Børresen X3 loudspeakers
The Børresen X3 followed the mighty Stratton Acoustics Elypsis 1512s into the listening room, it would be hard to imagine two such different designs. The Stratton is a metre wide, has ten and 12 inch drive units and costs over £80,000, the X3 is 34.5cm wide, has drivers that do not exceed 4.5 inches and you could buy eight pairs and still have change for the price of the Stratton. It’s remarkable that the Børresen didn’t prove to be a disappointment, the fact that it held its own in many key areas is a testament to its designer’s skills.
That the Børresen X3 is the least expensive floorstanding speaker in the company’s portfolio suggests that this is only the tip of the acoustic iceberg as far as quality is concerned yet it’s a pretty damn impressive loudspeaker. It may be slim if you look at the front baffle but the boat tail section cabinet is nearly two feet deep and sports no fewer than six reflex ports that stick out like exhaust pipes from the slim rear panel. Apparently it needs this many because the narrowness of the back panel limits port diameter. The X3 is an elegant loudspeaker because of the way it tapers from front to rear and it doesn’t take up much visual space in the room as high end examples go. I like the use of carbon fibre to reinforce the top and front of the cabinet and the plinth is particularly well executed too, with gun metal grey metalwork and a sandwich construction.
The midrange and bass drive units have distinctive spread tow woven carbon fibre faced cones, these are actually sandwich constructions with a layer of aramid honeycomb between carbon fibre skins, the idea being to combine maximum stiffness with minimal weight. This has long been the goal with cone drivers but this type of carbon fibre is called thin ply in some quarters because it is lighter than the regular variety yet maintains the same high stiffness thanks to the weave and the way it’s doped. Børresen is very keen on these drivers and uses them on his biggest and best loudspeaker the M6, they gain a titanium skin and a zirconium basket among other luxuries on that model but the cone is fundamentally the same.
The magnet system on the Børresen X3 drivers is a bit different too, these benefit from double copper caps on the pole rings in order to maximise flux whilst keeping inductance down. Copper caps are not unusual in the better magnet systems in high end speakers but using two is unusual, the benefit of higher flux is greater control of the driver, while avoiding high or uneven inductance makes the amplifier’s life easy and generally results in a more even response from the speaker.
The X series tweeter is very much like those found in all of Michael Børresen’s designs and consists of a 70 x 28mm ribbon with a claimed moving mass of 0.01 grams, this is controlled by a low mass magnet system and delivers frequencies from around 2.5kHz up to 50kHz, which is an impressive range in anyone’s book. It sits in a shallow horn or wave guide that helps with efficiency and power handling.
Pretty damn clean
It took a bit of experimentation to find the optimal position for the X3s in my room, as a rule most speakers work well pretty close to the back wall with toe in so that their axis face the listening seat. Here I had to pull the Børresens into the room two or three times before the bass sounded natural, they ended up with the wall 45cm from the back of the speaker which doesn’t sound like much but is twice what I’d expect with a front or downward ported design. There are of course a lot of ports on this speaker and clearly they are producing low frequency output.
Driven by my Moor Amps Angel 6 power amp the Børresen X3 is refined and revealing loudspeaker, its delivery is apparently silky smooth yet it unearths detail with conspicuous precision. I particularly like this combination of detail and finesse, it means that you can play at high levels without fatigue because the speaker retains its composure thanks to low perceived colouration and good power handling capabilities. The X3s strike me as having very low noise, that is neither the drivers nor the cabinet appears to ring or vibrate along with the music, the ribbon tweeter also helps by avoiding the break characteristics found with some dome types. Or perhaps that should be their limitations are less obvious and don’t seem to result in a hardening of the sound, there is no sense of glare around brighter instruments like sax or piano. It’s a pretty damn clean sound.
They need a bit of level to get going, coming straight after the Strattons which excel at producing dynamics at low levels to a greater extent than the vast majority of speakers, this was the most obvious difference. The area that they outplayed those big boxes was in image scale and depth, those narrow baffles are very good at getting out of the way and letting the sound expand into the room. The combination of very low noise and excellent imaging means that backgrounds can seem to be inky black on a good recording, with the notes produced seemingly appearing out of nowhere. This can be achieved with good stand mounts which have the advantage of smaller cabinets that are easier to control but the X3 does this in a decent sized box which is capable of powerful bass. There’s a real sense of pressure when a double bass is plucked, more so than on many other floorstanders of this scale.
The quietness of backgrounds with these Børresen X3s comes up many times in my notes, it’s what lets you hear all the quiet stuff and it’s the quiet stuff that adds depth and body to the fundamentals in the music. This is a high resolution loudspeaker, no doubt about it and playing Sensuous by Cornelius makes this abundantly clear, this track is big on echo and reverb and the space that is defined by these speakers is simply cavernous. The bass is likewise disarming with some tracks, they don’t exaggerate the low end but with music that has genuine extension you know all about it. Funki Porcini’s Hed Phone Sex provided the signal on this occasion and the X3s made clear just how much weight there is in the bass on this album, that and how succulent this artist makes his electronics sound.
All Børresen speakers have feet that are like metal draughts pieces which can be placed flat on the ground as was the case to start with, or combined with sister company Ansuz’s Darkz feet. I had enough S2T stainless steel feet for the job and put three titanium balls on each to make the connection with the appropriately carved out bases of the X3’s feet. Installing the Darkz added a bit of extra definition to the sound and increased the solidity of the bass, it also seemed like the noise floor dropped further because quiet details became clearer. Another factor that will have influenced the result is that the speaker is raised by about 45mm on the Darkz so it’s not an entirely mechanical change. Now Patricia’s Barber’s Post Modern Blues sounds more taut than it has for a long time, her band’s playing as sharp as a tack. I love the way that the bass is so deep and so articulate, the double bass on this piece can often sound thick and fat but here you get a lithe and bodacious result that is very sexy indeed.
Having such a smooth balance means that you can use relatively forward sources and cables without this quality being apparent, I got excellent results with a Keith Jarrett album this way (The Carnegie Hall Concert) which is a very good recording and retains its poise with this sort of exposure. The piano was genuinely radiant in its upper registers and weighty in its lower ones, the Børresen X3’s purity and fine timing making the performance very convincing and engaging. With the modern prog rock of the God in Hackney it was possible to enjoy the micro dynamics alongside the power of the crescendos, especially with the level raised, something that the X3s and I definitely enjoy.
Børresen X3 verdict
Even though this is Michael Børresen’s least expensive floorstander it’s still quite a pricey design, yet the quality of build, finish and ultimately sound indicate that this is not exactly a compromised loudspeaker. It makes me wonder what can be achieved with the bigger X6 at twice the price and the M series models at significantly more, but it looks like excellent value on its own right. The driver choices and cabinet construction mean that the Børresen X3 should hold its own against the best that the competition can offer at this price point, an audition is highly recommended.