Audio Pro Image 44 System £1100
31st Mar 2005 | 23:00
More than the sum of its parts
Audio pro were early pioneers of active subwoofers. Indeed, the first powered sub I encountered was produced by the company, and although it was computer-grade and small, it enriched the output of a distinctly mid-fi sound system. I was suitably impressed.
Nowadays, the Swedes at Audio Pro make a slew of subs, but are also responsible for a number of designer-grade speaker systems for home theatre use, called Image, Cinema, Allroom and Bravo.
The system reviewed here is from the Image range, so-called because of its swish looks. Finished in high-gloss black - the sort that makes you want to polish them the moment a blemish appears - they have a small frontal area without compromising on cubic capacity, thus getting the best out of the diminutive drivers. If you're looking for a speaker system to complement a glossy flat-panel display, then look no further.
The system auditioned consists of two Image 44 floorstanders, a pair of Image 12 bookshelf monitors at the rear and a single, front-ported centre called the Image 22. These are underpinned by the Sub B1.28.
The speakers use the same sort of cloth and fabric grille that allows only a circle of cloth to cover the tweeters, rather than impede high frequency output with plastic rods. This is wise, as the high frequency devices reach up to 25kHz and are fabric domes.
The sweetness of their combined output is a major slice of the perceived output quality of the whole set, as the five surround enclosures use the same tweeter. It is mounted in a separate alloy enclosure effectively 'floating' on the front of the box, thus isolated from the low frequency drivers and theoretically resulting in a more coherent, cleaner sound. Vocal reproduction, as a consequence, is particularly lovely.
The L/R floorstanders offer two 4.5in woofers and a 1in super tweeter placed at approx listening height. The pair ship aluminium die-cast feet, with optional use of rubber feet or metal spikes. They weigh a substantial 30.6kg a pair.
The Image 12s incorporate a simple small sealed-box design that has wall bracket mounting holes built into the back and a single high-quality 4in driver beneath the 1in tweeter. The built-in bracket enables placement on a wall, expanding the installation possibilities beyond the typical stand or shelf options.
All the speakers have only one set of binding posts on their rears and the centre isn't the only vented box - while the rears are sealed, the fronts have long enclosures that can encompass a large cubic volume. They also allow a Luxbond-lined transmission line type of pipe to be offered up to the back of the paired woofers in the floorstanders to create a quarter-wave 'pipe' for acoustic suspension and gain.
The active sub is equally well designed. As well as a long throw, front-firing 8in driver, 175W amplifier and blue 'On' LED, you also get a downwards-firing bass reflex port. The box stands above a plinth panel, so as to offer just the right amount of boundary loading to the speaker.
To prevent the air from making a 'chuffing' noise when asked to move this fast and under such compression, there is a long, thin acoustic probe in the down-firing port hole. This ensures that the output can flow in all directions evenly without audible air-turbulence.
The sub only has a few controls on the back, such as gain and crossover point selection, as well as the facility to input and output via speaker level wires. The crossover can be set to roll off the lows from 100Hz down to 50Hz.
Lastly, a feature designed by Audio Pro called 'Ace-bass' is used to enhance the output. No gimmicky marketing-speak for something that already exits, this was presented to the AES in New York in the '70s and uses electronic motional feedback control to con the driver into acting like it's a good deal bigger than it is.
Not only does this system look smart, it sounds good too. Even though the speakers only have 4in drivers, the rear monitors are tight and rich and the front soundstage has weight as a result of the quarter-pipe enclosure used on the L/Rs.
The Image 12s are popular stereo bookshelf speakers in their own right, and I would suggest that if you don't have the room for the floorstanding fronts, then a quartet of the Image 12s partnered with the centre and sub would make a pleasing alternative.
The sub is musical and able, with delicious control and detail, if not particularly powerful. Those looking for a greater extension might prefer to spend the extra £100 for the Sub B1.36.
I liked this Audio Pro Image combo. Each speaker is competent enough, but as a system they achieve an almost magical synergy. Gorgeous to look at, potent to listen to - this could be the set of speakers that will be satisfy your high performance urge and get a thumbs up from your partner. As a value high-end proposition, they're going to be hard to beat. Well worth auditioning.