Country of Origin


System N°9

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: iMac 27" fully loaded, Audirvana 3, Soundaware D300Ref & D100Pro and A280, Oppo B-105
Room: 5 x 10m continuing into open space
Review component retail: €2'400 or €4'000/pr

Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.

A stop sign for the entire stack, actual DAP source enlarged in overlay of image 1: extreme nearfield setup in image 2; playing a big room in image 3; replacing German Physic in media room of image 4

Frame a serial killer? Be it Fram's Midi 120 or Midi 150 monitors on wood or metal tripods or Oak desktop plinths, in the near/mid field, in a small/big room… today's Norwegian-branded but Polish actives kill far more complex installs not as a matter of criminal intent but design smarts. Their designer is Jarek Waszczyszyn of Ancient Audio plus five collaborators in Krakow. Think sealed aluminium cabinets. Proprietary class D gain. Top SB Acoustics drivers. Two passive radiators per papyrus mid/woofer, one front, one back. Jarek's patented sound processor engine with feed-forward error correction fronting a passive 1st-order filter. Aluminium pencil or plastic credit-card remote. A CD jewel case footprint for the smaller model. 24/192 coax and Toslink plus analog RCA and 3.5mm stereo ports. Optional tripods with secure bolt connections. Three on-board EQ curves selectable by switch. Black or silver cabs with silver or gold trim rings. Immaculate build and finish quality due to involvement of an actual aircraft engineer. Bigger floorstanding versions available.

Let's backtrack.

"If these are so darn smart, why do you still listen to passives in your three main systems?"

Credit card remote leaning against right Midi 120.

Ah. Because I'm a dumb reviewer. I write up electronics and passive speakers. Professional liability trumps intelligence. I must wait until retirement before personal smarts can catch up with my desktop.

I'd love nothing better than simplify our separates installs as well. I'd simply box myself into a very narrow active corner to review naught else. Whilst sushi is my favorite food, it'd get boring quickly if I had it each day, never mind bust the household budget. While I cover hifi in as much variety as I'm fit to—I leave vinyl and hyper-expensive stuff to others—owning actives beyond the work desk would be counter-productive. But just why should you suffer the same restrictions? Activate your speakers with digital inputs to stream to them. Connect a disc drive like our Oppo universal in the 2-channel video rig for physical media. Sealed enclosures avoid port chuff and room boom. Passive radiators triple cone surface in the bass. Active drive with built-in EQ adds LF extension/power with overdrive security. That wrings considerably more bandwidth, loudness and linearity from a far smaller enclosure than non-adaptive passive speakers could dream of. IR remote controls inputs and volume.

Aluminium pencil remote in wood holder on desk.

Special wrinkles are superior drivers; and Jarek's processor purpose-coded to each model. It accounts for the cabinet's mechanical and acoustic behavior like internal standing waves and resonances; for the behavior of the drivers; for bass compensation to delay roll-off and all nonlinearities including the final passive filter. The digital code knows and accounts for the sum total of the whole package. This tuning is also by ears whose other brand references advanced valve gear and ambitious passive speakers.

That applies uncompromised high-end standards to what could look like just another pretty sonically harmless lifestyle product. Being stylishly modern, fashionably compact and immaculately built, it fulfills those standards to an 'i'. It's simply no mass-market but true boutique ware from an unexpected source. If I retired today, I'd have Fram in the main system/s pronto. Perhaps I'd splurge on a floorstander for the biggest room. That's how good these are and how much they pack into two seamless all-aluminium cabs. In Norwegian, fram means forward. Why go backwards with passive speakers and old-style outboard electronics? For now I still must play dumb. But why should you? Today wasn't really about a combination; or rather, not separates. Today's combo is the total product. And that marks it a 21st-century denizen which is expected to more more with less, stay small and look smart whilst at it.

Designer Jaromir Waszczyszyn: "Our team never stands still and the current virus restrictions pushed us to do more R&D. Now we applied a 12mm face plate to the Maxi/Midi 150's and Midi 120's 4mm cabs to add stiffness, strength and internal volume for even better bass extension. I'm also adding five more EQ presets in my Digital Speaker Processor. Those will switch from the chair by remote. That makes our speakers still more versatile and easier to accommodate in different environments. We see that our customers use them in more applications than anticipated. Now we're throwing all our skills at optimizing our models for these uses with more comprehensive compensation profiles."