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as reviewed by Mike Peshkin
Although listening to the Fritz 261 MTM loudspeakers has been a joy, writing about them has not been easy. Let me put it this way: These speakers have been around for so long that all three of my cats have taken to lying on top of them, and it takes an eternity for them to trust that anything they lie on will not collapse underneath their collective 35-or-so pounds. That's not to say that they choose only the Fritz speakers upon which to practice their vulture-on-a-branch tricks—there's the back of my chair, the top of the TV, the top of the china hutch, etc., etc.—but they have accepted the fact that the 261s are here to stay. Imagine their surprise when I ship them back!
The 261 MTMs are 20.5 inches high by 9.5inches wide by 14 inches deep. They can be bi-wired and configured for 4 or 8 ohms. The two mid/bass drivers are 6.5-inch Seas units with polyproplyene cones. The tweeter is a 1-inch Scanspeak. I should say a few words about the man who makes these little gems. Fritz has been building speakers since 1973. If Fritz is as passionate with women as he is about woofers, tweeters, and midrange drivers, his girlfriend is one lucky woman! The guy eats, drinks, and breathes speaker characteristics. If there's a driver out there that he doesn't know about, I'd be very surprised. Every time I've spoken to him, I feel like I've been infused with encyclopedic knowledge about speakers. I only wish I could remember what he tells me! When I asked Fritz for details about the 261 MTMs, he told me "There are more exotic drivers and crossover designs around, but I think that my 261 MTM system is a nice, simple design. The drivers have a very smooth rolloff without any big or nasty peaks or any of the weird resonances of a lot of metal mid/bass drivers that require a more complex and steeper crossover filter."
When I initially connected the Fritzs to my larger, downstairs system with my Monarchy monoblocks, they revealed what I heard the first time I listened to them, in a meeting room at a hotel in Palm Springs. (I participate every year in RIBFEST, a gathering of folks who spend far too much time chatting on line at Audio Asylum, held during the weekend of the Western Maryland Blues Fest. Some of the West Coast people that have come to RIBFEST decided to have a WESTFEST, and it was there I heard the Fritz speakers for the first time.) I asked Fritz at that time, "Why do I get the feeling that I hear the music from the speakers before the signal is sent from the CD player to the preamp?" The speed of the 261 MTMs is unbelievable—almost ghostly! I've listened to a lot of speakers, and have never heard that sense of speed. I don't think I can adequately describe it. Listening to Milt Jackson's vibes on the title cut of Miles Davis' Bag's Groove (JVC XR0046-2), I was jolted out of my chair by the way the Fritzs handled the heavy chore of reproducing that instrument. Many speakers fail miserably with vibes, especially that first moment of sound (I'll attack the word "attack" in a bit). Jackson's vibes sounded very, very good, and very, very fast.
Whether the 261 MTMs were hooked up with home-made wires (of John Reitch's design), or MIT wires, or with Pierre Sprague's fabulously good speaker wires, that sense of speed was always present, but what really struck me dumb was that speakers of that size could have so much bass authority and control. Granted, they don't go as far down as my Infinity P-FRs, but there's bass there. Playing either the original LP or the Classic reissue of Also Sprach Zarathustra (RCA LSC1806) on small speakers can be less than satisfying, but the 261s didn't seem to mind, and neither did I. They didn't rattle the room, of course, but the bass was full and tuneful, and I had no sense of loss, even though I knew better.
The beautifully recorded 2-disc CD, Mr. De Sainte Columbe De Fils - Pieces de Viole, with Jordi Savall on viole (AliaVox AV9 827) will send chills up and down your spine. The 261s handled the sound of Savall's instrument quite well, showing off its woodiness as well as the prowess of Savall. When I moved the 261 MTMs upstairs and reconnected the Infinity P-FRs downstairs, the bigger speakers had a sense of realness that was lacking in the 261s, but I did not sense the loss until I made the comparison. Whatever music I played, whatever and however I hooked them up, the 261s played music. There are many pieces of equipment that can't make that claim. I played a lot of very different records through those speakers, including Joni Mitchell's Blue (Reprise MS2038) and—don't laugh, it was a whim—Sting's Dream of the Blue Turtles (A&M SP3750), and lots and lots and lots of jazz. Stephane Grappelli's Montreux Jazz: Just One of those Things (Black Lion 211), while not an audiophile treasure, is a musical treasure. I always get a sense of Grappelli's unbridled joy in making music when I listen to his records, and the 261s didn't let me down. When I played Pat Metheny's As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (ECM1-1190), I fell in love with that record all over again. Those who know this LP will know what I mean when I say that the music sparkled!
I never heard female voices sound chesty, or male voices wimpy. (I guess I should have played one of Neil Diamond's later, schlock-period records to see if the 261 MTMs could sound wimpy, but I don't own any.) All vocal recordings sounded natural, with an ease that all speakers should have. I even pulled out my Bonga CD, Angola '72 (Tinder 428466422). This is a tough recording. If Bonga's raspy voice doesn't make the speakers run away with their tails between their legs, the guiro that is used in many of his songs (a ridged piece of wood that is rhythmically stroked with a stick) will do the job. If you listen carefully, you realize that the sound is all attack. The sound of a drumstick hitting a drumhead, or a string being plucked on a guitar, is relatively simple (though it may not be an easy task for some equipment), but the guiro is literally dozens of attacking sounds, and reproducing those sounds is damned hard. It can sound like mush! Attack is one of those sonic artifacts that clues us into the fact that we're listening to real instruments in a real space, and while it is difficult for many pieces of equipment to reproduce, it's all in a day's work for the Fritz 261 MTMs.
It was a real joy to listen to the Music Choice Jazz station on Comcast cable TV on the 261s. (I turn the TV off and listen through the cable box.) This station plays an eclectic mix, and whether I heard Ella singing "You'd Be So Good To Come Home To" or Pat Metheny or Dizzy Gillespie, listening through the 261s was a whole lotta fun! I heard a pair of Soundlab A-1 loudspeakers recently, and was shocked senseless. I heard Ella's soft palate contact the back of her tongue to form the letter/sound "k"! I heard the sound of flesh pressing against flesh! Can the 261s do that? No, but then, the 261s sell for $1500. They are capable of delivering a lot of detail, but nothing like those A-1s.
A friend who has listened to the 261s with a tube amp feels that their top end is rolled off. Fritz can design a crossover that matches the characteristics of a tube amp, but when I hooked up the 261s to my Mapleshade-modified Scott 222C integrated amp, I never had the feeling that the top end was limited in any way, and the Mapleshade/Scott is more than sufficiently revealing to find out what the Fritz speakers are doing.
After moving the 261s to the upstairs system, I began questioning whether the guiro on the Bonga CD was, in fact, a gourd. In my tiny room at the old house, I was sure it was a guiro, but now I was leaning toward thinking it was a gourd. If I ever find out, I may need to make some huge adjustments! If anyone owning this CD is convinced that it is one or the other, please let me know. The Fritzs had done a more than admirable job downstairs with the Monarchy amps, so what was wrong? Was it the tube roll-off that my friend had heard? Was it the speaker cables? I was going crazy, so I called Bruce Kendall, the gentleman who had introduced Fritz to us at WESTFEST. Bruce was confused, too! As usual, the answer came to me while I was sound asleep. One night at approximately 3 AM, I awoke realizing that I had never removed the grilles from the speakers!
When I got up the next morning, the first thing I did was play Bonga's Angola '72 on the upstairs system with the grilles removed. With the grilles on, the guiro (gourd?) had nearly disappeared. After removing the grilles, I heard pretty much what I'd heard downstairs. Although most audiophiles will automatically remove the grilles, home theater is a family thing, and I imagine that most people using them in a theater setup will leave them on, thus diminishing the sound quality of the speakers.
Take a listen to the Fritz 261 MTMs. You sure could do worse, and you'll have to spend a lot more money to do better. Once again, I have to box up and ship off equipment that I would love to own. Maybe it's good that I'm not rich, because if I bought all the gear I'd like to own, there wouldn't be any room for my records, or me! Mike Peshkin
261 MTM loudspeakers