Recently, I was in the market for a pair of new mini-monitor loudspeakers. A power amplifier malfunction damaged my last pair—both woofers of my KEF Cresta 1 mini speakers. The speakers were used primarily for my office system, powered by a vintage Harman Kardon 990Vxi receiver.
I came across a loudspeaker, the Usher S-520 mini-monitor. I’d heard of the Usher brand and listened to one of their top floor-standing loudspeakers at a show but was no too familiar. I was not aware of the S-520. It has been a successful model for Usher Audio for the past few years, is still current and has received very positive notices.
Description and Design
The S-520 is a small, stand-mount loudspeaker. It is a two-way design with a 5 inch clear polypropylene plastic woofer and a 1 inch dome tweeter, covered by a protective grill. On Usher’s website, the material of the dome tweeter is not specified. The speaker is a bass-reflex design with a port in the front of the loudspeaker—its placement makes positioning the loudspeaker easier; closer to walls. On the rear panels of my pair, there are bi-wiring binding posts of good quality. However, on the Usher website the picture shows the rear panel with only one set of binding posts. The loudspeaker is also magnetically shielded. The MSRP is $495/pr.
The crossover is a 12 dB per octave slope for both the woofer and the tweeter. The crossover was approved by Dr. Joseph D’ Appolito. The crossover consist of very high-quality parts, especially for the low price of these loudspeakers. They use very thick/heavy circuit boards, air-core inductors, good quality resistors and polypropylene capacitors; truly exceptional for the money.
The tweeter is more sensitive than the woofer, so two 10 ohm resistors are used in parallel at the tweeter circuit, resulting in a total of five ohms, which helps to tame the tweeter. I took a look at the crossover design which uses an 8 µF capacitor for the tweeter. This is a larger than usual value, which usually is approximately 4.7 µF. This crosses over to the tweeter at a lower than usual/typical frequency. The advantage is that the higher frequencies are attenuated earlier at the woofer, helping reduce the break-up at the top of the woofers frequency band. The disadvantage is that the tweeter has to handle lower frequencies in its pass-band.
The construction and finish of this loudspeaker is excellent. The cabinets are thick and fairly rigid. They are finished in either piano black or piano white. I chose the piano white finish, which is more ivory than pure white.
I was really surprised to find a couple more benefits, for such a low priced loudspeaker. The 5 inch woofer has an aluminum cast basket; and both the woofer and the tweeter are fastened with hex bolts and nuts that are imbedded in the front baffle of the speaker, rather than the more conventional wood screws.
2-way system: tweeter 1" (UA025-10), mid-bass 5" (5201W)
sensitivity: 86 dB @ 1 watt / 1m
nominal impedance: 8 ohms
frequency response (-3 dB): 53 Hz ~ 20 kHz
power handling: 50 watts
crossover frequencies: 2.1 kHz
weight: 7 kgs
dimensions (w x d x h): 18 cm x 26.5 cm x 30 cm
The sound of the Usher S-520 is as good as the construction and the finish of the loudspeaker. The tonal balance between the woofer and the tweeter is spot on. Too many loudspeakers have an uneven tonal balance. In my research it was disclosed that in some earlier production runs, the tweeter resistor was of slightly lower value. This would make the loudness of the tweeter higher than the woofer— this appears to be the case of earlier production runs and has been confirmed by technical measurements in Stereophile. Happily, my pair has the later, 5 ohm combined value tweeter resistor.
This mini monitor sounds different compared to many small loudspeakers I’ve heard. Some can sound anaemic and less substantial than I experienced with the S-520. The S-520s sound substantial in their presentation. In particular, their midrange and upper bass sound firmer and have greater physicality. This is especially true when listening to singers and piano. When listening to the Beatles’ “Let It Be” track on the album of the same name (EMI Records C2 46447), Paul’s voice, as well as the piano sounded more like the real thing. The piano had solid weight, and a truly percussive sound to it. This is not typical of most small mini monitor loudspeakers in my experience.
In combination to the aforementioned exceptionally good treble and a natural midrange, the bass and the upper bass were also of excellent quality. The upper bass and the midrange integrated very well. The lower bass is truly excellent, considering that the woofer is only 5 inches. It is much better than my previous KEF Cresta 1s, which themselves were better than many other small loudspeakers. To be fair, the KEFs are smaller in size than the S-520s, with only a 4 inch woofer.
In the past, I have owned a pair of Dynaudio monitors, which also had a 5 inch woofer. Dynaudio is known for its monitors’ exceptional bass quality and depth. As good as the bass was in my Dynaudio speakers, the Usher’s bass was noticeably better in both definition, articulation, as well as in the depth of the bass—they went noticeably deeper and tighter.
The tweeter has a nice combination of transparency and articulation with musicality and ease of listening. When listening to higher frequencies and high frequency overtones, such as drums and cymbals and the like, I did notice that the extremely high frequencies of the tweeter were not as well developed as the rest of the tweeter frequency range. Consequently, the Ushers are not the last word in high frequency air and openness. This also affects, and limits, the speakers ability to reproduce a sense of space and ambiance in many recordings. As an example, one of the tracks I enjoy listening to from time to time is The Guess Who’s “Coming Down Off The Money Bag/Song Of The Dog” from Share The Land (RCA LSP-4359). This cut did not have the ultimate airiness and openness that I’ve heard from other speakers. Nor was it the ultimate in hall/studio ambiance. Yet, in general, the S-520s had good soundstaging. Like many mini-monitors, they can stage a disappearing act. The S-520s are no exception. They create a very wide soundstage with excellent center-fill. And the depth of the soundstage is truly exceptional. It is a most convincing musical experience.
Listening to the Usher S-520 can be a very musical experience. However, the S-520s have one more trick up their sleeve. They also have excellent transparency and clarity. It’s yet another musical bonus in a litany of solid audiophile axioms which make this superb speaker my monitor of choice. Highly recommended.
Further information: Usher Audio