Falcon Acoustics M10 loudspeakers
Having heard the phenomenal sound created by the Falcon Acoustics M10 mini monitor at both the Warsaw and Bristol hi-fi shows I was eager to try them in my own system. On both occasions they were being received with some rapture, and rightly so in my view. Harking back, in many ways, to the legendary BBC LS3/5A shoebox loudspeaker, the M10 is the first of Falcon’s new M-series speakers which feature “traditional design with the latest technology” according to the manufacturer’s website.
Falcon the company
Falcon Acoustics, now nestling in the Oxfordshire countryside, is intertwined with the now infamous LS3/5A loudspeaker, the result of BBC project led by Messrs Harwood, Whatton and Small who published their findings in October 1976.
When it came to market, this little speaker set new standards for an extremely small but very high-quality ‘mini-monitor’. While acknowledging that it couldn’t reproduce low bass in a way that larger speakers could, its mid-band and treble would be as good (if not better!), than some of the best designs being made at the time.
This LS3/5A design was licensed by a number of British manufacturers and, despite its sonic compromises, gained a huge global following. But it did more. It opened the door for small boxes to be considered high-end designs; previously something reserved for near-wardrobe sized boxes or electrostatic panels.
Falcon’s founder, Malcolm Jones, was responsible (while at KEF) for the legendary KEF B110 midrange driver and T27 tweeter that went into the heart of the LS3/5A. That unit was the inspiration for Falcon’s current owner, Jerry Bloomfield’s desire to create something not just similar, but better. More affordable, not least because the BBC wouldn’t be taking its 20 per cent, and also more ‘real world’, intended for audiophile use, rather than the box created as a Grade II monitor for BBC applications where there wasn’t space for a Grade I monitor.
The M10 design
The entry-level model in what’s now been revealed to be an entire M Series of monitor quality loudspeakers, the M10’s cabinet is deeper than the LS3/5A. That’s not a bad thing, sonically, and means the BBC lawyers will be less likely to poke around.
Central to the design is Falcon’s re-creation of that famous KEF midrange unit, the five-inch plastic-coned B110, originally designed some 50 years ago. But rather than coupling with the T27 HF unit we have a one-inch soft-dome tweeter from SEAS, made in Scandinavia to Falcon’s specifications. Another departure from BBC territory is that the stand-mount M10 sports a rear reflex port, rather than being an infinite baffle design.
This brings several advantages, not least that it is easier to drive and offers greater bass extension. Certainly, the port allows for a faster, tighter bass and boasts a low frequency roll off of 38Hz; quite incredible for a box this size. It also means a higher sensitivity (86dB/2.83V/m) than the BBC box’s 82dB. Nominal impedance is said to be an amplifier-friendly 8 Ohms, with a quoted frequency response of 40Hz to 25kHz.
Housed in a gorgeous cabinet hand-crafted in Italy, Jerry says he just can’t find a UK producer to match the standard of the natural walnut or rosewood veneered boxes he uses. Decent-looking 4mm nickel-plated binding posts are provided, but no bi-wire option.
Speaking to designer Graeme Bridge (famed for working on so many wonderful ProAc models during 16 years with Celef), he says that the aim is to “re-create the classic British Sound, bringing back the 1970s”. Notable is that everything about the product is 100% European, even down to the crossover capacitors which are sourced from Wales.
As soon as I heard the M10 at a show I knew it was my kind of loudspeaker: traditionally voiced and intended to bring the musicians into the room. “This isn’t one of those dreadful modern ‘bang, tinkle and woof’ designs”, as Jerry diplomatically puts it.
While the price tag may suggest that the M10 is intended as a start-up product, it’s just as suitable for those upgrading as it is for second-system purchases, I had a wonderful time with them both at the centre of my main system but also on the desktop, either side of the computer screen.
Connected to my trusty Hegel H190 the Falcon Acoustics M10s were allowed to settle for a few days before any critical listening, although they needed no formal running-in since this was the pair Falcon had used, so convincingly, at the Munich show the month before.
Initial thoughts count for a lot and, in my own system, I was getting as much if not more of the same sonic characteristic that I’d heard in Bavaria. The smoothness, lively and fun sound with great timing and a warmth was combined with a luxurious sense of the listener being close to the performance. The soundstage was immense for the size of the cabinet. In fact, it’s hard to see quite how Falcon have achieved this. The bass response is also notable and I remember asking, at the Bristol show, “where’s the sub”, only half in jest as well. It manages to avoid bass boom and the listener is not aware of cabinet coloration.
Positioning is so easy, both on lightweight 24-inch stands in the listening room and, via blobs of Blutack, on my desktop. Distance from the rear boundary had a notable effect and a minimum of 30cm was needed with an improvement, for me, at 45cm as they excelled in free-space as a nearfield monitor.
Falcon Acoustics M10 sound quality
To my mind, modern loudspeakers tend to be too bright with a booming bass and recessed midrange. Either that or they try to project the performance into the listener’s lap. Neither are at all natural. Neither re-create what happened at the recording venue or what the recording engineer wanted the material to sound like, depending on the recording of course.
Listening to Neneh Cherry’s Kisses on the Wind (from her last 80s album Raw Like Sushi) encapsulates what the M10 is all about. I know this is not one of her liberated rap tracks, rather a slice of pure pop, but the detail in the recording is outstanding and shone through via the Hegel/Falcon pairing. On many modern loudspeakers with their metal drive units, the material tends to be over-bright, forced upon the listener with an acerbic bite. Here, though, it was luxuriously creamy in tone and it was obvious that not only do the drive units integrate virtually seamlessly, but also that port gives extended bass that sounds natural and almost brings the performer to the listening room. That’s the hallmark of a well-engineered loudspeaker.
With classical material, too, the results were sublime and I found a planned one-hour listen turned into a marathon session as I sought out more taxing material to try and trick these little beauties. But no matter what I fed them they took up the challenge where lesser models would have fallen.
For example, usually, I test with one or two tracks from Handel’s Messiah; the 2006 recording on Harmonia Mundi with René Jacobs, the Clare College Choir and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra being my go-to recording. With the Falcon Acoustics M10s I enjoyed the entire oratorio performance from start to finish. This showed how the midband was superbly balanced but also the frequency extremes as well, the whole creating an holistic soundstage which extended way beyond the boundaries of these little boxes; reminding me how restricted the 3/5A could sometimes sound by comparison. There was a slight warmth, even mellowness to the M10’s sound, not as much as with my usual Harbeth M30.1s, but sufficient to add reality in terms of body and weight to the presentation.
I am used to the sound of SEAS soft-domes from my everyday monitors so the treble response from the M10s was, of course, smooth and well executed; crisp and yet avoiding any harshness to denigrate the balance. This came home on some female vocal material including Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time and True Blue from Madonna. Both revealed the M10s ability in an area where my Harbeths are often lacking: timing. The Falcon design knows now to boogie; it can keep up with tempo changes and incites involuntary foot tapping to reveal its rhythmically engaging qualities. Always a good sign in my books, so don’t for one moment, think that because the M10 produces a refined sound that it is lifeless.
Sure, all transducers have their limitations and the Falcon Acoustics M10 is a small-volume cabinet. Therefore, it struggles when faced with higher input levels to the extent that it won’t produce deafening SPLs, so dynamics suffer under such conditions. These probably are not the first-choice for Kraftwerk fans although I managed to enjoy one of my favourite tracks, Autobahn, at an acceptable domestic listening level.
Two things stand out for me as a real test of a loudspeaker’s proficiency: can it reproduce the human voice in a natural and believable manner, and does a good piano recording sound like a piano? I am pleased to say that the M10 passed with flying colours, on both counts. My beloved BBC Drama recordings, including Poirot, Rumpole and Lord Peter Wimsey, did portray the actors’ voices as I have come to know them. And, as for piano, well Peter Donohoe’s mastery (on various Hyperion recordings) kept me entertained for ages with a feeling of wanting to just hear more and more of the maestro at work.
Falcon Acoustics M10 conclusion
With the new M10, Falcon has undoubtedly pulled it off. They’ve managed to create in the design a wonderfully musical combination: the best of the old (Ls3/5A) without resorting to the brash character of the new-style speakers with their unnatural presentation of over-blown bass and shrill treble. Better still, while many of the original KEF B110 driver designs sounded soft, plodding along to the tune and really lacking in any musicality, the M10 is nimble and timely.
This loudspeaker allows you to relax right into the material being played, to feel the emotion and to hear the recording, or transmission, as the recording engineer intended. For listeners needing a compact monitor, the Falcon Acoustics M10, with its larger-than-life quality, is an answered prayer.