SteinMusic High Line Bobby M Loudspeaker

Dynamic Duo

Equipment report
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SteinMusic High Line Bobby M Loudspeaker

The crossovers employ oil-impregnated Mundorf film capacitors that Stein custom-processes in-house. Interestingly, both the Bobby S and the Bass Extension units use identical 6-inch drivers—one serves as the monitor’s midrange (or mid/bass if the S is used alone) and the other two deliver bass in the extension units. Their diaphragms are carbon-coated natural-fiber cones. 

The cabinets were lighter weight than I expected, which made them easier than most to unbox and move into position, but caution is in order should you accidentally bump into them. They’re cleverly designed and contain no internal damping material. (Stein believes that damping sucks energy out of the music.) Their structure is asymmetrical to minimize standing waves—wider at the back than in the front in a precisely defined ratio. The Bass Extension cabinet has a vent in the lower front, opening onto bass-reflex tunnels of gradually increasing diameter for better contouring and control of the lower frequencies. Radiation resistance also improves. 

Finishes come in bold combinations of black and white—my review samples were white with red horns. The horns are available in all RAL colors, so if you want it to match your décor or even your car, you’re in luck. The round feet on both units are made of solid walnut, and those on the Bobby S monitors nestle nicely within mahogany contact surface “cutouts” on top of the bass cabinets. It didn’t appear that there was a way to adjust the feet on the Bass Extension units.

Of course, it’s not just the system’s slick, sleek looks that command attention. SteinMusic speakers certainly have a distinctive house visual style, but how about the company’s house sound? Whenever I’ve encountered SteinMusic systems at audio shows, I’ve been consistently struck by how natural, immediate, open, and airy the presentation was, even coming from Stein’s largest flagships. What’s more, the Steins have always displayed a degree of coherence not always found in speakers with so many drivers—and of different types, no less. The far more compact Bobby S, M, and L units were developed following in the footsteps of Stein’s larger, open-baffle models, with the object of keeping their basic “familial” sonic traits intact—no small feat given their differences in dimensions (and price). These li’l offsprings’ sonic achievements would make their parent speakers proud. Stein’s primary focus on presenting the music itself and maintaining its purity in a natural way really comes through. I’ve come to associate SteinMusic loudspeakers with a sense of immediacy and ease, an open, freed-up feeling in playback, along with microdynamics that support music’s energy. 

I auditioned the Bobby High Line M speaker with a couple of integrated amplifiers in different price categories, the higher-end MBL Noble Line N51 and the more affordable Hegel H90 with integral DAC. Both played well with the 4-ohm Bobby M, though as you might expect the N51’s 380Wpc (into 4 ohms) generally delivered fuller, more robust sound with more meat on the bones on “richer” recordings. That’s not to say the H90 tended toward leanness—it still boasted plenty of substance and presence but with just a bit sparer and more delicate character. Given that the MBL’s price is more on a par with that of the speaker and that the Stein system seemed to demand more substantial power to show its best, overall I preferred the N51 with the Bobby M, and the listening examples here played back on that amp.

Starting with the N51 and spinning some vinyl on a Clearaudio Performance DC Wood turntable with Tracer tonearm, Talisman MC cartridge, and Balance phonostage, I dug deep and chose a 10-minute jam of full-on funk—“Agboju Logun” from Shina Williams & His African Percussionists off the Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970’s Funky Lagos LP [Strut Records]. This cut’s talking drum part wowed me—it was perhaps the best reproduction I’d heard of that instrument, so expressive were its 3-D body, skin, and subtle tones. The Bobby M system’s propensity for speed and freed-up open sound complemented the full ensemble’s multi-layers and polyrhythms—percussion, saxes, brass, the whole works. But where would funk be without proper bass? The Bass Extension pairings served up the deeper octaves with articulate smoothness and coherence. Even on Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” there was just enough bass augmentation to render the drop buzzy and satisfying. But don’t expect to get subwoofer-style subterranean octaves; we’re talking about an extension for a two-way monitor—albeit a highly capable one with good control.

As mentioned earlier, during my critical listening I experimented a bit with the switches for Slope and Level, and in general left them in the position of the former “up” and the latter “down.” But I noticed the differences in settings more on Sharon Van Etten’s “Jupiter 4,” an atmospheric track that swirls around and envelops you. Here, the Level switch in the “up” position seemed to project her haunting vocals and the cymbal taps into the foreground, heightening their definition. Maybe this also helped sharpen their transient attacks in the upper midrange? With the switch in the “down” position, both Van Etten’s voice and the cymbals blended more into the mix for a more ethereal presentation. On “Don’t Wait Too Long” from Madeleine Peyroux’s Careless Love MoFi LP, I had similar impressions with the Level “up” position: Her vocals shifted forward in the soundstage and increased in clarity, and there was more emphasis on the snare brushstrokes, taps, and textures; with Level “down” these elements were more in balance and imaged closer to the same plane.

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