"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from Christmas with Ella & Friends [Verve] is a star-studded compilation of the best of the best classic crooners in a lovingly engineered tribute. Ella, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and more make the long list of material. On this cut Ella is velvety soft and the backup jazz orchestra is a model of restraint, keeping swing in without overpowering the whole. This is a nicely engineered effort with delicately layered space and acoustics that was fun to come across in the Holiday season. "Praying for Time" and "They won't Go When I Go" from Listen without Prejudice followed Georg Michael's Faith album and marked a desire to move in a more mature direction from his Pop base to feature a cornucopia of styles. The first cut is ambitious and tough for systems to unravel. The heavy use of reverb and acoustic haze around the vocals is a serious challenge to get right. It stylistically borrows from Beatlesque late 60s and 70s material with a definite nod at Canadian band Klattu. The second track goes for a Gospel influenced style complete with precision female backup vocal that showcases Michael's immense versatility as a strong lead singer. Here we had another talent lost before 2016 closed. And now on with the show.

Mark & Daniel fared with distinction with prior models in displaying remarkable dynamic ability always belying expected limitation of dimensions. The Mini-Monitor, even though 40% smaller than the already compact Ruby, Topaz, and Sapphire, upheld that tradition albeit with slightly more restricted range. My encounter with the earlier Diamond+ showed a slight dynamic dichotomy between its drivers. Where the AMT on the Diamond+ became a little polite when pushed, the companion woofer continued with unbridled enthusiasm. The Mini-Monitor behaved with more ideal synchronicity, breathing as a single driver. The two transducers paraded their inherent benefits of control and responsiveness aided by extremely low cabinet coloration. They were quite adept at expected microdynamics but also proved surprisingly fearless at going for macrodynamic exuberance. Playback at lower volume levels was detailed but it took a bit of horsepower to bring the Mini-Monitor to dynamic life. Yet it showed stellar consistency of maintaining tonal balance at low volumes and such lively bounce that electrostatic references came to mind.

At the opposite end and despite their relatively small size, the Mini-Monitor had no problem attaining quite unreasonable levels without obvious breakup, hence the upper dynamic limits were high enough to bring realistic kick to the picture. There were absolute limits of course but disproportionate to relative size. Yes there was some compression but artfully done, with both drivers progressively hitting limits up and down in lockstep. These speakers could unleash an unnerving amount of startle factor when music had dynamic tricks up its sleeve. Paired with equipment like the Tortuga preamp and Wyred4Sound DAC-2, the Mini-Monitor was quick on the attack, blossomed with high density and was generous on the trailing edge, behaving with the dynamic liveliness and solidity of a much larger speaker. As a standalone performer, the small monitor showed tremendous verve. In fact Mark & Daniel anticipate the temptation to treat this mini as a big box bruiser so they publish a warning that the listener use intelligence on the volume control. That little 4-inch driver can pump its pistonic heart out to achieve a massive combination of extension and dynamic bravado. They encourage you not to push heartfelt performance to mechanical heart failure of course. For those who want to apply concrete numbers, "you can roughly calculate the maximum SPL of the Mini-Monitor like this:

"Undistorted SPL limits sit of course at the 50Hz point. Based on the SX woofer's linear excursion of +/-9mm and the enclosure with its port, max SPL should be around 105.6dB. Frequencies higher than 50Hz will have higher output potential and the mid/hi range of the AMT driver has very high output characteristics. Comparing the Mini-Monitor's outstanding SX4.0q-0.7 woofer with most conventional hifi woofers whose Xmax will normally not exceed +/-4mm, i.e. less than 95.6dB SPL at 50Hz, our Mini-Monitor has 7dB (5 x power) more output capability, not to mention you will hardly find any miniature speaker having response to 50Hz."

While those numbers are beyond respectable, if you really insist on plumbing the depths, think subwoofer. As a general rule, the addition of a sub in filter mode will bestow a few more dB of headroom on the main speakers by alleviating its small woofer of extreme low bass duty. In this case, AMT and woofer are such a tightly matched pair in dynamic behaviour that my gain was mainly of extension and less so in headroom. The good news was that because the Mini-Monitor demonstrated no problem attaining good volume or broad dynamics on its own, this was no limitation even by absolute standards. I knew now that the little Mini-Monitor could play both delicate and fairly muscular but where did its tonal heart lie? From very early on, it adored female vocals, showing tremendous resolution and the ability to unravel musical content in that range with authority. It also demonstrated a character, unique in my experience with small monitors, of applying a propulsive sense of mass to this range that enhanced the immediacy of vocals, horns and string instruments. Big line-source panels like my Apogee can do this trick. So could the Mini-Monitor. Response into the lower mids evolved over the course of the sessions, gradually gaining body while maintaining high articulation. The change in overall character shifted from observational to neutral territory with considerable passion and expressiveness. The result toed the line of the transparency camp, showing a fair bit of body while keeping male vocals and instruments like the cello clean and expressive. High frequencies were smooth, without hardness or exaggerated snap and sizzle. Combined with the tweeter's inherent responsiveness and resistance to overload distortion, it provided a wealth of information and context and never specifically drew attention to itself, proving one of the most revealing and least fatiguing top ends that had been in house. Those preferring a more exaggerated top end will have to make system choices accordingly. Those recognizing natural extension will be well satisfied.

Bass was surprisingly deep but balanced against the whole to not parade disproportionate exuberance. As a result, fundamentals in the lower region were honestly presented as far as the speaker could manage. For those eyeing the dimensions as limiting factor, Mark & Daniel applied their standard of big bass from small cabs. The specs indicate 50Hz but the valorous little driver was still making contributions to about 35 cycles, albeit diminished of course, to make it satisfying on most acoustic and popular fare and relatively easy to match for subwoofer augmentation. Hard rock or Telarc fans will want the subwoofer but many will find the solo response sufficient. Soundstaging and imaging were big and bold. Despite being small of physical stature, these played more like a medium-sized panel in scale. Left-to-right spread was quite convincing and height was reproduced floor to ceiling. Reproduction of depth and projection went for a classic approach, with main-plane info starting at the speaker, with some projection forward and depth starting from that point. Absolute depth was somewhat compressed, pushing rear hall and back instruments slightly forward. Image specificity was a touch approximate rather than tightly focused in both planes. The Mini-Monitor could present massive amounts of detail about venue and instrument, with a huge cushion of acoustic air, but didn't quite translate that into solid image and distance cues. To some extent the style was similar to the presentation of a large panel radiator. Think Magnepan 1 series and you get the picture. The Mini-Monitor did not do miniatures. It went for the grand scale.