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Cinepro Mighty speakers

June 25, 2008 By Brent Butterworth

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Muscle Speakers

I’ve been to hundreds of audio showrooms, but never one like this. Here, the hottest audio system seems like an impulse purchase compared with the other merchandise. That’s because everything I’m describing as “other merchandise” has four wheels, a ferocious engine, and a very sexy paint job.

I’m hanging out at Champion Motor Group, an auto dealer in Jericho, Long Island, New York. Champion deals in new Bentleys and Lamborghinis, as well as impeccable previously owned high-end autos. But the incredible selection of cars isn’t the only thing that makes Champion Motor Group unique. What’s most exciting to me is what lies just past the Lambos: a custom home theater showroom that serves as the main demo space for audio manufacturer Cinepro.

What are all these speakers and amps doing cohabitating with the world’s finest sports cars? “The managers of the dealership were familiar with our company, and they just thought what we’re doing is cool,” explains Cinepro vice president Dr. Constantine (Gus) Cossifos. “It’s a great fit for us because the story is the same: Our speakers and these cars are all luxury products designed for maximum performance.”

Under the Hood
The Cinepro showroom resulted from a collaboration between Cossifos, Cinepro president Michael J. Panicci, and Audio Command Systems, the largest custom electronics installation firm in the United States. It’s nice, although notably less extravagant than most of the theaters you see profiled in Home Entertainment. The point here is to showcase Cinepro’s products, not the interior design.

The core of the system—and the biggest reason I traveled across the country to see it—is the Mighty mini-speaker. I encountered the Mighty at a trade show a couple of months before and couldn’t believe what I heard: an ordinary-looking bookshelf design that exhibited all of the precision and power handling of a top-notch, $10,000-per-pair tower speaker. I couldn’t figure out how the ambitiously named yet inauspicious-looking Mighty could do what it does. So Cossifos invited me here for a technical rundown and a longer listening session.

One of the secrets of the $3,695-per-pair Mighty is the cabinet. Rap a knuckle against it, and you’d never believe it’s made from medium-density fiberboard. It feels more like cast concrete. The front is made from inch-thick MDF, the other panels are crafted from 0.75-inch MDF, and the inside is braced with more MDF. That’s a lot of biomass for a speaker that measures only about a foot high and half a foot deep. All this density is a good thing because speaker cabinets aren’t supposed to vibrate. If they do, they produce a sound of their own that mars the sound coming out of the woofers, tweeters, and midrange drivers. With the Mighty, there’s no chance you’ll have to worry about that.

Panicci credits the Mighty’s proprietary woofer cone—a carbon/wool composite material—for the speaker’s incredible power handling. Beyond that, he and Cossifos won’t give up anything. They won’t even share the crossover specifications with me. When I ask if I can pull the crossover out and analyze the circuit myself, Cossifos nixes the idea: “There’s a gas inside that will kill you,” he jokes. Guess I’m left to evaluate the system with my ears.

I’m surrounded by six Mightys—front left and right, plus four surround speakers—and a $2,695 Mighty Center, which is essentially a horizontally aligned Mighty with an extra woofer. The system also contains two Evolution 2 subwoofers, each a $5,200 behemoth that holds two 15-inch woofers clamped face to face, an arrangement that helps cancel distortion. A concealed rack contains two 3K6 Mk5 amplifiers, a DTP-8 surround processor, an RPC-30240 power conditioner, and various source devices. The two amps put out 450 watts per channel for a total of 2,700 watts per amp and 5,400 watts for the full system. That’s enough not only to deliver an ultra-realistic experience but to rattle your neighbors’ nerves and trip your circuit breakers. But hey, any of the cars in the Champion Motor Group showroom could get you in a lot worse trouble.

On the Road
I use the Cinepro system’s power responsibly, at least for the first hour or so. After all, I know there’s plenty of power on tap, and I know the speakers are built to take considerable punishment. What I really want to find out is: Can the system deliver the delicacy and detail that audio enthusiasts crave, or is it more like an overpowered muscle car that doesn’t handle in the curves?

The first CD I play is 10 Best: Home Entertainment Editors Pick the Best of Chesky Records. It’s a collection we put together with Chesky to test soundstaging (or ambience), stereo imaging, and vocal clarity—all the wussy stuff that designers of high-output audio systems often ignore. One might criticize this trial as tantamount to test-driving a Lamborghini with a trip to the 7-Eleven. But, with cars and audio systems, it’s a rare event when you actually put the pedal to the metal. On a day-to-day basis, refinement matters more than top speed or maximum volume.

When I fire up the system, a surprisingly warm, enveloping sound greets me. Cymbals and other percussion instruments splash across the front of the room. Vocals and conga hits echo off of imaginary concert-hall walls 40 feet behind me. And this is just plain stereo, with the surround speakers deactivated. The CD’s 10 tunes sound remarkably like they did when we were editing them at the excellent listening room/mixing studio in Chesky’s New York City headquarters. (By the way, the CD is available at chesky.com.)

My personal test CD is equally demanding, filled with revealing music snippets chosen in my 15 years of evaluating speakers. In a mere 10 minutes, this CD tells me most of what I need to know about a speaker system…and what it’s telling me about the Mightys is flattering indeed. Every one of the vocalists on the CD—from wispy-yet-warm Brazilian Bebel Gilberto to reedy Los Angeleno Donald Fagen to Darth Vader–esque Hawaiian baritone Reverend Dennis Kamakahi—sounds extremely natural. I can’t say I have heard substantially better vocal rendition from any system I have tested.

Only the extremely high treble frequencies—which, in my test-disc collection, reside most notably on James Taylor’s Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD—seem less than perfect; cymbals and glockenspiel sound ever-so-slightly muted. That’s the silk-dome tweeter talking. I have yet to hear a silk-dome tweeter that defines the ultra-high treble as clearly as a metal-dome tweeter does. But then again, I have heard few metal-dome tweeters that sound as smooth and pleasing as most fabric-dome tweeters do.

Flooring It
If you kidnapped me from my home, blindfolded me, transported me to this room, and played these speakers without telling me what they are, I’d guess they came from some audiophile darling like Sonus Faber or Magico. When you get most of those audiophile speakers out on the open highway, so to speak—when you put on something like a System of a Down CD or the Shoot ’Em Up DVD, both of which demand immense power and volume for proper reproduction—they bloat, distort, and otherwise gag. The Mightys and the Evolution 2 subs just take it all and ask for more. As with an extreme sports car, few of the environments in which the Cinepro system operates could possibly exploit its performance potential.

For years, I’ve used Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart” as a power-handling test. I partially plug my ears with my fingers to protect my hearing, then crank up the heavily compressed mix to the point where vocalist Vince Neil’s voice distorts. I then note the reading on my sound-pressure level meter. However, this test is impossible to execute with the Mighty Surround System. I turn the level up higher and higher, but Neil’s voice remains clean and clear. I soon reach a level that is too high for my ears to tolerate, even with my fingers plugging them completely, yet I still encounter no audible distortion. If memory serves, only one or two speaker systems I’ve tested have equaled this result.

When you consider that the Mighty Surround System is so small that it can easily be built into a cabinet or mounted directly on a wall, its output is a remarkable achievement indeed. It’s like seeing a Mini Cooper out-sprint a big-block V8 muscle car. When Michael Panicci says, “It’s about delivering the full concussion wave,” I can’t disagree—but, given the Mightys’ detail and tonal purity, I think he’s shortchanging his own system.

Cinepro: 631.580.0759, cinepro.com


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