(John has been a part time reviewer since 2008, lover of audio longer than that)…
Artisan Audio Mighty Mini Loudspeaker
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I opened the door…
OK, let’s set the scene first. I was informally covering the 2015 Capital Audio Fest in Silver Spring, Maryland, and was close to calling it a day. I’d hit most of the rooms, primarily inhabited by the more established audio manufacturers that an audio reviewer just has to check in with.
This one was a new company that I hadn’t heard of before: Fyssion Audio. Why not, I figured, as I ambled in. Alright, this was different. Instead of the typical serious tomb-like demo room housing silently concentrating audiophiles and fidgeting company representatives, these guys were having a party! Folks were milling around, chatting, laughing, and generally having a good time. Some dude grabbed me, sat me in a chair, and turned on the tunes. The seat started to vibrate and sound came at me from all directions, but all from within the chair! OK, not exactly my thing, but I did notice an array of interesting looking speakers arranged across the front wall. Now my antenna was up, and I started asking questions. In a minute or two I was ushered to the front while a small pair of off-axis speakers was hooked up to an ancient looking amplifier using cheap speaker cable. Now things were getting really interesting.
The next thing I knew, I was engulfed in a huge wall-like wave of sound, all coming from these little tiny speakers…. Just tossed on the floor before me. I laughed out loud when I thought of all the time the “serious” guys take with their measuring tapes and room treatments, tiptoeing around with their SPL meters, making sure everything sounds “just so.”
It’s a good thing I checked my audiophile calling card at the door, or I probably would have just turned around and walked out. Rather, I’m glad I stayed, because the fun in this room was infectious, and it immediately became apparent that the upstart guys running the show here were in it for the love of music and had some really ballsy confidence in the products they were showing.
Cutting to the chase, I spoke at some length with Joe Crosswell (also known as JC), the head of both Fyssion and its parent company, Artisan Audio. Since he was looking for feedback from the audio community about his designs, Joe agreed to hook me up with a pair of demo speakers so I could do some listening in my own environment. Joe ultimately chose to send me Artisan Audio’s Mighty Minis, which he feels are most representative of the overall design goals of the two companies. While I didn’t get to hear the Mighty Minis at the show, I was more than pleased to have the chance to put them through their paces in the comfort of my own listening room.
The first thing you notice when you lay eyes on the Mighty Minis is that they are unique in design. I was struck by their off-axis construction which places drivers on more than one face of the cabinet. More specifically, three full-range drivers are placed on separate planes, each at a 30 degree angle relative to its neighbors. In other words, one driver fires directly out at the listener, while the second, top mounted driver fires upwards at a relative 30 degree angle. A third driver fires inward more toward the center, again at 30 degrees relative to the other two planes.
Of course, off-axis arrangement of drivers in a speaker cabinet is nothing new. Long-time audiophiles will probably be aware of other successful companies that have employed similar designs. Shahinian Acoustics and Direct Acoustics are two such entities that immediately come to mind, and there must be something to this concept since company owners Richard Shahinian and Winslow Burhoe are two of the longest-standing, innovative, and respected designers in the business. I also know this from my own experience, as I have owned and regularly used Shahinian’s off-axis Compass speakers for the past 15 years or so.
According to Joe Crosswell, the off-axis design is only one part of the story. Another aspect that he brings to the table in his designs is the full-range driver. As far as I know, this combination is unique, as it offers in tandem with the off-axis geometry the advantage of eliminating complex crossover circuitry while increasing driver efficiency. The final ingredient is the secret one: something called the Trinity Engine. It’s a patent-pending design that supposedly combines careful cabinet design and driver placement to actually enhance the driver efficiency and power by constructively utilizing the back wave created when the driver moves in a piston-like fashion in the cabinet.
What’s the final result, you ask? In the fewest words possible, the listener gets a huge, lively, and engulfing sound. If you are accustomed to more pedestrian speakers using only forward-firing drivers, I’ll warn you that the Mighty Minis are different enough in their sonic presentation that they might take some time to get used to, so please don’t be too quick to judge.
If you’re making the transition to the Mighty Minis, one thing you will probably note, and likely initially check as a demerit, would be their somewhat “diffuse” sound. Experienced listeners tend to define loudspeakers in terms of their ability to throw a deep, wide soundstage with specific images of instruments or performers locked within it. Indeed, that’s one of the aural tricks that well-recorded (and well reproduced…) stereo is really good at, and it’s mesmerizingly intriguing. And fun to hear when done right. However, this typical stereo reproduction may not be truly representative spatially of what a listener in a real concert venue might actually hear. In short, we like our stereo reproduction to sound like, well… Stereo. It’s kind of like enjoying a hologram, but realizing that it’s nothing like viewing a real three-dimensional vista.
I’d hope that all serious music lovers (and most audiophiles) regularly get to hear live, un-amplified music in a real acoustic. Think for a moment how it sounds. Do you get overly involved in worrying about whether the sound of the oboe in a symphony orchestra comes from a specific position in the soundstage? Do we worry about how much acoustic “air” surrounds said instrument? Of course not, and here’s why. In a real concert venue, sound radiates spherically from each point source (e.g., instrument or performer), blending with other sounds as it travels. Unless you’re seated right up front, the sound you hear has probably been reflected off walls, floors, and ceilings, been absorbed by people and their clothing, and corrupted in any number of other such ways. And that’s ok, because we accept all of this as part of the real and emotional listening experience; that same experience that we claim to try to re-capture with our fancy stereo rigs.
I mention all of this to emphasize that the purpose of the Mighty Minis is to try to re-create a more “real” experience as opposed to a synthesized one. A lot of us may not like this at first, because we simply don’t associate it with listening to a good audio system. But listen for awhile, and it just might grow on you. The point here is to surround the listener with accurately reproduced music which conveys the experience and emotion of the actual event.
My past experience with off-axis speaker designs has led me to believe that there is a great deal of flexibility in how the listener may choose to set them up. I found this to be true of the Mighty Minis as well. They aren’t terribly large, maybe comparable in size to a medium-sized conventional stand mounted speaker. They can be placed directly on the floor or up on stands; near room boundaries or away from them. I chose to place the speakers up on 15-inch Sound Anchor stands, well away from rear and side walls. Also, since reflections do play a role here, I opted to listen a little farther out than I normally do. A bit of height helps to both clean up the bass response (though it does decrease bass response a bit due to less floor coupling) and raise the soundstage somewhat, both of which I found preferable. Another option to consider is whether the side-firing drivers should be directed more inward toward the listener, or outward toward the walls. I experimented with both setups and ended up opting for drivers facing inward, as this positioning gave a meatier and more substantially present center image.
As I implied previously, the Mighty Min
is throw a positively huge soundstage. The music almost engulfs the listener, making him or her an integral part of the experience. In this sense, the speakers beg you to run the volume up, just to get more of the performance. Specific images are rounder and larger than I’m accustomed to when using more conventional speakers, and they have more of a tendency to “float” sideways as I change my listening position, thus lessening the importance of the audiophile “sweet spot.” As an example, the solo soprano in Lux Aeterna from John Rutter’s Requiem, as performed by the Turtle Creek Chorale (Reference Recordings), while portrayed deep in the soundscape, took on a more voluminous and less defined presence than I’m used to. However, she was tonally spot on, and I could easily hear her voice resonating off the walls of the recording venue and back toward the listener. In general, voices were richly ornamented in their harmonic structure, and I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay and blending of large choral pieces.
Another positive aspect of the speakers that I enjoyed was their sense of coherence, which was seamless from top to bottom of the sound spectrum. Much of the credit here, I’m certain, must go to the full-range drivers employed. Bass was a tad on the light side, but I’d rather it err in that direction than toward the overly full and tubby. Bass freaks could always add a subwoofer if needed, though I never felt the immediate need to do so. As I write this, I’m surrounded by the harmonically full midrange offered up in my 1963 Columbia stereo recording of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht tone poem (LP, Columbia M2S 694, digitally archived). The Mighty Mini speakers really do justice to a complex string arrangement like this one, letting me hear the minute details in the recording while also effectively preserving the lushness and blending of the ensemble as it would be heard in a real venue. Treble is rich and textured as well, and nicely representative of what is actually captured on the recording.
Returning to the unique spatial characteristics of the Mighty Minis, I was nearly stunned by how interesting they can make monophonic recordings sound. I’ve always appreciated (and actually prefer) the intimacy offered by monophonic recordings of small jazz ensembles. However, I’ve never really been able to get into mono recordings of large scale symphonic works, primarily because of the limited soundstage, which I refer to as the “mono blob.” While the Mighty Minis were hooked up, I became the recipient of a musical friend’s collection of golden age vinyl, much of which consisted of monophonic orchestral and choral recordings. While listening to some of these, I was gobsmacked by the huge and natural soundstage offered up. OK, mono didn’t exactly sound like stereo, but it didn’t sound like vanilla flavored mono any more either. It sounded big and natural, like I was listening to the orchestra perform in a real space.
Take, for example, a 1950s era mono recording of Hindemith’s Clarinet Concerto on English Angel/EMI vinyl. The soundstage is both deep and wide, and the timbre of the clarinet is oh so nicely fleshed out. I’d almost be fooled into thinking I was listening to a stereo recording if I didn’t know better.
The Mighty Minis are quite sensitive to amplifier pairings. I’ve done most of my listening with my reference Merrill Audio Thor monoblocks, which put out 200 watts per side. While the Minis appear to be quite sensitive as speaker loads go, they didn’t seem to mind the power. I got a nice, harmonically rich, somewhat laid back, yet detailed presentation which is typical of these amplifiers. I also spent time with the much less expensive new Technics Premium SU-C700 integrated amplifier, and it provided a different sound altogether. While less harmonically rich, it provided some nice get-up-and-go that the Mighty Minis seemed to appreciate, especially for those who really crave the pace, rhythm, and timing thing. An audiophile buddy was over listening the other day when I had the Technics amp hooked up, and he felt that the speakers sounded a bit lean. He unfortunately didn’t get to hear them with the Merrill amps running the show, but I think the presentation would have been more to his liking. Even so, he was impressed with the clarity of female voice as rendered by the Mighty Minis.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the physical features of the speakers. I’m overall pretty impressed with the implementation of the design, as well as some of the smaller, but highly practical engineering details. For example, each driver is covered with a circular grille which is held in place by multiple strategically placed magnets. To remove the grille, just grab it and rotate it few degrees, and it pops right off. I also really like the overall fit-n-finish, especially for a prototype such as this pair. The glossy piano black finish is quite spectacular, and the underlying woodwork seems to be top notch as well. It’s obvious that the folks who build these speakers take pride not only in their sound, but also their appearance.
In the end, I’d have to say that the Mighty Minis won’t satisfy everyone in the audiophile community, but then again, what single pair of speakers do? They’re unique, and they do things a bit differently from what most of us are accustomed to. The trick is to open your ears (and mind), spend some time listening, and see if they are really do the trick for you. If you are a true music lover looking for a good facsimile of the real event, I’m guessing you may well walk away impressed.
I’ll be watching Fyssion/Artisan Audio closely and looking forward to seeing where their unique approach to speaker design takes them next. In the meantime, check out their present designs and see if there is one that might scratch your musical itch right now.