by Jim Wells
Jim Wells, proprietor of Fantasonics, a company that produces sounds for the Dream Player and model railroad applications, was curious about the HB Speakers we introduced. Here is what he had to say!
Tony asked me to give a listen to their HB series speakers, he wanted an honest opinion, and if I honestly liked them, a short review…
Tony sent along the following pairs of speakers and where available, pairs of enclosures to test:
- tdhbse1.06 High Bass (round frame, 1-2 watt)
- tdsencehb1.06 TDS Enclosure HB1.06
- tdsehb1.10 High Bass (square frame, 2-4 watt)
- tdsencfhb1.10sq TDS Enclosure HB1.10 sq
- and also two new speakers (at the time), the HB1.22 and HB 1.5.
The Test Bench…
Nothing scientific here, no meters or calculators… just an educated pair of ears, and program material I was intimately familiar with. I did use my Macbook Pro, Protools LE and M-box IO as a player, and a simple 15w/ch audio amp (turned WAY down) to drive each pair during testing. Tone control on the amp was set flat. All of my source material is 16 bit, 44.1k sampling rate (CD quality).
I fiddled around with a 10 band parametric equalizer just to see what I could get away with. Although with the PVC pipe cap enclosures I honestly didn’t need to compensate the soundtracks at all.
The Test Procedure…
I auditioned just about every kind of sound imaginable through each speaker/enclosure pair, and everything was auditioned at various typical scale volume levels. I was mainly listening for clarity, and for any ‘changes’ to the original soundtracks (my reference).
I build sound on a JBL Creature II, a 2.1 system with a pair 1.5” satellites and a 4” ported sub with matched amps. They are very flat and natural sounding… and they are my scale sound reference monitors in the studio.
It is interesting that the HB speakers are surprisingly similar in design and appearance to the satellite speakers in a JBL Creature. All have concave aluminum cones, huge foam surrounds, and are ‘long throw’ (deep voice coil/gap) designs.
I will refer to speaker frequency response in terms of octaves. For this discussion of bass response we’ll simply define the first four octaves as follows:
- first octave: 20-40hz
- second octave: 40-80hz
- third octave: 80-160hz
- fourth octave: 160-320hz
The Speakers Themselves…
I believe it is this combination of cone/surround/throw that gives the HB series speakers their punch and extraordinarily flat response within their respective working frequency ranges.
The concave aluminum cone is very stiff and as a result, flat and crystal clear well beyond the frequency response output of most on board decoders. These little cones are capable of precisely controlling small amounts of air.
The luxurious (cushy) foam surround anchoring the cone to the frame allows the aluminum cone to make some amazingly long excursions.
A deep magnet structure not only provides a heftier magnetic field, but also a deeper voice coil gap. This gives the HB speakers two additional advantages: more room for a bigger voice coil, and more room for longer cone excursions.
On Board vs Off Board Applications…
Admittedly, I am more interested in layout sound (off board) applications, and this was the focus of my evaluations. Keep in mind that with off board applications we have room for larger speakers, enclosures, and for more watts. So for me, the HB1.10’s are tiny…
The HB’s are more than capable for layout applications. They could be used in many scenes, all by themselves . They are conservatively rated (unusual for small speakers) and can be cleanly driven much harder/louder than would ever be appropriate for most scale applications. They loaf through.
On board, the HB’s are pretty much over kill! Nothing wrong with an ‘over qualified’ speaker as long as it fits. I think these speakers would be perfect with ‘over qualified’ sound decoders that either allow user loading (like OSI, Loksound, etc.), and/or with sound decoders with adjustable on board EQ. You can really push the third octave.
If you can adjust the EQ of the sample you will load into a decoder, or adjust the sound with equalization within the decoder, you can take better advantage of the HB’s over qualified response.
If the decoder allows, try boosting the high bass, and cutting the mid range. Depending on the specific model HB, I heard an audible improvement when boosting an octave wide band centered between 120hz and 180hz… most small speakers don’t work down to those frequencies, with or without EQ!
Where you can, I’d suggest using the loco or tender shell as an enclosure… its surprising how much audible difference a slightly larger enclosure can make.
I found what appears to be perfectly flat response when the enclosure interior is a cube approximately the size of the speaker’s diameter (i.e., 1.1” cube for the HB1.10, etc.). For my tests here I used threaded PVC pipe caps for enclosures. I used Walther’s Goo to attach and seal the speakers to the caps. They sounded absolutely flat when compared side by side with the JBL’s… minus the bottom two octaves, of course.
I understand that for on board applications space is always at a premium. As a result, the factory enclosures are a tad small and color the sound somewhat… not terribly, but there is an audible difference. I know that Tony offers ‘extension rings’ for some of their enclosures, and if they are available for the HB enclosures, this would likely make the difference.
If you’re looking for pages of specs and such, look them up on Tony’s website (they are all there). Here, I’m more interested in what we buy the speakers for in the first place… the sound!
I have to say that in the right enclosure these speakers are mind boggling! With the exception of low bass, everything I auditioned on the HB speakers sounded perfectly flat, no coloration to the sound at all.
Nobody is more surprised, or tickled by this than I am.
These things are beefy! They are substantial in every way, and they are indeed capable of reproducing the ‘high bass’ (all models worked down into the third octave). They are certainly one of the biggest improvements in scale sound reproduction you could make… anywhere they will fit.
I’m excited about the 1.1” square HB’s because in a tiny enclosure barely twice the size of a sugar cube, they sing and reproduce my scale models faithfully, and loudly. Clean, clear, and FLAT frequency response, and punchy dynamic range are what cut through at tiny scale sound pressures. The HB’s are up to the task.
There is really only one, and that is physical size. The HB’s are a fraction of an inch deeper than other small speakers with the same diameter cones, and so for some on board models and in smaller scales they simply may not fit.
The biggest positive is that the HB’s can exhibit completely flat response in those applications where they will fit. They are ideal for layout sound applications.
Where they will fit, they are the best choice for any scale model application, on board or off!
Thank you Tony.