by John H. Darko | 23 Mar 2018
Last November we reviewed and DAR-KO awarded the ProAc Tablette 10 (£995) – an LS3/5a-nodding two-way loudspeaker that comprises a sealed box – wider than it is deep – capable of low bass but with a particular talent for extracting the human voice from the densest of indie rock/pop mixes.
As that review wrapped there came via ProAc’s German handler whispers of an improved model’s imminent arrival. And sure enough, in January 2018, ProAc announced the Tablette 10 Signature edition (£1295). The same sealed box, the same dimensions, the same tweeter but a new bass driver. From ProAc’s website: “It has taken a great deal of time to design a new bass driver with Excel magnet system and our own solid copper phase plug. The result is a bass driver with the Tablette 10 cone material and our special copper magnet system.”
And a new bass driver means a freshly-tuned crossover: “A great deal of time was spent fine tuning the crossover to get the best from our new bass driver. Many months of measuring and listening were taken by Stewart Tyler, the designer of both Tablette 10 and Tablette 10 Signature.” Tyler’s signature is affixed black-on-shiny-gold to the back panel.
Would I like to give the Signature edition a spin at home, nudging what would ordinarily be a news announcement into review territory?
Natürlich (‘Of course’).
At the end of February, the Signature edition arrived dressed in mahogany veneer, missing the outgoing original (in Silk White finish) review loaner by a matter of days. Any comparative commentary would come with the disclaimer that the Tablette 10 and Tablette 10 Signature edition couldn’t be compared side by side Chez Darko. A hit of short-term audio memory would assist in calling out audible differences. Helping matters, the partnering electronics would remain the same – Innuos Zenith MKII SE, Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, PS Audio BHK Signature pre-amplifier and Schiit Vidar amplifier.
Like the three hundred quid price differential, the performance delta between the two models isn’t gargantuan. The Signature edition is more of a refinement than a re-invention but it’s the better speaker of the two, maintaining the clean voice extraction and bass depth of the original but polishing a cleaner window on the source material, especially the lower midrange where (late career) Johnny Cash and Tom Waits groan n’ growl.
Equally noticeable is a slight uptick in micro-dynamic pizzazz that, working in tandem with a slightly higher dose of treble sizzle, makes these Tablettes sound more like the models of yore — and all the better suited to electronic music (Developer, Rrose, Plaid) than the original Tablette 10.
The most obvious improvement effected by the Signature edition is the way in which it sprays music higher and wider than the original. Think garden sprinkler set to a finer mist.
Separating the Signature edition ProAcs from the KEF LS50 is a more delicate handling of robust sounds. Here we do get the benefit of a side-by-side A/B where the LS50 show less explicit top-end detail – especially ambient information – but more connote greater forward momentum and a more muscular low end.
No doubt its rear port helps the LS50 in sounding the weightier of the two loudspeakers. On the other hand, it’s not as fleet of foot in bouncing between bass notes as the souped-up n’ sealed ProAc that communicate a better sense of rhythmic timing.
With radio hosts or podcast conversations, the ProAc leave the KEF a step behind but, almost paradoxically, the KEF better expose audible changes introduced by the JCAT M12 Switch Gold (review to come).
With the big music (from The Waterboys) and bigger music (from John Hopkins) the Tablette 10 Signature invite us to sit closer to the loudspeaker plane than do the KEF. In my 6.5m x 5m lounge room the LS50 sound better with more daylight between loudspeaker and listener – a more proximate listener.
With the Tablette 10 Signature moved to the desktop, close/r quarters become unavoidable. My work desk is heavy and wide but pushed up against the window, the LS50 don’t place as nicely, even sat atop ISOacoustic stands. The ProAcs’ less impactful low end and portless design see their more delicate handling of techno’s whomp and wallop become an asset, remind us that the ProAc work nicely where ported speakers might not: with proximate rear boundaries.
Like the standard model, the ProAc Tablette 10 Signature fulfil a very specific (but very important) niche: listeners who thirst for a taste of the high-end but whose living quarters demand it be served as a smaller portion.