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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000, Benz Micro MC Silver, Rega Super Elys & Garrott Bros Optim FGS cartridges
Digital source: Pioneer DV-535 DVD player/ Bel Canto DAC2
Preamp: Shindo Partager
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bryston 7B ST
Speakers: Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade, Horning Perikles
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor and Superconductor FX interconnects and speaker wire, DH Labs D-75 digital
Power Cords: PS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords, ZCable Heavys & Black Lightnings
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Heavy Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy ZSleeves, Auric Illuminator
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: Magellan VIP su active subwoofer $1250; Majestic Diamond micro-monitors $200/ea.

Meet The Magellan VIP su Subwoofer
14.5 inches wide by 17.5 inches deep certainly doesn't sound all that small for a subwoofer. But 5.5 inches high? That's not small; we're talking micro. One of those pseudo subs that came with your computer and are a sub in name only, producing nothing below 50 or 60Hz. Right? Guess again. Think –6dB at 18Hz instead. Think 20lbs, which may not communicate solidity until you put your own two hands to this little beast. Also think a full complement of features starting with both high and low-level inputs, a variable crossover (-12dB/octave) continuously variable between 50Hz and an unusually high 150Hz. Think two included filters, a subsonic filter (-3dB at 10Hz to avoid overdrive) and a speaker-level high pass filter at 70Hz (-9 dB at 35Hz) to filter out the bass from your choice of monitor speakers, thereby relieving them (and your main power amp) of the burden to produce low bass, leaving that chore to the subwoofer. The Magellan is also said to produce a maximum of 105dB via its included 120-watt amplifier, measured at 2 meters at 35Hz. Also included is a two-position phase reversal switch. The only thing missing is a woofer. Just kidding – but you won't find any evidence of it on the outside. A non-shielded 6.5-inch convex single piece aluminum cone is hidden inside. For the duty of raising the Magellan off the floor, TBI also includes your choice of substantial brass spikes or rubber feet.

With the exception of a surprisingly small bass port, the Magellan's enclosure is completely sealed, with the actual driver completely hidden from view. Unlike other TBI subwoofers, the amplifier module is attached to the enclosure, making it hard to even find that bass port. Keep looking though - it is located behind the amplifier module and the port turbulence is actually used to cool the amplifier. As long as the vent's airflow isn't obstructed in any way -- which it doesn't seem to be -- what a great idea!

For an in-depth description of the Magellan VIP su subwoofer, go here but for the purposes of this review, let me excerpt from the TBI site: "ETL™ is the first and only low frequency technology that develops its mass in real time from the only real common element between the subwoofer and the mains which is the signal itself. A mass doesn't have to be in the form of a weighted cone with a loose suspension to achieve the necessary function of linear velocity and acceleration at low frequencies. The signal itself is converted into an acoustic feedback source to apply pressure on the cone to control cone motion with low distortion while providing displacement as required, not as the gap allows. Very unique transmission line principles allow for this accomplishment even in a small enclosure. TBI bass extension modules are ported systems that don't require subsonic filtering (even when used with turntables) and utilize 6" and 8' drivers to deliver useful output into the infrasonic range (< 20 Hz)." Why the subwoofer would include subsonic filtering when it doesn't need it is not explained.

Majestic Diamond Micro-Monitors
By comparison, the Majestic Diamond speakers make the diminutive Magellan VIP su seem positively humongous. At 3 pounds, roughly 4½" wide by 5½" high and 5.125" deep, the 8-ohm Diamonds are all but guaranteed to disappear into any decor. Driver complement is a single shielded full-range 3" paper cone driver in what TBI calls an ETL™ (embedded transmission line) enclosure. TBI specifies a frequency response of 90Hz - 20kHz @ - 6dB and a maximum power handling of 25 watts continuous and 100 watts peak. With an 87dB sensitivity, TBI says to expect a maximum mid-band output of 100dB in a "typical" room. When using a 70Hz bass filter, TBI quotes distortion specs of less than 1% between 100Hz and 20kHz with a 3-watt input. My review pair came equipped with push-terminals that accept bare wire up to 14 gauge or bananas though I'm told that future production units will be equipped with real binding posts. Mine came finished in black satin but pearlescent white is available as are custom grill fabrics.

For the TBI Majestic Diamonds, many benefits are claimed. First, a single driver will be, by definition, phase and time coherent. TBI claims lower distortion and phase error due to the lack of crossover components as well as minimized standing waves inside the enclosure, which is endowed with their patent-pending ETL™ technology. They state that due to the limited bass response of the Majestic Diamond and the remaining frequencies' lowered demands on the driver, near pistonic motion is achieved. TBI claims that the same enclosure technology eliminates the effects of reflections when the speakers are placed in close proximity to walls (though how external reflections are controlled by what's going on inside the enclosure is unclear to me). TBI recommends the Majestic Diamonds for just about any application or placement you can rationally think of.

Interestingly, TBI suggests that the Majestic Diamonds are particularly well suited for the small amplifiers built into plasma TVs by reducing the usual reactive crossover elements to pose instead an easy resistive load to low-powered amplifiers. They claim that the reactive element known as back EMF (electromotive force) is a phenomenon created by a large cone being modulated by random error signals from internal standing waves, external sound and its own suspension, all this information unrelated to the incoming signal. In short, any conceivable claims one could make for the use of a tiny full-range driver are listed.

SS-1 Satellite Speaker Stands
TBI also sent along a pair of their SS-1 speaker stands for use with the Majestic Diamonds. At $100/pr, these struck me as a particularly good value. Using a heavy tubular steel construction that's continuously adjustable between 26.5 and 47.5 inches, they are finished in black powder coat (silver is promised in the future) and feature a sturdy three-point coupling to the floor via a weighted tripod base. At the top of the stand is a continuously adjustable clamping mechanism which, when used with the included padding, clamps the speaker in place while preventing damage to the enclosure.

In order to avail the Majestic Diamond monitors of the 70Hz high-pass filter incorporated in the Magellan subwoofer, I spliced the Magellan subwoofer into the system via its speaker level inputs (the hi-pass is not available via the line-level inputs). The micro speakers then take their signal from the subwoofer's speaker level
outputs, with this in/out loop "leaving the bass in the sub" so to speak. I used bananas on all the speaker level connections because the terminations on the TBI sub are best suited for bare wire or bananas. While on the subject, I must note that this hardware isn't exactly reference caliber and more akin to what you'll find on inexpensive Japanese receivers. Using TBI's tubular stands, I settled on a speaker height of 34 inches measured from the drivers' centers to the floor. I used the speakers at varying proximities to the walls and with varying results, all of which are relevant and a story that I'll get to in a bit.

I placed the Magellan subwoofer in the front corner of the room where it sounded fine both with the Majestic Diamonds as well as the recently displaced ACI Sapphire XLs. I mistakenly figured that the subwoofer's low-pass filter should be set at the quoted 90Hz limit of the Diamonds. Wrong. Frustratingly wrong. I'm pretty good at mating subwoofers to speakers but a speaker with the limitations of the Majestic Diamond was a new experience for me and while the sound was pretty sub-par, how to fix it was not readily apparent. There was a lot of bass but vocals sounded hollow as though originating at the other end of the most reverberant of halls. Run your stereo system through a guitar amplifier with the reverb activated and you'll have an idea what I'm talking about. It wasn't until I played Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat [Private Music 1005-82092-2], "Bird On A Wire" in particular, that I knew something just had to be wrong with my setup. The cut features several bass drums placed laterally across the back wall. With each strike, you experience both a change of tuning as well as location. Over the TBI system, the first drum strike was clearly located at the subwoofer in the corner (it's not supposed to be) and those that followed were completely non-localizable and devoid of tonality. It was finally obvious that the drums had been sucked into the tonal black hole that was the empty chasm between sub and speakers. I eventually settled on a subwoofer low-pass frequency of about 130Hz. One can reasonably wonder if I'd prescribe the same setting for everybody and for reasons that I'll get to, the answer would be no.