Sugg. Retail: $1100 pr (CAN)
Size: 37″H x 6 1/2″W x 8 3/4″D
Manufacturer: SpeakerDirect Inc.,
2139 Lawrence Ave. E., Toronto, ON M1R 3A4
(Reprinted from the Almanac 2002 Audio Ideas Guide)
There are a lot of excellent speakers in the price area below $1500, but few that qualify as high end reproducers. But here I think we’ve definitely got a contender. The Reference 1 is a small tower speaker finished in a nice blonde veneer, using a SEAS silk dome tweeter, the pair mirror offset arrayed on the baffle, and a surprising 4 1/2″ Peerless woofer midrange.
I say surprising for its sheer bass output capability, and for its ability to reach down to 50 Hz and below. But then, I’m getting ahead of myself.
StudioLAB loudspeakers are sold direct out of their Lawrence Avenue East store and on their website. They also custom build cabinets in their wood shop for other small high end speaker makers. The emphasis is on flexibility of manufacture, the ability to make a wide variety of designs and shapes in veneer, vinyl, or other surfaces. I even found a fuzzy-finish box relic in a tour of their operation. In addition to the selection of more conventional box speakers offered in the store and on the web site is the Reference series of three models, the 1 the smallest and least expensive. These are young designer Michael Vince’s babies, carefully crafted using his LMS measurement system and the best drivers and parts he can find.
And if measurements are any indication, he knows what he’s doing. These little towers offer very wide and flat frequency response, though they do tend to have a slightly lightweight sonic character unless very close to a rear wall. But they are +/-1 1/2 dB in the Pink Noise Sweep (PNS) from 200 to 10,000 Hz, no small accomplishment for a speaker at any price.
Even the quasi-anechoic measurement is exceptionally flat, pretty much to the same tolerance. The axial measurements at bottom show almost perfect dispersion to 30o off axis, with no driver lobing and very smooth response, while at 60o the rolloff is uniform and ensures reduced sidewall reflections with a very similar tonal character. These all add up to an excellent Summed Axial Response (SAR), overlaid on the PNS that differs from it only in level, this caused by the control of off-axis energy beyond 30o.
Anyone who knows (or does) speaker measurements will see that these are pretty much textbook results, good mating of good drivers, and very successful crossover design. This is further indicated in the impedance and phase curves, which show a nominally 8-ohm design that reaches about 14 ohms around crossover, with a bass peak of about 30 ohms at 100 Hz, with a lesser peak at the port tuning of 45 Hz.
More interesting is the derived phase curve below, which shows very little phase shift through the crossover region, about +/-20o, very low for a speaker in this price range. It also predicts excellent imaging and depth, especially in view of the already seen very accurate acoustic phase match of the drivers seen in the minimal lobing interaction.
And this was immediately heard in the listening. With a wide and deep soundstage that extended outside and behind the speakers, the Reference 1 was an imaging champion with choral and orchestral music. Its measured frequency accuracy also contributed to its ability to properly convey the timbre of musical instruments and voices. On our own choral recordings, the Maazel Mahler 4th, our Bach Cello Suites, the Debussy Preludes, whatever, this speaker had a rightness of sound that was beguiling.
It was a little forward on female voice, this emphasized a bit by the shelving of response in the lower midrange, and the gentle bass rolloff. But the good news is that you can put these very close to a rear wall or corner with no fear of their becoming boomy, and get deep bass enhancement from the rear port. As we set them up they could provide very satisfying bass to 50 Hz, and even response to 30 Hz could be seen on our microphone fed 1/3-octave RTA display.
The cello was nicely placed in space, the piano had great presence, percussion had lots of transient snap and no overhang, and cabinet resonances in general were notably absent. Michael noted to me in conversation that he looked long and hard before he settled on the heavy felt used to damp the cabinets internally, and it’s paid off in very low coloration in the Reference 1.
Imaging, soundstage width and depth, transient accuracy, and detail are all aspects of a speaker’s overall resolution, as is the flatness of frequency response, especially through the midrange. These are what move a speaker into the high end category, and the StudioLAB Reference 1 definitely qualifies as high end. This is one of the finest small two-way designs in our experience. I recommend matching it to the best subwoofer you can afford for a killer combination that would probably cost just under $2000.