I recently had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to the new HEDD Tower Mains, the newest and most impressive addition to the HEDD stable, in the very amenable surroundings of Rimshot Studios, a beautiful, purpose built facility on the North Kent downs in the UK. Listening to these extremely capable monitors in an appropriately sized, good sounding room was both memorable and very informative. The accompanying presentation from Klaus Heinz, the designer behind HEDD was so interesting that it credits an article all of its own but to learn my thoughts on how they sound read on.
Form Follows Function
I’ve always been pretty hostile towards speakers which have purely cosmetic features. Brightly coloured cones do not impress me but visual differences which are a result of practical design choices are a big plus if they are justified for engineering reasons. I see speakers as machines which can be beautiful, but don’t have to be. As long as it helps the sound in some way I’m very open minded about the visuals. One of the things I really liked about the HEDD Tower Mains was that they are a very sober, elegant design and this is entirely a result of the the engineering approach taken to achieve the desired performance.
Grown Up Monitors
“Grown up” - very literally in that the extended Tower Mains do indeed tower over me. The Extended Tower Mains are around seven feet tall and with their dual sub modules set either side of a quasi D’Apollito mid/top unit they make for an impressive sight, more than one of the attendees commented that, while a very serious professional monitor, if presented in piano black casework I’m sure it would make a successful high end hi-fi product (I’m of course ideologically opposed to anything as vainglorious as a fancy paint job but that’s another story).
But it’s not just in appearance that these monitors are grown-up. They kind of sound how they look - Impressive but sensible. They are polite and get the job done impeccably without making it all about them, like a really good concierge…
Standard And Extended
The Tower Mains comprise two modules and the system is available in two variants - Standard and Extended. The Standard system has one subwoofer, the extended has two. Adding the second subwoofer adds headroom and dynamic range but both systems deliver identical frequency response. Both feature the TM80, which comprises a single AMT ribbon tweeter with two 7.2” drivers and two 4.7” drivers arranged symmetrically all powered by 3x 300W class D amplifiers. The crossover frequencies are at 250Hz and 2.5KHz and the cabinet is a sealed box with heavily chamfered edges to avoid edge diffraction. The whole package is capable of delivering over 120dB @ 1m in half space. However the TM80 isn’t designed to be used on its own, it has to be used in combination with the accompanying sub module.
At the bottom, and optionally at the top of the Tower Mains you’ll find a TMS36 subwoofer. This compact box packs four 9” drivers and 2x600W of class D amplification into a sealed enclosure. It crosses over with the TM80 at 80Hz and in combination with the TM80 it creates a monitoring system which is good to 120dB and covers from 20Hz (-3dB) to 50KHz.
The Standard System costs £15,990, the Extended System is £23,990, which makes them very competitively priced against the obvious competition at this end of the market. Apparently HEDD have sold at least one system “off spec” to someone who hasn’t yet heard them. I can’t imagine ever doing that but it’s certainly a vote of confidence!
Infinite Baffle Performance
I’m on record as being a big fan of the inherently good timing of sealed box speakers and as so many of the technological reasons why the industry converged onto ported designs no longer apply I think we’re going to see more and more sealed box designs in the future. One of the big reasons why sealed boxes are a more promising proposition than they once were is that the good timing of a sealed box comes at the expense of efficiency when compared to a ported design. With class D amplifiers now being so powerful and so good, the losses incurred by choosing a sealed design can be offset by deploying a more powerful amplifier. When factoring the possibilities offered by the light, efficient new breed of amplifiers in with the progress made in driver design the reasons for staying with ported designs are far less compelling than they were years ago.
How Do The Tower Mains Sound?
In a word “revealing”. I had the opportunity to spend some time listening to known reference tracks and what I’ve thought of in the past as the “bell curve” of monitor quality versus enjoyment comes into play at times like these. What I mean is that as monitor quality rises so does my enjoyment of the music I hear played on them, but only up to a point. I’ve found that as we cross over into really high quality main monitoring this enjoyment starts to fall. What is happening is that I start to find flaws and idiosyncrasies in the recorded material itself of which I was previously unaware, which is exactly what I want a monitor to do but it’s only when listening to these really big systems that I become aware of it. While a big compliment for the monitors it always leaves a slight sense of disappointment in the same way as you might be at the flawed reality of a person you’ve always admired when you finally meet them.
Specifically I came away from listening to the Tower Mains with an impression of tight, dry bass which genuinely goes down for ever but isn’t remotely overblown. It is the bass performance which I had in mind when I described them as polite. It’s all there but it’s not trying to shout about itself or compete for your attention. The top end was something which absolutely dominated my experience. They go up to “dog frequencies” (50KHz) and that is more air than I’ll ever need but in line with the rest of the HEDD products I’ve tried, which to date includes the Type 05 and Type 20 they share the house sound imparted by the AMT tweeter. This implementation is better just because while it is the same driver, everything else around it has received an upgrade. The fact that one little tweeter can keep up with all the power available in an extended Tower Main illustrated just how efficient the design is. In my recent article I touched on the inherent mechanical advantage the AMT design has over conventional pistonic drivers. The difference this makes is particularly evident in the transients which are razor sharp with every corner of the music coming through in sharp focus.
The final point in my notes is probably the highest compliment, it records my impression that I’m noticing details in familiar mixes which I hadn’t noticed before, which after all is precisely the job a studio monitor should be doing.