“We don’t do home theatre systems!” was the terse initial response to the Ferguson Hill FH009. Thinking it was a full surround sound package, and the reception those products traditionally get from the readers of hifi magazines, I thought putting this package into the magazine mix would be a waste of pages. But then I looked a little closer…
Among audiophiles, Ferguson Hill is perhaps best known for its large transparent horn loudspeakers and active subwoofers. Outside the audiophile community, the company has a great reputation for making computer speakers, featuring a cube power amp/subwoofer and a pair of much smaller transparent horn loudspeakers. And the FH009 is – depending on your viewpoint – a scaled-down version of the former or a scaled-up version of the latter, with transparent horns and – in this case – what looks like a centre channel loudspeaker but is in fact the combined amplifier and subwoofer. The black or white box itself is large enough to rest a TV on, but would look good anywhere a centre speaker looks good, and – because it doesn’t have a tweeter or midrange – it is just as happy vertical as horizontal (although the display will look a little odd that way round). It’s all very ‘designer’, in the sort of timeless manner of a Dieter Rams or a Jony Ive design, not something glitzy and gilt out of TOWIE.
Inside the cabinet is two sets of 64 watt class AB amplifiers, one pair for the one-way horn mid-tweeters, another for the subwoofer drivers. At just 13cm across, these aren’t the deepest subs around and the bass response is closer to a reasonably large two-way standmount, but they do the bottom end job well, leaving the custom inch-high compression driver in the clear acrylic horns to cover the range from 340Hz-20kHz without impediment.
It’s installation is easy, because everything apart from source component is in the box. The horns come with a set of thin column stands that double up as cable management (the FH009 comes with it’s own very thin silvery twin-core loudspeaker cable, which is so small it’s unfortunately easy to wire out of phase), and it sports a remote control too. There’s provision for two line inputs at the rear, plus a minijack socket and a USB input at the front. This last is relatively limited in use, neither having Apple Authentication (so no iDevice will see it) nor offering control over files held on a thumbdrive, but it will take a feed from the output of a computer.
Set-up is relatively straightforward. Two small grub screws lock the horns in place atop the stand (or optional wall bracket) and if you can screw together something like a uplighter, you are more than qualified to assemble the FH009.
The fascinating part of this is you’d expect those horns to quack like a duck. The clear acrylic horn itself makes a dull thwacking sound when flicked and it sounds like the least vibration – like, say, from putting some energy into the drive unit at its centre would kick that thwack sound off. But somehow it doesn’t. Yes, there’s still that distinctive horn sound, best described by cupping your hands around your mouth and speaking, but in this instance, it’s more like your hands are to the sides of your mouth rather than trying to replicate a trumpet’s horn.
And this is what makes it a worthwhile inclusion into a hi-fi magazine that, frankly, gets a bit snooty about home cinema products. It makes sound fun. The FH009 is enjoyable, whatever the source. It projects sound into the room, which is especially useful, given its primary task is to convey voices ‘off the telly’. Those sounds are always exciting, energetic, attractive and, well, just fun. OK, so if you are wanting filigree detail and pin-point precision, this isn’t ever going to be your thing, but that’s not the point. If you have ever said, “Ooh, that sounds nasty, play it again!” or “Hmm, I’m feeling in something of a Dee-light meets Black Sabbath mood today”, you’ll love the devil-may-care approach it takes to music the FH009 has. It’s dynamic too. Music has an effortless quality from the FH009 and reacts to the swells and calms on a score extremely well.
Set with the two horns firing down the room and the listener smack in the sweet-spot, the FH009 gives very good stereo imagery, albeit more width and forward projection than sound behind the loudspeakers. However, it’s also surprisingly good off axis; you lose the stereo soundstage precision and far off axis even some of the treble, but once again its role as a stereo speaker set for TV users wins out. It plays well to the room, not just one lucky listener. That fun factor especially reaches round the room.