Usher is a fairly new name on this side of the pond, but it’s been producing speakers in Taiwan for more than 30 years. The company makes all of its drivers in house, employing Usher’s Symme-Motion technology, which precisely locates the voice coil to more effectively control the cone’s back and forth movements. The attention to detail extends to the selection of materials and the design of the supporting basket/frame and spider (the part that centers the voice coil in relationship to the magnet). The driver “surrounds,” that’s the outer rim of the woofer, are designed to absorb vibrations that might otherwise reflect back into the cone, resulting in distortion. Each pair of Usher speakers are precisely matched (within 0.2dB) to ensure razor sharp imaging. The left and right speakers’ woofer and tweeter offset relationship are “mirror imaged,” again, that’s the sort of design detail that’s unheard of in the S-520’s price class.
The S-520 is a two-way design with a 1-inch dome tweeter and 5-inch mid/bass driver. There’s a distinct luxury feel to these speakers, but, hey, I’m a sucker for snazzy paint jobs. Fit and finish are superb, my samples were decked out in creamy white high gloss paint with light grey grilles, but Usher also offers Gloss Black, Ferrari Red, Gloss Yellow, real cherry and mahogany wood finishes. The solid metal bi-wire connectors look like they mean business. The S-520 is beautifully made, sounds like a thoroughbred, and retails for $400 a pair! What’s not to like?
Tip: The littlest Usher is fairly inefficient, so it’ll sound best mated with healthy power amps or receivers.
The S-520 stands a mere 12 inches high, but it has the ease of a much larger design. It handily avoids the cramped, closed-in quality I associate with small speakers, especially when they try to rock out. The S-520 is capable of projecting a satisfyingly wide and spacious soundstage. Dynamics can’t replicate wham-bam impact of larger speakers, but up to moderately loud volume the S-520 holds its own, thank you very much. Bass is full and nicely defined; the treble range is a tad soft and yet still strikes a nice balance of detail and delicacy.
The pounding jungle rhythms in “Afrique” from Duke Ellington’s The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse CD [Ojc] belied the S-520’s trim dimensions. There was real weight to the sound, the brass instruments did their part urging the groove forward, and Ellington’s well placed piano jabs and stabs rang true. The S-520 communicates the music’s swing, oh my yes!.
The new R.E.M. Live CD [Warner Bros.] is a rather lively and spacious recording. Michael Stipe and the band are set back, behind the plane of the speakers, bathed in reverberation. The effect is more like you would hear in a live setting than most concert recordings, and the S-520 is transparent enough to resolve the finer details of the soundstage.