My Audio Design 1920S Monitors Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Monday, 24 June 2013

MAD, or My Audio Design, is a British firm making waves with their extensive line of loudspeakers, ranging from mini monitors to large, floor standing, full range models. Offering custom designs and finishes, MAD speakers are quite beautiful. The company has been around since 2005, and their three speaker lines include the 1900, the Grand, and Noble lines.

I had seen their ads in British hi-fi magazines for years, and noted various show reports that spoke highly of them, and I found myself eager to review one of their products. It just so happens that Colleen Cardas Imports recently picked up the line for distribution in the States. They also import Italian-made Unison Research electronics and Opera speakers, which have been the subject of several reviews here. They also handle Pure Audio, reference quality gear from New Zealand. Marc Phillips offered me a pair of their 1920S two-way monitors to evaluate, and knowing Marc has great taste, I agreed for a variety of reasons.

The 1920S is the “signature” version of their 1920 model. The 1920 is noted as being a very modern take on the legendary LS3/5A BBC monitor. This design was licensed to a number of manufacturers including Rogers, Spendor, Harbeth, and more. It just so happens I grew up listening to several pairs of Rogers LS3/5As and have owned, and still own, models from Spendor and Harbeth. As you can imagine, having fond memories of the LS3/5A, I am always curious to hear products inspired by it.

As pleasing and magically musical as the LS3/5A was, it was not without its faults. It was not efficient, had no real bass, and some complained they were plain looking.  Subsequent variations on the theme improved on its shortcomings somewhat, and more exotic finishes were being offered. MAD has decided to up the ante with the 1920/1920S by deviating from the original design a bit.  First, there is a rear port, secondly, while the front baffle is similar in dimensions as the LS3/5A, the 1920S is deeper, and lastly, the 1920S is easier to drive

By the way, the differences between the 1920 and the 1920S are small but significant. Both use the same drivers, have the same basic specifications, and are the same size. However, MAD says the “S” model has a much more advanced cabinet. According their technical literature, “we have reconstructed the cabinet with a more advanced version of our proprietary DRC (Damping Resonance Control) and SWC technology.” The 1920S does go 3 Hz deeper in the bass than the 1920 according to the published specs.

The “S” model also features beautiful gloss finishes in a variety of colors. Selling for approximately $3450, I found the 1920S' finish and build quality to be excellent, with very good quality binding posts and an overall classy feel. One should expect this from products at this price point, and they deliver. 1920Ss are equipped with cloth grilles, which were left off for all listening.

Set Up & Listening

I set the 1920Ss up on 26” Sound Anchor stands, with about 20 degrees of toe in. I drove them with my McIntosh MA6600 200 watts per channel integrated amp, connected via recently reviewed Transparent "The Wave" speaker cable. I never had to play with position or associated gear after that; they were unfussy.

I started off the 1920S monitors with a nice dose of heavy rock n roll from Velvet Revolver, Stone Temple Pilots, and Guns N’ Roses. Maybe it seems a bit sadistic when evaluating monitors, but let me tell you, I was quite taken aback at how coherent and composed the 1920Ss remained even when the volume was cranked past the comfort level. Imaging was spectacular, and I heard little details in the mix I had previously overlooked. Of course, the only thing that was absent was realistic heaviness of bass guitar and bass drum, but I have to say, this was not a deal killer in any way due to the overall balance of the speaker.

MAD 1920S monitorI then went on a serious Richard Ashcroft bender. Ashcroft is the criminally overlooked mastermind behind the great English band, The Verve. His solo albums are very well recorded and an amazing tapestry of modern electronic and alternative rock.  Ashcroft’s voice was rendered just superbly; as a matter of fact, it maybe my favorite rendering to date. The somewhat dense arrangements and creative embellishments such as strings and percussion were amazingly easy place in the mix. Goose bump moments don’t come often, but they were here in spades, especially on tracks from Ashcroft’s masterwork, Alone With Everybody, such as “Song For The Lovers”, "I Get My Beat”, and “On A Beach”.

The 1920S was terrific on jazz as well. Various live recordings I cued up from Pat Metheny, Pharoah Sanders, and Omar Sosa, all sounded textured and tonally correct. I can see why MAD says their speakers are suitable for professional use. Their capabilities with dynamic swings and their ability to play loud are beyond what their size would indicate. Maybe this corroborates MAD’s claims about their cabinet engineering.

The essence of the 1920S came down to balance and tonal correctness. Naturally recorded voices, piano, and percussion let you suspend disbelief, and sit back enjoy musical performances. These are not speakers that offer tweeter sizzle or mid-bass bloat in an attempt to impress in the short term. These speakers were voiced as “keepers”.

Conclusion

As mentioned above, I have a bit of a history with British-made mini monitors, and I have heard a good number of variations. Times have changed, and speaker design has made advancements that would have been hard to predict thirty-five or forty years ago. The use of computer-aided modeling, better partnering components and cables, and the availability of higher quality parts have changed the game. That being said, an original Rogers LS3/5A or Spendor variation still sound damn good, but they don’t compete technically with today's better offerings.

MAD has taken a lot of the old LS3/5A goodness -- namely, the seductive midrange and engaging musicality -- and brought it to the modern listener. The 1920S goes deeper, has a more open top end, and is easier to drive than BBC style monitors of yesteryear. The workmanship on the 1920S is classy, and they offer a pride of ownership. At approx $3500, the Signature version of the 1920 are not cheap for a two-way, for sure, but they offer excellent performance within their class. I strongly recommend an audition if you are looking for a modern sounding monitor that retains the virtues of the classics in this category. This is a high fidelity loudspeaker.



An interview with Marc Phillips of Colleen Cardas Imports

AVRev: What attracted you to the MAD line with so many speaker lines looking for an importer?

Marc Phillips: Well, Colleen (Cardas) had known MAD designer/founder Timothy Jung for many years. He had approached her many times to be the US distributor but CCI wasn't quite ready to expand yet. We spent some time with the original 1920 and were very impressed with it, but we weren't sure how to market it in the US. Then Timothy sent us the 1920S and it was such a huge step up that it was hard to ignore that it was something truly special. I've never heard a mini-monitor do the "disappearing act" with such ease. There were actually other distributors who were interested in MAD --although Colleen was always Timothy's first choice-- so we had to act fast. 

AVRev: I found the speaker's overall balance to be quite modern, but they still have that majestic midrange the LS3/5A was known for. Were they trying to remain faithful yet at the same time be unrestricted in improving the original design's shortcomings?

Marc Philips: I'm a huge fan of the LS3/5A, but to tell you the truth there are so many small monitors out there that claim to be the "new" LS3/5A, yet to my ears none of them remind me of the classic BBC sound. Timothy says he was "inspired" by the LS3/5A--the front baffle, for instance, is the same size--but to me the 1920S do things the LS3/5As can't like go deeper in the bass without pumping up the mid-bass frequencies. There are no nasal colorations in the 1920s, either. But that magic LS3/5A midrange is there, along with that incredible imaging. The 1920S is also relaxed through the treble in the classic British tradition, but without sounding rolled-off.
 
AVRev: Tell us a little about MAD's custom designs. This seems pretty unique.

Marc Phillips: Timothy is fairly secretive about the way he makes his speakers--he uses a lot of proprietary parts, for instance. He also voices his speakers in a unique way by using feedback from a select group of musicians and engineers. Timothy also has a background in psychotherapy and group analysis, and he's dedicated to creating speakers that make an emotional connection with the listener. Finally, he goes to great lengths to ensure the speakers are aesthetically pleasing--for instance, I've never seen a cabinet as strikingly beautiful as the one he has created for the Duke and the Baron in his Royal line. So every MAD loudspeaker is created as a complete experience for the listener, not just another premium small speaker that sounds unusually refined.


Specifications


My Audio Design 1920S loudspeaker: $3450
www.colleencardasimports.com

Drivers:
HF 22 mm neodynium supersonic tweeter
LF 145 mm ultra precision mid/bass driver

Frequency Response:
58 Hz-40 kHz

Crossover Frequency:
2000 Hz

Sensitivity:
90dB@1w@1 metre

Dimensions:
280 x 190 x 230 mm



Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4, Bogdan Audio Creations Art Deco
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids,  Darwin Ascension (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Onkyo C7000R
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, MyTek Stereo 192 DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS






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