In the words of Cliff – ‘I like tall speakers’ enormous cabs with earth shaking bass, and late at night I log on to dodgy websites and ogle Isobariks, Harbeth Monitor 40s and hey big Spendors. But practicalities being what they are “I like small accurate monitors well suited to my room”. It just doesn’t scan as neatly as “I like small speakers”. To be more exact I like Spendor S3/5se small beautiful and sing like birds. I like Harbeth LS 3/5as, simple teak and classic. And I’m very fond of Tannoy Reveals – they’re a pleasure every day. These are smallish boxes with two drive units and I enjoy them very much. But deep down I think active is the way to to go.
So the Sonodyne SM 100Aks should be meat and drink to me. A small two way active monitor, port loaded and apart from being made in India you might think just another face in the crowd. Except that it’s a very pretty face – the cabinets are made of cast aluminium and the finish is strikingly high quality. Pick one up and the heft in such a neat cabinet will take by surprise. The SM 100Ak is a mature product that speaks of highly refined industrial design and production.
Although Sonodyne will be a new name to many – it certainly was to me – they’ve been around for the best part of thirty years. Beginning in the Indian hifi market they now have production facilities in Mumbai and Kolkata. Having established a name in the domestic segment Sonodyne moved into pro audio in the 90’s, though the SM series is their first product to be distributed in the west.
I fired them up and the Sonodynes sounded fair enough – I was expecting a tad more bass – which is surely stupid of me given the cabinet volume, I’m just an optimist at heart – but the top end was well controlled and the mid range was clear and well articulated.
Usually when reviewing monitors I get New Monitor Syndrome – new speakers produce an urgent need to listen to everything all over again. That simply wasn’t the case with the Sonodynes – they kind of didn’t make a fuss, just sat there making music.
So a low key start but soon I realised that there was something very unusual about the Sonodyne sound and that was the uncanny imaging they produced. You might think that all small monitors should image well but the 100Aks were really noticeably better than usual. Listening to tracks I thought I knew well I found instruments popping up in clear space where before I’d heard “the mix”. The Sondodynes offered positional information and clues that had previously escaped me. And the great thing about that is you can separate what is going on in the mix much more easily.
Now back in the day I signed the flat earth pledge promising to regard tunefulness as next to godliness and renouncing imaging and all it’s works as important issues in replay systems. However as I get older I realise my mixing needs all the help it can get. And if you’re mixing something, or evaluating a mix then being able to distinguish fine differences in positional information allows better discrimination and therefore better accuracy. You simply hear more. I’ve spent the night cutting a gig where the Sonodynes ruthlessly expose the reverb tails from the outboard moving the image. And that’s the sort of thing you want to hear before your client does.
The SM 100Ak features a six and a half inch Kevlar woofer – with a magnet you wouldn’t want to drop on your toe. The high end is handled by a one inch silk dome tweeter which in situ is flanked by vertical ports. Round the back the built in amplification delivers eighty watts of woof and forty of tweet. The cast aluminium makes a beautiful cabinet with all edges rounded to perfection and obviously provides a solid platform for the drivers. Probably the most striking visual element is the two vertical slots that I’m sure cry out to all small children “post something in me”, If I was still a smoker I might just keep an emergency Silk Cut in there, though a KitKat would also make a good choice.
Front panel controls are very discreet and offer a stylish nod to Finland, a recessed on switch with a sexy little blue LED to signify power on and a proper volume control. I say proper as most of the active monitors I have used offer a level control that gives say twenty dB of variation but don’t let you fade right down to “off”. I know this is a small nit picking point but having control across the whole range works for me. So well done Sonodyne on that score. Race round the back to complete the picture, there’s a second gain control to allow you to adjust the gain structure to put the front panel control in the right ball park for the levels you want to listen at. There’s also a set of roll off and room compensation dip switches. I’m still a bit too flat earthy for that but they’re there if you want them.
I’d say that despite the crowding in the market for small active monitors Sonodyne have something loud to say. Having had the pleasure of listening for a month or so I’ve grown to love the SM 100Ak. The bottom end is taught with no sense of the waddle that afflicts many ported cabs. They hold their definition even when playing loud and if sometimes I suspect a little thickening somewhere in the upper mid, it’s blown away by the insight they deliver into the programme material. The more I’ve used them the more I appreciate their strengths. Sometimes accuracy in monitors is coupled with an uneasy feeling of living on the brittle edge but Sonodyne have managed to do accuracy in a way that never fatigues. If you’re looking for a small active monitor you should hear these.