by Andy Fawcett
I recall the late ‘80s as the heyday of the speaker stand, at least so far as the British hi-fi press was concerned. Small monitor speakers, mostly inspired to some extent by the original BBC LS3/5a design, had long been an established fixture on that audio scene, and a growing awareness of the sonic influence of the stand itself blossomed into a period of healthy debate on the merits of different designs and even, believe it or not, group listening tests! Then … nothing. The speaker stand was relegated to the role of utility item, and essentially forgotten. Yet, if recent developments at Lenehan Audio are anything to go by, the heyday of the humble stand could soon be with us once again.
The thing is, speaker stands really are important, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. The speaker cabinet must be supported rigidly in space, to provide a fixed reference against which the drivers can move – failing to do that will radically compromise the resolution of musical detail. Tweeters, with their strong directivity, must also typically be positioned close to the level of the listener’s ears, so the stand’s height has to be appropriate. These issues are well understood and, indeed, fairly easily addressed … yet another crucial factor is generally overlooked. A loudspeaker’s drivers pump an enormous amount of energy into the cabinet walls, both through their mechanical motion and the pressure waves set up within the cabinet. Unless a pathway is provided along which that energy can be dispersed, it will remain in the cabinet to be released through wall resonances – which become clearly audible as colouration. The floor of your listening room is capable of absorbing this energy, and the conduit to get it there is the speaker stand.
Lenehan Audio’s core product is the ML1 mini-monitor loudspeaker, which has been enthusiastically reviewed on this site. It should come as no surprise, then, that they have been experimenting with stands for a good many years; arriving at some complex, clever and generally impractical solutions for improving the efficiency with which energy was released from the cabinet into the stand. One idea, though, started out simple and, as it was further refined, became simpler still – in fact, it became their new TuneStand. This appears, at first glance, to be an entirely conventional stand; albeit a particularly solid one, fabricated by a specialist metalworking firm located close to the company’s Australian base. Not immediately visible from some angles is a single low-slung weight, suspended on black ‘threads’ from the top plate, and shaped so as to be almost hidden behind the central pillar. Its appearance immediately reminded me of a TV documentary I saw on modern skyscraper construction in earthquake zones, where the building’s strength and stability is radically increased by just such a freely-suspended weight … and it turns out that the principles are somewhat similar. For obvious reasons, Mike Lenehan was reluctant to explain too much of the science employed in their design, stating only that the precise suspended mass is critical to the operation of the stands and is derived by calculation, while the best material for the ‘thread’ that suspends it was determined from a number of candidates by listening tests.
What the hanging weight does, essentially, is increase the stability of the entire speaker/stand structure, by actively opposing the forces emanating from the fore/aft motion of the bass driver. Your reaction may well be that something so confrontingly simple can hardly make much difference – that’s OK, mine was too when I first clapped eyes on it. Fortunately, it’s the simplest modification to demonstrate; just sit the weight on whatever object comes to hand, so that all the tension is taken out of the threads, and you’re listening to a conventional stand … then suspend the weight again and compare. Invited to witness this for myself in Lenehan Audio’s very fine factory system, I was already rehearsing my excuses in anticipation of discerning no difference; instead, I was treated to one of those ‘WTF’ moments (and, judging from the peals of laughter, that’s very much the usual reaction)! Most obviously, the bass region was substantially more powerful and extended, and also better controlled. From that foundation, the improved resolution of musical detail and soundstage cues flowed organically, along with stronger dynamics and just about everything, really. Effective they certainly are!
To sum up the vital statistics; height is 650mm, the top plate is 135×220mm, and weight is 18.5Kg each with the central pillars filled with Illmanite (roughly 26”, 5.5×8.5”, 40 lbs), though this can be removed for shipping. The baseplate is spiked but the top plate is not, the designer preferring that Blu Tack be used to secure the speaker. Those dimensions are, not surprisingly, tailored specifically to the ML1 mini-monitors, making them suitable also for the ProAc 1SC, LS3/5a and similar. Variants suited to larger cabinets will be available shortly, though I have no specifics to hand. The bad news is twofold; the stands’ substantial weight inevitably makes shipping costly, and the decision to produce them locally in small batches has forced the price to AU$890 (roughly US$900) per pair. In a market conditioned to the cost of lightweight, Chinese-sourced stands that sounds expensive, but for what the TuneStands do you can’t really argue.
Inevitably, DIYers will be quick to investigate, and it seems unavoidable that other manufacturers will ‘borrow’ this idea; it’s simply too good not to, and there’s no practical means by which a small operation can protect it. They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that may turn out to be the case here, though nobody has yet identified a precedent for this innovation. For now, let this article secure a little kudos for the fertile mind of Mike Lenehan, and hopefully open the door for the many owners of stand-mount loudspeakers to get some seriously improved sound.
Lenehan Audio TuneStands
Manufactured by Lenehan Audio
36 Nind St
Southport QLD Australia 4215
Tel: (07) 5571 1527
Source of review sample: manufacturer loan