This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Diamond+ vs. Sapphire
Next came the Sapphire, the last new model prior to the Diamond+. With almost identical specs, similar enclosures with double rear ports and priced within the same bracket, keen competition was imminent. Since I was pleasantly surprised and absolutely delighted with the Dared VP-20s bi-amping the Diamond+, this became the first round for the Sapphire. My Sapphire review already expressed fondness for such synergy. Now I reconfirmed my preference for the Mark & Daniel signature sound when complemented by warm and fluid valve harmonics. There was more similarity than difference between the two speaker models.

To pinpoint the small differences, it's easier demonstrated in my home theater room where three Sapphires are biamped with three sets of Winsome Labs Mouse in the front and the rear pair of Topaz is driven by one Mouse. On most classical repertoire from vocal to chamber and symphonic, I couldn't tell a big difference except that the Diamond+ appeared to be more articulated on finer details like very subtle percussion instruments and piano chord layering. Neither Sapphire nor Diamond+ displayed the same rich mid to low-octave harmonics as the Maximus-Monitor due to physical limitations. Even when I replaced the Mouse system with the Sim Audio Celeste W4070SE (driving the SX woofers) and Thorens-Restek MMA-5 (driving the AMTs) used to drive the Maximus-Monitor, the same similarities and differences persisted without yielding an inch.

Two key findings could be drawn. First, amp-related factors (low or high output power, tube or solid-state) were not significant variables to dilute audible dissimilarities between Sapphire and Diamond+ as long as both were bi-amped with no less than 20wpc tube or 40wpc solid-state. Second, while the Mark & Daniel signature sound was discernible, neither Sapphire nor Diamond+ offer the same ultimate fulfillment of the Maximus-Monitor. This insufficiency was particularly noticeable on piano where an upright piano can hardly compete with a grand piano. Laws of physics are laws of physics and only the Maximus is big enough to become a true grand piano.

Evidence resurfaced when I took the mini monitors down to partner with biamped NuForce Reference 9 V2, alternating preamps between NuForce P9 and Dared MC-7P. With two NuForce monoblocks backing up each speaker, transients were lightning fast and the soundstage grew palpable. Then the Dared tube preamp proved a good measure of romancing potion for certain kinds of music that called for lush strings and silky vocals. While the music was filled with the same level of energy and density, this power increase did not overcome the relative bass shortage benchmarked by the Maximus-Monitor. These electronics make up the system I normally use to drive the Apogee Stage with the addition of a pair of Infinity subwoofers hidden behind the stands. The rear ports of the Sapphire and Diamond+ were more than seven feet away from the wall. That distance would have worked perfectly for the Apogee but adversely neutralized the bass energy of the Mark & Daniel minis. From personal experience, three feet from the wall would have been ideal.

Despite the insufficient low-octave energy in such an unfavorable setup, the NuForce bi-amp system (and to a lesser degree the Sim Audio/Thorens-Restek) managed to demonstrate one major improvement of Diamond+ over Sapphire, namely nuance of inner detail. Be it the sibilance in female vocals or the clicking sounds of drum sticks; piano glissandi or pizzicato string textures; the Diamond+ was more vivid and lifelike. Without direct comparison, I would have no complaints about the Sapphire and still I'm not complaining even though one track that made a bigger impact was once again the "Lady General Mu Takes Command". Amongst the many percussion instruments, there's the (Chinese?) castanet. Most of the time, it is struck along with other instruments. There are however a few spots where I presumed it was not required to participate and was hung up or laid down on a rack or just held motionlessly by the musician yet whenever the bass drum is struck hard, vibrations set it off to rattle slightly. This was almost unnoticeable on the other models except for the Diamond+ and Maximus-Monitor.