Positive Feedback ISSUE 71
Majestic Diamond II Loudspeakers
as reviewed by John Hoffman
Specialized high performance audio companies have the ability to focus their efforts on a small number of products that are designed to provide high quality audio reproduction at their respective price points. Quite often the engineering solutions developed by these boutique companies is innovative, and their individuality brings a welcome change to a market place focused on cookie cutter products. For instance, William Johnson founded Audio Research, and helped lead the revival of vacuum tube amplification. Looking back at the world of moving coil cartridges, the landscape of vinyl playback was changed by the elder Sugano, who crafted masterpieces at his kitchen table. Among the small and innovative companies of today's audio market place we have TBI Audio, which is a fine example of this sort of free spirited company. For years the TBI Audio Magellan series of sub-woofers have garnered the respect of hobbyists who consistently praise the speakers' performance and build quality. Lately, the Millenia MG3 digital amplifier has been getting noticed in the realm of cheap and cheerful hi-fi; although there is nothing cheap about the quality of sound this amp is capable of! Although there is certainly a lot of cheerfulness to be had when an outlay of $500 can return such a high level of audio playback. Jan Plummer of TBI Audio also offers a range of monitor style speakers, which can be paired with the Magellan sub-woofer and the Millenia MG3 amplifier. Jan offers innovative engineering solutions to the issues of audio playback, and his out of the box thinking is reflected by a distinctive and unconventional speaker design. The Majestic Diamond II monitor is the statement product in his speaker line. The Majestic Diamond II monitors start at $995 a pair in satin black paint, while a pair in a premium piano black finish sells for $1500.
The Majestic Diamond II speaker incorporates the ETL technology that Jan uses in the Magellan series of subwoofers. The underlying premise of the Embedded Transmission Line theory is that internal air pressure created by the back wave of each speaker driver is controlled and evenly distributed within the cabinet. The ability to dissipate the the energy wave created by the back stroke of a driver results in a reduction of resonance points in the cabinet which results in a consistent presentation of music. The rigid and light cabinet design also allows for quick dispersion of energy, which minimizes any coloration to the sound that the structure would contribute. Each cabinet has a separate chamber for the bass driver and the tweeter, so the rear waves of the drivers cannot influence each other. Measured amounts of dampening foam are also located in strategic positions in the cabinet to absorb and dissipate the rear wave. The amount and type of material is carefully selected for this application, as this is not a matter of stuffing the cabinet full of dampening material and just "calling it good". One of the keys to designing a high performance speaker lies in controlling the influences of the cabinet to the final output of the speaker, and TBI Audio has gone to great lengths to find effective solutions to this problem.
The driver complement on the the Majestic Diamond II speakers are unusual in some respects. The mid-bass driver is a 5.25" woofer with a coated paper diaphragm. The dual tuned ports, part of the ETL system, not only extends bass response, they also control break up nodes in the woofer diaphragm. This point is important, as the crossover point for this driver is 4.5kHz; therefore these cone resonance issues would degrade critical areas in the mid-range spectrum. The tweeter is certainly an unconventional choice, but when examined closely the underlying rational is quite intriguing. The tweeter is a 2.5" poly-coated full range driver with a phase plug. The resonance point of this tweeter is centered at 200 hertz, which means the driver is free of cone break up issues when crossed over at 4.5kHz. The tweeter has a soft 6dB per octave slope, while the woofer is subject to a 12dB per octave slope. The beauty behind this driver combination is that the dispersion characteristics of each component are closely matched to each other, so the speaker forms a wide and consistent sound stage with solid imaging properties. The listener is not required to sit in a narrowly defined spot, and to a degree, multiple listeners can experience the system at the same time from different positions in the room. This is not a variation of the stereo everywhere theme, but rather a function of the speaker creating a wide and stable dispersion field, and each listener being able to experience a different perspective of the music from their listening spot.
The cabinets are 10.25" tall by 7" wide, and 7" deep, and weigh 8.5 pounds each. The cabinets are made from MDF, and are a light and rigid structure which allows them to dissipate energy quickly, rather than become an energy sink for uncontrolled resonances. This quick dissipation cabinet theory has a rich history, with perhaps the Rogers LS3/5A being the most recognized speaker using this kind of technology. Cabinet finishes are either the satin black or piano black lacquer, and either option is quite attractive. Grills are removable, and a single pair of binding posts are located in a recessed cup on the back wall of the speaker. The monitors are 87dB efficient at 2 meters, are an 8 ohm load, and can handle 75 WPC of RMS power. Stated frequency response is 40Hz – 23kHz (-6dB) in room at 3 meters
The Majestic Diamond II is a true monitor style speaker with accurate low end extension, especially given the size of the mid-bass driver and cabinet volume. One thing Jan does not do is sacrifice the quality of the bass on the Majestic Diamond II speaker for increased output levels. In an ideal application this speaker is intended to be used with a sub-woofer for realistic full range music reproduction. However, the Majestic Diamond II can stand on its own merits in a small room. In a larger area, the monitor will benefit from a closer location to the front wall, as the bass response will increase due to boundary reinforcement, yet the tonal balance will not be thrown completely out of kilter. Ideally, this speaker is not intended to be run full range, and a sub-woofer can be brought up to blend with the speaker in the 50 to 80 Hertz range. I listened to the Majestic Diamond II speakers in both configurations in order to get a feel for what the speaker can do by itself, and what it is capable of when paired with a high quality sub-woofer.
Since I have a TBI Audio Millenia MG3 integrated amplifier on hand, it seemed only natural to pair the two pieces together for this review. I found that my Infinity Cascade 15 subwoofer blended nicely with the Majestic Diamond II speakers. Source duties handled by an Audio Magic Kukama DAC and an Enlightened Audio Designs T-1000 transport. ZU Audio Mission series of interconnects, speaker wire, and power cords make all the required connections. Clean and stable AC power is provided by an Audio Magic Mini-Reference power conditioner. The Majestic Diamond II monitor speakers are perched on a pair of 28 inch tall Target one- piece stands. The speakers are spread seven feet apart and four feet from the front wall. I settled on a minimal degree of toe in terms of placement, and the listening position is located nine feet from the speakers.
With only a small amount of trial and error, I was able to find the proper location for the TBI speakers in my listening room. When the Majestic Diamond II monitors were properly situated they simply vanished, and left a panoramic sound stage in their wake. On "Callas Went Away" by Enigma [MCMXC a.D.; Charisma V2-86224] these monitors filled my library with an auditory landscape of sound, with birds and various insects strewn across my front wall; while children ran and shouted across from one side of the room to the other side. As the song progressed, disembodied voices hung in space above the speakers; and percussive instruments sprang up from the spaces vacated by the wildlife. Various synthesized melodies were scattered between the speakers throughout the song, weaving a complex thread throughout the composition. The TBI monitors were chameleon-like, and left no physical impression on the music, or ever betrayed their location in the room. I thoroughly enjoyed the illusion these lovely speakers created with this album.
The Majestic Diamond II speakers do not subscribe to the typical cone and dome configuration, so it is understandable that these monitors present music in a distinctive fashion. Descriptors that would provide insight into the character of the TBI speakers is warm, textured, unforced, and relaxed. This is a speaker that strives for long term listening satisfaction over unearthing the final shred of detail in a recording. Jan has voiced these speakers for a mid-field listening position, so these monitors are comfortable being used in a moderate sized room. When listening to "North Dakota" which is a duet by Lyle Lovett and Rickie Lee Jones, [Joshua Judges Ruth; MCA MCAD-10475] I was appreciative of the refined and relaxed manners of this monitor. This aspect is all the more remarkable when you remember that it is paired with a $500 integrated amplifier. The acoustic guitar passages were full bodied, yet the individual notes were neatly defined. Both Lovett's and Jones' voices had believable weight and texture, and their harmonies were neatly blended together. The piano and various percussive instruments were distinct in their nature, yet never sounded overly detailed, forced, or out of character. The nature of the Majestic Diamond II speaker is to be refined, with impeccable manners, and has clearly received top marks at charm school.
Bass extension on the Majestic Diamond II speakers is respectable given the size of the mid bass driver and cabinet volume, which is in line with what one would expect for a monitor style speaker. TBI Audio lists 40 Hertz at -6dB as the low end range, although from what I hear in my room the speaker has realistic extension down to the 60 hertz range. For instance the cello work on "Amazing Grace" by Michelle Cameron by The Constellations Crew [Hank Cramer and Constellations Crew Back to Sea; Ferryboat Music FBD206] is a perfect example of how a small profile speaker can portray the beauty and immediacy of an acoustic instrument that can reach in the lower registers of music. The lowest notes had body and fullness that provided a reasonably believable presentation of the cello. Complex passages in the higher registers were quick and light, but still maintained those wonderful resonances that define the instruments character. All in all, the TBI speaker did a fine job with this song, and provided an acceptable level of bass output for a speaker of such modest size.
A small profile speaker such as the Majestic Diamond II is capable of satisfying bass response, although it is not capable of reaching the lowest notes contained in some recordings. For this reason a sub-woofer becomes a worthwhile investment for those who require a greater degree of bass extension. In fact, these monitors are designed to be used with the Magellan series of sub-woofers, and this combination represents Jan Plummer's vision of what an affordable high performance speaker system should be. While I do not have a Magellan on hand, I do have an Infinity Cascade 15, which is also a well designed sub-woofer. When setting up this pairing, I allowed the monitors to run full range and naturally roll off in the bass, and the sub-woofer coming in slightly below 60 Hertz. The crossover point between the two speakers was seamless and I achieved a natural integration between the two sections. While the addition of the sub-woofer had the effect of extending the bass response of the TBI monitor, it also provided a greater degree of scale to the music as a whole. On Dave Gruisen's rendition of Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used To Be" [Homage To Duke; GRP Records GRD9715] this speaker combination provides the full scale and weight that this piece demands. The bass guitar was as solid as can be, and the lower registers of the piano had body and weight. The music also had the proper degree of scale as the band hit their stride, the power and authority of the ensemble was completely released. The package of the Majestic Diamond II monitors with a quality sub-woofer is an attractive pairing that can provide full range music reproduction, and can be integrated into a room's decor without being overly intrusive.
The final question I wanted to pose to the Majestic Diamond II speakers was how they handled the typical commercial recordings that perspective owners might want them to play. One morning I took out Rhythm Nation by Janet Jackson, and punched through various tracks. While this is not a disc that would be used by audiophiles for critical listening, by any measure it is a fun album. On the opening track, I found the the instruments and vocals to be cleanly layered, with a nice rendition of front to back depth. The next song was "The Knowledge", and while I found the mix to be slightly tipped up, the TBI speakers never got overly aggressive or strident. Digging a little deeper into this disc, "State of the World" hints at the limitations of the monitors as a stand alone speaker as the bass response did not extend as deep as the song requires. Adding the Infinity subwoofer alleviates this concern, and not only fills in the deep bass tracks, but brings out the fun factor of this song. Moving the Majestic Diamond II closer to the front wall of my listening space also fills in the bass, but nowhere near the level that can be achieved with a quality subwoofer. Where these beauties really shine is on the slow songs, such as "Lonely". Jackson's vocals have an intimate and evocative feel to them, and if I close my eyes it feels like I could reach out and touch her. While this song is also mixed a touch hot, the re-creation of space and presence are all to real through this speaker system. The combination of the Majestic Diamond II speakers and Millenia MG3 amplifier is superb, and is a versatile system that is at home with many types of music.
The TBI Audio Majestic Diamond series of components is evidence that high performance audio systems do not have to be exorbitantly expensive, or dominate a room with their sheer size. One of the primary advantages of all the TBI equipment is their ability to be easily integrated into a wide variety of living situations. The Majestic Diamond II speakers are visually attractive, are not overly fussy about room placement, and offer excellent musical reproduction. The monitors have excellent fit and finish, and contain a great deal of well thought out engineering solutions under that beautiful piano black finish. This monitor has excellent imaging properties and spreads a wide and stable sound stage. The driver integration is remarkable, which means that the overlap between the drivers is seamless and maintains an even tonal balance across its frequency range. The character of the speaker is refined and even keeled, and music that is reasonably well recorded will be relaxed and easy to listen to. As a stand alone speaker the bass response is respectable, but the speaker really does shine when it is coupled with a nice subwoofer. The Majestic Diamond II monitors are easy to blend with a sub, and the end result is a full scale speaker system that is adept at reproducing all types of musical material. For those hobbyists looking for a high value speaker system that is attractive and easy to place in a room, the TBI Majestic Diamond II monitors are worth looking into. John Hoffman
TBI Majestic Diamond II Loudspeakers