Speakers

Drool-worthy: Reference 3A MM de Capo BE speakers

The Audiophiliac had a close encounter with a pair of monitor speakers he won't soon forget.

When CNET editor Ty Pendlebury told me to check out the Reference 3A MM de Capo BE speakers at the Park Avenue Audio showroom, I knew something was up. The store is just a block away from the office in NYC, so I figured why not?

He knows what I like, and if anything Ty underplayed how good these speakers sound: They're remarkably present and dynamic, but more than that the sound has soul. Stevie Ray Vaughan's fleet-fingered guitar wizardry really stirred something in me; the MM de Capo BE speakers rock out like few audiophile speakers do, especially ones this size. They aren't all that big, but they're not small either -- they're 15 inches high, and the speaker weighs a rather solid-feeling 27 pounds.

Reference 3A MM de Capo BE, shown without grille

Reference 3A

I have a history with Reference 3A's speakers; I sold them when I was a hi-fi salesman in the 1990s, and I have fond memories of them. The current-generation Reference 3A speakers are larger and better built than the ones I sold, that was immediately obvious.

Oh man, there was something about the sound of Kurt Cobain's voice on Nirvana's "Unplugged" album that touched me, the way he poured himself into the music, and the MM de Capo BE zeroed in on Cobain's emotional rawness. "Unplugged" is a terrific recording I've played on many dozens of systems, but here on the MM de Capo BE the music felt more vitally alive.

Then I played chamber orchestra/band Alarm Will Sound's "Acoustica" album of Aphex Twin tunes. It was a wild ride, taken with the speakers turned up loud, and the low tremors shaking the room made me wonder if there was a subwoofer in there, but no, all the bass came from the MM de Capo BEs! The soundstage was deep and broad, and stretched wall to wall in the Park Avenue Audio listening room.

A couple of tunes from the hip-hop Broadway musical "Hamilton" demonstrated the speakers' affinity for reproducing the sound of big voices with thrilling immediacy. They were right there, and when the singers belted out a tune the MM de Capo BE speakers let me feel it.

To put the MM de Capo BE's sound in perspective, it wasn't as pure or vivid as I get from Bowers & Wilkins' 805 D3s ($6,000 a pair) stand-mount monitor speakers: the MM de Capo BE sounds hearty and rich, and 805 D3 is tonally leaner, but more accurate. I like both speakers, but they sound different and will appeal to different tastes.

Both MM de Capo BE drivers (the 1-inch beryllium tweeter and 7-inch carbon fiber woofer) are made in Reference 3A's factory in Waterloo, Ontario. Speaker impedance is rated at 8 ohms, the rear panel hosts bi-wire speaker connectors and the only finish offered is dark grey textured paint. The speakers come with black grilles.

The Reference 3A MM de Capo BE price per pair is $3,290.