Audio Precision: A Full Review of MayFly Audio System's MF-201A Loudspeaker

Manufacturer & Model
MayFly Audio Systems MF-201A Loudspeaker
MSRP
$3,500/pair
Link
https://www.mayflyaudio.com/MF-201/page1.html
Highlights
Handcrafted in Canada, unique Baltic Burch cabinet with skyline diffusor built into inside walls, 7" Seas Prestige T18REX Coaxial driver, large coil inductors on the crossover, excellent imaging and soundstage capabilities.
Summary
MayFly Audio System's MF-201A is the brand's first speaker. It features a striking cabinet constructed from Baltic Birch laminate and a single 7" Seas Prestige T18REX Coaxial driver. Internally, the cabinet houses its own skyline diffuser, while its exterior is shaped to reduce edge diffraction. The speaker possesses powerful imaging capabilities, throwing an impressive soundstage loaded with detail and life. Output is even and competent, capable of handling a wide range of music genres.
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Roughly a week into my evaluation of MayFly Audio System's MF-201A loudspeaker, I shared some time with the speaker's creator, Trevor May. Through the magic of video conferencing, I joined May in his Ottawa-based studio, where he's spent untold hours crafting his refined take on audio. While this might seem relatively trivial, talking to May in his element and sensing the energy of his creative environment solidified my excitement about his brand's first speaker.

May is a detail-oriented person with intellectual curiosity, uniquely cast by accomplished backgrounds in electrical engineering and music. And MayFly isn't his first audio rodeo, as his resume features ventures crafting Hi-Fi and Pro audio gear, guitars, and custom tube amps. So, it's no surprise that May has poured detailed technical thought, not to mention experienced precision, into every aspect of the MF-201A.

The speaker's character is anchored by a rock-solid Baltic Birch ported cabinet. While May praises the wood's dense nature and consistent mechanical properties, I can't help but note how the material embodies the speaker's overall vibe. From its appealing glow to intricate layers and luscious woodsy aroma, the MF-201A radiates a presence that aligns with its natural-sounding, uncolored performance capabilities.

This notion of "natural" was evident before I laid eyes on the speaker. Cutting open MayFly's custom double-walled shipping boxes uncorked the smell of the great outdoors, which is something factory-built audio products rarely – if ever – possess. And touching the speaker, not to mention feeling its weight in the hands, only strengthened its native physical qualities and no-nonsense craftsmanship. Those details set the stage for an evaluation that mirrored the speaker's great looks; the MF-201A's output is intoxicating, highlighted by dynamic imaging that's a sight to be heard.


The Storm Inside the Cabinet
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The MF-201A abandons several traditional cabinet properties, such as extensive internal bracing and fluffy damping materials, favoring a cabinet filled with a multi-dimensional forest of diffusion. It's a design that May credits to a 1990 BBC white paper on skyline diffusers and a serendipitous run-in with a CNC machine at a local woodworking shop.

While most of us think of skyline diffusers as wall-mounted treatments that address problematic reflections by scattering sound in different directions, May's creative mind took the concept and embedded it into the walls of the MF-201A's cabinet. Using a CNC machine and 24 individual layers of Baltic Birch, the speaker houses a tuned skyline diffuser that tames internal reflections. The result, says May, is a honed midrange, refined bass response, and the ability to control cabinet resonances.

Visually, the MF-201A's inner walls are like nothing I've ever seen, and I'm guessing most readers will admit the same. In fact, I shared several images with a trusted industry expert, and even he paused with interest. As mentioned, its physical characteristics eliminate the need for damping material, leaving the interior naked and fascinatingly chunky, exposing the crossover's unusually robust pure copper inductors and the backside of its single coaxial driver. If a speaker ever needed a top-side window and internal LED lighting, this is it. It would turn a visual spectacle into a no-doubt conversation piece.

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I guess you can say the speaker's Seas Prestige T18REX 7" Coaxial driver doubles as a window, as its clear TPX Poly Cone provides a blurred glimpse of the cabinet's innards. What's not blurred is the driver's ability to create sound, which it achieves with stunning clarity. The T18REX's coaxial design stacks the woofer and tweeter together, allowing sound from across the frequency spectrum to emit from the same source point. While not typically deployed in floor-standing and bookshelf speakers, this type of driver design combats lobing, an acoustics phenomenon that results in poor off-axis sound. May says the driver helps to "open up the soundstage," adding that the cabinet's properties and end design keep output focused on the driver's native capabilities.

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The cylindrical shape of the speaker's cabinet tightens that focus, having been inspired by diffraction experiments replicated by Vance Dickason. The idea behind the cabinet's shape is to eliminate edge diffraction, which causes sound waves to redirect and interact with waves emanating directly from a driver. While the audible impacts of all diffraction artifacts are up for debate, they're reported to be particularly problematic in the baffle step, a transition where sound waves shift from omnidirectional to forward-firing.

Spec-wise, MayFly says the MF-201A performs from 40 Hz to 20kHz (sensitivity 88dB, 100 watts power handling, 8 ohms), which I was able to illustrate with in-room measurements. Audibly speaking, I experienced usable bass below 40 Hz as the speaker tackled relatively generous low-end demands.


Performance
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Unlike the aggressive toe-in positioning recommended for a coaxial speaker like HSU Research's CCB-8, the MF-201A seemed happiest with a wider approach. Keep in mind, toe-in is room-specific, so your mileage and final arrangement may vary. However, the MF-201A sounded best in my dedicated room with its drivers firing slightly wide of the primary listening position (PLP). Any tighter, and the soundstage collapsed, and imaging became muddied.

Due to its overall size (20.7" H x 11.8" W x 10.6" D, 31.5 lbs) and the driver's cabinet position, the MF-201A needs to reside on a speaker stand that's relatively low to the ground. One option is to purchase MayFly's matching stands ($699/pair), which look identical to the speaker. They measure 14.3" tall and connect to the bottom of the speaker for a unified, seamless marriage. Another option is to purchase MayFly's matching subwoofer modules ($10,000/ pair as an upgrade, or $12,000/pair as a complete speaker/sub system), which also function as stands.

Unfortunately, neither the stands nor bass modules were on hand for this review, so I opted for generic 15" stands (placed 105" from the PLP) that aligned both drivers at ear level in a seated position. Visually, the speakers looked stately once positioned, exploding with character as each layer of Baltic Birch fed the eye endless textures and colors. The cabinet carries a raw presence that perfectly frames the driver's industrial, mechanical edginess, creating a wonderful clash of nature versus machine. And fine details, such as the expertly installed front inlay badge, round out a gorgeous package.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the MF-201A is a work of art.

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Now for a bit of inside baseball. My first stab at this evaluation fell flat on its face despite weeks of work. Listening sessions, while pleasant, were marred by equipment that fed the MF-201As just enough juice to sound good but not exceptional. Unfortunately, I was none the wiser until I put the finishing touches on my written review.

Frustrating? Sure. But that misfire allowed me to doubly enjoy the sonic ride the MF-201A gave me during a second pass. This time, I recruited more than enough muscle (Emotiva's XPA-5 amp, 300 watts per channel) with processing provided by StormAudio's ISP-24 MK. Below are measurements provided by Dirac, showing the average of 9 measurement positions taken from the PLP (Figures 1 and 2). As you can see, in-room measurements approximate the NRC measurements supplied by the manufacturer (see Figure 3).

Following extensive listening sessions with Dirac Live engaged and disengaged, I ultimately decided to sideline Dirac. Final demo sessions involved streaming TIDAL and Qobuz via AAC to iFi Audio's Zen Blue, connected directly to the XPA-5 amp. The results were profound.

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If you treat yourself to a pair of MF-201As in your own home, have a gear conversation with Trevor May first. I wouldn't say the speakers are power-hungry, but you'll want to make sure you feed them properly. If you do, the rewards are endless.

With all systems go, I stepped to the edge of a sonic cliff, held hands with deadmau5, and plunged into MayFly's inviting audio waters. "Deus Ex Machina" from W:/2016ALBUM/ (Qobuz) served as the first demo track for part two of this evaluation, and it was a true mic-drop moment. Having killed the lights in my black-out theater room, "Deus Ex Machina" gave my ears all of the texture and vibrancy they could handle, molding a wonderful 3D soundscape that hung with realism and life. With volume levels elevated, the track's opening moments sprayed the soundstage with airy frequencies that floated to the heights of my room's ceiling and beyond. As the song's throbbing beat took over, flexing muscle and precision, the meat of the song rose from the depths and stared me down with a menacing gaze.

THIS is what I was looking for…

"Deus Ex Machina" has a wonderful electronic sound that playfully exposes itself center stage throughout the song, and the MF-201A crafted its chirps with mesmerizing life and electric definition. The song's other components filled the soundstage with width, depth, and audio moments that reached out into the room. Not to overstate the song's presentation, but I listened to "Deus Ex Machina" at least a dozen times and easily could have called the review a wrap. It was that convincing, that vibrant, and that revealing.

While the speaker effectively imaged into my room, I wouldn't call it a forward-sounding. My reference GoldenEar Triton One.Rs, for example, throw a soundstage that's more aggressively forward. My ears found the MF-201A to have a deeper soundstage approach.

W:/2016ALBUM/ is full of demo-worthy tracks that tested the MF-201A's ability to handle transients and weighty bass demands. The speaker passed all tests with zero complaints, dishing precision and balance, allowing attention to shift to imaging and object placement. Songs such as "4ware," "Whelk Then," and "Three Pound Chicken Wing" were veritable auditory feasts, giving my ears loads to explore. I found focused object placement, excellent width, and notable imaging depth.

Robust bass is an essential element of my listening preferences, and Deadmau5 never felt neutered or capped. Plenty of low-end energy pulsed through my room, and songs weren't top-heavy, belying what one might expect from the speaker's 7" driver. I did encounter a few mega-bass heavy tracks, such as Post Malone's "Psycho" (Qobuz), that caused the speaker to choke a bit at elevated volumes, but let's not forget the MF-201A has a companion subwoofer module designed to devour demanding bass. That said, if I were a buyer, I wouldn't hesitate to bring the MF-201A into my home as a standalone stereo speaker. However, if I wanted a system to tackle 2-channel and home theater duties, I'd recruit MayFly's stereo pair of subwoofer modules (or subs of your choosing).

While the MF-201A excelled as I explored the outer limits of electronica, its natural tonality delivered richly textured, 'like they're in your room' vocals. One of my favorite demo artists – Norah Jones – agreed well with the speakers. Her 2016 album Day Breaks (TIDAL) found Jones's rich and smokey voice revealed to exceptional levels of detail; soft and effortless. "Sunrise" from Feels Like Home (TIDAL) offered plenty to chew on, including width that placed the song's piano to the extreme left side of the room. But Jones's subtly rough vocals headlined the track, offering detail and flavor, textured with tangible vibrancy.

The speaker was confident when confronted with male vocals, too, as I found with James Taylor's Sweet Baby James 2019 (TIDAL). "Fire and Rain" threw a breathtaking soundstage, loaded with imaging and focused placement of instruments; Taylor's vocals sounded naked and uncolored. The percussion transition between the song's chorus and the following verse is a notable part of this particular track, and the MF-201A nailed it, placing the drums to the middle right of the soundstage, shaping them with impact and breadth. Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (The Essential Paul Simon, TIDAL) also offered razor-sharp vocals etched with life-like realism.

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Turning to jazz, I explored Wynton Marsalis's The Standard Time Vol 3, The Resolution of Romance (Qobuz). "In the Court of King Author" was a dazzling affair, complete with a wide soundstage spread convincingly across the room. Wynton's trumpet held court down the middle, placed neatly between the song's percussion (to the left) and piano (to the right), clearly defined and embellished with the slightest hint of echo. This particular track was interesting because it allowed the speakers to recreate a large-room listening experience where the performers sound a bit more distant than usual. The resulting image was transformative, drawing me into the essence of the setting.

Perhaps the biggest compliment to MayFly's MF-201A is that it made me want to listen to music. When I wasn't listening, I was thinking about various qualities and experiences from prior demo sessions, looking forward to hearing them again. The speaker had me digging through old favorites, searching for the next "wow, that sounds fabulous" moment. "Another One Bites The Dust" comes to mind (Queen, The Game; Qobuz). This particular track presents an active soundstage, but the MF-201A's reproduction of the song's iconic bass guitar caught my attention. It carried a natural punch packed with velvety textures. Add to that a playful movement of guitar riffs heard at the end of each chorus (moving from the upper left to the lower right of the soundstage), and the dynamic nature of the song held my ears captive. The Cars' "Let's Go" (The Cars 2016 Remastered; TIDAL) also benefitted from the MF-201A's imaging capabilities, exploding with defined details and precise placement of instruments.

To the speaker's credit, songs that typically sound harsh or sibilant on bright speakers were held in check, remaining listenable. The even and natural tonal qualities of the MF-201A are super easy on the ears, avoiding fatigue without forcefully flattening or attenuating highs.


Conclusion
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MayFly's MF-201A is a speaker that I'd happily invite into my home. Physically speaking, it's a looker that can be featured in both high-traffic areas of a home or a dedicated listening space. If visual appearance and craftsmanship are high on your wants list, it won't disappoint. Ultimately, though, the speaker's playback qualities are what make it special. It's listenable, possessing the kind of Hi-Fi pizzazz that draws the best from favorite tracks. It's versatile, sounding confident and refined across genres. And it knows how to step out of the way, delivering a wonderfully balanced attack.

While the MF-201A is an excellent standalone performer, MayFly's add-on bass modules are there for those wanting a sure-shot low-frequency punch. Of course, purchasing those bumps the price from $3,500 to $12,000 (when purchased as part of MayFly's MF-301 full system), making them a luxury add-on. Luckily, the speaker's entry price gives you more than enough to drive listening sessions to extraordinary heights. These speakers are easy to recommend.

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MayFly Audio System's MF-201A Loudspeaker Specifications
  • Frequency Response: 40 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Impedance: Eight ohms
  • Power Handling: 100 Watts
  • Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m
  • Driver Configuration: Co-axial
  • Terminals: Gold plated binding posts
  • Crossover: Symmetric two pole
  • Tweeter: 26 mm fabric dome
  • Woofer: 180 mm polymer cone, rubber surround, 39 mm voice coil, 850g magnet
  • Cabinet Construction: Laminated circular exterior with internal skyline diffuser and integrated bass port
  • Height: 20.7in/520 mm
  • Width: 11.8in/300 mm
  • Depth: 10.6ini/270 mm
  • Weight: 31.5lbs/14.3 kg
 
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Sonnie

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Very interesting speaker for sure... especially that diffused interior.

Listening to Deus Ex Machina right now... reminds me somewhat of tunes from Yello.

So you were in Ottawa?
 

Todd Anderson

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Deus Ex Machina is a sharp track. Definitely has that Yello presence.

I wasn't in Canada... we had to video conference. But Trevor May was in his shop for the chat and was able to carry his camera around for a little show and tell (including an adjacent area where his band practices). Great setup and and super nice guy.
 

Sonnie

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Deus Ex Machina is a sharp track. Definitely has that Yello presence.

I wasn't in Canada... we had to video conference. But Trevor May was in his shop for the chat and was able to carry his camera around for a little show and tell (including an adjacent area where his band practices). Great setup and and super nice guy.
Ahhh.... I see... well that's almost like being there.
 

AJ Soundfield

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Below are measurements provided by Dirac, showing the average of 9 measurement positions taken from the PLP (Figures 1 and 2). As you can see, in-room measurements approximate the speaker's factory measurements (see Figure 3).
Hmmm, those look like NRC measurements from Soundstage. It's considered good online etiquette to link the source
https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2461:nrc-measurements-mayfly-audio-systems-mf-201a-loudspeakers&catid=77:loudspeaker-measurements&Itemid=153
Nice to see the in room measurements do indeed match the "speaker" > the transition frequency ala Toole et al.
Other than the 9 average out/mic roll off > 12KHz, matches factory spec pretty well http://www.seas.no/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=522:h1353-0806-t18rexxfc&catid=52:prestige-coaxial-drivers&Itemid=464
They measure quite nice...and the sound corresponds. Go figure :)
Nice comprehensive review Todd.

cheers
 

Todd Anderson

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Yes, they are NRC measurements. MayFly specified them as such... made the change in the text. Thanks for picking that up. :T
 

Tom L.

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I saw the press release on these a few weeks ago and was intrigued by the idea of the built-in diffuser. I’m always happy to see new ideas and technology enter the marketplace!

Well done Todd!
 

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Wow! That interior work is amazing! Thanks for the review, Todd.
 

witwald

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@Todd Anderson, I noticed that "following extensive listening sessions with Dirac Live engaged and disengaged, I ultimately decided to sideline Dirac". Why did you choose to do that? From what I can gather, it appears that the DSP manipulation of the output signal that Dirac does, purportedly to improve the sound quality, seems to be largely psychoacoustically unwarranted, doing more harm than good. Is that your general experience?

I also noticed that the measured on-axis frequency response of the MF-201A loudspeakers is not all that flat. This will no doubt lead to a significant sonic signature in terms of their perceived performance during any auditioning.

Have you the ability to use Dirac to correct the on-axis response above 500 Hz to be much flatter? I'd expect that a system such as Dirac will be able to achieve a corrected loudspeaker response flat to within at least ±0.50dB, preferably within ±0.25dB. It would have been interesting to hear your opinions on how these loudspeakers sounded once the on-axis frequency response errors, which were clearly there in your measurements, were minimised.

If that's not possible, then it seems that, as a DSP device, Dirac is not being used to its full capabilities, or else it has some significant limitations that are designed into its system processing model, offering a "solution" to the wrong problem, which is what the Dirac designer's presentation from many years ago seemed to suggest. They would be significantly better off simply offering correction curves for loudspeakers as measured under carefully controlled conditions, whilst allowing more informed users to do undertake their own corrective actions.

In addition, am I right in assuming the that the MF-201A loudspeakers do not have any internal enclosure filing material? If so, how can that be in any modern loudspeaker design with aspirations to high-fidelity sound reproduction? I noted that the "cabinet houses its own skyline diffuser", and the cabinet walls appear to be quite thick and, as a result, relatively inert. However, without any internal enclosure filling to absorb the rear radiation from the woofer, it appears that what has been created is a really excellent reverberation chamber. Is that such a good idea, as diffusion does not equal absorption? New technology, such as that being offered by the internal skyline diffuser, but which leaves out the old but necessary old internal absorption technology, seems to be a less than desirable implementation of a solution. Wouldn't all that delayed reverberant rear sound energy tend to radiate out through the cone of the woofer? Maybe that's the main reason for the perceived ability of this loudspeaker to have "powerful imaging capabilities, throwing an impressive soundstage loaded with detail and life"?

I would also have liked to see a plot of the impedance response of this loudspeaker, both magnitude and phase. This would have provided objective insights into the load that this loudspeaker presents to the amplifiers that are tasked with driving it. Can you add that data?
 
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Todd Anderson

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@Todd Anderson, I noticed that "following extensive listening sessions with Dirac Live engaged and disengaged, I ultimately decided to sideline Dirac". Why did you choose to do that? From what I can gather, it appears that the DSP manipulation of the output signal that Dirac does, purportedly to improve the sound quality, seems to be largely psychoacoustically unwarranted, doing more harm than good. Is that your general experience?

I also noticed that the measured on-axis frequency response of the MF-201A loudspeakers is not all that flat. This will no doubt lead to a significant sonic signature in terms of their perceived performance during any auditioning.

Have you the ability to use Dirac to correct the on-axis response above 500 Hz to be much flatter? I'd expect that a system such as Dirac will be able to achieve a corrected loudspeaker response flat to within at least ±0.50dB, preferably within ±0.25dB. It would have been interesting to hear your opinions on how these loudspeakers sounded once the on-axis frequency response errors, which were clearly there in your measurements, were minimised.

If that's not possible, then it seems that, as a DSP device, Dirac is not being used to its full capabilities, or else it has some significant limitations that are designed into its system processing model, offering a "solution" to the wrong problem, which is what the Dirac designer's presentation from many years ago seemed to suggest. They would be significantly better off simply offering correction curves for loudspeakers as measured under carefully controlled conditions, whilst allowing more informed users to do undertake their own corrective actions.

In addition, am I right in assuming the that the MF-201A loudspeakers do not have any internal enclosure filing material? If so, how can that be in any modern loudspeaker design with aspirations to high-fidelity sound reproduction? I noted that the "cabinet houses its own skyline diffuser", and the cabinet walls appear to be quite thick and, as a result, relatively inert. However, without any internal enclosure filling to absorb the rear radiation from the woofer, it appears that what has been created is a really excellent reverberation chamber. Is that such a good idea, as diffusion does not equal absorption? New technology, such as that being offered by the internal skyline diffuser, but which leaves out the old but necessary old internal absorption technology, seems to be a less than desirable implementation of a solution. Wouldn't all that delayed reverberant rear sound energy tend to radiate out through the cone of the woofer? Maybe that's the main reason for the perceived ability of this loudspeaker to have "powerful imaging capabilities, throwing an impressive soundstage loaded with detail and life"?

I would also have liked to see a plot of the impedance response of this loudspeaker, both magnitude and phase. This would have provided objective insights into the load that this loudspeaker presents to the amplifiers that are tasked with driving it. Can you add that data?
Hey there @witwald. Yes, I did chose to silence Dirac for this particular review. As you note, Dirac Live Full has the ability to create a flat response above 500Hz.. I did flatten the response with a target curve, but I ultimately felt the speaker sounded most natural without Dirac engaged. I'm confident that extensive tweaks to the target curve would have ultimately achieved results I liked, but the speaker sounded so good "out of the box," I opted to review it as such. I do use Dirac Live with Bass Management in my every day rig and love the results...

You are correct about a lack of internal damping material. You'd probably be best contacting MayFly directly to ask questions about how, specifically, the internal diffuser is tuned. The gist is: most speakers handle internal reflections by filling a cabinet with some sort of material, but this can hurt bass performance. The MF-201A's designer uses the intternal diffuser reduce bass reflections without affecting internal reflections that are deemed desirable. Basically, think of it as targeted attenuation.

I don't have impedance plots for you... but MayFly might!
 

witwald

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Hi @Todd Anderson. Thanks for responding. I realise that Dirac Live Full has the ability to equalise the in-room response of a loudspeaker curve in the the listening area. However, it works on both the direct sound from the loudspeaker as well as the reflected sound from room surfaces. What I was thinking was using Dirac to only equalise the on-axis direct sound from the loudspeaker. This would make the response measured anechoically to be flat on axis, but have only an indirect effect on the reflected sound.

Can Dirac do something like that? I expect it would mean that Dirac would need to use a gated measurement to remove any reflections from the measurement before doing its processing. In your experience, is that even possible? I looked up the Dirac web site, but I couldn't find any mention of that particular use case. I expect that as Dirac needs to compete with the likes of Audyssey etc, it needs to duplicate their essential capabilities and claim to do it better. However, without the ability to do no more than equalise a loudspeaker, there is no way for the user to easily determine whether the full processing is actually superior to simple on-axis frequency response equalisation. I'm concerned that the latter is actually the superior approach, but has been omitted.
 

Todd Anderson

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I don't think Dirac can be limited to on-axis response only...at least not that I'm aware of!
 
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