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Kan Sound Lab Mewon TS-001 ribbon super tweeter Review

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So what is the improvement?

Let me start by noting the common comment from 8 out of the 10 people I invited to listen to the TS-001’s in the system. Most visitors hearing these super tweeters initially made a point that they were not so much “hearing” an improvement as they were “feeling” an improvement. Though after extended listening there were many particulars that they identified as coming across more clearly and naturally, that was not the first thing they noticed. The first thing was the sense of “better,” but without any particular aspect of the presentation immediately leaping out at them. This was my own reaction the first time I heard the TS-001. I was expecting something clearly different in the treble, and there was that, but the change in presentation was top-to-bottom.

Two out of the 10 listeners said they felt they heard a difference, but were unable to say that the music sounded “better.” Interestingly, and tellingly, in my opinion, this group of listeners was composed entirely of casual listeners. Though they like to periodically come to my listening sessions, they don’t focus when they listen to music and at home play music mostly as background. Moreover, none of them are especially interested in going to live performances, instead experiencing virtually all music at home on their basic audio systems. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not very satisfying to serious music enthusiasts.

Most reviews of the few super tweeters available at retail use the term “air” in their descriptions of the effect of the super tweeters. I would expand this description by instead stating that the TS-001 adds space around, above, between and behind the performers. For example, once I shifted to analytical, as opposed to impressionistic, listening, the first specific thing I noted was that the soundstage was deeper, but that much of this depth seemed to be behind the performers at the rear. Over the years I’ve worked at adding depth to my soundstage, but in the past, I’ve really just moved the performers backward. However, by inserting the TS-001 I not only created more layers of performers, with some up front and others set further back, I’ve made the stage itself deeper, even when there are no performers at the back of the stage. The sense of real space is enhanced.

That having been said, I can also confirm that the Mewon TS-001, (1) adds a sense of airiness to the music itself; (2) smooths out the top end while actually improving upper-end extension; (3) produces more realistic height/size images of the performers; and (4) reduces the difference between my seated “sweet spot” listening and listening while standing up. However, at least with the TS-001, which, by the way, is much more expensive than any other super tweeter I’ve seen on the market, this description is still inadequate. The collective effect of all of these improvements makes everything sound less like a recording and more like the real thing. Let me try to flesh this out further.

When you attend a live performance, you never think “This doesn’t sound live!” It’s not only live by definition, but the whole feeling around the performance is live. There are numerous subtle cues that let you know that real musicians are playing real instruments in real time. You can be led into a concert hall or intimate venue blindfolded and you won’t have any difficulty deducing that you’re at a live performance. If you’re attentive, you can also probably envision the overall size and shape of the venue you’re in. Conversely, it’s typical for the serious audiophile to put in a lot of work to make his or her system sound more “live.” Ideally, they want the real experience, not merely a reasonable facsimile of the actual performance. I’ve yet to encounter an audio system/room where a blindfolded person would be fooled into thinking they’re at a live performance, even though that’s the goal of most top-end audiophile systems.

Live in what way? Not just soundstage height, width, depth or performer placement (my system already had that in spades), but a big increase in the “fool me” sensations that make you feel that real guitar strings are being plucked and a real drum is being whacked. It’s true that the treble became more natural, and somehow the bass and midrange became a tad more detailed, while pace, rhythm and timing improved, but that’s not the main impression created. The overall impression of the music was that it now had a certain rightness that mimicked reality.

As I’m sitting here listening to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, I can hear all of the qualities I’ve described above. I’m playing it quite loudly, pretty much at live concert levels experienced in row 3. At this volume the top of the frequency range usually feels piercing and can become exhausting after 30 minutes of high-volume listening, but now it’s a full hour before listening tiredness sets in, even at these volume levels. With the Mewon TS-001 engaged, the top end is much smoother and more natural, while producing every note faithfully at concert volumes. Moreover, the layering of performers is much more holographic. Ditto for some early-issue CDs of 1960s (pre-Staying Alive) Bee Gees. It’s usually a terrible CD to listen to, featuring all of the problems of the first generation of reissues on CD, but adding the TS-001 has made the music eminently listenable, as well as clarifying detail throughout the audible range. With excellent recordings the effect is further heightened. Every Patricia Barber and Steely Dan album increased in intimacy and realism. Who would have thought?


Why the heck does it work?

I don’t have the scientific/technical expertise to answer this question, but I’ve got enough knowledge and experience to do some semi-plausible speculation.

First, I’ve had extended experience dealing with room interactions, particularly bass boom, nulls and slap echoes. This experience causes me to visualize soundwaves bouncing around the listening room, particularly soundwaves created by deep bass. Think about musical scales. The lowest audible C note frequency has a wavelength of 69 feet! You usually feel it more than hear it. Even the lowest C on a grand piano has a wavelength of 34 feet 6 inches. If your room doesn’t include at least a 35 foot dimension (I’m not even mentioning a 69 foot dimension), you can get low bass interaction resulting in booms or nulls at particular frequencies, depending on your particular room’s overall dimensions.

At the other extreme, the highest note young humans with great hearing can hear — 20,000 Hz — has a wavelength of .68 inches. Of course, you have all the other frequencies between, below and above these wavelengths. This makes for an extremely complicated and interactive set of waves, with each wave affecting every other wave; think weather patterns. The world’s top acoustic venues are designed to try to allow these waves to fully propagate in a pleasing fashion. Nonetheless, even in these concert halls there are significant differences between seat locations, and most halls are designed around one, two, or three “best” listening locations. Some audiophiles deal with the problem of reflections and interacting waves by setting their systems up for near-field listening, where they are so close to the speakers that wave interaction is offset by the direct soundwaves arriving at their ears.

As far as I can surmise, there is something about reproducing the full range of soundwaves, even those we can’t really hear as individual notes, that improves the overall musical presentation from top to bottom. One can easily demonstrate this concept by going through the painstakingly difficult and tedious task of integrating multiple subwoofers. It’s hard to get it right, but if you do, one of the effects is that the midrange and treble also improve. This is usually ascribed to the lighter load that the amplifier now has in driving the midrange and treble, assuming powered subs and high-passed mains. People assume that the excess power available to the midrange drivers and tweeters accounts for the improvement in reproduction, but perhaps this isn’t entirely true. It seems as though something else is going on in addition. I believe that infra-subs are designed around this premise.

I speculate that an analogous, but not identical, thing is going on with the introduction of a super tweeter. In the super tweeter’s case the effect is to instill a certain “rightness” to the presentation, one that makes the reproduction believably real. Let me expand on this.

Envision a piano. Pressing a key activates a musical “envelope.” All musical envelopes have an attack, decay, sustain and release. The “attack” is the initial change (pressing the piano key) from no musical energy (nil) to peak musical energy; the “decay” is the change from the attack level to the desired sustain note; the “sustain” is the main note the performer desires to produce; and the “release” is the time it takes for the sound to go from the sustain level to nil once the key is released. It’s been pointed out that the attack and release of notes from an instrument can actually differ from the sustained principal note being plucked, pressed or blown. You can get a sense of this by merely tapping your finger on a variety of objects. In each case the object will vibrate and produce a sound, though the reverberation may be quick or extended, depending on the composition of the item struck. More to the point, your finger’s initial tap on the object is contributing its own sound to the sound of the item. Even though the sustained note has a known frequency that doesn’t change, the attack, however brief, often generates a different frequency than the sustain, even though it may be for only a tiny fraction of a second.

Those sounds are added to the musical notes being played, and together with those notes, reverberate and bounce off all of the surfaces of the venue and provide clues about the venue’s size and shape to a blindfolded listener. The more clues, the easier it is for the blindfolded listener to correctly “hear” the shape and size of the venue. Under this line of reasoning, the information added by the TS-001 mimics the complex interaction of all these wavelengths in a live venue. Or not.



Whether these speculations are correct or not, the effect of the TS-001 is undeniably a real improvement. Now for the down side. The super tweeters I’ve encountered in the past have cost between $700 and $2,000. None of them matches the TS-001’s specs, and most were designed to kick in at much lower frequency ranges and only extend to 50,000 to 80,000 Hz. A pair of TS-001’s are $12,500, basically 6-12 times the cost of other super tweeters (changes in exchange rates will affect the price). I can’t give you any guidance of whether the TS-001’s are better, or how much better, than these other super tweeters, but it’s clear that the design and build of these speakers is first rate. (The artisan in Japan who makes these likely has an interesting story that I’d like to learn more about.)

As with all components, you need to carefully compare other options before selecting the component you want to buy. Nonetheless, if you have the wallet for them, the TS-001’s will significantly enhance your musical pleasure. Highly recommended.

NOTE: For those interested, I have ordered a pair of Townshend Maximum Super Tweeters to compare in my system. After the huge changes in exchange rate between the Dollar and the Pound the Townshends are $1,000/pair. Stay tuned.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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