Reviewer: Bill Armstrong
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Mark Levinson N°390S CD, Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta CD
Preamplifier: Mark Levinson N°326S
Power & integrated amplifiers: Audio Analogue Maestro Settanta Integrated
Loudspeakers: ATC SCM50 ASL Anniversary, Esoteric MG10
Cables: Complete loom JPS SC3, Complete loom Crystal Cable Micro, 1xJPS Digital, 1xJPS AC Power, 1xJPS Kaptovator
Power delivery: Vertex Taga Distribution Block
Equipment rack: Grand Prix Audio Monaco
Review component retail in UK (inc. VAT): £2'079 pair

. Fostex, the Japanese marque founded in 1973, hold a singular place in my own sonic scrapbook due to their early 4-track recorders. Let me explain. About thirty years back, my brother chose one of these plasticky little grey boxes to serve as the heart of his first home studio. It got set up in our ill-fated parents' bedroom. I remember being obsessed with magic and card tricks at the time but can still clearly recall that nothing blew my inchoate mind quite as much as being able to record sounds over one another. And all onto a humble TDK cassette as well! Soon—and probably much to the chagrin of everyone who shared a roof with me—I had a bass guitar slung over my teenage shoulder, ready to be initiated into the arcane workings of this archetypically 1980's phenomenon.

In the intervening years, Fostex have continued to cement a fine reputation in the pro-audio sector. Recently the company has become more visible in the burgeoning headphone market. Their distinctive TH-900 flagship design in particular has earned serious plaudits. Meanwhile back in the domestic Japanese market, Fostex have long offered an expansive range of high performance drive units, a provision for the apparently ever-buoyant DIY market. Here in the UK however, I was to discover by conducting an impromptu straw poll that the brand isn’t exactly a household name. This status they are apparently seeking to rectify with the introduction of the six model G/GX range of loudspeakers.

Specs. Starting at the top with the imposing 4-way floorstanding G2000 and culminating with the super-compact GX100 MA, it’s that bijou (29x22x16cm) entry model that I’m reviewing here - or more precisely, the ‘Ltd’ version. The GX100 Limited is a two-way bass reflex rear-ported design featuring a mid/LF 4"/10cm driver and 2cm tweeter. Both units are constructed from 99.9% pure magnesium and together cover a frequency range of 55Hz to a bat-baiting 45kHz, swapping over at 2kHz. Sensitivity is an at least on paper tough 82dB/W and nominal impedance is 6 ohms. The GX series also feature a newly developed cabinet material of bonded Camphor and Eucalyptus plywood for a super-dense baffle, top and side panels. The accompanying Tungsten isolation plates only included in the Ltd package are very straightforwardly attached with one large central screw. If indeed as stated, the central aim here is to further decouple the sound from any hint of cabinet colouration, I would have to say they fulfil that goal nicely. In fact I didn’t even notice any significant further improvements when placed upon my own expensive Track Audio stands.

On the rear of the cabinet, we discover the ‘MID controller’, effective between 1.6kHz to 6kHz, with a variable level of +1dB to -2dB. It would be somewhat lazy to describe this as merely a tone control. It is this but also serves to offer a subtle boost or cut to midrange presence that I would guess might come in handy as a means of amplifier matching. And subtle is the operative word really. I found that a slight anti-clockwise roll successfully removed a certain glassiness/hash from some of the more average recordings in my library like earlier Keith Jarrett for example. But although it betrayed none of the detrimental effects often associated with supplementary EQ, for the vast majority of listening it remained in the neutral 12 o'clock position. Finally, unlike the basic entry-point model which offers a positively frivolous choice of red, brown or super-cheery honey yellow finishes, the Ltds are available only in a purposeful hand-applied piano black gloss. Overall fit-n-finish is redolent of everything good that the ‘Made in Japan’ badge traditionally evokes. It’s tough indeed to avoid the ‘little jewels’ cliché. Magnetic grilles complete the picture.

Besides that addition of a detachable plinth, the Ltds appear aesthetically identical to the basic offering but they arrive at double the cost: £2'079 compared to £1'038/pr. Appearances can be deceptive though. That cost is principally explained in an upgrade from aluminium to magnesium for the 4" woofer. Purportedly, magnesium cones/domes settle down faster in response to a given input, demonstrating less post ringing and better self-damping for cleaner playback and reduced material-induced distortion. The speakers also denote the first usage of the material in conjunction with the company’s established HR (hyperbolic radial) contoured diaphragm. The esoteric mathematic modelling underpinning this complex surfacing aims to disperse any surplus surface resonances while also serving to further boost both rigidity and propagation velocity.

And fortuitously it’s rather pretty, too. Magnesium happens to be the reason I sought out a review in the first place. Last year I purchased a pair of Esoteric MG10 stand mounts. They possess a combination of speed and clarity that really appealed to me. And yes, the clue is indeed in that ‘MG’ designation. Magnesium was used for their tweeter and woofer designs also. Regrettably though, it also transpired to be the reason that this much lauded design flourished only briefly. Despite myriad glowing reviews, the diaphragms proved simply too expensive to be produced in the relatively small batches the company required. Hence Esoteric quickly reverted back to its original status as an electronics-only manufacturer*. A real shame then. But my interest had definitely been piqued both by Fostex’s decision to persevere with this costly and challenging option; and also the potential to compare how both companies’ methodologies might differ.

* This is a fact that deserves to be punched up more by ye olde publisher. Before its full re-absorption under the TEAC umbrella which today is co-owned by Gibson Guitars and Onkyo, Esoteric enjoyed wildly more comprehensive global distribution than Fostex. That Fostex remain committed to esoteric driver diaphragms is thus a real testament to their engineering prowess and financial resources. And from the land of the rising sun, there came a related announcement earlier this year. Mitsubishi have perfected a process whereby Boron can now be crafted into loudspeaker drive units. This material is said to be second only to diamond in stiffness and low mass. It's quite common to bemoan the lack of innovation in high-end audio which, after all, is a very small market only. As it turns out, sometimes it's simply a matter of knowing where to look to discover that innovation still does happen. Clearly Fostex are one of those innovating companies even if their penetration of the hifi market and our awareness thereof are still limited - Ed.