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MULTIMEDIA

TuneAudio Marvel – Loudspeaker (Part 1)

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This sensitive speaker with its adjustable tractrix horn could see grins all round, provided you have the space for it…

If you want a hi-fi system to create some semblance of lifelike scale and dynamics when playing recordings of a favorite band live in concert, or a symphony orchestra in full flight, it makes sense to apportion a large part of loudspeakers you can sensibly accommodate. For the biggest bang for your buck add a modest amplifier and source and you’ll be grinning like a Cheshire cat – especially if it’s image size that matters to you most.

This Marvel model from Greek manufacturer TuneAudio is a very large floorstander for the money. Admittedly it has only a simple driver complement – a solitary 200mm (8in) bass/mid driver coupled with a horn-loaded high frequency compression driver but it boasts an imposing enclosure standing 1.5m tall. And while it’s perhaps not quite as sensitive as TuneAudio suggests in its literature, any speaker with a sensitivity above 90dB/1W/1m is going to generate more than adequate sound pressure levels when fed a mere handful of watts.

This Marvel model from Greek manufacturer TuneAudio is a very large floorstander for the money.

This Marvel model from Greek manufacturer TuneAudio is a very large floorstander for the money.

Jack Durant of DB Audio in Worcestershire, who imports TuneAudio’s horn loudspeaker range, is a fan (and re-seller) of Ming Da Chinese-made value amplifiers, so I asked him to supply a modest integrated model to mate with the Marvels. I was afraid my 100W solid-state Levinson amplifier might not be an ideal partner for a pair of very sensitive horns – although it transpired I needn’t have worried. He arranged a loan of Ming Da’s entry-level MC368-B902 model, an 18W Class A integrated employing two KT90 beam pentodes running single-ended.

With my Mac mini and Dell touch-screen as a source, this made for a complete audio system costing less than $16,500: a mere bagatelle in today’s world of high-end audio. It turned out to be considerably more than the sum of its parts, capable of effortlessly loading my large listening room with images of musicians of convincing scale and substance.

As with all TuneAudio’s loudspeaker designs, the Marvel’s cabinet is hand-crafted using Balttic birch plywood, finished in real wood veneers or painted and lacquered to customers’ individual requirements. Our review pair sported satin-finished walnut veneers, perfectly matched speaker to speaker. Clearly, TuneAudio takes considerable pride in its craftsmanship. The fine attention to detail extends to the hard-wired first-order crossovers and internal cabling of OFC wire, which is constructed in-house in true artisan fashion, the wire covered with cotton fabric and coated in beeswax. The Marvel’s highly polished brass rear panel with its hefty binding posts and the adjustable spiked feet also appear beautifully made and finished.

Outrigger horn assembly

The high frequency unit employed in the Marvel is a DE200 compression driver made by Italian company B&C Speakers (www.bcspeakers.com) which specializes in drivers for professional audio and sound reinforcement applications, it boasts a titanium diaphragm with a 25mm (1in) throat diameter, 44mm (1.7in) aluminum voice coil and ceramic magnet. The DE200, which TuneAudio says it modifies for its specific application, fires into a tractrix horn made in-house using a proprietary combination of aggregates and epoxy resin. The HF horn assembly bolts onto the side of the main enclosure via a mounting plate of polished brass with felt decoupling.

Frequencies below 2500Hz are handled by a modified Fostex FE208EZ from its FE-E Sigma Series of drivers, with a ‘hyperbolic paraboloid profile’ cone (made from banana plant fiber) and a tangential edge/damper. Midrange frequencies are radiated directly by the cone, while the driver is back-loaded by the Marvel’s downward-firing, flared but prematurely terminated bass ‘horn’ enclosure.

A 200mm driver is back-loaded by the Marvel’s downward-firing exponential ‘horn’ enclosure. The HF compression unit with tractrix horn can be adjusted to angle its beam

A 200mm driver is back-loaded by the Marvel’s downward-firing exponential ‘horn’ enclosure. The HF compression unit with tractrix horn can be adjusted to angle its beam

Says TuneAudio: ‘the bass is an exponential horn tuned to 50Hz using the floor as a virtual expansion of the missing length/mouth’. Indeed, as well as tuning-in the Marvel’s sound to your room by positioning the HF horn to fiber at your hot seat, subtly altering the height of the speaker using the adjustable spikes plays a crucial role in fine-tuning the subjective bass performance. A hard reflective surface beneath the speaker is required. As I have thick fitted carpets, the Marvels were sited on inexpensive slabs of granite, of the type commonly used for kitchen chopping-boards.

Fast and explicit

Although these substantial floor standers require room to breathe – TuneAudio recommends that you sit at least 2m away from the Marvels and that they should be spaced at least 1.5m apart – they do need some boundary wall reinforcement to ‘flesh out’ their sound. Once I’d positioned them close (0.5m) to the corners of my room and carefully adjusted the alignment of the high frequency horns to fire at my listening seat I was greeted with an impressively vivid and well-defined sound with a tremendous ability to drag me into the music.

Playing the album… All This Time, a 2001 live recording of Sting in a fairly intimate stage-setting, the Marvels’ vivid depiction of instruments’ leading-edge transients and dynamic shadings helped create a wonderful sense of occasion. In spite of my earlier fears, there was no ‘sonic mismatch’ with my resident Mark Levinson No.383 amplifier, the speakers’ fast and explicit temperament harmonizing most successfully with the amp’s soft sensuality, characterized by its luscious, creamy mid band-bass accompaniment of Christian McBride was tight and well-articulated, if slightly pinched and with a ‘quacky’ coloration in the upper bass – something that could also be heard in the sound of Manu Katche’s drums. The Marvels don’t go really low, but they deliver fast and clearly-expressed bass devoid of stodgy ‘tails’, which naturally enhances the overall impression of clarity and transient speed.

The speakers sounded even more agile and ‘alive’ when driven by the little Ming Da MC368-B902 integrated

The speakers sounded even more agile and ‘alive’ when driven by the little Ming Da MC368-B902 integrated

Listeners who are concerned with tonal accuracy will surely call into question these loudspeakers’ hi-fi credentials as there’s no denying they do sound colored. If you’re unable to mentally dial out that Quacky bass quality you’ll find them impossible to live with. But for those who can ignore these deficiencies and value the speakers’ speed and vibrancy, the Marvels’ depiction of musical events is abundant with qualities that help suspend disbelief while listening.

The speakers sounded even more agile and ‘alive’ when driven by the little Ming Da MC368-B902 integrated. Trading the Levison’s supers-smooth civility for a tad more openness and sparkle, the sound of the Marvels in unison with the diminutive tube amp was highly articulate and expressive. Again, there was no disguising the pinched tonality in the upper bass as I listened to ‘Liberty’, and the title track, from the 1995 album trust by bass virtuoso Patrick O’Hearn (Deep Cave Records DCR1001-2). While the Marvels create a credible sensation of bass weight and punch and you might care very little when rockin’ out to Led Seppelin or Linkin Park at high SPLs – their limited transparency and added colorations means they can’t properly describe textural shading and timbres of low-register instruments, or define the types of acoustic settings in which such are recorded.

Nevertheless, as I basked in the hypnotic and ethereal music from Trust the cavernous image created by the Marvels was undeniably appealing: wide and deep with more than sufficient air to make me forget the ‘hi-fi’ and wallow in the musical message. O’Hearn’ sonic painting was projected into the room seemingly effortlessly, his own-label recording’s artificially fashioned image all-enveloping.

Added to this was the Marvel’s beautifully relaxed treble quality, which was never brittle, shouty or fatiguing, even at ear-damagingly high sound pressure levels.

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