You might imagine that Spirit by Soundcraft would be the last company on earth to go into monitor design, unless you know a little about the parent company, Harman. In recent years, Harman seem to have done their best to buy out as many audio companies as possible; their current portfolio includes not only Soundcraft but also the French loudspeaker manufacturer, Audax. Audax are well known in the audio world for their OEM loudspeakers (ie. drivers that end up in other people's products), so it's hardly surprising that the Absolute 2s are fitted with specially-designed Audax drivers. Spirit's aim is obviously to produce low-cost monitors to rival Yamaha's NS10s, but the Absolute 2s are not NS10 soundalikes, as you'll already know if, like me, you always read the conclusion first!
Constructionally, these new monitors are pretty conventional, using the same kind of 'folded' box construction adopted by most mid-market hi-fi speakers. The sculpted MDF baffle gives the speakers a distinctive appearance, and unlike most hi-fi designs, there's no grille cloth.
The top end is reproduced by means of a 1-inch, ferrofluid-cooled, soft-dome tweeter, and the low and mid frequencies are handled by a 6-inch driver powered by a 30mm edge-wound voice coil. Unlike some studio monitors, which use fairly heavy, rigid cones, the Absolute 2's diaphragm assembly feels quite light, and is very free to move, thanks to its roll-rubber surround. Cabinet tuning is achived by means of the familiar port, but this has a neat, flared profile, which may also help reduce turbulence at the port mouth.
Dual rear terminals are provided for bi-wiring, but jumper links are fitted so that the speakers can be used conventionally straight out of the box. Both banana plugs or bare-ended wires can be connected, and the chunky gold-plated terminals inspire confidence. No details are given concerning the passive crossover, but the overall frequency response of the monitors is quoted as 45Hz-20kHz (+2dB/-3dB). Unfortunately, no graph is provided, so I can't say where the bumps and dips are or how serious they are, but listening tests indicate that nothing too untoward is going on.
The speakers are rated for amplifier powers of 100W RMS with typical music signals, though higher amp powers may be used as long as the amp isn't driven into clipping or the speakers driven into audible distortion. Similarly, highly compressed material puts a greater strain on speakers, because of the higher average energy level, so it's important that monitoring levels are set sensibly.
Monitors are only as good as their sound, and given their price range, these little speakers fare very well. Like most nearfield monitors, they don't push out a lot of bass, but what there is is cleanly handled, and not 'over-tuned' to hype it up. What's more, even quite deep bass sounds are reproduced reasonably evenly (though at a lower level than you'd expect from full-range monitors). Once you wind the monitoring level up to a 50W peak or so, the bass starts to happen, but at modest listening levels, you should have no trouble retaining your lunch.
It's particularly important that a studio monitor presents mid-range and high-frequency detail accurately, though there is some leeway on tonality, as different engineers have different preferences. Most engineers seem to favour subtle 'forward' voicing -- ie, a little extra top end to enhance detail. Going purely on subjective listening tests, I'd say that the Absolute 2s are just slightly bright. Having said that, the use of soft-dome tweeters prevents the sound from becoming too splashy or fatiguing, and the overall sense of stereo image and detail is very good.
Compared with other speakers in their price range, these new Spirit contenders stand up very well, and though they have shortcomings when compared with really serious, top-end nearfield monitors, they are still capable of delivering a nominally clean, detailed performance that will allow you to make the necessary qualitative judgements while mixing. As with any monitor, you have to get used to them by playing known material through them before you get down to any serious work, but when you consider that most monitors in this price range are really just consumer hi-fi speakers in disguise, the Absolute 2s deserve serious consideration.
Power Handling: 100W RMS
Frequency Response: 45Hz-20kHz, (+2dB/-3dB)
Impedance: 8(omega) nominal
Sensitivity: 90dB for 2.83V at 1m
Dimensions: 395 x 235 x 297mm
Weight: 7kg each (approx)
Open, detailed sound.
Slight brightness could be tiring on the ears when used for long periods.
An ideal budget nearfield monitor for both home studio and low-power professional applications.
£ Absolute 2 Monitors £258.50 per pair inc VAT.
A Spirit by Soundcraft, Cranborne House, Cranborne Industrial Estate, Cranborne Road, Potters Bar, Herts, EN6 3JN.
T 0707 665000.
F 0707 660482.
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