A Bridge Between Usher’s Award-Winning Be-718 “Tiny Dancer” Monitors and Be-20 Floorstanders?
I’ve reviewed a number of Usher loudspeakers over the years, with some reviews (for the S-520 and CP-6311) appearing in AVguide.com and others (for the CP-8571 MkII and Be-20) appearing in The Absolute Sound. While these speakers are all quite different, a common thread or theme that that runs among them involves an emphasis on delivering exceptionally high levels of performance per dollar, which is a major concern for me and, I suspect, for many audiophiles in these difficult economic times. (For those of us who love music, but can only devote a limited amount of money to audio expenditures, it becomes imperative to make choices that will give us our money’s worth.).
In my opinion, one of the biggest bargains in the Usher product range is the Be-718 mid-sized, stand-mount monitor ($2795/pair)—a speaker sometimes called the “Tiny Dancer,” partly because it is a cute name, but also because it is the smallest and least expensive model in Usher’s Dancer product range. The Be-718/Tiny Dancer was favorably reviewed by The Absolute Sound’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Harley and has since gone on to receive recognition as a TAS Editors’ Choice product.
If you’ve ever heard the Be-718 in action, especially when paired with good electronics and source components, then perhaps you might agree it offers astonishing performance, not just for the money, but also in a broader sense. Even so, the Be-718 is not a “perfect” speaker (what speaker is?) and two of its acknowledged limitations involve good but not great bass extension and dynamics that, while very good for a monitor speaker, cannot equal the performance of larger, more powerful floorstanders.
Recognizing these limitations and looking to overcome them, Usher set out to build two “tweener” models, known as the Mini Dancer One ($3795/pair) and Mini Dancer Two ($4795/pair). Both Mini Dancer models leverage the design strengths (and core drive units) of the Be-718, but package them in the format of larger floorstanding loudspeakers.
The Mini Dancer One takes the basic Be-718 driver set (a 1.25” dome tweeter and 7” mid-bass driver) and presents them in a reflex-loaded floorstanding enclosure that is 41.3” tall. The Mini Dancer One offers bass response that extends down to a claimed 38Hz (the Be-718 extends to 42Hz), but in most other respects (for example, nominal impedance and sensitivity ratings), the Mini Dancer One’s specifications are quite similar to those of the Be-718.
The Mini Dancer Two, however, takes a more radical approach, using the Be-718’s tweeter plus two of the Be-718 mid-bass drivers, configured in a mid-bass/tweeter/mid-bass array, housing them in a relatively large, 48.4” tall, enclosure. (Despite the speaker’s name, there really is nothing “mini” about the Mini Dancer Two.). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Mini Dancer Two’s specifications differ pretty substantially from those of the Be-718. Bass response extends down to 28Hz, sensitivity is up to 90dB (from the Be-718’s 87dB), and nominal impedance drops to 4 Ohms (from the Be-718’s 8 Ohms). In short, the Mini Dancer Two is a speaker designed to retain many of the Tiny Dancer’s strengths, but to go considerably lower and to offer more dynamic headroom, and to do so without costing the proverbial “arm and a leg.” Of course the big question is, how does this attractive-sounding theory play out in actual practice?
I’ve taken on the Mini Dancer Twos as a review project for an upcoming issue of Playback (perhaps issue 23 or 24) and at this point they aren’t fully broken in, so please take the comments I’ll offer here with a huge grain of salt. But let me offer a few preliminary comments to get some discussion started.
- The voicing of the Mini Dancer Two strikes me as being similar, but not identical, to that of the Be-718. Specifically, in contrast to the Be-718’s “up front and center” soundstage perspective, the Mini Dancer Two gives a somewhat more distant perspective, so that the front edge of the stage (on many recordings, at any rate) falls slightly behind the plane of the speakers.
- The Mini Dancer Twos retain the most if not all of the fundamental detail and clarity of the Be-718s, but they seem—on first listening impressions—just slightly more forgiving than the Tiny Dancers do. It will be interesting to see if this perception changes as the speakers accumulate playing time.
- The Mini Dancer Twos do indeed go noticeably lower than the Tiny Dancers, meaning the larger speaker will probably be a better choice for enthusiasts with mid-to-large size rooms, or who enjoy material with significant amounts of low bass content.
- The Mini Dancer Twos are very sensitive and dynamically explosive. I’ve been driving them with my trusty Musical Fidelity kW 500 (500wpc) amp, which frankly is wild overkill with these speakers. It seems to me the Mini Dancer Twos would do very nicely with lower-powered but still very high quality electronics (for example, I’d love to see how they would do when driven by something along the lines of the Naim Nait 5i integrated).
A technical note: As many AVguide followers may know, it has come to light that Usher’s so-called “Be” tweeter does not use a pure beryllium diaphragm, but rather has a diaphragm made of a combination of beryllium (Be) and titanium (Ti). For this reason, I’ve taken to calling the tweeter the “BeTi” driver (I pronounce it “Betty”). But even though the material composition of the tweeter is different than Usher’s “Beryllium” logo might suggest, this remains one of the best-sounding piston-type tweeters I’ve ever heard.
The timing of my full review of the Mini Dancer Two will have much to do with how long it takes for me to put 100+ break-in hours on the review samples. The full review should appear on AVguide.com and in Playback within the next two months; please stay tuned.