With jazzy material, such as Diana Krall Live in Paris on ORG’s excellent 45rpm LP, vocals registered as smooth, present, and quite realistic. While I wouldn’t call the soundstage the deepest or widest I’ve heard—these are mini-monitors, after all—the sense of venue was portrayed admirably well, with instruments placed where they should have been (given the scale here). There’s an openness, size, and spaciousness to the Bonsai presentation that’s surprising and pleasing. Krall’s piano on “Deed I Do” was reproduced with quick-footed transient attacks and good verisimilitude—ditto Jeff Hamilton’s crisp snare delivery. On top I detected a slight softening on some cymbal taps, an almost lispy effect—but this was a rare occurrence. John Clayton’s upright bass seemed slightly recessed at times, but I suspect this might well have been in part because of the way it was miked. There may have been a touch of brightness to the piano’s upper registers, but then I’m sensitive to brightness. I’m picking nits—the Krall LP was overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Next I spun Buena Vista Social Club’s eponymous album; this one is also packed with midrange delights but contains more complex layering of instruments than the Krall disc. Here, right from the “Chan Chan” opener, the snare had energetic snap and speed while the multifarious percussion instruments were distinct and well defined. Shakers and various hand-drums displayed lovely delicacy and detail. Muted cornet sounded richly lifelike, as did Ibrahim Ferrer’s lively tenor. Again, the Bonsai’s pacey nimbleness carried the day; the counterpoint to which is reduced power-and bass-range color and impact. (Given the inherent limits of a single-driver in a very small box, this must be considered part and parcel of the Bonsai experience. Bass doesn’t go much below 100Hz and thins down well above that point.) Yes, not all of the usual high-octane gusto of this energetic album was conveyed—it could have used a dash more hot salsa in the mix. Still, the sound was quite enjoyably realistic where the speakers played.
OK, I must admit I wasn’t expecting rock ’n’ roll to blow me away with the Bonsais, but my old promo copy of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on a 12-inch single (remember those?) did just that. Wow! I almost had to turn the volume down, but it was too much fun to listen loud. The whole mix came alive—from the excitement of the initial hard-hitting drum attacks to the bold, resonant swagger of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar to the synth effects flickering between right and left channels, to Bowie’s expressive vocals, with claves clean and crisp as you please. It was hard to believe that such huge and impactful sound was coming from these little boxes with their little drivers. (Indeed I have been fooled at shows more than once into thinking that other, larger speakers were playing when it was the li’l Bonsais sitting beside them that were doing the deed!) I just about leapt up off my couch following Bowie’s lead.
I feel compelled to share one more notable listening example: Analogue Productions’ superb 45rpm reissue of Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer, which sounded terrific with the Bonsais, “Good Morning School Girl” and “You Gonna Need My Help,” in particular. The rapid-fire attacks of Clifton Jones’ snare were suitably snappy; Muddy’s vocals were realistic and reproduced with the slight reverb I’m accustomed to hearing; the Bonsais even recovered some studio ambience, drawing me deeper into a classic taped more than half a century ago. Imaging was also impressive, as was the resolution of the details and textures of these spare arrangements—the guitar strings’ subtle squeaks, the growls of Muddy’s voice.
The Bonsai AL-05 mini-monitors offer an extremely pleasing mix of tube-like bloom, nimble pace, snappy transients (particularly in the midband), impressively wide dispersion, and the octave-to-octave timbral and dynamic coherence that only a single-driver speaker has to this degree, coupled with higher-than-expected resolution of detail. Whatever shortcomings exist at the frequency extremes, they are more than made up for by the monitor’s three-dimensionality. Transients are quite fast even if their leading edges aren’t always razor-sharp.
While I wouldn’t describe the Bonsais as highest-resolution speakers, they do present a remarkable degree of detail (especially on well-recorded source material), far more than one would expect for their size and type. But, oh, their presence and dimensionality! Those combined with their big, full soundstage (and almost complete disappearing act) make them winners that exceed expectations across most criteria. Where they’re intended to play, they play exceedingly well, and (not surprisingly) the midrange is their strong suit. As such, and given their petite dimensions, these might make a good choice for a secondary setup, say in a study or a bedroom.
I’d imagine that Japan’s smaller-scale living quarters must have influenced the Bonsai’s development. They certainly fulfill the desire for large-scale sound in a small, yet beautiful package.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Single-driver mini-monitor
Driver complement: 10cm (4") full-range driver
Frequency response: 70Hz–20kHz (-10dB)
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 170mm x 270mm x 220mm
Weight: 5 kg (approx. 11 lbs.)
AXISS AUDIO (U.S. Distributor)
17800 South Main St., Suite 109
Gardena, CA 90248
Associated Equipment (specific to this review)
Amplifier: Air Tight ATM-1S stereo amplifier
Source: Acoustic Signature Challenger 3 with TA-1000 tonearm, Air Tight PC-7 cartridge
Phonostage preamplifier: Soulution 520
Power conditioner and power cords: Ansuz
Cables and interconnects: Shunyata Research Venom series, AudioQuest Fire, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream
Equipment racks and amplifier stands: Critical Mass Systems Maxxum
Acoustic treatment: Stein Music