Blue Circle Audio BM2 Loudspeakers
Had I played life safe, I probably wouldnt have quit
my job in high tech in the 1990s to start up an online magazine. But if I hadnt, I
wouldnt have had as much fun doing what I really like to do, and the SoundStage!
Network wouldnt exist today.
I suspect its been pretty much the same for
electronics designer Gilbert Yeung. He could probably have found a job in electronics
working for someone else, but instead he started up Blue Circle Audio, of which he is
president, to produce some of the most original designs in all of high-end audio. His
first products, from the mid-90s, are legendary for their use of wooden knobs,
stainless-steel chassis, and innovative circuit designs. I bought his BC3 preamp and BC2
monoblock amplifiers; I still use the BC3, and Yeung himself bought back my BC2s for his
"museum." Yeungs current Thingee products are turning heads and opening
ears with their outrageous construction ("chassis" made from lengths of ABS
pipe!) and very good sound. Every one of our reviewers who has tried these recent products
has challenged their looks and praised their sound. Yeung took a risk in starting his
company, and continues to take risks with almost every new product he makes.
And hes still challenging himself. Blue Circle Audio
boasts a wide range of electronics that includes cables and accessories, and now Yeung has
set the companys sights on loudspeakers -- mainly so that, according to Yeung,
"when they display at a show, they can show a complete Blue Circle
system." Of course, he wants to offer them to consumers, too.
Enter the BM2 loudspeaker, which costs $4900 USD per pair
in its standard finish of natural or black oak (the price rises to $6500/pair for custom
real-wood finishes; contact Blue Circle for details). And, like everything else Gilbert
Yeung has designed, the BM2 is novel.
Although Gilbert Yeung has expertise in entrepreneurship,
risk-taking, and electronics, loudspeakers are not his strength. Therefore, to design the
BM2, he enlisted the help of Ohm Acoustics, of Brooklyn, New York, which has produced
speakers since 1971. The BM2 includes some of Ohms tried-and-true technology,
notably their implementation of the Walsh driver, but also includes its own unique
features. The BM2 is not a rebadged Ohm model.
The BM2 is a floorstanding speaker of modest size
(38.5"H x 8.5"W x 16.5"D with grilles on) and weighs 65 pounds. Blue Circle
claims bass extension down to 28Hz, a sensitivity of 86dB/W/m, and an impedance of 8 ohms.
There is a single set of binding posts on the back. But to really understand the speaker,
you have to understand at least a little bit about its Walsh driver, which forms the heart
of the BM2 and of all Ohm Acoustics speakers.
Developed by Lincoln Walsh, who died in 1971, the Walsh
driver resembles the usual cone driver, but is longer and works differently. Instead of
the entire cone simply moving back and forth, as in a traditional dynamic driver, the
Walsh cone is stretched and compressed, which essentially creates waves in the cone
material itself. Its this controlled movement that results in the excitation of the
air that arrives at the listeners ears. In the BM2 the Walsh cone is mounted on the
top of the cabinet, above an aperture -- any sound emitted by the cones interior is
directed into a small chamber inside the cabinet and absorbed there. Soundwaves emitted by
the cones exterior are radiated equally to all sides of the speaker, making the BM2
an omnidirectional design.
The Walsh is wide-range but not full-range. The topmost
frequencies are aided by a 1" soft-dome tweeter mounted on the tip of the Walsh
driver and firing only to the front. Driver and tweeter are enclosed in a black
"canister" of metal mesh that cant be removed by the owner (the Walsh
driver and the tweeter remain hidden from view). A switch on the rear of the canister lets
you adjust the tweeter output level (see below). The unsightly canister is concealed by a
rectangular grille covered in cloth.
Two 6" woofers are mounted on the front of the main
enclosure to reinforce the bass. Because the Walsh driver extends quite low into the bass,
it isnt crossed over to the woofers at a specific frequency; instead, all three
drivers work in the bass range, to provide the most surface area, and the Walsh is allowed
to roll off naturally at the low end. This makes the BM2 a more or less two-and-a-half-way
I gave the BM2s lots of room to breathe in my room, which I
do for all speakers that spray sound to the front, sides, and rear. I placed them about
5 from the front wall and about 7 apart, which left about 4 to each
sidewall. My primary system comprised an NAD C 565BEE CD player and an Anthem Statement D2
v.2 preamplifier-processor feeding a pair of Stello M200 monoblock amplifiers (140W into 8
ohms). I did all of my listening in the Anthems Analog Direct mode, which bypasses
all processing. The speaker cables were DH Labs Silver Sonic Q-10 Signature, the
interconnects Nirvana S-L.
Ive long fancied omnidirectional designs for their
spacious, boxless sound, but Id never reviewed a speaker based on a Walsh driver,
whether from Blue Circle, Ohm Acoustics, or anyone else. I had no idea what to expect from
the BM2s. Would they sound similar to other speakers Ive heard, or would they
generate a sound uniquely their own?
I first concentrated on the midrange; in particular, how
the BM2 reproduced voices. In my opinion, if a speaker doesnt get the midband right
and thus makes voices sound nonhuman, it doesnt matter what else it might do well,
because thats what matters most. Voices must sound real.
I was pleased to hear a midrange that sounded well balanced
and natural -- not too thin, certainly not too rich, and with a "rightness" that
made voices sound real. Marizas all-acoustic Transparente (CD, Times Square
TSQ-CD-9047) is a good test for female voice -- its naturally recorded, with
seemingly little extra processing added. Ive heard Mariza sing live, even
unamplified, and on this recording thats what she and her band sound like. I liked
the way the BM2 made her voice sound open, effortless, and airy, yet never wispy or too
lean. The BM2 was surprisingly transparent and quick, not at all unlike an electrostatic
speaker. Think detail, speed, and incisiveness through the midband, along with a proper
amount of the heft that more traditional, dynamic speakers provide. Is this a Walsh
trademark? No idea.
What impressed me more was how the BM2 handled male voices,
particularly those that can be reproduced with too much presence and weight. Johnny
Cashs voice on The Man Comes Around (CD, American 044007708309) was miked
ultraclose and can sound too rich and resonant through speakers that overemphasize the
lower part of the midrange. The BM2 didnt. It conveyed just enough weight to sound
immediate and clean, but never weighty, chesty, or bogged down. Likewise,
midrange-centered instruments sounded splendid for their incisiveness and attack. Bruce
Cockburns 1980 album, Humans, is considered by many (including me) to be his
masterpiece, and the best youll hear it sound is on Humans: Deluxe Edition
(CD, True North TN0317). Hugh Marshs violin plays a tremendous role on this album;
through the BM2s it sounded extremely natural, as well as wickedly fast and clean. The
BM2s had a transparency and immediacy that let me focus more on the music and less on my
I also liked the way the
BM2s reproduced Willie Nelsons Stardust (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65946), a
classic from 1978 that many feel is one of his best. This, like the Johnny Cash recording,
can sound amazing through a great system, but sounds flawed if some frequencies are
overemphasized, making Nelsons voice sound too nasal and coarse. The BM2s did a
shockingly good job of creating a vivid, highly detailed sound in which Nelsons
voice was projected three-dimensionally in space, but without ever pushing the envelope
too far and thus sounding nasal, coarse, sharp, edgy, or etched. I say
"shockingly" because, in this respect, Id put its sound in the company of
the PSB Synchrony One ($4500/pair), Revel Ultima Salon2 ($22,000/pair), and JansZen Model
One ($32,500/pair, now discontinued). The BM2 isnt nearly as neutral as any of those
designs (especially the ruthless PSB and Revel), but all four share similar qualities of
speed and transparency.
The BM2s bass and highs sounded a bit more
conventional -- probably because, the atypical Walsh driver aside, the BM2s woofers
and tweeter are used in pretty typical fashion. Still, thats nothing to balk at; its
performance in these areas was good, even if Blue Circles claim of 28Hz bass
extension seems optimistic. Realistically, the speakers could lay a firm foundation in my
room down to the middle of the 30-40Hz range -- still quite ballsy, given the
speakers size, and the ideal amount of low-end grunt for a medium-size room without
completely overloading it.
The BM2 sounded weighty enough that no music lover should
even consider adding a subwoofer, and they had what audiophiles like to call
"sock" and "punch" -- in other words, impact, the opposite of
slow, plodding, waterlogged bass. The drums on "Grim Travellers," from
Cockburns Humans, didnt have the subwoofer-like weight from the BM2s
that they do through the reference-grade, triple-woofered, flat-to-20Hz Revel Ultima
Salon2s, but there was still an impressive level of depth and punch that made the Blue
Circles sound extremely satisfying. I also played some hard-driving, drum-heavy rock
through the BM2s at volume levels higher than I suspect most would play them in their
homes, and they held together without breaking up. This surprised me -- Ive heard
speakers of similar size, when placed under such stress, start to crackle and distort, and
their woofers bottom out. The BM2s proved that they had guts.
The highs were clean and extended -- what youd expect
from a good, modern dome design -- but were most interesting when I used the switch on the
back of the canister. My ears told me that it made 2-3dB of difference in the uppermost
treble, which is not insignificant. Most of the time I used the BM2 with the switch
down; for the most part, this sounded the most natural, and the speaker never hinted at
being bright. But when I wanted a little more air and upper-frequency detail, Id
flip the switch up, which would raise the level of the top end and give the speaker a
livelier, more immediate sound. Provided the recording itself wasnt inherently
bright, the "up" position was fine. But with poorly recorded material -- very
hotly mixed pop records, and recordings that were thin and strident to begin with -- the
BM2s would sound bright with the switch up, so Id flip it back down to make the
sound more palatable. After weeks of listening, I concluded that the buyer should be
prepared to use the speaker with the switch in either position, depending on the recording
Of the things Ive talked about so far, the BM2s
main strength was how it presented the midrange: it was immediate, revealing, natural, and
transparent, the kind of qualities one gets from an electrostatic design. But another
great strength of this speaker was something I havent yet mentioned -- the way the
BM2s projected sound with such an uncanny sense of space and "freedom" that I
couldnt pinpoint the locations of the speakers except by sight. The BM2 shares this
strength with other omnidirectional designs, such as Mirages OMD-28, which I
considered one of the greatest values in high-end audio ($8000/pair, now discontinued).
Nowadays, youd be hard-pressed to find a pair, but if you do, buy them. The sonic
illusion created by a pair of properly set-up OMD-28s or BM2s is awe-inspiring.
When fellow reviewer Jarrett Dixon came by to listen to the
BM2s, he admired their natural and well-balanced sound, as I did, and he liked the
immediacy of the midrange. But those werent what bowled him over. Rather, it was the
width and depth of the soundstage. The sound traveled past the outer limits of the left
and right speakers, but with no degradation of centerfill -- voices mixed to appear at the
center of the soundstage hovered there in space, rock solid. Depending on the recording,
the depth of the soundstage could extend far past the rooms front wall, to create a
sonic illusion that wasnt only speakerless, but wall-less as well. Images within the
stage were still strongly placed -- better, in fact, than with the Mirage OMD-28s. I
believe thats attributable to the BM2s front-firing tweeter, which gave
stronger, high-frequency directional cues. This aspect of the speakers performance
wowed Jarrett, and it wowed me, too.
Had Blue Circle Audio come out with a front-firing
loudspeaker based solely on conventional dynamic-driver technology, even with high parts
quality and generally good sound, theyd probably have had a hard time making inroads
into the cutthroat speaker market. There are a lot of very good speakers out there selling
for the BM2s price, or less. Ask anyone whos tried to start a speaker company
in the last few years -- its next to impossible to firmly establish a new brand, and
bringing out just another generic speaker usually results in a quick trip to obscurity.
So I think Gilbert Yeung was wise to recruit the folks at
Ohm Acoustics to create something more distinctive. The BM2 is a compact floorstander with
strong, impactful bass to about 35Hz, highs that are clean and extended and can be
adjusted to suit the music and the listeners taste, and an overall tonal balance
that sounds natural, even if its not quite the epitome of neutrality. The BM2s
defining characteristics are two: First, its midrange is superb in its immediacy and
transparency, and in its ability to reveal scads of detail without making any of it sound
"etched." Female voices sound great, as do instruments of the same range, and
male voices can sound incredible -- detailed, with just the right amount of heft. Second,
the BM2s way of portraying space and getting sound "out of the box," while
keeping a firm grip on image focus, is uncanny. Time and again I was awestruck by the fact
that these two speakers could throw out a holographic soundstage with a convincing
illusion of 3D -- as good as or better in this regard than any other pair of speakers
Ive heard. These qualities make the BM2 special.
Playing it safe has its place, but not if you want to make
a mark. Kudos to Gilbert Yeung and Blue Circle Audio for trying something unique and
producing the BM2. Its an intriguing design well worth listening to for the
distinctive things it can do. At least give them a listen -- I thoroughly enjoyed my time
. . . Doug Schneider
|Blue Circle Audio BM2
Price: $4900-$6500 USD per pair, depending on finish.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Circle Audio, Inc.
Innerkip, Ontario N0J 1M0
Phone: (519) 469-3215
Fax: (519) 469-3782