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April 2002
Enjoy the Music.com

Reynaud Offrande Loudspeakers

Review by Bob Neill
Click here to e-mail reviewer

  So here at last are these illustrious and very handsome French stand-mounted speakers that I have been chasing after for nearly two years - actually, since Bruce Kennett tantalized us in his Trente review in the Listener back when. They come to Chez Neill trailing clouds of rumored glory but also with peculiarly contradictory reports as to their listenability. And on that subject, there is some fascinating news to report, which I did not know of at the time I wrote the Solfege review (also out this month), but which my curiosity has since ferreted out. The Reynaud Offrandes have "matured," as Jean-Marie Reynaud cryptically put it in response to my first inquiry. I had not heard the speaker before what (Reynaud admits when pressed) is a fairly extensive revision; but, like many of you, I have read the peculiarly conflicting bruhaha, which has found them either "emotionally engaging" or "overly analytic." The consensus has been that the contradiction had to be a matter of break-in - and near era-long break-in periods were reported.

 

First, The News

The Offrandes were launched in 1994, updated in minor ways in 1995, and then in more substantial ways during 1998. (Price has not changed in six years!) The 1998 Offrande is the one that most of you who have heard this speaker know of. The latest update, which took place in August of 2001, was also a fairly substantial one. Very few, in the United States at least, have heard this particular iteration of the Offrande. It is the one I am auditioning within this article. 

Changes in the 2001 Edition include a new cone for the main driver. "Thanks to a new manufacturing process, the polymer gel has been removed from the driver's surface. This new process allows a rise of the woofer's internal damping, which almost totally suppresses stationary waves. The woofer's linearity is thus drastically improved in the critical midrange frequencies (600-3800): timbres are even more accurate, smoother, and transient response is improved." 

The performance of the new cone also required a new design for the crossover. The three-way system is now made of: 

1: 1st moving-coil of the woofer: crossover 12dB/octave, cut off frequency is 600Hz.

2: 2nd moving-coil of the woofer: natural roll off frequency.

3: Tweeter: crossover 18dB/Octave, cut off frequency 3800Hz, tin armature capacitors whose winding direction is checked.



M. Reynaud assures us that, "these updates translate into better measurable performance," which he tells us, is "a balm for my Cartesian mind... In terms of sound, the Offrandes have gained in naturalness and freedom. The slightly 'hi-fi' character noticeable with the first version of the speaker has totally disappeared." 

This last comment is probably the most significant one to those of you know the earlier Offrandes. At any rate, it would appear that Jean-Marie has responded to some of the criticism of his speakers originating in the US. Whether the 'hi-fi' sound occasionally cited on this side of the Atlantic had to do mainly with how Offrandes sounded fresh out of the box, I do not know. Most Offrande owners I have heard from found that once they broke in, they sounded extremely good.

 

Reynauds And Spendors

At any rate, the real news is that these "mature" Offrandes are emotional champions, with little or no break-in. I heard no hint of 'hi-fi' sound. (According to Victor Goldstein of Fanfare International, US importer, the review samples had only about a week on them.) According to my ears, it may finally be time for the beloved Spendor SP1/2's (reviewed here) to move over. As I discovered in doing the Audiomat Solfege review, someone has at last found a way to deliver a deliciously tactile midrange with both strong bass and a naturally beguiling but not over-sweet top end - without giving us the Spendor's characteristic sense of restraint. The SP1/2's may be a bit flatter through the midrange, but in comparing them with the Offrandes, it is hard now to see that as essential as we once did. The Spendors have not built their reputation, Robert Greene's TAS fine review notwithstanding, on their accuracy. It is based on pure charm. And on this score, to my ears, the Offrandes do them one better.

If you come to them, as I did, from a Harbeth monitor, they may initially sound a bit soft and opaque. That's the curse of A/B tests, which induce you to focus on differences. (For revenge, after you've been with Offrandes for a while, go directly back to your British monitors and they may well initially sound somewhat unemotional and brusk.) The virtues of the Offrandes are obvious once you've been with them and gotten other sounds out of your head. They are extremely palpable through the mid-range, in the Spendor tradition. They tend to put air around everything, which seems to soften things while heightening the sensuous and lyrical aspect of music. Unless you are someone who worships at the altar of the absolute sound, they will immediately draw you in. Whether you stay in, whether they continue to please you over time, is another question, one that as a confirmed British monitor man, I have had to wrestle with. 

If your relation to music is primarily emotional - not to say starry eyed, if monitor-like accuracy leaves you wanting something more, especially in jazz or chamber music, these may be your speakers. For some, monitor sound doesn't quite get what music really feels like to them, leaving them unsatisfied. Monitors tend to take a very direct route to the sound of instruments, paying little attention to auras and the like. They like the lights on when they make love and they're a little short on foreplay. They can be wonderfully brutal in this sense. Musicians love them. Some music appreciation types aren't so sure.

Since I spent a lot of time with Solfege/Offrande combination in the Solfege review, I was interested to see how much of what I heard there was the Solfege, so I paid a lot of mind this time to the Blue Circle AG's - and my general conclusions are based on the speakers' performance with them. The chief difference I noticed is in the greater refinement and increased detail brought out with the Blue Circle gear, proving that the Offrandes can respond well to two fairly different kinds of amplification while keeping their essential character intact. What that character is emerged pretty clearly.

 

The Music

Mark O'Connor The American Seasons [Sony SK 89660] with the Blue Circle AG's, the orchestra is full and attractive. O'Connor's fiddle has beauty and 'edge' in good balance. The Offrandes resist over-refinement, where my Monitor 40's would push on a bit farther in this regard. This may be why presence, the sense of performers there, is so very strong. This is the Offrandes' primary appeal to my ears. It increases the appeal of music by making it sonically more exciting. The Offrandes really love the AG - and the Valhalla, sad to report! With the Solfege (and bi-wired Blue Circle BC 92 speaker cable in for the single-wired Valhalla), the presentation is less smooth but robust, dynamic, clear, and notably more spacious.

Rubbra, Symphony #3, Hickox/BBC National Orchestra of Wales, [Chandos 9944] with the AG's the detail is up a bit compared to the Solfege. Both amps present a good deal of warmth, though it is less noticeable with the AG's. String basses provide a strong ostinato, dancing beneath everything. This is especially impressive with the Solfege, whose 6550C output tubes clearly enjoy goosing the Offrande woofer. With the AG's, the leading edges of cellos and string basses are clearer and violins are smoother. The orchestra is meaty as it is with the Solfege but a finer cut. The M40's would wrap it all up a bit more, while the Offrandes leave it a little more unfinished, less beautiful, but arguably more exciting. This is the music that bored me a little on the big Harbeths. Low level detail is very realistic.

Biber, Sonatas for String Ensemble, Rare Fruits Council [Astree E8630] with the Blue Circle electronics, everything is smooth, the strings have rosin but also a little more violin beauty than they do with the Solfege. It is less opulent than I am used to - more present, more immediate. The Offrandes are more present and more immediate. On the Solfege, everything seems a bit more dynamic and crisp, and the high string presentation is more rosiny than smooth, though not objectionably so. Purely a matter of taste. The brass gains a little from this. Vigor and brio, rather than refinement and beauty. Some listeners will like this a lot. 

Wayne Shorter, "Schizophrenia [Blue Note 32096], it is here the Solfege's natural brio and crisp clarity coupled with the Offrandes's sense of spatial immediacy make them the preferred combination. Jazz fans would love this presentation. Enough smoothness to satisfy but the bark of the reeds is perfecto. Very impactful overall. With the AG's, everything is smoother and tighter, less rich and full, but the brio and impactfulness are still there. Less jazz club feel to it all but still more grit and snap than the AG/M40 combination gives it. The AG/Monitor 30's would add more snap still but not the grit.

Going on to Schubert Fantasies, Schiff and Shiokarra [ECM 289-464-320], I have put the Solfege aside now. My feelings are that the Blue Circle gear is giving the Offrandes more room to move, which at five times the price, they should. But it is time to give the Offrandes a chance to go for it. With this wonderful performance by pianist Andras Schiff and his violinist wife, I notice how much the Offfrandes draw your attention to the performers, where with my Monitor 40's I sense they are back a little in a hall. The Offrandes seem to give them a little extra presence - the piano and violin have great immediacy. This is not really as French countryside romantic as violin and piano sounded with the Solfege last week, but there is still a wonderful outdoors quality to it. The Offrandes are expressive, as I said in the Solege review, and I hear that even more clearly now, perhaps surprisingly, with the less overtly expressive AG's, perhaps because the Blue Circle gear really is letting the Offrandes' particular kind of expressiveness speak for itself. The performers come out to meet you a bit more than with my M40's or even on the fairly forward M30's. But they don't so much come out with the instruments as with the performance, if that makes any sense to you. You don't hear more instrument, you feel more immediacy and presence. A very slightly opaque reproduction is thrust forward.

 

La Difference

This really is the crux of the Harbeth/Reynaud comparison. The Harbeth Monitor 30, which is the logical comparison, fronts the instruments and singers. You feel you are getting more of their individual reality. The Offrandes seem to front the performance, the musicians, a sense of presence and space. It is a notably softer projection. A great recording for bringing out this exact difference is Patti Smith's first album, Horses [Arista 18827]. Patti is her natural, hard, firm self on the Monitor 30's, whereas on the Offrandes she's a little softer around the edges, more intimate. She is clear on both speakers and I like both presentations; but the difference suggests that while the Offrandes can certainly rock, they will prefer CSNY or the Byrds while the Monitor 30's choose Patti or Petty.

Where am I? I find the presentation of my Harbeth Monitor 40's extremely satisfying. A few of my colleagues find them a bit restrained. I find the more expressive presentation of the Offrandes very engaging, especially on chamber ensembles and jazz where the music takes on an exciting degree of freshness and presence. With Bach's St. Matthew Passion [Teldec 81036] however, I would trade some of the Offrandes' freshness for the M40's refinement. On orchestral music, it depends on the recording. The Offrandes give new life to slightly dull recordings but lose some finish on good ones. The Monitor 30's give the music less personality than the Offrandes do. There is also notably less sense of space - spatial drama, if you will. The mid-range is less tactile. And there is a little less bass authority. On the other hand, there is more detail - in the bass and everywhere else, more refinement, more clarity. I feel as if I'm getting more information, a more highly resolved sonic photograph. And, once the aural image of the Offrandes recedes in my mind, the Harbeth presentation feels more authoritative. I love the real sound of instruments and that's what the Harbeths deliver. When I return to the Schubert recording to see if Schiff and Shiokarra feel as real on the Monitor 30's as they did on the Offrandes, there is more piano and violin but less sense of their physical presence. There is less aura and air. I called the M30's intimate last month. Compared to the Offrandes they are not so much intimate as direct. The M30's get more information from the instruments, the Offrandes trade a little of that for something else that surrounds and rises off of them. This is a deal some of you will certainly want to consider.

Where should you be on this? If you are one of the Spendor faithful, you really do need to hear the new Offrandes, perhaps with an Audiomat Solfege, or with the slightly less powerful Prelude Reference that has the less robust EL 34's for output tubes in place of the Solfege's 6550C's. If you're a Harbeth Compact 7 or Monitor 30 guy, maybe not, depending on how happy you are with your monitors. While Offrandes may, in sum if not in all matters, be better Spendors, you can't say anything like that about Offrandes and Harbeths because Offrandes and Harbeths have different sonic priorities. What are your priorities - "the beauty of inflections or the beauty of innuendos, the blackbird whistling or just after"?

 

Nuts and Bolts

The Offrandes come with their own handsome and sturdy wooden stands that match the speakers and bolt to them. Two weeks ago, I had them on my own very satisfying 75- pounders and they sounded about the same, so I guess Jean-Marie's are doing the job. The Offrandes are smallish for the large sound they project, but their physical depth is considerable, making room for an ingeniously designed acoustic loading consisting of a triangular line associated with a dampened resonator. Reynaud claims that "thanks to this acoustic loading, the elasticity of the air enclosed within the cabinet is equivalent to that found in a volume of 200 liters." Based on the surprisingly foundational bass I heard from the Offrandes, I don't doubt the science here at all. Cabinets, constructed of a sandwich structure of "small square rafters of solid beech assembled by an ultrasonically cured adhesive, seem totally inert. Finish is in cherry-stained beech, which is very attractive. The removable screens are neither handsome nor objectionable. See details below and do read up a little on their design which is available on the web site.

My reference digital front end is a Naim CDSII which I use with Electraglide Reference Tri-glide AC cord and Nordost Valhalla IC. Electronics used in the audition were the Audiomat Solfege integrated tube amp with an Electraglide Fat Boy Gold AC cord and Blue Circle AG 3000/8000 preamp/monoblocks with Fat Boy Golds. Speaker cables: Blue Circle bi-wired BC 92 with Solfege; single-wired Valhalla with AG's. My listening room is 18 x 28 with 11 foot ceilings tapering to 8 feet at the opposite end. The floor is wood over cement slab, with an 8 x 10 wool area rug in front of the speakers. There is a brick wall on listener's left, books on the right, and floor to ceiling glass windows behind.

 

The Numbers

The Offrandes are another case of a component whose uniqueness is not really measurable. Actually, its virtues account for negative numbers! If the Offrandes scored higher in the first six categories, which are essentially absolute resolution figures, they would presumably sound worse - or at least unlike Offrandes. The only numbers here that have any value at all are in telling you what these speakers sound like are the soundstage numbers, which should be seen as remarkable. They are scores achieved with the tubed solfege in the system. Oh yes, fit and finish is definitely worth its full 100 points!

 

Tonality 80
Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz) 80
Mid-bass (60 Hz - 200 Hz) 85
Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz) 85
High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up) 85
Attack 85
Decay 90
Inner Resolution 85
Soundscape width front 90
Soundscape width rear 100
Soundscape depth behind speakers 100
Soundscape extension into the room 90
Imaging 100
Fit and Finish 100
Self Noise 100
Value for the Money 90

 

Specifications

Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m

Frequency Response: 30Hz to 20 kHz

Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms

Power Handling Capacity: 90 watts

Peak Power: 260 watts

Distortion: Typically under 0.6%

Phase Response: +/- 15 between 2kHz and 20kHz

Nominal Acoustic Pressure: 107dB (A weighting)

Connections: Single or Bi-Wiring (recommended)

Dimensions: 43" x 8.5" x 16" (HxLxD, stand included)

Price: $4,595 (cherry stained beech)
        $4,395 (natural beech)

 

Company Information

Jean-Marie Reynaud
Zone Industrial de Font Close
16300 Barbezieux
France

Voice: 33 (0) 545780938
Fax: 33 (0) 545782512
Website: http://jm-reynaud.com

 

North American Importer:
Fanfare International, Inc.
500E. 77th Street
Suite 2923 
New York, NY 10162

Voice: (212) 734-1041
E-Mail vgfanfare@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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