One glance at the SteinMusic HighLine Bobby M speakers lets you know they aren’t typical transducers. First off, it’s not every day you see horns, especially here in the U.S. of A., let alone my review samples’ shiny, fire-engine-red-lacquered ones (here charged with high-frequency duties). Second, to a casual observer the Bobby M might appear to be a floorstander, but it actually comprises two entirely separate enclosures—the entry-level, two-way Bobby S (for Small) monitor seated atop an “atypical” bass-reflex Bobby Bass Extension—that essentially function as a single unit. The Bobby and Bobby Bass Extension sell for $7000 per pair each.
Stein’s Bobby speakers are modular: The M (for Medium) designation actually refers to the duo under review. But if you stack two bass extension units per channel, with one atop the Bobby S monitor and the second beneath it, you’ll have a Bobby L (for Large). The Bobby M and its myriad configurations are uniquely striking-looking and wonderfully musical-sounding transducers that actually make good sense when you break them down—or, should I say, when you put them together. The M could claim to provide the best of two worlds: the convenience of a compact with the bass benefits of a floorstander. And the sound! The Bobby M system offers smooth treble response, sans any etching or beaminess, coupled with abundant midrange microdynamics and seamlessly integrated low-end extension for full-range playback in a smallish setup.
Compared with larger floorstanding speakers, many smaller monitors have plenty going for them. They tend to be compact in size and more placement-friendly, not to mention less costly. Although their strong suits often include clarity, coherence, and capable soundstaging, lower-octave output will be limited. Sure, you can add a subwoofer (or two), but that introduces more complexities of integration, room placement, etc. SteinMusic’s perfectly matched, passive Bass Extension units with built-in crossovers offer a simple and practical solution for easy integration, both spatially and sonically. The bass modules are designed to stack below the monitor and also to serve as, well, a bass base of the correct height—no stands required. The bass modules completely isolate the lower frequencies from the upper ones, which results in fewer resonances and cleaner sound, as well as greater coherence. If you feel the urge to “downsize”—even temporarily—you can simply disconnect and/or remove the bass extension units and play music through the S monitors all by themselves. You’ll need speaker stands, of course, or at least somewhere solid to place the S’s. (I’ll say more about the monitors later.)
These entry units of the Bobby Series are designed to offer a flexible solution in subtler ways, as well. The S monitors have two sets of terminals each and each bass module has a single pair, so the M configuration can be bi-wired, bi-amped, tri-wired, or even run single-wired. (SteinMusic includes jumpers/bridges to connect the mid and bass terminals, though my review pair happened to arrive without them, so I used others I had on-hand.) Stein indicated that bi-wiring is the preferred configuration, so that’s what I chose, with spade connections attached to both the HF driver and the bass unit on each speaker side.
The designer behind these speakers is Holger Stein, whose fertile imagination and passion for music—hence the SteinMusic name—has spawned an extensive and eclectic lineup of products over the past 30-plus years. The Mülheim, Germany, company not only makes speakers but also amps, preamps, wires, and a wide range of analog room-sound-and-treatment accessories that must be among the most mysterious and esoteric out there. You could say Stein’s room treatments are a bit New Agey (crystal and gem usage inside the H2 Room Acoustic System, specially shaped wooden Quantum Organizers, and small adhesive E-Pads, for instance). But damned if I and many of my music-loving visitors haven’t heard radical improvements—or at least very apparent changes—in A/B tests. Beyond the high-end-audio sector, SteinMusic’s clientele also includes well-known concert halls and musicians. (See sidebar for more on SteinMusic.)
Unsurprisingly, his speakers incorporate tweaks for fine-tuning. On the back panel of the S monitors are two tiny levers labeled “Slope” and “Level.” The former, as you might expect, pertains to the crossover slope between the tweeter and woofer. Per your room response and character, and your own sonic preferences, you can select a steeper or shallower slope for less or more substance in the mids. The latter switch (Level) tweaks the tweeter output for greater or lesser brilliance or emphasis in accordance with your system’s amplification and your listening room, notably how damped it is (or not). I experimented with these small switches, but most of the time kept them in the same positions, the Slope one “up” (I’m somewhat sensitive to treble/brightness) and the Level one “down” (my room is less damped and has high concrete ceilings). In my room I found the differences the switches made were relatively subtle, though, as one might expect, on certain recordings they were more pronounced than on others. I also felt the switches effected more noticeable changes on certain acoustic or more sparely orchestrated recordings, and when playing the monitors (the Bobby S’s) alone (i.e., without the Bass Extension units).
A closer inspection of the Bobby S monitor reveals a pair of small round ports on either side of and slightly behind each horn. The tweeter horn comprises a high-tech fiberglass composite coated in Stein’s proprietary, carbon-enhanced Maestro lacquer to enhance the speaker’s aesthetic and sonic properties for smoother response. Just below the horn-loaded tweeter is a mid/bass dynamic driver (which also serves as a midrange driver when the Bobby S is paired with the perfectly matched passive Bobby Bass Extension unit). The Bobby M configuration under review could be called a two-and-a-half-way.