Supravox Carla Bi-Reflex Single Driver Tower
Enjoying the expressive midrange details and dynamic quickness of this design.
Review By A. Colin Flood
AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) is
an annual Eastern United States trade show where tweaking audiophiles can see
and hear the gamut of audio systems. Enjoy the Music.com's very own
editor Steven R. Rochlin heard this full-range Supravox model Carla there. The
Carlas have outstanding 95dB/W/m sensitive at 8 Ohm and have a claimed frequency
reange from 50 Hz to 18 kHz. Steven said the Carlas had an "attractive, cohesive
sound" that drew him "into the music." He called it "all-day listenability." So
I jumped at the chance to hear them for myself.
Been a long time since I've reviewed speakers. My
last loudspeaker review was in 2008. In "The Best I've Ever Heard"*, I lauded
the mid-range charms of Omega TS1 single driver speakers. The $2000 Supravox
Carlas remind me of those speakers. When it comes to sound quality, four Blue
Notes is better than the average speaker that I have auditioned for Enjoy the
Music.com. When I review, I consciously listen to a variety of orchestral,
hard rock, smooth jazz, folk, even some gospel (but no opera or
country-western). See my Test Discs,
Reference Recordings For Subjective And Analytical Comparisons series.
Just about the best compliment about any audio component is that its sounds
wonderfully musical. This $1999 pair struck me as enjoyable beyond the ordinary.
They sound wonderfully musical.
Before World War II, in France, the Super Electro
Mecanique (SEM) company started making small drivers for use in radios. After
the war, SEM developed the first full range drivers on the market. Then and now,
SEM is still renowned for its broadcast drivers. 1956 was the start of
production of speakers under the SUPRAVOX name, and the foundation of all
research and manufacture by SEM, in particular of its exponential membranes and
highly sensitive full-range speakers. After a business hiatus, in 1996, SUPRAVOX
launched a range of loudspeakers perpetuating the original philosophy: full
range speakers of great sensitivity. All their internal components are made and
assembled by hand in France.
Supravox has their own speaker line, they are still best known for their
drivers. Also at AXPONA 2011 was Mantra Sound. They showed off a big, square
horn loudspeaker. It used a 12-inch Supravox cone woofer to fill in the
lowermost frequencies. This new line of Supravox speakers however, comes
from the low cost manufacturing hands of China. The Carla driver is the Supravox
Classic Line 135 LB. It is a 135mm (5.33 inches) full-range driver. It is a
simple enough looking black cone. It is made in France, by a company with a
50-year year history, Supravox. Supravox is said to be very accurate within the
entire hyper-critical frequency range of human hearing and that it is easily
driven by low power amplifiers. There are no cone treatments, except special
glue on the suspension. The cabinet and ports serve to deepen the bottom end and
improve its efficiency.
Like the Omegas, the single driver mid-range of the
Carlas exhibits an easy-listening smoothness and coherence. They too are open,
airy, without muddiness. Listening to music was effortlessly enjoyable. Their
tone is not cold, sterile or monochromatic. They have an even balance throughout
the hypercritical mid-range of the human voice. The result is involving, natural
and musical. The Carlas have two external ports. One in front.Another on
back.Hence the bi-reflex appellation. A third hole is inside, on the wall
dividing the inside of the cabinet into two compartments. The effect of the
three holes is to deepen the sound from the single driver. The result is
pleasantly palatable. The Carla has far more bass than its small driver would
normally provide. It sounds more like the eight-inch Omega driver. When banging
out the bass, you can easily feel the air chuffing out the ports.
Sub-bass (10Hz – 60Hz)
Although rated as low as 50-Hz, the Carlas don't have
the deep bass that shakes your seat. Like the leaning transmission lines of the
Newtronics' Skate Mark IIs, the concept of the two ports in the Carla is to
reproduce the low notes. Unlike the Skates, they just don't get you there. It is
an improvement, but I am sub-woofer man with two 15" bass bins and a deep bass
Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)
So I added my ACI Titan sub to the mix. On its
dual equalizer controls, I kept adding more bass. Eventually I ended up with the
dials at 250 Hz. This is much higher than I expected since the Carla's bottom is
rated at 50 Hz. This meant on Dire Straits' classic "The Man is Too Strong," not
only did the crescendo have impact, but the mid-bass and the mid-range was full
and deep. It was this configuration, with tube amplifiers, that thrilled me.
Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)
At shows and audiophile Meetups, I've heard some amazing systems.
Speakers can get quite sophisticated, yet single drivers keep showing up at
audio shows. There is something beguiling about what they do that keeps bringing
us back for more. A simple driver in a box persists today as one of the most
wonderfully sounding devices. There is smoothness, lack of artifice and a
natural completeness to their sound. The real beauty of a single driver speaker
is its reproduction in the hypercritical range of the human voice.
Single drivers with tube amplifiers are masters
of the mid-range. They never wear out your ears. They provide a polite,
levelheaded sound. Of the half-dozen speakers here now for review, the Carla's
are the ones that tempt me into late-night listening sessions. Their single
driver has an organic wholeness. The Carlas' mid-range is as smooth as many
expensive systems. They really make listening enjoyable. Here, like the Omega
speaker, the Carla shines effortlessly. With tube amplifiers,
pre-amplifier and a powerful, deep-bass sub-woofer, the highly-efficient Carlas
provided an exciting version of music.
High Frequencies (3,000Hz on up)
Of course, single drivers don't have low or high frequency extension. This
is quite noticeable on high-energy dynamic instruments, such pianos, kick drums
and double bass. So tweaking audiophiles add subs, then they add super-tweeters.
Next thing you know it, you have yourself a multi-driver speaker system; one
with possibly other, different types of problems. The Carla treble doesn't hiss
at you as some loudspeakers can. They don't have the realistic ringing of big
old horns, the muted flow of Vince Christian's E6c Satellite System or the
tantalizing sizzle of the Axiom Audio M80Ti line driver arrays, with their
double tweeters. The Carlas are NOT "spec heavy" loudspeakers that
only imitate the sound.
They articulate the notes, albeit with a very nice quickness, but of course
they don't have the slam I enjoy so much with my Big Ole Horns. You notice what
is missing and if you can live with that, they never stop sounding like they are
Think of decay as the ability to sustain a note. The longer the amplifier
and driver can hold that note, the stronger it will sound. Some of this ability
comes from solid bass response. Considering only the single driver, I found the
Carlas have no problem with sustaining notes.
Inner resolution differences are a combination of factors, including
the ability to hear lower volume instruments as clearly as louder ones. A single
driver has trouble with multiple instruments. They don't distinguish between
them very well. Often, the larger and more drivers a loudspeaker has, the better
the sound of multiple instruments. Orchestras are enjoyable on the Carlas, as is
everything, but large numbers of instruments aren't clearly distinct or
separated as they are on Christian's multi-driver E6c system.
Soundscape Width Front
This is another area where the slim towers shine. United States
distributors Kanda Feng and Andy Xie of Audio Mercury drove down to Florida with
their son for a vacation. They dropped off the speakers and took me for drinks
in Tampa's historic cigar-rolling district. Feng and Xie are audio distributors
from China since 1998, and exclusive Supravox distributors since 2004. There are
no retail stores to their products so far. Andy says break-in period is 60
hours. Delivery time is 15-days, directly from China. They do not know why the
speaker is named Carla. They are planning an English web site soon, but Google
Translate does a fair job. Both Kanda and Andy are polite and earnest, but speak
Kanda knows the English, Andy knows the
engineering. Over $2 shot-n-beers, we had a lovely evening translating stereo.
Back at my house, Andy set-up the Carlas. He pulled them about three feet closer
to my listening position – right in the middle of my small 12 by 18' listening
area! Once he did, everything snapped into place like press-fit plastic.
Soundscape Width Rear
My listening room has open sides: sliding doors on one side, hallways
on the other. Even so, once centered in the room -- like Cardas recommends --
the Carlas exhibited wonderful imaging and sound staging.
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers
Placement of instruments, whether small rock group or large symphony
orchestra, was wide at the front and the rear. Separation between instruments
was good, though of course, not as exact as multi-drivers can be. Moving the
Carlas so far forward into the room provided an unusually deep soundstage. In a
family room, this in the "middle of traffic" location is not practical. But in a
bachelor pad, this ideal placement can be permanent.
Soundscape Extension Into The Room
Probably because of my slider and hallway, but none of the speakers
auditioned here projected their 3D sonographs into my room. The Carlas did not
do this either. Singer and musicians displayed in wide and deep sound stage,
just not forward, in front of the speakers. (Christian's E6c did, but in another
What can I say? How lucky am I?
Have the distributor come to your house, treat you to drinks and set-up your
Fit And Finish
No nits to pick. No complaints. A clean black box. They came doubled
boxed. I prefer another two inches of Styrofoam instead. A plastic bag is a good
moisture barrier. The speaker cable binding posts are smaller than I expected,
but then my Coincident rattlesnakes are thick and stiff. There are screw holes
in the bottom of the Carlas for their round-tip brass spikes. The locking nut on
the feet is useful for precise angling. These Carlas were Rosewood veneer, but
did not have a reddish tinge. They have an angled front that slopes so gently,
you notice the slope only from the side. The Carla walls are 25mm medium density
fiberboard (MDF). The internal bracing is also 25mm MDF. There is no dampening
material inside the cabinet except some felt.
Due to its very high efficiency, Kanda says the Carla "is reflecting
everything input, like a mirror reflects everything in front of it." The only
noise the Carlas make is when the volume is so loud that the poor driver mashes
all the sound together into a stream of distortion. This is easy to do. The
charming nature of a single driver does not lend itself to really loud music.
The Carlas can play loud, but not without mashing the sounds together. They
become harsh in the mid-90s decibels (analog Radio Shack SPL meter, slow,
C-weighted scale). The Carlas will certainly serve an adult party, but a teenage
PA system they are not.
With my Class A Pioneer solid-state amplifier, there were more vocal
details, but there was also the stiff clinical feel to music. My Bottlehead 2A3
Paramours don't have the headroom to capture the dynamics of large groups, loud
music or large rooms, but with them, the Carlas nailed the 3D sonic holograph of
the intimate concert hall performance. With the tiny Trends as a pre-amplifier,
there was some sharpness on Norah Jones' "Come Away with Me," so that appears to
be an economical, but not ideal, combination.
Value For The Money
Despite their shortcomings, my only
real concern with the Carlas is their price point. For a new French
design speaker, they have great sound, but at $2000, they also have stiff
competition. Many other speakers give them a run for their money. I would jump
at Classic Audio Reproductions' Cinema Ensemble* loudspeakers, but they are
discontinued. Also discontinued are the well-regarded Cain & Cain Abbys
single-driver towers*. I would also consider Omega models and the new Carnegie
Acoustics' CST-1s (review coming) in the same price range. Wait there's more!
The wheelhouse of the Klipsch line is the RF-82 II towers with a frequency
response from 33 Hz to 24 kHz (±3dB) and are about $1200 a pair. You should be
able to drive those easily with their 98dB/W/m efficiency. Consider also the
impressive Axiom Audio Millennia M80Ti line driver arrays as they do indeed
produce a quite good midrange and have low bass and high treble.
Bang for the Buck
Because of this stiff competition, I can't quite eek out yet another fourth
star for the Carlas in this category. Although I certainly want to. I needed the
sub for the bottom; I am still drawn to using tubes on horns and l like my music
at realistic concert volumes. If these issues don't eliminate you, then feel
free to slap another star on the Carlas for this category. I can easily see
tweaking audiophiles coupling them with ASL or Cayin integrated tube amplifiers
and smiling for a very long time.
Supravox's thoughtful design yields a competently solid loudspeaker with
endearing musical qualities. They are enjoyable speakers. The Carlas remind me
what this stereo game is trying to achieve. They are a mid-range standard for
all other speakers to measure up against. I have to give the Carlas a high score
in my set-up. With my tube amplifiers and deep sub-woofer, they provided a
wonderfully musical listening experience. Not jaw dropping startlingly
fantastic, as few dream systems can do (see Deprecating
The Gifts Of The G-ds), but almost always enjoyable. They made me enjoy
the music. The Carlas have a nice size, solid construction and are reasonably
priced. The finish is quite good too. This excellent driver provides the
expression of midrange details and produces dynamic quickness. It is also
easy-to-drive and overall this package is at a very reasonable price.