This trip out was a little different, as a local speaker builder invited me down to offer my opinion about some speakers that are in the later stages of development for release into the mainstream market. His name is Franklin Mack and he and his brother have been designing and building custom loudspeakers and drivers for several years. This is part of a PM that he sent me that explains his background and approach better than I can:
"At Audia Media Group we have an insatiable passion for music. But our focus has aways been to help our clients create the best sound system based on their budget. We offer this solution through our customizeable designs of Planar and Ribbon products we also design and build many types of drivers. Over the past 10yrs Audia has been an OEM Loudspeaker Manufacturer for many highend loudspeaker brands, based an our contracts I'm not at liberty to disclose names. ...we can build a speaker system around your electronic or personal wants or needs. Thats what we do. ...After reviewing your listening list it would be great information for my R&D team. We feel that our product is not only some of the best on the market at any price range, we also feel that for the money our speakers cannot be beat. People talk about Internet Direct dealers like AV123, At Audia you can consider our pricing structure to be manufacturer direct. Meaning we dont have the middle men to go through and can offer or products directly to our consumer..."
Franklin turned out to be a great guy, and we wound up talking about a lot of stuff yesterday revolving around speakers, music and our own personal interests and backgrounds as fellow musicians. His company is still constructing their website so they aren't on the web, yet, but Frank assured me a web site is coming soon... I should add that I was not payed in any way to do this. The manager of the store that carries the Audia speakers came across this thread and thought that maybe Franklin and I could help each other out, thanks Mike. I hope this helps...Audia Sound Labs 8.6
The speakers I listened to were still prototypes so there were a couple of "rough edges" regarding the fit and finish of the cabinets themselves. When I spoke to Frank about them he was already aware and has a good plan to resolve them. They were small details that would help to make these look as polished as their competitors at this price range. The smaller speaker, to the right, is another model they are working on that I did not listen to.
I started with Grant Green and thought that the tone of his guitar was pretty good though these speakers seemed to bring out it's distortion from the original recording. My first thought was that this was sounding smooth for a ribbon tweeter. The guitar seemed to be a little bit more forward on these speakers than on others, snare drums were crisp, and the acoustic bass was sounding good too. Saxophone proved to have a mellow tone that resonated nicely, accurate. I thought that the upper-mids were slightly forward with jazz, but this seems to be a very common voicing on speakers (because I feel like I say that a lot) When the vibraphone started playing my attention was jerked away from the couple looking at a sound system a few feet away from me. Wow, that sounded real, very forward but very real. I think that is one sound that ribbons do exceptionally realistic.
I put in Fela Kuti and the accent in the upper range became more apparent. Horns sounded a bit peaked in the upper register, though smooth in the lower. When there is a lot of brass playing it tends to be a little too "in your face." The low end and mids sounded good when not dominated by the upper range of the ribbon. I also note a touch of sibilence in the vocal.
Erykah Badu has the bass going pretty deep, but coming up a bit short of the music, also very common with the speakers i have been listening to. Rim shots sound a little thin here and her voice seems to be pushed a little higher, not sounding as full or lush as it should.
The Beatles "Come Together" sounds full but the music does not envelop me as fully as other speakers have. I can hear a lot of detail in the recording though, such as fingers sliding on bass strings in between notes. Cymbals are clear and forward. "The End" has drums sounding pretty good but missing a bit of impact. The high are a little edgy with this song, and seem to dominate the sound.
I brought some James Brown along this time and the recording I chose sounded like it was recorded in a hallway. Aside from the extremely narrow soundstage, I felt that the bass should be more forward and thicker. This is not a forgiving speaker to listen to, and shows the recording quality and most likely the limits of the electronics found upstream.
I also thought I would try some MC 900ft Jesus "If I Only Had A Brain." Highs were predictable crisp and tight, and his voice sounded little thin. Bass on this song includes a few sonic bombs that go very, very low and these speakers got a decent chunk of it, but not all.
By this time I already knew that this is not the sound signature that I am looking for but thought I would play Fu Manchu for sake of completion. It actually sounded pretty good on the Audia Sound Labs 8.6. The true-mids seemed to be recessed, but I think that is due to dominance of the ribbon tweeter. If there were some tubes backing this speaker I feel that it would sound better. Though slightly smoother than the Dali, it is still related with the ribbon tweeter sound, If you like that sound you might want to check out Audia Sound Labs. A pretty solid effort, though not a good fit for me.
The place I went yesterday stocked several other speakers and electronics including a set that was on my original list that I had not yet heard...NHT Classic four
Grant Green sounded good on the Classic Four's. Bass is nice and full, guitar tone is very nice. I can hear the mild distortion in this recording but it is not distracting. Piano sounds are nice here too.
The horns in Fela Kuti are nice and smooth, bass has good solid impact and a full, rich sound to it. Trumpets and saxophone have a nice tone to them. Imaging is also pretty good with the NHT's. There is a nice balance to these speakers, nothing seems to stand out, fairly even sound.
The Beatles sounded good here too. Bass on "Come Together" was rich and smooth, though didn't have as much impact as it did with Fela Kuti. Guitars sounded right, again nothing standing out, "easy to listen to" speaker. On "The End" I thought the drums were tight, and guitars were in balance, though the highs were sounding slightly rolled off. Most likely residual effect of the long session with the ribbons.
Erykah Badu plumed the depths of the NHT's and though they went very deep, they came off sounding a little flabby. Her vocals sounded good, and I was noticing the imaging again. One thing that started to bother me was the sound of the rimshots, they came off sounding a bit plastic.
James Brown still sounded like he was in a hallway, slightly wider hallway, but still narrow sounding, and drums sounded like they were being played on a toy kit... I don't think I will continue to use this track...
With Fu Manchu I noted the solid sound of the kick drum. Guitars had the right growl to them, though I thought the highs were a slightly tame and "plasticy" sounding.
Overall I thought the NHT Classic Fours were pretty good speakers. Not as detailed as some, but they had a good solid bottom end, even if it got sloppy at the very bottom. I wouldn't be surprised if this speaker is rated to perform lower than any of the other ones I have listened to.
(I am going to try and post manufacturers stats in the next few days, so I can check my ears vs. claimed performance)Jump to Preliminary Round UpJump to Round 9