I remember reading a letter in Stereophile several years back from a reader complaining about the magazine’s lack of review coverage with regards to certain loudspeaker manufacturers. One of the names mentioned was Tyler Acoustics, an outfit I was then unaware of myself. For some reason that letter stuck in my memory, and here I am in an unexpected position to shed additional light on that very same “neglected” company. It was my pleasure to finally make contact with main man – and name – behind Tyler Acoustics, Tyler (“Ty”) Lashbrook, who runs the speaker-building operation from Owensboro, Kentucky. From the beautiful Bluegrass State, Lashbrook has been quietly building furniture-grade loudspeakers and selling direct to consumers for a decade.
The speaker lineup is broad and offers something for nearly everyone, from home theater enthusiast to Joe Audiophile with bucks to spend on room-filling floor-standers. Ty wants to make it easy for customers to hear his designs and offers layaway and trade-up programs, even used speakers, all from the Tyler Acoustics’ Web site. A quick tour of the site reveals a commitment not just to the audible but the visual, as all speakers are available in more than 80 finishes (!). When Lashbrook offered a pair of D4Ms for review, he bumped up the deal and wrapped the speakers in a gorgeous West African Movingue veneer. Movingue originates from Cameroon and Ghana and mimics silken waves, giving rise to the nickname “satinwood.”
The D4Ms ($2,400/pair factory direct) are the smallest stereo pair in Tyler’s Decade lineup. They put a spin on traditional rectangular bookshelf speakers and incorporate a hexagonal design, with each side sloping out about 1 inch from the corners. The D4M is a two-way, rear-ported with a 1-inch soft dome tweeter matched to an aluminum faceplate and 6-inch paper cone woofer with aluminum phase plug. Frequency crossover occurs at 1,800 Hz. The speakers sport magnetic cloth grilles, are offered with either single or bi-wire posts and available in more than 80 finishes. Furthering the customizable options, the tweeter is offered in black or copper. Binding posts are gold-plated and very high quality. The D4Ms are recommended for amps or receivers up to 100 watts per channel. Rated input impedance is 8 ohms and range extends from 44 to 20 kHz. The speakers weigh 28 pounds apiece; cabinets measure 16 inches high, 12 inches deep and 9.5 inches wide. My review set was packaged with care, each speaker lovingly cradled in custom foam padding.
Rated at 87dB sensitivity into 8 ohms, the D4Ms need some power to be at their best. I had excellent results pairing them with Sheng Ya’s new A-80CS integrated tube stereo amplifier – a hybrid design with far more power than its 80-watt rating might imply. They also need a period of break-in to start really making music. Lashbrook recommends 200 hours of break-in before serious listening. My pair already had about three days of play on them, so I was saved 70 hours and change of such effort. Even so, out of the box after 3 days of burn-in the D4Ms were dull and unremarkable. That all changed, though, after letting them run as suggested.
I also found the D4Ms benefited from exacting placement; be prepared to spend time experimenting to find the sweet spot. That means spending a couple hours or more moving the speakers by half-foot (or less) increments, listening, repeating, and finally breaking out the tape measure and marking the final resting point of left and right. This isn’t a criticism, but the D4Ms didn’t work as a stereo pair if not aligned oppositely almost to the inch. Instead, one speaker inevitably took over and became the dominant voice. My main listening room is approximately 16 feet (deep) x 24 feet (wide) x 7 feet (high). I set them atop a pair of 30-inch stands (Plateau STS-30s), placed 3 feet from the long wall, 4 feet from the side walls and spaced 7 feet apart, with the speakers toed in approximately 15 degrees.
Once setup correctly, expect excellent imaging and clear, engaging sound. Perhaps the greatest distinguishing strength of the D4Ms is their unflappable consistency between low and high frequencies. To my ears, there is no imbalance between bass, midrange and treble response. It’s all tight, fast and smooth with no unwanted booms or shrieks. If I found the D4Ms lacking for anything, it would be in broad sound-staging – I would like a bit more “bloom” in the mix. In that respect, they act very much like monitors. Again, not bad, but I enjoyed them best when seated no more than 8 feet away. On the plus side, the D4Ms are very detailed.
Compared to THIEL’s SCS4s – bookshelf speakers I’ve recently auditioned – the D4Ms are a bit warmer. Both are very fast and cleanly reproduce a broad range of music, though I wouldn’t recommend either for serious heavy-metal head-banging or bass-dominating rap. It’s not that the bass is lacking, it’s just a bit too civilized and taut for such fare. Within the realm of rock, blues, jazz and classical, though, the D4Ms are effortless and authoritative. These are very good speakers.
I held out for as long I could before grabbing the remastered Beatles CDs from 2009, and it was with a caged-bird-sprung’s enthusiasm that I brought my favorite Fab Four album – Abbey Road – to the D4M’s tweeters and woofers. I don’t care that this album was ever and only mixed in stereo, the remastered version is the best take on the best Beatles’ album of all. The clarity and nuance on every tune is worth the price of admission, and there’s no glaring bite from over-compression or other studio injustice that could have been served here. If I could recommend one recording to play through the D4Ms, it might just be Abbey Road remastered. Listen to Ringo Starr’s drums on “Oh Darling,” or Paul McCartney’s bass at the beginning of “You Never Give Me Your Money” for shades of detail like never before. Check out the crystalline shimmer of “Here Comes The Sun” or the ethereal “Sun King” for crickets as only Beatles could reproduce.
I’ve kept my reference CD – Jade Warrior’s Now – out of the reviewing mix for a couple of months to refresh my ears but brought it out again for another listen through the D4Ms. I’m glad I did. Hearing the opening acoustic bass struts by Dave Sturt and Theo Travis’ saxophone following were like hearing the voices of old friends after years gone by. The Tyler’s distilled each note with microscopic clarity. If you need proof of the Tyler’s beyond Abbey Road, come and listen to Now, now!
Thin recordings, such as Angel’s self-titled debut, don’t get any help from the D4Ms, which seem content to go with the flow and present things as they are. And that’s how it should be. The music deserved better, but Casablanca has never been a label associated with great sound. Oh well, great music recorded poorly is rendered accurately through the Tyler’s. This was a compact disc recording, so I can’t comment with any wisdom about the original vinyl.
That leads me to vinyl. When courted with LPs, the D4Ms brought out the smoothness of recordings with ease. Transparent, open and free of any noticeable coloration, the Tylers also excelled with transients, making cymbals sound like cymbals – the ping of a drumstick on a ride cymbal can be heard on better platters. Check out Rush’s “YYZ,” from Moving Pictures, with its tingly code intro for a vivid sound demo. Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” is another track to showcase the D4M’s studio-esque precision.
The choice of loudspeakers within the D4M’s price range is not small, but the D4M’s sonic presentation and tonal balance makes it one of the top contenders in the field. For a small to medium listening room and paired with a moderately powered amplifier, the D4Ms will serve proudly in any 2-channel system. Incorporate them with three (or more) others from Tyler’s Decade line for a surround-sound setup and you’ll be the envy of your neighborhood – and me! It’s a lot of speaker for the money.