The Audio Physic Step plus

Only because I’ve heard it three times today (in the airport, at Home Depot and lunch) listening to the Audio Physic Step plus speakers begins with the Squeeze classic “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell). Not terribly audiophile-y by anyone’s standards, but it’s got some great harmonies, and you can dance to it.

But seriously, it’s exciting to see what can be coaxed from a small cabinet these days, and the variation on a theme is equally enticing. We had a lovely time with the Step plus’ larger sibling, the Tempo plus a few months ago, and the Step plus is equally good but in a smaller container. For good reason, as the Step plus shares the same 1.75” HHCT III, Ceramic coated Aluminum Hyper-Holographic Cone Tweeter and 5.9” HHCM II, Ceramic coated Aluminum Hyper-Holographic Cone Midrange from the Tempo, sans the latter’s dual 7” woofers. The new plus versions are the latest re-engineered versions of the Step models that have been a favorite world wide for years.

At $2,595/pair in the standard Walnut or Cherry finish or slightly more ($2,795/pair) in the luscious Ebony finish of our review samples, the Step plus speakers look as elegant as they sound. Black and White high gloss are also upgraded finish options. An extra $200 gets you a pair of tempered glass, and metal matching stands, and they provide a sophisticated visual. Though nowhere near as elegant in appearance, my sand filled Sound Anchor stands offer up more bass reinforcement, so take your pick; performance or good looks. Those pairing the Step plus with a subwoofer will have a wider range of stands, as the last few molecules of bass won’t matter.


These little darlings image like crazy – every silly audiophile cliché you know applies. Small monitors are a shoe in for their ability to disappear into a room, offering close to the proverbial point source for sound and the Step plus does an amazing job. Everyone who experienced them walked away with their adjective glands exhausted when discussing just how big these small speakers can play.

This is due to the amazing amount of technology incorporated into the speakers, something pretty much unheard of at this price point. Starting with the cabinet itself, designed to minimize standing waves and other reflections, the Step plus takes advantage of an open cell ceramic foam bracing system. This labyrinth-like cabinet interior soaks up unwanted reflections much more effectively than the standard stuffing you might see in a competitors’ speaker. The sloped front baffle also makes for better time alignment, while maintaining a sleek visual.

According to AP, nearly everything in the plus version of the speaker has been redesigned or updated from the original. The crossover is all new, internal wiring and even the WBT binding posts all contribute to the overall sound. But the biggest part of the performance increase comes from the new third generation Hyper-Holographic driver technology, which takes advantage of a composite aluminum and plastic basket along with active cone dampening on both drivers.

The result is a more natural, lifelike, engaging presentation. There is a liveliness to these speakers that you might even mistake as coming from an ESL, a delicacy not present in small speakers. Whether it was the gentle bowing of a violin or brushes being stroked across a drumhead, the Step plus gets to the heart of the presentation without being harsh or strident.

Even though the spec sheet claims a sensitivity of 87db with one watt, the Step plus proves easy to drive with any amplifier. With a handful of great amps from Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, Nagra, Pass, PrimaLuna, and Simaudio, the Step plus not only turned in outstanding performances with each one, their high degree of resolution revealed the individual personality of these amplifiers with ease. No small feat for a pair of $2,600 loudspeakers. It’s worth mentioning that matching the Step plus speakers with our Product of the Year winning Simaudio ACE makes for an amazing hi-fi system coming in at just under $6,000.

Going back through the Brian Eno Ambient series proves highly entertaining. Granted, these texturally diverse records won’t tell you a thing about tone or timbre, lesser speakers fail to reveal the minute details and spatial cues going on. Ditto for all of the Jean Michel Jarre albums in my collection. For those of you too young to remember any of these, try the soundtrack from Gone Girl, courtesy of none other than Trent Reznor. This is a hauntingly obtuse recording that feels like it was recorded in some highly processed format like Q Sound. The Step plus rendition of this disc in my 13 x 15-foot listening room has me looking for the Dolby Atmos processor and the other nine speakers; it’s that involving. Paul Weller’s new soundtrack from Jawbone is equally tasty for all the same reasons.

Simple set up

The real key to optimizing the Step plus (as in any good loudspeaker) is to get the tweeters right at ear level. Otherwise, you may feel less than pleased.

If they don’t have you in freak out mode, you don’t have them set up right – it’s that simple. If you don’t start with the AP stands, anything about 24 inches in height will get you somewhere from really close to spot on.

As with any other high-quality mini monitor, the ultimate tradeoff will be the spot that maximizes bass performance and minimizes midrange cloudiness. The closer to the wall you go, the more bass, but there reaches a point where it begins to compromise the exquisite imaging capabilities. Move the speakers up and back a few inches at a time, and you’ll know immediately when you hit it. The magic disappears, and it disappears abruptly. A similar effect happens moving the speakers side to side, go a little too far, and your hard earned coherence vanishes.

The woofer is ported, so keep this in mind, should you even think about bookshelf placement, and take note that the speakers only have single binding posts, so there is no need for bi-wiring.

Fear not, start with the speakers about six or seven feet apart and about four feet from the rear walls, and you’re rocking – they sound great right out of the box. Fiddly audiophiles can coax a bit more imaging performance with a few minutes spent fully optimizing speaker position. These are light speakers, so it’s super easy.

At the end of the day, Fun

Running through every genre of music imaginable, the Step plus does not disappoint. Of course, being a small monitor, you can only crank Zeppelin or your favorite EDM tracks so far. At a certain point, physics works against you, and those little woofers can only move so much air. The quality of bass produced is of high quality, and that’s not what mini monitors are all about in the first place. Going back to Weller’s Jawbone soundtrack for “Jawbone Training” reveals a healthy amount of kick and slam along with the passionate cymbal work provided.

The Audio Physic Step plus is about resolution, and this is delivered. These speakers offer a highly resolving look into the music presented without ever being harsh, strident or fatiguing and that is a tough balance to achieve. It’s obvious that the AP slogan “No Loss of Fine Detail” is delivered on in full.

If you want a highly immersive, three-dimensional music experience in a small to modest room, these are the speakers that should be at the top of your list.

The Audio Physic Step plus Speakers

MSRP: $2,599 – $2,799 (finish dependent) (North American Importer)


Analog Source             Technics SL-1200G w/Grado Statement2 cartridge

Phono Preamplifier     Conrad Johnson TEA 1s2

Digital Source              PS Audio DirectStream memory player and DAC

Amplification              PrimaLuna HP Premium (KT 150s installed), Simaudio NEO Ace

Cable                           Tellurium Q Silver Diamond

Power                          Equi=

The Pro Ac Tablette 10

Following the driving bass line in Robin Trower’s “Too Rolling Stoned,” it’s tough to believe this much bass is coming from such tiny cabinets. Harder still to believe that said small monitors are flanking the couch, up against the rear wall of my listening room.

ProAc has been making the Tablette since 1979, and it is one of the world’s most popular mini monitors as well as one of high-end audio’s best values. The Tablette has won countless awards from hifi magazines the world over, mine included.

However, the Tablette has always been a ported design, so extracting the maximum performance has always required getting them out in the room somewhat, so the rear firing port doesn’t load up and put a nasty hump in the lower bass response. We were amazed at how much more low-end grunt was available from the recent Anniversary Edition, and remain equally amazed at how well the new Tab 10s non – ported design works.

These speakers are as easy on your billfold as they are to move around. Black ash, cherry, and mahogany is standard at the cost of $1,900 a pair, with ebony and rosewood (particularly striking) slightly more at $2,200 per pair. As with every mini monitor, we suggest as much mass as you can pack into the stands you choose. Weighty stands dramatically enhances the quantity and quality of the bass response delivered, and you will be astonished at how much more these speakers reveal on a high mass pair of stands.

Making excellent use of a thin walled, heavy damped, infinite baffle enclosure design similar to the BBC LS3/5a, the Tab 10 utilizes the same 1-inch silk dome tweeter from the Anniversary model and a few other ProAc models. New for the Tab 10 is a 5-inch woofer using a Mica based, ceramic coating that makes the woofer cone stiffer. The woofer in the Anniversary model has a 5 7/8 – inch, impregnated Kevlar cone, so these are indeed two different animals. The crossover in the Tab 10 is also optimized for the nonported cabinet to offer correct bass response.

One of the only things making music longer than the Tablettes is the Rolling Stones, so it seems more than appropriate to spin the LP of their latest, Blue and Lonesome. This tribute to the band’s favorite blues tunes is a vital record with explosive playing from Jagger, Richards, and Watts. The Tab 10s fill the room with sound, preserving the raw sound of this recording, with each musician intact, possessing their own space; a tough task to accomplish, considering the dynamic interplay between these musicians.

Easy and versatile

Where the Anniversary Tablettes will not work against the wall due to their rear-firing port, it’s smooth sailing with the Tab 10, yet they still deliver an excellent performance out in the room too. Apartment dwellers and those forced to make the living room do double duty as the listening room will appreciate the extra options for placement.

As with past Tablette models, the Tab 10 has a somewhat low sensitivity of 86db, yet it is incredibly easy to drive, so a ton of power is not required to enjoy them, and with a nominal impedance of 10 ohms, they are extremely tube amplifier friendly. Much of my test listening was done with both of our products of the year, the 50 watt per channel, solid-state Simaudio Neo Ace integrated, and the PrimaLuna HP Premium integrated amplifier, configured with EL-34 tubes for 70 watts per channel. These amplifiers all had more than enough power to achieve high listening levels in both my 11 x 18 foot living room and 10 x 11 foot dedicated “small speaker” listening room.

The Tab 10s have more than enough resolution to unveil the subtleties of these amplifiers, and a few other combinations tried, as well as the differences between the $32,000 Gryphon Kalliope DAC and a few budget DACs on hand. Impressive as they perform with mega components, the Tab 10s still turn in an outstanding performance with a recently restored Marantz 2245 receiver, making them a system anchor that you can grow with as your audio upgrade budget increases.

It’s always about balance

The overall tonal balance in the Tab 10 is just slightly warm, with a healthy dose of tonal saturation, as I like it personally, and I must confess that while the Tab 10s deliver a command performance with whatever high-quality amplifier you connect them to, I just love em with tubes. While the PrimaLuna/EL-34 combo was the go-to choice, getting crazy and moving in the Audio Research REF 6 pre, REF Phono 3 and GS150 power amplifier was a ton of fun, reminiscent of the very first time I heard the Tablettes driven by the legendary ARC SP-10 Mk. II and a D-79 power amplifier. Now as much as then, I couldn’t believe how much music came out of these tiny speakers driven by such major electronics.

Where the Tab 10, like the Anniversary Tab surprises you, is just how loud they can play. Going straight from the delicate, flamenco style of Eddie Van Halen on “Spanish Fly” straight into “Eruption” (Thank you TIDAL) to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” (with the ARC’s power meters bouncing healthily) you’d expect smoke and major carnage. In the best British fashion, the Tab 10s soldier on without bother.

As much fun as it is to find the limits of their performance envelope, the Tab 10s shine in everyday duty. The tonality has a relaxed ease combined with enough resolution to stay exciting, regardless of program material. These are speakers that you can get lost in, with long listening sessions a breeze. This has always been a hallmark of the Tablette, yet even better with current models.

Mini monitor magic

Some small speaker manufacturers make the mistake of trying to be everything to everyone, offering a goosed bottom end, giving the impression of more bass, throwing overall tonal balance under the bus. The Tablette does not make this mistake, and while at first blush, they might seem as if they are a little lacking, the more music you listen to, it sinks in at the amount of quality and articulation offered with the bass that they do produce.

Two drivers and a simple crossover network done right means a high degree of coherence, again creating that enticing illusion of reality and pinpoint imaging that the Tab 10s provide. Like the Anniversary model, when placed in my living room in front of the Quad 2812’s, on a lot of acoustic music, it was tough to tell them apart. Auditioning Keith Jarrett’s famous The Koln Concert proves irresistible; his piano delicately floats between the speakers with a sumptuous decay that has to be experienced. It’s still tough to believe that this level of resolution and sheer tonality is accomplished with a $1,900 pair of speakers.

Vocal recordings fascinate with an equal amount of engagement. Chrissie Hynde’s “Never Be Together,” from her latest album hovers out in front of the sparse lead guitar and drums on the track. Going way old school and spinning “Private Life” from her 1978 debut feels just as fresh as the first time I heard the album on the original Tablettes.

Still great after all these years

It has been great fun to watch and listen to the Tablette’s progress over almost 40 years. Every version is more refined and reveals more music than the last. However, the Tablette 10 is a thoughtful and exciting sidestep from the Anniversary model for those of you that have to get the speakers closer to the rear wall.

Whether you’re experiencing the sound of ProAc for the first time, or are a long standing fan, this is a pair of speakers you can easily fall in love with. Warmly recommended.

The ProAc Tablette 10

$1,900 (standard finish) $2,200 (premium finish) (Factory) (North American Distributor)


Analog Source             AVID Volvere SP/SME V/Ortofon Cadenza Bronze

Phonostage                  Audio Research REF Phono 3

Digital Source              Gryphon Kalliope DAC,  ELAC DS-101 server

Amplifiers                   PrimaLuna HP integrated, Simaudio NEO Ace integrated

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Power                          Torus TOT