When you think about why the Needle is so successful, it’s hard to find a really obvious reason. It features a small full-range speaker that wobbles around in a much-too-big cabinet, and its membrane area is much too small to reproduce the bass – but at the same time far too big to generate high notes. That brings us to the next weakness, the extreme bundling at increasing frequencies, which means that at most one pair of ears can be in the sweet spot at any given time. The thing can’t deal with higher volumes; it loses track of anything more complicated than a woman with a guitar or a man on the piano, and it does so many things wrong that any popular two-way speaker makes it sound about as thin as the cabinet looks. And yet people love it. They excuse its failings and protect it from every attack, no matter how justified. Okay, it’s fun – and not in a sadomasochistic way because it “hurts so good,” but because it can do a lot more than you’d expect from a wide-range speaker the size of a child’s palm. We are constantly asking ourselves whether it’s possible to repeat our success by improving its sound quality while keeping the same physical dimensions. We don’t know the answer yet, but the long-overdue FirstTime 14 bravely takes on this challenge.
Now, we are intimately familiar with the Needle’s weaknesses, but those can’t be the reason for our success. Reproducing them would be an unnecessary attempt to copy the original success. The pitying glance at the narrow cabinet that makes the small bass look a bit forlorn, that vulnerable delicacy that turns a man into a mother hen, and the attractively low price are the real conditions that we need to be imitating. At the same time, when we started working on the FirstTime 14, we wanted to iron out a couple of the known weaknesses. It was also clear to us that an appropriate but mundane name like the FT 14, even when it was written out, wasn’t the best way for it to start life. So we came up with the additional name “High Jack,” which surreptitiously also gives away our intentions.
A typical feature of the FT range is the Gradient Select series; its single tweeter made the decision easy in this category. It wasn’t much harder to choose the completely unknown W 115-4 as its partner. With the same amplifier settings, its eight-ohm brother delivers 3 dB less volume, so it was the obvious choice given the low-output amps used by most of the target audience, and given the almost identical frequency curves and other measurable characteristics. We don’t have the data sheet handy for the smallest offspring of the Select bass mid-range speaker, so we’ll just show you a picture of it here.
Item number: 1381654
|Membrane:||coated carton box||Air gap:||4 mm|
|Pole piece hole:||no||Mounting holes:||4|
|Centering:||high flat spider||Outer diameter:||117 mm|
|Magnetig shielding:||no||Mounting hole:||94 mm|
|Voice coil diameter:||25||Milling depth:||4 mm|
|Voice coil former:||aluminium||Installation depth:||54 mm|
|Frequency responce||Impedance||Distortion at 90 dB|
|Frequency under 0/ 30/ 60°||Step responce||Waterfall|
Once we had assembled the components, the box design was the next item on the agenda. Tall and narrow was an obvious requirement, but you also can’t judge a book by its cover. A TQWT would have worked, and it would have had a similar shape to the Needle. But we wanted something even slimmer, so the Bluestone Twins were just right for us. We also didn’t try to explore the ACL principle any further, since we were missing some helpful measurements. So we built a long post with interior dimensions of 96 x 10 x 10 cm, which according to LspCAD would work as a reflex box tuned to 67 Hz in a semi-anechoic room, with the following curves:
Of course, we then measured the whole thing at our measurement site, where the bass was roughly 1.5 meters off the ground.
Each blue curve represents the box with half a folded Sonofil mat behind the chassis, and without any interior dividers; the red curves show the box with three boards, leaving 80% of the membrane area as a pass-through between the chambers. The differences aren’t dramatic, but the impedance measurements suggest that the Acoustic Chamber Reflex gives us a structure similar to the TL. Further measurements showed that the size of the individual chambers and the pass-through surface do not have a significant impact; however, like the reflex tube length in BR boxes, they can be used for fine tuning. We made the upper volume 3 liters, the ideal size for the W 115-4 according to the simulation. We made the other chambers a little smaller, which turned the interior dividers into reinforcements separating different-sized areas. You can either admire the drawing here or download it as a SketchUp file.
The assembly is simple, but we took a couple of pictures anyway.
Once the box had been sanded, we added the insulation material, chassis elements and reflex tube. Then we went about developing the crossover in the usual way. We were able to use the FT 11 Top as a guide, which gets its four-ohm impedance from two parallel W 115-8s but is still close to the BigBen. And sure enough – after adjusting the resistors in the voltage divider in front of the tweeter, our work was done.
Their nearly identical crossovers naturally bring up the question of a home theater-worthy combination of the FT 11 Top and the FT 14 (let’s not skip over the official name entirely). The visible parts of the FT 12 serve as the rear, and the subwoofers could be the Vota 8 and 16, MDS 12 BP Sub 275 or even the activated substructure of the FT 11. It won’t work for sound systems in giant halls, but this combination reasonably fills in the gap between the sonic giants and the Quickly 14 and 18 series.
We glued the crossover to the rear wall behind the tweeter and pulled the cord to the terminal by tying it to a string with a screw on the end and guiding it down through the inner labyrinth. The reflex tube, shortened to 8.5 cm, and the insulation materials were put in place, and the chassis elements were soldered on.
|Frequency responce||Impedance||Distortion at 90 dB|
|Frequency under 0/ 30/ 60°||Step responce||Waterfall|
Now the High Jacks could go from the measurement room to the shop, where they were hooked up to a fairly old Luxman L 215 to show what they could do. I had bought the amp for just 30 euros a couple of years ago, and started using it again after the vintage craze broke out here. That being said, a brand-new, top-tier AGC that I recently brought along for a listening test sounded like a dented bucket, but required a fat instruction manual to explain its 17,368 features. Now I finally know what Atmos loudspeakers are, and how well they launch flying film segments into the air. It’s just too bad that no ground-shaker has been able to convincingly imitate the engine vibrations of futuristic spaceships so far. But that’s not the point of this report, so let’s pretend I never shared my unauthoritative opinion on it.
As I was still getting ready to enjoy the first notes from the High Jack, David walked into the shop with his girlfriend Natalie, for whom he had built the recently published SpongeBob version of the Elip 2, and their friend Jan; they wanted to find out what came next. Naturally they were curious about what was new in the lab, so I put in the CD of “Eleanor Rigby” by Musica Nuda. The foundation of the bowed bass and the air around the female singer were incredible. Still, it turned out to make sense because the Symphony 84 was still hooked up to the amp – I had forgotten to switch the cables over to the Needle challengers. Natalie was the first to notice it and point out the terrible mistake. It’s frustrating to switch from very good boxes to slightly worse ones, since all you notice is what the second ones can’t do. While explaining that to them, I wired the skinny boxes up to the amp anyway – and instead of frustration, the visitors’ faces registered only amazement. The High Jacks were still going strong when our user Andre (Ra) came in with a friend who was thinking about investing a couple thousand euros in ready-made boxes and was instantly converted to DIY. The resolution, the stage, even complex pieces like “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from the Apocalyptica cellos – better described as well-ordered noise – were all equally impressive. The Needle, which we connected as a comparison, did not make it significantly worse, but it was missing some dynamicism, depth, order and especially volume. The sweet spot was limited to the middle of the sofa, while the edges of the sofa had still been in the preferred listening range for the High Jacks. Still, since the beginners’ box was not the real focus of the listening session, the Little Princess, Symphony 84 and Duetta were also competing for my visitors’ affections. In the future, the Elip 2 will likely be replaced by the new Eton box, and so the listening session came to a satisfactory close for everyone. At the end, when Jan insisted on taking the High Jacks home right away, Natalie bought some too. She promised to send us an assembly report.
So that no one can accuse us of bashing the Needles, let us once again expressly state that this little box is among the best that a broadband speaker can deliver. Our product specifications for the FT 14 included fixing the Needle’s construction-related weaknesses. As a few listening tests demonstrated, we fulfilled those specifications. We were able to include a bigger membrane surface with the same width, which was good for the bass. The tweeter created a wide listening range as well as better resolution. The cabinet is easy to build with pre-cut wood and without any angles, and it even takes up less space. It only attracts attention near the wall or filling niches in small rooms when music comes out of it – and a two-way box simply has the advantage over a broadband speaker there. Still, the Needle’s main advantage remains its unbeatable price. Only one chassis, three small components, no reflex tube and less wiring are important benefits for an item like this one. “The High Jack is a gateway drug,” said Andreas Wolf. “It breaks down the barriers so young people with little money can enter the DIY world. When we add a small inflation factor to the price, they end up costing exactly €49.80 each.” Unbelievable – less than 100 euros for the pair?
|Loudspeaker drivers||Gradient W 115-4||Wood list 19 mm MDF|
|Gradient GDT 104 N||per box box in mm:|
|1000 x 138 (2x) front/ backwall|
|Sales/construction||Intertechnik, Kerpen||1000 x 100 (2x) sides|
|100 x 100 (2x) lid/ floor|
|60 x 100 (3x) reinforcement boards|
|Nominal impedance||4 ohms||Milling:|
|W115-4 : 4 mm|
|Connection terminal||T 104 LC||GDT104N : 3 mm|
|Insulation/damping||1 mat Sonofil|
|Reflex port||HP 50, shortend to 8,5 cm