Survey: Three Small Monitors from Definitive, CEntrance, and GoldenEar

Less Can Be More

Equipment report
CEntrance MasterClass 2504 ,
Definitive Technology StudioMonitor 45,
GoldenEar Technology Aon 3
Survey: Three Small Monitors from Definitive, CEntrance, and GoldenEar
CEntrance MasterClass 2504 Monitor
Chicago-based CEntrance started as an audio-engineering consulting company, but has since branched out to manufacture a range of innovative music products, some targeted for the prosound world, some geared for serious desktop audio enthusiasts, and a few—such as the MasterClass 2504 mini-monitors reviewed here—that appeal to both communities. In creating the 2504, CEntrance hoped to build a nearfield speaker accurate and revealing enough for monitoring applications, but refined and soulful enough to please audiophiles. Most of all, they wanted a monitor that would deliver exceptional imaging and soundstaging in desktop applications.
The 2504 is a small, bass-reflex monitor that incorporates a CEntrance-designed 4-inch coaxial/coplanar mid/bass/tweeter array said to eliminate arrival time delays between the driver elements (not all coaxial drivers are coplanar, and thus not timealigned as the CEntrance driver is). The crossover network, in turn, uses “audiophile-grade capacitors,” air-coil inductors wound from oxygen-free copper wire, and special “low-leakage” printed circuit boards to “minimize phase shift, frequency nonlinearity, and resulting distortion.” Thoughtful touches abound.
The 2504’s require about 20 hours of run-in time and extremely careful placement. CEntrance’s manual advises that the speakers “truly open up if they are positioned in such a way that there is no horizontal surface right in front of them” (italics are mine). CEntrance thus recommends placing the speakers either at the front edges of desks or on short stands at least 1–1.5 feet from nearby walls. I would add that listeners should elevate the 2504s so that their coaxial drivers are at ear level; in fact, this step is the crucial key to unlocking the speakers’ superb imaging capabilities.
The 2504s offer neutral and accurate voicing suitable for monitoring applications, yet voicing that also offers a gentle hint of natural warmth which keeps the speakers from sounding cold, analytical, or sterile. Mids are sophisticated and nuanced, while upper mids and highs sound delicate and extended, with a touch of natural sweetness. The only caveat is that you might occasionally hear faint traces of a subtle horn-like coloration on hard-edged upper midrange/treble transients (perhaps a lowlevel interaction between the coaxial driver’s tweeter and mid/bass cone?). Happily, though, this is a minor flaw that’s rarely evident.
Bass extends to a lower limit of about 50Hz, which doesn’t sound impressive on paper, but turns out to be perfectly adequate for nearfield listening. Some bass connoisseurs might wish for a smidgeon more lowfrequency damping, but I personally respect and admire the balance CEntrance has chosen, which offers low-end detail and definition on one hand, with pleasing natural weight and warmth on the other.
The 2504s offer good levels of detail and resolution, excellent transient speed, and a sure-handed way with low-level and larger-scale shifts in dynamic emphasis. But by far their most impressive qualities are their tightly focused imaging and vivid 3-D soundstaging. Expect to hear wide, deep soundstages unfold far behind and beyond these tiny desktop speakers.
To hear these qualities in action, put on “Aphrodite” from Robert Paterson’s The Book of Goddesses [American Modern Recordings], a piece written for and performed by the Maya trio, which features harp, flute, and percussion. Impressively, the 2504s showed many of the positive qualities I’ve heard from far more expensive speakers on this track, meaning that the harp sounded lithe, agile, and luminous; the flute sounded breathy, round, and resonant; and the percussion instruments sounded taut, incisive, and full of rhythmic drive.
More importantly, the 2504s captured the “air” surrounding the instruments and the elusive sense of performers playing in a real three-dimensional space—qualities conveyed through masterful reproduction of very lowlevel spatial and reverberant cues in the music. In simple terms, it’s the 2504’s ability to “go 3-D” on command (when recordings permit) that gives this speaker an element of greatness.
While the 2504s can’t play at headbanger levels, they can handle the demands of rock music pretty well—assuming you use them, as intended, for nearfield listening. You won’t hear the thumping, overblown bass favored by some rock fans, but the CEntrance’s sheer clarity, power, and expressiveness may win you over nevertheless. On well-recorded electric guitar solos, for example, such as those served up by bluesman Hadden Sayers on Hard Dollar [Blue Corn Music], you’ll find Sayer’s Fender Strat sounds satisfyingly scorching and evocative through these little boxes.
For nearfield listening, I think CEntrance’s MasterClass 2504s are tough to beat; in fact, they are among the most sophisticated and satisfying desktop monitors that $499 can buy.