Monday, March 14, 2011

Brief audition of the Usher BE-718 DMD with Calyx DAC and integrated amplifier

I am quite familiar with the original Usher BE-718 which uses a Beryllium alloy tweeter. The BE-718 and the X-718 that preceded it stirred up quite a lot of controversy, from its close resemblance to a certain other renowned manufacturer, to the Beryllium content (or lack thereof) of its tweeter dome.

Controversy notwithstanding, the BE-718 sounded great and I would have walked home with a pair if my amplifier had the power to drive it. Audio Basic had no issues driving it with their solid state amplifiers, but a quick hook up to a 30 watt per channel EL-34 push pull amplifier proved that these speakers really thrive on power.

Fast forwarding to the BE-718 DMD, I believe that the speaker is internally identical to the BE-718, with identical crossover points etc. Worldwide, dealers are offering the DMD tweeters to BE-718 owners as a drop-in upgrade. Local users should be aware that the domestic version is not the same as the U.S. version which sports a tweaked crossover with upgraded capacitors and internal wiring.

Driven by the Calyx DAC and integrated amplifier (100 watts per channel into 8 ohms), the BE-718 DMD sounds quite different from its Beryllium predecessor, primarily in the resolution of air and detail. The Beryllium tweeter is already quite extended and resolving, and the DMD tweeter is a further step in this direction.

Are either tweeters bright ? That depends on what you are coming from. I think they are fine and subjectively sound less bright than the Beryllium tweeters on my Focal Micro Utopia BE. Of course, a tweeter does not maketh the speaker.

On the low frequency front, the Usher has a fair amount of grunt and good low bass given its cabinet size. Bass lines are agile enough and the amount of bass should be just right for a standard Singapore sized HDB bedroom (3x4 meters).

Going up to the midrange, vocals are smooth although slightly dry. The upper midrange has a slight hardness to it and brass instruments seem more prominent compared to other speakers.

The high frequencies are the true star of this speaker, with speed, resolution and air that are truly impressive for the asking price of these speakers.

Subjectively, the Focal is a better speaker. It has more bass authority, a better midrange, and more resolving high frequencies. It also throws a bigger soundstage and can resolve front to back layering better than the Usher. The Focal also happens to be much more expensive than the Usher.

At its present promotion price, I think the Usher is an excellent buy (contact X-audio or Audio Basic directly for prices). Is it worth it for original BE-718 owners to upgrade to the DMD tweeter ? I think that it is a far more difficult proposition. The cost of the DMD tweeters as sold locally is substantial. Although the DMD tweeters sound better to my ears, I would not put that much a premium to it to justify the cost.

Last but not least, credit also goes to the Calyx duo. The Calyx DAC (24/192) offers world class resolution at affordable prices, while the Calyx integrated amp never ran out of steam, even at rather uncomfortable volume levels. The Calyx integrated amp also has a built-in DAC and USB input (24/96 only). Add a Mac Mini, Calyx integrated amp and the Usher, and you have a very nice system for around S$ 6,000. Now where were systems like this when I started out in hi-fi 20 years ago ?

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