Reviewer: Steve Marsh
Analog Source: Nottingham Analogue Mentor turntable with 10” Ace Anna tonearm, Benz LP-S moving coil cartridge
Digital Source: CAL Audio Alpha transport, CAL Audio Delta DAC, Red Wine Audio Isabellina DAC [on loan], plus proprietary impedance matching device between transport and DAC (not a commercial product at this time)
Preamps: Doshi Alaap Purist Mk. II full-function tube preamp, Levinson 26S line stage, Klyne 7PX4 phono stage
Power Amp: Tron 211 SET amp with upgraded exotic-core interstage transformers (General Electric 211 power tubes, Western Electric 417A input tubes, Tung Sol black plate 5U4GB rectifiers)
Speakers: Bastanis Mandala open baffle speakers with Chrystal drivers and Gemini tweeters, Bastanis 18-inch open baffle powered subwoofers
Interconnect cables: Audio Magic The Natural (pre to amp), Bastanis entry level (transport to DAC), Decware Silver Reference (DAC to pre), long Radio Shack interconnects from pre to Dayton A500 subwoofer plate amps
Power cords: Bastanis Epilog II on Tron amp, industrial-sourced power cord on Doshi preamp, Dynamic Design AE15 Spirit on DAC [on loan]
Speaker Cables: Audio Magic The Natural
Equipment rack: Adona 6-shelf, low profile isolation rack
Power line conditioning: Triangle Art RA-6 power conditioner, Nordost Qv2 AC line harmonizers [on loan], Bastanis Afterburner power conditioner
Sundry accessories: High End Novum PMR Premium Resonator, set of four Stein Harmonizers with Stein Magic Stones, Entreq Silver Tellus grounding box with Atlantis grounding cable, Synergistic Research FEQ, Audio Magic Room Correction Bells, Audio Prism Ground Control, three Bybee Quantum Signal Purifiers, Audio Horizons Fuse in Tron amp, VPI 16.5 record cleaning machine
Room size: 22′ long X 17′ wide X 10′ high, with eaves on front and back walls starting 40 inches up from floor
Review component retail pricing: $14,900/pr
The New York Audio Show 2015 introduced me to today’s Bache Audio 002AB speakers. Two Brooklyn audio designers originally from Russia shared a room to show their speakers and electronics to the public for the first time. Greg Belman designs the Bache Audio speakers, Alex Chorine the Alexus Audio electronics. Several of their speaker models as well as some preamps and solid-state amps were either in use or on display. When I entered, Greg’s 002AB were being driven by Alex’s 833 SET amps. This was the top of the line in their room and I came away impressed by the gutsy full-bodied sound. It was an auspicious demo.
What also drew my interest was that the 002AB, like the Bastanis Mandala speakers I’d just reviewed, incorporate transistor amps for the bass which integrated with a high-efficiency widebander plus tweeter which can easily be driven by a SET or low-power tube or solid-state amp. I continue to explore viable options for SET amp lovers who want full-range speaker performance with minimal crossovers. This often leads me to ferret out designers who operate below the radar of the mainstream audio press.
Whilst the Bastanis are rated at 100dB sensitivity, the 002AB come in at 96dB, still plenty high to satisfy owners of most SET amps, particularly those using the typical 8 watts from 300B. In fact, Greg recommends powering his speakers (i.e. the widebander and tweeter) with amps between 8 and 100 watts per channel.
The 002AB are a four-way. There are two class D amps inside each cabinet powering a woofer and a subwoofer. The subwoofer (22-100Hz) is a 10-inch downfiring Vifa with neodymium motor. An 8-inch Dayton Audio RS225P-4 front-firing composite cone woofer takes over from 100-500Hz. The Tang Band widebander (the model W8-1772 with its whizzer removed by Greg) handles 500-8’000Hz. Above 8’000Hz out to 22’000Hz, an expensive rarely seen Fostex FT96 EX-2 horn-loaded super tweeter takes over. This tweeter retails for around $1’100/pr so I can see why it’s not used much. On the back of the speaker are two rotary controls; one for setting the sub’s output, the other for adjusting the crossover point between the 10″ and 8″ drivers anywhere between 50-150Hz.
By contrast, my Bastanis Mandala woofers cross over to their widebander below 100Hz (I set the variable crossover of the Dayton A500 plate amp to around 75-80Hz). The two powered woofers in the 002AB cover all the way up to 500Hz. That high a crossover point between class D amps on the bass and a dissimilar—likely to be tube—amp on the widebander might impart noticeable discontinuity in the music’s timbre or harmonic envelope when an instrument or voice traverses above and below 500Hz. This concerned me from a strictly theoretical standpoint but as I stated to Greg over the phone, the proof would be in the listening.
The speaker finish was their standard Zebrawood high gloss. It was attractive but not quite up to the quality of most high-end speakers such as Wilson and Focal. I noticed some ripples when viewing them along their sides and some minor imperfections in the gloss finish. Personally I would have preferred more of a matte finish. High gloss is more revealing of minor surface flaws too. Just so, visitors gave their appearance generally positive comments. The 002AB stand 43.3 inches tall. This placed my ears about centre of the Tang Band when sitting on my couch. The cabinet sides are rounded in a style reminiscent of Sonus faber. In addition to the expected high-quality speaker terminals, the back also contains a bass reflex port, a power switch for the woofers, two rotary knobs to control the crossover point and level of the 10-inch woofer and two pairs of jumper terminals at the top of the cabinet to cut the tweeter by 1dB or 2dB. The bottom of the speaker houses the downfiring bigger woofer and is raised one inch above a 1-inch thick black-lacquered plinth by four aluminium posts to slot-load the subwoofer. Below the base are short footers to couple to the floor. Since the Tang Band reproduces such a large percentage of the frequency range, its performance is obviously critical to the overall sound of the speaker. Besides removing its whizzer cone, Greg also treats the cone with a proprietary coating to “smooth the response”. I initially thought that like Robert Bastanis, Greg ran his widebander with no crossover. However, inquiry revealed that whilst he did start out this way, after checking many wideband options, he found all of them to have a rising response starting at around 3’000Hz. Hence he uses a very gentle flattening circuit to address this.
Greg and his sidekick Alex drove the speakers up to my home from Brooklyn one sunny Sunday morning. It was a warm morning and Greg was sweating profusely afterward. After toweling him down, we placed the speakers in the same place I’d had the Bastanis. Ignoring my sarcastic quip about their sexy name for the 002AB, we proceeded to do some listening to make sure things were in generally good order. Greg moved them about a foot closer to the front wall. Here they seemed to gel better. Even though I played around with placement in the ensuing weeks, they ended up essentially in this same spot – the rear 57 inches from the front wall and slightly toed in, with the outside edge about 2 inches forward of the inside edge. Do not infer that these will need to be this far from the front. My room has an eave all the way across starting at 40 inches off the floor. I am quite sure that this forces me to pull speakers out further than they would need to be with a flat wall behind them. Unfortunately my Doshi Alaap Purist MkII preamp had insufficient enough gain after having been adjusted for my 100dB Bastanis. I remedied that with a Mark Levinson 26S line stage and a Klyne 7PX4 phono. The latter started life as a 7PX2.5 which I had updated by Stan Klyne to the latest status. I’ve always liked this phono stage since the first time I heard it at my friend’s apartment in Harlem many years ago. I have a strong memory of listening to the LP The King James Version [Sheffield Lab-3] by Harry James and his big band through the Klyne in a very well matched system featuring the efficient Goldmund Dialogue floorstanders, a speaker still worth seeking out on the used market. I had almost no hours on the 7PX4 so was anxious to get it up and running. While it sounded somewhat anaemic at first, it gradually woke up and got fantastic. Too bad that Klyne have almost disappeared from the high-end radar. This phono stage is truly top notch and deserves recognition.
One jazz label which rarely disappoints for sonics is the Concord jazz label. I wish I could say the same for their repertoire. One of their sonic gems is the Fred Hersch Trio’s Horizons [CJ-267]. It is a splendid album and the richness of tone and clarity strike you from the first note played. The piano is recorded magnificently and the Bache Audio speakers showed this to perfection. This album proves that some very good digital recordings were made back in the supposedly dark days of digital, 1985. Fred Hersch produced it in his own studio, Classic Sound, in Manhattan’s Soho District. On “Moon and Sand”, there is a kaleidoscope of tonal colors. The speakers showed their considerable strengths by reproducing luscious harmonics. At the end of “My Heart Stood Still”, there is a piano fade which sounded downright dreamy. Greg’s website states pointedly that the addition of the 8-inch woofer was because he “came to the realization that all widebanders, because of their light paper cones, have a deficiency in the 100-500Hz range. Sonically this has the tendency to make instruments such as the piano sound smaller than real life.” This recording demonstrated clearly that his woofer upgrade hit the nail on the head!
To put my early concern to bed, I did not notice any distracting change in tonality or timbre when an instrument or vocal traversed the 500Hz crossover point to switch between the class D amps and my Tron 211 SET. Greg did an excellent job in the selection and integration of his four drivers. The doped-paper Tang Band, composite paper/Kevlar/glassfibre Dayton and wood-pulp Vifa apparently are all similar enough in their characteristic resonant signature to blend well, not to speak of the apparently well-crafted crossover. The Tang Band has a good following in the DIY community even with its whizzer cone in place. At times, I almost felt like Greg’s coatings may have overdamped it just a tad. The flügelhorn on Jimmy Rowles/Red Mitchell’s I’m Glad There is You [Contemporary C-14032] did not quite have quite the life and shimmer I hear from a live instrument. On the other hand, the upper harmonics from brasses are difficult to reproduce. Keeping just enough air and brilliance without spilling over into harshness is a delicate balance. The Bache Audio erred slightly on the safe side. The upper range of the piano could exhibit the same quality through the treated Tang Band, sounding as if a bit of felt were on the strings. Most will not be bothered by this and likely not even notice. In the context of the average high-end speaker, the Bache 002AB speakers were certainly well within normal. I only heard this by contrast to my Bastanis which are extremely revealing and possibly err slightly in the opposite direction. The conundrum is that more damping seems to add tonal richness at the expense of some presence, speed and detail.
Thinking that perhaps more tweeter output might be a good thing, I moved the jumper from the -2dB to the -1dB attenuation setting. The difference was subtle as one might expect. In the end I preferred the -2dB setting. The tweeter almost never called attention to itself and blended beautifully with the widebander. It was very well behaved but for that had less dynamic impact and detail than the Bastanis Gemini horn tweeter. I did have to make some adjustments to my listening when changing over from the open baffles to the more conventional ported boxes. Some of the ‘live’ quality, rear stage illumination and openness of the Bastanis was not to be had. That is not to say the Bache speakers were lacking or closed in. Comparing them to an open baffle speaker simply was a bit unfair in this regard so I will just say that they staged very well for a box speaker. Depth was portrayed sufficiently but the sound did not project to the outsides of the speakers nor bloomed out in front of them as much as it does with the Bastanis.
The Bache Audio 002AB definitely excelled in the critical midbass. The lower range of the piano as well as upright bass were rendered about as well as any speaker I have heard. A striking demo of this was Sonny Stitt’s Stomp Off Let’s Go [Flying Dutchman BDL1-1538] with “Duke’s Place”. Richard Davis’ electric bass strutted up and down the scale with propulsive drive and serious toe-tapping energy. Record producer Bob Thiele deserves credit too for capturing this so well. The built-in powered 10-inch Vifa sub did all I could ask from a subwoofer. While it might not have energized the room like a 15″ or 18″ monster would, I was pleasantly surprised by its power and speed. It never lagged behind and provided a really solid foundation that blended seamlessly. Perhaps my best illustration of this came later in the review process when I decided to see how the speakers fared on some golden oldie Rock from my college days. Going straight for the hard stuff, I dug out my Led Zeppelin II [Atlantic SD 19127], supposedly not the best pressing so I prepared myself for the worst. It was anything but! Wow, the raw power of this legendary album was on full display with a quality I had never heard before. These were great speakers for rock music. The woofer and subwoofer filled out the bottom like nobody’s business: deep, clean, punchy and fast! The Bache spec lists them at 22Hz. While there wasn’t programme that low, I can tell you that listening to Led Zeppelin with the full bottom octaves was like finally hearing the band how they were intended to be heard. It was an entirely new and intense experience. Later that evening, I had my girlfriend come up and listen to the Led Zep II to have us both do our best Wayne’s World of bopping heads totally rocking out. I played it again for a number of other visitors and everyone was mightily impressed.
Much of this review was penned with the sound of the Bastanis Mandala fresh in mind. Their design approach is similar in a number of ways and they are natural competitors for lovers of low-power amps. All in all I find both excellent. They each have their strengths. The Bache Audio have an almost unimpeachable tonal balance. As a result I found them to be good for long-term listening with low or no fatigue. They had a smooth quality that on some recordings could almost verge on chocolaty rich. To borrow the late Harry Pearson’s creative descriptive terminology, the Bastanis were the yang (sunlit to bright) to the Bache’s ying (tending toward the dark). Whilst the Tang Band was very smooth and coherent, it was not as revealing as the Bastanis counterpart. It just didn’t have the lightning-fast transients nor reveal the same microscopic level of information and microdynamic shadings. That was not really surprising since the Bastanis driver is exceptional in this regard. With the Mandalas, the most minute variations of a performer’s pressure on the mouthpiece or fret board are laid bare. With the Bache speakers, some of this information was missing. Alas, speed and über resolution aren’t everything. There are tradeoffs. The Bache 002AB speakers were more forgiving and never aggressive. With their hyper-revealing widebander, the Bastanis can occasionally squawk or sound too forward on lesser recordings. Then a bright recording will be practically unlistenable while the Bache speakers made it sound still tolerable. The Bastanis also offer a generally higher excitement level. This also applies at lower levels where the Bache speakers had to be played at a higher volume to open up and properly energize the room. Again, an open baffle speaker has an inherent advantage there in my opinion. To conclude, the Bache Audio 002AB speakers are high-efficiency truly full-bandwidth speakers that will provide great enjoyment with all kinds of music while allowing the majority of the spectrum to be amplified by your favourite low-powered transistor, SET or push-pull tube amp of 8wpc or more. That is quite the accomplishment! When considering the $14’900 asking price, remember that it includes dedicated high-quality woofer and subwoofer amps. In contrast to the Bastanis Mandalas, these speakers were neither finicky about setup nor their associated equipment and seemed almost impossible to make sound bad. When they are gone, I will miss their intrinsic musicality combined with their well-integrated drivers and impressive bass performance. Highly recommended!