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

Tie me kangaroo down, sport!
I sat the Small Red on solid MDF 18-inch spiked stands and although run in at the factory, gave them another 10 or so hours before starting the review. With the whole idea of an isobaric speaker making big bass from a small enclosure, that was the quality I first attempted to evaluate of course. I must say that the design mandate has been very successfully met. The Small Red possesses an ample bass register that easily equals that of small to medium-sized floorstanders.

However, this needs qualification. I initially tried the Small Red with a quality 50-watt amplifier. The sound was generally good and with potent bass but the midrange lacked vividness and life and the lower registers needed firmer control. The speakers sounded somewhat restricted, overly bloomy and - well, almost boring. Changing to a few more powerful amplifiers completely exorcized this lack of snap and life. The moral here is that the Small Red needs a substantial amplifier capable of providing generous levels of current to exercise firm driver control. Think 150 watts minimum of solid state or push-pull valve amplification.    

At the tail end of the NuForce Reference 9SE V3, Ray Brown’s acoustic bass genius in The Real Blues was reproduced with thunderous power and very good clarity. By clarity I mean not just detail and resolution but a phenomenal level of harmonic and timbral accuracy that mimics the real instrument. What’s more—and this is somewhat paradoxical—certain notes had a jump factor and dynamic snap that was almost startling, the paradox being that the speaker’s overall presentation was entirely and expertly balanced. Those surprising skip-beat notes were actually on the recording and the Small Red was simply able to convey this without compression.

My big bass killer track of the moment is Mino Cinelu’s "Oncoming Horizons" from his self-titled CD. The track starts with an immense bass drum thwack that would scare the bejeezus out of many a respectable woofer. The Small Red didn’t quite cruise through this torturous test— there was just-perceptible distortion at the lowest end of the note—but it still managed to dish out a realistic whack that rattled the nearby windows. This was superb performance from a speaker this size. Give the Small Red complex rhythms and it complies with a very good level of resolution and separation. The German tweeter shows its mettle and all manner of cymbal and treble information is clearly and sweetly reproduced. If that ceramic driver is breaking up or resonating somewhere, it’s certainly well beyond the audible upper threshold.

Of course such a high-quality tweeter and midrange combo should be very adept with the human voice and the Small Red did not disappoint. From Chris Jones to Patricia Barber and on to Janis Ian, the vocal range was never reproduced any other than very realistically and present. It always lacked harshness, grain and brightness. Vocals enjoyed a natural and almost spot-lit facsimile that was very appealing to motivate long listening sessions without fatigue of any kind.

The Small Red was more than capable with large-scale works too, defiantly so for its size in fact. Mercury Living Presence’s Hi-Fi à la Española had the sense of scale required to quite realistically and satisfactorily replay such a work. The Small Red won’t do the massive scale of a WATT/Puppy or indeed other large and more expensive speakers but it goes quite a long way towards them especially for its size. Similarly belying its dimensions, the Small Red’s soundscape is generously large and deep with accurately placed images.

Unlike an increasing number of contemporary speakers especially at the top end of the market, the Small Red is much more forgiving. Even though it can offer oodles of musical detail, it does so in a much more listenable manner that won’t have you reaching for the volume control or CD case. In this sonic buffet I point the finger at the chef’s wise selection of ingredients—Visaton tweeter and SEAS Nextel midrange—and skilful seasoning with an expertly executed crossover design.

The Legend Acoustics range of speakers is an ever-growing labor of love for designer/proprietor Dr. Rod Crawford. Over the years, the product portfolio has expanded to include speaker solutions for all facets of audio reproduction, from reference-quality transducers (the Ultima range of which the Small Red is part) to high-quality monitors, center channels and subwoofers. What’s more, Crawford borrows from a variety of principles to include reflex-loaded and sealed designs, dipoles and now an isobaric.

The Small Red can only be called small in physical stature. Its sound is anything but. If you’re after a compact speaker that can provide a much larger sonic picture than its size would suggest and deliver the sort of bass commonly associated with mid-size floorstanders, you’re looking at the Small Red. That it also excels in many other important sonic criteria is an extra dollop of cream. Small? No way!

Legend Acoustics website