Tuesday, July 14, 2015
In Search of the Perfect Two-Way, Part 2
Have I ever told you how much I love two-way monitor speakers? I know I have, at least a few times. In fact, I've found two of my old equipment reviews where I started off by saying how much I love little two-ways. I've also found three old reviews where I start off by saying how much I love integrated amplifiers. So I guess when all is said and done and I retire from this audio thing, I'll probably choose an integrated amp and a pair of two-way bookshelf speakers and fade away into musical bliss.
For the record, I can probably find dozens of reviews from other writers that start off with a sentence declaring unconditional love for either integrateds or two-ways. Maybe they copied it from me, maybe I copied it from them...but if I had to lay money on it, I'd say I probably stole it from Art Dudley back in his days with Listener.
Anyway, when I say I love two-way monitors, I can back that shit up. I have little monitors all over the friggin' place. As you can see in the photo above, I gathered them all together for a group photo. I did this for a few reasons--one, I thought it would be goofy and fun to do so, and second, I'm preparing myself for my upcoming trip to Australia to consult with the fine folks at Brigadiers Audio Group on the final version of their new speaker line. We'll be tweaking and listening to two models--one is a larger 2.5-way floorstander, and the other is the two-way monitor I've had in my system since January.
This is the speaker I'm talking about, the BAG Compact, the biggest, heaviest and potentially most expensive speaker of the lot. As I've mentioned before, this is a very ambitious design that features the highest quality parts and drivers, and an intricate cabinet made from birch ply. That's why they weigh about 45 to 50 pounds each--they're like solid blocks of wood. Heavy wood.
I'm very, very excited about this speaker because it's one of those two-way speaker designs that I could retire with. It's all I need from a speaker--it throws up a giant soundstage, goes satisfying low in the bass and has oodles of air and space in the treble. The only drawback of this speaker is that it has a relatively low sensitivity, and I haven't had a big powerful amp to drive them with. I was able to briefly pair them with the PureAudio Reference monoblocks, which provide 65 watts per channel of beautiful Class A power--and the combo was magnificant. But outside of those ten days or so, the most I've been able to throw on the BAG Compacts is 45 watts per channel. I'm jonesin' for a nice 100-150 wpc amp right now, and then I may discover the true potential of these speakers.
That's why I'm bringing them back to Australia with me--so I can hear them mated to the amplification used in their design.
These little two-ways need no introduction. Okay, they're the Trenner & Friedl ART Monitors from Austria. These are my personal reference speakers and have been for the last four and a half years. These go into my main system whenever I don't have another pair of speakers that I'm evaluating or breaking in--unless, of course, I have a big giant speaker on hand and I want to listen to the bottom octave. Even so, these little speakers with a front baffle around the size of a classic LS3/5a go surprisingly deep--down to about 44 Hz with proper set up.
As a distributor, I make plenty of switches to my system on an almost weekly basis. With all those changes, it's easy to lose that sound with which you're comfortable--prompting a sudden and drastic tearing down and rebuilding of your system, trying to recover that magic. In most cases I can simply insert the ARTs into my system and instantly return to the sound I crave.
These, of course, are the little brother to the ART, the new SUN. As of right now, I believe that this is the only pair in the US. They made a huge splash at the Newport/Irvine/Santa Ana/wherever Show last month, and I'm listening to them now. I love them with all my heart. So small yet so musical. Just astonishing.
In my original blog entry about the SUN, some guy made an absurd comment about the SUN--how they couldn't be that small and that satisfying at the same time. He dragged out a bunch of hoary old tropes about the limitations of little two-ways and came up with a bunch of strange comments that didn't really apply. The biggest mistake he made was assuming these were single-driver speakers--they're not. These are two-ways, since the tweeter is where the dust cap is, mounted concentrically. As a result, the little SUN comes as close to a single-point source as any transducer I've heard.
These, of course, are the Axis VoiceBox S. I import and distribute these in the United States, so I won't go on and on about how good they are. But I am happy that this is my very own pair to have and to hold for as long as I want. Of all the speakers I own, the Axis are perhaps the best at delving deep into a recording and extracting as much musical information as possible, except for the bottom octave, of course, all without sounding analytical or harsh like many other pro recording monitors.
There's a good story behind the middle VoiceBox, the one with the wood veneer. This was a prototype of the current model that sat in the garage of TAS' Neil Gader for a couple of years. After he reviewed the finished version of the speaker for TAS a couple of months ago, he sent this lone speaker back with the review pair. Apparently one speaker had to be sent back to Australia for one reason or another, and, well, who knows. Stuff happens. So I'm thinking about marketing this lone speaker as a Signature Mono Edition of the VoiceBox. Catchy, huh?
Finally, I have these old Rega RS1s sitting around. We originally purchased them for a song from one of our dealers--we wanted to place a modest system in our old cigar lounge back in Texas. This pair had been damaged during shipping, but the dealer was able to get a new replacement set of drivers. The cabinets are scuffed up with a bashed corner or two, but they sound wonderful. These speakers retailed for $795/pair or so when they were new, and to tell you the truth they sound absolutely great for the money. The first time I heard Rega's smallest speaker was back in the '90s during a visit to my old dealer Gene Rubin. They retailed for $495/pair back then, and they became my stock recommendation at that price point for many years.
I've listened to these on a number of occasions, and despite the beat-up cabinets and the seemingly cheap drivers--at least compared to the other monitors I have in the house--I've always been surprised at how musical they are. But at this point, I'm not sure if I really need to have them, especially with all the speaker choices I have in the house. If you're interested, I'd probably sell them for cheap. Just let me know.
My trip to Australia is being planned for August 16-29, or roughly thereabouts. I'll try to keep everyone informed about my work with BAG, and my experiences as an "professional speaker consultant."