ProAc Response 2.5 loudspeaker Page 2

Did I need a meter to tell me I wuz getting bass? No! The 2.5 kicks sirloin. This is a speaker with serious visceral impact: tight, deep bass with a graceful, smooth transition into the midbass and above that keeps the 2.5 from sounding thick and heavy. There may be wool stuffed inside, but there's nothing "woolly" about the bass.

Nor is there a sense that you're getting the bottom octaves at the expense of midrange clarity, or that you're being tricked by a midbass bump. Nosiree: you put on a Joe Williams or Johnny Hartman album and you'll hear them with chests attached, but not drowning in a sea of mud.

Some Goody's
Now, to cut the smooth flow of this review I have to tell you about the associated equipment: VPI TNT Mk.3 with Rockport Capella arm and AudioQuest Fe5 and Clavis Da Capo cartridges, EAD DSP-9000 HDCD processor and T-7000 transport, Audio Alchemy DTI•Pro 32, Audible Illusions Modulus 3A and Sonic Frontiers SFL-2/SFP Signature preamplifiers, Cary CAD-805 single-ended triode amplifiers, OCM 500 and Muse 100 solid-state amplifiers. Cabling was XLO phono and Yamamura Systems Millennium 5000 everyplace else (including bi-wired speaker cable)—except for the preamp AC cord, which was from Marigo. Accessories included A.R.T. Q-Dampers, Harmonix feet, Seismic Sinks, Bright Star sand boxes, and a Power Wedge line conditioner on front-end gear.

Blockbuster Music
Now, where was I? Oh yeah—bass. But for the very bottomy bottom, the Response 2.5 gave me all the bass a non–organ-loving music-lover could ever want. More than quantity, the 2.5 offered outstanding dynamics, pitch definition, and texture. I never wondered what was making the bass, though I found the Audio Physic Virgos offer a slight bit more low-end inner detail and nuance, if at the serious expense of the testicular fortitude (as my former editor puts it) the ProAcs delivered.

Okay, now come some obligatory music references: Doug MacLeod's Come To Find (AudioQuest AQ-LP1027, also available on a lesser-sounding CD) features, in the words of my current editor, some "big-assed" bass. I heard some big cheeks being slapped on the title tune through the 2.5s, and clearly heard the tonality and physical structure of the wet-kiss sloppy bass drum in Jimi Bott's kit behind MacLeod.

When I compared the LP and CD last year, I told AudioQuest's Joe Harley that while I preferred the LP, the bass drum on the CD was much tighter. The LP's kick drum sounded sloppy. Harley corrected and embarrassed me at the same time: "That's the way it really sounds. It's a big, sloppy drum!" Had I had the ProAc 2.5s at the time, I think I'd have known that, so cleanly did they render the kick drum tonally and spatially.

Classic Records' reissue of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Living Stereo LSC-2201) contains some big drum wallops surrounded by the warm, reverberant field created by the Orchestra Hall space in "Gnomus." Even at realistic concert-hall spls, the 2.5s placed the drum tightly focused on the stage, reproducing cleanly and with great authority both the transient stroke and the pliant skin sound while bathing the event in the resulting reverberation. All without mud, strain, or clouding up the all-important midrange. And that, my fellow listeners, is a tough act for a smallish two-driver box to perform.

Another record with low-end richness to spare is Analogue Productions' new vinyl edition of Janis Ian's superb Breaking Silence (APP027, also on gold CD). Between Jim Brock's percussion and Chad Watson's bass, there is a bottom-end foundation on tracks like "All Roads to the River" that is almost overwhelming. The 2.5s dug way down to deliver all of it with clarity, focus, and impressive start-and-stop speed, while presenting a cleanly articulated acoustic guitar (steel strings and wooden body) and Ian's wispy voice. If rhythm is your business, you can bank on the 2.5s.

In short, in a small- to medium-sized room—which is where this speaker is meant to go—you will get the kind of tactile bass performance you might have thought only a much larger driver in a larger box could yield. Bass you might have thought impossible to generate in your room. Bass that will excite your innermost low-frequency vibratory pleasure centers—whatever and wherever in hell they are. Bass you can chew on.

Acoustic Sounds
So the foundation is great. What about the rest of the house? Well, there's a reason the ProAc 2.5s' sound proved so popular at both the 1995 Stereophile show in Los Angeles and at the 1995 Summer CES: the speaker makes great music. Okay, it's a cliché, a really bad one, but: it only took me a few seconds to realize I liked what I heard coming from the Response 2.5s. I don't know of anyone—consumer or reviewer—who walked out of the ProAc/Cary room who didn't enjoy listening to the 2.5s.

One reason for such listener enthusiasm is that the 2.5s were totally free of grain, "crispies," and edge; given the quality of engineering today, especially in the pop music world, this alone made a greater number of discs listenable. I don't think aluminum- or other metal-dome tweeters necessarily yield metallic sound, but one thing was clear from my time with the 2.5s: a fabric dome definitely doesn't equate to a metallic sound, but it does offer plenty of detail.

That doesn't mean every listener would choose the 2.5; it doesn't do everything equally well (as you'll read), nor can it be all things for all listeners. But designing a great speaker is more about balance than anything else, and in that regard Tyler has scored ten out of ten. Of all the ProAcs I've heard, the 2.5 strikes me as the best balanced overall.

As the designer is clearly aware, these towers strike that just-right balance between Häagen Dazs richness and gelato tartness, between jackhammer dynamics and crystalline high-frequency delicacy, between in-your-face and nicely out of the way. None of that thick, ploddy, or etched hardness. No chrome-plated violins or caramel-covered saxes. Hey, you want a reviewing "tool"? Get a Postman.

Music Direct
Funny thing: my writing just got interrupted by a phone call from a record-company publicist. I was playing Analogue Productions' LP reissue of Duke Ellington's This One's for Blanton (APJ 015, originally on Pablo) with Ray Brown, and the first thing she said after I'd had time to lift the cueing lever was, "what were you doing, playing the piano?" It didn't sound like a recording to her. When I told her it was the Duke, she told me that her father had written songs for Ellington's band. Sure enough, there was her name, same as dad's, in the credits on some Ellington CDs I pulled out at random.

Duke's piano doesn't sound like a recording to me either. Nor does Ray Brown's bass, which is standing right on top of the OCM 500 amp between the speakers. There's just the right mixture of sounding board, wood, strings, and felt hammers, of dynamic percussive transients and sustained tones, to create a believable piano in my listening room.

Bose Music Express
Whoops! Missed the train.

So far, it sounds as if the 2.5s are pretty much perfect. Well, they're not. While their real-world tonal balance struck me as close to ideal, in my room at least, I measured and heard a few small anomalies: bass performance was outstanding, but in the lower midrange there was a major in-room suckout between 250 and 630Hz. I measured –4dB at 315Hz, –10dB at 400Hz, and –7dB at 500Hz. There was also a 3dB dip at 3.15kHz, and then a broad 3dB rise from 5kHz to about 9kHz. At 16kHz it was down 3dB, and at 20 down 6dB, but that's probably a result of the microphone's response in the cheap spl meter. Note that I ran this test twice: once with the Cary 805s, once with the OCM 500. Whatever differences show up on the test bench between the single-ended triode and solid-state amps, into the ProAc 2.5s the results were remarkably similar (within 1dB), including at the frequency extremes.

Obviously I'll be curious to see the "real" measurements, but I think I can equate what I measured with what I heard: I didn't hear any thinness in the lower midrange. I figure the suckout was what helped keep the bass from sounding "thick"—a plus. The rise in the mid-treble created what I heard as a slightly forward but exceedingly rich-sounding top end that helped to create an attractive sense of "presence" and lushness. You can wash your face in this speaker and the water will never run cold. I do think the very top rolls off gently, which is why these speakers sound so smooth and easy on top, without giving away too much air and space.

Virgin Ears
Listening to the 2.5s had me thinking it no coincidence that both Stuart Tyler and Richard Gerberg of Modern Audio Consultants (ProAc's US importer) use Koetsu Urushi cartridges as their analog references. Like the Koetsu, the 2.5s were rich, lush, and free of metallic artifacts. Instruments were portrayed with roundness and warmth—a version of reality many listeners prefer. There's plenty of air and frequency extension in the presentation of those top-of-the-line Koetsus, but in comparison with, say, the Clavis Da Capo, you miss out on some inner detail and spatial finesse. Tradeoffs abound with transducers at both ends of the chain.

Again, it's no coincidence that Joachim Gerhard, designer of the Audio Physic Virgo I reviewed back in October '95, prefers the more analytical sound of Scan-Tech cartridges such as the Parnassus, Clavis Da Capo, and AudioQuest Fe5, the first two of which Audio Physic importer Alan Perkins of Immedia also distributes. The Virgo is a far more analytical-sounding loudspeaker that measures and sounds amazingly flat to me, with the exception of the midbass, which sounds a bit warm—or is it that the rest sounds a bit cold? Ah, but I digress into my own sonic hellhole...

Discount Records
I realize some of you discount records as a viable music source. Your serious loss. You simply aren't getting all of the air, depth, detail, and spatial performance your system can offer. I know, it's not real space and air, it's L–R phasiness, rising cartridge high frequencies, and all of the other silly things digiphiles say causes records to sound so much closer to the real event. Well, I don't care what causes it: records just sound more like reality. Compare the Janis Ian vinyl with the gold CD sometime in the comfort of your favorite audio salon—if they have a good analog front-end, that is.

Anyway, the one area where the 2.5s didn't give me everything I was looking for was air and space. But that was only because my previous listening was with the Virgos. They are the air, space, detail, and dimensionality champs, in my experience. The 2.5s did throw a rock-solid stage with meaty, three-dimensional individual images, and they did a pretty good job of disappearing, but they weren't in the same league as the Virgos, which flat-out disappear. And no matter how I arranged them, I could not get the same gigantic sense of depth I got with the Virgos. The 2.5s' stage depth was truncated in the corners, and even in the center, by comparison.

So on "Buck Dance," from Music for Bang BaaRoom and Harp (RCA Living Stereo LSP-1866)—a silly piece of music but an outstanding test of depth—when the two tap-dancers headed out the back door behind the tubular bells, they went back, but not way back, and the extreme sides of the stage didn't go out nearly as far as they do on the Virgos. Nor was the 2.5s' ability to layer instruments front to back on the stage nearly as accomplished.

For some listeners these are important considerations; for others, tonality and frequency extension count for more. And if you're all digital, despite recent improvements, you ain't gettin' some of this stuff anyway—I don't care if you've got Krell, Levinson, or Radio Shack.

Waxie Maxie's, Coconuts, J&R Music World, etc.
I've run out of cute ways to incorporate record-chain names in subheads, so I'm just giving these guys equal time before I'm out of here. Audiophiles complain about the high prices of equipment. At $4500/pair, the Response 2.5 is a bargain. According to my 1967 Allied Radio catalog, a pair of AR-3s used to cost $450 (footnote 1). I'm no economist, but given what average incomes were then and taking inflation into account, I bet in 1995 dollars that $450 would be well over $3000 today. Believe me, you get a lot more physically—and, of course, sonically—with the 2.5s! While ProAc will continue making Response 2s in a slightly upgraded version, by the time you add stands the price differential makes the $4500 2.5 a bargain on yet another level.

The combination of the Response 2.5s and the Cary 805s provided me with some of the most sublime listening pleasure I've had in all my years as an audiophile geek. (Those years began officially in the late 1950s, when I was an amorphous pre-pubescent blob lying on a couch listening to Belafonte at Carnegie Hall on Lafayette headphones—the ones with the head cushion you blew up—and admiring the gigantic soundstage before I'd ever heard the word.)

That I was able to experience the system which enthralled the swarms at Stereophile's LA show last spring in the discomfort of my own home (you've never seen my listening room) is one of the great privileges of being a reviewer—never mind the schlepping and the cardboard graveyard that once was my attic.

I've now reviewed two loudspeakers for Stereophile at about the same price point: the Audio Physic Virgo ($5000/pair) and the ProAc Response 2.5 ($4500/pair). These are two similarly sized, very different-sounding, but equally accomplished designs, either one of which I would gladly own. Each delivers something the other doesn't, and leaves out something the other offers.

Both give you outstanding dynamics, remarkably wide frequency response, and a big, wide-open soundstage. And both can be effectively driven by the single-ended Cary 805, meaning that you can drive them with virtually any "real-world"–priced amplifier, tubed or solid-state.

Which will you prefer? I don't know. Which do I prefer? I bought the Virgos, but that was before I heard the 2.5s. Had it been the other way around, I might have bought the ProAcs. Does that make me an audio whore? Kiss me and I'll tell.

For Stuart Tyler, the goal was to create an "emotional" loudspeaker. As he told me, the real test for him was the last eight minutes of Mahler's Second Symphony: If playing the "Resurrection" through the 2.5s brings a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, he's succeeded. Courtesy Bernard Haitink and Philips Classics, I promise you he has!

Footnote 1: A matched set of Mullard KT88s cost $11.95, and 7591s went for $1.40 each.—Michael Fremer
US distributor: Modern Audio Consultants
112 Swanhill Court,
Baltimore, MD 21208
(410) 486-5975