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THE FLAT RESPONSE

ProAc's newbie will work with almost any amplifier. Is it the ultimate high-end speaker?

gone, replaced instead by an identically sized 165mm custom unit made in association with UK pro-speaker designer Volt (the driver brand behind the likes of PMC), with a special polypropylene cone on a die-cast chassis. ProAc's designer Stewart Tyler suggests these up the sensitivity by a couple of dB, but sourcing your own drive unit is an extremely expensive way to crack this nut and shows just how seriously ProAc takes speaker design. This is allied to a heavily modified Scan-Speak 25mm soft dome tweeter with a special inner damping and a curious surround arrangement, which looks more like that of a bass driver. The crossover is redesigned too, featuring ProAc's proprietary High Quality Crossover design with custom components and wired throughout with ProAc's own multi-strand oxygen-free cable. Externally at least, the cabinet appears unchanged, and with its offset tweeters and grilles, the speaker is functionally identical to its predecessor, the Response 2.5. They are also just as damped and rigid and, at 26kg a piece, just as damnably heavy too. But there

PRODUCT ProAc Response D25 TYPE 2-way floorstanding loudspeaker PRICE From £2,995 per pair KEY FEATURES Size (WxHxD): 22x107x25cm p Weight: 26kg p Sensitivity/impedance: 88dB/8ohms (nom) p 165mm polypropylene bass/mid cone p 25mm soft dome tweeter p Ported through plinth CONTACT 01280 700147 q www.proac-loudspeakers.com

he ProAc Response range is one of the most popular British high-end loudspeaker lines in the world, and the ProAc Response 2.5 was the one of the most successful £2,000-plus speakers, ever. Changing it would be a daunting and perhaps foolish task ­ geese and golden eggs, or babies and bath water, all spring to mind. But the Response 2.5 was almost eight years old and change was inevitable. Enter the £2,995 Response D25. The intervening years have brought about profound changes in materials, science and technology. Those Scan-speak carbon-fibre impregnated paper cone bass drivers are

T

are some significant differences. The down-firing port that moves air out through the plinth of the speaker makes the speaker less fussy about positioning (the port on the Response 2.5 was a rear-firing affair and this meant that at least a good metre was needed between the back of the speaker and the rear wall). This feature also masks some of the more obvious `chuffing' endemic to ports. By loading air under the speaker, it acts almost in the same way as a horn, which

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ProAc Response D25 loudspeaker [ Review ]

then raises efficiency and room coupling as well as evening out the resonance. All of which helps to make this a speaker that is suggested to be supremely easy to drive. ProAc claims an efficiency of 88dB, a nominal impedance of eight ohms, a frequency response from 20Hz to 30kHz and a range of compatible amplifiers between ten watts and 200 watts. But there are watts and watts, and ProAc is quite selective about the type of low-powered amplification it wishes to see partnered with the Response D25. Decent Class A transistor or valve amplifier systems are the recommended choices. Sure, it can be partnered with cheaper integrated amplifiers, but the quality of the speaker is far too good for amplifiers that cost anything short of £3,000. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Response 2.5 was one of the most copied speakers ever produced (type `ProAc Response 2.5' into a Google search and the first listings are for DIY versions of the speaker; ProAc itself hardly gets a look-in). The down-firing port and the relative scarcity of the drive units might make this a tougher act to copy, but you can bet the DIY-ers will be out with their jigsaws and soldering irons soon. This is just too good a speaker to pass up. Unfortunately, few DIY-ers will ever get the finish as good as ProAc can; the company makes the D25 in seven finishes as standard (yew costing £3,295, while the distinctive birds-eye maple finish of the review samples cost £3,575), and an even wider, funkier range can be had to special order. SOUND QUALITY Somehow, the Response D25 addresses the criticisms levelled at the Response 2.5 without introducing any negative elements along the way. Given that the criticisms of the 2.5 always came with the "this is nit-picking" caveat, the bloom and slight tendency toward a saccharine sound have gone, but that hasn't turned the speaker into a harsh detail retriever. It is more comfortable in less-thanperfect surroundings, but it hasn't lost any of the speaker's critical faculties in the process. And although the D25 can go louder than the 2.5, there's no hint of hardness or harshness to the performance. ProAc's D25 produces a sound that is both audiophile-friendly and naturally musical (the two do not automatically go hand-in-hand). This is the key to the the speaker's success ­ it can sound magical with those hi-fi demonstration discs, yet not overly analytical when it's time to listen to something produced under less sterile conditions. It has this wonderful facility to fill a room with sound. Even something sparse and simple like Nick Drake's Pink Moon or Damien Rice's O ­ just a singer and his guitar ­ takes on a fully embodied, room-filling sound that seemingly makes the artist physically appear between the speakers, in their own acoustic space. Yes, practically every speaker produces a soundstage of sorts, but precious few do such a good job at delivering one which seems so close to reality. Surround sound attempts to fill a room, but you would really have to deploy some deadly serious surround sound components to make a room disappear more effectively than a pair of these ProAcs can. It's a supremely detailed speaker, too. Classic jazz from the early 1960s can be a tough test for loudspeakers. Why? Because the analogue stereo tape recordings were early enough to be reasonably free from processing, while the artistes were so consummately professional they had no need for chop-ins. The out-takes of Don't Get Around Much Anymore from the second disc of The Great Summit by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington made any form of veiling immediately apparent. We heard studio chat, papers shuffling... all of which makes for a fascinating insight into this classic recording, and it was all presented beautifully. There is a slight warmth to the ProAc tone, adding richness to piano tones and a bloom to bass guitars. But this is not necessarily a criticism. It is this same richness that makes people still listen to valve amplifiers, not the sort of lushness that strongly colours music. Any negative feelings toward the richness is quickly ameliorated by the easy dynamic range of the speaker, which bounces along far better than its predecessor. American highenders like to talk of microdynamics, the way that smaller dynamic sounds can be resolved within a bigger, more dynamic sound ­ the ProAc is certainly adept at digging out these subtle elements within a recording, which makes for a sure sign of quality. It behoves the reviewer to find fault with any product and no thing can be notionally perfect. But, in fairness to the ProAc design, it's a real struggle to find much that isn't P

"They produce a fully embodied, room-filling sound that seemingly makes the artist physically appear between the speakers."

june 2004 HI-FI CHOICE

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[ Review ] ProAc Response D25 loudspeaker

Detail

SET-UP

25mm custom-made soft dome tweeter

1m 1m

Bi-wire terminals

3-4m 10-20° 10-20°

106.6cm

1m

2.5-3m

1m

165mm custom-made polypropylene woofer

Heavily damped and cross-braced MDF cabinet is extremely rigid

Plinth (ported)

POSITIONING By placing the port under the speaker, instead of firing directly to the front or back, ProAc has made the D25 a more flexible speaker than many high-end designs. It can be placed slightly closer to walls than its predecessor, but it's difficult to ignore the fact that this metre-tall speaker needs room to breathe. The optimum position for a pair of D25s is approximately 2.5-3m apart, ideally with at least 1m between each speaker and the side and rear walls. The tweeters are offset and mirror-imaged ­ they're best positioned with the tweeters on the inside, although in extremis, you can use them with the tweeters `out' if you need to extend the imagery in a small room. Ultimately, if you are listening in a small room, choose another speaker, especially as placing the speakers more than 2m apart necessitates sitting at least 3m from the speakers. Toe-in is important in defining the imagery of the ProAc, and there's some latitude in positioning. However, the best toe-in seems to be about 20 degrees, so that from the listening seat, you'll see mostly front baffle and just a little bit of the inside face of the speaker. Expect a long run-in time. SYSTEM MATCHING ProAc's D25 is easy to drive, but the speaker is all quality, not quantity. A ten-watt, welldesigned valve amplifier or a 25-watt Class A transistor amp of the best quality will sound considerably better than a so-so 100-watt. The character and resolution of the D25 preclude cheaper amplifiers, but also make it a perfect choice for high-end integrated amps like the Lavardin Model IT, a 2x45-watt design that captivates anyone who hears it. Alternatively, why not try an amp from Audio Research, as used by the speaker's designer. The SP16 preamplifier partnered with the 50-watt VS55 ­ or indeed the VSi55 50W integrated amplifier reviewed on p61 ­ are a fine match for the D25. The choice of cable is important, but not overtly so. The speaker seems happiest with a good multi-strand copper cable, rather than solid-core or silver cable designs. However, it's not a cable-crucial speaker, so choose what best suits the amplifier.

Large screw-in feet raise the speakers by almost 5cm to give the port enough space to 'breathe' 22.2cm

"The Response D25 is (by a long way) the tightest and most rhythmic-sounding speaker that ProAc has ever produced."

Q

just pointless criticism. I could say, the Response D25 isn't as `good' as a Wilson WATT/Puppy 7 system or an Avalon Eidelon, but that's akin to saying that a Porsche Boxster isn't as `good' as an Aston Martin DB9. And even here, it depends how you define `good' ­ if you factor in the price and compatibility, the Porsche and the ProAc come out as the real winners. Perhaps the only solid criticism of ProAcs of old is that they weren't the automatic choice for those who prefer the tighter, more rhythmically controlled sound of, say, Linn or Naim systems. Then again, it could equally be argued that those who prefer the rich, enveloping sound of ProAc are just as unlikely

to choose the more etched and stark sound of Linn or Naim. Even this is subject to some rapprochement as this is (by a long way) the tightest and most rhythmic speaker ProAc has ever produced, while Linn and (in particular) Naim both recently produced electronics that are much fuller sounding than their stereotypical `sound' might lead one to expect. If the harshest criticism that can be levelled at the Response D25 at its price point is little more than an observation about compatibility, then it seems inevitable that ProAc has another winner on its hands. Which means, if you go to audition them, you will more than likely leave with a pair for yourself. HFC Alan Sircom

VERDICT

R PRO Real high-end sweetness and detail, without an eight-grand (or more) price tag. Less EASE OF DRIVE >> 85% position-fussy than most high-end speaker designs.

SOUND >> 91%

BUILD >> 92%

VALUE >> 89%

S CON Compatibility doesn't mean it will necessarily work well with el-cheapo amplifiers, and rhythmically speaking, it's still not as precise as some others in the high end.

CONCLUSION ProAc has another winner on its hands with this tall, easydriving speaker that's capable of producing a truly magical sound. Once heard, forever smitten, unless of course you are a real rhythm nut.

OVERALL SCORE

>> 90%

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