Pitt & Giblin Superwax Mini Active Loudspeaker Review
Marc Rushton's world is shaken by this superb new Australian designed and built high-end loudspeaker…
Pitt & Giblin
Superwax Mini 2-Way 15” Active Loudspeaker
AUD $14,850 RRP
Australia has produced some exceptional hi-fi products over the years, but too many have sadly stayed under the radar as far as international enthusiasts are concerned. Some designs have rightly earned their place in the global market, with companies such as Halcro winning many plaudits worldwide for their state-of-the-art amplifiers.
Then there are Aussie staples like Osborn, Krix, DEQX and SGR Audio which have had some success overseas. And now, from Australia's island state – interestingly, the 26th largest island globally and 240kms south of the mainland – we have Pitt & Giblin, based in Hobart, Tasmania.
Some of the best ideas are borne from misfortune or unfortunate circumstances. The shutdown of entire industries in 2020 with the emergence of the global pandemic forced Jack Pitt and Ross Giblin to rethink their direction. Having worked in the live music and pro audio markets for over ten years, they saw an opportunity that let them refocus their knowledge and expertise, broadening their thinking towards domestic audio and hi-fi applications.
In 2021, Pitt & Giblin emerged with some cutting-edge new loudspeaker designs, albeit paying homage to the classic loudspeaker aesthetic of yesteryear. Ross Giblin told me:
2020 was a catalyst for Pitt & Giblin. We have been in a research and development stage for nearly ten years, funded with our operations in the now somewhat defunct industry of professional audio services and live sound production. Through practising in the pro audio arena, our research, design and prototyping are holistic – we're interested in the interaction of devices and integration of technologies across a range of uses.
After releasing the company's first creation, the large format 3-way Superwax – which was commissioned for the Waxflower music listening bar in Brunswick, Victoria – P&G turned its attention to a more compact 15-inch, 2-way design for domestic applications. Thus the $14,850 Superwax Mini was born – and rather than imitating a classic, they reimagined it instead.
Waxflower Bar, Brunswick VIC (Superwax in situ)
Like its big brother, the Superwax Mini is thoroughly modern. It sports the latest Hypex NCore amplifiers and DSP built into the cabinet; a hand-finished cast bronze waveguide mated to a 1-inch titanium compression driver, and a 15-inch paper coned, neodymium magnet woofer. The styling is classic retro and genuinely stunning, in this writer's humble opinion.
As one of our readers pointed out, “it's like Klipsch slept with an Egyptian mummy and result is… high fidelity!” Such are the looks of the Victorian Blackbutt CNC machined cabinet, coupled with a navy front baffle proudly housing the constant directivity waveguide that's cast and finished by hand in Hobart. Being a bespoke manufacturer, other finishes are also available, including stained Blackbutt with a black baffle. Still, the possibilities are endless, and I dare say any specific or custom request would be considered.
Hypex's FusionAmp FA123 plate amplifier is skilfully grafted into the rear of the cabinet, providing a claimed 250W RMS to the woofer and 100W to the compression driver, and crossing over at 900Hz. The speaker enclosure is 460mm wide, 715mm tall, and 380mm deep, so it is not imposing by any stretch of the imagination; it's similarly sized to classics like JBL's L100 and Yamaha NS-1000M, for example. Timber wedges are fitted to provide a slight lean back that's optimised for most listening positions; additional stands are not needed. The manufacturer quotes an impressive maximum SPL of 116dB (1m) thanks to all that power on tap and a frequency response of 45Hz-20kHz (±1 dB on the natural preset), dropping to 30Hz with the extended LF preset. More of this later…
Around the back, inputs include mono balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA. There's AES3 and one each of coaxial and optical TOSLINK S/PDIF inputs for digital connectivity. The master speaker is designated as the Left channel, while a single coaxial cable connects the L (primary) to the R (secondary) speaker. Being active, of course, you also need to supply mains power via the IEC connector.
The supplied infrared remote lets you control power on/off, preset selection, source selection and, of course, volume. Although it's a bit small, the unit feels great in hand and serves its purpose, but I couldn't help thinking that such a superbly finished loudspeaker would benefit from an equally exotic remote controller. In fairness, however, it's supplied by Hypex as a companion to the FA123. Provided also is a well thought out User Manual explaining the setup process and how to make all the appropriate connections. One aspect I did appreciate was the auto-sense power on and auto source selection.
The user manual suggests loudspeaker placement of approximately 2 to 2.5m apart in an equilateral triangle from the listening position. I found that this suggestion, along with around a metre from the front wall, yielded the best bass response. Only a very slight toe-in was needed to achieve the best soundstage. Thanks to the stunning waveguide and its directivity response, placement is even easier than most loudspeakers, comparatively.
There are three presets to choose from, which can be selected via the remote control or directly from the amplifier on the rear of the Left speaker. These include Natural, Live, and Clean, pre-programmed for various scenarios, room sizes, and listener preferences. Natural is the default, yielding a flat tonal balance and prioritising in-room response. Live presents a presentation closer to amplified live music performance, suitable for low-level listening or music with excessively thin production. Clean prioritises on-axis response and is ideal for nearfield listening and/or studio use, or extensively treated spaces.
Switching between them is not subtle; each is responsible for changes in frequency response and the amount of power output supplied by the amplifiers. While having the choice is excellent and allows the Superwax Mini to be tailored to each application, repeated tests proved the Natural preset to be the preferred choice in my room. You can dig further into the user manual to understand the differences between each preset.
One final point to mention on presets is that input selection is speciﬁc to the preset in use, so when using a given preset, if you change the source, it affects the preset currently in use only. Each preset also remembers the last-used source for that particular preset. For the sake of consistency, most of my listening was done with the Superwax Mini volume set to approximately ninety percent, connected via the balanced XLR outputs from my Mark Levinson No526 preamplifier. This allowed me to use my usual sources, including the Mark Levinson No519 Digital Media Player and Dohmann Helix One turntable.
Over a few weeks, the P&Gs were also used for home cinema duties, which is always a great test of loudspeaker capability, particularly the ability to handle dynamic and often explosive source material. P&G suggests that digital sources should be directly connected to the loudspeakers to avoid any unnecessary digital-to-analogue and back-to-analogue conversion. However, I didn't notice any marked differences between both types of connections in my tests.
When I first started chatting with Ross, one of my questions was exactly who are the products aimed at? His confidently quipped response, “the music lover”, took me back a little. Aren't we all music lovers, I pondered? But as the Superwax Minis fired up for the first time, I started to understand that response better. Many loudspeakers leave us, enthusiasts, listening to the gear, trying to find fault and/or discover its insecurities. Yet just seconds into Inxs's Devil Inside, I was met with one of the most balanced and musical loudspeakers ever to make its presence known in my listening room.
The benefits of active loudspeakers – something I have heard time and time again – became immediately apparent as I clicked through Qobuz versions of Need You Tonight, and other great hits from the Australian greats. The Supermax Mini could start and stop on a one-dollar coin, or a 'dime' as the expression is better known. It has a rounded bottom end but is not bloated, and there is impact and oomph rarely found in passively amplified smaller drivers. There's no substitute for cone area, and here the 15-incher was under complete control of the Hypex amplifier module – giving a sound that's usually the preserve of insanely expensive speakers paired with similarly priced electronics.
As I moved on to Natalie Merchant's My Beloved Wife for some tonal testing, there was a noticeable absence of vocal shrillness. Normally her voice can screech via speakers with lesser midrange ability, and this can be further accentuated by waveguides and compressions drivers in my experience. Yet it was barely detectable here, I was pleased to discover. At the same time, the spatial accuracy of the mix and the timbral delicacy of the piano and percussion was still preserved. This point was reiterated with Carnival, and the speaker's superb handling of the melodic grunge of the guitar.
Hours turned into days of listening, and at a time of government restrictions limiting the number of people visiting other households in Melbourne, this was cruel. I was itching to share what the Superwax Minis could do with other friends and colleagues. But as the Christmas period rolled around, so too did the lifting of restrictions. Never before have I had such positive comments about loudspeakers I've had in for review – from members of both halves of a relationship – about the design, finish and sound of this Pitt & Giblins speaker. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Throughout the review process, I was supported by the P&G duo, checking in and ensuring the process was going smoothly. I was assured this was the normal process following delivery of their bespoke loudspeakers to all customers. No quibbles when it comes to their commitment to good old fashioned customer service, then.
Seeking out some more contemporary tracks to test, Skin from Jamie Woon is a great alternative RnB track that delivers solid beats and airy synth sounds. While indeed not the last word in bass extension, I drifted away for just a moment as I could almost see and feel the electrical pulses travelling through the immensely short paths between the amplifiers and drivers. It reminded me of the opening credits of the TV series, House, and was further evidence of how active loudspeakers have really changed the hi-fi game of recent years.
Sidestepping to Woon's solo acoustic Gravity, layers were easily peeled back to reveal the depth of the acoustic, the emotion and the rawness of the vocals. I couldn't help but think the track was not dissimilar to the Superwax Mini design itself. Simplicity and elegance from the outside, but layers of complexity hidden within, working in perfect harmony. Think along the lines of the musical warmth of the Harbeth house sound, crossed with the crystalline accuracy of the actively powered Kii Audio THREE loudspeakers – rather than the Egyptian Mummy and Klipsch analogy offered earlier!
From Béla Fleck and the Flecktones through to Hugh Masekela, and across many musical genres, there's no doubt the Superwax Mini is a music lover's loudspeaker. Ross's earlier comments now made complete sense. The warmth is not unnatural and is not achieved through any apparent colouration. Even with movie content, Hypex's state-of-the-art electronics combined with P&G's engineering delivers a riveting sound, one that's capable of massive dynamic swings yet in absolute control at all times.
This speaker can really rock, too – lapping up all that power on tap as you nudge the volume towards the pointy end, evident in the all-out war scene at the end of Season 3 of Yellowstone. It's also a blast on pieces of music where a great guitarist meets a great vocalist, such as with Slash and Myles Kennedy. If the Superwax Mini could speak, it would laugh and quip, “hold my beer”.
It's refreshing to hear a good news story coming out of this devastating global pandemic. I suppose it can take significant moments in time for great things to happen, and out of the worst adversity this generation has experienced comes an outstanding new loudspeaker. Pitt & Giblin has successfully emerged from the past two years with a new and highly successful direction.
So the Superwax Mini is a small but significant Australian success story that deserves to be celebrated. It's something for us to be proud of and even celebrate in a patriotic way. This loudspeaker is a confident, balanced and seriously capable music machine that just happens to be stunning in a thoroughly contemporary yet retro way. Just add a serious streaming DAC preamp or similar such media player, and you have a complete system with a performance that only a few years ago wasn't possible at the price.
StereoNET’s Founder and Publisher, born in UK and raised on British Hi-Fi before moving to Australia where he worked as an Engineer in both the audio and mechanical fields.