JMlab Micron & Micron Carat loudspeaker Page 4

Finally, the Lesley Test (track 13) was reproduced with very good focus and timbral accuracy. Lesley's upper registers sounded a bit dry, but that's exactly how the CD compares to the master tape. Although the recording was made in a fairly dry acoustic (Stereophile's listening room, with additional Sonex panels around the mike position), the master tape possesses a much greater sense of immediacy and warmth by comparison with the CD.

The Micron was able to punch through the soundstage veiling that I find endemic to inexpensive loudspeakers, making the resolution of hall sound quite easy for the listener. A prime example is Dorian's Greensleeves (DOR-90126) with Julianne Baird. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall afforded Ms. Baird the opportunity to float phrases and then harmonize with the hall reverb. This interplay of direct and indirect sound adds considerably to the charm of the music. The Micron exposed these intricacies effortlessly. Also, Julianne's upper registers sounded smooth, her image outlines nicely focused within the soundstage. All of which brings me to the topic of reproduction of female voice.

Cleo Laine's image (Live at Carnegie Hall, RCA LPL1-5015) was nicely focused, with very good transparency. Her upper registers were texturally smooth and well-behaved, without spit, sizzle, or sibilant emphasis. To be sure, the slight brightness inherent in the recording came through, but without added exaggeration. Anna Moffo's singing of selected arias (RCA LSC-2504) is truly a thing of beauty. I find her upper registers to be a mesmerizing, irresistible melánge of timbral velvet and purity. The Micron took care of Anna's upper registers with tender loving care.

Walton's Belshazzar's Feast (EMI SAN-324) gives the chorus plenty of dynamic headroom. Although the Micron sounded a bit strained when the chorus was in full voice, it behaved reasonably, sparing me the screeching and shouting some speakers evince on this sort of program material.

During LP playback, it was easier to push the Micron over the edge of comfort in terms of dynamic contrasts; in general, it sounded more labored than when playing CDs. Woofer-cone pumping was noted, indicative of the speaker's inability to deal with subsonic garbage. Such behavior is typical of all such bass-reflex designs with highish box resonances, where the woofer is unloaded in the deep bass and afforded no damping or protection from large subsonic excursion. Use of a good subsonic filter with this speaker would be worthwhile, especially for analog playback.

In two important ways, the sound of the new Micron reminds me very much of that of the Celestion SL600Si (which admittedly I haven't auditioned for some years). The performance of the much more expensive Celestion is nearly equaled in terms of lower-midrange transparency and imaging precision. Overall, I would easily take the Micron over the Celestion; the Micron's tonal balance is much more realistic. (I have little patience for the Celestion's laid-back midrange and closed-in treble.) In contrast to the dark-sounding Celestion, the Micron is neutrally balanced through the midband, and as a bonus comes equipped with an open-sounding treble that seems like a burst of sunshine after the Celestion's dark cloud. The Micron also sounds more dynamic and not so obviously congested through the midrange. This is especially important for the realistic reproduction of wide-range orchestral works.

The JMlab Micron is one small speaker that I could live with. It transcends some, though not all, of the limitations of the minimonitor genre. There is no deep bass to speak of, and the midbass is perhaps a tad lean, but the lower mids are dynamic and harmonically quite convincing—at least with a tube amp. The upper mids are sweet and texturally smooth. The treble is detailed and quick without being etched in flavor or obtrusive in nature. At its asking price of about $600/pair, the Micron offers a performance/price ratio well above that of the competition. In plain English, this is one hell of a bargain.—Dick Olsher

Footnote 1: Bright speakers sell well in the low-fi and mid-fi arenas, probably because they compete so effectively for the attention of the buyer in the dealer's sound room. With little more than his TV and his in-car system as a reference, and certainly almost no live musical experience, it is quite easy for the novice to fall prey to those speakers that scream the loudest. Don't you make that mistake.—Dick Olsher