• davidf

secret loudspeakers

Updated: Apr 27, 2020

secret loudspeakers

I have no idea what to call this blog, so I've settled on this title. Why? Because I'm currently running in a pair of loudspeakers at home which have taken me quite by surprise in many ways. For almost a week now, they've been impressing me with both music and movies, so I'm going to write them up on a daily basis, and when I feel I can't really say much more, I’ll stop and reveal all (after their first review is published).

These haven't been set upon their dedicated stands, nor have they been placed in their ideal position either, whatever that may be. Because of space limitations, they sit exactly where my usual Jim Rogers JR149s sit. They're about 4" from the rear wall, toed in a little to focus just behind my head at my listening position. They're slightly higher than I would've liked them as they fire slightly upwards, but again, they have to sit where they are, which is on top of a double stack of plastic tubs of vinyl due to space restrictions. Far from ideal, so on top of these and underneath each speaker sits an Auralex Subdude which does a pretty good job of isolating them and other speakers I try at home. I've forgotten which albums I've tried so far, but I'll add brief thoughts on the bits I remember. They're being driven by a Hegel H120 - leaving plenty of scope for an amplifier upgrade, but this just goes to show the quality that is on offer from the H120, and how these slightly pricey standmounts don't necessarily need lorry loads of amplification to sound good. Having said that, I reckon a Hegel H390 would be more ideal. Movies are fed from a Sony UBP700 UHD Bluray player (audio downmixed to stereo and fed via coaxial digital), and music is from TIDAL generated from the mConnect app controlling the H120.

thursday 19th

After listening to a few go-to albums such as Massive Attack's Mezzanine, I was seriously impressed with their bass extension for their size, with kick drums completely distinguishable from the meaty bass lines. The amount of detail that was pouring forth from the soft fabric HF unit was a little overwhelming at first, as I just wasn't used to this much detail in my room, except for possibly the Eclipse loudspeakers. Far from lacking bass for their size, their balance seemed to be geared a little towards the midrange and HF, which really showed on close mic'd vocals and instruments such as piano. Low level listening - and I mean low level listening, like down to 5 or 6 on the Hegel - was still highly detailed, and therefore far more involving than my JR149s. So, on to the evening's movie viewing.

I decided on a David Fincher's Zodiac, mainly because I wanted to hear how well they could handle heavy dialogue and atmospheric detail. Dialogue was extremely easy to understand, and I even heard a few words during the film that I must've missed on previous viewings (14 times since 2011, now 15). Fincher puts a lot of work into the sound of his movies, they're very busy with regards to background noise, but I wasn't quite ready for what I was about to experience - ambiance overload! I always knew his films were quite busy in almost every respect, but I was hearing stuff I honestly hadn't heard before! Living close to a main road (and traffic lights), I quite often hear boy racers and motorbikes revving and accelerating, even around the outskirts of the village a mile or so away sometimes, but at one point I paused the film as it sounded like someone was racing up and down outside - but it was in the movie! It was the scene where Avery takes Graysmith to a store room to show him some newspaper articles and ends up showing him the advert for the Zodiac watch.

friday 20th

Continuing a run of David Fincher films, I went with The Game and Se7en. The Game was more of the same really, just hordes of information surrounding the dialogue. Se7en was overwhelming. First up, I have NEVER heard the opening title track (Nine Inch Nails) sound like that. Ever. Whereas before it usually sounded a bit muddled and messy, I was suddenly hearing a perfectly engineered track where all instruments (and various noises) all had their own space, including depth, more akin to a multi-channel SACD mix - I've never felt so "involved" in that opening track like before. Ambient noise in this movie is a given - it is intentionally exaggerated as part of Somerset's story, but you don't miss a thing through these bad boys!

I've previously said that Se7en is the only movie that has made me miss having surround sound at home due to Howard Shore's haunting score being placed in the rear speakers throughout the film. That's now changed. When his score sounds this good, it doesn't matter where it is! Slowly building throughout the movie, initially very subtle, creeping under your skin without realisation, building up as the movie works towards its shocking finale. This has been my most enjoyable viewing of Se7en to date.

saturday 21st

I like to watch comedies on a Saturday night, as I like to have a little drink with it not being a school night, and a little bit of alcohol always makes a comedy funnier. So I picked out Dodgeball, Old School, Dumb & Dumber, and Kingpin. It almost felt like I was wasting the evening watching comedy on these speakers when I could be watching something meatier. That didn't matter. These speakers weren't going to take a night off from displaying their immense strengths. I was dumbfounded by just how much better Dodgeball sounded than usual, something I really was not expecting.

sunday 22nd

I'd been wanting to watch these since getting the speakers. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, both in 4K. Blade Runner sounded phenomenal, particularly the opening scene with the industrial chimneys exploding into the sky as the camera flies over them. These speakers weren't going to shortchange with this scene, sounding not only more like a floorstanding loudspeaker, but almost like a subwoofer! Some dialogue in this movie can sound a little strained and hard to follow, but again, I heard a few words here and there that I'd not heard before. I even ran the film right until the end of the credits because of how good the soundtrack for this movie sounded, which I don't usually do.

I had high hopes for Blade runner 2049, but it ended up being a little bit of a disappointment due to the fact that it lacked the sort of busy sound stage that David Fincher's films have. 2049's sound stage is as sparse as its landscapes. It still sounded phenomenal though, bringing out all the low end I usually miss with my loudspeakers, as well as revealing K's initial conversation with his superior in his car as a voice over in a sound booth, the acoustics sounded wrong. I've heard other movies where you can tell the dialogue has been dubbed, but I'd not noticed this before.

monday 23rd

I decided to move back to a David Fincher film, again as a test of heavy dialogue and electronic score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network. I wasn't let down. The last time I heard the score sound this good was from the compact disc of the score played through KEF Blades. Even the opening track where Zuckerberg is running though the grounds of Harvard University threw up some bits and bobs I'd not noticed, and got across straight away just how good music from this movie is through these speakers. Even Jesse Eisenberg's lightning fast dialogue delivery throughout the movie didn't stop these speakers from allowing me to hear every word he said.

tuesday 24th

Today I've been doing a lot of music listening. Leftfield's 1995 Leftism sounds as fresh and energetic as the day it was released, almost like it could've been released recently. The Cinematic Orchestra's recent album To Believe sounds absolutely sublime, so much so that I doubt anyone would suspect they'd be listening to TIDAL, no doubt helped by the transparency of these speakers, and their ability to project into the listening space. Royksopp's Melody A.M. can sometimes sound a little messy, but these speakers had no issue with the album, including doing a fantastic job with the bass on the opening track So Easy. Many ported standmounts tend to not quite reach deep enough, and it sometimes sounds a little wrong if the speaker can't quite reach deep enough, but these reached the lower bass note of the track with ease, making the track a joy to listen to (as it would normally be on floorstanders).

Sevdaliza's album Ison sounds absolutely fabulous. No problems at all following each individual overdubbed line, and not a bass note out of place or seemingly lacking. There's obviously no smearing of the image in any way, which helps her voice just sit in front of you in thin air while synth lines dance around the soundstage and the deep bass lines underpin everything. Even if you don't like this album, these speakers make it an enjoyable and interesting experience.

Due to time constraints, had to jiggle about movie-wise, but mainly watched one of my favourite movies, No Country For Old Men. From a sound point of view this was similar to Blade Runner 2049 in that it’s quite sparse, even more so due to the lack of score to accompany the film. So other than generally sounding better, this didn’t bring anything extra to the table - until the end credits! Not a track consisting of conventional instruments (except guitars), I usually turn it up a little, close my eyes, and follow all the instruments. I did the same tonight, but it just sounded so different. As with other music, it had a real sense of depth to the soundstage, plenty of space around the ultra-detailed instruments, with this new level of detail providing more insight as to what the instruments actually are.

wednesday 25th

Not much to report tonight movie wise due to time issues, but was listening to Kodomo’s album Still Life earlier. The general feel of the album is along the lines of Boards Of Canada, with the opening track being heavily influenced by Roygbiv from their 1999 Music Has The Right To Children album. There’s some lovely meaty bass notes on this album which really don’t feel like they should have any place coming from a standmount loudspeaker with a single 6” bass driver. Some standmounts can sound like they’re trying to hard when it comes to the lower octaves, in turn spoiling the “illusion” they’re trying to create, but these lack that negative issue - they continue to sound balanced, effortless, and therefore, natural.

thursday 26th

For the next three evenings I’m running through the Mission Impossible movies in 4K, so tonight there’s not much to report, mainly because the first movie - as good as it is - hasn’t received any audio remastering, which it desperately needs, and the second one, well, the best thing about the second one is Limp Bizkit...

friday 27th

Despite only being a two channel system, I’d put these up against ANY similarly priced (or even more expensive) AV speakers with regards to not only quality, but also their ability to communicate. Watching the Mission Impossible series further - MI:III, Ghost Protocol, and Rogue Nation - they‘re extremely adept at conveying tension. Any ‘race against time’ situation in movies like this - and there are many - they really pull you in and add to the “will they, won’t they” anticipation, despite the fact you know very well the outcome!

And today, I’ve never heard Alva Noto sound so good. I wasn’t expecting much as it’s mostly bass notes and beeps with some piano, but I guess the better the system is at recreating a piano, the more convincing it is, full stop. And boy, those bass notes! Deep, clean, and tighter than Kylie’s hot pants, which is not only testament to the speakers, but also to the Hegel H120, which could quite possibly be the best Class AB amplifier at its price point. I can’t wait to hear these with an H390! Given the measured bass response of these, they must be hitting low 30s in-room.

And sometimes, I have to remind myself that these are the entry level loudspeakers in their range...

saturday 28th

Finishing off the Mission Impossble run with Fallout - possibly the best action movie this century - I can only echo what I said yesterday with regards to the tension that can be created during films with the aid of the score, although not all systems are able to do this justice.

Listening to more Alva Noto today, I still haven’t found any albums yet where the port causes any audible issues. Some ports produce noise and hideous bass boom when located near to walls, but not so with these. This is partly down to the fact they don’t use a conventional round port, but also because they don’t seem to expel air at high velocity. Their bass is extremely even sounding, with no bass notes seemingly sounding excessively loud in comparison to others, and the bass covers a nice wide range - an issue that I’ve accused a lot of subwoofers in the past of failing to do. I haven’t come across a bass line yet where a deeper note kicks in but sounds odd because it’s lower than the port frequency it’s tuned to. I guess with the aforementioned in-room bass response, they reach deep enough to be able to cover all but the deepest bass lines in conventional music.

sunday 29th

Jonny Greenwood’s unusual score to You Were Never Really Here took on a whole new life tonight, and Wacky Phoenix’s mumbling dialogue was easier to understand.

monday 30th

Tonight I discovered that Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water sounds just as good as its breathtaking looks. There is no way a multi-channel system at this price could match the detail I’m hearing. At the price of this amplifier and speakers, the main speakers in a 5.1 system would be around £2000 at the very most, and even less in an Atmos system. There really is no substitute for outright sound quality. I haven’t heard detail in movies like this since my Ken Kreisel Quattro loudspeakers, and for music quality, I’ve not had this good in this room at all, and I can’t imagine any standmount this side of £10,000 being appreciably better - but I’m always willing to be proven wrong though!

I played a really rough recording today - Death From Above 1979’s Outrage Is Now - I just wanted to listen to it, it wasn’t to assess the speakers in any way. Despite that, I was surprised at the extra detail I was hearing, with little bits here and there that I wasn’t aware of, despite the source being TIDAL. It just goes to show, that even with far less than perfect material, more detail can be heard from a more revealing system.

tuesday 31st

Watching Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival tonight was another ‘experience’. Johann Johannsson’s score, and in particular Max Richter’s On The Nature Of Daylight sounded absolutely fabulous, as did the whale-like communications of “Abbott and Costello”, the two octopod aliens, making the whole story feel so much more believable and involving. And the subwoofer-like bass played its part as well!

wednesday 1st April

Tonight was the turn of another David Fincher film, his 2009 remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Once again, it’s just another example of Fincher’s attention to detail when it comes to ambient noise and goings on, something I’ve never heard so obviously with other directors. But it was Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’ score that surprised here - on previous viewings, it’s mostly quite subdued and barely noticeable - but this viewing, it was “there”, throughout the movie, demanding just as much attention as the dialogue. And these speakers are more than happy to facilitate that.

So far, there’s been a few real standout movies that have been an absolute joy to watch using these speakers, and although I enjoy them anyway, I’ve enjoyed them so much more this time round - The Shape Of Water, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Arrival, Blade Runner, The Social Network, Zodiac, Mission Impossible: Fallout, and Se7en. And even Dodgeball! And I’ve got to reiterate again that there are no multi-channel systems of an equivalent price that are going to sound like this. Pepsi challenge welcomed.

I’ve got some corkers coming up over the course of this week and the weekend though, so do check back. And I promise to add more in about music too, particularly now these loudspeakers have really settled down after having used them constantly now for almost two weeks.

thursday 2nd and friday 3rd

A double bill of Nicholas Winding Refn movies - Neon Demo and Only God Forgives. While these moves might be a little baffling to watch, they’re shot really well and beautiful to look at, with strong uses of colour. But it’s the soundtracks I’m interested in here, and they don’t disappoint. Adding genuine hi-fi quality audio to movies really elevates the experience, making you feel more involved in the film. it’s something you really should experience for yourself.

saturday 4th

I had a bit of an alien binge tonight, and worthy mentions go to Edge Of Tomorrow and Battle: Los Angeles. It’s been a little while since I’ve watched the latter as it’s a very average movie in every sense of the word, but boy does it sound good through this system! I enjoyed it far more than I had previously, with the depth of bass really helping to bring a sense of realism to movies - as a subwoofer does - and that was even more evident with Edge Of Tomorrow. It didn't quite reach the lowest notes of the opening audio sequence, but that’s far from a negative for a standmount pair of loudspeakers with a 6” bass driver! These babies can dig deeper than some subwoofers, with the added bonus of audibly better integration.

sunday 5th