by Anthony Kershaw
I first heard about Mike Lenehan and his ML1 loudspeakers from fellow Audiophilia writer, Andy Fawcett. Andy is a very affable Aussie and is very proud of his country’s contribution to high end audio. And from his regular emails to me, the growth in high end design and manufacture in Australia reflects the country’s renewed faith in all things technology. He was especially talkative about Lenehan Audio, a company close to his Queensland town. The excellent feedback he was hearing from owners and fans of Lenehan’s speakers was making the Oz buzz around the internet and audio groups. Intrigued, he had a chance to follow the final development of the ML1 monitor, Lenehan’s first product to market. It followed that Andy would do the first review.
After Andy’s rave review (and this from a confirmed panel lover), I selfishly wanted to hear them for myself. Audiophilia’s Rick Nickel and other Toronto audiophiles also wanted a chance to listen. I placed a request via a subtle email to Mike. He was more than happy to ship a pair (at Lenehan Audio’s expense, making his kindness extra special with shipping costs to and from Australia!), and a week later, they arrived at the Audiophilia office.
The shipping is a work of art. I swear, the fatigue-draped cases could have fallen out of the hold of the Qantas 747-400 over the Arctic and the speakers would have survived. Bravo, Mike, for taking the packaging seriously and to ensure the fabulous finish of your speakers arrives at the purchaser blemish-free. As such, the ML1s were delivered in perfect condition. My pair is in Radiant Ebony, basically, piano black with sapphire flecks. Bloody gorgeous! They also can be purchased in the colour in the top image, Titanium Metalic.
The ML1 is a monitor-style speaker. Thus, you’ll need a stand — use a good one from Target, or the like. One you can fill with sand or lead shot. Use Blue-Tac to adhere the speaker to the stand. You want the glories of these speakers to shine forth. They reflect the quality of ancillieries as well as any fine speaker I’ve heard. They do not suffer fools gladly. They will also replicate in very detailed fashion the unique qualities of both your front and back ends. In this, they make fantastic reviewer speakers.
Setup is pretty simple. Visually, I like my speakers straight shooting. The ML1s sounded excellent this way, but a slight toe in with the tweeters ear height was even better. This positioning fine tuned the soundstage and depth perception ever so slightly. So, that’s where they stayed for the duration. Nine feet apart, four from the back walls, and three from one side (the other side is a little more open). They can play very loud without much bother, so prospective buyers can use them in small to large rooms. It could fill your standard North American basement setup, but I’d stay away from using them in very large rooms. That said, they are plucky little buggers!
You’re beautiful, and you know it!
The ML1 is one of the most beautiful small speakers I have seen. The workmanship is of artisan quality. Whoever Mike’s cabinet person is, kudos. I think my favourite line is ‘that they’d make a Totem or ProAc blush’. The Lenehans will grace any sound room or functioning living space. Your wife/SA will love them. My wife did. ‘They’re cute, beautiful, and they sound SO good!’. She knows her imaging from her soundstage, trust me.
The technical bit, courtesy of Andy Fawcett.
I’m sure folks will have already read Andy’s super review. He wrote of the technical specs, ‘On first appearances an unremarkable execution of a well-established formula – 5.5” mid-bass driver and 1” fabric dome tweeter in a compact 8-litre enclosure with rear-facing port – the ML1’s considerable weight (11kg / 24lbs) pays testimony to its extraordinarily thorough engineering. The cabinets (featuring a proprietary bracing technique) are laboriously hand built from HD3 composite; a denser, better damped and much more expensive alternative to the MDF found in almost all competing designs. The crossover is even more unusual – a wooden mounting board (not your typical PCB) dominated by three huge inductors, wound by hand from heavy-gauge copper wire, the largest of which alone weighs in at more than a kilogram (2.5 lbs)! Only hard-wired, audiophile grade capacitors and high power handling resistors are used. Hugely labour-intensive to produce, crossovers of this quality are rarely encountered, even at the loftiest altitudes of the high end; that they are found in a loudspeaker at this price point is astonishing, a paean to their designer’s uncompromising clarity of purpose.’
All hail, the confident one.
Lenehan is so confident of his design, that he describes (and shows) in detail the technical inspiration for his speaker. It’s right there on his website. No secrets here. Many designers eschew this openness. Some for fear of copyright infringement, some because they know their designs are crap. In our regular emails, Mike has explained his philospohy behind the ML1s and given me exact direction — even going as far to check the correct torque on the baffle screws. ‘Bass Driver 10 inch pounds, High frequency driver 10 inch pounds, inner screws on high frequency driver 15 inch pounds. Although they use thread lock compound because of the light tensions used so they shouldn’t come loose. If you need to take a look inside your welcome of course but you won’t get the high frequency driver out because it is held in with a heavy damping compound.’
The manual’s stated bass response of 50 Hz I found to be quite conservative. In fact, I got healthy information down to 40 Hz, which will give the bass fan a smile (this, without room bloom). A monitor with outstandingly clear bass and can go fairly deep. Once again, trust your instincts and taste. If you’re looking for a big ass thunder machine, don’t look here. This is a speaker for refined palettes. Great music, great sound, great looks. They’re all right here. Bass, too, but quality mid bass and a nice underbelly down to the C extension on a string bass. Some oomph as well, but you won’t be getting knocked back in your chair. Now, before the rickety old audiophiles start groaning about another small box with only ‘good’ bass, allow me to suggest that you could not be more wrong. The bass is in keeping with the mids and high. The balance is wonderful. Nothing sticks out and you’ll feel nothing is missing. But, even if you are a bass cracker head, allow yourself the pleasure of listening to the speaker with one of the best midrange and trebles you’re likely to hear. Sure, you could add a sub, even a Rel or other excellent examples, but don’t!
I listened for many weeks, using many of the CDs you’ll be reading about in Audiophilia over the next few months. The treble was very extended, detailed, but it was the midrange that was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For sure, one of the very best I’ve heard. It was perfectly balanced within the other tessituras, and glorious in its ability to give life to the most innocuous CDs. It didn’t overdo the makeup, it was bloody Coco Chanel. Halle Berry getting out of the water. Heidi Klum anywhere, anytime. Yeah, THAT good. It was about this time that Rick Nickel blurted out, ‘Oh God, listen to that midrange’. If you know Rick, that’s saying a lot!
A note about the ancillary equipment. At 86dB, the ML1 is like many monitors - it needs decent power to drive right. Sure, you can drive away with a 7 watt SET, but they sang under both the caring power of Audio Research tubes and NuForce Reference 9s Class D. They were quite consistent with good cables (single wire speaker terminals) from Transparent, Cardas, Wireworld and Microphonic Audio. The speakers did show differences in both amplifiers and a little flirtation it had with a NAD integrated. If your equipment is well made and designed, likely the speakers will make them shine.
So, there you have it.
The Lenehan Audio ML1 is better than most monitors I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot. It betters many at double or triple the price. That it is so reasonably priced, is a brilliant coup for the audiophile looking out for his dollars. If you are looking for a splendid monitor speaker that offers fantastic looks and sound and with such inherent value, and, who isn’t these days, may I suggest you email Mike and set something up. His tremendous expertise and your audio dollar will make for a very happy and musical partnership.
Very highly recommended.
[We are proud to award this product an Audiophilia Star Component Award. Congratulations! - Ed]
Cabinet: 18mm HD3 composite, Differential Cancellation bracing.
Tweeter: 1 inch chambered textile dome.
Mid-bass driver: 5.5 inch Nomex cone.
Wiring: Solid core copper.
Input connection: Eichmann cablepods.
Frequency response: 50 - 25.000Hz +/- 1.5db
Sensitivity: 86dB @ 2.83V/m
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, minimum 6.5 ohms @ 200Hz
Recommended amplifier power: 20-200W
Cabinet dimensions (HxWxD): 325 x 170 x 245mm (12.8 x 6.7 x 9.6″)
Weight (per speaker): 11 kg (24lbs)
All specifications may be subject to change without notice.
Each pair of ML1s is stringently tested, and supplied with their own frequency, phase and impedance plots.
Manufactured by Lenehan Audio
36 Nind St
Southport QLD Australia 4215
(07) 5571 1527
Source of review sample: manufacturer loan
E-mail: Lenehan Audio