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Insights: Indulgences

Shoebox Speakers You don't need the behemoths from your college days to enjoy great sound
Matt Kramer
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 1)

The challenge was simple: assemble a half-dozen or so of the highest-rated minimonitors on the market today and give 'em a listen. Are they really worth the price, typically $1,500 to $5,000? Moreover, can tin-ear sorts such as myself, along with a bunch of cronies I invited over for the all-day listen, really hear a difference?

The lineup was formidable. Of what are arguably the 10 most highly rated minimonitors on the market today, we had seven of them: Proac Response One SC ($2,100 a pair), Joseph Audio RM7si Signature ($1,800), Sonus Faber Concerto ($1,900), JMlab Micro Utopia ($5,000), Dynaudio Audience 42 ($700), Totem Model One ($1,650) and Totem Mani-2 ($4,000). The speakers were placed on stands filled with lead shot (Atlantis Reference 24-inch, $400), the better to hear them at "ear level."

The accompanying electronics (which certainly affect how a speaker sounds) were chosen for their "neutrality": a Plinius 8200 integrated amplifier ($3,000) and an Arcam FMJ CD 23 compact disc player ($2,200).

OK, so much for geek-speak. How were the speakers? Were there any outright winners and losers, especially at this vaunted level?

As everyone knows, tastes in speakers are highly subjective. Some are "warmer," with a coloration that makes music sound liquid and round. Others are almost clinically neutral, which can sometimes fatigue you after a while. Yet others are exaggerated with boomy bass or shrill, sibilant highs.

Everyone's overall impression was simple: Wow! It was mesmerizing how much sound -- not just quantity but quality -- emerged from these shoebox-sized wonders. No two were alike, either.

One of the big favorites (mine, too) was the Sonus Faber Concerto. A modest-looking speaker made in Italy, this minimonitor had the magic to make you forget it even existed. You got caught up in the music (we played the same six tracks for all the speakers, from vocal to instrumental to choral). What's more, the louder you played the Sonus Faber Concertos, the better they sounded: sweet, liquid and bass-rich with lovely "musicality."

Another fave was the more neutral-seeming Proac Response One SC. On the first go-round it garnered respectful appreciation. But it wasn't love at first listen. However, after we heard all the speakers, and then returned for a second listen, the virtues of the Proac came immediately into focus. They were simply so clean, pure and transparent. They seemed "weightless."

The same, by the way, applied to the Totem Model One. Their speed, transparency and bass response were outstanding.

A surprise winner was the Dynaudio Audience 42. This was by far the cheapest speaker among these thoroughbreds, but it was easily the smallest, too: roughly the dimensions of a standard sheet of paper in height and width and about 10 inches deep. They are really small.


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