HEDD Type 20 MK2 by Arthur Stone
Introducing: the latest version of HEDD Audio's Type-20 3-way monitor; built on the success of the all-analogue Mk1, the Mk2's digital pathway incorporates the Linearizer phase correction software and I was keen to upgrade my listening experience.
Heinz Electro Dynamic Design (HEDD Audio). Klaus and Frederik, founded HEDD in 2015 and their products have the feel of a young company hand-manufacturing historic technology (the Air Motion Transformer) in a modern way, aiming for complete accuracy and outstanding signal fidelity – and they have achieved this.
The HEDD website covers the research and development in detail along with videos about the Mk2; also Klaus and Frederik recently took part in a Q&A here on the Gearspace forum.
Sonically, first-and-foremost, the Mk2's reveal everything needed without punishing the ears. The sound is clear, detailed, unfussy, and beguiling. Somehow music feels good to listen to – a fun, pleasurable experience. The Mk2's convey that vibe without hype. A subjective opinion for sure but the Mk2 strikes the right balance between clinical precision and comfortable, non-fatiguing listening.
Any question regarding the presence of onboard digital conversion and digital signal processing (DSP) is answered by the listeners ears: I couldn't hear any negative characteristics such as thinness or lack or warmth to fuel the 'analogue vs digital' debate. I did hear a low noise floor and a fast response that presented detailed dynamics as intended.
The sound is captivating. A satisfying experience. Despite the modern signal path the Mk2's have a classic old-school sound that is a pleasure to work with.
Price: MSRP 4,000 Euros per pair (inc. 19% VAT for UK); US $4397.95 pair
2 year warranty (from purchase date) against manufacturing faults and defects. Registering the product extends the warranty to 3 years.
Mk1 is 15 kg and the Mk2 15.4 kg – I still found them light enough to carry a short distance and relatively easy to position. In general there is a good balance between solidity of anchor and ease of use for logistics and portability.
In addition to the smooth satin finish the cabinet body has curved edges and arced recesses for the tweeter and bass port. Light bounces from the curves and opaque finish at angles my camera would not auto-focus on. It looks stunning and businesslike.
One of the Mk2's strengths is the ability to fine tune the monitors response in different rooms and environments: the port baffles are simply inserted using the supplied tool and then a rear dial is switched. In addition there are high and low shelving filters; a bass extension option; and a desk filter to compensate for room furniture.
IME the 120dB maximum sound pressure level (per stereo pair) is easily adequate for safe/healthy prolonged use; I listened at 0dB reference level on the Volume dial with the monitors placed in a nearfield to mid position (6ft triangle) and still had another 12dB of gain (or attenuation) on the dial. The input sensitivity is also adjustable from -10 to +4dB to accommodate a range of sources.
For larger, louder applications the HEDD Type-30 is available (125dB/pair), also subwoofers can be added to the Type-20 for extra SPL and range.
The speakers, drivers and AMT tweeter tech are discussed in more detail in the Mk1 review.
Upgrades from the Mk1: We reviewed the Mk1 here and found it to be an exceptional monitor. One of the best for it's price, in its class. The main difference between 1 and 2 is the digital signal path. From memory I do hear a difference between the two (solid bright resolution with the Mk2) but rather than hearing 'digital' I attribute this more to the change in cabinet surface: a softer velvety-rubber on the Mk1 and a harder, glossy but still delicate surface on the Mk2. The newer Mk2 surface is definitely more durable but care is still needed with what is an acoustic surface – a component of the monitor's overall sound.
Another difference is the improved noise floor (a faint hiss audible at close nearfield position on the all-analogue Mk1) which is silent on the Mk2. The Mk2's mid-speakers voice coil is smaller too but this is not noticeable. The Mk1 also reached 60kHz and the Mk2, 40kHz.
The plastic screws of the Mk1 have been upgraded to high-quality knurled metal dials for the Mk2; plenty of finger room with clear labels and markings. Dials are smooth or notched and feel solid.
With the Mk1 the Linearizer is implemented via a software app run on a host computer (last in the signal chain prior to digital-to-analogue conversion). As the Mk1 has an entirely analogue signal path the Linearizer is not available without a computer to run the app. The sound is perfectly acceptable without the Linearizer (e.g. Mk1's fed from an analogue chain) but it did notice an efficiency in the Mk1's output in terms or room resonance (unwanted sound) and clearer soundstage with Linearizer active. The Mk2 onboard Linearizer has less options than the Mk1 app, but I think this simplicity a better option.
The Mk2 takes a different (welcome) approach by incorporating the Linearizer as in-monitor DSP processing. Of course this means digital conversion: the analogue input signal passes through the Mk2's analogue-to-digital converter, has the Linearizer applied in software, and re-purposed for the speaker outputs.
There are a lot of advantages to this method: design, cost, efficiency, and the ability to input a digital (AES) input signal as part of a network; also firmware can be updated.
Personally, to my ears, I couldn't tell if the Mk2 was 'digital' or not – it just sounded spectacular and without any sonic digital artifacts (harshness, ringing, smearing, jitter, phase issues). Analogue purists might disagree but the Mk2's are definitely 'analogue-sounding' – good analogue!
Open or Closed ports (CoP): A massively useful and effective feature: a high-quality baffle can be inserted into the Mk2's port creating a sealed cabinet with a resulting change in timbre and performance. A rear panel dial switches between Ported or Closed to optimise the signal via the onboard DSP; the SPL and bass extension are more limited in closed mode but it offers greater accuracy..
This feature allows the user to optimise the fundamental sound for the room and position (e.g. close to wall) but there's also a preferential aspect between ported and closed in a fixed room position: for example, the sealed cabinet emphasizes the edge of the bouncing kick sample (or the body of a live djembe); off-axis close to the wall behind the monitor I could hear a slight tubbiness (slight coupling with rear wall) although not anywhere in front or sides. This isn't a criticism but proof that the sealed design is operating and exhibiting usual artifacts.
I might prefer the closed ports for some uses, open for other uses – and that's the point, the user decides what is right for the room and production requirements. This is a great design feature – also available on the BASS 08 and 12 subwoofers.
The Linearizer: This digital process, performed post analogue-to-digital conversion, creates phase coherence prior to the signal reaching the speaker components. In analogue reproduction systems the low bass frequencies are subject to a longer time delay than higher frequencies and the signal becomes out of phase across the frequency bandwidth. This phase decoherence varies from speaker to speaker and each speaker type has a unique phase response curve.
To counter this HEDD model the phase response curve (the imperfections) in a anechoic chamber as an impulse response and then pass the audio signal through the inverse filter in the Linearizer process.
The phase linearity now creates a more faithful reproduction of the original recording and optimum mechanical efficiency from the physical components. For the listener this coherence means better resolution and accuracy, more enjoyment, less listening fatigue.
There is a 10-20ms delay introduced by the Linearizer (as the high frquencies are delayed for the low to catch up); no problem for most production or leisure-listening, and the Linearizer can be turned off (on the rear dial) for tracking or zero-latency needs.
Sonically the Linearizer introduces more 'edge' - finer resolution and more clarity; there is a subtle brightening of the soundstage and better discernment across the frequency bandwidth e.g. individual instruments have more separation from one another. Nothing is lacking with the Linearizer disengaged, still a perfectly enjoyable and workable sound, maybe a little less emphasis on the detail in the mids and highs, a slight tilt towards bass, but the increased phase coherence of the Linearizer adds up to a subtle impovement on an already outstanding base.
Digital signal path: There are no published specs apart from 96kHz/32-bit. In use it doesn't sound 'digital' in a negative sense. Klaus Heinz says: “we have a newly-developed DSP board that has high-end audio grade converters...powerful SHARC processor...and do phase linearization in very high resolution.”
Even if I regularly use the onboard analogue-digital conversion (which sounded stunning) its good to have the option to plumb in other external A/D converters if the need arises. For digital input connect AES cables In and Thru, set assignment on dedicated rear dial (left/right/mono). The assignments are specific to the physical monitors which come as 'left' and 'right' units. I wasn't able to test the AES signal path in-depth but a proper digital monitor controller (e.g. Grace Designs) is recommended for optimal working levels and overload safety.
In general, a great implementation of the digital AES chain presented in a simple, straightforward manner via the rear panel control. The BASS 08 and 12 also have the AES digital features.
The HEDD 08 Subwoofer: A few points with a full review to follow: the 08 sub is perfectly-matched to the Type-20 Mk2 and offers similar features e.g. the onboard Linearizer, room filters, digital connectivity.
After connecting there was never a sense that the 08 was making up for any deficiency in the Type-20 Mk2's; of course the work undertaken by the sub offers advantages in terms of producing/refining bass energy, freeing up the Mk2's to better delineating the mid and upper frequencies – but the immediate noticeable effect was in the soundstage which expanded and deepened giving a sense of height and depth. The bass frequencies were able to descend into space – never heard that before. Adding the sub opened up new sonic dimensions.
Like the Type-20's the subwoofer is whisper-quiet in terms of self-noise (or sense of electromagnetic presence). In use it's as if the 08 doesn't exist and the soundstage magically appears as a field independent of the physical box. Nothing is wasted in unruly, unwanted room resonance.
The 08 sub is also a relatively affordable addition, even two ; D
Updating the firmware: Very straightforward. A rear ethernet port is connected to the computer, and an app does the rest. A quick process. If the computer uses its ethernet port to connect to the internet router then an update file can be pre-downloaded and selected from the app window.
The app has an option to enable or disable the Standby feature: this silences the monitor after 30 mins of no signal and wakes quietly after a modest amount of signal.
Sonic Impression: The soundstage is exceptional with a anchored mono centre image and plenty of positional space between the wide connected edges. It's a soundstage the listener can enter and engage with in a physical sense. With high-quality source music the sense of involvement and participation in the musical soundstage is breath-taking. It's not as if the listener has to close their eyes and imagine a virtual soundstage; the experience is much more visceral, even with eyes open there is a sense of an augmented-reality soundstage ambience. Powerful stuff and as one would expect for a monitor of the Mk2's quality.
The well-designed 3-way speaker system can be a revelation after 2-way; physically there are more point sources of sound and each speaker is more optimised for a specific frequency range and response characteristic. The crossovers are seamless and I was unable to determine which sound came from which speaker.
Whilst the Mk2's are definitely professional audio tools they are also well-suited to home/project studios and leisure and audiophile listening: the low noise-floor, modest size/capability, and quality/price point, make them an attractive solution for a variety of purposes.
The strong points of the Mk2 as a working tool is in the ability to, for example, make decisions about electronic (and natural) drum sounds: can the drums character be felt more than heard? What balance between hearing and feeling the bass is the right production decision for the track/song?
The 4:1 speed ratio of the AMT tweeter, in combination with the phase coherence of the Linearizer, removed uncertainty and eased decision-making with the mids, treble and mix balance.
The Mk2 also segued perfectly with the HEDDphone (reviewed separately); this a great solution for isolated or remote monitoring. The soundstage and sonics have a similar character and familiar response.
I listened to as much material as possible before UPS came to collect the review units: films, streaming music, mp3, WAV, DAW sessions, 96kHz, vinyl, and tracking-level jam sessions.
Listening back (to sessions created using the Mk2's) on other playback systems I was impressed with the general balance and fine-tuned bass. Perhaps by coincidence a producer said: 'We love your stuff...don't need to do anything more with it.'
From the music creators standpoint, the Type-20 is a reliable and comfortable benchmark whether that's engineering, producing, or tracking. There's no doubting if the bass is correct or if there is an anomalous artifact to remove. The Type-20's capability is a valuable working tool. One less thing to be concerned about. Doubt disappears.
Sound as sculpture: By way of metaphor, the Mk2 experience is reminiscent of the qualities in the sculpture of Giovanni Strazza: a facsimile of the living model that exudes lifelike qualities.
Although the sculpted marble is one piece with one surface layer, the viewer perceives depth and hidden detail. Like the great artists, the Mk2 achieves this too. In representing instruments, the Mk2 becomes one. In the same way the timbres of a live instrument bring pleasure so does the Mk2. The Mk2 enables the artist – the sculptor of sound – to work with the finest materials in the best light.
The real strength of the Mk2 is its capability as a technical working tool; the beautiful sound is a fortunate by-product of that. In Strazza's sculpture the defined edges are soft and the Mk2 is never harsh. Like the sculpture it's easy to believe that what lies under the veil is real.
Conclusion: There's something reassuring about using gear and knowing that it is the best available; one less thing to be concerned about; a reliable tool that doesn't distract from the focus on the art – whether that is studio work or leisure-listening.
The standout features of the HEDD Type-20 Mk2 are: reliable work-purposed professional capability; beautiful sound that is emotionally-engaging (music as it is meant to be heard); and, the ability to fine tune the Mk2's response through the filters, port baffles, and Linearizer.
After the buzz of the novelty and set-up is over, the Mk2's soft curves and smooth satin patina disappear into the studio shadows and all that is left is a glorious soundstage.
Sound quality 5/5: Exceptional. In addition to the general high quality of this class/price of monitor the Mk2's unique features (Linearizer/AMT tweeter) offer a soundscape unavailable elsewhere. Listening is a pleasurable experience. No sense of hype or uneven response.
Features 5/5: All the features the studio needs plus unique cutting-edge extras. High-quality, professional design, components and finish. Great control ergonomics.
Ease of use 5/5: Short learning curve. Non-fatiguing. Great segue with 08 subwoofer and HEDDphones. The Mk2 sonic benchmark translates perfectly to other playback systems. Relatively light and manoeuvrable.
Bang-for-buck 5/5: High-quality hardware; high-quality sound. Good price/performance ratio.
Credits: Veiled Virgin (statue by Giovanni Strazza) photographed by Michael_Swan: used under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).
Photos: Arthur Stone; Type-20 control diagram used courtesy of HEDD Audio.