In this article I listen and give my verdict on a pair of floor standing speakers from one of the best kept secrets in British hi-fi. Read on for the Dynamic Headroom IPL S2TLK review.
Who are IPL Acoustics?
IPL Acoustics are located in Ilfracombe, and the owner, Ivan, produces an extensive line of speakers that you won’t find in any high street shops. IPL sell their speakers as DIY kits; in other words, IPL sell you the parts and you assemble it yourself at home. The idea is that you save money by doing the assembly yourself, bypassing retail and purchasing direct from the manufacturer.
IPL have a basic website from which you can choose from a variety of speaker kits and accessories. Putting a kit together requires woodwork and electronic (i.e. soldering) skills but if you lack the skills and tools with which to build a pair of speakers then you have a few options. There are a handful of companies who provide a speaker building service such as iQ Speakers.
Built by iQ
After taking a trip to iQ to listen to some speakers, I chose the S2TLK model along with a real wood veneer finish called Macassar Ebony. What won me over during my audition was the clarity of the tweeter which is a ribbon design called Fountek Neo CD 3.0. This is paired with a mid-bass driver built specially for IPL called the IPL/6/K.
The finish you see in the pictures is entirely customisable by you. Iron on real wood veneer finishes are available from IPL or you could source it yourself. This is great because it makes the speakers feel more personal, like they really are unique.
About the IPL S2TLK Speakers
A number of mainstream hi-fi manufacturers have used the ribbon tweeter found in the S2TLK, the Fountek Neo CD 3.0, albeit undisclosed and somewhat disguised. These are well known brands who are charging a lot more money for the same thing.
Ultra light Kevlar (paper and carbon fibre composite) is used for the mid-bass driver. It has large magnet and sturdy assembly which shows it is a quality unit.
The IPL S2TLK use an advanced transmission line (ATL) design which means there is no bass reflex port. With this design there is a kind of “tunnel” behind the mid-bass driver that twists and turns inside the body of the speaker. This “tunnel” is the transmission line and what it does is allow the speakers to provide a deep bass sound. The transmission line in the S2TLK allows the bass to reach down to 26Hz.
The ATL design in building speakers is not that common. PMC are the only other manufacturer that springs to mind who do this. The advantage of an ATL is not only deeper bass but a more even response due to the lack of a reflex port. Bass reflex ports can emphasise specific frequencies and cause bass bloom. Compared with sealed or ported designs, the ATL is comparatively expensive to produce.
IPL make speaker recommendations to their customers based upon room size. This is a sensible approach designed to prevent the speakers from over-driving the room.
Listening to the IPL S2TLK
My review has me pairing the S2TLK with both a Naim SuperUniti and also my Nord preamplifier and Nord power amplifier setup. I put on one of my favourite albums, Northern Exposure 1 by Sasha & John Digweed. This a mid-90s mix compilation with an excellent selection of tunes that are melded together seamlessly. Possibly the best mix album ever made because it was compiled by two of the best DJs to come from the dance music scene.
The first thing to strike me about the IPL S2TLK is the solid deep bass. If you are used to hearing speakers with a reflex port then you get used to bass sounding a certain way. With ATL speakers it is different (in a good way) because you can hear and feel the deepest bass notes. I begin to hear bass notes that I have never heard before and they are tuneful and clear. Also impressive is the presence of good bass at low volumes; many speakers require you to crank up the volume before you hear the deepest notes.
Complementing the bass performance of the IPL S2TLK is the excellent ribbon tweeter which paints a wonderfully open and clear sound. I have been a big fan of ribbons since I had one in a pair of Adam active monitors years ago. The Fountek provides excellent levels of detail because you can hear right into the mix picking out hidden elements of the music. Reverb trails can be heard even through a busy arrangement and it fills the room with music.
The ribbons pull out the delicate, intricate parts of the sound and its all presented in a very neat, well ordered manner. There is plenty of detail but no hint of brightness, distortion or harshness which is great to experience. The IPL S2TLK will reward you for pairing them with decent amplification and good source material.
Often tempted away by flashier looking speakers from big brand names, the S2TLK just keep drawing me back in. As a whole, the IPL S2TLKs present music in such an even handed way but they can boogie too with the right music. These are the first speakers which I cannot find fault with! It used to be that there was always something I didn’t like about speakers but not with the S2TLKs. The sound quality elevates them above their competition at a similar price point – even when somebody else builds them for you! I would have no hesitation in recommending the IPL S2TLK to anyone so advise you to take the plunge.