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We reviewed the original ProAc Response D2 back in 2008. Still in production, they’re unassuming, mid-sized standmounters that, despite their advanced years, remain competitive with the class leaders.
The new Response D2R aren’t actually a replacement, they’re intended to complement the original design. On paper, the big news is the inclusion of a ribbon tweeter.
ProAc has long offered the choice of a ribbon tweeter instead of a dome unit in its pricier Response floorstanders, but this is the first time buyers of the standmounters have had such a choice.
So we wait over a decade for a possible replacement for the D2 and end up with a pricier complementary model that offers a change of tweeter and little else. Is that grounds for disappointment? You’d think so, but it doesn’t turn out that way at all.
The speaker market doesn’t progress anywhere near as quickly as the regular model updates from the industry majors suggests. As a market sector, it’s based on well-established engineering principles and provided the company gets the basics right there’s no reason that an older design can’t be competitive. Spendor’s Classic range, for example, uses engineering techniques that are around half a century old but the speakers remain excellent performers.
So when we take a close look at these new D2R, we’re struck by just how contemporary they still seem. Sure there’s no curved cabinet here or particularly fancy cone materials, but such things certainly don’t guarantee a great sound in our experience.
What we have here is a mid-sized standmounter that stands 43cm high. The cabinet is made of 15mm-thick marine ply lined by heavy bituminous damping. It mirrors the cabinet design principles of those BBC-inspired Spendors, and the idea is to move cabinet resonances away from the midrange – where our hearing is at its most acute – and into the bass region where it’s less sensitive.
The big headline is the use of the ribbon tweeter. It’s the same lovely 60 x 10mm unit as used on the company’s pricier Response models. There’s a damped rear chamber behind the diaphragm to help with dynamics and clarity and rather unusually, an Alnico magnet rather than the Neodymium we might have expected.
Some drive unit designers feel the former gives a better sound in tweeters, despite the more modern Neodymium alternative delivering more in the way of magnetic field strength on a like-for-like basis. The proof, as ever, is in the listening.
ProAc’s publicity material, a little oddly perhaps, doesn’t take a firm stance on whether the ribbon option actually sounds better than the dome tweeter, claiming it’s a matter of personal preference. In our experience, the ribbon option gives a clearly more transparent and detailed sound, one that’s well worth the price premium.
In its own way, the 16.5cm mid/bass driver is just as impressive a unit, with its stiff chassis, carefully honed motor system, copper phase plug and glass fibre cone. It’s tuned by a forward-firing port and is claimed to reach down to a pretty impressive 30Hz, though ProAc’s specifications don’t list the output level limits for that measurement.
Traditionally, ProAc has tried hard to make its speakers compatible with a wide range of amplifiers and the D2R are no different. While a sensitivity of 88dB/W/m and nominal impedance of 8 ohms is around par for the course, these speakers are an easier electrical load to drive than most rivals.
We’re used to ProAc turning out well-built speakers and the Response D2Rs uphold that tradition. These feel solid and are obviously built with care. There’s a choice of six standard real wood veneers – black ash, mahogany, cherry, walnut, oak and something the company calls white silk. Pay a modest premium and you can have rosewood or ebony.
You’ll need to put a little bit of work into installing these speakers if you want to get the best out of them. Our review samples took around three days of continuous use to sound their best, after initially sounding constricted and lacking in tonal warmth. So don’t be quick to judge if you’re hearing factory-fresh samples.
Don’t skimp on supports either. In our experience, these boxes sound best on solid, mass-loaded stands, though there’s no harm in experimenting with alternatives. Given the D2R’s transparency (not to mention price) it pays to partner them with equally capable sources and amplification. You simply won’t hear what these speakers are capable of if you don’t feed them a signal of suitable quality.
We spend an afternoon comparing the Naim Supernait 3 amplifier (£3499, $4299) with the Mark Levinson 5805 integrated (£7995, $8500) with our reference Burmester 088/911 Mk 3 combination (£36,150). The ProAcs prove wonderfully transparent about showing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each option. Over the listening session, the D2R are almost as revealing as our reference ATC SCM50, which cost more than three times the price.
These ProAcs aren’t as unfussy about positioning as the standard D2. That ribbon tweeter has many positives but is more demanding about optimum set-up. Make sure you keep the speakers away from rear and sidewalls and get the toe-in angle towards the listening position right – it’s about getting the appropriate balance between stereo focus and image solidity. Finally, make sure your stands raise the speaker sufficiently to put your ears broadly in line with the tweeter.
We plumb these ProAcs into our reference system – the Naim ND 555/555 PS DR music streamer and Burmester 088/911 Mk3 amplifier – and sit back waiting to be entertained. We’re big fans of the standard D2, so we’re expecting greatness. Thankfully, we’re pleased to report that’s exactly what we get.
The Response D2R are wonderfully expressive speakers, even at low volume levels. We play Melody Gardot’s Mira and they respond with an agile and lively performance that mixes information with entertainment as well anything else we’ve heard at this price.
Their midrange is a real highlight, delivering Gardot’s rich, playful tones with considerable skill. These speakers convey the nuances and varying texture of her voice superbly, making it sound alive.
We’re pleased with the way these speakers deliver the song’s complex rhythms too. There’s precision, coupled with a good sense of drive, and the ability to sound fluid while doing it. Even speakers as capable as Dynaudio’s Special Forty sound a little more matter-of-fact about doing this.
We switch to Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring and these ProAcs continue to impress with their large-scale dynamics and authority. These aren’t particularly big speakers so really deep bass isn’t on the menu, but for their size, the low-end is impressive deep and authoritative.
That ribbon tweeter shines in the amount of detail it resolves, and unlike similar designs avoids sounding a little sterile and tonally grey. The integration with the mid/bass is handled seamlessly and there’s a consistency of character from the lowest frequency upward that’s impressive.
Stereo imaging is nicely layered and pleasingly precise. It’s a large-scale sound stage that remains stable and solid even when the music becomes demanding. When we close our eyes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact positions of the D2R, which speaks well of the quietness of those well-constructed cabinets.
The word neutral isn’t the first thing to come to mind when we think of the ProAc’s tonal balance. Similarly priced models from the likes of Spendor or ATC excel in this area, but the D2R don’t obviously come up short. Though they have a stronger character than some of their rivals, that character is really likeable and tends to work well across a wide range of music.
These boxes have a natural warmth to the midrange that helps to make voices sound more convincing, but perhaps they need a little more enthusiasm in the upper frequencies to be truly accurate. However, none of these things detract notably from their considerable strengths.
The D2R are as happy playing something intimate such as Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car as they are Nirvana in full flow. They have plenty of attack at the frequency extremes but still enough in the way of subtlety to avoid sounding overly aggressive.
Despite their obvious transparency, these ProAcs never strike us as analytical tools. Given suitably talented partners, these speakers excel at giving the music the limelight. We can’t ask any more than that.
- Sound 5
- Compatibility 5
- Build 5
Best hi-fi speakers 2021
Read our ATC SCM50 review
Read our Dynaudio Special Forty review