Usher S-520

Usher S-520One of the best affordable small speakers of recent times is this. Predictably perhaps It’s a two-way reflex ported bookshelf design, although there the routine ends. It has an Usher UA25-10 25mm silk dome tweeter and KSW2-5029B 125mm mid/bass unit with a polypropylene cone; the latter is an interesting choice; this material was introduced in the nineteen seventies with the Spendor BC1 and popular up to the end of the nineties, although it’s rare to see it in a speaker launched at the end of the noughties. It gives a distinctively smooth, sumptuous and – if we’re honest – soft sound and this marries well to the modern, silk-dome tweeter tonally.

These two drivers sit in a suitably compact 180x250x300mm box, and a surprisingly low power handling of 50W is claimed – again likely down to that polyprop cone. With a quoted sensitivity of 86dB/1W, they won’t go particularly loud even if you have a pretty powerful amplifier; they’re best kept in small to medium sized rooms where they fit hand-in-glove. Retailing for £350 in the United Kingdom in 2008, the Taiwanese made Usher is extremely well presented in a choice of wood finish or gloss white or black. The 6.8kg cabinet is tight and taut gives absolutely nothing away to price rivals, then and now.

The S-520 has a lovely sound. It’s an unusually warm listening experience considering its price and vintage, and this prompted some of the less enlightened magazines at the time to mark it down. It doesn’t knock your socks off but put it on the end of a decent front end and it’s easily revealing enough to show the quality of the source and/or the recording. Bass doesn’t quite have the grip and articulation of some rivals, but it is certainly tuneful – indeed it’s one of the most enjoyable of all Usher speakers I have auditioned. Midband is detailed, open and expansive, but doesn’t throw the soundstage at you; it hangs instruments back politely and lets you peer into the recorded acoustic. This crosses over at 2kHz to one of the sweetest upper midlands and trebles you’ll hear south of £1,000. The Usher is very finessed and gives a nice, slick, spacious treble.

A great second-hand buy, you’ll find the occasional pair of Usher S-520s online for £200 or so – and that’s a lot of speaker for the money. Feed them a good source with a decently crisp and powerful amplifier and you’ll be rewarded with a surprisingly svelte sound.

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