In this respect the little HL-2 had something over my H-1s, which lack comparable evenness in the upper-middle/lower treble region. Brian reckons the Impulse H-1 (and H-2) had a slight suckout near the crossover point, caused by the impedance dipping. This results in a slight discontinuity in the frequency response, and also makes the speaker harder to drive – faults addressed by his newer designs. Now he tells me… Being a relatively small speaker, the HL-2 does not produce trouser-flapping levels of deep bass, although its sense of scale and expansive soundstage belie its limited dimensions. However, what bass there is, sounds very clean and well behaved. There isn’t the false ‘one note’ bass you can sometimes get with conventional ported designs, nor the dry tightness that can afflict infinite baffle types. The HL-2’s bass is clean and impeccably well behaved, if not massively full or rich. It’s the sort of bass that’s only there when it’s there, if that makes sense. For the most part, the lower frequencies sound clear and open. There isn’t a constant ‘drone’ or sense of false fullness or weight caused by a distinct resonance around the 60-80Hz region. Some listeners may hanker for a little more grunt – a greater sense of low frequency power - but better a light clear clean bass than one that’s soggy and thick. Those wanting deeper bass could rectify matters by the addition of a good small sub-woofer – or (better still) two. This would give extra heft at the lower frequencies, without spoiling the HL- 2’s fast articulate upper bass. If I were going to live with these speakers, I’d definitely investigate a good sub-woofer – it really will make things sound bigger and better.
Tonally, the HL-2 has a very smooth open sound, but there’s a slight lower midrange coloration apparent from time to time – a slight ‘boxiness’ that robs the sound of its warmth and richness. It’s not serious, and with most music and much of the time there’s barely a hint of it. But I did notice it on solo piano music, for example, and the lower string instruments like cello and double bass. Possibly the cause is down to the relatively narrow width of the enclosure (just a little over 4.5ins) and the closeness of the cabinet sidewalls to the bass/mid driver. I had a quick peep inside and spotted a Deflex damping panel on the rear of the cabinet, but nothing either side of the drive unit. My guess is that a bit of Deflex to the left and right of the bass driver should all but eliminate the coloration problems spoken about.
Stereo imaging is very good. The simple narrow/tall design creates clean precise placement of images in space, without the soundstage becoming over-clinical. The speakers sound excellent on naturally-miked classical or jazz recordings, but also work well when fed with multi-miked pop and rock. Vocals sound nicely ‘present’ and forward – another area where the original H1 and H2 were sometimes criticised.
The HL-2 is definitely brighter and more forward than my H1s, but not excessively so. On the plus side, the smaller speaker has a far smoother and more integrated frequency response in the critical ‘presence’ region where it crosses over. As a result, the HL-2 tends to produce stronger, more solidlyfocussed and better projected vocals.
Yet there’s never any sense of things not integrating. After I’d lived with the HL-2s for a couple of weeks, I returned to my H1s just to see how the bigger speaker compared. The extra weight and amplitude of the H1 was immediately apparent, and yet – surprise! - I really missed the HL-2’s mid/treble smoothness and integration. While the H1s sounded bigger and more solid, the upper treble seemed less focused and precise – it had a slight wispy quality. Crikey! The HL-2s do detail superbly well. They really are excellent at revealing subtle changes of pitch and micro dynamics. Clarity is outstanding. Especially inner clarity – the way subtle instruments or voices can still be heard while more dominant ones hold the stage. While my H1s sounded fuller and more solid, they seemed less homogenous and not so integrated.
The little HL-2 definitely highlighted several areas where my H1s could stand improvement – no doubt about it. Which is interesting. Going back again, I really appreciated just how clean the HL-2 sounds – how free from ‘edge’ the treble is – and how smooth and integrated the music sounded; and all this despite having a fairly forward and analytical tonal balance. My H1s might be fitted with a far more expensive Focal tweeter, but the SEAS driver in the HL-2 seemed to equal it for detail and attack, while (if anything) sounding just a tad cleaner. Apparently the SEAS tweeter has an extended upper frequency response to about 25kHz, and perhaps as a result many of its resonances fall beyond the range of the human ear. It certainly sounded very clean and clear.