ProAc Future One loudspeaker Page 2

The One's rendering and delineation of bass and tom-tom drum pitches was stunning. For instance: Keith Moon's taut tom-tom rolls on an original British pressing of Tommy (Track 613 013/14) were delivered with superb tunefulness. The sensation of stick on skin was convincing and ultra-satisfying, as was the overall rhythmic presentation. The bottom would have to be fast and lean to keep up with the ribbon tweeter, and Tyler has tuned the system to be so. Whatever the Future One gave up in bass weight was more than compensated for in bass character, tonality, and speed.

To get that high level of clean, tuneful bass requires outstanding midbass and a seamless transition into the lower midrange, and Tyler's thinking seems to have worked perfectly. There was never a miscue or lack of continuity between the upper bass and lower midrange. The system was remarkably free of midbass coloration, thickness, or overhang. Where they had to be, the bottom octaves were fast, and never left behind.

While the midrange was rich and possessed electrostatic-like clarity (I said "like," not "identical to"), the system's single distinct coloration was a slight "cuppy" sound in the upper-mids. It was very subtle until I got behind the speaker. Then, not surprisingly, the midrange driver with the rear of its cone open to the air sounded quite hooty. But, of course, you're not supposed to stand close behind a speaker, and in most placement situations you won't be able to hear much of that backwave. Although I didn't think any of the backwave was reflecting off the wall behind in my room, which is damped with squares of Sonex, there was still that slight coloration audible. Clearly, you don't want to place your Future Ones too close to a reflective back wall, lest Dr. Bose come a-calling.

I don't mean to dwell on what was a minor glitch, but this was the one area where I felt I could consistently "hear" the One. But it was subtle, easily ignored, and, finally, buried and forgotten.

Once the signal got up into the tweeter's territory, it was clear sailing. I knew immediately that I was in earshot of an incredible performer: lightning-fast, highly resolving, ultra-extended, airy, unusually liquid—and free of wideband resonances, narrow, sharp peaks, or other kinds of obvious colorations and distortions. What a sweet, smooth tweeter Tyler has found! More important, he's managed the near-impossible by mating it with other drivers to create a coherent, convincing, almost full-range system. In some ways the Future One reminded me of the Infinity Prelude, which I reviewed in May. Neither speaker sparkled, yet both revealed incredible amounts of detail without shining a spotlight.

I played the usual suspects—Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" on Classic 45rpm vinyl, Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (Analogue Productions), etc.—but so much information was unraveled from those tracks that, throughout the review period, I couldn't help pulling out albums at random just to hear what new info I could glean. To further torture and delight myself, I also listened to CD-Rs I'd made using the Rockport System III Sirius turntable.

I listened to Elvis Costello's Get Happy!! (F-Beat XX-LP1) and was amazed by the upper-octave details the tweeter sorted out that had previously been combined, and by the speaker's ability to place Costello's reverb-drenched, formerly indistinct backing harmonies in a three-dimensional space totally different from his main vocal.

The speaker's airy openness did justice to the unforced brilliance of Mel Tormé and Friends at Marty's (Finesse W2X37484). Tormé floated convincingly in three dimensions between the speakers, and Jay Leonhardt's bass solo in "Let's Take a Walk Around the Block" was reproduced with suppleness and harmonic fullness—all as boxlessly as a box speaker has ever rendered this recording in my listening room.

Sweet and extended, fast and full-bodied, and capable of stunning resolution of musical events occurring in the same or similar tonal territory, Tyler's ribbon tweeter was clearly the star—but it was so effectively blended into the whole picture that it didn't steal the show.

I was initially concerned about the Future One's relatively wide, undamped, reflective front baffle. I was ready to hear high-frequency diffraction off of the baffle creating less-than-ideal imaging and soundstaging. I thought I would easily "hear" the speaker and "see it" in the sonic picture. That wasn't the case. While I've heard speakers that can disappear more completely, creating a larger, more dramatic soundstage with more clearly defined instrumental imaging and layering, the Future Ones' incredible resolution and transparency, their crystal-pure transient performance and superb image focus, more than compensated.

I spent a pleasant evening listening to much of the Ataulfo Argenta Edition boxed set (Alhambra/Alto Analogue AA006), comparing the much-maligned (in some quarters) versions of Concierto de Aranjuez, Noches en los Jardines de España, and Preludes e Intermedios with the London ffss versions (CS 6046 and CS 6152). I found the reissue's transparency and jet-black backgrounds preferable to the Londons' somewhat richer but more opaque midrange. The Future One's rendering of the Spanish guitar was stunning, convincingly balancing the fast but non-sparkly sound of fingers on strings with the hollow body's overtones, and effectively focusing the image in 3D space.

Aside from its mild midband coloration, the Future One's other weakness was an inability to reproduce "grand gestures." It could play loud (and yet is a clean, lively performer at low levels), but it was not an explosive, ultra-dynamic reproducer—particularly in the midband, where it was somewhat laid-back. The Future One was not bombastic, nor do I think it was designed to be so. But I don't mean to leave you with the impression that, dynamically, it was seriously limited or "polite." It didn't knock me back in my seat with sheer dynamic weight, but it did a credible job of handling orchestral crescendos.

The Future One will not overwhelm you with harmonic riches à la the older ProAc towers. That's not surprising: Tyler's goal was to combine an electrostatic's clarity, tonal neutrality, and high resolving power with a dynamic speaker's non-fussy drive requirements, power handling, bass extension, and smooth, broad dispersion. The Future One is about fine detail, clarity, organization, speed, liquidity, rhythmic suppleness, and coherence.

Tactile, transparent, crystalline, and fast without being hard, bright, or analytical, the ProAc Future One fulfills Stuart Tyler's goal of building a loudspeaker with all the desired qualities of electrostatic designs and none of their drawbacks. I drove the Future Ones with the solid-state Ayre K-1x preamplifier and hybrid Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amplifier, and they never sounded bright or hard. I played LPs that were less than pristine and some that were chewed up, but despite the tweeter's extension, the surface flaws were never spotlit, nor did they excite tweeter resonances that would have accentuated the occasional snaps, crackles, and pops.

The Future One didn't throw me back in my seat, but it definitely drew me in with its lithe rhythmic performance and subjectively smooth and peak-free frequency response—that ribbon tweeter had me hearing new stuff in every recording I played. And despite their relatively small size (they're definitely apartment-friendly), the Ones created a big, smooth, detailed, satisfying sound.

Is a pair of Future Ones worth $10,000? Only you and your accountant can answer that one...but I enjoyed every minute I spent with them.

P.O. Box 812
Brooklandville, MD 21022
(410) 486-5975