Special HiFi Speakers
It could be that the Marten Parker Duo are just the right size and type of speaker for my room, that is possible. It could be that I happened to have just the right amplifier here to show me what they can do or the synergy just hit on all the right notes for me as an audiophile, that is very possible. It could also be that these Parker Duo are just special hifi speakers, special ones – I think its probably more likely that than the other two things on their own.
The Amplifier is Important.
The Parker Duo are the second newly released in 2020 hifi speakers from Marten the Swedish high end speaker manufacturer. I reviewed the Oscar Duo speakers before the Parker and given these are Martens most “affordable” speakers I was really impressed by them in a lot of ways. I was always intending to review the Parker Duo second so I could compare them and see what you get when you spend more money, more of the same or something else.
One thing that stood out to me very quickly is how extremely important the amplifier is with the Parker Duo, I found the amplifier crucial to hearing what they are capable of. You need a really good amplifier which is no surprise when you are talking about a high end speaker, but with the Parker Duo you need an amplifier that you really like the sound of too.
Really good doesn’t have to mean crazy expensive or maybe it might do for you depending on your taste. I tried them with 3 different integrated amplifiers a £9k integrated (Gryphon Diablo 120), a £4k tube integrated (Octave V40 SE) and then I think in a way by luck or fate I had the Leema Acoustics Tucana II Anniversary here which is a £5k Integrated amplifier. It could be just great synergy between these two, or maybe the Leema is a bit of a star, I still need to test the Leema with other speakers to know for sure at the time of writing this review. I am so glad I had the Leema amplifier here because the Parker Duo sounded nice of the Tube amp, very sweet in the mids and quite euphonic. With the Gryphon Diablo 120 the bass was emphasised and very full but the sound was a little heavy and dark in my room and neither of these amps really brought the Parker Duo to life like the Leema was able to, in fact it wasn’t even close and given these are all very good amplifiers in their own right, from this I cant stress enough that getting just the right amplifier is crucial.
The Speakers and the Stands
The Parker Duo are a two way 200w rated stand mount speaker that feature a 7 ½ inch ceramic mid bass driver and on the rear they have a 9 inch aluminium passive radiator. The cabinet has tapered sides and is made from 35mm M Board. Marten don’t say explain exactly what M board is except it’s a multi layered material designed for resonance reduction. Marten have used WBT speaker cable binding posts which is great because they are some of the best and I think the Parker Duo look lovely, the finish and overall build quality I love it.
On the inside Marten say they have used a multi diverse order crossover, I don’t know exactly what that means but I assume it means they haven’t used a first or second order crossover, instead some kind of combination, either way its special whatever it is they have done.
There are two different versions of the Parker speakers you have the Ceramic version which is what I have here and that means a Pure Ceramic one inch concave dome tweeter or you have the Elite Edition which features a pure diamond tweeter, some crossover component upgrades and the internal Jorma cabling is upgraded to Statement level. This does massively effect the price, in fact it almost doubles the price, the Ceramic Parker Duo starts at £8950 and costs £9450 for the piano gloss wood finish. The Elite Edition starts at £16750 and costs £17450 for the Piano Gloss wood finish. You can have the Ceramic upgraded to the Elite Edition at any time done in the factory. So yes these are very expensive high end speakers and then we have to factor in the dedicated stands because you are very likely to want the dedicated stands because they are not normal height and your £9000 or £17000 speaker investment bolts to them for clumsiness protection
The Parker Duo stands are probably worthy of a review on their own, they came in a huge box that weighing a ton and a shock to me was all that weight was the base plates. The stands have three uprights that are hollow and you will probably want to fill them at some point to prevent the stands from ringing. My Pro Tip would be don’t fill them straight away, find your perfect speaker position and then fill them because it would be an insane heavy stand if the columns are filled with something ideal like Atacama Atabites. Hard to move heavy is perfect when you know your ideal position but probably not before unless your nick name is “The Mountain”
The height of the stands is around 700mm but then you have the co designed Marten and IsoAcoustics speaker isolators to install instead of spikes, which is easy to do and makes levelling easier, these raise the overall stand height to around 760mm. The Parker Duo do stand tall which definitely makes them more room imposing than the Oscar Duo considering the speakers are not that much difference in size when off the stands. Overall the dedicated stands with the isolators are pretty special things and they should be costing £2350.
The price makes a bit more sense when you factor in the two sets of speaker Isolators which would cost between £800 – £1200 if you were buying IsoAcoustics equivalents.
Easiest Setup in a long time
I found the Parker Duo immensely easy to setup, it took me longer to physically move the stands to the usual spot in my room than I spent on getting them sounding superb. I listened made some tweaks to toe in and distance and then measured and got the result below, the smoothest, most linear, most treble extended in room frequency response I have seen to date from all the speakers I have reviewed. The spec sheet for the Parker says 36hz to 40khz +/- 2db and you can see a lot of that here is true. If your not familiar with in room frequency responses trust me that this is outstanding and it appears the dedicated stands are doing a perfect job of putting your ears at exactly the acoustic centre of the speaker, exactly where you want to be. The stands are likely worth the money to a lot of users for that reason alone.
Following this and because the Leema Tucana II Anniversary amplifier sounded so good it took me two attempts to get a sound that I would say is the most perfectly balanced from a Dirac Live calibration than I have ever achieved before. I possibly could have tweaked a little more bass extension but I didn’t bother, instead I just sat and listened to music for hour after hour after hour. Then back the next day and the day after that in fact I listened to more music with this system than any other I have listened to in a long time. .
Special kind of Sound Quality
The Marten Parker Duo is one of the best sounding speakers I have reviewed to date, in feeling like this about them I am comparing them used with the Leema amplifier to the ATC SCM50 ASL active speakers. I have literally just sent the SCM50 back to ATC and in my head I was thinking active speakers like this would be impossible to match from a passive system at the same kind of money but this review has shown me that a great passive speaker with a great matched amplifier will sound different but can be on the same very high quality level and in ways better. I was really not expecting that at all.
Lets start where the active ATC SCM50 really shine in their mid range and vocal delivery and they are uber impressive for delivering a raw live voice singing into a microphone sound and the Parker Duo couldn’t match this. However instead they offer a graceful vocal delivery that is buttery smooth and easy going, because of the bass they produce vocals are delivered both full bodied and soulful. Male and female vocals can sound spellbinding with a Harbeth like tone and naturalness.
The speakers sitting higher on the stands meant vocals were presented taller than I am used to and I absolutely loved it to the point I have ordered some 700mm stands because I want to explore this aspect to my sound stage going forward with other speakers. The vocals are delivered different to the ATC but equally as good in their own ways and that is about the highest praise I can give to the Parker Duo at this time.
The second thing I want to talk about is the clarity of the speakers because they very cleverly pull the music apart so you can hear everything, every detail, you can hear how the music has been put together and layered for good and bad of course in a very studio monitor like way but much more graceful so they never sound dry or analytical if anything its totally the opposite and they have an unwavering smoothness and gracefulness even at crazy loud volumes. I could not upset their cohesiveness , excellent timing and smoothness. Its an exceptionally good balance of studio monitor like accuracy but with great musicality and without any compromises that I could hear or detect.
Why we are talking about volume these speakers sound good at low volumes because they have good bass, normally stand mounts don’t have such good bass and you can find yourself turning up the volume to compensate but the Parker Duo and the Oscar Duo for that matter both do great extended bass and its what makes them so compelling as a stand mount speakers. The Parker do take this a level at least above the Oscar Duo.
The Parker Duo gave me more bass and more extended bass than the ATC SCM50 which is not to be under appreciated give their size but its also not anything really to get over excited about because the SCM50 are not designed to do that. So what about the KEF Reference 3 that were my main speakers for years. The reference 3 were able to give me more bass than the Parker Duo in outright terms but in my room there is only so much bass I can have within reason to stay balanced and the Parker Duo can deliver the bass needed to wholly satisfy me and I am pretty bass mad compared to a lot of audiophiles. That is great but better is how clear their bass delivery is, how tight, how well defined, how fast, how detailed, how tonally rich, how punchy and how separated it sounds from the music and by that I mean how clean the leading edges are of even deeper bass notes. This allows bass notes to form with the same kind of clarity you get from the mid range, vocals and treble. I have not had bass clarity this good before, not to this level and it impressed me immensely.
Yes maybe adding subwoofers could improve things further of course, but only in the same vein as how they improve floor standing speakers too. Or maybe in a much bigger room you would want subwoofers I don’t know, in my room it definitely didn’t feel essential.
The treble from the Parker Duo as you can see from the in room measurement is smooth and extended and you can hear this as I previously mentioned in their unwavering smoothness. The treble extension you can only hear to a point of course but even what you cant hear you can sense is more there in terms of ambience, extra musical cues for harmonics and spatiality and more. This really goes hand in hand with just why the Leema was the better amplifier for the Parker Duo out of the three. The Octave Tube amp and the the Diablo 120 seems to trade off the higher frequency information in favour of smoothness or for a darker overall sound which with different speakers or maybe even different room acoustics would maybe work great. But in my room it was at the sacrifice of too much verve and energy and life to the music which had I not heard the Leema amplifier I wouldn’t ever had known the speakers or the music could sound like this, but once I had heard it and then it was taken away it was obvious to me and I didn’t want to listen without it. I am convinced its definitely not the Leema adding anything to the music, I think its quite the opposite the Leema is more neutral and its faster, more immediate sound with I think a tighter grip on the speakers was able to make the most of the Parker Duo.
Lastly I just want to talk about dynamics as Marten mention on their website that their crossover designs are intended for keeping dynamics in the music. I mentioned this being impressive about the Oscar Duo in their review. With the Parker Duo the overall presentation in the main is held back, or held away from you in the listening plain which creates a fantastic sense of space between you the listener and the event you are listening to, which means there is space even in a small room for the musical elements of the overall soundstage to form larger, more well defined, more separated front to back and left to right and because there is this extra sense of space there is more space for all of these larger elements to shift and change dynamics without any bleed or blurting. Everything stays composed and clean even when there is lots going on in complex musical pieces and this shows me that the speaker is clean and transparent. Smaller speakers naturally resonate less because they have less large surface areas to vibrate. The main snag of small speakers is bass extension and output but Marten have engineered beyond that problem so in this instance there is real benefit to the Parker Duos size but without the usual compromise. Its not something you might usually think about stand mount speakers until you hear it in action and it changes your perception.
I would never have thought a stand mount would be a speaker for me, liking bass as much as I do I thought I would always gravitate to floor standers but speakers like the Parker Duo make it far being that clear cut to me anymore because they sound floorstander like enough.
It cant be all good
But what about negatives, I have really been trying to think of some negatives to balance this review. While listening in one song maybe I thought there is too much treble, however in the next song I thought there is not quite enough treble. I quickly realised the speaker is showing up where the music is produced with either the errors of too much and not enough treble or maybe that its how it was supposed to sound who knows, I was only ever gently made aware of this by the Parker Duo speakers. They are graceful in their brutal honesty, that is definitely not a negative but something to bear in mind, you will want a good system in front of them, but they wont want to kill you if you don’t.
I think the only negative I can think of is Marten don’t make any home cinema speakers so there is no centre speaker or any on wall speakers if you wanted to make the Parker Duo part of a home cinema system. I don’t know if Marten would make customers a single one to use for a centre, if you don’t ask you don’t get I suppose.
I have been hugely impressed by the Marten Parker Duo speakers with the Leema Tucana amplifier, this system has given me some very special listening experiences which to be honest after several years of reviewing high end gear I thought those were over for me outside of looking at real crazy money kit. Instead it shows that the law of diminishing returns is bullshit, if you get the right system together new levels of sound quality are opened up for you. I tried to see if I could get the Elite Edition with the diamond tweeter to compare because even though they are well outside of my affordability I would love to just know what does the diamond tweeter and the other upgrades do and add, how much better can this speaker get. It’s a lot more money so you would expect a big improvement and my mind boggles at the thought of that. Another day for sure.
I want to finish by discussing who is this speaker for, clearly for someone who is very serious about sound quality and who has a healthy budget to spend. I would say these speakers are for someone who is considering KEF Reference 3 speakers, or Bowers 803 D3 or Focal Kanta, PMC signature, ATC and the list goes on with most of them being floor standing competitors at this kind of money. I you really need that bit more bass you might get from the floorstanding speakers maybe that would make a decision for you, but if you don’t need it maybe the smaller stand mount speaker will offer more in ways those speakers dont. Maybe consider what it takes to make a much larger speaker as inert as a smaller speaker in order to sound transparent. That decision is up to you, I love the Parker Duo it’s a special speaker and I award them with our highest accolade. Now I need to go back to the Oscar and see how close I can get them sound. I will let you know
Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price
For the full Specification of the Marten Parker Duo
See the website here
Revisiting the Oscar Duo to see how close I can get them
My original plan was to compare the Parker Duo to the Oscar Duo and talk about it in the Parker review but once I realised how important the amplifier was I couldn't without listening to the Oscar again with the Leema amplifier. Following the Parker review that is exactly what I did and I even tried to take it one stage further by installing the Oscar Duo onto the Parker Duo Stands, to try and remove any advantage and they were installed in the exact same spot and height in my listening room. I took measurements to see if the stands and the height would effect the in room frequency response of the Oscar Duo and when I compared them to the measurements I toom for them when they were on their own dedicated stands (lower in height) they result was nigh on identical. That proves that its the Parker Duo's design that gives them the excellent in room frequency response not their height in my room, that was very interesting to me.
More interesting was how different the Oscar sounded with the Leema and on the taller stands, I hoped it could be a great thing for me to recommend to my viewers and readers, save money get the cheaper speakers and the better stands and get roughly the same sound, but it wasn't and I dont recommend it. In fact the Oscar didn't sound anything like the Parker, they still sounded like the Oscar but now with a leaner and overall more forward presentation instead of the more relaxed sound I liked about them. With the Oscar Duo setup like this I preferred them with the Gryphon Diablo 120 to the Leema Tucana. This goes to show several important things, different amplifiers matter with the same speaker just in different room acoustic situations. Secondly the Parker Duo are definitely a special speaker, the Oscar is a very good speaker, the Parker Duo have much more that is special about them.