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Scansonic HD MB1B loudspeaker review

  • Some of the most sophisticated tone my present system has made yet came compliments of Raidho’s TD-1.2 monitor. Its mid/woofer with compact wind-slip N52 super-neodymium motor had visited the Aarhus Tribology & Materials lab of the Danish Technological Institute. Their research isn’t chemical but bombards materials with divergent atoms under high kinetic energy. For the Raidho’s 61⁄2” mid/woofer driver this meant adding to an aluminium core with ceramic skins an outer layer of harder tantalum then still harder diamond. The layering process occurred inside a magnetron sputtering unit. Its chamber’s oxygen was first evacuated with high-vacuum pumps and heated before being flooded with argon gas. Argon atoms then fired at the driver’s ceramic surfaces to eliminate all trace oxidation. Next, the particle bombardment switched to tantalum and applied 1’000V. Finally, carbon built a diamond layer which took still longer processing than the tantalum skin.

    Meanwhile, Raidho’s trademark planarmagnetic tweeter membrane also with N52 rare-earth motor weighs less than 0.02g to store no energy. Commanding a stiff €20K/pr for its fancy favours, this 2- way monitor’s claim to fame is exceptionally low driver distortion and an absence of common breakup artifacts. On that score, the thin-film tweeter in fact still beats Accuton’s 70kHz diamond dome. It’s a lot of extreme materials tech and associated processes thrown at a consumer not medical or military product. “Fine” you allow. “If you’ve got twenty large to burn.” Me neither. But what if we had 2K to sacrifice in a peace offering to the same hi-tech hi-fi deities? Would that have your attention?

    That’s what today’s short coverage is all about. As you may know, the Danish house of Dantax Radio which owns GamuT and Raidho also runs Scansonic HD. Originally that was a turnkey speaker platform for when ScanSpeak the driver manufacturer was part of the Dantax portfolio. Today, it’s capture central for trickle-down Raidho tech. That means the same quasi ribbon tweeter concept which applies a wavy voice coil onto a foil edge-clamped on all four sides just like an Audeze, HifiMan or Meze planar headphone. Obviously, the unit in the MB1B isn’t identical to that of Raidho’s TD-1.2. But it’s the same type. The mid/woofer shrinks to 5 1⁄4” but more importantly loses the whole Tribology expense. Instead, it does a carbon-fibre cone with inverted central nipple rather than the usual dust cap. The baskets/frames of these two drivers hide behind a sub baffle which not only dresses up the appearance but adds a shallow waveguide around the tweeter. Unlike Raidho offshoot Børresen, that outer baffle doesn’t mount on invisible grommets like a grill but visible bolts with fancy heads.

    With the cross-section of an elongated D, the cabinet is pure boat-hull luxury. It creates so narrow a spine that the single-wire terminals must stack one above the other. The flared slot port thus sits on the front beneath the mid/woofer. The top sports a carbon appliqué we’re told is more than just cosmetic; the bottom a silvery metal plate. There’s bracing inside and three finish options outside: satin black or white plus veneer. Two stand options with safety bolt offer single or dual-pillar optics, the former in black or white gloss, the latter purely in satin black but with top-adjustable metal outriggers. I tried both and much prefer the twin-post version. Regardless, both tilt the speaker back for time alignment and a slightly racier look. It’s attractive enough to risk being lumped into the dismissive lifestyle drawer. Granted, only idiots believe that to sound good mandates being ugly; that style means all looks and no brains. Plus, Raidho’s design DNA suggested otherwise already.

    Still, there’s more, encoded in the nomenclature. The MB is short for Michael Børresen, Raidho’s original designer and co-founder. The second B is short for Benno (Baun Meldgaard), GamuT’s original chief engineer and founder who after Børresen’s Dantax departure retuned Raidho and Scansonic speakers for a virtual MkII overhaul. So today’s speaker is an audio dish by two celebrity chefs. With Meldgaard since at Gryphon Audio Designs, Dantax now brings in project-based subcontractors rather than keep a single designer on permanent payroll. But all that and more is their business. My business is describing what their entry-level Scansonic HD monitor sounds like. In two words, easy listening.

    If I say no more, the lifestyle brigade feels vindicated to write this off as a pure looker sans substance. That’d be a huge fail. Easy listening refers to the total absence of even subliminal annoyance which speakers groomed for extreme resolution can rustle up: they’ll sound spectacular on our few super discs or gold files then get ever more ruthless so disappointing as recording quality diminishes. If you’re a normie and not an absolute sound worshipper who builds a physical or virtual music library on musical instead of sonic merit, prima-donna speakers can really suck. Dynamically compressed fare with overcooked treble and close-mic’d transients betrays all its shortcomings to kill off our enjoyment from when our gear was less elite. Once 80% of our tunes become no fun, we’ve really lost the plot. It’s like buying a modern designer chair which after five minutes hurts our back.

    Yet the absence of annoying stuff isn’t quite the same as the presence of whatever good stuff replaces it. In now just one word, that’s… yes, substance. The Benno-sanctified MB1B manages the rarer stunt of reaching into the 6 1⁄2 to 8” diameter drawer not where 35Hz bass extension is concerned (think more 50-ish instead) but vocal density. This is not a tipped-up quickie of a speaker. Like a trained martial artist who walks the streets relaxed knowing he can handle himself no matter the ‘hood, the MB1B sounds relaxed, self-assured and robust. Part of this amenable voicing must be down to a tweeter that doesn’t suffer the distortions generic dome tweeters typical for this class do. Across the wider presence region which dovetails carbon fibre and poly film with crossover overlap, there’s zero metallic aggravation. Unlike current Børresen monitors, this Scansonic’s voicing doesn’t prioritize speed for super-twitchy dynamics and steep transients. Again, the best term for the MB1B’s core personality is really easy listening. Now you simply appreciate that it’s not a diss but fat compliment.

    I should add that this handsome compact is ideal also for bigger rooms. Just add a sub like KEF’s KC62. I did the €1’295 Dynaudio 18S. Ideally, we prevent low bass from even presenting at the monitor’s voice coils by inserting an active 80Hz high pass in front of it. I did just that with an external icOn filter but integrated amplifiers from BlueSound, Lyngdorf and NAD all can do it without an extra box. Now the appeal of bigger, bassier monitors – never mind floorstanders – evaporates. Why pay for anything larger and costlier if we’ll cut it off at the belt? I’m a big fan of properly integrated active bass and compact passive two-ways whose main driver runs dynamically more exuberant and open because it’s no longer working hard. This Scansonic thus isn’t just for small rooms or secondary systems. It can go in the family lounge without upsetting the interior decorator yet still do heroic soundtracks and infrasonic techno. In a 2.1 context, you’d categorically not want any bigger main speakers.

    How close to a genuine Raidho does the MB1B come? Seeing that just months earlier I reviewed two Raidho compacts—the TD.1.2 and X1t—I have a reasonably good idea. You won’t get their amazing resolution or startling microdynamic reflexes. That takes more extreme drive units. But you will get a similarly refined tonality that won’t play favorites on musical styles; and an arguably more to-the-gut perspective because this tuning speaks less to ‘seeing’ and more to ‘feeling’. With exceptional resolution come magnified imaging specifics. Suddenly all the quasi-visual qualities like soundstaging, separation, layering and mapping step forward to appeal to our inner observer. We look at the sound like a postcard; Ansichtskarte in German. If we translate this literally, Ansicht is onsight so gazing at something from the outside. When the voicing is more about tone, textures and sonic materialism not ultimate airiness and transparency, it tends to more naturally speak to our feeling. That’s back at easy listening. It makes precisely that from-the-belly engagement easier. It’s a different connection point. It’s not so much insight—that still focuses on seeing—but being inside the music. When we’re truly inside something, the distance required to see it has gone. Should listening to music without distance appeal, I think that Scansonic’s MB1B does very well indeed!

    Further information: Scansonic

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    Written by Srajan

    Srajan is the owner and publisher of 6moons. He used to play clarinet at the conservatory. Later he worked in audio retail, then marketing for three different hifi manufacturers. Writing about hifi and music came next, then launching his own mag. Today he lives with his wife Ivette and Chai the Bengal cat in a tiny village overlooking the estuary of Ireland’s Shannon river at County Clare’s border with County Kerry. Srajan derives his income from the ad revenues of 6moons and his contributions to Darko.Audio.

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