JMlab Micron & Micron Carat loudspeaker Page 3

My 1990 Focal Aria 5 review made my feelings about Focal's T90K tweeter a matter of public record. The main thrust of my objections to the sound of this tweeter had to do with what it did wrong in the lower treble and upper mids, where I felt that its sound had the textural equivalent of sandpaper. That Focal was determined to do something about the situation became evident from discussions I'd had with both Joe D'Appolito and Kimon Bellas of Focal America. I was told of forthcoming factory improvements to the T90K, which was to be recycled with at least a couple of internal modifications. These would include venting of the pole piece and damping of the back wave to eliminate reflections and thus provide much-needed smoothing of the upper mids and lower treble.

Thus, I was conditioned to expect that the latest version of the Micron would simply incorporate an improved Kevlar tweeter. Peeling away the grilles, there was, to my surprise, no Kevlar to be seen! The tweeter was still of the inverted-dome variety, but the diaphragm material looked suspiciously like titanium. In fact, the back of the tweeter was stamped with the designation "T90TI."

While I applaud JMlab's technological quest for sonic perfection and their right to alter the design without notice, a complete change-out of one of the drivers clearly goes beyond a simple tweak or iteration of an existing design. To my mind, a revision of this magnitude qualifies as a new model introduction. So, in a sense, what follows are listening impressions of a product I had literally not heard before.

To say that the new Micron was nothing at all like the old one would be an understatement. What a transformation! The titanium Micron pulled the rug from beneath almost everything I've said about the Kevlar version.

Driven by expensive tubed amplifiers (the VAC 90W monoblocks operated in triode mode), the tonal balance struck me as quite reasonable for a minimonitor. That is, still too lean through the lower-mid and upper-bass regions, but evincing sufficient textural warmth through the lower mids to give orchestral music reasonable conviction. Bass extension was decent, and the upper mids were remarkably smooth. Massed strings actually sounded sweet, and the treble was detailed without being bright or etched.

Large-scale orchestral material was reproduced with a tonal and dynamic conviction that I've rarely heard from a minimonitor. Horenstein's inspired reading of the Dvorák Symphony 9 (Chesky CD31) bloomed within the confines of a wide and spacious soundstage. Bass lines were reasonably potent. The lower mids were as full-bodied as any minimonitor design would allow. There was lots of detail being resolved without gratuitous etch or sizzle. The extreme treble sounded open, and treble transients were well controlled. The contrast from soft to very loud was quite remarkable for a little speaker.

The body and soul of a cello, so often emasculated by your typical minimonitor, was given plenty of expression by the Micron. Bruch's Kol Nidrei (ebs 6060) retained much of the cello's body along with the tension and drama of the music. Massed strings sounded luscious. Offenbach's Suite pour Deux Violoncelles (Harmonia Mundi 901043), with Etienne Peclard and Roland Pidoux, came through sweetly and with wonderful spatial presence.

String tone in general sounded smooth and sweet. Arthur Grumiaux's violin overtones (Mozart: Violin Concerto in A, Philips 412 250-2) were inherently sweet, without even a hint of grain or screech.

Stereophile's Test CD provided some very instructive moments. On track 7, one of JGH's recording masterpieces, the chorus in full voice remained under control without that obtrusive bright edge that so often permeates lesser speakers' upper registers. (Folks, if this track gives your system any trouble at all, rest assured that the problem is in your system.) Anna Maria Stanczyk's confident playing of the Chopin Scherzo in b-flat, Op.31 (track 10) was accorded plenty of dynamic room and tonal accuracy. The piano's upper range was smooth, without that jangling, jarring tone common to bright speakers.