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Upon their arrival, Jim and Michael took a listen. To my relief, Jim agreed that the speakers were not sounding right. First, they set out to confirm that there were no problems with out-of-phase wiring of the tweeters. I had already checked the woofers with a 1.5-volt battery and both woofers were moving out with positive signal as designed. The tweeters turned out to be wired correctly, too. Michael checked the crossover and pronounced all was well. Actually, I had been secretly hoping something was wrong with them because I was rather concerned about the sound at this point. It was so imbalanced that I thought something must be wrong with them. There was a midbass suckout that you could drive a truck through. Adding to this, the tweeter seemed on the aggressive side.

Now that the integrity of the speaker was confirmed, Jim pronounced that the speakers were unusually sensitive to room placement and that we needed to move my amplifier off the equipment rack and onto the floor in front of it to allow the speakers to be moved much further out into the room. Jim felt the eave was not interacting well and recalled such a problem in another eaved installation. When asked how new owners were to get guidance on speaker placement when there is no owner's manual, Jim said that he relies heavily on dealers to help customers with setup.

I've had experience with dipole speakers in the past (Magnepans, Eminent Technology, Quad) and knew that these speakers were sensitive to their distance from the front wall. I wasn't thinking in those terms with the FAB Audio Model 1s, however. The Tech Stuff sheet stated that the rear-firing woofer was crossed over at 80Hz. I didn't expect frequencies this low would cause cancellation problems. I learned later during Jim's visit that the crossover is 6dB/octave on the rear woofer so more energy was coming off the back than I had realized. Jim seemed a bit reluctant to offer this information when my friend Charlie asked him. He softly muttered "6dB". Frankly, I wasn't sure if he wanted me to hear him or not.

Let me state clearly that I have never heard a speaker's sound change so much from room placement effects. The front of the speaker ended up being 9 feet from the front wall, with the speakers spread out wider, facing straight ahead and with 9 feet of distance between the cone centers. Finally, the couch needed to be moved back a foot or so to get out of a bass null that had just been created. Seated on my vintage modern black-leather couch, the center of the midrange driver was 35.5 inches above the floor. My ear listening height is 39 inches.

Pulling the speakers far out into the room did seem to relieve the midbass suckout to a substantial degree. The next thing Jim requested was for me to bring my Red Rose 2A Silver Signature upstairs so we could connect a better speaker cable than the Radio Shack. I was happy to accommodate him but felt that the tonal balance problems I was hearing were not related to speaker wire. Now the setup was the Red Rose in triode mode, the Slagle passive and Baton interconnects and speaker wire.

With this combination, the soundstage expanded with excellent focus and depth. In fact, the soundstaging now surpassed my Audio Physic Anniversary Steps in the downstairs system, mainly in the speakers' ability to convey rear hall width. This is no small accomplishment. Jim pulled out some of his own CDs, especially concentrating on a compilation CD-R he obtained from Triangle Acoustics. One cut on it was by Patricia Barber. As anyone knows who has attended a CES, Patricia Barber gets a lot of playing time. Patricia Barber is one of those demo cuts that simply doesn't work for me as a listening tool. It just sounds too smooth. I need to hear a system navigate more treacherous material to expose weaknesses.

Jim felt things were okay now and was anxious to get on the road. He added that the speakers were on the analytical side of the spectrum but not sterile or cold. As a parting shot, he mentioned that the treble would improve with a better front-end source than my modest NAD 5000. I felt a little embarrassed for the NAD and myself. However, I had listened to the FABs with my better front ends downstairs and found the tweeter too aggressive there as well. Moreover, the NAD with the 6B4G amp and Slagle sounded very smooth and balanced with my JBL Century L-100s.

At this point, I was suffering audio burnout so I shut the
system down. Left to my own devices later, I started spinning some of my good old everyday listening discs. K.D. Lang's Ingénue, practically a classic by now, was loaded into the humble NAD. K.D.'s vocals on this CD are a real treat. In the last cut "Constant Craving", I noticed that as K.D. ascended into her upper range in the refrain, the tweeter plainly started to dominate as the sound pressure level increased. I decided to warm up my downstairs system and play familiar cuts upstairs, then dash downstairs and play the same cut there. Downstairs, this same K.D. Lang refrain stayed in balance, amplitude-wise. Subsequent CDs reinforced my concerns about the FABs' tonal balance. Every CD sounded more relaxed in my downstairs system without the Model 1s.

To put the NAD issue to rest, I borrowed a Linn Unidisk from a fellow moonie. This player retails for $12K and is universally well regarded. Inserting it into the system improved almost everything but to a smaller extent than I expected. It had zero effect on the treble dominance. After all, CD players have extremely flat frequency response. Perhaps Jim was alluding to the treble quality rather than its quantity. If so, the Linn still wasn't the answer.

Moving on to vinyl, my Hovland HP100 has the moving coil step-up transformers installed, so I cannot use it with my upstairs Thorens TD-125 Mk.II/SME 3009/Garrot P77 rig. I borrowed my friend's JJ Electronic 243 full-function tube preamp. Fellow moonie Jules Coleman used to own this preamp and I have borrowed it for extended periods in the past to be quite familiar with it. I pulled out Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, Double or Nothin', Volume 1, Liberty LST-7014, with Lee Morgan, Benny Golson and Wynton Kelly. The Lighthouse club was a Mecca of the Pacific Coast jazz scene and this record captures it well. My friend Rich Brown actually sold some vintage Lighthouse paper napkins on eBay. It was one of those pure fun sales.

On the first cut "Reggie of Chester", Benny Golson's sax solo sounded okay. "Stablemates" then left me wanting again for more weight on Red Mitchell's bass solo. Bass from the FABs is always tight and clean but leans towards being overdamped for my taste. The last cut on side 1 is "Moto". Stan Levey's cymbal work seemed too dominant, again drawing my attention to the tweeter. I found myself reaching for dark-sounding recordings such as Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs. Then I could marvel at the speakers' large soundstage, impressive imaging and low perceived distortion. The speakers are indeed strong in these areas.

While I am no speaker designer, I do like to pick the brains of some of my speaker designer friends and try to learn what might be going on with particular designs. One friend of mine has been designing his own speakers for about 30 years and has consulted in the background for some high-end companies. His initial take on the Model 1 design was that it seemed to be a formidable challenge to try and mate a 10-inch woofer to a 1.25" dome tweeter. As the woofer frequency range approaches its upper limit to cross over to the tweeter, its dispersion will decrease and have a tendency to beam. In contrast, the tweeter will come in with much wider dispersion, effectively putting much more treble energy into the room. His own feeling was that he would prefer to see a horn tweeter crossed over at around 700 or 800Hz, much like many vintage two-way horn tweeter designs did (e.g. Altec Valencias).

My main criticism of the FAB Audio Model 1 is one of tonal balance. While I could adjust to the bass tuning and recognize its merits, the treble dominance was not to my liking. Midbass warmth seems lacking even after pulling the speakers far out into the room. This combination, to my ears, gives the speakers an overall balance of forwardness. Three audiophile friends of mine who stopped over during my review all commented on this one aspect unprompted.

I couldn't help but reflect on FAB Audio's literature extolling the strengths of many loudspeakers from the 1940s and 1950s. Being in the vintage audio world since 1987, I can't remember anyone trying to mate a large paper woofer to a metal dome tweeter. Vintage lovers I know would frown on such a pairing.

This has been my most difficult review to date. Jim Fabian is obviously a dedicated craftsman and seems to be a highly reputable person. I found him to be a perfect gentleman during his visit. He and Michael went about their work in a very
professional and courteous manner. I want people like this to succeed. I am sure Jim will point out that he has many happy customers. That may be true. However, it is my opinion that he would have many more if he addressed my criticisms -- treble forwardness, apparent suckout in the upper midbass/lower midrange (this contingent on room placement) and relative lack of bass weight -- and brought this expensive speaker up to its full potential. Prospective buyers who depart from my taste should definitely insist on an in-home audition given the speaker's unusually strong interaction with the room.
Manufacturer's reply
Our thanks go to Steve Marsh for publishing his review of our FAB Audio Model 1 speaker. Too often room interaction issues and a lack of synergy with upstream components and cabling causes a great component like our Model 1 speaker to underperform. Such was the case we witnessed first hand in Steve Marsh's home.

We'd like to acknowledge Steve's disappointment with certain aspects of the sound and offer as an explanation the fact that the speakers are room-sensitive and extremely revealing of the cables, components and music quality that feed it. Steve himself even wrote that he'd ". . .never heard a speaker's sound change so much from room placement effects." It's not surprising that Steve found the treble a bit forward for his liking as the room interactions that caused the upper midbass/lower midrange frequency suckout would naturally emphasize the higher frequencies. The Model 1 speaker doesn't lie, mask or color what it's fed or hide how it interacts with the room.

Steve and other reviewers have lavishly praised the Model 1's soundstage focus and depth, impressive imaging, low distortion, superb coherence, very high efficiency, timbral fidelity and lack of bass humps. When mated with high quality components and cables and properly positioned, it far outperforms many speakers costing many times its cost.

This specific review depicting a lack of component synergy highlights the difficulties that occur when dealing with extremely high performance components regardless of brand. We would encourage your readers to visit us at CES 2006, room AP1562, and make their own informed decision when the Model 1 will be mated with an integrated system. To help customers maximize musical enjoyment, we offer telephone support,and in many cases, will travel to their homes (within a reasonable distance) to provide speaker positioning assistance. In closing, we would encourage your.readers to contact us with any questions they may have.

Thank you again for your time and effort in evaluating our product.

Kind Regards,
Jim Fabian
President, FAB Audio
Manufacturer's website