startling through the Reference 1s, but at no point was the subtle, delicate cymbal work of drummer Mark Walker lost, or ever less than well-defined.

I compared the Onix Reference 1 ($1200/pair) with three of my reference loudspeakers: the Amphion Helium2 ($1200/pair), the Monitor Audio RS6 Silver ($1200/pair), and the Epos M16i ($1998/pair).

The Amphion Helium2 shared the Onix's ability to resolve low-level detail, and was similarly linear and organic in this area. However, I found the Amphion a touch more silky and more involving, its rich, romantic highs just as extended but a bit more natural than those of the Onix. However, the Amphion's bass didn't go as deep, nor did it have the Onix's high-level dynamic slam.

Monitor Audio's RS6 Silver had bass that was far more deep and powerful than the Onix Reference 1's; the RS6's highs were as extended, but sounded a touch more wiry on top; and the Monitor's inner detail, particularly in the midrange, was as good as the Onix's.

The Epos M16i had a very rich, involving sound, with extended, silky highs that seemed more sophisticated than the Onix's. The Epos's bass was also tighter and cleaner, and its inner detail and transient articulation were far superior to the Onix's.

In the Onix Reference 1, AV123 has produced an involving, good-value loudspeaker. Although one can nitpick, finding certain aspects of the Reference 1 that are bettered by other speakers, it would be difficult to find another bookshelf model at this size and price that significantly exceeds the Reference 1's level of performance. I look forward to hearing more of their products in the future.

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