Minstrel SE Review, Gramophone, February 1998

Reproduced from a review in “Gramophone” by John Borwick published in February 1998.

Minstrel SERoyd Minstrel SE loudspeaker

Joe Akroyd designs and builds exceedingly good loudspeakers, and they usually cost a bit more than this surprisingly compact floor-stander. With slimline dimensions of only 642 x 18O x 120mm (yes the cabinet depth is just the same as the diameter of a Compact Disc), this new Minstrel Special Edition is about as tiny as any floor-standing loudspeaker could be.

The reference axis is tilted upwards, to give an increase in effective height at the listening position, by mounting the rectangular enclosure on to a dedicated plinth or base through a wedge shaped insert. Note, however, that the top naturally slopes backwards which rules out any attempt to balance a vase of flowers on top. The £399 price includes a pair of wooden plinths, but superior results are claimed for an optional steel base which costs an extra £55 per pair. Cabinet-work is impeccable and finished in real-wood veneers of cherry or black ash. The already very rigid enclosure has extensive internal damping to minimize standing waves and further inhibit panel resonances.

Bass reflex loading is employed with a small cylindrical port emerging at one side. As the two loudspeakers have this port on opposite sides, the user has a choice of placing the stereo pair with the ports facing inwards or outwards which produces a subtle difference in imaging and is well worth a bit of experimentation in any given room situation. The conventional black grille cloth is wrapped round a strong frame with a curved bottom edge. A single pair of colour-coded terminals is positioned about 18cm above the base.

The wood and steel bases both come with three fixing bolts each, two of which fit into the cabinet floor while the third anchors a black steel strut which is in turn bolted to the rear of the enclosure to serve as a strengthening back support. In fact, the wooden base is adequately robust but the more massive steel base does add a beneficial degree of stability. Again, in the context of trying to extract a quart of response from this pint-sized loudspeaker, the supplied four floor-spikes are recommended for all but the most damage-conscious floors.

Two Royd-designed drive units are mounted high on the front baffle and as close together as possible. The tweeter is a 19mm soft dome type with a secondary chamber at the rear. It is framed by a 12Omm diameter mat of soft rubber material, presumably to smooth over any surface irregularities introduced by the fixing screws. The 5 inch (125mm) cast chassis bass/midrange unit has been substantially reworked for the Special Edition model. Damping applied to the rear of the cone extends over the central spider and the peripheral surround with no discontinuity. In addition, the junction between the voice-coil former and the cone is 5mm long: and shaped at the cone centre for added strength. The result is a raising of any bell-mode resonance frequencies beyond the unit’s working range.

Of only average 87dB sensitivity, the system has a recommended amplifier power rating in the range of 20-80 watts. However, peak power handling is quoted as 100 watts and I can see advantages in providing an amplifier at the upper end of that 20-80W range.

Performance
While conceding at a glance that this small loudspeaker, with its unusual sloping stance, is eminently “room friendly” as its makers claim, I was a little concerned as to its potential for reproducing the kind of rich bass that so many types of music demand. Indeed my test measurements did reveal a fairly steep roll-off below about 60Hz.

Midrange clarity was outstanding and extreme treble was at a proper unemphasized level. This presented solo voices, including the mellifluous Emma Kirkby, Thomas Allen and many others in a nicely forward balance and natural timbre. The spoken voice was particularly well focused and totally free of boominess; just the quality of sound that I remember we tried so hard to achieve in my old BBC days, where the spoken word is naturally given more priority than in the average music-driven record industry context. Choral and orchestral music benefited too from this unveiled fidelity and presence, enabling me to identify and locate precisely all the parts in the most complex scores.

Bass quality was satisfactory, and pleasantly free of any undue lumpiness introduced by cabinet resonances or any misguided attempt at ‘false bass’. I did feel, however, that steps should be taken to optimize bass extension and solidity. The steel plinth helped (I had been sent both types), as did proper use of the floor-spikes. Then I tried various positions in relation to the rear wall, and a 50cm distance worked very well.

In the process I put my ear close to the reflex port and heard a surprising amount of bass energy at work. This was my cue to compare the two orientations of the vent holes and the differences were more significant than I had supposed. With the ports pointing inwards, the stereo spread became disappointingly narrow and the bass-shy impression was exaggerated. When I made the ports face outwards, everything improved. The sense of space was reinforced, presumably helped by reflections of bass energy from the side walls and, combined with rear wall assistance as already mentioned, enabled me to tune bass balance to taste. This worked particularly well in a bay window where the angled side walls directed more bass in my direction.

As anyone will tell you, including the chap who long ago devised the ‘loudness control’ contour to boost bass at quiet volume settings, the relative balance of bass ‘as heard’ is always higher at higher volume. Therefore, neighbours permitting, it is entirely possible to make most loudspeakers sound more impressive in this way. I tried it, as part of my usual investigation into power handling capacity, and found that, though some boominess resulted, this loudspeaker can indeed supply high enough undistorted sound pressure levels for any normal domestic setting.

I can strongly recommend the Royd Minstrel SE for its exceptional clarity of tone and well conceived suitability for rooms where space is at a premium.

Specification
Drive units 125mm bass/midrange; 19mm tweeter
Frequency range 33Hz-20kHz
Bass resonance frequency 43Hz
Crossover frequency 3kHz
Sensitivity 87dB for 1 watt at 1 metre
Nominal impedance 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power 20-80 watts
Peak power handling 100 watts
Dimensions main cabinet (H x W x D) 642 x 180 x 120m base (W x H x D) 260 x 178 x 25mm Weight 17kg (gross)
Manufacturer Royd Loudspeaker Company Limited, Unit B2, Stafford Park 15, Telford, Shropshire TF3 3BB
Telephone 01952290700 Fax 01952290190
UK retail price £399 with wood bases; steel bases £55 per pair

By John Borwick, “Gramophone” February 1998
Original can be found here.