I honestly can’t remember the last time I reviewed a pair of loudspeakers. It was almost certainly a decade ago - probably more. Why? The main reason is purely practical. I’ve lived happily for the best part of twenty years with a set of Impulse H-1 horns. They’re pretty big, and not easy to move. So – with space at a premium – it’s not been easy to accommodate extra speakers for review purposes. But, there are other reasons. When you live with a pair of big speakers, and get used to the way they do things, it’s hard to go over to something smaller (however good) without feeling a wee bit disappointed. There’s a distinct difference between the size and scale of sound produced by small speakers and larger ones. It’s a different quality of sound. Once you get used to a bigger speaker, it’s hard to downsize… Although some good small speakers seem to punch well above their weight, to me they’re always flattering to deceive - creating an impression of scale and weight by forcefulness and aggression. You have to play the music loud to get it to fill the room. And while this can be quite impressive in one sense, it’s worlds away from a big speaker that effortlessly fills the room, even when the music’s quiet.
Actually, to be fair, we’re talking degrees here. All speakers flatter to deceive. No speaker can fully recreate the massive breadth and scale of (say) a large orchestra and chorus in a big hall. The apparent recreation of vast forces in your living room is an illusion – an acoustic con trick. But some speakers are better liars than others. And big efficient speakers are invariably more convincing than smaller less efficient types.
Aspara Acoustics are Brian Taylor and Julius Hyde, the team responsible for the original Impulse H-1. So there’s a certain kinship between my old speakers and this new design. Although Brian and Julius have generally designed fairly large and ambitious loudspeakers, they wanted to see if they could come up with something smaller and cheaper without sacrificing too many of the qualities that distinguish their bigger nocompromise designs.
The HL-2 is a diminutive floorstander. It’s approximately 1/6th the cubic capacity of the H-1 - almost as tall, but much less wide and deep. The bass loading is unusual, and might best be described as a Ported Pipe. Basically it’s a Port with an exponential opening. Apparently, Brian got the idea from reading an old loudspeaker book by the legendary Gilbert Briggs, founder of Wharfedale. However, it seems the great man himself never actually designed any loudspeakers making use of the principle, preferring instead other more familiar forms of loading. Anyway, Brian liked the Ported Pipe idea in principle, and was intrigued to see if it could be made to work. He was pleased with the results when he experimented with the early prototypes.
The HL-2 employs two drive units – a SEAS ferrofluiddamped softdome tweeter, and a 5in diameter doped paper cone Bass/Mid driver. The speaker offers medium levels of efficiency (about 92dB @ 1m and 1W), and the crossover has been designed to present amplifiers with a simple, easy-to-drive load. The makers claim satisfactory results can be achieved with good tube amplifiers having an output of just 10-15W, providing you’re not looking to shake the walls or rattle the rafters.
The cabinet is made from 1in thick Oak veneered plywood, with a one inch thick solid oak front baffle. This solid baffle is attached to the ply cabinet front, making the whole thing around two inches thick. The baffle itself is slightly wider than the cabinet. Possibly this was done for purely aesthetic reasons, but in my experience it affects dispersion and actually helps improve stereo imaging. Oakwood is the only finish offered, albeit in a choice of Light, Medium, or Dark. Styling is simple and functional, and there is no grille to cover the drive units. A single set of gold-plated 4mm terminals can be found on the back of the speaker. Inside, is a simple hard-wired crossover laced using cryogenically frozen solid core cable. There is some internal wadding in the port (pipe?), and the walls are lined with Deflex polymer panels to control unwanted reflections and resonances. The tapered port exits on one side of the enclosure, and it’s recommended that you have the ports facing each other – in other works, pointing inwards. The makers recommend placing the speakers about 18ins from rear and sidewalls, but say this isn’t ultra critical. First impressions were of an open, lively sound that was crisp and quite forward. Efficiency is similar to that of the H1, but after the bigger speaker there was (inevitably) some loss of scale and fullness. The soundstage had shrunk somewhat, with voices and instruments sounding ‘smaller’. The HL-2 has quite good bass for its size, but it cannot match the breathy voluminous bottom end of the H-1. On a more positive note, I was immediately taken with the HL-2’s integration and homogeneity. The tonal balance is bright and lively (in the best sense) but there’s no hint of discontinuity – the sound has a totally seamless quality from high treble, through to the midrange and bass. Even when sat quite close to the speakers, you can’t ‘hear’ the individual drive units. There’s no break in the response – no part of the frequency range that obtrudes.