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Positive Feedback ISSUE48
as reviewed by John Zurek
I must confess. I've been an Usher fan for quite a while, and enjoyed many of their offerings—from small stand-mounted, room-filling wonders, to the large, powerful, Dancer series, and especially the CP-6371 and '81—what I thought were some of the best values in audio at the time. These days Usher is showing off some new looks and sound, based around their all-new Diamond DMD technology. I first spoke with Stan Tracht about getting a pair of Mini-Twos back in Oct ‘09. He called me back a few weeks later saying "why don't you wait ‘till after CES—we're introducing the new upgraded version—they'll be better." I'm patient. I agreed.
The Dancer Mini-Two (weren't they known as Mini-Two Dancers before the diamond upgrade?) are the newest members of the Dancer line, and have been around for a few years in their previous configuration sporting beryllium tweeters. A medium-sized flooorstander at about four feet tall, the Mini-Two weighs in at 115 lbs including the base. It features a 1.25-inch Diamond DMD dome tweeter and two seven-inch woofers with individual snap-off covers. Sensitivity is rated at 90dB with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. Usher says they will handle 100 watts of power and render frequencies from 28 Hz through 40 kHz.
Carter Tracht at Usher tells me there are three main features that have been upgraded from the original Mini-Twos. The most obvious is the diamond tweeter. Usher believes that diamond-coated diaphragms always had potential, but until now their sonic performance was compromised because of the high mass of the diamond dome, and the unfavorable resonant signature of the material itself. They decided to pursue a diamond technology research project (not to be confused with the utility muffin research facility—sorry, Zappa pops into by mind at the strangest moments) resulting in a new tweeter unit featuring a diamond dome with reduced mass and a well-controlled sound signature. It employs a laminated diamond-metal-diamond structure on both sides of the dome. The base metal layer tames the diamond layer's resonances, bringing out the best of both materials.
The Mini-Two is gorgeous; my sample came in a blonde satin wood that contrasted very nicely with the high-gloss piano black front baffle.
Besides the driver array, the front has a rectangular port at the bottom with a very stylish badge that says: "Usher Compass Series". Since Stan Tracht informs me that this is currently the only pair in the U.S., the wording on the badge may change. The cabinet is furniture-grade and sweeps together in the back similar to other (and much more expensive) "lute-shaped" speakers. The cabinet is mounted on a massive—and I do mean massive—cast iron base to which are attached some of the most substantial spikes I've ever seen. The spikes also help you level the Mini-Twos. Once in place you can count on these transducers staying there—notwithstanding earthquakes. The only noteworthy feature on the backside is four sets of high-quality binding posts for bi-wiring, and, stamped into the plate the holds the post were the serial numbers: both B0881500. I assume each Mini-Two pair gets one number.
Setup was easy. Although Carter Tracht advised full tow-in, I felt the Mini-Twos opened up most in my room when partially towed-in. Bass performance also improved by moving them about 6 inches closer to the back wall than my usual position for this type of speaker, which put them at 32 inches. Leaving the high-quality jumpers in place I tried a single run of Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cable. I immediately noticed a smooth, pleasing, sophisticated presentation. Since bi-wiring always seemed to up a speaker's performance for me, I tired several configurations of wire on highs and lows. For once, I really couldn't distinguish any difference. So, I changed from single to bi-wire occasionally just to be sure, but really never heard a preference.
For this review, along with my reference system, I used a deHavilland Ultra verve preamp, Bel Canto M300 mononblocks, an Edge NL-10, an Ayre CX-7eMP CD player, a VPI Scoutmaster with Shelter 501, an Aqvox phono preamp, and all Acoustic Zen cabling.
As I started listening, the effects of the new DMD tweeters were strikingly apparent. On virtually every recording the diamond domes sent highs dancing across the soundstage like tiny facets of moving light. (City of Tiny Lights?, Frank, please get out of my brain.) The Mini-Two's imaging was outstanding; in my opinion the exceptional technique employed on the diamonds conveyed listening cues that were clear and extended. The word sophisticated just kept coming up. The more I listened the more the sound took on a certain sophistication that was evident whether the source was analog or digital.
Of the two amps I tried the Edge provided more bass punch and extension, but occasionally gave the high end a little too much energy. The Bel Canto's power was smoother across the spectrum, and although not as punchy in the nether regions, I preferred their presentation overall. Try to audition these speakers with the amp you'll be using.
After listening to the entire recording of Manu Katche's Neighbourhood I was struck with quality of the way the drums came across. Manu is using a Yamaha maple kit. Unusually, the drums, especially the bass drum, were not damped or muffled for the recording. Not easy for an engineer to capture. This is the way drums should sound—full out and open, thundering reverberation. The Mini-Two's exhibited great control of the attack, let met hear the entire natural sustain (not overhang), and provided the visceral punch, explosives, and low end the floor toms and bass should have. The crack of the snare was instant and immediate. Like sitting behind a real drum kit? Not exactly—but very impressive. The low bass extension from this medium-sized speaker is extraordinary.
When I cued up "Polly Come Home" from Robert Plant and Allison Krause's Raising Sand, I heard great vocal timbre, realistic image size, and sensitive nuances. Dynamic details were well-defined and ran the gamut from micro to macro. The power of the music flowed through while communicating a dark, poignant lament. I listened to this track several times in the dark. The sheer authority of the low end combined with the voices to express a sadness that was evident and palpable.
Worth the wait? Yep. This is a speaker you can set up easily, and go right to listening. Make sure you feed the Mini-Twos high quality power and you'll be rewarded with a pleasing musical presentation that works well with all types of music. Problems? None. Nits? I would have liked just a little more punch in the upper mid-bass. This was most likely the cause of my room or system dependencies, since that mid-bass was not lacking in this speaker at previous shows.
The Mini-Two's footprint won't dominate your room. A striking speaker, their look will most likely compliment it. Sonic strengths include extraordinary highs, excellent vertical dispersion, superb dynamics in every realm, surprisingly low extension, and above all, a very smooth, sophisticated presentation. These attributes all combine to produce yet another winner at a great price from the Usher team. John Zurek