ProAc Response Three loudspeaker Page 2

By tilting the driver alignment, the cabinets have to be made wider than would otherwise be the case. ProAcs have historically had stunning soundstaging and imaging capabilities, and I've been one of many reviewers who assumed this was achieved partly by Tyler's obsession with narrow cabinets (often just barely wider than the driver surrounds). A tilted arrangement means a bigger box for better bass—but it also means a wider cabinet. The question, to be answered later, concerns the tradeoffs inherent in this decision between bass response and soundstaging precision.

So the Response Threes seem simple—a two-way, pseudo–D'Appolito arrangement in a floorstanding, ported box using spikes and sand. Not much new ground here. But, of course, there's more. The Threes come with a "plinth." This is nothing more than a thick slab, just slighter wider and deeper than the speaker cabinets, bolting onto the bottom of the speaker cabinet. The spikes actually go into the plinth instead of the cabinet itself. You have to use the plinth in order to use the supplied spikes. An alternative would be to simply use Tiptoes or Tone Cones (I've grown most happy with the Goldmund cones for these purposes). Use of the plinth does change speaker height slightly, which may impact bass performance somewhat as well as alter the relationship between the height of the drivers and your ears at the listening position. Since plinths and spikes are supplied with the speakers, I used them.

Finally, I still find the odd-shaped grille covers rather displeasing. If you dislike the look of the grilles, buy the speakers in black—the grilles are virtually invisible. If I didn't say something negative here, I doubt I'd have anything negative to say anywhere in this review. These are incredible speakers, and a dramatic improvement over the similarly priced Studio Towers.

Splendid! Stunning! Gorgeous! Breathtaking! Whew—these are killers—KILLERS—K-I-L-L-E-R-S!!!

What more is there to say? I've been more impressed with the ProAc Response Threes than I've been with any—any—speaker I've ever auditioned!

Right out of the double-boxed packaging (without sand, plinths, or spikes), the Response Threes are wonderful. They required the least break-in time of any ProAc I've been exposed to. Even without sand, plinths, and spikes, these are very special speakers. Bass, from the bottom through the midbass and up into the lower midrange, is a bit fat, with a very slight lack of articulation. Soundstaging, while very stable and three-dimensional, lacks pinpoint precision. I only mention these two very minor quibbles now because they are ameliorated by the inclusion of sand, plinths, and spikes. Like every other ProAc, the Threes must be located well away from the rear and side walls to work their magic.

Bass: The low end of the Threes (once they are properly loaded with sand) is extended, controlled, and powerful. I never expected this quantity and quality of bass out of a two-way speaker. On something relatively simple, like Rufus Reid's acoustic bass on Excursions In Blue (an outstanding recording, made with the Colossus processor, on Quartet Q-1005), every note is clear, fast, rich, and precise. Subtle gradations in volume are recreated with aplomb. Nuances, such as fingering and plucking techniques, are admirably real.

On more complex material, such as the whimsical crescendos of Dukas's The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Solti and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, London ST5 15005, LP), the double basses are dynamic, clear, and powerful. It becomes all too easy to visualize that enchanted broom wreaking havoc as the overmatched apprentice grapples with a dilemma of his own making. On a powerhouse rock recording such as Queen's "The Invisible Man" (The Miracle, Capitol C11H-92357), the bass is startlingly visceral, the dance beat unavoidable. In short, the character of bass in the recording is exactly what you'll get. No matter how many rationalizations we come up with, speakers that can't reproduce bass with authority are robbing the music of much of its emotion.

Midrange: Full, rich, lush, musical, involving—in short, lifelike. The midrange suffers not a whit from the bass load on those smallish, doubled-up drivers. The unique sonic signature of every instrument, a result of its own unique mixture of fundamentals and overtones, is simply right (listen to the naturalness of the oboe, the blat of the brass, the plucked strings from The Sorcerer's Apprentice). Or try the richness of voice—the mix of chest and throat, the amount of nasality, are spot on. There's nary a trace of any textural coloration, and never a barrier between you and the performers. The crossover point doesn't seem to exist. No peaks. No dips. No attenuations. No exaggerations. Nothing. Nothing but the music.

The rich tapestry of sounds that combine to make music such a joy are revealed in all their glory by the Threes. For example, the very satisfying interplay among Randy Travis's powerful and unique vocals, Dolly Parton's lighter yet equally strong vocals, and Chet Atkins's pickin' on "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" (Heroes & Friends, Warner Bros. 26310) are masterful. The resultant tonal palette is rich with hues and shades that many speakers simply fail to recreate. With the Threes in place, my attention was always drawn to the music; the equipment always became, at best, secondary. While trying to be a reviewer listening to Prefab Sprout's "One Of The Broken" (Jordan: The Comeback, Epic EK 46132), all I was doing was thinking about the similarities of the music with early material from Simon and Garfunkel. Oh yes, the sound was rich, full, tight, quick, fast, and crystal clear. The soundstage was wide, deep, and open—but obviously not a live performance. The use of artificial reverb was obvious, the use of vocal overlays easy to pinpoint. I was listening to what the artist and producer intended. The Threes simply let me hear everything that was there.

Maybe it was the word "Jordan" in the title of Prefab Sprout's album, or maybe it was the ongoing problems in the Middle East—I don't know. But I found myself digging out the Popular Music of William Walton with Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Studio 2 Stereo). The cover art was as brilliant as ever, with that camouflage-painted Spitfire racing past the white cliffs of Dover. The cut, of course, was the Prelude and Fugue The Spitfire. The perspective was distant, the overall sound slightly veiled and muffled, the overall tonality anemic—just as it has always been. Nope, the Response Threes weren't adding any euphonic colorations. If the source was deficient in some way, that was exactly what I heard.

Treble: ProAc has always impressed me with upper-end performance; the Three is no exception. The top is extended, lightning-fast, and extremely clean. Triangles, a devastating task for most speakers, float effortlessly within the sonic fabric of the music (again, listen to Dukas's playful tone poem). Upper harmonics abound, and there's air aplenty. No, the Threes are neither peaked nor exaggerated in the highs, neither bright nor hard. They're fast and real. If the source has a rough top end, you'll have to live with it. The Threes will reveal all and hide nothing.

Soundstaging: Did Tyler lose the magical soundstaging of his earlier designs by going to the tilted-driver alignment in an effort to get the desired bass (which he certainly has achieved)? No way! These big boxes, like virtually every other ProAc before them, have the ability to simply disappear. The soundstage develops behind and around them. No sound is restricted to (or comes directly out of) the cabinets. Remarkable! These big boxes can actually disappear. They truly recreate a believable three-dimensional soundstage. They don't act as picture windows with a restricted stage placed between the speakers. They don't throw the performers out into the listening room. Much like the equally excellent Wilson WATTs, they simply disappear—they do not exist as a part of the listening experience! The soundstage (assuming there is one to begin with) takes on a lifelike dimensionality all of its own.

Imaging: Within that 3D stage, and once the plinths, spikes, and mass loading have been taken care of, performers are precisely located in space; there's no "wander" or vagueness. The performers themselves have body—no cardboard cutouts here. Once again, the hackneyed term "palpability" leaps to mind. These are performers you can reach out and touch. Somewhat surprisingly, these speakers made the new QSound process—found, for example, on Sting's The Soul Cages, A&M 75021 6405-1, LP—more enjoyable. From the open, airy realism of the Spanish-flavored instrumental "Saint Agnes and the Burning Train" to the closing cymbals at the front-right and rear-left of "The Wild Wild Sea," there was a believable sense of space and human performers, many sounds simply hanging in the air.

Inner Detail: As if everything I've described wasn't enough, the Threes are equally adroit at recreating inner detail. Listen to Rufus Reid's fingering (as well as his breathing). See how many of Pink Floyd's rather vulgar words you can now decipher on Dark Side of the Moon—or how about Chet Atkins's harmonies with Dolly and Randy. Coupled with its tonal accuracy and uncanny soundstaging capability, the ability to unravel subtle inner detail adds still further to the Threes' wonderful realism.

Dynamics: Ah, but what of dynamics? And can they play loud?

You betcha! Of course, at too low a volume level, no speaker comes alive. The Threes are no exception to this rule. But at anything resembling a realistic volume level, they sing. They can play very loudly, and do so effortlessly. (No doubt my Audio Research Classic 150s had a lot to do with this particular ability—the rest of the system consisted of a Benz-Micro MC-3, Versa Dynamics Model 1, Esoteric D-2 transport, Theta DS Pro Generation II, CAT SL-1 revised preamp, Magnan interconnects, and Audio Research speaker cables.) Not only were they able to play loudly, they didn't become fatiguing at these levels the way so many other speakers do. At this point, I'm sure you won't be surprised when I tell you that they also do a splendid job of recreating low-level dynamic shadings as well. The emotion so often conveyed in these subtle ebbs and flows of level shifts is fully communicated.

At $6500/pair, the ProAc Response Threes are not inexpensive in absolute, monetary terms. On the other hand (how many hands are there in this discussion?), they are awfully inexpensive given their breathtaking level of performance. The ProAc Response Threes are marvelous in every regard, and merit audition with speakers at any price. They are, without question, the most satisfying audio component I've auditioned in years. Without a doubt, the ProAc Response Threes are Stewart Tyler's crowning achievement. They are outstanding in every aspect of sonic performance usually discussed. More important, they are unequivocally faithful to the music. Go hear them now! If you even consider changing your speakers, I implore you to audition these imported masterpieces from the UK—a truly Class A product in every regard.

US distributor: Modern Audio Consultants
(410) 486-5975