While not exactly a ‘large’ speaker, I am having a little trouble getting these to sit outside of the soundstage, though I haven’t given up just yet.
Support Equipment and Cabling
My speaker cables of choice are from Iconoclast (Series 1 and 2) – Learn more here: Iconoclast Cables. My Iconoclast Speaker Cable Review.
I’ve two sets of Iconoclast cables on hand: Iconoclast Series-2 SPTPC Speaker Cables, 6-foot, Bananas to Bananas, and Iconoclast Series-1 OFE Speaker Cables, 7-foot, Bananas to Bananas. Foolishly, I purchased two sets both with bananas on all ends, which makes them difficult for bi-wiring, so presently I’m using the single set of Series 2 SPTPC with a set of Nordost jumpers. A month or so into my time with the ProAcs I managed to damage the bananas on my Series 2, so they were sent back to the supplier (Blue Jeans Cable) for repair and replaced with the Series 1 cables. I’ve ordered banana to spade adaptors from Cardas so I can eventually run the ProAcs in bi-wire configuration, but at the time of writing, they have not arrived.
While I’ve other sets of wire on hand I feel no real urge to switch out the Iconoclast cables. They do everything a good speaker cable should do, they dig out detail and nuance in the music while adding nothing and removing nothing that I can detect. If you haven’t heard of Iconoclast cables, I highly recommend that you check them out. They are fantastic cables, great value, and I can’t wait to try their RCA/XLR and AES/EBU.
I’ve run the ProAcs with the Krell KSA 80 power amp, and the Veloce Audio Saetta Hybrid Monoblocs. The Krell works the better of the two amps with the ProAcs as they provide tighter control over the bass. Actually, they provide less bass than with the Veloce amps, and less is more with the ProAc D40R in my poorly proportioned listening room.
I’ve switched DACs a few times since owning the ProAcs, (Mytek Brooklyn Plus, PS Audio Directstream Junior) but I’m pretty settled on the Holo Audio May KTE. Sources include an OPPO BDP95 used as a transport mostly for spinning the occasional concert DVD, Lumin U1 mini, and Aurender N10 streamer. Preamp duties have been provided by my trusty Veloce Audio LS-1 linestage. I’ve recently sold both of my reference turntables, but just before completing this article purchased a Nottingham Analogue Hyperspace with Acespace arm, and due to some setup difficulties I’ve used this only sparingly so far with my Manley Steelhead phonostage.
I’ve also used a pair of REL Carbon Specials on and off with the ProAcs, and I’ve mentioned these in a little more detail below.
ProAc D40R Sound – Initial Impressions
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews you may know that I’m pretty hopeless at conveyor-belt reviewing. How those other guys churn through countless pieces of audio equipment and spit out review after review, I’ve no idea. I need to live with a piece of equipment and use it daily. I need to throw different supporting gear at it, move it around, and hold it up near the ceiling while balancing on one leg. Only after I’ve truly suffered can I draw any real conclusion; and that process usually takes at least six months or more. Somewhere along the way, I may feel confident enough to publish some ‘listening impressions’, and that’s basically what I’m doing here, a precursor to a full review that may or may not ever materialize!
And so the first thing that struck me when I fired up the ProAcs was their exceptional tone and timbre. Instruments sound real. Vocals sound real. The midrange on these is quite ‘beautiful’, for want of a better word.
The second thing to hit me was the airy highs from the ribbon tweeter. Coupled with the smooth and tonally accurate midrange, the ribbon tweeter sounds sweet, detailed, and extremely transparent. In fact, the ProAc D40R’s transparency and detail retrieval capabilities are particularly impressive having come from a pair of Martin Logan Impression 11a, which sounded a little dark and recessed by comparison. But the detail from the ProAc D40R isn’t etched unnaturally from the soundscape it’s wonderfully integrated in a way that doesn’t draw immediate attention. The ribbon is at least as good as that on my previous reference, the Piega C40 and way better than the AMT on the Spatial Audio X3.
The next thing to hit me, literally, was the bass. It goes low enough to satisfy, but its real beauty is in the quality – again, the accuracy of tone and timbre really shine through in the lower frequencies. (The speakers use a downwards firing port that shoots into the attached wooden plinth, creating a dimensional constant that isn’t impacted too much by placement in the room, as is the case with most rear/front-firing ported speakers). The ports on the D40R provide a great way to help tune bass output for a specific room. With the Krell KSA80, I found that I could run the bass ports wide open, but with the Veloce monos there was just too much bass so I throttled back the output from the down-firing ports with some bubble wrap.
What I discovered quite quickly is that one needs to sit at a height where the center of the ribbon tweeter hits your ears head-on. Otherwise, the midrange and midbass suffer, becoming overly warm and wooly sounding. In my case it involved adding a cushion to the listening seat, then later, after raising the height of the speakers by adding IsoAcoustics GAIA II isolation feet, adding a second cushion to the seat.
So initially, after some minor tweaking, everything sounded exceptionally good. The soundstage is deep and quite wide, but it isn’t as wide as I’ve heard from other speakers I’ve owned, such as the Piega C40 or the Sonus Faber Cremona M. (Links to reviews). While I think there’s room for improvement through more attention to final positioning, I don’t think the ProAcs will cast a stage quite as effortlessly wide as other speakers I’ve owned. If time and experimentation prove me wrong then I’ll report back here.
If there’s one quality that stands out above all others with the ProAc D40R, it’s undoubtedly its tonal and harmonic purity. This speaker gets the midrange just right, once you’ve set your chair height appropriately. Instruments are rich and vibrant and vocals project from the stage with purity and solidity. No particular frequency band is over-emphasized at the expense of another, the speakers present quite seamlessly from top to bottom, though again, the bass may need some work to get it properly dialed-in to your room.
While I don’t consider there to be any real benefit to running a sub with these speakers, I had a pair of REL Carbon Special on hand so hooked them up anyway.
With the RELs crossed over quite low at around 40hz and the volume dialed down, I can barely feel the drivers move when touching them by hand during loud and bass-heavy passages. $9,000 worth of subwoofers that are barely breaking a sweat, and, arguably, are not really needed at all.
As for musical genres that might be favored by the ProAcs, I’d say they do a very capable job across all musical genres. Light jazz and acoustic music are captured beautifully, the midrange really shines on these puppies. Stadium rock and classic rock also shine, there’s enough bottom-end wallop to give large-scale music a large-scale feel, and with the addition of the subs, there’s really nothing to complain about when you throw on some classic Floyd or Genesis and crank the volume up around the 100dB mark. Of course, vocals present beautifully through the D40R, Nick Drake, Nora Jones, etc, have that in-room presence and palpability that goes a long way in helping to suspend disbelief.
After two weeks or so of experimenting and tweaking positions I added two sets of IsoAcoustics GAIA II and these helped with opening up the soundstage by a few percent. They helped present more solid and stable images outside of the immediate confines of the speaker cabinet walls, projecting into the room with more body and substance. They didn’t necessarily help in any way that I could notice with soundstage perspective, so it remains more forward in presentation, beginning at the front plain of the speaker and pushing back through the front wall, versus my preferred presentation style which is more recessed, beginning behind the plain of the speaker, and pushing back even further through the front wall. The GAIA footers do help in tightening up the bass a tad also.
I’ve experimented quite a bit with placement: toe-in, position from the front wall, distance between speakers, and distance between speakers and listening chair. Firing them straight ahead results in a wider stage but a slight loss of image focus and solidity, a loss that isn’t offset fully by any small increase in stage width. So toeing them in a few degrees works best in my room. Unlike other smaller speakers I’ve used in my space, they don’t respond well to being pulled too far off the front wall. Around 65″ to the front baffle is optimal, when I pulled them out more they suffered with instrument localization (the opposite of ‘disappearing’).
I’ve framed this write-up as an ‘initial listening impression’ hence I reserve the right to continue to work on speaker placement and report any worthwhile improvements back here at a later date.
CAH – August 2023