Ocean Way Audio has been making sonic waves, so to speak, for some time now – albeit mainly among professional musicians and studio engineers, and increasingly, among music lovers.
The California-based company is the hardware offshoot of Ocean Way Studios, arguably one of the most renowned music recording studios in the world, with a credit list that includes some of the globe’s top performers, and an impressive list of awards.
Under the watchful eye (and ear) of owner, producer and sound engineer Allen Sides, the likes of Phil Collins, Green Day, Eric Clapton, Alanis Morisette, Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Ray Charles, Count Basie and Frank Zappa have recorded albums at Ocean Way.
The Ocean Way Audio range includes a range of pro audio monitors, as well as loudspeakers designed for home audio use. They’ve been created by Sides to optimally recreate the original music recording – and considering his knowledge at the recording end of the chain, it follows that the loudspeakers should be able to deliver an accurate rendition of the original performance.
It’s that understanding of the entire recording and reproduction process that is at the core of the Ocean Way sound – and the reason why the brand’s products are so highly regarded among those who know what the music really sounds like: pro musicians and sound engineers.
HFX Systems recently acquired the Ocean Way distribution for Southern Africa, and I managed to sneak a quick preview – and listen – of the Ocean Way Audio Pro2A, a compact near-field active monitor.
While it is part of Ocean Way’s professional range, its compact dimensions and ease of use suggest that it could well be a feasible alternative to more conventional high-end stand-mount speakers.
The trapezoidal enclosure design is unassuming and almost utilitarian, as one would expect of a pro audio model. That said, construction quality is tangible, and the bass reflex enclosure looks and feels both substantial and reassuringly inert.
The two-driver array is precisely located to provide accurate time alignment while addressing baffle reflection. The 25 mm silk dome tweeter is coupled with a 200 mm mid/bass driver featuring an aluminium cone, and a vented cast aluminium chassis.
The Pro2A is active, and powered by a pair of amplifiers – one for the 25 mm silk dome tweeter, and the other for the 200 mm mid/bass driver. Both amplifiers are rated at 125 watts for a combined output of 250 watts per side.
The rear panel shows both analogue and digital inputs – an AES/EBU XLR digital input, and a balanced XLR analogue input. An Ethernet cable is used to link the two speakers for control purposes. There’s also an AES/EBU digital output
For a speaker measuring only 445 mm high, 343 mm wide and 413 mm deep, the claimed 35 Hz – 25 kHz frequency response is impressive, as is a peak SPL of 110 dB. The onboard DAC copes with digital signals of up to 192 kHz/24-bit resolution.
The Pro2As were set up in one of the HFX Systems listening studios. The digital source signal was provided by a Mark Levinson No.31.5 Reference CD transport, while a laptop running proprietary software for room response control, as well as a compact Tascam mixer, completed the system.
The speakers were placed on substantial four-pillared metal stands, located almost halfway into the room and quite close to the actual listening position, with a fair amount of toe-in applied. The configuration closely resembled near-field monitor configuration.
Seated in the listening chair, less than 2m away from the speakers, I was astounded by the openness and accessibility of the sound, which seemed completely devoid of any identifiable point source.
The music image was spread wide and deep, with an uncanny ability to pinpoint the exact location of each voice and instrument on the soundstage. As clichéd as the description may be, the sound was believably, immersively three-dimensional.
I had expected the Pro2A’s to be clinically precise and unflinchingly revealing, and yes, they did open up a big, wide window on the music. But there was nothing uncompromising or overly analytical about the delivery: the sound had an almost tactile presence and an engaging realism that made the music come alive.
Tonal range was certainly way beyond what you would expect of a speaker this compact, but it was the linearity and balance of the tonal spectrum that impressed more, adding to the overall impression of musical authenticity.
Look out for a full, detailed review of the Ocean Way Audio Pro2A active monitors, as well as the majestic Monterey floorstander, which is the latest addition to Ocean Way’s home hi-fi range. – Deon Schoeman