Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Scansonic HD came into being in 1970, as a speaker line of Scan-Speak, the famed Danish maker of drive-units. Scan-Speak was then purchased by Scansonic’s current parent company, Dantax Radio, in 1977, before being spun off on its own some ten years later. This left Scansonic under the Dantax umbrella, along with loudspeaker brands GamuT Audio and Raidho Acoustics. While Raidho’s ultra-high-end speakers are famed for their fast, airy sound, thanks in no small part to the ribbon tweeter used in all their models, their retail prices stretch well into six figures and make them pipe dreams for all but the wealthiest audiophiles. Scansonic’s mandate is to make available to a wider audience some of the Raidho magic at more affordable prices.

Scansonic

The new M series is Scansonic’s least expensive line -- just above it are the M BTL Bluetooth speakers, and above those the MB series, just topping $10,000/pair. The speaker reviewed here is the flagship M model, the floorstanding M-40 ($2400 USD per pair). Below it are the smaller M-20 floorstander ($1800/pair), the M-10 minimonitor ($800/pair), and the M-8 powered subwoofer ($799). While the subwoofer marries an 8” woofer to a 100W built-in amplifier, the three speaker models each have a single hybrid ribbon tweeter and at least one 4” drive-unit with a honeycomb-reinforced glass-fiber cone. The two-way M-10 has one of those 4” drivers, used as a midrange-woofer. The M-20 and M-40 are 2.5-way designs, the M-20 having one 4” midrange-woofer and one 4” woofer, and the M-40 two 4” midrange-woofers in an MTM (midrange-tweeter-midrange) array at top, and below them two 4” woofers. The M and M BTL models are made in China, while the far pricier MB series is manufactured at Scansonic’s factory in Denmark. In my experience, the vast majority of hi-fi loudspeakers made in China are built as well as, if not better than, those made elsewhere.

The rectilinear M-40 stands 42.7”H x 8.7”W x 11.6”D with the included footers fitted, and weighs 39.7 pounds. As I unboxed them, I worried that their tall, slender cabinets had a body-image issue, so anorexic did they look next to my little KEF LS50s, which are positively tubby by comparison. All Scansonic speakers are available in a Silk White or Silk Black finish. The Silk White of my review samples was pretty nice, with a flatter, more demure look and feel than the glossy white finishes used by some other manufacturers. The cabinet is moderately rigid, and each driver has its own removable metal grille that is perforated with a striking dimpled design, the dimples increasing in diameter as they near the cabinet edges. Lightly magnetized, each grille slots easily into place.

The overall build quality was pretty good, with the qualities of finish and cabinet rigidity I’ve come to expect at the price, though companies like Bowers & Wilkins and Monitor Audio set the benchmarks at this price. On the rear panel of the bass-reflex M-40 are four long, narrow slot vents instead of the usual single, circular port. The two pairs of smallish binding posts, while fully functional, weren’t the nicest to use.

Scansonic

The M-40’s party piece is its sealed, quasi-ribbon tweeter. The diaphragm is a 20µm-thick sandwich of Kapton and aluminum with a moving mass that’s a fraction of that of the average dome tweeter. Moreover, a ribbon doesn’t require physical support -- its magnet system suspends the ultrathin diaphragm in a uniform electromagnetic field. The theory is that the incredibly light diaphragm of a properly designed and built ribbon tweeter can respond more quickly to audio signals than can a dome, to produce a more “airy” sound.

The M-40’s frequency range is specified as 45Hz-40kHz. Scansonic crosses over its sealed-back ribbon tweeter to its two 4” midrange-woofers at 4kHz with a second-order (12dB/octave) slope; the two 4” woofers kick in at 300Hz via a first-order (6dB/octave) slope for increased bass output. The shape of the dustcaps on the midrange-woofers differs slightly from those on the woofers, to provide greater dispersion and lower levels of distortion through the all-important midrange, but otherwise the four 4” drivers are identical. The small-diameter midrange-woofer cones are ideal for the high crossover point to the ribbon, while the matching woofer diameter ensures uniform dispersion characteristics. Scansonic specifies for the M-40 a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and a sensitivity of 88dB, the latter slightly above the norm. They recommend a “high quality” amplifier capable of providing 100-300Wpc.

Setup

I used the Scansonic M-40s with a variety of integrated amplifier-DACs, including NAD’s D 3045 (60Wpc), Teac’s NR-7CD (60Wpc), Technics’ SU-G700 (70Wpc), and my reference Hegel Music Systems H590 with its mammoth 301Wpc (all power outputs into 8 ohms). While the Hegel, Teac, and Technics amplifiers are full-size components with substantial power supplies, the NAD D 3045 is fairly small. Despite this, and despite the fact that three of these amps produce far less power than Scansonic recommends, I ran into no notable problems or limitations when running the M-40s hard, which suggests that they’re not all that hard to drive.

Setup was straightforward. Due to their narrow width and modest weight, the M-40s arrived straight from Denmark in single cardboard boxes, with a simple manual, and the necessary hardware to mount the included front and rear plinths. I placed them roughly 8’ apart, 1’ from the front wall of my long, narrow listening room, and 8.5’ from my listening position, toed in until I could just see the inner sidewall of each speaker. While I was able to coax slightly more bass from the M-40s by pushing them closer to the front wall, this came at the expense of soundstage depth -- which, as I discuss below, is one of the main reasons you’d want to own a loudspeaker like this.

Scansonic

I wired the M-40s with single runs of AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables -- no biwiring for this guy. The Scansonics’ binding posts accept spades and banana plugs, but couldn’t fully seat my banana-terminated cables -- which often happens with smaller posts such as these. My time listening to the M-40s was pretty much equally divided among the Teac, Technics, and Hegel integrated amps, with also a short visit from NAD’s D 3045, which arrived late in the listening period. The Hegel, Technics, and NAD were all hooked up to my Intel NUC computer running Roon via a DH Labs Silversonic USB link, while the Teac (which has no USB input) was wired via TosLink to a Google Chromecast Audio device used as a Roon endpoint. Each amp was plugged into my Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner with a generic power cord.

Listening

On the M-40’s webpage, Scansonic states, “Don’t let the slim and elegant looks fool you -- the M-40 can really rock the house, when its four 4” woofers are put to work.” After spending a couple months with the svelte Danes, I think “rock the house” is generous at best. Textbook anechoic measurements for a floorstanding loudspeaker -- something like the “Listening Window” graph of Revel’s Performa3 F206 -- exhibit a gradual decline of 3dB with rising frequency throughout the audioband. Properly set up in the average living room, such speakers should sound utterly balanced, with nothing accentuated, nothing attenuated.

The M-40, by contrast, sounded as if it had a ruler-flat anechoic frequency response. In my room, the bass was attenuated by a decibel or two, while the treble was accentuated by about the same amount. On a practical level, this meant that my electronica- and pop-dominated playlists needed to be traded in for less processed fare. The M-40’s four 4” drivers (again, with the top two serving as midrange-woofers) didn’t offer the punch or extension I’ve come to expect from small floorstanders, and so didn’t work well with music that leans heavily on the midbass for its power and drive.

Scansonic

Instead, I cued up track 9 of Memoryhouse, my favorite album from contemporary composer Max Richter (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, FatCat/Tidal): “November, for Viola and Orchestra.” The sound of rain saturated my listening room, punctuated by rolling thunder and a pensive, high-pitched melody played by the strings of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. About 40 seconds in, at left of center, soloist Levine Andrade’s viola emerged from the gloom. His instrument wasn’t particularly well defined in space -- my ears couldn’t “see” it with millimetric precision -- but I was floored by its purity of tone, and how it resonated in the recording venue. The sound was so spacious and detailed that the M-40’s tonal balance suddenly made all sorts of sense. Andrade’s instrument sounded urgent without being bright, smooth without obscuring detail -- unlike the sound of this track through any dome tweeter I’ve heard at anywhere near the M-40’s price.

There were limitations. As soon as I stood up at my listening position, about 8.5’ from each M-40, the spaciousness disappeared, and Andrade’s viola suddenly sounded muffled. I sat back down and leaned far to my right, then far to my left, but heard no diminution of apparent space. While a good modern domed tweeter generally offers consistent off-axis behavior on the horizontal and vertical axes, the M-40 ribbon’s output seemed to decline precipitously once my ears were more than 30° above the tweeter. But this was hardly a deal-breaker, as the M-40s’ sweet spot remained commendably wide; I could sit in any of my couch’s three seats and hear a largely identical sound.

Scansonic

With Spring 1, from Recomposed by Max Richter -- Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (24/44.1 MQA, Deutsche Grammophon/Tidal), a reimagining of Vivaldi’s classic quartet of violin concerti, I was smitten by the M-40s. I hammered them with both the 60Wpc of NAD’s D 3045 and the 301Wpc of Hegel’s H590 integrated amp-DACs -- each can natively unfold this MQA recording -- and the Scansonics never stepped out of line, even when I nearly maxed out the NAD’s volume knob. Flanked by violins in both channels in canon perpetuus, soloist Daniel Hope’s playing at the center of the soundstage sounded utterly effortless, and mellifluous to boot. Metal-dome tweeters tend to carve the solo violin with a sharper outline on a wider soundstage, with more aggressive attacks of bow on string. The Scansonic ribbons’ reproduction of Hope’s violin was more delicate, if slightly more diffuse. The M-40s’ stereo image wasn’t as well defined as that produced by the Uni-Q coaxial drivers of my reference KEF LS50 minimonitors, but Hope’s violin had a sweetness and effortlessness that sounded more natural. Ribbon tweeters are renowned for their buoyant, airy sound, and the Scansonic definitely delivered that -- such was the resulting sense of musical timing and high-frequency extension that their tweeters seemed to fly.

“A Victory of Love,” from German band Alphaville’s Forever Young (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic/Tidal), used to be one of the demo tracks I took along with me to my local audio dealer when auditioning gear back around 2000. For 1984 synth-pop, “A Victory of Love” is surprisingly dynamic, lead singer Marian Gold teeing off track and album in a sensually robust manner. Unlike most recordings from the ’80s, this one doesn’t sound tinny, and two things about the Scansonics’ reproduction of it quickly struck me. First, the speaker’s prominent treble raised the track’s already-audible noise floor just a bit more than I’m used to hearing, while also making the recording venue sound a touch more spacious. If hearing deeply into a recording is your thing, these are the speakers for you. The apparent space surrounding Gold’s voice was very wide and very deep, though I attribute this to the floorstanders’ tipped-up treble. Second, with the NAD D 3045 driving the skinny M-40s, I couldn’t believe how much of Gold’s voice I was being treated to. There was tons of detail and body, all delivered with a smooth, airy ease that I found very pleasing. The Scansonics weren’t the last word in resolution, but their ability to cast a convincingly deep soundstage around Gold’s natural-sounding voice was remarkable.

Scansonic

“Hold My Liquor,” from Kanye West’s Yeezus (16/44.1 FLAC, Def Jam/Tidal), isn’t a track that any self-respecting M-40 owner should ever play through these speakers -- it clearly highlighted the speaker’s shortcomings as well as its talents. Despite having all the tact of an ornery toddler, West is a talented producer. From around 100Hz on up, the track sounded fantastic. Yeezy’s voice was nigh-on perfect in tonality, while electronic transients danced from channel to channel with controlled exuberance. Even when I swapped in my 301Wpc Hegel H590 and pushed the Scansonics really hard, I was impressed by how composed and coherent the soundstage and West’s voice remained. I wouldn’t recommend the M-40 for larger rooms, however. When presented with a whomping, throbbing bass line like the one in “Hold My Liquor,” which begs to be played loudly by full-range speakers, the M-40s just didn’t deliver. There was meaningful output down to about 50Hz, but it was lower in level than I’d expected, and not quite as effortless as the M-40’s excellent midrange and highs. I hadn’t noticed this when I was playing lots of orchestral music and singer-songwriters, but heavily processed bass just didn’t play nicely with the waif-like M-40s. They’re show ponies, not workhorses.

Comparison

Bowers & Wilkins’s 704 S2 loudspeaker retails for $2500/pair -- just $100 more than a pair of Scansonic M-40s. This three-way floorstander has a carbon-coated aluminum-dome tweeter, a 5” midrange driver with a cone made of the proprietary Continuum material that has replaced B&W’s signature yellow Kevlar cones, and two 5” woofers. While not as slim as the M-40, the 704 S2 is shorter and still a smallish floorstander, standing a mere 37.8” tall on its included plinth. It’s built to the high standard of fit’n’finish we’ve come to expect from B&W, and in that regard outclasses the Scansonic in just about every way. But to be fair, B&W’s standards in this area pretty much lead the industry.

Scansonic

The 704 S2’s sound is broadly similar to the M-40’s, in the sense that its bass is somewhat unremarkable in impact, slam, and extension, being full-voiced down to only 50Hz; it’s not a punchy speaker by any means. Further, the B&W’s treble extension is more pronounced than you’d expect from a “neutral” speaker design like the Revel Performa3 F206, mentioned above. In short, both it and the Scansonic M-40 have a somewhat bass-shy yet spacious sound. But whereas the M-40 provided a consistent if slightly forward sound with voices and instruments, I find the 704 S2’s sound mercurial. Its recessed lower midrange results in a conspicuous upper-midrange emphasis that makes many female voices, especially highly processed ones, sound bright, while orchestral recordings tended to sound a bit disjointed. Additionally, while the Scansonics’ ribbon tweeters reproduced violins as smoothly as you’d like, stringed instruments sounded strident and bright through the B&Ws. As a result, some tracks sounded stupendous through the 704 S2s, others produced winces. In terms of overall sound quality, I’d take the Scansonic M-40 every day of the week.

Conclusion

Scansonic HD’s M-40 floorstanding speaker is different. From its incredibly skinny cabinet and Scandinavian appearance, to its ribbon tweeter and spacious sound, it’s a speaker looking for a specific type of buyer -- those whose taste tends toward rock and bass-heavy music may be disappointed by this svelte floorstander. Yet with more delicate, uncompressed music, particularly strings and well-recorded voices, the M-40s revealed themselves as something special. There was a magic about their ability to re-create a large soundscape, and their undeniable finesse with violins and violas, in particular, was something I couldn’t get enough of in my time with them. Scansonic’s M-40 isn’t for everyone, but I suspect it can provide a lifetime’s worth of thrills for the right audiophile.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KEF LS50, PSB Alpha P5
  • Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifier-DACs -- Hegel Music Systems H590, NAD D 3045, Teac NR-7CD, Technics SU-G700
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Intel NUC running Roon with Tidal, Qobuz
  • Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
  • Digital link -- DH Labs Silversonic USB
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

Scansonic HD M-40 Loudspeakers
Price: $2400 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

Scansonic HD
c/o Dantax Radio A/S
Bransagervej 15
9490 Pandrup
Denmark
Phone: +45 98-24-76-77

E-mail: sales@scansonichd.dk
Website: www.scansonichd.dk