Author Archives: Tiens

First Impressions of the Exposure 1010 Combo

034The Exposure 1010 Amp and CD Player in Black were the first Exposure products I set up, I had a brief listen yesterday and left them on so they could have a bit of time on the clock to bed in. I listened to them again just now…

I really love the simplistic minimalist clean looks, i.e. no bass and treble controls, no balance control, nothing extra that you don’t need. Of course you need a volume control and input selector, but that’s all you need if your amp is up to the task!

The front brushed aluminium face plate finish and the solid aluminium volume control knob make this amp seem much more than an entry level offering. Kudos to Exposure for not skimping on the build quality to get this low price point. I also like the matt rough finish on the rest of the steel casing, it looks very classy. The casing is not aluminium like in the case of the models higher up the range, but that is to save us money on these amazing value for money models. On this note of saving money, it’s not like with most other brand’s entry level products – where “the baby is nearly thrown out with the bath water” – the 1010 is a true blood Exposure product sharing many internal components of its larger siblings. OK it’s not hand built in England like the other Exposure products but to save you money it is hand built in the Malaysian factory and then shipped to England where every unit is rechecked for QC before they’re shipped. The same handmade toroidal transformers are used, the front plate is still brushed aluminium but not as thick as the other models. The rest of the casing is steel instead of the expensive aluminium casing of the other models. The same relay input switching is used and the same high quality ALPS volume control; a nice touch because this gives it a quality feel.  The power and selector buttons also feel nice and solid.

In Use

037The amp powers on immediately with a soft pop on the speakers – this is due to the fact that all Exposure amps are DC coupled on the output stages and not via capacitors like most other designs. I think that is part of the reason why their bass is so much more controlled and fuller sounding than other amps.  It takes about 6 seconds to go through its protection circuit before it clicks on and then the LED on the volume control light up as well as an input LED. Ok I must admit, I wasn’t sure when looking at the photos but in the flesh and in use I like the speaker terminals that can only take banana plugs, not bare wire or spades. This eliminates stray wires with bare wires, thus once connected there’s no chances for a short circuit!

The red LED’s on the black units (blue on the silver finish) look classy as well.  I like the LED on the volume control knob a lot. For the older guys like me I can actually see what the volume is set to avoiding the ghastly piece of blue-tack on the volume control which is usually resort to just to see the position of the volume knob. The volume control turns up and down silky smooth with solid feel just like the more expensive models, not a wobbly flimsy loose feel of so many others in this price bracket.  The selector buttons click in softly with a soft click of the relays that I only heard on some high end gear, definitely never on other brand’s entry level products like this. It’s these small details that shows me the same level of detail went in designing and building this entry level amp as in their upmarket amps. This soft clicking can also be heard when you use the remote to mute or switch inputs, I love it! For me, it’s like the sound a car door makes when it closes, a Mercedes gives you confidence it is built to last, and the same applies here.

The Sound

002Well it’s a true Exposure sound:  clear tops and rich midrange never forward but the bass is where it differs the most compared to other amps. It’s definitely deeper with more control and more tightness. It makes all speakers just sound a bit fuller and under more control when driven by the Exposure, giving you the confidence to turn it up without fatigue. The listed “50w RMS into 8 ohms” gives me the impression of more power than its specs. And given the measured results of the 2010S2 and 3010S2 are far greater than listed, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s ear-popping loud at 12 o’clock, unlike competing offerings that only start to get alive past 12 O’clock.

The same attention to detail applies to the CD player in looks and build quality. The CD tray open fast with dedication and confidence, reading is quick and the display is clear, easily read from 4m away.  A quick comparison with another CD player (at a higher price level) and I got the feeling the Exposure again has more control on the bass and a present softer general smoother top end. It’s much more musical sounding and tailors the general sharp edge of most CD’s (not rolled off, just softened) so you can enjoy your music at much louder volumes for longer without any listening fatigue. So the Amp and CD player pairs brilliantly! I like the small remote as well it has a nice modern look and feels very comfortable and balanced in your hand.

Summing Up

Overall a great set that are worthy entry levels models for Exposure and really set the scene what to expect from their more powerful ranges above it. A direct comparison between this 1010 combo and the 2010S2 Integrated Amp and 2010S2 CD player, shows greater smoothness and better drive and control over the low end in the 2010S2, but boy oh boy is the 1010 good for the money.

So yes, my first impression is a big thumbs up. It definitely beats my other similar products, even some of the more expensive ones.  The noticeable house sound characteristic of excellent PRAT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) applies here but with an added flavour of full controlled deep bass, a transparent clear open midrange and a gentle roll off on the top end.

Right, now it’s time to unbox the 3010S2 Integrated, this is going to be special!

tl;dr: My first impressions = Brilliant!!

View more information on the Exposure 1010 Integrated Amp and CD Player

First Impressions of the Concept 40’s

concept40Having listened to many speakers in my life there is one thing that really irritates me: a speaker that has that “hollow boxy” sound (some may call this “that horrible bass drone”). Hollow, boxy, bass drone is more common in floor-standers. Here’s why. The advantage of a floorstanding speaker is the larger cabinet. The bigger the cabinet the more bass you get, that is just physics. However, the larger cabinet introduces increased flex and cabinet resonance. It’s this resonance that causes loose bass, and the ongoing drone that becomes very fatiguing over time. It’s very hard and expensive to get cabinet resonance to a minimum, damping material helps a bit but that cannot stop cabinet vibrations and you reduce bass levels with too much damping.

You can make the cabinet stronger by using a square pillar approach like the excellent Castle Conway 3 for instance but you lose the popular slim front looks now so important for your other half to give the nod as well.  You can make the cabinet stronger by lots of internal bracing but you lose internal volume… and add significant cost. One of the most practical ways to keep the slim front looks is to use curved boxes but it’s expensive to manufacture if you want to do it right like the JAMO D570/D590 or the fabulous Mission SX series for instance.  No cabinet at all is the perfect solution like the Jamo R909 or R907, but physics demands that to be physically large to produce any low frequencies and thus more expensive. Flat panel speakers like Maggies and electrostatics can do midrange and treble very well but it’s physically impossible to get deep bass right, it just cannot move enough air. So that is why you have to add a sub to them…

So this is why speaker manufacturers give you an alternative. If you hate drone, like me, you can go for their quality big stand mount speakers, and then add a dedicated subwoofer to increase the low end response. With that you can make the cabinets so much stronger at much less cost.

So how does all this relate to the Concept 40’s?

concept40-whiteYou can imagine how excited I was when I heard of a completely new way to tackle this problem …by Q Acoustics with their Concept 20 stand mount speaker. Building a cabinet inside a cabinet and then separating the two with thin high quality vibration deadening material. This speaker went on to win the What Hifi “Product of the Year” speaker award for 2013.  It sets the bar for a small stand mount speaker and the unique design gives it the midrange and treble sound of a panel speaker like the Maggies or Electrostatics.
But because it is not a big stand mount speaker it isn’t a full range speaker, you need a subwoofer to fill in the lower octaves. I was hoping Q Acoustics would apply this ground breaking technology to a floor-stander… and they did! The Concept 40’s arrived this week with huge expectations based on their little brothers the Concept 20.  Needless to say its midrange and tops are open 3D electrostatic like, like the Concept 20’s, but it’s the bass that impressed me the most , it’s clean and tight with a nice punch and wait for this; it has weight as well with very little if any drone.

When I first looked at the relatively small slimline cabinet I thought it would be a bit lean in the bass, but I was wrong – in fact I like everything about this speakers . It easily ticks our 4 x L’s with distinction:

Looks: Stunning high gloss finish, aluminium detailing with high quality construction.
Label: Q Acoustics are one of the most successful Brands in its short time of existence with plenty of awards)
List price: If the concept 40’s were produced by some other manufacturers, we’d expect to see price of double what these are listed at. We’d see these easily compete with speakers up to 4K.
Listening test: I’m so impressed, the Concept 40’s are very listenable, they image beautifully and their impressive cabinet design has resulted in a speaker which is easy to position and will sound fantastic in a wide range of rooms, without the drone…

If you’d like to come by for a listen, we’d love to demo these to you, no obligation!

View more information about the Q Acoustics Concept 40

Mission is back on top

missionBeing in the audio business for many years it’s sometimes hard to get excited by new products. Often I see new products which are just production cost saving measures rather than true product development or “change for the sake of change”. It becomes easy to spot marketing efforts to get a particular brand’s product noticed rather than a true engineering advancement. One of the hardest things to achieve for a brand is to be considered the leader in its category, but it’s even harder to stay at the top. Unfortunately, the reality is that to stay on top you need to keep throwing money into clever marketing and advertising. This results in, you guessed it: less money for real improvements in their products. Time and time again we help customers who’ve been left disappointed after purchasing based on an advertisement err, I mean ‘review’ or off the marketing spec sheet to get the sound they want. How do we do this, it’s pretty simple really. Nothing tells a better story than an audition, there’s no fancy new technical jargon clouding judgement here, what sounds good sells.

Enter Mission

Mission 753I purchased my first Mission speakers around 1978, the Mission 770 (I still have them) and over the years I’ve bought and sold a few Mission speakers but it was really only in the mid 90’s that Mission became the household “go to” brand with their 75 series (I still have the 750 and 752 and recently sold my 753 (sample picture right), probably the most famous of them all with their multiple driver array). In the early 2000’s they followed up with their very stylish and unique looking 78 series but then something happened, Mission started to lose control of what made Mission great. By the mid 2000’s they started to make cheap speakers that unfortunately looked and sounded cheap – I lost interest.

It was only recently that I rediscovered Mission again when the new importer of Mission in NZ (Capisco) approached us to listen to the new breed of Mission speakers, their MX series. I was blown away, first by their sound quality and secondly by their great value for money. “Mission is back” I thought. Later I learned that the original Mission UK design engineer Peter Comeau was back in charge and the new MX series is his first new series. It is almost unbelievable what sound quality you can get for your money with these MX series. When Mission announced the flagship SX series, I immediately had to check them out, especially when I saw they were real world priced. I chose to demo the SX4 model first because it’s a floorstander and due to the complexity of more drivers, and a larger cabinet it’s much trickier to get the sound of a floorstander right than a stand mount speaker. Also, as the SX4 sits right in the middle of the three floorstanding models, it will give me an idea of how the smaller SX3 and bigger SX5 will sound.

Unboxing

Unboxing a product is a big part of the whole experience of a new product – ask any kid! When the two boxes arrived I could not believe their sizes… “If this is so big how big must the SX5’s be?” Unpacking them revealed part of the mystery. The packaging material isn’t your average Styrofoam that can crack or flake all over the place when you try to remove the contents. No, this is a flexible foam type that can be reused many times to protect your speakers from bumps and bruises in transit. The SX4’s are big speakers so you have to turn the box over and lift the box off the speakers, rather than lift the speakers out of the box. From experience with these types of things, before I lift the box carefully off I was waiting for the plinths + manual + accessories to fall out and hit my toes. Thankfully, the plinth and spike kit was already fitted in the factory for you, so no sore toes here.

Each speaker is double wrapped; a strong plastic bag to keep the dust out and a type of white organic material with a sticker on it “mildew proof”, very nice.  Mission really wants to ensure that your new speakers get to you in the perfect condition. However, I couldn’t find the manual? I opened the second speaker box and lifted it off. Surprise, surprise there’s the manual. I initially thought they forgot to put one in the other box but then my eye struck the big serial numbers on the two boxes – the serial numbers are identical. Maybe they care about the environment as only one manual is needed… but more importantly these are matched pairs, thus tolerances are as close as possible you can get from both a wood grain and a sonic perspective. I have only seen this amount of detail on far more expensive speakers before.

Grills off

Mission SX4 (right) standing next to the Q Acoustics 2050i (left)

Mission SX4 (right) standing next to the Q Acoustics 2050i (left)

I nearly always listen with the grills off, I like to see what’s underneath. What a nice touch, the magnetic grills come off with a gentle “click” – no battling with your fingers or even worse a knife to get the grills off. Being magnetic grills, they left no holes just smooth finishes. I immediately touched the silver surround plates with the back of my hand, aha it’s cold! All aluminium, no plastic here… the drivers are aluminium too and when I stood back and admired that real wood finish in beautiful cherry – man they really do look stunning. Then I looked at the detail of the cabinet, no straight corners, every side is curved even the back is rounded! Not only does this make the SX4 appear smaller than it really is, it makes sense to improve the sound quality of the speaker to eliminate internal cabinet resonance.

Hooking up

Ok this is where it finally matters how does it sound? Well I could go on and on about how this and that instrument sound, how this singer voice put me “there”, or how much bass there is and what is the bass like …midrange ..treble …how big the soundstage is …how loud it can go and what the micro detail of sound is etc. Or perhaps I should just state this:

I bought the pair!

Yes I bought it, it’s that good. I haven’t been so impressed with a speaker in a long time, it ticks all our 4 x L criteria with flying colours:

LOOKS: Some of the best looking speakers around today.
LABEL: MISSION are back in full glory.
LIST PRICE: $4699, this is a reference level speaker, so a bargain for all this compared to some other ‘reference’ speakers.
LISTENING: One of the best I have heard in a long time, great frequency balance, clean fast tight bass, rich mids, clear treble. Not to warm not to bright, just right.

Image Gallery (Click to enlarge)

In closing…

Well to say the least I was impressed and continue to be impressed by the SX4’s. The sound characteristics are a combination of the Jamo D590’s and Castle Conway 3. It does not have the deep bass of the Jamo D590 but the bass is faster and tighter with more speed and attack. The SX4 has the superb rich midrange of the Castle Conway 3’s buts it’s really in the treble that the Mission’s shine. The titanium tweeters give clarity and a sense of realism on cymbals that metal domes excel at but without the ringing and sharpness of typical metal dome tweeters. The treble is extended but still sweet and clear without drawing too much attention to itself. Maybe it’s due to the phase correcting plate around the dome, or the surrounding rubber padding to isolate it from any cabinet resonance… I do not know, all I know is that it works, and at this price range where there is a lot of competition, that SX4’s will have the competitors running scared. The Mission SX4 will suit most types of music, a true all-rounder if ever there was one. You can play it loud or soft and it will deliver the goods. I’ve found matching electronics is not critical with the SX4’s but if rock music is your taste then a warmer or neutral sounding amp will be better especially if you like it loud… and then you have to be careful not to annoy your neighbours because these speakers can deliver in buckets and you tend to turn up the volume control more often than not. Yes, the SX4’s are exciting speakers! We’d love to demo these to you.

View the SX4 and the rest of the Mission SX range