The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is not just an insider’s peek at what’s new and exciting in the field; it’s also a four-day sprint that challenges even the most intrepid reporter’s endurance and spirit. However, as I dragged a pair of very tired dogs towards the ProAc room this past January, my overloaded ears signaled that they were hearing something eerily familiar and musically satisfying. “I know that sound,” I mumbled to no one in particular. It was a sound I’d rarely heard since I let go of my original Response Two—that old ProAc magic. The speaker, it turned out, was ProAc’s newest Response model, the D Two.
ProAc speakers and I have had a steady affair that goes back to my earliest days in the high end. From the sinewy, miniscule Tablette to the broad-chested Studio 3 to the sweetly balanced and lyrical Response Two (a sale I regret to this day), the designs of founder Stewart Tyler have always perked up my ears and opened wide a fresh window onto the music. Of course, there’ve been some hiccups along the way that have caused me to question a model or two, but taken as a whole ProAc speakers encapsulate what the magic of high-end audio is all about.
The Response D Two is a compact two-way in a bass-reflex enclosure. Its profile is classic ProAc from the small lip at the front base to the inset Michel rhodium-plated bi-wire posts in back. As per tradition, the soft dome tweeter is offset on the front baffle. For the D Two, it’s also been increased in size to a 1″ (up from the ¾” unit of old). The larger tweeter also allows the crossover point to be set slightly lower. Replacing the polypropylene midbass driver of fifteen years ago is a 6.5″ midbass driver sourced from ProAc’s current D15 floorstander. It’s a woven-glass-fiber diaphragm with copper phase plug and the SEAS Excel magnet system that uses heavy copper rings above and below the gap to reduce eddy currents and distortion. The cocktail-straw-filled “resistive port” of the past has been replaced by a more familiar open port. The straw port produced some high-Q resonances in the low bass, although it excelled at restricting port noise. Overall, ProAc believes the open-port technique is a superior solution.
Time and technology have trimmed some weight from the enclosure, but at a mere 17″ tall the D Two is one stout little compact. In a telephone conversation, Stewart Tyler spoke about the most salient differences in cabinet composition between the D Two and its elder cousin the Response Two: “The new D Two has got what we call a BBC-type design, which is a thin wall—15mm marine-ply with very heavy 15mm bituminous damping. It’s still an inch thick, but the cabinet works differently than just a 25mm MDF cabinet. Any break-up modes are pushed way down in the bass, but you make up for it by the fact that the driver has a stiffer cone, and that moves the bottom end air much better.” Tyler later added that the glass-fiber driver improves bass control and speed, versus the older polypropylene cone.
Does it ever. With the D Two your music will never know a dull moment. It’s lively and energetic yet non-fatiguing over extended listening. To my mind, the original Response Two was a bit darker in character with a shaded, less dynamic treble. It also gave up a good half-octave of usable midbass in comparison with the D Two. Its cabinet might also have been a bit more resonant, because there was a looser, warmer quality to the low-end that was very appealing. The D Two is much tighter and handily has more slam in the bass, but the trade-off is that the port is less discrete in its low-frequency reinforcement, and at times I could hear the output that the port-tuning added to a bass line or to a section of bass viols. For an enclosure that was so quiet, this was the only region where it wasn’t utterly invisible.
As with all fine speakers it’s not just how closely a speaker hews to tonal honesty (and to be honest the D Two is not always unwaveringly faithful on that point); it’s also the way it expresses that tonality. The Response D Two actively refuses to sound like a lightweight by virtue of a cannily crafted tonal balance that produces a warm, full-bloom midrange and a convincing sense of weight into the upper bass and midbass. Singers of all stripes, from Shelby Lynne to Tom Waits, are rooted within their bodies. You can feel the singer’s breath being expended from the diaphragm. Although there is a bit of dryness in the lower treble (perhaps a small bump in the sibilance range), there’s little doubt how well this soft dome tweeter can sing. When a coloratura soprano like Anna Netrebko hits a high C during Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor [DG], there’s little compression or perceived tension of any kind—just an open voice in acoustic embrace with the surrounding air and space.
This ProAc’s transient speed captures the immediacy of a performance and leaves many other speakers sounding veiled and uninvolving. It’s a speaker that reinvigorates the three-dimensional soundstage, without the penalty of a recessive midrange balance. Images appear to materialize in the phantom airspace in and around the speaker and not from an enclosure at all. No, it’s not up to the speed of a Maggie or Quad, and it still has the heavier personality of dynamic cone transducers, but in its relative freedom from cabinet coloration it will, at certain symphonic moments, remind you of a fine planar or electrostat.
As a diagnostic tool for the audiophile clinician, the D Two is like adding a very fast macro lens to your Leica. I compared CD and vinyl versions of Billy Joel’s 1978 classic The Stranger [Columbia/Legacy]. On a cut like “Vienna,” the sound from the Columbia half-speed-mastered LP was smoother and more harmonically lucid than the leaner and less integrated 30th Anniversary CD version. This was especially true on this virtually live-to-analog recording, where the ProAc reveals the harmonic and vibrational activity of the bass guitar strings, as well as the tactile skin cues and resonances from the kit of kinetic drummer Liberty DeVito. Forty-cycle bass comes easily to the Response D Two. There’s more output and extension but with that comes a little less sophistication. The D Two’s bass is certainly not wooly or imprecise, but when pushed nearer the edges of its surprising limits, it can sound a little ripe, shading some of the finer details. Solo piano, the most difficult full-range instrument to reproduce, has convincing soundboard weight and dynamism, although the bone-rattling weight of bottom-octave chord clusters are, naturally, somewhat truncated. Of course, you can’t expect the scale of a true symphonic hall—this is just a single 6.5″ transducer, after all. Ultimately, it will hit the wall dynamically and shed some of the pure brick-and-mortar foundational weight of a performance.
As I’ve already intimated, the D Two is, for me, a back-to-the-future speaker. Tyler and the merry men of ProAc have taken everything that I admired about the original Response Two, and channeled that spirit—and then some—into the revitalized, present-day D Two. Perhaps comeback is too strong a term, but in its size class the Response D Two represents something pretty special. All the more special since ProAc has managed to hold the line on costs—not easy when the dollar bumps up against the British pound. Finally, an economic stimulus package that’s truly music to the ears.