Philharmonic Audio is a small humble speaker manufacturer located in Maryland with a dedicated team of audiophiles, engineers, and music lovers. As the company name and logo display, Philharmonic Audio is superb in producing some of, if not, the most “musical” sounding speakers I have had the pleasure of experiencing. I was fortunate enough to correspond with Dennis Murphy and acquire a pair of his BMR Philharmonitor 3-way loudspeakers for an in-home audition. The crossover networks for all Philharmonic speakers were developed by Dennis Murphy, who has a proven track record in crossover designs for Salk Sound, Ellis Audio, and many popular public domain kits, such as the MBOW1 and CAOW1. Not only is Dennis one of the key designers of speakers at Philharmonic Audio, he is also the principal violinist in the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra and plays lead violin in two tango orchestras.
For $1,350/pair plus shipping you get these magnificent 3-way ported speakers which are 22″ H x 9″ W x 13.5″ D and weigh in at 38lbs. ea. The pair used in this demo are the standard speakers with a pre-fab cabinet MTMC-0.75CH made by Dayton Audio and sold on the Parts Express website. The price/performance ratio compared to other speakers at the similar cost is phenomenal. Of course, you can always upgrade to cabinets made by Jim Salk that are $1600/pair and come with straight-sided cabinet walls and a slightly larger size. Furniture grade finishes are also available for $1800/pair. I was surprised how inert the model I had for this demo was when I performed the knuckle rap test and could only imagine how much more sturdy the Jim Salk cabinets would be by comparison!
Despite the different finishes and cabinets, all models have a 64-10 OEM RAAL tweeter, a 2.5” Tectonic Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) midrange driver, and the latest 7” Scan Speak 8545-01 woofer with a low damping SBR rubber surround and coated air dried paper/carbon fiber cone. This speaker has an anechoic frequency response of 30Hz-20kHz (+/- 2dB), a sensitivity of 84.5 dB at 2.83V/1m, and 6-ohm impedance. They also have a rear 2” heavily inner/outer flared port near the top of the cabinet. The speakers sport a pair of gold plated, knurled, five-way binding posts on the rear of the cabinet. The RAAL ribbon tweeter is the same that is used in Dennis’ New Philharmonitor. As explained on the Philharmonic Audio website, the BMR midrange driver, unlike many conventional radiator drivers, uses strategically placed weights in the diaphragm to counteract the mass of the voice coil at higher frequencies. It operates in two different bending wave motions in the higher frequencies and switches to a piston-like motion in the lower frequencies.
This BMR can be used as a midrange, tweeter or full range driver as seen in Cambridge Audio Minx Min 12. Dennis chose to use this unique driver as a midrange because he believes its strength is the upper midrange performance. After my audition, I believe he is right. Paul Kittinger optimized the bass response of the BMRs. He is also the one behind the transmission line optimization of the Salk Song Tower and Dennis’ flagship model, the Phil 3 tower speaker.
In my 1400cu. ft. media room, the BMRs were set up on stands about 6’ apart. With Dennis’ recommendation, these speakers do not need to be toed-in and should be set up so that the tweeters and midrange in one speaker are closest to the drivers in its mirror image. The tweeters can be either at ear level or slightly above
The speakers were delivered intact with a slight puncture on the side of one of the boxes. This proved ineffectual in damaging the speaker inside as the packing was superb with thick cardboard boxes on the outside with about 1” thick foam on the sides and some extra thick foam pieces protecting the corners, top, and bottom of both speakers. The speakers were then covered with white fabric bags to provide an extra layer of protection on the finish. The speaker grills, though magnetic, were attached to the cabinet with painter’s tape. The grills were also protected with a thin piece of cardboard as wide as the grill. These pieces of cardboard were also taped to the cabinet painters tape. The magnetic grills snap onto the front baffle at the spots of the four screws that secure the baffle to the rest of the cabinet. The RAAL tweeters were covered in a magnetic strip used to protect the ribbon from being damaged. These must be slid off slowly and carefully as to not disrupt the shape of the ribbon. Upon transport, they must be re-applied in the same manner. Dennis really took his time to prepare these speakers for the rigors of package delivery.
I have included some tracks from the hi-res demo CD that Dennis provided, some CD tracks from my personal collection, Pandora radio, and even some songs off FM radio to see how they performed with music from a variety of sources. These are phenomenal speakers and did not disappoint in the least with every music source I used. Like I have said about the tweeters in these speakers in my previous article on the Sierra Lunas, the RAAL tweeters are some of the best I have heard. They are very revealing in a positive way. No subwoofer was used during the listening tests since the Philharmonitor speakers are rated down to 30 Hz
“We Will Rock You/We are the Champions” by Queen
The first track I noted right out of the box, was “We Will Rock You/We are the Champions” by Queen off their “News of the World” album. Right away I noticed the strong bass presence of the familiar enveloping percussion of the stomping and clapping rhythm of the song. I felt it through my feet even at moderate volume. The back-up vocals were present in the left and right speakers. Freddie Mercury’s voice was more centered and up front. There was no harshness to the vocals and the various instruments of this song such as the piano, lead guitar, and the sharp cymbals did not overpower each other. There was a nice combination of all instruments. When the song was finished, I had forgotten that this was played through the local FM radio. I then realized, like the song by Herman’s Hermits, “Something tells me I’m into something good.”
“Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads
The second track was also taken from the FM radio after a little “break in” period. The song used was the eclectic song “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads off their “Remain in Light” album. I chose this track because of its unconventional recording of various sounds in different rhythmic time singatures developed by producer Brian Eno. Every nuance of the sounds was picked up by the BMRs. This song also has a light but solid bass line with the combination of Chris Frantz on drums and Tina Weymouth on bass guitar. There is a constant synth sound by Jerry Harrison that envelops the listener. At the end of the song, the synth track gets louder and stronger. It reverberated through the floor and does not overpower David Byrne’s vocal track. If you appreciate music, there is no denying the artistic steps Talking Heads took to creating this song among their many others.
“Hotel California” by the Eagles
The final notable track taken from FM radio was “Hotel California” by the Eagles from their “Hell Freezes Over” album. This live version has a much stronger bass performance than the original studio recording. The BMRs revealed this bass performance with authority. The guitars were coming in through the left and right of the soundstage. The vocals were centered as well as the drums. As with many good live recordings, the audience noise in this track fills the room loud and clear putting me right at the venue.
these speakers put me in the room with the musicians…
After the FM radio session, I switched to the demo CD that Dennis put together which he includes with every purchase. There were a few tracks that Dennis suggested would be good examples of the BMRs strengths. The first track on the CD has a strong timpani section that you can picture in the rear of the stage but is felt throughout the room. The xylophone alternates between the left and right speakers while the snare drums and cymbals crash and hit like those of a college band drum line frame the left side of the soundstage. According to Dennis, this track shows off the high-frequency reach and bass capability of the BMRs. I agree.
The second and third tracks that Dennis recommended, were tracks 4 and 5. These two cuts demonstrated the ability for the BMR to reveal the recording venue. Track 4 made me feel like I was in a small jazz club; a nice relaxing environment. The reverb picked up by the recording was excellent. A solo trumpet was heard from the left and the double bass was palpable. The piano was soothing and still audible amongst everything else. At about the four-minute mark, a few more trumpets kicked in and all were blaring and encompassing. I didn’t have to run for earplugs even though the volume was just above moderate. Track 5 was a folk sounding song. As with previous tracks, the reverb was picked up well in the recording which put me in the room with the musicians. This song had mostly acoustic guitars and I was able to hear the plucking of the guitar strings.
Track 15 on this demo CD was the “The Magnificent Seven Theme” by Elmer Bernstein. I turned the volume up few notches for this one. Every instrument was easily discernable. The timpani were felt on each strike. I have heard this song in person performed by John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl. I felt like I was there again.
The last brief cut on this CD was the track 28. This was just a 34Hz tone. No sub. Whoa!
“Hymn to the Sea” by James Horner
The next track I listened to was “Hymn to the Sea” by James Horner from the “Titanic Motion Picture Soundtrack.” This is one of my favorite songs on any soundtrack. The BMRs played this song superbly. The constant bass synth throughout the song was subtle but strong. The bagpipes were loud but not harsh. In one instant, you can hear the musician taking a breath before blowing into the blowpipe. The synth voice is enveloping and soothing. Within the last minute of the track, there is a low bass hit every ten seconds or so. It comes through very strong and gives me goose bumps. It has always been my favorite part of the song since I purchased it almost twenty years ago.
“Would?” by Alice in Chains
From the album collection “Nothing Safe-Best of the Box” by Alice in Chains is the song “Would?” This song was originally from their album “Dirt.” This rock song has a strong bass line from the drums and the bass guitar by Sean Kinney and Mike Starr respectively. The individual sounds of the drum set can be heard alternately from the left, center, and right. It seems the drum track was recorded with several individual mics. I had never heard this before through my home set-up. The cymbals and hi-hats were not grating on the ears. Jerry Cantrell’s lead guitar and Layne Staley’s rhythm guitar were separate, one on the left and one on the right while the vocals were centered.
“Some Chords” by Deadmau5
For pure electronic music, I listened to “Some Chords” by Deadmau5 off his “4×4=12” album on Pandora Radio. The BMRs played this song with very strong deep bass and the varieties of other electronic sounds were clear and distinct.
If you never heard of Philharmonic Audio, don’t worry, not many have. I found out about them while reading up on many A/V forums some years back. The name popped up a few times so I did some research. I mentioned the new Affordable Accuracy Monitors in another article of mine last year about $200 speakers that can be used for desktop or home theater use. In the end, I am glad I was able to demo these speakers. Just like Dave Fabrikant at Ascend Acoustics, Jim Salk from Salk Sound, and Dr. Hsu from HSU Research, Dennis Murphy takes a lot of pride in his products and it shows. I would like to mention that with the purchase of any 3-way speaker from Philharmonic Audio, $50 is donated to the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a nice form of support for their local orchestra, which Dennis is a part of. For a decent price that won’t break the bank, you get quality instead of quantity. The BMRs can play a wide variety of music really well relying on the superb craftsmanship of the RAAL tweeter. They are very smooth. Highly recommended!
If you have these speakers, had the opportunity to demo them or any of the other products available at Philharmonic Audio, please share your experiences in the related forum thread below.
gene posts on September 05, 2017 00:11
Read: Philharmonic Audio BMR Philharmonitor Bookshelf Speaker Demo Report