ProAc Response D28 loudspeaker Page 2

The kWs and D28s produced a somewhat cold, bright, overly analytical sound on top, complemented by exceptionally taut bass. Switching to the Reference tube amp produced the creamy, warm, inviting sound I'd heard from the D28s in Tempe, giving up only a bit of the kWs' bass clarity, control, and definition. Moving the ProAcs just a few inches farther out into the room from where JA had positioned them to take his measurements helped restore the excellent overall balance of the midrange and bass provided by the solid-state Musical Fidelitys.

What ProAc does best
The D28 did nothing to diminish ProAc's long-established reputation for spectacular soundstaging and imaging. Set up correctly and far enough (but not too far) apart, they rewarded me with a deep, wide stage on which unusually well-focused, solidly three-dimensional images broke free from the confines of the cabinets with almost alarming intensity. Front-to-rear placement of images on the soundstage was one of the D28s' strong suits, particularly their ability to place instruments well in front of the plane described by the speakers' front baffles. With the aural foreground this far to the fore, the instrumental layers behind had plenty of room to develop in space. The D28s rendered rear-stage events with equal precision, thus producing a deep soundfield of more than adequate height.

I pulled out some one-sided 45rpm test pressings from Classic Records that I'd been given in 1994, when the idea of producing vinyl was considered by many to be insane. Both Bill Evans' At Montreux (Verve/Classic V6-8762) and Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony's recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (RCA Living Stereo/Classic) produced impressive three-dimensionality; Evans' piano solidly set up shop well in front of the speakers, with audience chatter way upstage.

Aficionados of surround sound will complain that such a perspective is backward, and they're correct: Strictly speaking, the listener should be in the audience, not looking out at it from behind the performer. Do you care? I don't, as long as I can believe that, reversed perspective or not, I've been transported to the event, and only vinyl does that for me.

The Mussorgsky recording produced as spacious and dimensional a picture of a musical exhibition as I could have wanted, rear- and sidewall reflections ricocheting to produce a cleanly rendered image of Chicago's Symphony Hall, the CSO arrayed solidly in three dimensions in front of me. No point dwelling in space: in rooms of small to medium size, the D28s should meet or exceed whatever your expectations are in that department.

What lurks down below
The Response 2.5 had surprised the hell out me back in 1996 by putting out deep bass that was down only 3dB at 25Hz. And this was bass of the deep, tight, well-constructed variety, not the thumpy, bumpy kind produced by some two-ways. At the time, my reference loudspeaker was the excellent but somewhat warmish and supple-sounding Audio Physic Virgo II, not the brute-force Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX 2, a pair of which I now own. Going from Wilson's bass monsters to ProAc's D28s should have produced a major letdown, but it didn't—which is not to suggest that a 6.5" driver, however well ported, can produce the MAXX 2's low-end weight and stomach-churning depth charges. It can't.

But the Response D28 could and did produce a nimble, articulate, fast, and supple bass foundation that extended down to around 30Hz with unforced ease, so long as I didn't crank the volume way up. "April Fool," from Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane's Rough Mix (LP, Atlantic/Classic), features a weighty double bass, as well as Eric Clapton's Dobro and tapping foot. The D28 gripped the double bass without overhang, transmitting all the buzzy grit needed to sell this song's foundation and the instrument's texture. I've heard far more expensive speakers sound mechanical and drone-like on this track.

Stewart Tyler claims that the D28 improves on the 2.5's bass performance, but after more than a decade since I last heard the 2.5, in a different room and with different gear, I can't really confirm that. Still, everything I wrote in January 1996 about the Response 2.5's "tactile bass performance" and ability to resolve and communicate low-frequency textures I found also true of the Response D28.

Rough Mix ends with "Till the Rivers All Run Dry," which Townshend dedicates to "the old man" (Meher Baba). Here the D28 did everything right, beginning with the kick drum doubled by a bass line, which holds the rhythm. The combination had weight, texture, and definition, each instrument cleanly defined. The piano, Dobro, guitars, and background vocals behind Townshend's intimately miked voice each had a clear say in the mix—which is decidedly not rough—effectively separated spatially and delivered with a textural subtlety that more than made up for the shortcomings in macrodynamics from which small two-way boxes inevitably suffer. The D28 was also a superb and subtle performer at the other end of the dynamic scale, revealing a host of low-level details in familiar recordings.

From the midbass up
Comparing the notes I took while listening to the Response D28 with my 12-year-old review of the Response 2.5 made clear that Stewart Tyler has voiced his new speaker to sound similar to the old, with a subtle touch of glisten on top to match the D28's hint of warmth in the 50Hz range, and which boundary reinforcement will boost slightly in most rooms. This kind of balance results in a pleasingly "natural" sound, as JA pointed out about the Response 2.5, but because the D28's woofer is mounted so high on the front baffle, placement of these speakers is critical to avoid a subjective lack of midrange energy.

When I drove the D28s with the Music Reference RM-200 tube amp, I found that if I moved the speakers slightly forward of where I usually put them, and slightly closer together (and thus farther from the sidewalls), this somewhat diminished the prominence of the lower midbass, which upped the contribution of the lower midrange and smoothed out the overall sound.

So positioned and so driven, the D28s produced a rich, smooth balance from the lower midbass up through the slightly forward treble region. If you don't get this balance correct, and/or drive the D28s with an inexpensive, bright-sounding amplifier, you'll get lean, bright sound. This is not a speaker to be used with lots of inexpensive power.

But get everything in proper balance, and don't push them too hard and play them too loud (though they'll play plenty loud in a mid-sized room), and the D28s will reward you with exceptional resolution of detail, undeniably pristine highs, and transients appropriately sharp but free of grain and etch. A lack of grain and congestion usually portends a smooth off-axis response, a well-braced cabinet free of strong resonant modes, and a clean "waterfall" plot.

To assess a speaker's reproduction of male vocals, I use the great Johnny Hartman's baritone, played either from an original pressing of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (LP, Impulse! AS-40) or Speakers Corner's 180gm reissue. As expected, the D28 delivered the goods without congestion or bloat, reproducing a Johnny Hartman who sounded realistic and natural, even singing his lowest notes. Coltrane's tenor sax was nicely rendered as well, with a good balance of reed and brass sounds and plenty of air.

Once, a reader e-mailed to tell me he couldn't believe a word I wrote because my reference speakers, the Wilson MAXX 2s, are "colored." A true believer in Naim, he believed that his Naim speakers were utterly neutral. But while Naim's speakers are outstanding and have many fine qualities, especially in terms of their taut, "fast" overall sound, they do—as all speakers do—have a sound of their own. In some way or other, every speaker colors the sound. The key to a willing suspension of aural disbelief and to living long-term with any speaker, even the best, is not a total absence of colorations (an impossibility), but as low a level of coloration as possible.

The ProAc Response D28 is a low-coloration speaker. It pushes forward slightly in the upper mids, which adds a slight "halo" around upper-register piano notes, acoustic guitar strings, and reeds. That character, and a slightly bright top end, are why it sounds better at moderate rather than high SPLs. Pushed too far, the D28's bottom tends to recede somewhat, which emphasizes the brightness. But at moderate SPLs the tonal balance is outstanding, the minor colorations easy to ignore.

If you like to "look" at your music, ProAc's Response D28s excel with superb imaging and a generous soundstage. Their presentation of musical textures is another strong suit, as is their extension at the frequency extremes—especially at the bottom, where, despite the speaker's compactness, it will surprise you with its extended, nonmechanical, musical bass. The D28's overall balance is open and pleasing, and when you combine its strengths with its lack of any glaring weaknesses, you have another great two-way speaker from Stewart Tyler.

With careful placement, complementary associated gear, and appropriate playback levels, the Response D28 will provide endless listening pleasure regardless of musical genre. Nor do I mean to leave you with the idea that these speakers can't rock out, because they can. So say the 94dB peaks from Classic's excellent reissue of the Who's Live at Leeds (LP, MCA/Classic). Just don't expect realistic orchestral climaxes, which are more difficult to reproduce than rock and require something bigger.

Despite the dollar's decline relative to the pound sterling (about 1:2), and despite the passing of more than 12 years, ProAc has managed to replace the Response 2.5 with a new model that uses all-new, higher-performance drive-units in what appears to be a better cabinet with an improved, more room-friendly porting system, all while retaining the excellent fit'n'finish and real-wood veneers for which the company is renowned. The cost to the buyer has risen by a third, but all things considered, $6500 is a fair price for a pair of very enjoyable sounding, beautifully built, artfully balanced, high-performance loudspeakers that should provide many years of listening enjoyment.

US distributor: Modern Audio
PO Box 334
(410) 486-5975