The Vimberg Mino Loudspeaker

Which is really the point. It’s not just that this is a lot of speaker for the money. It’s provides pretty much unprecedented musical access at the price, along with a matching level of musical engagement and insight. That access manifests itself in different ways with different recordings. Play the Rafael Kubelik/Boston Symphony recording of Smetana’s Má Vlast (UHQCD UCCG-40085) and you hear the opening harp arpeggios echo and reverberate across the familiar Symphony Hall acoustic, defining a space that then seems to fill naturally with each stage of the orchestral development. The Narcisco Yepes/LSO recording of the Villa-Lobos Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra (the Pentatone re-mastering, PTC 5186 202) is vivid and lively, the band explicitly layered and separated in the space behind the soloist, the sure-footed musical articulation, devoid of slurring or hesitation, underlining the give and take in this stylized musical conversation. The presentation might lack the sheer, boisterous energy of speakers like the larger Stenheims or the Wilson Sasha DAW, but the Minos have a poise and precision that lets you hear what is being played, without pinching or constricting the dynamics and expressive nuance that tell you how and why it’s being played. There’s nothing po-faced or musically constipated about the Vimbergs. You are not getting all that information and resolution at the expense of excitement. Play ‘Strike The Viol’ (from Christine Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata’s Music For A While – Erato/Warner Classics 0190295 250843) and the Minos might not invest the opening drum beats with quite the explosive impact and drama that the DAWs deliver, but Raquel Andueza’s voice has a clarity and articulation that makes the lyric effortlessly intelligible, her vocal gymnastics all the more impressively remarkable. The stereo perspective get’s her height and proportions (relative to the instruments) just right and stands her between Pluhar and the band – exactly as they perform live. The transition to the clarinet response is completely fluid, without the clumsy hesitation that so many speakers and systems introduce, testimony to the lack of mid-bass baggage introduced by the cabinet and porting. The reprise, with the voice and clarinet harmonising is not just a model of clarity, but a thing of beauty too. This is like turning up to a Clash concert but hearing Joe Jackson instead – similar, different but every bit as entertaining.

This balance of clarity and musical engagement is something that all systems seem to struggle with – most falling too far to one side of the line or the other. The Mino has its spiked feet firmly planted on the median. You can lean the sound one way or the other, simply by changing the source or driving amp, but the speakers’ essential lack of signature removes them from the equation as a whole. Where so many speakers present the challenge of tempering their influence to achieve a natural or preferred balance, the Minos invert that situation, challenging you to create a driving system that meets your needs rather than theirs. In one sense this is audio defenestration without the safety net. But it is also freedom from the tyranny of cabinet colouration, and the losses and distortions imposed by the average subtractive crossover.