I’ve owned the ProAc D30RS for just about three years now. The speaker was pretty much brand new when I bought it, completely unheard and sight unseen. That doesn’t exactly tell the whole story, though. If you’ll indulge me while I retrace a few steps, I have a story to tell.
My end of this story begins nearly eight years ago. I was in my junior year of college, getting my the absolute stuffing beat out of me in musicology and ensemble classes. Cue one particular winter break, I return home to Chicago, and my father and I stopped by local high-end dealer Quintessence Audio on a lark. I was shopping for a new pair of speakers and had been somewhat taken by the idea of wrangling some used Sonus fabers, which were well out of my price range.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
The extremely helpful folks at Quintessence led me through a few different speakers, including old Olympus floorstanders, some Magico S series, and after my input that I’d like something a little more dynamic and flatter, the salesman took a moment to think. “I think I have something you’ll really like,” he said, and he disappeared into the back.
Cue a positively cute little British floorstander in an appealing zebra-stripe ebony, hooked up to a small Atoll integrated, the speakers that I would later learn were a pair of Proac D30RS positively lit up the well-treated room with the sounds of Luis Bravo’s Tango Forever soundtrack. Now this was podracing- I mean, hi-fi. It was one of those hi-fi moments that sticks with you, as being a truly musical experience rather than an analytical one. I scarcely recall the sound of whatever speakers came after that in the demo, which was somewhat remarkable considering one setup consisted of Sonus Faber Lilliums paired with Audio Research Reference Electronics.
Fast forward some years, and my Wharfedale Jade Bookshelves were starting to look rather long in the tooth, and who should I cross paths with but Bryce from The Sound Organization, experts on all things Brit-fi, and distributors of none other than ProAc. I had heard Response D20s, D48s and several others, but it was still the ProAc D30RS that captured my imagination and eventually opened my wallet.
For any audiophile, making a purchase without extensive auditioning is a bit curious. Yes, I’d heard the previous generation, but the launch of the new ProAc D30RS ($9,600/pr USD) meant it was not the exact same speaker. I shot off an email to Stewart Tyler, the esteemed founder of Celef and ProAc, to ask about what changes were made. Perhaps I’d do a review after owning these speakers for a few months, I thought. How time flies.
Shortly after my email, I received the tragic news that Stewart Tyler had passed. My enthusiastic questions regarding crossover design seemed suddenly less important than they had just a few days earlier. My own challenges during the pandemic with work – the entertainment industry was hit hard – and the idea of a review passed quietly into that good night.
Cue now 2023, in a conversation with my father, Graig Neville – yes, it’s a conspiracy, mwuahahahaa – he asked me how long I’d owned the speakers. “I think it’s been two years – no it must be three,” I mused. The ProAc D30RS loudspeakers, or Prozacs as one of my British friends affectionately refers to them, have, through covid and all the adventures of 2022 and 2023, been stalwart companions.
I have long been of the belief that pride of ownership, closely followed by ease of use are two of the most telling characteristics that lead to satisfied gear ownership. Sound quality and looks can be assessed relatively quickly by comparison: whether or not you like a piece of gear is easy enough to assess. But the more abstract question of whether or not a piece of gear makes you happy is a far more complex question to answer. Having answered that question for the last three years with these ProAc D30RS speakers – an absolute aeon for a reviewer with seemingly boundless options – I think it’s time to share the results.
Inside the ProAc D30RS
To address first the ease of ownership – the ProAc D30RS loudspeakers are a simple affair on the surface. Nice, if decidedly staid British veneers cover a rectangular box with a two-way crossover of 89dB sensitivity, mating a ribbon tweeter and Mica woofer. Uniquely, the ribbon uses an Alnico magnet, something I have not encountered before.
For my pair of ProAc D30RS loudspeakers I paid the surcharge for the ebony cabinet, which is quite dark but a good bit more fetching to my eye than the stock finishes. I also find the matte white finish quite attractive, if like me, the plain cherry finish isn’t your thing. Bass is a bottom-ported affair, which makes room setup a bit more unfussy and omnidirectional. I’ve connected IsoAcoustics Gaia feet to my unit, but it ships with spikes and basic feet that served me well for some time.
Weight wise, these are an easy handle, and I can pick up and move a single ProAc D30RS by myself – and I weigh a mere 130lbs. That’s a breath of fresh air coming from the slew of ultra-heavy speakers that have flooded the market as of late. Damping is accomplished with Bitumen internally, designed to raise and target resonances in strategic ways, rather than massively cross-bracing and stuffing the cabinet. More on that later.
Ribbon tweeters are offset to address baffle-step reflections, and while ProAc recommends putting them on the inside I tend to like my tweeters relatively wide, so that means using them with the tweeters swapped to the outside. In either case, the difference is subtle but present, and one offers a slightly wider soundstage, while the other setup is perhaps a little more tightly focused. As always, use your ears as your guiding star.
Speaking of setup, while I have seen some people set up ProAc speakers with a considerable amount of toe-in, at very close distances, I prefer a more mid-nearfield distance with the ProAc D30RS firing almost totally straight forward. And here we come to a fascinating question I have been noodling on lately: how much treble is too much?
The B&K curve states that we should aim for a roughly 3dB/octave falling curve to compensate for treble reflectivity in normal home listening environments. This will inevitably mean that if we have a system capable of more or less flat reproduction in a more or less flat-ish and not particularly treated room – big assumptions here but bear with me – then a curve with a rise in the low end and some treble rolloff will be the most pleasing and have the least severe room interactions.
This equation has a lot of complex facets, and ultimately speaker tuning has a lot to do with taste, but in general I tend to agree with a B&K style curve. I’m young, my hearing still extends to about 19.5kHz give or take, so I am a little more sensitive to high frequencies, but more importantly how much treble information exists above about 8-10kHz also has an enormous effect on our perception of depth.
When we perceive sounds to be more distant, what causes that? Have you ever wondered? In music production, we make use of left and right speaker voltage differences to give the impression of a stereophonic auditory image which fills in the perceptual space between the two speakers. This auditory trick of the human ear is what we refer to as phantom image, and can be thought of as an x-axis along which sounds can be placed. But we can also manipulate the placement of sounds in the z-axis of depth by adjusting how much treble roll-off an instrument or track has.
High frequency energy reaching the ear is what our brain uses to identify sounds as being more distant. Besides adding decay, reverberation, whether natural or artificial, it also uses this treble rolloff to make sounds appear further away. If we bring this idea back into loudspeaker reproduction, let’s think about two loudspeakers with theoretically identical characteristics in phase, distortion, dispersion and frequency response. If we take speaker A and leave it flat, and then gradually roll-off the high treble of speaker B, above about 10khz, our initial perception will be that speaker B has greater depth at a similar seating position, at least until the level of roll-off reaches more than say 2-3dB dB at frequencies below 10khz where our ears are more sensitive.
Listening position is a critical part of this equation too, as is toe-in and speaker dispersion, because all of this will impact the amount of upper treble energy you are getting. Meditations on high frequency aside, my concern here is how to achieve an effect which I find desirable. Personally, that means a tangible and stable center image, which is both dynamically impactful and lacking in perceptual harshness at widely varying volume ranges.
Ribbon tweeters complicate our equation, because they have relatively narrow dispersion patterns in the horizontal domain – this means that by pointing the ProAc D30RS almost straight ahead with minimal toe-in, if I am sitting in the midfield, I should hear a noticeable drop in treble level compared to significant toe-in. My preferred position is just shy of true nearfield with a very small amount of toe-in, which runs a bit counter to the concept of having linear treble. What gives?
ProAc D30RS Sound
I cover all of this boring technical jibber-jabber because the funny thing about the ProAc D30RS loudspeakers is that despite having more audible roll-off above 12khz in my preferred setup, they achieve all of my criteria better than almost any speaker I have ever heard. Treble does not feel dark, nor is it excessively rolled off above 12khz, but the perception of depth is enormous. At both my current and former loft apartments in Los Angeles, with great classical recordings particularly, the depth extends behind the back wall, through the other room and out the street to the next home over.
I exaggerate a little of course. My neighbors aren’t being touched by the noodly appendage of my system’s depth performance, but the aforementioned z-axis performance is excellent while remaining stable, sparkly and dynamic. I have heard speakers which do wider, or more forward soundstages, but none that draw me into recording spaces with quite so pleasing a presentation as the ProAc D30RS.
This is aided by that ribbon tweeter I mentioned before. I’ve encountered many ribbons which sparkle and add significant amounts of perceptual detail, yet the ProAc D30RS ribbon is smoother than any I’ve heard. It has that invisibly rich quality like an Elam 251 microphone: oodles of sparkle and top end, yet somehow never harsh. I have a hunch the Alnico magnet structure and clever tuning has given this speaker the best of detailed, fast ribbon sound with the density and fullness of Alnico. The end result is strikingly transparent even when compared to significantly more expensive speakers.
Mated to this ribbon is a Mica pulp woofer and long port arrangement. This driver channels that special ProAc quality you’ll know if you’ve ever heard other Response line speakers or Studio 100s. Lightning quick attack and decay with a midrange punchiness and surprising bass extension. Nothing about it is slow or wildly colored as overdriven LS3/5a replicas can sometimes be, and that low-end performance easily extends into the 30hz range in the medium-large rooms I’ve used them in. This was the first two-way I heard that really made me feel like I could have my cake and eat it too.
What happens with a presentation like this, with a quick, invisible midrange, sweet treble, and wide bandwidth sound is remarkable – while I have heard speakers with a little more edge in perceptual detail or tighter bass, what is given up is often taking away from the whole. The ProAc D30RS eschews the high-damping, dry but detailed sound of many really high-end options in favor of more dynamic and spatial information. It’s a speaker that looks with an eye to the best of vintage recordings and electronics, while still being more than capable of playing modern material with ease.
ProAc D30RS Conclusions
I am not saying the ProAc D30RS is the most transparent or best speaker that exists – I have heard it handily outperformed from a technical point of view, namely by the pair of Acora Acoustics QRC-1s that currently reside in my listening room. Those are less colored, flatter, wider bandwidth speakers by every technical measure.
However everything the ProAc D30RS does is in service of an emotional reaction to the music. I find myself reaching for them often after reviews of high-end gear, specifically because I want a speaker which is not totally distorting the aural picture, but which is also not scraping out every nook and cranny. If on one end we have Robin Williams, who makes us laugh with his delivery, and on the other we have Carl Sagan who makes us laugh with his content, the ProAc D30RS sits in the middle. The content is earnest and pleasing for what it is, but the delivery is not totally dry or lacking in wit. Ok, enough of this bad analogy.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: you may not have heard of ProAc that much if you’re in North America. Your fellow audiophiles may not think it’s the coolest, newest thing, or as sexy and exotic as whatever adorns the cover of The Absolute Sound or Stereophile. But, if pride of ownership for you includes sound you can find comfort in over three years of a global pandemic, two moves, five career moves, two heartbreaks and plenty of quiet nights alone with glowing tubes and those private thoughts and feelings you don’t share with many people… then the ProAc D30RS are, by this reviewer’s standards, very easy to own.