Offering a unique form factor, the FrontRo Pro speakers offer upgraded tech. Paul Rigby gives these Mellow Acoustics speakers another go
I reviewed the original FrontRo speakers, from UK-based Mellow Acoustics back in 2021 so I won’t repeat myself here. If you want to read about the technical background of these UK-built hybrids then check out that review. I want to concentrate on the differences between the original FrontRo speakers and the new FrontRo Pros here.
Suffice to say that these hybrid speakers offer an electrostatic panel up top and a bass driver at the bottom.
On the rear, are bi-wirable connections with spiked feet. Designer Tim Mellow did tell me that older speaker models have been upgraded to the new spec so you might find factory supplied models with older labelling still on them.
Differences between the originals and the new Pros that I can see? In view? A new badge on the front and, on the rear, the cable sockets have been rotated so they point upwards instead of downwards (although my original FrontRo speakers sported the new orientation). I approve.
Also the figure-of-eight mains cable sockets have been replaced by IEC sockets. Again, I approve. It’s now far easer to upgrade those cables now. And superior mains cables result in a superior sound. Yes, really.
What you can’t see is that the 5.25in (133mm) bass unit has been replaced by a 6.5in (165mm) model while the cross-over has been moved down from 500Hz to 600Hz so, in theory, there should be more midrange on offer to the ear now.
So how do the new Pros sound?
Before I begin? Don’t forget to warm up these speakers. Don’t play from cold. Give them at least half an hour.
I started testing with CD and The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s A History, a 2013 compilation release on the Virgin label. I began with the track called Penguin Cafe Single which features a violin, cello, electric guitar, a glockenspiel (?) and electric piano.
When I reviewed the original FrontRo speakers I said that the speakers were smooth and effortless in their presentation but I wanted to hear more detail, especially on jazz or classically-oriented tracks or other music with lots of information in the upper reaches of the upper frequencies.
Bottom line for me? The original designs sounded worthy but a little dull. Mainly because the bass swamped the mids.
As for the new design? Better. A lot better. Not perfect out of the box and we’ll get to that in a moment but certainly improved upon the originals, no doubt about that.
To begin, it was almost as if the fog from the original model had dispersed to leave the instruments on stage to do their thing.
The violin on this Penguin Cafe Orchestra track now provided far more texture. There was more of a sense that strings where part of the play here. That sense of vibration and resonance, essential for violin reproduction was much more in evidence now.
I wouldn’t say that the sense of clarity and midrange insight was up there with my Quad 57 electrostatics with One Thing replacement panels but the FrontRo Pro sound was far more interesting now.
What the FrontRo designs could offer that the Quads could not though was a good bass response. Hence, even though bass was not exactly dominant on this track the presence and physicality from both the electric piano and electric guitar was greater. There was more weight from their play which offered a broad sweep of frequencies now.
Even so, while I heard improvements, I still wasn’t entirely happy with what I was hearing.
I looked again at the design. That is, I just stared at the speakers in front of me. And then I noticed. Sitting in my listening chair, looking that the FrontRo speakers on my floor, I looked again at the electrostatic panel and how it angled up towards me. I traced an imaginary line from the centre the panel. It seemed to hit my collarbone.
So I leapt from my chair (I have the ability to do this about once a month, these days, with a following wind) raided the garage, found some pieces of similarly sized wood and fashioned a rough-and-ready set of stands for the FrontRos. My Bits of Wood Mega Stands™ raised the FrontRo Pros by around 7.5 inches. That imaginary line I mentioned seemed to reach my ears now.
So I listened again.
Actually, now I mention bits of wood? I turned to vinyl and the legendary Roy Wood (these reviews aren’t just thrown together, you know), a man whose genius is largely unrecognised, I have to add and 1986’s Starting Up on Legacy. This was Roy Wood, solo and new wave style and he has a go but doesn’t quite pull it off. There are highlights though, such as the Huey Lewis & The News-like Red Cars are After Me. Unhinged paranoia with a smile, you might say.
So, how did the FrontRo Pros sound with my makeshift stands? There was a definite improvement. And this made sense. I’ve never heard a good electrostatic anything that you had to look down upon. Even the original Quad 57s never sounded great on their original, puny legs.
Electrostatics should point – at least generally – at your ears. You don’t want them to beam but they should be at ear level, at least. With the FrontRo speakers at ear level the sense of clarity was heightened now. Yes, I would still describe these speakers as relatively warm because the bass still infuses the midrange but they were no longer ‘dull’. There was far more information in the midrange now. Detail was much more abundant. Vocals provided better focus now, while guitars offered better precision. Even bass had an improved sense of impact.
OK look, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m being grumpy about these speakers because I’m not. I love what Mellow is doing here. I love the company’s innovation. I love their invention. Mellow’s willingness to explore technology. To implement it in new and interesting ways.
I personally dislike the FrontRo aesthetics. It looks like a keyhole or worse, a Ladies Toilets sign without the legs (or arms). There are shapes and there are shapes and this one is not pleasing. At least to me. Saying that though, I simultaneously loved Mellow’s gumption to offer an individualistic choice for those bored with bland, boring cabinets. Above all, I love the fact that Mellow is light on its feet in development terms, willing to enhance and improve their design. Willing to go the extra mile.
These speakers still feel like a work in progress. They don’t feel like the finished article. They’re getting there. They’re close. But there is still work to do.
I should have mentioned the finish earlier, so let’s do that here. I’m not happy with the finish and build quality – especially for speakers priced at just under £10k. The build quality here resembles the sort of Wild West finish that UK home-brew outfits used to give us back in the late 70s and early 80s. Standards have risen since then but the FrontRo speakers haven’t moved with those times.
The sound is improved now with the Pro model but I don’t feel that improvement is best served from the current configuration. These speakers need stands. “But hang on,” you cry, “you didn’t mention stands during the original review, did you?” Indeed I did not, no. Why? Because the original FrontRo speakers had more fundamental issues back then. Issues that mere stands wouldn’t have solved.
So we have sonic improvements with the Pro now but I don’t feel that those improvements are implemented fully. I used pretty sorry excuses for stands during my tests, sure. I even tried plastic boxes and they worked too. Give these speakers proper stands and feet that effectively drain vibration (I’m not a fan of the basic spikes provided with the FrontRos, I have to add), and the sonic improvements would move upwards again.
In broad sonic terms? The FrontRos are not for jazz or classical specialists. That is, hardcore fans of those genres. But there is enough information on show here to interest the general music fan. The guy who likes his rock and electronica, with a bit of jazz here, the odd classical CD or vinyl there. The guy who likes a bit of everything.
I also loved the imagery of the Pros in an elevated position. Stereo was locked into position while the stereo image had a real 3D effect.
The upper mids still give a warming effect that fans of modern Leak kit will approve of but the new Pros offer a more informative presentation now while bass offered a strong lower end that provides good support.
Overall? I feel that the Frontro Pro speakers have been brought to market too soon. They feel unfinished. They feel and sound, as I say, like a work in progress. Sure, they’re usable and they will provide plenty of musical pleasure if you decide to go for them but I still want more from the Mellow FrontRo Pro hybrids.
MELLOW AUDIO FRONTRO PRO ELECTROSTATIC SPEAKERS
GOOD: new mains sockets, cable sockets orientation, improved midrange, imagery
BAD: slightly warm for some, build and finish, need stands, aesthetics not for everyone
Icon PS3 phono amplifier
Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp
Icon Audio MB845 Mk.II Monoblock Amplifiers
Quad ESL-57 Speakers with One Thing mod