May jump? May fly? Will fly?
Review by Noam Bronstein
It’s not every day that a truly interesting, unique new speaker crosses my path. Nor a term like “Skyline Diffuser”. But both things happened after Trevor May contacted me in late December about reviewing his MF201A.
Trevor’s startup is called MayFly Audio Systems, and is based in our nation’s capital, Ottawa – a city which has a long history with building cabinets for coaxial speakers, going back to the vintage Tannoy days. Well, the MayFly’s (Mayflies?) don’t look anything like those old Tannoy Stuarts or Belvederes. The MF201A’s employ a rounded cabinet shape, they’re fairly compact, solid as hell, constructed with precisely milled layers of Birch plywood, and use a modern 8-inch coaxial driver. The drivers have a pretty average 88dB sensitivity rating (but read on).
What’s going on inside the cabinet is even more interesting. Trevor has a patent pending on his Skyline Diffuser design, which his website describes as an “Internal skyline diffuser for midrange control with no bass attenuation.” It goes on to say that the bass port is built into the cabinet walls, to eliminate port resonances, with the result being no reflection or diffraction artifacts.
This was a story of surprises. First, the MayFly’s came in huge boxes. What’d I get myself into here?? The post office people must’ve thought I’d bought a mail order washer and dryer. I exaggerate, but only a little. The boxes were awkward, not back breaking, and upon opening them I was amazed that the speaker inside didn’t occupy a lot of real estate. The footprint was almost svelte. Cleverly, Trevor designed a “fake port” in the back of the speaker, that mimics what you see in front. The speakers are upside down in their boxes, so these ports serve as “handles” to lift them out. Nicely done, with good clear instructions.
Lots of plastic and bubble wrap later, and I’m looking at a MayFly loudspeaker on my carpeted floor. The build quality is very nice, the speakers are well finished, and the very thin gold embossed logo just above the front port is a classy touch. A purist and minimalist product. Size-wise, they’re somewhat similar to my beloved Coherent 8GR Slim, which for me is a speaker for real world folks, and rooms. I’m liking this. Small gripes? For this kind of money, I’d like to see nicer binding posts, and some kind of grill cover to protect the driver from kids and other accidents.
The MF201A’s didn’t come with stands. That’s something MayFly might want to address – these speakers need to be up about 14 inches off the floor, and that’s an odd height if you’re shopping for speaker stands. As it happened, I had a pair of homebuilt stands, 9.5″ high, and with a stack of magazines I was able to get the speakers to a reasonable height (13.5″ worked for me). Now, I’m an enthusiast, and I’ll put up with some inconvenience and inelegance, for the chance to try out new gear. But to please those folks shelling out the actual money, I suggest offering them the option of a matching stand. (there is also a MayFly model which combines the MF201A with a subwoofer that supports it, sonically/visually and physically)
Trevor is an electrical engineer, and an accomplished musician and builder. He’s had 40 years experience designing, building, repairing, and using audio equipment of all types. He says he was inspired to start MayFly Audio systems after reading the BBC paper on skyline diffusers, and later visiting a local CNC woodworking shop. Putting the two ideas together, he figured he could make something unique and hopefully really good. Hundreds of hours and many prototypes later, MayFly was birthed, with a line that now comprises two standmounts and a larger system that includes a big bass cabinet.
Instead of trying to explain the diffuser concept, how about the old “a picture is worth 1,000 words”:
I have to admit, the first week or two with the MayFly’s were a bit messy. After a couple of road shows, I didn’t have all my room treatments back up, the speakers initially weren’t far enough apart, and things didn’t sound smooth. Bass was a bit boomy and sounded wrong, and higher frequencies were a little ragged. My smallish listening room isn’t the easiest environment for every speaker, but it should have been a good fit, so after talking with Trevor, we agreed I’d try to remedy some room and placement issues before we worried about anything else (the next step, if that didn’t work, would have been some stuffing in the cabinet, above the driver). My initial tweaks amounted to damping the wall behind my couch with their usual thick fabric hangings, and giving the speakers another 1.5 feet of space between them. Well, if I didn’t know any better I’d swear Trevor sent a remote command to his speakers to start behaving right. From this point forward, things just began to click in. I sat back in amazement at the transformation – suddenly I was hearing loads of potential. I continued to play with stand height until I was happy, and then after a few more hours of burn in, started some serious dives into the music.
If I had to summarize the MayFly’s best sonic trait with one word, I think it would be explosive. These speakers are beyond “fast”, they’re downright lively. They have a jump factor! There’s a directness, an immediacy with the MayFly’s that you will almost never hear apart from horn speakers. You hear it in the percussion instruments (piano included), in brass, in vocals. It comes through in the bite of great blues and slide guitar playing. These speakers have a deftness for conveying the emotion in a musical line. From the soulful voice of Leon Bridges, to the slide mastery of Sam Mitchell, the MayFly’s delivered a lot of “wow” moments – the kind that make you skip back to hear it again.
Bass was the next big surprise. MayFly specifies the MF201A down to 30Hz. I was able to get some quite useful response in the 40Hz range, nothing really below (both “seat of the pants” and uncalibrated measurements using the Focal/JMLab test record on Tidal). For me, real 40Hz bass is both adequate and full – it’s all I need – subwoofers be damned. I rarely listen to the pipe organ, and in any case I almost never have the house to myself. More importantly, to me, the quality and depth in the lower midbass, say 50-80Hz, was excellent with the MayFly’s. Not only is it tactile and tight, but again, that jump factor! How do you get that out of an 8-inch midwoofer? Trevor is on to something here.
The rest of the frequency band performed on a par, with good integration and no obvious phase problems or other crossover nasties. The cone does start to break up when pushed hard playing the most complex music, I’ve found this to be common with widebanders and most smaller coaxials. But at moderate volumes in a smaller room, it does a good job with well recorded orchestral music – giving you a decent sense of the scale and a big dose of the musical message (emotion, drama), just not the last word in instrument separation, or what some would call “coherence”. The MayFly’s played well for me at lower volumes as well.
“Live”, minimally produced recordings of blues and jazz were a real treat, bringing not just the sounds into the room, but the emotions. Same for classical, soundtrack and vocal songwriter stuff, including what you’d file under country and Americana. Records with multi-tracking and channel mixing came through OK, but those with heavy handed compression were predictably a little flat, and those with really hot mic’ing could be a bit harsh – this speaker doesn’t editorialize or smooth over a record’s warts like some do. I do enjoy a lot of modern music, but let’s face it, some of it only sounds “right” when it’s cranked to 11 on a powerful solid state amp, and it’s more an experience for the body than the brain or heart. YMMV, these are just my impressions.
Let’s Talk About Amps
Speaker evaluations are almost worthless without the context of the rooms and amps they’re coupled to. Yet another surprise: the MF201A’s were happy with every amp I introduced them to, and in fact they seemed to come alive even more with the lowest-powered amps I had on hand. Now there’s a cause for rejoicing. With a sensitivity rating of 88dB/w/m, this driver seemingly would want at least 30-50 watts. I didn’t find that to be the case. In order, these were the amps I tried:
Yaqin MS20L. My workhorse 50w push-pull EL34 amp had just received a brand new set of Tungsol power tubes. The combination (with new tubes) was almost too lively. An ultralinear amp like this is a popular choice and should work well.
Triode Lab EL84FFX. This Porsche Blue beauty makes about 15wpc. It worked superbly with the MayFly’s.
Finale Audio 6L6SE. A single-ended pentode making only 6 watts? YES. This amp drove the MayFly’s beautifully, and was one of my favourite combinations.
Adcom GFA545. Another workhorse, this old amp (modified and refreshed) worked quite well, in conjunction with a Finale tube preamp.
NAD Master Series M10. I only had an hour or two with this 100wpc digital amp/DAC/one-box solution, when my rep came by to demo it for me (ah, the pre-confinement days). It worked nicely. Notably, when he took it through the Dirac Live room correction process, the recommendations were minor – indicating that my room response is pretty flat. (hurray)
Bluesound Powernode 2i. Another one-box solution from the NAD folks, you’ll see this unassuming white machine in the photos when I moved the speakers out into our living room. 60wpc (Hypex Class D), this proved to be a nice sounding combination.
NAD D3020. This 30w Class D amp worked nicely with the MayFly’s, no lack of power but the MF201A’s deserve something with more depth and resolution.
Finale Audio 6V6PFFX. Cream of the crop combo. This integrated beauty uses pairs of 6V6 tubes in a push-pull ultralinear circuit to make about 8 watts per channel, and oh, those watts were glorious through the Hashimoto output transformers and into the MayFly speakers. My favourite pairing. (and one of the nicest amps I’ve heard in a while)
I give the MayFly’s high marks for overall versatility, and they check a lot of boxes for me. They’re dynamic – they play the vast majority of my favourite music with verve, and gusto. From what I observed, they can work in small, medium and large rooms. The smallest and largest rooms could be problematic, but that’s a given. Importantly for me, the MayFly’s don’t need a lot of amplifier power (I couldn’t confirm with single-ended triodes this time).
The caveats are that a). the room should be well damped, too many reflective surfaces will cause issues, and b). the amps and sources you use should be more on the refined side of the spectrum. Combining the MF201A’s with “raw” sounding gear could be a recipe for too much of a good thing. Surprisingly, or not, the bigger, gruntier amps didn’t fare quite as well as lower power tubes. Feed the MayFly’s with good tube amps (preferably tube-rectified) and they’ll blossom and flourish. In David’s review of the XAVIAN Premio, he talked about it being a good speaker for parties. Well, the world has stopped partying for now, but I think the MayFly would make a great party speaker, too – its design enables wide dispersion for good off axis response, and yeah, people will get up and dance. Pace, rhythm and timing with the MayFly’s was right on the money. Oh, and that off axis response also makes the MayFly a good choice for video buffs of the 2.0/2.1 persuasion. Pack the family on the couch and fire it up.
For seasoned audiophiles, most speakers are predictable, to an extent. The MayFly’s were certainly competent, but their most consistent trick was the ability to startle me with the dynamic swings and shades of the music, some of which I’d rarely (if ever) heard projected so well. This is what made them so enjoyable. They performed like small horns, but with a very good, controlled low end via the unusual diffuser / bass-reflex design. Are they more for music lovers than audiophiles? Maybe. No speaker is perfect for everyone and everything. But why split hairs or get into speculation or semantics. If you have a pulse and they match up with your situation, I think these MayFly’s can put a big grin on your face. They’re fun as hell.
I found the MayFly MF201A’s a pleasure to use and review, they reminded me of everything I enjoy about hifi. Like living downtown, their liveliness won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – those who prefer retreating to the polite familiarity of the suburbs may be ruffled, possibly even offended at times. But for those who want the raw, unvarnished grit of our favourite recordings laid bare, with none of the emotions smothered or smoothed over, well, try to find a way to hear these babies. Enthusiastically recommended.
MayFly Audio Systems MF201A Speakers
Price per pair: $3000 USD
Rest In Peace, Art Dudley. The hifi world lost its finest writer on April 14th. The audio writer equivalent of a Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan, Mr. Dudley was a creative force among us for decades. I use those examples deliberately because Art, like them, was so gifted yet at the same time so human, that his work was relatable. You felt like, if he could do that, you could, too. Of course, so much of the “doing it” comes down to hard work, long hours, and insatiable curiousity. I know I’ll never be 1/10th the writer Art was, but his journeys have definitely informed my own along the road, and I cited his Listener magazine as one of the inspirations beind WoS from the outset. AD was passionate about his music, his guitars, and his work, and was a loving husband and father. We’re sorry to lose him so soon, he’ll be missed but not forgotten.
Covid-19. As Steve noted in yesterday’s cable review, we’re in the midst of a global crisis, and the pleasures of our hobby can seem a bit trite at this time. It definitely lends a different perspective on the endless online arguing and BS pervasive in audio and everything else. And while many of us may be loners by nature, estrangement from our fellow humans can still be an imposition of loneliness. Please, dear readers, stay healthy and stay safe. No one is an island. Support each other however you can, and let’s look forward to being together again when it makes sense. We will get through this.
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