Floor-standing Speakers

Usher Dancer Mini Two Floor-Standing Speakers and BE-616 Center Channel Speaker

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Usher Audio is a brand long known around the audiophile community for making speakers of stunningly good build quality and excellent sound for the price. Often mentioned in conversations with speakers costing multiples more, Usher has remained a more niche company, providing its speakers slightly under the radar. That under the radar reputation changed somewhat with their release of the highly regarded BE-718 bookshelf speaker, see the Secrets review: Usher Be-718 Bookshelf Speakers with Beryllium Tweeters, which garnered stellar reviews and multiple awards, which garnered stellar reviews and multiple awards. Despite being out for several years now, the 718's are still an incredibly popular choice for people looking for a high quality, moderately priced bookshelf system.

The Dancer Mini Two's represent an extension Usher's top of the line "Dancer" series into a more approachable price point. At $5000 MSRP, the Ushers bring the same build quality and characteristics as other floor-standing members of the Dancer family, to a more reasonable footprint and price. Matched with the BE-616 Center Channel, this system functions as a full front sound stage for multiple applications. Both of these speakers are incorporating Usher's new Diamond Tweeter, replacing the well-regarded Beryllium tweeter that was previously used in the Dancer line.

Specifications

  • Mini Dancer Two
  • Design: 2-way, Ported Enclosure
  • Drivers: One 1.25" Ceramic Dome Tweeter, One &7"x2" Min/Woofer
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.7 kHz
  • MFR: 28 Hz - 40 kHz, - 3 dB
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB @ 1 watt / 1m
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Power Handling: 100 watts
  • Dimensions: 48.4" H x 13.4" W x 18.9" D
  • Weight: 90 Pounds/each
  • MRSP: $4,999 USA
  • BE-616
  • Design: 2-way, Ported Enclosure
  • Drivers: One 1.25" Dome Tweeter, One 7" Woofer
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.8 kHz
  • MFR: 44 Hz - 40 kHz, - 3 dB
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB @ 1 watt / 1m
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms
  • Power Handling: 100 Watts
  • Dimensions: 10" H x 25" W x 15.5" D
  • Weight: 50.7 Pounds
  • MSRP $1,999 USA
  • Usher

Design

The Ushers Mini Two's arrived to me well packaged in two cardboard boxes sandwiched between small wooden pallets. Two additional boxes held the heavy stands to which the Mini Two's would be mounted onto. By just looking at the boxes, I could tell that these speakers were going to instantly make my PSB Silver I's feel inadequate. Standing at over 4 feet tall and weighs in at 90 lbs each, these are not small speakers - you'll definitely want to take a look to get a sense for their size to determine if your room (and/or spouse) can handle their footprint before purchasing.

Usher has always been known for exceptional design and build quality and that reputation remains firmly intact here - every detail appears to have been addressed and the final product is an undoubtedly handsome speaker with meticulous attention to details. The dominant feature of the cabinet is the handsome curved wood – finished in this case in Pioneer Birch. Two other finishes are available from Usher. To the touch the cabinet is smooth and almost soft – believe me when I tell you, this is one looker of a speaker.

The front baffle is a piano black finish that shines beautifully, but is also a magnet for fingerprints and dust. The two Usher made 7-inch mid range drivers are the predominant feature of the front of the Mini Two's. These are the same drivers used in other members of the dancer line. Sandwiched in between these is Ushers new Diamond series tweeter. This tweeter replaces the very well received Beryllium Tweeter that was present in the BE-718 Bookshelf speakers. All of the speakers in Ushers line that previously used beryllium tweeters now use this new tweeter. According to Usher, this new tweeter offers increased resolving power as compared to the previous Beryllium tweeter. Other companies (B&W for one) have successfully used similar tweeter technologies very successfully.

At the base of the front baffle is a large bass port that runs the entire width of the speaker. Each speaker carries a plaque at the base of baffle denoting its make and model number. Even this plaque is sharply crafted.

Separate from the main speaker is a large, exceptionally heavy, cast iron base into which the speaker mounts with integrated floor spikes. This sucker is heavy: for their size and height, one may be tempted to be nervous about the Mini Two's potential for tipping over – I promise that is not a problem once the speakers are mounted to this base unit.

Along the back of the unit we find very high quality bi-wiring binding posts. Usher includes gold plated jumpers though I did not use them. The build quality and attention to detail are evident here as well.

As a matching center channel, I evaluated the BE-616 center channel. This speaker uses the same mid range units and diamond tweeter as the Mini Two's - an important consideration when choosing a center channel speaker to avoid differences in characteristics that can be distracting as action or sounds move from one side to another. The styling of these speakers is similar to the BE-718 bookshelf's: the piano black body of the speakers are highlighted on either side by curved wood panels mounted using gold plated screws. The front of the 616 also features a bass port above which features a similar plaque as the Mini Two's. The overall appearance is very similar BE-718. This is also a large speaker and was quite a bit bigger than my PSB Stratus C6i center channel and by its largest dimension measures over two feet and weighs north of 50 lbs.

Overall both the BE-616 and Mini Two's ooze style and build quality. Attention to detail seems to have been placed into every aspect of the speakers build and appearance. These certainly have the feel and stature of nicely constructed piece of furniture.


Setup and In Use

I moved my PSB Stratus Silver i's out of the room (they were feeling a bit inadequate standing next to the Ushers) and placed the Mini Two's on either side of my 92" Carada screen: about 7' apart, slightly toed in towards the listener. I placed the BE-616 on my Sound Anchors Center Channel speaker stand. I reconnected all of the speakers into my Wyred4Sound MMC5 amp and was ready to go. For music listening I opted to run the Mini Two's full range and disabled my JL Audio F113 sub. An Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player was used as a transport, connected via unbalanced XLR cables a Integra 80.2 Processor. For movies, I used an HDMI cable from the Oppo.

Given just a few months ago I watched Phish ring in 2011 in an amazing show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, I decided to start my listening off with studio album "Story of the Ghost" which was produced by the Grammy Award winning engineer Andy Wallace. I love this album for evaluation – it is recorded masterfully and has a little bit of everything.

Phish The Stor of the Ghost

Immediately, I could tell that I was dealing with a different beast entirely; the PSB's have plenty of mid range and bass punch, but the Mini Two's brought an entirely new realm to the music. On the first track, "Story of the Ghost", the base line was pronounced and detailed without being assertive. I was shocked the amount of bass and mid resolution that was being thrown at me by the Mini Two's when compared to the PSB's – I had to check to make sure that my JL F113 wasn't kicking in some support. Vocals were clear and deep. This track is also great for evaluating higher frequencies with large amount of high-hat present right off the bat. Here I could absolutely hear the increased detail that I attribute to Usher's Diamond tweeter. They were incredibly resolving without being too forward. Imaging was also fantastic.

The track "Brian and Robert" is a little more laid back, with Page McConnell's organ providing the rhythm. Here again, that full mid-range shined through with the organ sounding clear and full…all the while I was reminded of the benefit of the Diamond tweeter on this track as the entire percussion section of this song is soft high-hat tapping. "Wading in the Velvet Sea" is also a nice mellow track with a beautiful piano introduction that sounded wonderfully full but never muddy on the Usher's. The Usher's handled the male vocals on this track well, exhibiting a crisp clean sound that never muddied despite its depth.

I was on a Phish kick after listening to "Story of the Ghost", so I decided to keep going and listen to some newly downloaded material that I had just purchased. Several years ago, Phish began offering high quality, unedited soundboard recordings for download on their website. In December of last year they kicked it up a notch by offering high resolution 24 bit / 96KHz downloads. I chose to try out this new format using a concert from Phish's 3 day event: Festival 8. The second night of this event was a 3 set show that included an all acoustic set. I burned these tracks in DVD-A format which my Oppo BDP-95 could read with no problem.

Although recorded live vs. in a controlled studio environment, the increase in resolution was still very noticeable. As I said, the first set of this show entirely acoustic. The Mini Two's resolved the subtleties of the acoustic instruments perfectly. Everything was perfectly crisp but never harsh. The entire set sounds amazing in high resolution, but a few highlights include the opening of "Mountains in the Mist" which feature some lone acoustic guitar. Each note was clear and full. On the song "Wilson" (a big surprise acoustic), the strong bass and guitar blended well, all the more fun to hear in high resolution as the crowd chanted the lyrics back. As I moved to the 2nd set, the full power of the Mini Two's shined. Phish's live shows are full of incredible improvisational energy and that energy was palpable in my room. As I listened to them jam into Also Sprach Zarathustra (the 2001 theme), the bass line from Mike Gordon were full and visceral while the lead guitar from Trey Anastasio just sang.

To round things out a bit I wanted to listen to some more diverse music. One of my go to CDs for this is the 1997's Live on Letterman: Music From the Late Show. This terrific collection features a wide array of artists, from Aretha Franklin, to Elvis Costello, to Jerry Garcia, recorded live at Late Show appearances. Again, I was very happy with how the Mini Two's handled all of this diverse music. Starting from the opening track, "Friend of the Devil", touchingly sung by Jerry Garcia with Grisman on mandolin, the Usher Two's terrifically resolved this delicate acoustical track. Garcia's voice is subtle here and I was pleased with the way in which the voices sounded. Moving to something a little more complex I next listened to the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach tune "God Give Me Strength". This featured a horn section, strings and both Costello and Bacharach singing. Strong mids and a forward tweeter were all showcased here, but never so much that I felt strained listening.

I wanted to bring the BE-616 Center channel into the mix, so I evaluated several Blu-ray movies using the BE-616 and Usher Mini Two's as a front sound stage. One of my absolute favorite movies of last year was Toy Story 3 and I was lucky enough to find the complete Toy Story Box Set under our tree this year.

Toy Story 3

The DTS-HD Master Audio track on this disc is amazing and provides reference grade sound. The very first thing that I noticed on the Usher's as theater speakers was their depth. The BE-616 can be run as a full speaker. In my system I had the cross-over set at 40Hz. The ability to cross-over the center so low resulted in a clarity to dialog that I have never experienced before – dialog was more uniform and full. Sure, with my original center speaker run as small speakers this work went to the subwoofer, but with the BE-616 handling the lower range there was a seamlessness that my PSB center had lacked. There are quite a few action scenes in Toy Story 3, and the Usher's handled the dynamics were exceptionally well. I thought I might be missing something in the dynamics arena, and while there may be speakers capable of quicker transitions than the Ushers, my ears didn't miss this. The Ushers were plenty dynamic in my setting. This was most exemplified during the climactic escape from Sunnyside. When all of our favorite characters were tumbling towards an incinerator, my front sound stage kept up remarkably well and helped preserve the intensity of this particular scene.

Social Network

One of my favorite films last year was The Social Network. As my wife hadn't had a chance to see this yet, the Blu-ray of this film afforded an opportunity to listen to the Usher's on something a bit more subtle. Again, I was very pleased with the depth that the BE-616 added to the dialog. Much of this movie involves just talking, and I was hearing dialog in my theater with a uniformity that I had never before experienced. But this depth was never muddied. One of the prime examples of this is the scene in which Justin Timberlake, as Sean Parker, is trying to sell Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg on the enormity Facebook's potential. This entire scene takes place in a loud dance club. Despite all that was going on, the dialog was preserved in just the right way, for us to really feel like we were there trying to hear what was going on. I was very impressed.


Conclusions

It is probably abundantly clear from this review how impressed I was with the Usher Mini Two's and BE-616. From their impeccable build quality to their unbelievable sound, these are the most impressive speakers I've had the pleasure of having in my home. If I could find a con with the Mini Two's it would be their size. These aren't small speakers and with limited space, you might be hard pressed to find room for them to fit comfortably. Usher does make a small cousin to the Mini Two – the Mini One – that might be worth looking into if space is a concern.