Do you ever stand outside and listen to everything around you? Notice how many sounds you can hear at various levels without the fatigue or wondering “what is making that sound”? Unless one of those sounds is a jackhammer, of course. Often in the world of audio and home theatre, people tend to go for the latest in deep bass or ultrasonic high frequencies forgetting what reality actually sounds like. Sometimes simpler is better when it comes to speaker design, if you are interested in the original captured sound. This is exactly what Fab Audio has set out to do with their Brat speakers.
The Brats are classy, well-dressed speakers, you could say. Doing the old knuckle-rap test against the cabinet, they are not the deadest in resonance. This means that there is some colouration happening inside the cabinet. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are two ways of working with speaker design. You can either eliminate the resonance by constructing a dead cabinet or use the resonance to your advantage and create a more tailored sound. The design of these speakers is comparable to a near-field monitor that has its own stand built into the cabinet. According to the manufacturer, the resonance of the cabinet is used to help extend the lower bass performance. Of course this is a controlled resonance and therefore doesn’t affect the rest of the speaker’s performance, so it should not be mistaken for bad design.
As mentioned, the Brats basically look like a pair of bookshelf speakers on stands. They have a black matte finish with vertical lines running down the support posts. The white drivers have a sleek, modern look with black surrounds and silver caps. The front baffles are slightly sloped back, further adding to the uniqueness of the Brats. These speakers should nicely complement the elements of any modern décor.
During my tests, I ran the Brats with a Song Audio SA-34 SB integrated tube amplifier which delivered 4 watts per channel. These speakers are easy to drive so this was more than enough power. I found that a slight toe-in was the best position for the speakers in my room, with about eight feet between them. I also kept them at least four feet away from the wall, where I found they had the best soundstage with only a slight sacrifice in the bass. I used a Goldring GR1.2 turntable and a Denon 3910 universal player. The analog section of the Denon player was taken out and replaced with a custom section designed by Fab Audio.
Warming things up over a few days, I also took the time to get used to the sound of each component in this set up. I could tell that there was something natural and lifelike that I have not heard for a long time. There were no boom or bang tricks of pizzazz that you might find in many speakers, but there was something unmistakably special. These speakers have scored a good first impression.
Now the system was ready for me to get into longer, more detailed listening sessions. Accented by their natural sound, every recording that I listened to through these speakers became an extended session that captured and pulled me into a sonic landscape. Unlike an ultra-revealing system, that I like to compare to a glaring thousand watt halogen floodlight, the Brats presented a landscape that was a full rainbow of sonic colours with rich, vivid tones. With a bad recording, or a weak spot in the chain, these speakers will not forgive though. You will surely hear it. The type of source you play will also be apparent. After some experimentation, I noticed that these speakers tend to prefer well-recorded vinyl over most of the digital formats (yes, even over SACD). Not due to digital glare or harshness, but for the ability to see deeper into the landscape.
I placed Erykah Badu’s LP vinyl Baduizm on the platter. Though this is a studio session, the work that Kedar Massenburg (the audio engineer) does is just incredible. There are no hints of bad microphone work. The album has a great low-end with some of the smoothest high-end that I’ve heard. The depth of the recordings is also superb, with the complete depth that you would get from an analog tape and tube microphone preamps. If I haven’t said it before, these speakers love analog. Perhaps the name “The Brat” is fitting due to how well they show what is left on the recording (audio engineers beware!). Miss Badu’s voice left me floored as each track played. Her sense of timing and rhythm seemed to melt away the walls. A few times I closed my eyes, and felt as though I was transported to a new space and time. The Brats’ ability to bring sounds to life made me experience the music instead of just looking in as a third party.
When I moved to the classical recording of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien Espagnol, on vinyl, with all its brass and strings blazing in the first movement, I could visualize the wind being blown at me. Every instrument was in its own space and time, belonging in harmony. This was not a detached sense of separation, but once again an example of how closely you would hear sounds contained in their own space in real life. The instruments worked together and blended perfectly. Yet when intently looking for or concentrating on an instrument you could easily place it in the soundstage. The Brats have an excellent ability to reproduce the actual sound of an instrument. An oboe sounded like an oboe, never to be confused with a horn, and a flute could never be mistaken for anything other than a flute. As I moved to the second side of the album and into some of the more subtle and abstract passages, the speakers kept everything in scale and not once did I find myself wanting to raise the volume to compensate for low level resolution. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the crossover and the lack of grain or subtle electronic haze that allowed me to see further into the picture.
So far, I’ve learned that the Brats can play soul music with soul and match classical recordings with their disciplined timing and fluidity. They are superbly transparent and have the ability to image and soundstage first class. But other types of recordings must be considered as well. I did find that while listening to pop recordings, the sound at times could become somewhat irritating. This was not as much of an issue when playing electronic music, though I noticed that there was a bit of low-level bass absence.
To fully appreciate these speakers, you really have to sit in the centre between them. Finding good placement for the speakers and locating that sweet spot in your room can really influence what you’ll be hearing. The Brats didn’t respond nearly as well when I was out of the sweet spot.
I will admit that when I initially sat down with the Brats, I thought that the sound was a touch muddy or cupped. Although this slight colouration quickly seemed to disappear after listening for more than a couple of minutes, when I began to appreciate the clarity and realism that these speakers were capable of. The longer I sat and listened, the more I could hear and the further I could see into the landscape of sound that the Brats offered.
The Fab Audio Brat speakers are the company’s entry-level model at $3250 for the pair. When combined with a decent (not necessarily an expensive) single-ended tube amplifier, a turntable and well matched cables you can achieve a really impressive set up with the Brats. I am not suggesting that these speakers are perfect because there is no such thing as a perfect speaker. The only way to tell if the speakers are right for you is to listen to them using music that you enjoy and are familiar with.
I will definitely miss these speakers when they leave my house. If the Brats are an example of Fab Audio’s entry-level speakers, I am really curious to hear what their other models have to offer. If you’re looking for transparency, clarity, want to experience your audio recordings in more detail and are a fan of single-ended tube amplifiers, you should put these speakers on your list of products to listen to.
Fab Audio Brat Loudspeakers
• Speaker type: floor standing, mini-monitor style with two enclosures and a three port, twin bass reflex loading
• Frequency response: 41 Hz – 20 kHz (+/- 3db)
• Impedance: 8 ohm nominal
• Continuous power rating : 75 Watts system power
• Recommended amplifier: 3.5 – 75 Watts into 8 ohms
• Efficiency: 95 dB/W/m
• Crossover Frequency: 5 kHz
• Dimensions (WxHxD): 22.3 x 98.3 x 28.3 cm (8-3/4 x 38-7/8 x 11-1/8 inches)
• Weight: 15 kg / 33 lbs