My Trans-fi website was hosted by Webs.com which was recently taken over by Vistaprint. As a result, my original website was no longer supported & subsequently taken down. Really, I dont have the inclination to start again.
The Blog below was lifted from my activity in the LencoHeaven forum, so it may read a bit strange, but does represent where I am now. I will post future updates on here.
I was running my Transfi business, producing Terminators & Turntables, but it became tedious so I recently retired from manufacturing. However, I have not been idle. My obsession with speakers took over my hifi life, and I am here to report on my journey where I think I may be at the end......after 15 years.
It all started when a client of mine sent me a picture of his set up . I noticed some unfinished speakers in the background, and jokingly asked him when was he going to box them in? He told me they were Bastanis and explained the concept of open baffle which was new to me. I ended up buying his old Prometheus baffles.
Like most of you, I went through many speakers in my lifetime......Wharfdale, Leaks, Kefs, Missions, Pioneer, Yamaha etc.........never found something to settle with long term. But I guess that could be applied to most components in my audio chain.
Not sure if I am getting less fussy or smarter, but the last 15 years have really solidified my system. Keeping away from mainstream, concentrating on products from the little guys with a passion for audio. My amplification is from Temple Audio, my turntable front end is my own, and digital is coming from ALLO (Sparky/USBridge + Chord Mojo). This sets the background for my current set up, but I really want to describe my speaker journey.
I contacted Robert Bastani & populated the baffles with appropriate drivers and made them my own:
I remember running them side by side with my Yamaha NS1000M’s and thought they did something special the Yamaha’s didnt do. I guess it was the live musical presentation that attracted me.
Of course, it wasn’t long before I wanted more. I noticed the 12" woofer (active, sealed box, plate amp) would bottom out playing Police......couldn’t live with that, so I upgraded to the Atlas units, 15” sealed woofers, twin widebands and Gemini tweeters!
This was a creative endeavour, so I had to sit down, calculate measurements and draw the baffles. I had to find a CNC guy to make them. Although I have a workshop and could do the work myself, I usually end up chopping bits off myself..........
A couple of years or so later, Bastanis released his Mandala, which retained the Atlas wideband/tweeter baffle, but added dipole bass in the form of an 18” S-frame. Back to the drawing board and the CNC shop and these were born!
Bass from the Dipole was more open & detailed, but there was a few things I didnt like. It was very fussy regarding room placement. I decided to ditch the S-frame and mount the 18” woofer on the baffle. I was also after a new 18” driver, eventually settling on the AE Dipole 18. My ‘Monster’ series of speakers was born. You will notice the Bastanis used active bass, and I you may have noticed went from using built in plate amps to separate units, in this case XTZ:
and painted white.
Before you ask, I have a loving understanding wife..........
I quite enjoyed these speakers, but looking at them I wondered if I could compact them & achieve the same..I fiddled with the format (I was getting good with Microsoft Draw) and came up with the Mini Monster......back to the Prometheus single wideband arrangement.......
These actually worked very well and I didnt miss the extra wideband of the Atlas.
....so back to Draw. I wanted something bigger & better!
Enter Full Range, but not in a box.....in an open baffle. After a lot of research, I settled on the Mark Audio Alpair 12P. I had no idea how this would turn out....but what the hell......…
My experience from listening to FR speakers in the past was not good. Lack of treble was most noticeable, and the units with whizzer cones sounded brittle to me.
So, the Alpairs have a 500 hour run-in time, and they changed noticeably in the coming weeks. I became more and more impressed as they opened up. I thought to myself ......who needs a tweeter?
Also, before I designed this baffle I took note of what the experts were saying. I could increase my bass efficiency by adding a U baffle at the back.....which I did, and the bass increased. More on that later!
I spent a long time living with this format and exhausted all the permutations:I did notice the narrower the baffle, the better the imaging, but something still not right.
I happen to listen to a lot of different music, and sometimes the music needs volume......lots of it. These just didnt deliver. Adding volume would cause the FR’s to flap like crazy with their compliant surrounds meant for a box. Actually, I didnt need this compliance as I wasn’t relying on them for bass....I had my woofers. I asked John at Temple Audio if there was a way to restrict the bass frequencies reaching the FR’s. He suggested an 80nF capacitor after the volume control but before the amps would work.
I duly installed this in my amp and the FR’s responded. No more flapping cones and the sound became cleaner with more detail. This was a revelation.
In case any of you are wondering, I am not into crossover design and had always driven the woofers actively Behringer Ultracurve. Coincidentally around this time, they came out with the iNuke series, a powerful amp that had the Ultracurve built in. Not only that, but it was so simple to program even I could do it. They provided software that ran on my laptop and the amp connected via USB. I could dial in the crossover in real time and achieve perfect integration. After a while, I became quite adept.
This had the frequency range I wanted, no rubber surround, very high powered & efficient (unlike the Alpairs), Neodybnium magnets and cheap to boot. Great reviews on the forum.....what’s not to like? I ordered a pair, designed a baffle, which I made myself as the CNC shop was draining my resources , and partnered with my favourite 15 inchers, the Selenium NEOs.
Now this was more like it. The PRV’s sounded great out of the box. The Seleniums delivered bass and slam. The combination was fast & dynamic.
The PRV's had an uncanny ability to go LOUD very fast!
Now, you can see where I’m heading........
Here ya go............
Inspired by this design I came up with a way of taking the drive units out of the U-frame and mounting them on an open ladder frame, something like this.
A trip to my local Wickes procured the materials. I knocked the frames up pretty quick. The design was cheap, simple and fast....but would it work?
For my next design I thought of eliminating the PRV sub-baffle and also trying to compact the design. I came up with this, doubling up the woofers to save space:
Here, the woofers could be bolted together using aluminium stand-offs. This could then be treated as a single unit and be supported by the magnets on a wooden cradle with the PRV’s mounted on longer poles to the base:
Another advantage with this ‘modular’ design was it came apart easy for transportation!
I should point out at this stage that our armchair engineers would say this will not work as there would be too much cancellation to get any meaningful bass. I would welcome any skeptics to come and have a listen, and if they don't hear any meaningful bass, I will pay for their petrol home.
It is true, this is not the most efficient way to get bass. It requires possibly double the number of woofers and power vs putting them in a box. However, there is no way I could go back to a boxed speaker arrangement after hearing dipole bass. No box could match the quality I was getting. The texture, purity and detail of this bass is difficult to describe until you experience it. Not only that, it extends deep with the woofers I have chosen which have a Fs of 19.5Hz. They are also very room friendly with bass distributed evenly throughout the room.....no nulls or nodes.
I take a break here as the next evolution of this design will prove revolutionary
I am envisaging this as a DIY project. So far, it still involves wood-working skills. Imagine if you could buy the frame off the shelf at minimal cost. The other issue with this design is the cradle still transmits vibrations to the floor and up the poles to the PRV’s. Could I kill 2 birds with one stone?
And fully assembled scaffold speaker:
The effect of this is total isolation from the floor, in fact no vibes can be felt from the frame itself, nor in the poles supporting the PRV’s. This was the best sounding design bass with no reaction with the room or floor, and nothing to interfere with the PRV’s.
Cosmetically, of course, not to everyone's taste. They have an industrial look, but surprisingly my other half approves of the minimalist design. The eyes tend to be drawn to the woofers rather than the frame. Probably even less intrusive in black, but I love them as they are!
Another hifi buddy suggested a further modification to isolate the PRV’s by eliminating the cleats holding to the poles. After several protoypes, I worked out a method to hang the PRV’s using a cable similar to the woofers:
Eliminated one of the poles, joined the PRV’s together with a brass joining plate, and suspended by the top magnet on a cable. Very simple and this resulted in even better imaging and detail.
So I have been living with this system with over a year and got the itch again
I always wondered what would happen with 4 x 18” woofers rather than 15”? TBH, the way I play the system the woofers are on their limit in my room when producing deep bass, being rated @ 500Watts. The 18’s would take 1000Watts and have similar efficiency. I recently bit the bullet and went for the Dayton UM18’s. They were not cheap at a EU rip-off price of 1500EU vs US price of $1000
A small frame adaptation allowed me to fit these:
Not sure exactly what I was expecting, but compared to the 15’s the system sounds like its been turbocharged. A huge increase in scale and dynamics with a doubling of everything! The bass can really be pushed now, but surprisingly, it stays in its place without overpowering the mid & highs. There is no muddying, just huge clean controlled bass that really slams with rock, but is also textured and detailed with jazz and acoustic music. I can achieve 110db concert levels that leave my ears ringing with no signs of strains or distortion in the system.
What have I learned on this journey?
• No baffle at all sounds best with fewer resonances and better imaging. Bass is not as extended, but this doesn’t matter for upper frequencies using a bass assisted system.
• You can get huge bass with no baffle, but you need heavy coned inefficent woofers with a large Xmax, low Fs and high wattage.
It took me 15 years to reach this point and I now feel I can relax and listen to a system that will deliver whatever I am in the mood to listen to. I think I now need to look elsewhere to direct my creativity.
BTW, if anyone is interested in any of the projects I made along the way, please contact me.............
A few more updates to the system includes a doubling up of the PRV's....
....... and replacing the sub amps from the Behringer NU3000DSP to the latest NX6000D series:
I too have been experimenting with finding an alternative to PRVs. Thinking in terms of single drivers for a system, the PRV is hard to beat with its efficiency and high SPL. I ended up with a mini array, which TBH is a bit of a waste & over-the-top. I didnt really notice much sonic difference between a pair and 4.....maybe higher SPLs, but dont really need it.
So.....thinking in terms of full range mini-arrays, there are dozens of low watt/SPL drivers out there, which used in mini-arrays would make up for inefficiency and SPL. They are also very cheap. These are what I put together:
8 Faital 3FE's (20W each) cost £85 Blue Aran
8 Faital 4FE's (30W each) cost £145
8 PRVs .......over £800!
I chose Faitals mainly because of their efficiency/smoothness/cost & availability in UK.
My lockdown testing has revealed the Faitals to be superb drivers. As a general rule with full rangers, I would say smaller diameter drivers have a smoother and higher top end, compromising the low end. In this case, I am not concerned with low low end as I am using in combination with the woofers. I have, however, rolled off the low end frequency (200hz) these drivers see to take the stress off them.
In brief they are very smooth with more extended treble than PRV's.
The 20Watt 3 inchers started to smell with high concert level SPL's, but weren't distorting.
The 30Watt 4 inchers handled the SPL no issues, and sounded fuller in the vocal range, but not as extended on top.
....but the winning combination of the 3 + 4inch array was superb. Handled concert level with smoothness & air.....and retained the PRV's speed & dynamics.
VIDEO IN ACTION
More testing to follow, but I think I have found a combo that will outperform the PRV's at a cut price!
I been fooling with the 6 driver Faital array....in particular position of 2 x 3inchers relating to the 4x 4inchers. I found having the pair at the top of the array to give the best result. Also been trying different series/parallel combinations and have found optimal result for that as well.
Dont really see a need for taller array. These 6 units are giving me a better overall sound than the PRVs and will sustain realistic volume levels.
So far....lockdown been productive!
Another update....just testing these Tang Bands W8-2145's:
First time for me. After bad experiences with whizzer cones in the past, I kept away from them
But these have quite a big following, so I figured give them a go.
Initially, they were rather forward and raucous. After 30 hours they are mellowing out. I would say these have the best treble
I have heard in a full ranger....liquid and shimmering! Very pleased ........
New update here. After my positive experience with the W8-2145 I decided to invest in one of their flagships.
Although the W8-1808 is voiced more for Open Baffle (higher QTS), I went with the 1772 because of its higher efficiency.
With the short testing i have done, the 1772 is immediately louder than the 2145. Imaging is also more precise, presentation is smoother.
Treble also seems more delicate and detailed. Have maybe 30 hours on them and I am noticing soundstage expanding. More to come, I am sure!
Unfortunately, one of the speakers was damaged in transit through the eBay Global Shipping Program. Not eBays fault as it originated from Parts Express who have an appalling packing record AFAIAC. Still waiting to hear back about compensation.
UPDATE SEPT 2020
Hifi buddy of mine had been twisting my arm for ages to invest in a pair of Field Coil drivers. I managed to get a trade deal on pair of EMS LB8EX MKII's. There are quite uncanny in detail & realism. They are still bedding in with a certain hardness evident in the treble region, but this is beginning to soften.
The field coils require a power supply and tend to run warm. Varying the voltage (6-12V) alters the characteristic. I manage to source a pair of bench supplies which get great reviews on YT:
......I'm thinking this journey must end here....although I have said that before
UPDATE OCT 2020
Managed to pick up some refurbished Gallo Strada 2 heads. Quite a departure from my previous Full Range attempts insofar as these are a commercially made MTM integrated unit. In mitigation, however, they are still 'baffle-less'!
Furthermore, they are relatively efficient @ 90db, although they are sounding louder than the field coils which were rated at higher efficiency,
so I would think they are kicking out more like 92/93db. They are not encumbered by a crossover using only a high-pass capacitor. Their presentation is also very 'open baffle' with a wide, deep soundstage coming from the rear wall, well behind the speakers. The enclosure is metal, & when rapped with the knuckles gives a solid thud.
There is certainly no resonance, colouration or boxiness from the units.
Being a sealed unit, they do not start rolling off @ 500hz like the other drivers I tested, but extend flat to 250hz, forcing me to lower my crossover point with the woofers. The other positive is I can run these with no eq, all the other full range drivers showing an excitability in the 1-4k region that needed taming. Of course, this could be system dependant, or a result of my baffle-less approach.
.....so, ticking all the right boxes at the moment!
This latest update and direction my journey is taking me in has been a surprise. After doing the whole Open Baffle no cross-over thing, and having formulated certain beliefs along the way, am now back into sealed boxes & cross-overs
Trying to follow the purest path of using a single full range driver with a direct connection of voice coil to amp did not work in this type of box-less, no-baffle configuration. All the FR’s I tried all tended to break up around 1-4k which subconsciously was forcing me away from my rock roots, and into softer more acoustic type of music.
My experience with the Gallos has demonstrated a box can be totally inert.....maybe it needs to be made of metal and a funny shape. At least the Gallos conformed to the no electronic cross-over in the way sapping power & detail from the amp belief as they only used a capacitor to protect the tweeter. The Gallo being a no-baffle design retains and openness that is in keeping with Open Baffle character....so I have not moved away from that.
But now, I have gone for sealed box & full blown crossover. The pain & sacrilege!
Let me explain. Going for a single FR driver I was after a point source. Didn’t work out too well, but using a mid & tweeter in dual concentric arrangement would achieve the same thing. I had lived with the Hawthorne Iris in the past....but it was too laid back for me. Having cut my hi-fi teeth on Kef in the 70’s (didn’t we all?) I kept abreast of their developments and was always curious about their Uni-Q driver. I dismissed them because they used a crossover and came in a box.....but now using the Gallos, I was half way there.
I wanted to try something cheap....just to get a taste. Aware of the Home Theatre pods Kef were famous for, I studied the range.
I homed in on the HTS-3001.....3rd Generation pods from 2006.
The Uni-Q driver was using a Neo magnet, a sophisticated crossover & was 88db efficient. The box was cast aluminium and a funny shape. So, we are in Gallo territory, and down 2db on efficiency. I could pick up a pair of these from eBay for £100.....in hifi terms.....a steal, so I pulled the trigger.
I made a simple right angle bracket and mounted the units to the pole above my UM’s. These things were light....2kg compared to my 6kg Gallos!
I fired them up and adjusted the bass to compensate for the lower efficiency and sat down for a listen. Initial impressions were good. Treble was smooth and extended, detail and dynamics were there.......but....ugh....they were boxy and they had a lower mid characteristic I could only describe as ‘tubby’.
I realised I wasn’t going anywhere with these, so replaced the Gallos. This helped me to re-assess and confirm how good they were!
However.....I am a tinkerer by nature, and don’t give up easy. The 3001 pods were reflex loaded with a long plastic port. What if I turned them into sealed units? I don’t need the bass extension anyway.
So next day, I performed some surgery and split the eggs open. I was pleased with the build quality, Kef went through a lot of trouble to make sure nothing rattled internally and everything was properly sealed. They were a bit stingy with the damping foam though with only a 6” square of that white felty stuff.
Anyway, proceeded with the plan of removing the port and sealing the hole. I am lucky to have a small lath so could easily turn an aluminium plug and used some hot melt glue to seal in place. I then proceeded to line the shell with 2mm car sound proofing panels, stuffed the cavity with some denser foam and sealed the unit back together.
Replaced the modified pods and fired up.
Well.....what can I say. My jaw dropped. The box was gone and so was the tubbiness. The presentation was as clean & clear as the Gallos. Now I could hear the Uni-Q driver unhindered by the colouration of the port. This was certainly something I could live with. The point source imaging was on a par with the Gallos, if not better.
Been living with them for 2 days now. I been throwing everything at them to trip them up. They do scale, volume, hard, soft, rock, jazz......I am totally stunned. I have not had a single inkling to put the Gallos back....and I think I know why:
The Kefs are more musical & immersive than the Gallos which are clinical & analytical in comparison.
I have more listening to do and maybe I will come across a flaw. Need to point out that I restrict the bass frequencies going to all my non-bass drivers. This allows them to play cleaner & louder when they are relieved of bass duties.
Will report back in due time!
A few people been asking me how to mount these pods to the mono-pole I use.
I re-used the existing Pod bracket after removing it from its base:
You can then make a simple right angled bracket for the single pod:
You can also rotate so the pod is vertical.
I have doubled up the pods now, so bracket a bit more involved:
Effect of doubling the pods has been big increase in efficiency.
.........which brings me to a new update:
These are the KEF HTS3001SE Center channels. They further subdivide the frequency range with the addition of a pair of 3" woofers, crossing at 500hz. This lightens the load on bass duties the UniQ driver has to do. It has a noticeable effect cleaning up the midrange and adding more fine detail to lower mid frequencies.
The crossover is seamless and adds no artefacts. This is a sealed, airtight box too and did not need modding as the satellites did. There is no tubbiness associated with a reflex port.
Kef have also boosted treble above 8k which gives more air & sparkle. Efficiency also increased to 90db. Liking these very much!
Seems these KEF center channels are elusive to find.
VIDEO IN ACTION
........so, my curiosity got the better of me. After much research I invested in a pair of B-Stock Klipsch RP-500M's.
Even if I say so myself, this metal frame design is wonderfully versatile
I made a small shelf with tilt wedges so I could lay the boxes on their side & angle the tweeters toward my ears.
This is my first experience with Klipsch and a Tractrix tweeter, but imaging is similar to the Kef insofar as they act as a point source.
They are slightly more efficient with a more prominent upper bass delivery.
Still running in, but I am liking them!
Taking advantage of the January Sales, I took a punt on the above speakers to sample the different flavours.
My sampling was based on the current offers on price these speakers could be purchased for. I then read/watched reviews on to see if they might be of interest.
My previous Klipsch were chosen on efficiency, and there are not many speakers to match them on that. So now were are venturing into unknown territory to me in terms of what effect inefficiency will have on performance in my system. I will get this out of the way to start with. Once I adjusted relative volumes I didn't notice anything untoward vs the Klipsch......which was a bit of a surprise to me.
The first speakers to arrive were the Mission QX1 Mk1 which were selling for £145.
Excuse the pic quality. They didn't stay in my system for long. They were awful out of the box and I wasn't going to wait for them to open up. They sounded constrained and congested with very subdued treble, which is a pity. They were very well built with aluminium plates sandwiching the carcass. When the rubber surround started hitting the plastic serrated edge plate on some extended bass tracks, I packed them up.
Next to arrive were the Definitive Technology D7's
I never heard of these before, but Amazon was doing a deal for £169, and reviews showed this to be a well made technically advanced design.
Out of the box they were superb.....more on this later.
The Acoustic Q 3020i arrived the next day.
These need no introduction, and again, were superb out of the box. More on this later.
Last to arrive were the Dali Oberon purchased for £295 with 15% off eBay discount.
As you can tell, crappy picture.....didn't stay long in my system. After all the positive reviews this came as a shock to me. Whatever goodness these speakers had was overshadowed by the sheer treble attack they enveloped me in which totally drowned everything else out. Kind of the opposite to the Missions! They were packed up right away.
I was disappointed as the built quality on these was nothing special. Vinyl wrapped box, mediocre speaker terminals, and yet, were the most expensive here.
For people suspecting a flaw in my system, I am driving them with a pair of UK made Temple Audio MonoBlocks, latest generation, with twin Supercaps power supplies.
These amps are smooth & neutral with the Supercaps eliminating any harshness associated with class D and also imparting dynamics and authority compared to a regular Linear power supply.
So now, I am left with the Def Tech D7's and Acoustic Q 3020i's.
............more on these later!
I need to clarify the speakers I chose were at the smaller end of the manufacturers series. Advantage of bigger box/driver is to augment bass and power. I am not interested as running subs and speakers go loud enough. I often find the smaller boxes are more inert, and smaller drivers do better mids. I really feel bass frequencies are better handled by a totally separate driver and kept away from the midrange driver.
Getting back to the speakers in question. The D7's amazed me and continue to do so. The box feels like its filled with concrete. It is solid and heavy. The front baffle is a 6mm aluminium affair bonded to a 19mm MDF box with a 1mm constrained damping bitumen layer. There is also an internal brace within the cabinet.
The tweeter is offset (supplied in mirror image pairs) in a shallow wave guide to reduce edge diffraction. It also incorporates a diffusor.
The mid/bass driver is unusual having a rubber roll surround on its outer and INNER edge and also a diffusor.
Not sure if these diffusors are doing anything, but its the first time I have heard Lauren Mayberry, lead singer in the band Chvrches, to sound vaguely palatable!
First thing that hit me with these boxes was the bass. They went deep, detailed and clean with no bloat despite having a port. In fact, I didn't realise the subs were off! The balance in my system was perfect. They sounded rich and lush with a sparkly shimmering treble. They were super clean, huge wide soundstage with focussed instruments with plenty of space around them. I felt I was hearing a high end speaker with a budget bargain price!
Comparing to my Klipsch & Q-Acoustics was a level of refinement the other two cannot match, These speakers are gems and keepers.....and thats straight out of the box! As I continue to use them, I can hear the level of refinement increasing as well as the bass and detail as they settle in.
The Acoustic Q's, at £140 are a steal. These are hefty, well made solid boxes.
Drivers look conventional, but the boxes are unusual with very rounded edges and extending very deep.
The sound very balanced and dynamic in my system, and have to say, I prefer them to the Klipsch where I am now noticing slight lack of coherence between the mid and tweeter. Funny how the mind plays tricks, cos I thought they would be hard to beat
Compared to the D7's though, both these speakers lack polish and refinement, sounding slightly rougher.
I will keep the Q's if I fancy a swap once in a while. They may open up more and become more refined with time, but the clear winners are the D7's which I will now sit back and enjoy!
Guess time to add another chapter to this saga, but first need to consolidate where I have come from and the direction I am heading in.
I have abandoned the open baffle and full range drivers for midrange and high frequencies, believing now that boxes & multiple drivers + crossover bring something to the table OB FR’s cant compete with, mainly:
• Slam & detail in upper bass/lower mids
• Smooth transitions between mid / treble avoiding the harshness common in all the FR’s I tried.
• Extension of bass frequency easily down to a useable 60-70hz so I can cross lower with UM18 subs
In the last chapter I stopped at the Def Tech D7. Now, while all this was going on I was also looking at amplifiers, in particular the SMSL SA400 which was a perfect match to my MA400 DAC which I have been super impressed with.
My reasoning was to simplify the current arrangement of DEQX + Temple Mono/superchargers.
I was doubtful the SA400 could sound better, but it offered more in terms of clarity, detail & power than I was used to, occupied less space and also had a built-in DSP which allowed a certain amount of control to tailor the sound to my preference. The negatives were I lost the fine control in eq & filters the DEQX offered, including the High Pass Filter I had been using to limit bass reaching the D7’s. The D7’s started bottoming out with the SA400 and no HPF. I could prevent this by reducing the bass db slope, but this was not sharp enough as it affected the mid-range.
So my quest began to find a commercial speaker that would work in this context without bottoming out. As I was so impressed with the D7’s, a pair of second hand D9’s turned up on ebay, I pulled the trigger on those.
These differ from the D7’s by offering more bass with a bigger driver and passive bass radiator instead of a port.
Well, the D7’s had good bass, but the D9’s were scary.
In my stands they shook the floor as the bass radiator was fitted to the top of the box, and faced the ceiling. The vibrations travelled directly down to the floor. Took me a while to figure this out, so I needed to decouple the speakers from the stands. After trying all sorts of materials from squash balls, carpets and various foams, I settled on a 15mm yoga mat which worked great.
While working with this speaker, it reminded me why I retained the OB subs. These things were exciting modes in my room, in particular @ 50hz where I know I have a resonance. Weird hearing this again as I have been resonance free for years.
Long story short, I could not control the bass output of this speaker unless I used HPF on DEQX which I was trying to get away from, so they had to go!
The Monitor Audio Silvers had been on my shortlist for a while...the 50’s, not the 100’s as they were too extended in the bass department. The 50's were bass light , and had the sort of punchy sound I was after.
Loved them out of the boxes! Bass was well controlled and they didn’t bottom out. Mids were more up-front than the D7’s. Treble maybe not as sweet, but early days. As they began to open up I stated to prefer the sound of the MA’s above everything else. I could happily stop at these!
One thing that bugged me about these 2 way speakers was I had no control over the excursions of the bass/mid driver. I was not comfortable with a single driver handling bass & mids at the same time without DEQX HPF engaged. Surely there must be some deterioration in midrange frequencies coming from a cone doing 10mm excursions?
I started looking at the ELAC Uni-fi series which had a dual concentric mid/treble driver a la KEF and a completely separate bass driver.
I ordered their first generation UNI-FI UB5 which had a rear port.
Have to say, was not too impressed with this speaker out of the box. I had read it can take up to 500 hours to open up. I also read its crossover presents a difficult load to the amplifier. When my SA400 went into protection mode at volume, I packed them away and returned them.
I liked the 3-way separate woofer idea and researched the newer UNI-Fi iterations. The reference UBR62 was getting glowing reports, but was criticised for its lack of bass extension....perfect for my application. It also had a port & was bi-wireable (future updates?). I managed to acquire and open-box pair & encorporate them into my system.
Hmm....initially I was dubious as these had quite a bit of bass bloat. I blocked the ports & they were a lot better. Like the reviews, they imaged like crazy and presented a huge soundstage. The mids were clean and very detailed.. These characteristics improved with run-in and so did the bloat, which disappeared, allowing the ports to run totally open now. Comparisons with the MA’s which had a good few hours on them at this stage was still a toss-up.
Liking these Uni-fi’s quite alot now after 50 hours. They integrate well with the SA400 & UM18 subs.....not missing the DEQX/Temple combo. I am also reassured that even though the woofer may be doing violent excursions (without bottoming out, BTW), the mids are not being affected. They have surpassed the MA’s now which sound rather 2D in comparison & I will be selling.
....so....this chapter is over for now. .......but I do have something else on order
Had these Acoustic Energy AE-1s on order which were delayed for 6 weeks. Big departure on these as were my first foray into Active Speakers!
So now, the DAC acts as a pre-amp straight into the active speakers:
Music is streamed to the DAC via Bluetooth via phone, and if you think Bluetooth cannot do HiRes, try the LDAC protocol at 24bit & 990kbps!
Time for an update.....I'm thinking this could be end-game?
My experience with the active AE1's was very favourable. You dont have to worry about synergy between amp & speaker. You know its been maximised, so this greatly simplifies things.
Regarding my venture into 2-way bookshelves and pairing with subs I have learnt a few things. Being used to open baffle, I have not had to worry for years about room modes. Some of the bookshelves I have been testing have been boomy. Taking the DEQX out of the system means I have no control over this.....and it is not acceptable. I cant live with boom. So I been looking for bookshelf speakers that have weak bass and roll-off quickly. This usually means small boxes & small drivers.
The other issue I have is when using a sub, the idea here is to extend that bottom octave...particularly important if you listen to electronic music, which makes no sense without that bottom octave. However, the full benefit of using a sub cannot be achieved if the bookshelf is still receiving signals for this bottom octave from the amp.
This does two things....it duplicates the bass frequencies since the subs are also producing this bottom octave. Granted, the bookshelf is not going to produce much at 20-40hz, but nonetheless, it muddies the sound. This can be cleaned up to a certain extent by carefully selection the crossover point. This can be further improved with the Behringer NX because you can also select the type of roll-off (Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz) and db slope of the roll-off. This gives infinite control of the UM18's, but sadly, not the bookshelf.
The second issue is while the bookshelf is trying to produce the bottom octave, it is also trying to produce midrange frequencies. For sure this affects detail, tone and texture of the mids, particularly when listening to bass-heavy tracks.
The AE1's go some way to rectifying this, and probably one of the reasons why they sound so good in my system. I noticed they have a built in High Pass Fillter which seems to automatically cut off frequencies below 40hz. With bass heavy music, the cones remain controlled. There are no wild excursions and so the mids remain intact, and because frequencies are not being duplicated, they integrate well with the UM's.
This is such an involved topic, I started a new blog HERE
....which brings me to my next update:
Here we have the Elac Navis, and Active 3-way compact bookshelf speaker. You recall how impressed I was with the Elac Uni-fi Reference, which was a passive 3-way version of this. Issue I had with that was a complicated crossover that just sapped the power and dynamics, and bass overlap which I could not control. It was not boomy, but bass was just too 'full'. Navis addresses all these issues, and using active amplifiers (3 of them) internally gets rid of the complicated crossover and restores dynamics.
I have had the Navis in my system for 6 weeks now. It is perfect in this application......best speaker yet. Being a 3-way, mids remain clean and clear no matter how much bass you throw at it.....but also, the woofer in this thing remains in total control. How? Elac have thought about integration with a sub, and included a High Pass Filter Not only that, you have an option to select between 60 or 80hz cut-off! There may be other speakers out there that do this....but this is the only one I have come across.
So now, effectively I have a 4-way speaker that doesnt get fazed by anything I throw at it, doesnt boom in the room, will go really loud without showing any distress, compression or congestion. Bass remains clean, clear, tight & controlled, full of texture & timbre....and yet, will quake if the music demands. Mids and female vocals are to die for.....and no chestiness. Treble is not my ears strongpoint, but I cant really complain. There is no harshness or sibilance and seems to extend beyond what I can hear. Oh....and these things image like crazy!
End game? Lets see..............
Guess I cant keep still here...not that the Navii dont deliver, but I did make the point earlier that I knew of no other active speaker that had a High Pass Filter to integrate with subs........then I saw this:
Well, these are studio monitors, but the reviewer points out it works well in a hifi setting. In fact, he preferred the Focal Shape 65 to the Navis in all aspects apart from midrange.
I did some research on the Shapes and found the smaller 40's & 50's were considered to have a better midrange than the 65's.....at the expense of bass extension, which was fine for me running subs.
I found an ex-demo pair of Shape 40's for just over £400. When they arrived they were actually brand new!
Out of the box they were really tight and constrained, but started to loosen up after a couple of hours. The instruction warned to play at moderate levels the first 10 hours, so I didnt go crazy. Even so, at moderate volumes they sounded promising.
They came on song over the next few weeks, and I actually found myself preferring them to the Navis. They just seemed more lively & forward, but not in a fatiguing way. They created a huge soundstage full of detail & space between instruments. For the price, I could not believe the performance. Bass integration was excellent with the HPF set to 80hz (only option), but even without the HPF engaged, the bass was never bloated.....the problem I had with reflex ports....I assumed because of the Passive Bass radiators on the side. One of the drawbacks of this system allegedly is a slow, delayed bass response. On the contrary, these were fast, nimble and full of detail & texture.....but also controlled....I think more so than the Navis. Focal have incorporated a few technical innovations in the design of these speakers which must contribute to the great performance.
The only negative I had was sensitivity. Since I am driving the speakers directly from my DAC acting as a preamp, I find the relative volume of the file I am playing affects the overall volume. This is not an issue with modern material, but older stuff was recorded at a lower volume level would mean the DAC would have to be on maximum to achieve realistic SPL's.
So, I started to investigate the other speakers in the range and settled on the Shape 50's, which has an SPL of 106db vs 102db....effectively over twice as loud ( & twice the price). Still, a lot less than the Navis!
Same run-in procedure with these, and after 100hrs, comparing these to the 40's they went louder and had noticeably more weight, but retained the characteristics of the 40's. They had more HPF options and I found I could set these low @ 45hz with no bloat. Comparing to the Navis, the Shapes had more control of the bass and the mids sounded cleaner. I think the reflex port of the Navis, even with the HPF set to 80hz, was veiling the mids, even though the Navis was a 3-way vs the Focal 2-way
I was so impressed with these, I got my hifi buddy up for a second opinion. He recently acquired a pair of very expensive Gold Note Evo 2's with a midrange to die for. Comparing the Shape 50's to the Navis, he also preferred the Shapes....but was shocked with how close to his Evos they sounded with just a bit less detail in the mids.
I then replaced the 50's with the 40's. My mate laughed....they were so tiny and surely could not be serious!
................his jaw dropped! After putting the 40's through its paces, he preferred them to the 50's, and also declared that if he has known about them earlier, he probably would not have bought the Evos.....praise indeed!
So, at the moment I am enjoying the Shape 50's which have taken precedence over the Navis which I will be selling. I dont want to say I will be stopping at the 50's, especially now I have started exploring the Studio Monitor market!
Just to update: There have been no changes to the speakers for 4 months.....quite a record for me. Not only that, I am super happy with them. So much so I decided to update my source. A recent YT review on the Topping D90LE ticked all the boxes for me......detailed, lively dynamics, slam, controlled bass and huge soundstage did it for me. I also invested in the matching D90 Preamp.
To take advantage of these traits, I updated to a wifi Zen Stream fed by a Umidigi tablet. The signal from the stream is modified by and Audio-GD Di-20 DDC, which adds a naturalness to the sound that is incredibly engaging.
This system does everything right for me and the type of music I listen to, but I must emphasise this is extremely personal and will not suit everyone!
For the STREAMERS amongst you, this is a worthwhile tweak.
I came across some You Tube videos extolling the virtue of optical cables....not the sort that plug into the back or your DAC. These are fibre optical cables used for networking that carry data signals hundreds of metres, apparently without signal degradation. The advantage of using them for audio is they act as a filter and cut out any RF, EMI or mains noise that might be picked up on your copper ethernet CAT cable going from your router to your streamer. I tend to use this rather than WiFi as its more reliable & I think sounds better.
Some people might power their router with a Linear Power supply, and I certainly could have gone down that route, although it still would not stop the ethernet cable from picking up various magnetic & radio waves in the atmosphere. Basically, the tweak consists of routing the CAT cable through a pair of Media converters to clean up the signal before entering the streamer.
Good video explaining procedure here:
I got the Media Converters & cable from here:
Need to ensure the optical cable is SINGLE ENDED, and terminated with SC connectors.
I discovered the 'clean' Media Converter needs to be powered by an LPS or power bank. The stock SMPS sounds awful. Then you will be rewarded with a cleaner. more open & detailed sound!
My set up looks like this now:
Very happy with the Focal Shape 50's, but I was tempted by many positive reports on the flagship Shape Twins. This doubles up on the midrange & houses them in a bigger box with a 2.5 configuration, so the upper driver is full range up to 2.5k, whereas the lower driver handles up to 180hz. So effectively both drivers a contributing to the upper bass, and it is very noticeable being cleaner, faster & more detailed. I was fortunate to find a damaged pair on eBay going cheap.
The other thing I did was a frame re-design. With the UM's now operating below 60hz, most of the subsonic energy was being wasted in the old suspended frames. Really, I wanted the subsonic frequencies to be felt, so the new frames directly couple to the floor.
The UM assemblies are now cradled in the frames by the magnets. Because there is significant force on the frame when the cones are moving back & forth, I introduced a clamp to lock the chassis to the frames (red arrows).
The other issue was I decided to use square section for the frame rather than round. The existing post supporting the Twins was round. The green arrow shows how I fitted a round post into a square hole using some short aluminium tubes.
The UMs are rock solid in the frames now and to fully couple the frames to the wooden floor I had to stick the feet down using some alien tape to stop them wandering....
I measured the floor effect to be active between 14-25hz. I would call the result 'seismic', especially with electronic music & adventure movies.
These stands have now been UPDATED
As of October 2023, there have been no changes on the speaker side of things. System updates are HERE