[ Home | Staff & Contacts | DIY & Tweaks | Listening tests | HiFi Playground | Music & Books ]

Diapason Prelude III

Scenes from an Italian restaurant

[Italian version]

Product: Diapason Prelude III loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Diapason - Italy
Suggested retail price: 1,690 €/$
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: September, 2003

[Diapason Prelude]

Four years ago we published the review of the Diapason Prelude II VS, a bookshelf which belonged to the Diapason "Video Series". Here we are again with a brand new Prelude version, the III (or 3, if you prefer).
The Prelude is a kind of an instant classic in the world of small and classy bookshelf loudspeakers.
This new "classic" edition features small improvements and upgrades I will try to describe briefly. First of all, the cabinet. As you may notice from the picture at your left, the usual squared side panels are gone. Think of the new ones as the old panels on steroids :-)
Thickier and bulkier, the new side panels give to the new Prelude a sexier look. This cabinet reinforcement imposed a modification to the crossover parameters as well. The woofer is a special edition of the Seas P14 cut at 6 dB/oct while the 1" Seas silk dome tweeter lives above a 12 dB/oct cut. This means the woofer isn't of the usual Diapason Direct Drive kind.
The crossover network makes use of Diapason custom coils, while caps and anti-inductive resistors are made under Diapason specifics. The tolerance of these passive components is strictly kept under 1%. Internal wiring features VdH CS 122 speaker cables while the massive binding post are custom-made by Diapason itself (from 24 kt gold-plated solid brass).
Unlike the Prelude II VS TNT-Audio reviewed 4 years ago, the new Prelude III doesn't use shielded drivers, so Home Theater applications aren't welcomed here [We Support Real Stereo, eh :-) ].
The dust grid is more a physical protection for the drivers than a real barrier against dust. It is an acoustically-damped metallic grid, mounted by means of Allen screws. It should always be kept in place.

When I phoned Alessandro Schiavi, Diapason's deus ex machina, to tell me what was he doing with the new Prelude's, he answered he felt the need for a more monitor-like kind of sound, with a precise, analityc mid-high range and tightly controlled bass. Then I asked him why he was insisting to use that rats trap (tr. that horrible dust grid). He replied with words I'm not allowed to reproduce here in full :-)))). Reviewers' life can be cruel.
I've had better luck with Chiara, Alessandro's nice wife, who kindly supplied the beautiful Prelude III pics here.

I've tested the Prelude III's with different amplifiers and sources over a very long period of time. During the tests, I've always used the Diapason Prelude stands with spikes.

Scenes from an Italian restaurant

[Diapason Prelude - side view]

If you're familiar with my reviews, you should be aware of the fact I don't like mini-monitors much. Now, the Prelude III's aren't exactly "mini" but they can't considered "big" either. Certainly, they can be considered "monitors", once we all agree on a good definition of this word.
For sure, the Prelude's don't hide anything. Their credo is "this is what's into your discs, enjoy it (or not)". They are extremely revealing speakers, that's for sure, with a touch of extra finesse in the highs that makes the monitor-attitude bearable most of the times. The tonal balance tends to be neutral, perhaps a little bit on the bright side.
Vocals can be a thrilling experience, provided the software and the hardware are of very good quality: voices are reproduced with a sense of realism that is stunning. Try Loreena McKennitt, for example, and you'll suddenly fall in love with her. Any detail of the cantato is revealed with extreme care and precision. You can hear the singers grasping for breath, opening their lips and even moving their head around the microphone.
For a non-English native it is not always easy to understand all the words of an English song. You can consider the Prelude III's your personal spell-checker. Really.

The mid-bass range is quite dry, so certain voices, especially male ones, may appear thinner than they should be. Natural and artificial echoes on voices are perfect distinguishable so you can easily test the recording engineer's (bad or good) skills. You can't imagine how many electronic artefacts and effects are added to singers when recorded in studio. An extremely revealing HiFi equipment can unveil them all...and so are the Prelude's. Perhaps this is the real meaning of the word "monitor" when associated to a loudspeaker: a device that can perfectly underline all the nuances (and tricks) of a recording.

This extreme precision plays a very important role when reproducing acoustic instruments like piano or strings. Billy Joel's piano always appear vivid, harmonically rich and "punchy" when needed. The already cited dryness in the mid-bass takes away a portion of the "body" of the instrument...but, hey, don't forget the size of the speaker, either.

You may have noticed I haven't spent a word about the bass range, yet. Well, that's for a good reason. The bass range performance of the Prelude III's is very peculiar. The depth of the bass notes is impressive, if one considers the size of the woofer and of the cabinet. Unfortunately, this depth isn't mated to a reasonable sense of "power" and sheer energy. You can hear the low frequencies but do not really feel them, if you know what I mean. Certainly these speakers are _not_ for the bass freaks. It seems they lack a bit of "body" and presence above, say, 100-150 Hz. In other words, you can hear the vibration of the kick drum leather after it's been hit but you don't get the energy of the pedal hitting it violently.
This, in some sense, makes the Prelude's less desirable for Pop and Rock Music and especially for those musical genres where punch in the bass is of paramount importance (hip hop, drum & bass, trip-hop, reggae, electronic).
I feel the Prelude's to be better suited for light Classical Music, jazz in general and acoustic Music. Here they can really shine.

Micro & Macro Dynamics

The Prelude III's won't shake the walls of your listening room but they can hold a tune quite easily and make you tap your feet. Perhaps this is another quality that makes them so monitor. I can't see how a loudspeaker that fails to get the right tempo can be appropriately used for recordings monitoring.
With the Prelude's pace and rythm are the right ones, and that for a large part of the audio spectrum. As already remarked, the deeper bass frequencies behave differently from the rest and - more than once - I've heard those beating slightly off tempo, a tad slower than the rest.

They can be played quite loud and even at high listening levels they perform coherently: they don't shout or change their tonal balance. Anyway, in my opinion, the Prelude's give their best when played at moderate listening levels. Not surprisingly, even a very low listening levels, they perform excellently, giving a full sound instead of becoming too thin.
Hence they are very good in the microdynamics department, as one may expect from such a kind of design. Magnifying lenses if you wish, the Prelude's can reveal mucho informations hidden inside your favourite tracks.

3D imaging

What do you expect? Diapason has a long and distinguished tradition for making quite holographic-sounding speakers (the Micra's I tested years ago were simply amazing) and these Prelude's are no exception to this unwritten rule. They can create a huge 3D soundstage, especially if you carefully install them into your listening room, taking care of the distance from the near walls (far from those). A good amount of toe-in helps here - or at least worked very well in my case - as you can tame a slight attitude to forward-sounding.
Once found the correct position you forget everything and start discovering 3D informations even on recordings you always considered completely flat and two-dimensional.
The light spot on the virtual stage is always on and shines bright, so the contours of singers and players appear sharp and precisely focused.

Some advice

Diapason recommends 100 hours of break-in for the Prelude's. I think this period of time is strictly necessary and barely sufficient. I've been playing with these babies for a long time (you may have read the announce somewhere here on TNT-Audio) because the first pair wasn't 100% OK and I had to wait MONTHS of break-in before hearing a suspect of what I call bass notes :-)
Actually, it turned out one of the woofers had been damaged during shipping - you may know I live far from everywhere, lost in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea :-) - so I had to ship the Prelude's back and wait for a new pair. Thanks God the new pair had already been broken in so my mental equilibrium (if any) was safe.
Sooooo, please, avoid judging them right out of the box. These Italian babies need time and patience.

Speakers stand are of paramount importance with small bookshelf loudspeakers. I can't imagine anything better than the stands Diapason makes expressely for the Prelude's. These have the right spikes in the right places, if you consider the Prelude's cabinet is already equipped with spike "seats". To get the best from the speaker stands, given these are tall metallic columns with top and bottom plates, you should fill them with sand or other damping material. Without this treatment the stand resonates like a ...tubular bell. It is sufficient that something hits the floor near the stands to hear them ringing literally. Don't get me wrong, I like Mike Oldfield and his Tubular Bells...but I prefer not to play those at home :-) I prefer to switch on the CD or record player ;-)

Room position is critical. Don't even think to put the Prelude's where your wife can barely detect them...because they will not sound, period. They will refuse to play. Simply as that :-) There's a piece of software running secretly inside the crossover network filter that will detect a wrong placement and will mute the speakers :-)
As said, I've found they may need a good amount of toe-in. Try this at home.
Finally, the rear firing reflex port forces you to sweat a little bit more when searching for the perfect equilibrium between bass extension and depth of the image. Don't complain, Virginia, didn't they tell you audiophilia was going to be more complicated than chess?

Who's gonna drive you home...tonight? [Drive, from "Heartbeat City", The Cars - 1984 Elektra/Asylum Records - 60296-1 on vinyl]. Recently, Diapason has teamed up with an Italian tube amps manufacturer so you may find these amps as suggested "drivers" for the Prelude's. I haven't had the chance to test them yet but I'm an old fashioned guy and when a speaker isn't exactly easy to drive (like these Prelude III's) I tend to prefer muscular solid state stuff to few watts tubed amps.
The Prelude's are unforgiving, just stick to the old "Garbage in, Garbage out" theory and you'll be home and safe.


Manufacturing and finish
Thanks God, Alessandro decided to quit using Speakon inputs, so the Prelude III's were a joy to use, just plug and play. The (biwiring) binding posts are big and conveniently spaced so any kind of speaker cable termination is allowed and easy to use. The manufacturing is excellent, as an established Diapason tradition, and it is hard to find a weak spot. I found none, indeed.
The rats trap. ...ooops sorry Alessandro, the dust (?) grid, looks like a punch in the eye, so I'd have preferred a normal grid in order to _really_ protect the drivers from dust and direct sunlight. There's one pro I can't deny, though: the metallic grid protects the drivers from those small fingers which are irresistibly attracted by tweeter domes and woofer dustcaps.
If there's a dome, I have to pinch it!. And even if you don't have curious children you may have curious friends..."Ah, so this is what you call ....twiiitar...right? Geeeez what a funny shape....is it soft or stiff? And ZAC! All of a sudden, your precious Seas silk dome becomes a pretzel. God bless you all metallic grids then :-)))
Anyway, if Alessandro really aims to make the speakers 100% child-proof...why not a metallic grid over the reflex port? You can't imagine the amount of small toys, Pokemon's, Tele Tubbies', HamTaro's etc you can find inside the cabinet of a bass reflex loudspeaker which has been left for a couple of hours in a room open to children traffic :-)

Few things to add to what I've already written. Personally I prefer _by far_ the tonal balance of the previous, smaller Micra. I've felt these new Prelude's a little bit (too) dry and lightweight. Plus, they are rather unforgiving. Perhaps this was the real designer's goal, so to have a loudspeaker that can be called monitor for some good reason. In my opinion, the Prelude's are extremely transparent but sometimes critical with less than excellent recordings. Not always one feels the need to concentrate on the quality (or,say, the lack of it) of the recording...one may prefer to relax and listen to Music instead.
In other words, these speakers can be pure Heaven for a certain kind of audiophile and hot Hell for someone else. To each one his own. A careful listening test with your usual equipment is mandatory.


A bottle of red, a bottle of white
it all depends on your appetite
I'll meet you anytime you want
in our Italian restaurant
[Excerpt from "Scenes from an Italian restaurant", Billy Joel's "The Stranger" 1977 - Sony-Columbia 450914 2]

The excerpt above, in my opinion, summarizes exactly what to expect from this new version of the Diapason Prelude's: depending on your mood, they can give you exactly what you want, provided it has been recorded on your favourite discs.
Excellent and extremely revealing performers, the Prelude's require high quality ancillaries to express their full potential...otherwise they can become shouty and unbearable. Do not treat them this way, as they are classy Italian babes...they only need the best :-)

© Copyright 2003 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com

[ Home | Staff & Contacts | DIY & Tweaks | Listening tests | HiFi Playground | Music & Books ]