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April 2011
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Usher Audio Dancer Series Mini One Diamond DMD Loudspeakers
A loudspeaker sure to turn heads.
Review By Anthony Nicosia

 

Usher Audio Dancer Series Mini One Diamond DMD Speakers  Usher Audio was first established in central Taiwan by its owner and head engineer Lien-Shui Tsai. Since then it has moved into its newly built factory located in the city of Taichung with a population of just over one million people. Looking to their website one finds a brief statement that seems to sum up the Usher philosophy, “There are no accidents”. The people at Usher Audio are scientifically oriented to the point of having even developed their own computer-based measuring system which they claim is now an industry standard in factories throughout Asia. Some manufacturers adhere to the concept that listening test are the answer for making great audio equipment.

At Usher the thought is in understanding to measure the proper parameters, the ones that truly matters and which actually have the largest impact on music. Looking at the world-wide reviews of their various loudspeakers it seems they might just have hit upon a proper way to correlate the connection between measurements and sonic performance. Usher’s loudspeaker lineup consists of bookshelf as well as floor standing systems for both two channel audio and home theater setups with subwoofers available if you so desire. Want something a little different, check out their D3 loudspeaker weighing in at 690 lbs. apiece and featuring a horn high frequency compression driver. Now that is something I would love to get my hands on. Do you need an audio rack or loudspeaker stands, not to worry they make them as well. Maybe you prefer building your own loudspeakers, again not a problem for they sell a lineup of loudspeaker drivers for the do-it-yourselfers. If you are wondering about amplification check out their web site as they take the guess work out of that as well, with their own R-1.5 (150 wpc @ 8 Ohms, 20 Hz to 20 kHz) amplifier.

 

The Package Arrives
Usher Audio Dancer Series Mini One Diamond DMD LoudspeakersFor those who prefer ones loudspeakers delivered with the utmost of care you will be happy to know Usher uses pallets when shipping out to dealers. Each loudspeaker comes double boxed and are further protected with thick Styrofoam inserts. The unit’s heavy bases were also packaged separately sending the grand total to four boxes in all, each very carefully bound together on a large wooden pallet. The idea behind shipping with a pallet is to prevent boxes from being tossed around carelessly inside the truck by providing a heavy stabilized base. During the unpacking process care must be taken not to touch the dome tweeter as it lay exposed and uncovered. The 7” woofer came with a protective cloth covering which after the initial setup was removed by me to further enhance sound reproduction. Installing the heavy metallic base proved to be easy once it was determined how to tackle the problem. Turning the loudspeaker upside down on its flat top proved to be the easiest solution as then the base could be screwed in and later flipped right-side up for final placement. Each base comes with four large cones, four spikes and four flat discs for installation on either carpeted or non-carpeted surfaces. In my house, with wooden floors, spikes and discs were used to protect them from damage. Once installed it was quite easy to move either loudspeaker due to the protective coating under each disc. These discs protected my floors during their constant jockeying for positioning within my room until proper placement was established. As for the loudspeakers themselves, their enclosures are made of MDF covered with solid wood veneer formed to shape each loudspeaker. It takes time and highly complicated equipment to bend them in such a way as not to show a seam down the back of the loudspeakers. All that effort seemed to pay off though as they looked quite attractive displayed within my reference system. For me it was definitely a good wife acceptance factor with their size, shape and craftsmanship.

 

Technical Details
The Mini One’s are a two-way system with a factory published sensitivity rating of 87dB/W/m. This makes for a low efficient design allowing for me to turn up the volume control on my preamplifier a bit more than normal. Putting things into perspective my Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers have a 96dB sensitivity rating while the Klipsch Klipschorn comes in at a 104dB rating. Not to fear though as my seventy-watt (as run in mono block configuration for this review) Monarchy Audio SM-70 PRO amplifiers never ran out of steam. The Mini One’s employ Usher’s new Diamond DMD Technology. Here you will find a 1.25” Diamond DMD dome tweeter in use, the same as found on their more expensive models. The diaphragm is made from a synthetic diamond which according to Usher’s brochure is as follows.

“The DMD done is effectively a diamond dome with a reduced mass and a well-controlled, appealing sound signature, resembling very closely a perfect piston in its behavior. This is made possible by its laminated diamond-metal-diamond structure, which consists of a proprietary metal alloy base layer coated with an amorphous diamond-like carbon layer (pure diamond-like carbon has mixed sp3 and sp2 bonds to achieve its desirable properties) on both sides. The base metal layer of the Diamond DMD dome tames all the diamond layers’ unfavorable sonic traits and brings out the best of both materials.”

All their tweeters use Usher’s Symme-Motion technology which allows the driver to move outward and backward in a symmetrical motion for accurate reproduction of the recorded music material. On the back of the Mini One’s are terminals for either a single or bi-wired setup. The Monarchy amplifiers were run as mono blocks in a bi-wired setup which is how I almost always normally use them.

 

Let The Music Begin
A rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 74 "Harp” [2L 71] recoded at the Sofienberg Church in Norway April 2009 is nicely captured on the SACD/Hybrid CD String Quartets by the people at 2L. Here the string quartet played back through the Mini One’s displayed the natural spaciousness of the church while still retaining a very intimate connection with the listener. They gave off a slightly forward sounding presentation with recordings. For me this is more preferable than one which creates a tendency to put the listener further back from the event and distancing oneself from the performance. Soundscape while not very deep behind each loudspeaker had the ability of extending into the room in front of, between and to the sides of each Mini One. These loudspeakers made it easy to get lost, enjoying the music, while not drawing unnecessary attention to them.

Music emanated from around the room instead of the loudspeakers, creating a well-focused soundscape to render the illusion of live performers in front of me. This is not an easy task to do or even expect, especially at the Mini One's relatively low selling price. On YO-YO- MA & Friends, Songs of Joy & Peace CD [Sony Classical 88697-2414-20] the sound of YoYo Ma's cello was full and alive. Individual strings could be heard vibrating as music escaped from deep inside this wood instrument. The decay of notes fading away was especially evident throughout the entire album. Sitting back to listen as James Taylor sang, "Hear Comes The Sun" made me take a deep breath while taking in all the intricate details of his voice which the Mini One’s had fleshed out. Want to hear some great harmony, try paring the Mini One's with the incredible Assad Family on "Familia". Here the performance of Angelina, Badi, Carolina and Clarice Assad where impressive as they captured this beautiful intimate performance with all their natural chemistry and playfulness. The four singers could be "seen" lined up in a row left to right with the sound of Yo-Yo-Ma's cello chiming in to weave a magical spell around them.

Turning to another recording from 2L, Come Away Death [2L 63] we have William Shakespeare's poem, of the same title, taken from his play Twelfth Night (from the year 1601). This poem is put to music by Sergej Osadchuk, piano and Marianne Beate Kielland, vocals. Marianne Kielland's voice sounded effortless, as if floating in the space between each loudspeaker with a true sense of height above a wide open soundscape. Equally impressive was the piano of Sergej Osadchuk playing in the background clear and spacious with the decay transients of notes slowly fading away. Not flat or two-dimensional there was a nice holographic effect between pianist and vocalist as they joined together lending a lifelike presentation to this performance.

On to something different we next visit with The Rolling Stones on their Beggars Banquet [abkcd 95392] hybrid SACD for the sound of some light rock and roll. Here the Mini One' performed admirably rendering well-focused images within a large open soundscape to rival those loudspeakers selling for many thousands of dollars more. The Mini One's brought added joy when listening to familiar recordings as on “Sympathy For The Devil" where the opening drum sequence was startling clear and forthright. With a slight toe in, of about one inch towards the listening seat, things seemed well focused, with both instruments and vocals easily recognizable for truth of timbre and layering. Musical is a word that comes to mind when listening to the Mini One’s as they “sang” within my reference system with their ability to reveal textural differences. Mid-bass as well as high frequency extension was particularly noticeable as guitar notes rang true accompanied by the sound of a quick and tight drum display. On "Dear Doctor" the opening duet of singers remained distinctly unique with vocal content of a very natural content. As a harmonica played without any signs of edginess, one could hear well into the back of the soundscape. Where the Mini One's were not as impressive was with their ability to produce the lowest frequencies but going into this review I assumed there would be limits. Remember, we are looking at the lower end of the Usher loudspeaker lineup and are dealing with a seven inch mid-low range woofer.

Be warned though before making any hasty judgments for during their break-in period of 180 plus hours they did change considerably. By the end of this time the Mini One's were pumping out some impressive lower frequency bass notes as compared to their out of the box sound. While my Legacy Focus 20/20's with their $6500 plus price tag (depending on finish), 12” transition woofer and two 12” sub woofers, did go lower the Mini Ones shocked me with the tight firm bass it’s seven inch driver could produce. On "Maria Maria" from Carlos Santana's Supernatural [ARISTA 07822-19080-2] cranking up the volume produced some very satisfying quality bass. While it did not shaking the floor it was impressive non-the-less. Bravo to the Mini One's for doing so much with a limited arsenal of drivers and all on a reasonably priced budget (relatively speaking for high-end audio gear). While not something you would find me recommending for those who feel the need to have the last word in low frequency extension, it was a loudspeaker I found hard to turn off because of its many positive traits.

For those who crave more you could look elsewhere among Usher's loudspeaker lineup. My thoughts would be to go further up the Dancer Series to the Mini Two’s ($4999) with an extra 7” driver, the CP-8571 ($10,799 with its additional 8" driver) or the CP-8871 ($14,599 and its two 8" extra drivers) or perhaps the BE-10 ($17,399, with a 1.25" tweeter, 5" mid-low woofer and 11" low-bass woofer). For me it was the BE-10 that made me drool to just think of it. Who knows, perhaps at the next show I might just get my chance to listen. Oh yes, if you want to spend even more in that quest for those last few lower notes maybe you could look to the Dancer Series BE-20 ($21,199) with its 1.25" tweeter, 5" mid-low woofer and two 11" low-bass woofers. Back now to the One's, they did seem to correctly reproduce the tone of Everlast's voice on "Put Your Lights On" as the opening guitar chords brought me close to center stage. The sound of guitar was rich with details and full of texture allowing a good time to be had for all who chanced by to listen. 

Usher Audio Dancer Series Mini One Diamond DMD LoudspeakersFrom a previous review I had on hand the new Parasound JC 3 phono stage which was found to sound very good through the Mini One’s. With this in mind the temptation to switch over to LP playback was just too great, not that I never need much of a nudge in that direction anyway. The vocal power and inflections of Luciano Pavarotti’s fine tenor voice is on full display with the LP, Pavarotti in Concert [London OS26391] on the selection “La Danza (Rossini)”. Here the swiftness of both woodwind and string sections was correctly captured due to the speed of the Mini One’s drivers. The playful blending of these two sections was quite pleasing indeed. Pulling out the original master recording of Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat LP [Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-009] to hear the title song has always been a pleasure. The beginning features a nicely laid down keyboard piece and then a surprise powerful attack of drums. The Mini One’s pulled this off without a snag as it played back those mid-bass notes with a vengeance to the delight of all. Everything was well layered, guitar, violin, percussion, alto sax, keyboard and vocal. Each piece to the puzzle was kept separate and distinct within a realistic soundscape that filled my room. Nice, neat, organized, the Mini One’s do it all.

Everyone has a favorite Beatle, mine being John Lennon, but when looking to the original 1965 Rubber Soul [Capitol Records C1 0777 7 46440 1 3] LP, the song “Michelle” featuring Paul McCarthy has always impressed me. This is one of those classic love songs he is famous for. With the Mini One’s soundscape layering is nicely laid out with George Harrison and John Lennon singing harmony on the left side of the stage, Paul McCarthy on the right with Ringo Starr supporting the cast playing drums behind Paul. Those who forgot how good they sounded should listen to this LP through the Mini One’s. The final musical selection for today was from the Dave Mason Alone Together [MCA-11319] LP on 180 gram virgin vinyl. On “Can’t Stop Worrying Can’t Stop Loving” Dave Mason sounded excellent, as did the rest of the band. The ability to hear each musician separately located in their own space on stage enhanced the musical experience. The very revealing Mini One’s enriched the enjoyment found from listening to good recordings yet did the opposite with poor ones, as good loudspeakers are supposed to do. They showed proper impact on mid-bass and were fantastic with vocals making you sit up and take notice. Listening to this album through the Mini One’s was a pleasure I never did tire of and made me feel the better for having heard.

 

In Conclusion
You just might very well be surprised by these Mini One loudspeakers from Usher Audio’s Dancer Series. Unlike their name might suggest their sound is anything but mini. Music was relaxing at almost all volumes, while creating a large well focused soundstage consisting of ample height as well as width. Their presentation of music was clear and seamless to the point that it was difficult to break away from. As for imaging it was so precise as to startle you with their reality. Given some break-in time the bass improved considerably and while not recommended for die hard rocker fans, the Mini One’s certainly did more than impress me with what they could do. Do not get me wrong, these are not bass shy loudspeakers by any means, but they were not designed to give you floor shaking bass. For that be prepared to spend a little more as you look upwards in the Dancer Series lineup of loudspeakers. If you get a chance check out the Mini One’s, they just might be all you really need, depending of course on room size and musical tastes. As a testament to their physical beauty and audio accomplishments when my wife was told the transport company was coming to take them back she said “Why so soon”. For me, they certainly will be missed.

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet from the short wall sloping upwards reaching a height of thirteen feet in the middle of the room. The hardwood floor has a nine foot by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the system placed dead center in between, yet not under, the listener and the review equipment The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker giving access to the hallway while the other is behind the listening position which opens into a formal dining area with a table that seats eight people. The room is treated with three floor standing acoustical panels whose placement varies depending on which loudspeakers are used and their position within the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position. Power conditioners are all located on the hardwood floor behind and to the left of the audio rack.

 

Review Equipment
Placette Passive Preamplifier (the three input version)
Monarchy Audio SM70-PRO Amplifiers (two run in mono bloc configuration)
OPPO Digital BDP-83 Special Edition Universal player
Oracle Delphi MK 1 Turntable, Grace 707 Tone arm with custom made interconnects
Audio-Technica Prestige AT33PTG Moving Coil Cartridge
Parasound JC 3 Phone Stage
Audience aR2p-T0 power conditioner
PS Audio UPC 200 Power Conditioner
PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
Two Blue Circle Audio Mk III Power Line Conditioners
Loudspeaker Cables: Cardas Golden Presence (2 pairs running bi-wired)
Interconnects: Cardas Musician's Reference (CD to preamplifier)

 

My Ratings
As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, “Value for the Money”. Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations with a highest rating of 5.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: two-way monitor speaker system
Tweeter: Metallic-ceramic dome tweeter 1.25" (9980-20BEA)
Midrange/Woofer: 7" (8948A)
Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Frequency Response: 38 Hz to 40kHz (-3dB)
Power Handling: 90 watts
Crossover Frequencies: 2.3 kHz
Weight: 82 lbs. including base
Dimensions: 32 x 40 x 106.2 (WxDxH in cm)
Available Finishes: Pioneer Birch, Walnut or Maple (special order)
Warranty: Three years parts and labor
Price: $3999 per pair

 

Company Information
Usher Audio
67 Kai-Fong St. Section 1
Taipei 10041
Taiwan

Voice: 886-2-2381-6299
Fax: 886-2-2371-1053
E-mail: usher@ms11.hinet.net
Website: www.usheraudio.com

 

United States Distributor
SCT Distribution
1303 Motor Street
Dallas, Texas 75207

Voice: (214) 638-3500
Fax: (214) 722-0325
E-mail: info@musikmatters.com
Website: www.musikmatters.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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