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Lenehan ML1 Reference Bookshelf Speaker Review

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ML1 Ref Xover with remote

ML1 Ref Xover with remote


The review started out oddly, with a contact from a person whom I thought was a company rep, but turned out to be a customer recommending I review Lenehan products. The customer was offering his pair of Lenehan ML1’s for my use! When I discovered that the cryptic email address did not belong to Mike Lenehan but to another Mike, I made it clear that I could not work with a private party on such an article. Mike L. joined the conversation and requested that I would indeed use the speakers offered as they were in the U.S. and would save a fair bit of transport costs; the speakers would be treated as though new product to me and covered by Lenehan Audio in all respects during the review period. Consequently, I agreed on one condition, that I politely bow out of conversation with the buyer of the speakers so as to not be influenced during the review and work solely with Mike Lenehan. They agreed, and the review was not aborted.

Concurrent to the review of the Lenehan ML1 I was also engaged in an article on the Sony SSNA5-ES bookshelf speaker which appear similar to the ML1, each having diminutive cabinets, a plum hued finish, approximately 5” bass drivers and soft dome tweeters. The most obvious divergence is the multiplicity of Treble drivers (3) used in the SSNA5-ES. The Sony has an anodized aluminium bass cone versus the paper coned ML1 bass driver, and the Sony has rear bass ports while the Lenehan does not.

For a great deal of my listening to both of these speakers I chose a well-known and powerful system anchored by the Pass Labs XP-20 Preamplifier (on review) and X600.5 Mono Amplifiers. I knew that this prodigious pairing would flesh out each speaker’s abilities and not contribute spurious information to the experience. The powerful monoblock amps would drive the speakers with authority and show what the bass drivers could do in an ideal situation. The XP-20 excels at creation of a vast soundstage which enhanced the assessment. Ahead of this was the competent and highly affordable combination of Musical Fidelity M1CDT Transport and V90-DAC with the M1PWR class D amplifiers.

The Sony is what might be termed a new paradigm speaker incorporating a set of high frequency drivers and a livelier cabinet such that it sounds like a mini-line array. The ML1 is a more conventional design approach done with exacting care. For good reason the principles of coherence due to a limited number of drivers, tightness of bass from a sealed cabinet and a paper coned driver, and lack of cabinet colorations from massively constructed cabinet have been hallmarks of superior sound. Together they make the ML1 a mature sounding speaker.

I would suspect that if a dozen listeners were lined up favorable impressions might surround each speaker. The Sony throws a larger but less dense center image with spaciousness leaning toward a panel speaker. It also conveys more inner detail top to bottom. However, it lacks the macrodynamic punch of the ML1 as well as the tonal richness. The Sony was designed to have capacity to convey the spaciousness of a live recording in a hall, but I suspect the ML1 was created to faithfully render the artist in situ, an intimate image of the artist without attempts to inflate the soundstage or garner excitement gotten “on the cheap” by multiple drivers.


ML1 ref in flight case


The ML1 distances itself from many of its peers in the bookshelf class by its cabinet construction. It is rare for a diminutive speaker to have such a splendidly heavy and resonance-free cabinet. Mike describes the development of the cabinet: “We initially ran HDF as the enclosure shell in the ML1, then transitioned to a material called HD3 a super dense, very heavy ¾” material.” The material was discontinued, however, prompting a search for a new design, which ended up being the HDF with a 1/8” steel plate inside. Along with differential hardwood dowel bracing this new design was shown by computer models to be quite resonance-free and in listening tests to be quite appealing.

Especially with use of a robust amplification scheme such as a the Pass Labs the density and compactness of the images created by the ML1 remind me of far more expensive offerings such as Wilson Audio’s Watt or Wilson Benesch’s Curve, a small tower with a solid aluminium billet cabinet. Simply put, a resonant cabinet yields a seemingly larger and livelier sound, but the trade-off is accuracy. I remember being at a show where a pair of much vaunted Audio Note high efficiency speakers were being played at absurd levels in an attempt to pressurize the listening room. While show goers were rapt with the power levels the speaker could handle I was aghast at the wretched distortion! The hollow cabinet and overworked bass driver was off-putting, the antithesis of what I expect from a very expensive speaker.

So, what happened when I drove the ML1 to a similarly unjust listening level? Nothing untoward; the integrity of the speaker remained intact, with an expected pumping of the 5” bass, but no barking of the cabinet. That is no minor issue, for if you want to play a small speaker at high volume in most cases you will get ugly boxy booming mucking up the sound, but not with the ML1.

3 Responses to Lenehan ML1 Reference Bookshelf Speaker Review

  1. vdorta says:

    Doug, I hope you can review the Lenehan ML-2 in the future.

  2. Mike Lenehan says:

    Many thanks, Doug. A well penned and descriptive reflection of the ML1Reference.

    We did our best to make this loudspeaker a neutral conduit for what comes before them! So kudos for using high rez front end equipment for the review, particularly the Pass gear (very neutral electronics).

    The Ribbontek cables are also designed with a tell it like it is mindset, so were basically a follow on from the internal wiring used within the Loudspeakers themselves.

    Best regards, Doug.

    Mike Lenehan

  3. John Burchell says:

    I have known Mike for 10 years or so.
    Mike is a rare combination of passionate, incredibly capable, generous with his time and a genuine person to do business with. How many other manufacturers will install and individually balance your speakers to the room they are to perform in ?! Try that at you re local Hi Fi shop !! In short, listening is always subjective. No matter where you are in the world, you must audition these speakers. If you are in Australia, you d be a fool not to audition them. !

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