BØrresen Acoustics 01 Two-Way Monitor Review
"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve
me and I learn."
As a professional musician and university professor of 36 years, I can appreciate the weight behind Benjamin Franklin's infamous quote. Though people may well forget what you say or present, engaging them holistically – mind, body, soul – often translates into a life-learning moment. Thus the question; Are we involved within the moment and, in turn, an extension of the moment? The power of music, in particular, is a spiritual transfer of learning energy. Whether performing, composing, teaching, or listening, the music never ceases to amaze me as the great communicator in life – a universal awareness toward the greater good.
As critical listeners, we audiophiles often toss around the term, involved, as a common (and viable) descriptor. It attempts to express our psycho-acoustic connection to recorded music reproduced through fine audio equipment. Critical listening for an audiophile requires a particular set of conditions to result in a holistically involved experience. Firstly, undivided attention on the part of the listener. Secondly, an environment conducive to undivided attention (For me, this usually requires waiting until all manner of pets, computer games, tv's, and spousal conversations have retired for the evening, when, at the stroke of midnight, I can sit back in the audio room, a glass of red wine, a turntable light, and get lost in a few favorite performances). How deeply we get lost is, of course, the game we audiophiles obsessively keep in play, maneuvering game 'pieces' in that quest for synergistic bliss among the recorded source, venue, equipment, placement, vs. our budget. It brings us back to the chessboard every time.
When conversing with Michael, you must hang on with absolute undivided attention, engaging all manner of listening skills in hopes of absorbing all he has to offer you. I can't say that I was necessarily prepared for this on our first conversation, although I did my best. And to be clear, Michael's incredible knowledge is not solely a scientific objective to create the perfect speaker. Rather, he is overwhelmingly motivated by a polished awareness of how science must accurately communicate the intangibles of musical performance, serving the art and its artists as close to reality as possible:
Many will recognize Michael BØrresen as a former chief designer with Raidho/Scansonic, which was part of the Dantax Company (Scan-Speak, et al). Today, his partnership with CEO & Chief Manager, Lars Kristensen (Formerly associated with Nordost) includes three business entities: Aavik Acoustics (electronics), Ansuz Acoustics (cables, power treatment, network switches and racks) and BØrresen Acoustics (loudspeakers). The corporate trio is housed under the same roof and parent company, UpperLevel ApS, in Aalborg, Denmark.
To meet BØrresen Acoustics' objectives, it was necessary to start with a blank slate, rethinking every aspect of design and function in the development of a musical delivery instrument of the highest order. Everything is designed to serve the truth of musical presentation. Michael approaches this as a true craftsman. Everything he does, he does at the highest levels. To this end, both Lars and Michael remain intensely open to the pursuit and solutions of ideas well beyond current thought.
The result reduces inductance by more than 90% of traditional drivers, taking away unwanted vibrations increasing current flow on-demand, and ultimately resulting in a much faster driver with less phase rotation / less impedance variations. Lower frequency performance in particular becomes very tight and well-focused. The 4.8" driver membrane material consists of two thin carbon-fiber wafers affixed on both sides of a Nomex honeycomb core (Similar to the body makeup used on Formula-1 type racing cars).
Following on the virtues of the Raidho ribbon tweeter, the BØrresen Acoustics ribbon is a 96dB/W/m sensitive, transformer-less design, using Neodym-magnets as drivers. With an ultra-light membrane weight of less than 0.01 grams, it is made from a PEM (polymer foil) that extends into the 100+kHz range, essentially allowing for no upper-frequency limitations with instantaneous response. The design operates as an open-backed dipole, the rarefaction wave exiting the triangular vents at the sides of the cabinet. An additional unique feature is the use of tuned ports calibrated for musically relevant frequencies. The bottle-opener-like designs break up port noise/turbulence, providing for smoother bass response. The function is much like that on the back of Formula One race cars. For BØrresen Acoustics speakers, it allows for easier room placement (can sit closer to the back wall, if necessary) without bass boom.
The cabinet's aileron-like profile (sim. to Raidho designs) follows in the stylish shapes initially created by the late Franco Serbelin from Sonus Faber, enhancing depth while minimizing width and overall footprint.
Decoupler discs, called "Darkz," are a series of efficient footers to ground the speaker cabinet to the stand, designed via sister company, Ansuz Acoustics. Each footer consists of three discs separated by 3 ball bearings. The discs come in four alloys (anodized aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, extra-hardened aluminum, and extra-hardened titanium) that allow for four different sonic qualities (I was provided with the extra-hardened titanium). They can also be used on floorstander speaker feet, as well as any component in a high-end audio system (including cable lifters). They are mechanically tuned to allow vibrations a pathway out of the component, keep it isolated.
The 01 stand is considered an equal part of the acoustic as well as the aesthetic intent of the cabinet design, working in tandem to achieve a synthesized presentation. Relatively lightweight material and shape are designed in such a way as to transfer and dissipate vibration energy to the floor. Both the highly designed stand feet and Darkz footers on the cabinet platform offer two decoupler points to isolate cabinets. Combined, both speaker and stand present a true work of art in both form and function. With an elegant modern Scandinavian appearance, they melt beautifully into the décor of any home. One is immediately aware that the BØrresen Acoustics 01 speakers are not just audio equipment, but offer the presence of exceptional musical art sculptures, akin to those of the Baschet brothers or David Letellier.
This leads me to a key observation of my listening time with the BØrresen Acoustics 01: At no time did the term "monitor" really enter my consciousness. They were, in a word, complete. Yes, if I had thought about them as monitors, I would not hesitate in stating they are the finest such speakers I've ever heard. The fact that they are not "full-range" floorstanders never compromised my listening experience. Most importantly, the 01 musically involved me in ways that transcended the listening venue, and brought me to the gig. For one who has spent a great deal of time on stage, I gravitate towards an audio experience that closely re-creates what I'm familiar with - The visceral reality of actuating an acoustic instrument alongside others around me in the creation of music, while simultaneously engaging with the venue's (and listener's) responses/contributions to the music.
So what is it exactly that these "monitors" offer in creating a holistically-involving musical experience? For starters, they present an amazing and realistic sense of scale. If any readers had the good fortune of visiting the NextLevel HiFi room at last Fall's RMAF 2019, you no doubt experienced the 01 filling an exceptionally large room (greater than 22,000 cubic ft) with a concert hall-like performance, having no issues fully pressurizing the room. Then in my home 14x17 audio room, they provided a similar experience by moving beyond the walls and ceiling. Again, it's a moment that transports the listener, adapting the room to the recorded venue.
We often think of and listen for dimensionality in terms of stage of the recorded venue. I have to say however that, for perhaps the first time in my audio experiences, I was able to identify depth within the instrumental envelope itself. Not just linearity of envelope, but three-dimensionality of the sound source and its actuation. As a performer, I could hear 360 around the initiation and subsequent dispersion of instrumental energy. It's more than standing on the stage or sitting in the audience, it's having your hands on / close to the entity and experiencing the moment. The 01 presented this convincingly.
Another trait I admire is the sense of immediacy and clarity in all aspects of the musical envelope. It's not just that transients are crystal clear, with strident-free upper frequencies and super-tight lower frequencies, but that the speed of such allows timbral characteristics of musical sources to be represented truthfully. Above all, there's integrity to the envelope – That is, no aspect is exaggerated for effect, but retains believability. Relatedly, truth in tone is front and center in the music, with organicity so vivid that it seems touchable.
Ok, I'll go ahead here and acknowledge that these are, in fact, monitors, only insofar as to make the following point: The BØrresen Acoustics 01 has low-frequency extension the likes of which I've never experienced... from a monitor. Nothing artificial, just incredible reach that maintains grip and natural truth-to-source. Similarly, I've never heard such effortless and seemingly limitless upper frequencies as provided by these amazing ribbons. Wonderfully smooth/delicate highs - Nothing etched or scratchy.
Another key trait that must be mentioned is the uncanny presence of microdynamics and the subsequent degree of information retrieval they allow for. Clear harmonic separation of instrumental sources and an immediacy of transient characteristics greatly help get this right. However, there's perhaps something more to it. Speed, finesse, and efficiency from these innovative drivers allow the recorded signal to be delivered in absolute authenticity. Admittedly, this may translate to outstanding transients on the front end, but psycho-acoustically, this creates an anticipation within the listener – an awareness – that truly energizes the room, in turn, energizing the listening experience.
A Few Reference Examples
The extensive collection of acoustic instrumental colors in Joy offers a sonic playground for reference listening. Through the 01, I am re-acquainted with the correct balance among these musicians. Nothing is emphasized in a manner unintended by artists or engineers. The tactile presence of fingers, nails, hands in contact with all manner of strings, and hand drums raises goosebumps. Leading edges rise unfettered in an experience that is amazingly reflective of a top-shelf pair of headphones - That nearfield-yet-spacial-surround-sound head-to-toe sonic experience. All I can say is, wow!
Jeff Hamilton Trio – The Best Things Happen. [CD /
Skywalk – The Bohemians. [LP / MCA-Zebra]
But again, talent abounds in all directions within the group, with this recording giving your system a ride. The 01 demonstrated the frequency extremes of "Grandstand" with ease, opening the basement frequency doors with incredible firm clarity and control. With eyes closed, one would never know these were monitors. The sense of stage within this recording was something I never fully appreciated until hearing with the 01. Crystal clear source placement, space, and depth were outstanding. The closing track, "The Torchbearer," had all the subtle, nostalgic late-night 80s jazz seductions that one might hope for. Again, and without sounding too cliché, just try closing your eyes and not feeling the band in the room....
Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio – Diz... [CD / Blue Note]
At the heart of it all, I simply and thoroughly enjoyed listening to music through these speakers. Often, I would take time out from writing this review to go back and listen for a point I was attempting to compose, only to find that the rest of the evening flew by as I was once again kidnapped in my listening room.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, these are expensive – by anyone's standard. Are they worth it? That of course is an answer left to the ears (and eyes) of the beholder. What I can say is, if one is capable of commanding this level of audio investment, the return will be an unending oasis of musical reality, brought to you in ways likely unimagined. One thing's for certain, the BØrresen Acoustics 01 will involve you, and you will learn much. And lest we never overlook, we're all here for the music.
Humble appreciation is extended to Tyler and Dana Mueller of NextLevel HiFi and Gated HiFi Distribution respectively, who helped facilitate this review by providing the speakers, connecting me with Michael BØrresen, and extending their expert and thoughtful advice.