Review: CEntrance Audiophile Desktop System Page 2

The Speakers

The DACmini's been around for a little while already, so the real story in the ADS is the MasterClass 2504 speaker pair. These piano-finished, front ported, two-way desktops are based on what CEntrance calls "coplanar-coaxial technology," centering the woofer and tweeter on the same axis, and placing their surfaces in the same plane.

We've seen plenty of coaxial designs over the years (and even a few other coaxial/ coplanar models, most notably in Thiel's Small Coherent Source series, the KEF Uni-Q, and the Tannoy Dual Concentric driver). Thiel's goal had been to produce a phase-coherent speaker without resorting to DSP intervention; similarly, CEntrance claims that their design eliminates time alignment and phase coherence issues, getting close to a point-source ideal.

In CEntrance's design, the voice coils of the woofer and tweeter share a magnet, and are placed within the same housing; the whole structure is mounted in a single frame. A passive crossover (also a custom CEntrance design) gets the highs and lows where they need to go.

These are probably the smallest and least expensive coplanar/coaxial speakers on the US market at this point (the somewhat larger Uni-Q based KEF R100 bookshelf (which will handle more power) retails for $1,200/pair; there are some affordable Tannoys in the pro channel, but US distribution of their consumer gear is a little murky these days.

Performance

I put the DACmini PX and 2504s through its paces using a few sources that I figured would be typical use cases: a MacBook, iMac, and iPad 2 (via Camera Connector Kit - all of CEntrance's USB DACs support iPad use, by the way, and kudos to them for making this happen) were hooked up via USB; a Pro-Ject dock also channeled my iPad's output via coaxial S/PDIF; I also fed both the coax and analog line inputs with a long-in-the-tooth but still good sounding Denon CD/SACD/DVD-Audio player.

Performance was, shall we say, impressive for a small desktop system. While the 2504 is designed for near field listening at reasonable volume levels, its prodigious output means it could certainly perform room-filling duties as a complete bookshelf system in a smaller space.

Once placement was taken care of - CEntrance cautions agains having these too far back on your desktop, to avoid having an expanse of flat, reflective surface directly ahead of the speakers - things immediately began sounding mighty fine. I placed them on the forward edge of a desk; short stands would probably be a good idea if you don't have the luxury. I toed the speakers in just a tad, but left-right positioning wasn't too difficult, as the 2504's aren't overly fussy about placement), stereo imaging was spot-on. These could easily be repurposed as small bookshelf units - for a near-field, the sweet spot is fairly wide, which contributes to my feeling that the system could easily do double duty as a bookshelf system for a small residential space or office.

Overall, performance is excellent and uncolored. Male and female voices - I checked with Rebecca Pidgeon's "The Raven" (title track of the Chesky SACD) and David Johansen's take on "James Alley Blues" (from the David Johansen and the Harry Smiths Chesky SACD) - came through with flying (lack of) colors, there was perhaps the slightest tinge of graininess in the midrange when levels were really pushed, but the absence of audible distortion at real-world levels was notable and appreciated.

One caveat: there's not a ton of bass on tap here. Tina Weymouth's bass on "The Great Curve" from a 24/96 FLAC of Talking Heads' Remain in Light was tight and focused, but still felt a little lacking in the bottom octave; via the headphone amp (driving a pair of HiFiMan HE-500s) the ultra-low register impact was more present. Still, we're talking about a miniscule pair of speakers here, and within reasonable expectations and the laws of physics, the ADS puts out plenty of bottom end.

I cranked up a 16/44.1 FLAC of the title track of King Crimson's Red and was shocked by how ballsy the little system was - it easily reached deafening levels in an average-sized office space (roughly 12 feet by 10 feet) here at S+V HQ - loud enough that conversation was impossible - and there was headroom to spare (the speakers are definitely well-matched with the PX's output stage). Meshuggah's "The Demon's Name is Surveillance" (from the Koloss CD) was fine at reasonable volumes, but got squashed in the upper reaches of the volume knob. But at top volume, the low-end energy of those twin 8-string guitars and double kick drums just wanted bigger speakers - but all told, the 2504s did very well even at the outer edges of their comfort zone.

But more importantly, playing back at more reasonable volumes - quietly on the desktop, flanking a monitor on short stands, toed in slightly - sound quality and imaging is superb. You don't need to crank these things.

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