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Dec, 2016

BACHE AUDIO 001 LOUDSPEAKER REVIEW

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bancheaudio-001-speakers

I am a fan of so-called “augmented wide bander” speakers, by which I mean speakers that use a wide band driver for the majority of the audible frequency range, supplemented below with a woofer, and (sometimes) above with a tweeter. Such speakers have the benefits of wide-band drivers (namely, their dynamics and coherence) but without their major drawback (namely, limited frequency extension). An example of such a speaker is the Surreal Sound Fifth Row speaker; which I previously reviewed in these pages (http://dagogo.com/surreal-sound-fifth-row-speakers-review). I was thus intrigued when last year, while surfing the ‘net, I learned of a new augmented wide band speaker from a company called Bache Audio. I contacted Bache and spoke to the owner and designer, Belman. is originally from Russia but now living in Brooklyn, offered to bring the speakers to my home in NJ, for an audition.

Disclosure time: Over the course of the past year, Gregory brought a number of revisions to me, and I provided feedback about what I was hearing. The final product (the subject of the review) differs considerably from the first version I heard. I want to make clear that I have no financial stake in the company whatsoever, nor did I receive any compensation for providing feedback. I have provided feedback to other designers (though admittedly, never to this degree) simply because I enjoy helping manufacturers produce the best product they can (within the constraints of their budget, course). With that out of the way, let’s return to the review.

front

The Speaker

The Bache 001 is 46” tall, 11.5” wide, and 13” deep. The cabinet is made of MDF, is reasonably solid and well-braced, and covered with an attractive veneer (a variety of which are offered). The sides have a gentle slope to them; while this is presumably to minimize internal standing waves, it has the added benefit of improving their aesthetics as well. I find them attractive to the eye, as did most visitors to my room. The speaker has a downward-firing woofer (more on that below) and comes with an integrated base which is the full width and depth of the speaker, above which the speaker proper is raised approximately 1.5”. The base has padded footers which makes positioning the speaker considerably easier. It does not have a provision for spikes.

The Bache 001 is a three-way design, the “heart” of which is the Tangband W8-1772; this is also used the Fifth Row speaker, to which I referred above. Like many wide-band drivers, the W8-1772 has a whizzer cone to extend its high frequency range. For reasons I will address below, Gregory modifies the Tangband by removing the whizzer cone, an approach also used by Tommy Horning with his Lowther-based designs. According to the Tangband website, the 8” W8-1772 has the following features:
• A sturdy cast frame
• Multiple-element neodymium magnet system
• Paper cone
• Cloth half-roll surround
• A precisely machined integral plug which prevents phase cancellations and improves high frequency extension and dispersion.
• An underhung 1-1/2″ voice coil which is said to reduce second and third harmonic distortion while still delivering high efficiency (95 dB 1W/1m ) and 3 mm of Xmax.

Gregory uses the modified Tangband with a second order (i.e., 12 dB/octave) high-pass crossover at 80 Hz (to prevent over-excursion at low frequencies) but without a low pass filter, opting instead to use the natural roll-off of the whizzer cone-less Tangband in the upper frequencies.
Removing the whizzer cone necessitates the use of a dedicated tweeter, for which Gregory chose the Fostex FT-96 EX-2. This is a Limited Edition, “high-end” version of the FT-96H. The FT-96 EX-2 is not distributed in the United States, and Gregory had to order them directly from Japan. This driver utilizes an aluminum diaphragm, copper-coated pole piece, alnico magnet, brass at the horn opening, and gold-coated copper terminals. Gregory uses the tweeter with a 4th order (i.e., 24 dB/octave) high pass crossover at 10 kHz. It is flush mounted above the Tangband. Both drivers can be covered with a magnetically-attached grill, though I listened without the grill for the entirety of the review.

The 001 comes in two versions, the passive 001 PB and the active 001 AB. The 001 PB uses a 10” Aurum Cantus AC250/75C2C woofer, which has a non-woven carbon fiber sandwich cone, and a copper-plated flat aluminum wire 3″ voice coil which is said to provide high efficiency and excellent power handling. The 001AB uses a 8” Vifa-NE265-8 woofer. Both woofers are downward-firing, and work in conjunction with a rear-facing port. In the 001 AB the woofer is powered by a built-in “BASH” (Bridged Amplifier Switching Hybrid) amplifier. (The BASH is claimed to be a hybrid of class AB and class D.) Gregory replaces the BASH amp mounting plate with one of his design, thereby simplifying connectivity and adjustment (see below), and also improving its appearance (though of course, being on the back of the speaker, it is not visible when listening). I listened to, and will comment on, both models.

System Set-Up

Speaker placement in my large room is generally straightforward, and such was the case with the Bache Audio speakers. With only minor adjustments, they ended up (with all measurements taken from the middle of the face tweeter) 76” from the side walls, 159” from the rear wall, 108” apart (i.e., tweeter to tweeter), and 120” from the listening position. They seem to have a fairly wide dispersion, as they were not overly sensitive to toe-in, and sounded pretty good when listened to off-center. I preferred them aimed just outside my shoulders, but of course this is dependent on room acoustics and listener preferences. Although I did not test this directly, my sense is that the downward-firing woofer will make setup easier in small rooms, as compared to speakers with side-firing woofers.

Gregory has wired the speakers so as to make the connections as simple as possible. A single set of interconnects ran from my Miracle Audio Divinitive preamp to my amps (either the Tube Distinctions Soul hybrid monoblocks, or the Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks), which then connected by speaker wire to the inputs on the speaker. (As noted above, Gregory’s custom plate removes all extraneous connections, including line-level inputs). The signal is then split internally with one branch going to the BASH amp’s active crossover (whence to the BASH amp, and on to the woofer), the other branch going to the internal passive crossover (whence to the Tangband and Fostex). Thus, setup requires only one set of interconnects and one set of speaker wires, precisely the same as for any passive speaker. It should be noted that because the crossover is before the BASH amplifier, the amp connects directly to the woofer: I previously wrote about the benefits of such a configuration (see http://dagogo.com/sanders-sound-model-10-electrostat-speaker-review/3).

The Bache 001 AB has two adjustments, one for woofer gain, the other for woofer cross-over point. The fourth order (i.e., -24 db/octave) crossover is adjustable between 50-150 Hz; I used it at the 12 O’Clock position — about 100 Hz — which seemed to work the best. I adjusted the woofer gain so as to blend optimally with the upper bass from the Tangband; too little and the music became thin, too much and it became boomy. Although the BASH amp puts out considerable power, the low frequency output of the speaker is limited (as is the case for all speakers) by the internal cabinet volume, the port dimensions, and the woofer’s excursion limits. Accordingly, one must exercise restraint in setting the gain on the 001AB, so as to not overload the speakers.
The passive 001 AP version has a second order (i.e., 12 dB/octave) high pass filter at 120 Hz. Neither the cross over point nor woofer gain are adjustable.

The Bache 001 is of reasonably high sensitivity; the 001 PB is rated at 91 dB, the 001AB at 95 dB. As noted above, I drove the speakers alternately with my Tube Distinctions Soul amos and with the Merrill Audio Veritas amps. The preamp was the Miracle Audio Divinitive (review in progress); the digital sources were a Mac Mini running Channel D Pure Vinyl or a modified Sony CD Player used as a transport, both feeding either a Lynx Hilo DAC (http://dagogo.com/channel-d-pure-vinyl-music-server-software-seta-phono-stage-lynx-hilo-dac), a PS Audio Direct Stream DAC (in for evaluation), an Aqua La Scala DAC (review in progress), or a Meitner MA-1 (which Merrill Wettasinghe was kind enough to bring over on a number of occasions).

Listening

Though the sound of an “augmented widebander” speaker is a function of all its parts (i.e., drivers, cabinet, cross-over), the widebander has the most significant contribution. Speaker manufacturers who use wideband drivers do so because such drivers tend to be “punchy” and coherent; their downside however is that they often have annoying peaks, and/or other colorations. In the time I spent with the Surreal Sound 5th Row speakers, I found the Tangband W8-1772 to be devoid of annoying peaks (i.e., it did not “shout”), though it did have a bit of a “kazoo-like” coloration. Moreover, although the Tangband W8-1772 is claimed to be relatively flat to 20kHz, it clearly lacks the extension and “air” of a dedicated woofer. (Surreal Sound now offers a version in which the Tangband is augmented on top with a Heil tweeter.) Last, like all widebanders, the W8-1772 lacks powerful and deep bass. Gregory has done an admirable job of eliminating or bypassing the Tangband’s weaknesses, while retaining its strong points.

By eliminating the whizzer cone, the kazoo-like coloration is eliminated. Gone, and happily forgotten. Thankfully, the modified driver retains all that was good about it – – most notably, its transient response. Music is about subtle changes in texture, tone and shading; for a speaker to reproduce these subtleties (often called microdynamics), it must be “fast,” which equates to quick transient response. For me personally, this is a make-it-or-break-it quality, one on which most modern speakers fail (often miserably). The Tangband-based Bache Audio speak distinguishes itself in this regard, with both human voice and instruments. “Neutral” is a term used often — in fact, far too often — by reviewers. Virtually all drivers have a “flavor” — which is in fact a coloration — and the Tangband is no exception. The Tangband W8-1772s errs slightly to the warm side, though only a bit, adding a bit of a “glow” to the sound. Importantly, despite being fairly detailed, it is neither analytical nor fatiguing. Overall, the sound is crisp, clear, and refreshing, but never grating.

In a typical 3-way speaker, the crossover point between the midrange and tweeter is typically between 1 and 2 kHz, which is smack-dab in the region to which our ear is most sensitive. No matter how well designed a crossover might be, the tweeter and midrange drivers invariably differ in their dispersion characteristics, transient response, and distortion characteristics. Making matters worse, the crossover often introduces phase shifts. Although these differences are often not recognized per se (except in especially poor implementations), they become apparent when they are absent, as they are in a speaker based on a wideband driver. As implemented in the Bache Audio speakers, the Tangband covers the range from about 100 Hz to about 10,000, or almost seven octaves. Not surprisingly, they are superbly coherent. As a result, music has a wholeness — or oneness, if you prefer — that makes it seem more lifelike. One has a sense of being more relaxed while listening, a trait I find very desirable in a speaker. Not surprisingly, instruments that span many octaves — like the piano — are especially well served, yet all instruments benefit.

Removing the whizzer cone necessitated the addition of a tweeter for the upper frequencies. Gregory chose a high-quality, high-efficiency Fostex tweeter. In an effort to let the Tangband run as unimpeded as possible, he opted to forego a low-pass filter on the Tangband, using instead its natural roll-off. The transition from Tangband to Fostex is smooth, aided no doubt by the high crossover point (approximately 10k Hz). Because of the high crossover point, the Fostex is in some respects more a supertweeter than a conventional tweeter, as most of the high frequencies are delivered by the Tangband. The Fostex adds the last octave or so, which is mostly heard as air and higher harmonics, with the Tangband handling the fundamentals. The Fostex handles this role admirably. I am quite sensitive to high frequency distortion, and find far too many tweeters unpleasant, almost painful. Such was never the case with Fostex. It had surprisingly little distortion, and certainly no overt break-up, even at high(er) volumes. Horns in particular were extremely well served, and cymbals sounded like the real, full-bodied instruments they are, rather than the 2-dimensional facsimiles I have heard from many other speakers. Based on my experience with the Surreal Sound speaker, the whizzer-less Tangband + Fostex has considerably greater extension than the stock Tangband, and does a far better job with high frequencies. All-in-all, the Fostex FT-96 EX-2 is an excellent tweeter, that is well implemented in the Bache 001.

IMG_0012

Last but not least, we come to the bass. For a number of reasons, some of which are inter-related, bass presents the greatest problems for a speaker. In no particular order:
1. Bass requires “moving a lot of air,” which places considerable demands on a woofer, including the cone itself, the support mechanism (basket, surround, etc.), and the motor assembly (magnet and voice coil.)
2. Bass response is critically dependent on the cabinet (ignoring for now, open baffle designs). The two most common designs — acoustic suspension (i.e., sealed cabinets) and bass reflex (i.e., ported designs) each has its own strengths and weakness, which translates to compromises.
3. Three desirable traits in a woofer are (a) bass extension, (b) efficiency, and (c) small enclosure. Hoffman’s Iron Law teaches that a design can have two, but not all three. Put another way, a designer picks the two qualities he most favors, but pays for it with the third.
4. Woofers have hefty power requirements, which puts limits on the choice of amplifiers (an issue I will return to in a moment).
5. Room interactions (i.e., nodes and standing waves) play a critical role in bass response, and are far more difficult to control than are high- and mid-reflections.

bache_speaker_5

As I have written before in these pages, I am of the belief that every speaker should have an active crossover for the woofer, which would thus have its own amplifier. (The amp can be in the speaker or external.) This arrangement offers a number of advantages. First, by using an active crossover, the amp is connected directly to the woofer. By not having a crossover between the amp and woofer, the woofer benefits from the full damping factor of the amp. (In a typical scenario in which a passive crossover is situated between the amp and the woofer, the amp’s damping factor is severely reduced.) Second, because the woofer places the greatest demands on an amp, having a dedicated amp for the woofer allows one to use a wider variety of amps for the other drivers. Third, bass response varies enormously between rooms. Having a dedicated amp (with adjustments) for the woofer allows one to, at minimum, adjust the bass volume for the room.

As noted above, the Bache 001 AB, but not the 001PB, has a dedicated amp for the woofer. Not surprisingly, the two speakers — which are otherwise identical — vary significantly in their bass response, especially with lower-powered amps. When used with the 30 W/channel Soul amps, the woofer of the passive 0001PB was poorly controlled. This manifested as flabby or tubby bass response, with a lot of overhang. In other words, poor transient response. Things improved dramatically when I switched to the Veritas amps, which have enormous power (400 W into 8 Ohms) and equally if not more important, a very high damping factor. With the Veritas the bass was much improved. It was considerably tighter than with the Soul amps, and went deeper. All-in-all, it was improved, but not – as we shall soon see – -as good as it could be.

Switching to the active 001 AB was transformative. I began by using the Soul amps powering the Tangband/Fostex array. The Souls are a hybrid design, in which solid state is used in the input section to provide proper voltage and current to the parallel single ended KT88 output tubes. Whereas I find most tube amps to be sluggish and deeply colored, the Souls (which have very wide bandwidth) are fast, and not at all tubey-sounding. They sounded terrific with the 001 AB’s, allowing the speed of the Tangband to manifest, with just a touch of midrange bloom. The bass, powered by the internal; BASH amp, was far more articulate than was the passive 0001 AB. It had a lot of detail (yes, bass should have detail), with relatively good transient response. It went quite deep and had good power, especially given it’s reasonably modest footprint. As a general rule I prefer speakers with front-firing woofers, as these seem to have better “attack.” That said, the Bache’s downward firing woofer, which operates only from 100 Hz and down, performed well in this regard. All in all, the bas was improved in every parameter, as compared to the passive version.

I next switched to the Veritas amps. My expectation was that — unlike the situation with the passive 001 PB — this would offer no improvement in the bass. I was wrong! To my amazement, the bass got even tighter, with better transient attack, and less overhang. I don’t know if this is the result of the Veritas’ greater power, greater damping factor, or lower distortion, or some combination thereof. Whatever the reason, the results were significant, though certainly not as great as with the passive version. Of course, the Veritas’s power, speed and low distortion also manifested superbly with the mid and upper frequencies. The Veritas was my amp of choice with the 001 PB, as it has become with a variety of other speakers.
As should be apparent, I strongly preferred the active 0001 AB to the passive 001 PB.

Conclusions

High bandwidth drivers have something of a cult following. Though they have many desirable properties, they also have a number of all-too-obvious deficiencies. Bache Audio has done an admirable job of building an “augmented widebander” speaker with a modest foot print, and a modest (by high-end audiophile standards) price, that wisely uses a widebander where it works best, without pushing it beyond its limits. It does so by supplementing it above with a tweeter, and below with a woofer. In designing the speaker, Bache made number of wise decisions. First, was the choice of the main driver, the Tangband W8-1772. Unlike many widebanders, this driver is devoid of the shout that plagues many other widebanders. Second, was the decision to remove the whizzer cone. This effectively eliminated the W8-1772’s most significant coloration. Third, was the choice of the Fostex FT-96 EX-2, which is a very fine tweeter. Fourth, was the use of minimal crossovers. Fifth and last, was the inclusion of a self-powered woofer. Of course, this last decision is applicable only to the active version. Throughout the review period, I repeatedly told Gregory to scrap the passive version, as I feel that it gives up one of the speaker’s most important benefits, and offers only a $950 savings. Gregory feels that some audiophiles – -in particular — SETophiles – -will be reluctant to use a speaker with a solid state amp driving the woofer. Alas, he is correct, as I learned from one visitor to my room. As I told Gregory, as I told that visitor, and as I tell you dear reader, such thinking is missing the forest for the trees. Does your precious SET amp sound “better” than the BASH amp? In some sense, absolutely. But the relevant question is this: Can your low powered SET amp, with its mediocre (actually, poor) damping factor, a damping factor made even worse by the passive crossover between it and the speaker, properly control a 10” woofer? The answer is unequivocally, no. In response to my listening impressions — or perhaps just to appease me — Gregory is promoting the passive version for those who prefer to use higher powered amps, and the active version for those who prefer low-or high powered amps. Of course, those who are already using a high powered amp (which is likely to be solid state) are less likely than SETophiles to object to the internal BASH amp. And as I discussed above, I preferred the active over the passive version, even when used with a high powered amp.

What all the above boils down to, is this: For anyone considering the passive 001 PB, spend the extra $950 and get the active 001 AB. The active version is considerably better than the passive version, without any downsides (other than the extra cost). I enthusiastically recommend the active version. Though not perfect, it excels in many of the qualities I find most important in a speaker. In particular, it is dynamic; superbly coherent; full-range (or very nearly so); easy to drive (especially important for listeners favoring lower powered amps); with a detailed yet sweet midrange that is never grating; and with a woofer that can be adjusted for the listener’s room. Add to that it has a modest foot print, is attractive, doesn’t cost as much as a car, and it manufactured right here in the U.S. of A. In Brooklyn in fact, for those who care about such things!

There are many speakers in the $10,000 range. However, only a handful (to the best of my knowledge) are based around a wideband driver, and offer the benefits of a powered woofer. Those who favor such a design, or are intrigued by it, should give the Bache 001 a listen. I enjoyed my time spent with this speaker, and will miss it.

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