LENEHAN ML1 SPEAKER
List Price: $5,200
Publisher's Note - what we have here is something very rarely seen in high-and audio review journals, print or online; two very divergent opinions on the same product. The reason you rarely see this is because virtually every review you read of any product ends with a ubiquitous “highly recommended” or some other similar vague pronouncement. After all, somebody is going to like it, right? Besides, if we actually print a negative review it will scare other companies off from sending us their products to review. Even worse, we might lose advertising revenue!
You should know that it is the written policy of most audio publications to never print a negative review. Their policy is to send the product back and never publish the reviewer's opinion. We believe this is morally and ethically wrong. We believe that it is just as important for our readers to know what products may not perform well as those that do. One example is Positive Feedback Online. From the website a quote: "If we work hard, but cannot find the "magic," then the gear is returned without review." Does that make PFO evil? Not at all. I know David Robinson and Dave Clarke and respect them greatly. Just different.
Here is our policy: if a product receives a “not recommended” review, that product is sent to a second reviewer to review in a different room in a different system and with a second reviewer's ears. The second reviewer is never told anything about the first review; not who reviewed it or anything that the first reviewer said. The second reviewer starts with a clean slate.
In the past, the results have been that both reviewers came to the same conclusion upon which both reviewers conclusions were published unexpurgated. This is the first time we have had two opposing opinions. Nevertheless, we have published both opinions as for which you can draw your own conclusion. The same with our published measurements which were take AFTER both reviews were complete.
First Take - Bruce Brown
I know each of us has heard this saying. Most of the time it’s because the ‘parts’ are of dubious quality, but as a whole, the system really shines! But what if the parts are of excellent quality? Can the inverse be true? What if the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts? What went wrong? Can you blame it on poor synergy, poor engineering or just plain bad luck? If something doesn’t work the first thing I blame operator error. It has to be, right?
I was first contacted to write this review many moons ago. I’ve had several monitors in the studio so I thought what the heck, this should be easy. Set them up where my reference system is, measure an equilateral triangle and prepare to be whisked away to sonic euphoria! That’s too easy I thought. My time is precious anyway.
Enter the made-in-Australia Lenehan ML1 Reference. This company sells factory direct to keep costs down. Mike Lenehan says that the days of large speaker margins are gone. Today’s Audiophile is a more cost conscience buyer and thus, demands quality and quantity. That is great if you can do it. So lets dig a little deeper.
The Lenehan ML1 comes in 3 versions, the ML1, the ML1 PlusR and the Reference. Coming in at $5,200 per pair, the Reference, the subject of this review, is not cheap. What do you get for $5k? The list looks pretty impressive! First of all, the cabinet is immaculate! The paint and finish border Wilson Audio territory. I’d suspect a very large WAF with this speaker. Built from HDF composite laminated to 3mm steel plate. These things are solid and heavy, coming in at just over 26lbs. each. The drivers are a 1” chambered textile dome tweeter and a 5.5” Nomex diaphragm woofer. Frequency response is rated at 45-25k +/- 1.5dB. Compact it is, at 12x6x10, any engineer (or audiophile) could tuck them under their arm and have Reference monitors on the go, pretty impressive for a compact dynamo. Again, these speakers are small!
What’s on the inside? Too bad they’re not see-through acrylic; this is where the real beauty lies. Crossovers are fully hardwired with Duelund VSF Copperfoil caps, Duelund Carbon Phenolic body 15-watt resistors, 12awg air cored inductors using RibbonTek 25mm and 13mm ribbon wiring with proprietary dielectric. No wonder Ferrari puts their engines under glass!
They were delivered in flight cases with a velvet cloth protecting the finish. The color was a deep purple tone, very beautiful. The grills are attached via magnet. I sat the speakers atop a pair of Sound Anchor stands. My ear level was about 41” from the floor, which put the tweeters at the correct height and from where I sat, formed a perfect 8’ triangle. I used BluTak as the interface for the speakers to the stands and the stands were spiked to a set of Wave Kinetics 2ns speaker pods. At first I used my own speaker cable, JPS Labs Aluminata. It was probably overkill but I want the best signal possible.
My first issue came with the binding posts. Such a great looking speaker I felt they scrimped on the post quality. Lenehan touts the binding posts as Eichmann cablepods. I do wish they had used something like a Cardas or WBT binding posts. Would have made connecting my cables much easier.
And here’s where the sum of the parts let down the whole. I could never really wrap my head around these speakers. They sounded alright, maybe even polite. I never caught myself tapping my toes or even having a smile on my face. I tried for 3 months to get these speakers to sing. I was pulling my hair out at one point. I tried to couple them to the speaker stands, decouple them to the stands, move them in, move them out and back…. Nothing helped.
Here’s what I was hearing. On FIM’s Carmen Habanera Fantasia, the Cello changes tone when going to the lower notes. This shouldn’t happen. On 2L’s Mozart Divertimento, the violins sounded tiny, with no body at all. On track after track, instruments had a muddy sound. Guitar transients sounded like they had flat nylon strings. There was no crispness or air around the instruments. On female vocals, Jacintha in particular, it sounded like she had just drunk a glass of milk. I’m no singer but I think that’s a no-no. Don’t get me wrong; this speaker didn’t do everything bad. These speakers could image their ass off. I could close my eyes and tell on which side the violinist hair was parted! That may be an overstatement, but you get my drift.
Listening to some Stevie Wonder – Innervisions, it seemed like the bass guitar and his clavinet were fighting for the same space. It wasn’t intrusive, but it didn’t make for an enjoyable listening session.
The next thing I changed was the speaker cable. There were some cables that Mike had sent along and I decided to give them a try. They appeared to be ribbon cables with a black woven nylon jacket. The only identifying marks were the words “RTek” and “MLenehan” written on them. Could they be the same ribbon cable that the speaker is wired internally with? I gave them a shot….. no dice. While they marginally made the tonal character of the speaker better, it was a letdown.
Let’s give them yet another chance! I decided to take them upstairs and listen to them in my living room. Maybe another room with different amplification and a clean sheet would do better? My living room is carpeted and has leather furniture. My studio has a lot of hard surfaces. Guess we’ll see!
First up was another FIM master from Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, playing Misty. This Winston Ma recording is perhaps one of the best recorded piano ever. Every time the artist would strike the piano keys, it sounded like there was a wet blanket over the soundboard of the piano. The whole track was dull and lifeless. The speakers retained the same characteristics from when I last heard them. Track after track was blah… I thought I was losing my earing until the wife came in from the family room and said it was sounding pretty bad.
Needless to say I cannot recommend these speakers. They weren’t “bad” as my wife said but from my heart, I’d tell any serious audiophile that an extended audition is needed before making a decision of this magnitude and as always, let your ears be the judge. Five G’s is a lot of green to layout for equipment. The last thing you need is buyer’s remorse. Maybe the speaker is fine for you. It doesn’t do anything intrusive or out of character. Its strong points are imaging and soundstage, which is some of the best I’ve heard!
In the end, I’d have to say the whole is less than the some of its parts.
What do you get when you mix an inert enclosure, near perfect crossover execution, and rather high end parts? You might end up with the Lenehan ML1 Reference monitor… And some very pleasant sound.
My time spent with the ML1 Reference was short but sweet. Unpacking them feels like unwrapping two huge rubies. Their factory finish is a gorgeous deep metallic red that any high end car would be proud to sport. Workmanship shows impeccable attention to detail, and they have hefty weight for their size due to the steel plates used to laminate the cabinet innards. The crossovers alone weigh about 8 lbs apiece.
So how do they sound? Their most impressive trait is their imaging, sense of purity, and overall smoothness. Listening to Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posey in performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony on HDCD revealed how transparent these speakers really are. You can really hear the room, atmosphere, and delineate the separate instruments rather well. Decay was rendered quite beautifully. You’re not in the front row however, it’s as if you’re in the 5th to 10throw. Let’s read that as both slightly forgiving yet not really giving up any detail. The cabinet is extremely inert which I suspect lends to their transparency and amount of detail they achieve through a well-respected Nomex cone midwoofer. It’s not at Accuton levels but is surprisingly good, even at a rather high price of around $5K a pair.
The review sample as also shipped with Lenehan’s speaker wire. I initially listened with my Virtue audio speaker cables which I and a few others I know like and appreciate. They bested my lower end Cardas cables as well as some middle of the road Kimber cables. So how did they stack up against the Lenehan cables? These speakers had enough resolution to show one very noticeable difference between the Virtue cables and the much more expensive Lenehan cables. Everything was nearly identical except for the midrange. The Lenehan cable was clearly more silky smooth and transparent in the midrange. That was the only difference I heard with both the ML1 reference as well as my reference speakers. I was impressed that a small $5K speaker could expose such a difference. Kudos for getting this much resolution out of those drivers.
I used the aforementioned Lincolnshire Posey as well as Jamie Cullum’s “These Are the Days” from Twenty Something as references in this case. There were others but Coltrane, my greyhound, ate my notes. A story for another day folks…
On the opposite note, the ML1’s only negative trait is the most obvious one: these speakers are small and won’t pressurize anything but a rather small listening room nor will they reproduce organ music hovering around 20Hz. They don’t have the effortless quality a large speaker can give you when pushed in a medium to large listening room. Unless… Unless you have a lot of power as well as have the ability to cross these over actively to a subwoofer. Then you’re back in business. Near the end of the review period, I paired these to an active subwoofer and crossed them over around 40Hz. Wow. Your mileage may vary as adjusting a subwoofer crossover is quite difficult without the right tools.
Even without a subwoofer, they do a pretty fair job if you want to just get funky. Let’s take Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk”. They stood up surprisingly well when pushed with this music on their own. I suspect they have useful bass down to about 50hz “in room” which is pretty darn good for such a small and cute speaker. Even at low to moderate listening levels, the sense of attack was fantastic. That translates to them being able to reproduce the emotion of music without having to push them to paint blistering levels. Yes!!!! I tried them again when paired actively to a subwoofer and it was a killer combination. I cranked the heck out of it which brought my kids into the room like a funky modern pied piper.
So what about the bass? I had never realized how succulent the acoustic bass is on Jamie Cullum’s "All at Sea" on Twenty Something. The bass from these speakers is clearly taught and deep enough that one might forget the speakers are so small. They can be tuned to the room easily by placement. A little closer to the wall obviously fills in some of the bass. I found them ever so slightly warm sounding in my room yet rather to my liking in the exact spot where my reference monitors go. Male voices were never too full or boomy. Mark Knopfler, Johnny Lee Hooker, and Johnny Cash were all rendered without nasality or a booming, hollow chest.
No speaker can be taken seriously without reproducing the female voice well. I’ve heard Linda Ronstadt's “Shattered” from the Stereomojo Ultimate Reference CD many times on many fantastic systems to the point where it could sum up the characteristics of a speaker’s ability to reproduce the female voice quickly. Is it shrieking? Are all the consonants reproduced correctly? Are the S’s too bright and hissy or just right? The ML1 Reference didn’t disappoint here. Yet again, I found myself pouring over music with female voices from the deep, dark Patricia Barber, Nora Jones, Laura Fabian, and even Eva Cassidy. I think I was most impressed by how well consonants were reproduced; each easy to discern and none louder than the other with respect to how they should be. That, my friends, is likely due to the excellent phase integration in the crossover.
My youngest is a big Jim Croce fan and played him a few times on these speakers. I was impressed with how easy it was to delineate the background singers as well as how their quick sense of attack gave the percussion a big sense of reality there. On such an old recording? Kudos Lenehan Audio. I think the others throw this under speed. In either case, it helps lead a speaker to sound more musical.
I was really impressed with these speakers, but as always you should let your ears be the judge. The ML1 Reference is easily the best sounding production small monitor that I have reviewed. It exceeds expectations for purity, transparency, imaging, and smoothness. They would easily stand up to higher and higher end electronics over time. I have the urge to scream “You have to try these!!” from a hilltop. Since it’s 2013, a computer keyboard is likely more effective.
Measurements for the Lenehan ML1 Reference speaker were taking using a Woofer Tester Pro with a calibrated microphone. Measurements were gated to just under 4ms to help reduce any room interaction. They give a decent approximation of the sound.
This is the response on axis and 30 degrees off axis. Note that they follow each other closely. Also note the slight rise in the on axis response yet flatter response off axis. Even further off axis results in a rolled off top end. While measuring I also panned the speaker a bit to see how even the off axis response was. It was very even and controlled.
This, combined with the carefully tuned top end response helps result in a decent in room "power response" as well as more ease in speaker placement.
The waterfall plot reveals none of those evil resonances that plague some speakers.
Note the upper midrange is cutting off faster than some typical speakers. This is likely due to the extremely inert cabinet helping the ML1 Reference squeeze every last bit of performance out of that Nomex cone.
Given how well the response looked using the unspoken industry standard of a 10db scale, I brought the scale down to a more strict 5db scale to really see what was going on. It's still pretty respectable. The real reason for this measurement, however, was to show the acoustic phase response which is the blue line. It's quite smooth and reveals the tight integration of the woofer and tweeter. The sharp vertical line is an artifact of the phase wrapping near the crossover region. ie; It's a function of the tool itself.
This is the the electronic phase response as well as the impedance curve. The blue line represents the electronic phase response. It does suggest that cheaper amplifiers may have a more difficult time powering these speakers but one would really have to try it and see. My time was limited so I used my reference monoblock Hephas which seem to be more or less impervious to such things.
The impedance curve is typical of small monitors. The rise around 1200Hz could result in a rise in frequency response with some tube amplifiers. Only SOME tube amplifiers exhibit this behavior but it is worth noting. Combined with the low efficiency of these speakers, one might suggest higher powered solid state amplification for the ML1 Reference.
The designer informs me that has a few customers running these speakers happily with 300B tube amplification. He also mentioned that my impedance curve measurement does not match what he gets when he measures although my gear is in fine working order so the real answer may be a bit of a mystery.
James Darby - Publisher
Question: What's the difference between a salesman and a consultant or advisor? The salesman works either for himself or a company engaged in the sales of a product or service. It matters very much whether you buy what he's selling or not and also what in particular you buy based on his commission. The advisor works in your best interest and it matters not whether you buy or pass.
The salesman will tell you all the good things about his product, sometimes straying from the truth to get the sale, while the advisor discloses not only the good things about the product but also the bad things. Nothing is perfect.
We see ourselves as advisors to our readers, not salesmen. We could not care less from a financial or political view whether you buy what we are reviewing or not. We have given bad reviews to companies that advertised with us at the time. Of course, they did not renew their ad. So what? No one here depends on income from Stereomojo to put bread on the table. No one. I do not know of another publication for which that is the case.
So here we have two reviews of the same speaker - the exact pair as a matter of fact - evaluated by two different reviewers in two different rooms in two different systems a continent apart. Bruce is in the Seattle area while BIll is on the east coast. Bruce is a mastering engineer and has a state of the art studio system with Wilson Sasha's as his reference speaker. Bill is an award winning speaker designer/builder. Bruce tried moving them around and in two different rooms and still thought they sound "blah". Not really bad, he said, just kind of "blah". Veteran reviewer Mr. Schuchard thought them worthy of an award as long as they were used appropriately, considering their small size. Both agreed that imaging was their strongest point.
It's sad for me when I see in Stereophile (for example) that the measurements completely disagree with the review, but then the Editor tries to reconcile them with some very strained logic. As Publisher/Editor I'm not going to do that.
Bruce likes the Wilson sound as he just bought a pair of $55,000 Sasha's. While I have never heard a pair of Wilsons in my system, I have heard many in many audio shows and dealer showrooms to know that, while I wouldn't kick them out of bed for eating popcorn, they would not be my first choice to own. Another of our reviewers owns a pair of Wilson Maxx's. Another a pair of big Magicos. I shudder to think...but I would never condescend to or be arrogant enough to criticize their choice. They may sound incredible to me in their rooms with their other components.
One reviewer liked them a lot, the other did not. Both did agree that "as always you should let your ears be the judge".
Which one is right? I submit they both are. Just as two very well educated and intelligent people can listen to Stravinsky and have divergent opinions, two or more people can have opposing views of a speaker. The Chairman of my University's Music College with several Ph.Ds called Stravinsky "garbage", so that has always stood out in my mind. He was old enough at the time that he probably knew Stravinsky personally. Maybe Igor stuck him with the bill at a dinner consisting of a couple of Brontosaurus steaks. Who knows...
To take the this metaphor further, two people could love Stravinsky but hate Berstein's interpretation versus Boulez.Or say they both agree of Berstein but are divided on the string sections Or maybe just the string section playing the second movement. i could go on, but you get the picture.
In the end it matters not whether either one "liked" the speaker or not. It's completely irrelevant. Our job is to describe to the best of our ability how a product performs; how it sounds, how it operates and how it makes us FEEL compared to the the vast amount of its peers to which we have listened. We attempt to make that part as objective as possible. Then we try to make some attempt at valuation - how does it compare on a "bang for your buck" scale. That's very different and much more subjective. In the end it's always your choice. Our job is to give you as much information as we can to help you make educated buying decisions. Period.
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