Well, life is good. I'm swimming in review gear, get to play with all the nice toys and have fun. But occasionally even in such a good state one gets the unusual chance. I got it very recently, courtesy of Eric Thomas from Beauhorn. Now, everybody who has been reading my various reviews knows that I think the Beauhorn Virtuoso to be one of the best commercially available speakers. So when Eric told me all very hush-hush that they where working on a new, much less expensive Speaker and would I like to listen to the final prototype for a while I could only say yes please. Of course, the speaker discussed here is not the final production version, which is likely to have a few cosmetic and slight structural changes. The Speaker will be officially introduced at the London HiFi Show in September, yet I thought I'll share with you, the Enjoy the Music readers, the news and what I heard from these Speakers exclusively about three month before everyone else.
So, Eric dropped over and started unloading the speakers and the first thing I noticed was the for Speakers Strange Color, metallic blue. And then the shape. Well folks, these Speakers certainly deserve inclusion in my top 10 List of weird looking Speakers. For a while I could not make my mind up if I actually liked the way these Speakers looked or hated it. In the end I decided on liking, these things look a bit like some 1950's Sci-Fi B-Movie prop. But I can see problems with these Speakers in certain domestic environments. The Horn is basically straight, without folds and exits near the floor. The Driver is a single Fostex FE168 Sigma, internal wiring is solid silver. That's it. Simplicity pure. At the time of writing the price had not been finalized but was reckoned by Eric Thomas to be under £2,500, which after excluding the VAT and taking the current Dollar/Pound Ratio translates into under $3,000 US.
Anyway, I popped the Speakers into my system after Eric had disappeared and after a few other interludes, in the process of actually completely restructuring my System. Swapping the B2's for my Magnificat Speakers showed the B2 to have a much less extended LF range and a tonal balance on top that was somewhat laid back. In fact, the sound had clearly the "Beauhorn" Signature. True, the B2's are less sensitive than the Virtuosos, but the vivid, uncolored Midrange that I so much liked on the Virtuosos was there fully there. The somewhat limited bandwidth was in my view well chosen, the Speaker sound balanced and coherent. Listening to Eric Clapton's MTV Unplugged Album showed voices to have great clarity and directness. Acoustical instruments sounded natural and realistic. Much of what I have said about the large Beauhorns holds true for these as well.
Listening to Baroque Ensembles like Vivaldis Gloria in D-Minor (on Loiseu Lyre) showed that the slight but notable roll-off in the treble took the edge somewhat out of the Harpsichord, yet the Voices where very natural sounding. Listening however to modern Orchestral Recordings on CD like Eji Oie's Pictures at an Exhibition (Reference Recordings) showed this roll-off to complement the overly bright and forward sound caused by close-up microphone placement. The B2's place you very much far back in the Hall, rather than upfront in the first few rows. I think the Virtuoso places you a bit more forward in the Symphony hall, while my own Speakers and the Tannoys place you very much close to the Orchestra, the Tannoys perhaps at row three or four with such recordings.
If your music is mainly Rock and Pop the Beauhorns again project voices well and get that spooky intimacy right. The limitations in bandwidth mean however that percussion suffers somewhat. The Bass is not overly extended, what is there however is lightning fast and detailed. Still, listening to Molokos The Time is Now on the B2's was a bit disappointing, without having added subwoofers and Supertweeters. On the other hand the track Solid Air from the Q Magazine Chillout Sampler (mostly Guitar and Voice) was spooky. Also Granddaddies "I wanna sleep" was rendered vivid and involving.
I noticed only one substantial weakness, namely in the Midbass. There with low Male Voices (Louis Armstrong for example) I could detect a sound that made the voices overly plummy and fat, caused by resonance's in the side panels near the Hornmouth. In fact, this coloration is the same type and from the same source as I noticed in my original review of the Beauhorn Virtuoso, which led to the introduction of a strategically placed brace in these Speakers. I suspect a similar cure will be applied to the production version of the B2. I found the problem only notable with certain male voices and a perhaps slightly too resonant tone on Cello or Viola.
Alone, without a supporting subwoofer the B2's are great for any form or kind of acoustic music, partnering equipment should be better somewhat on the bright and detailed side, rather than relaxed. For example I feel that a 2A3 Amplifier would make a better complement to the B2's than a 300B Amplifier. However, in the range that the speakers cover they are truthful and involving. The Bandwidth shortcoming's can be addressed in a number of ways, I experimented with using the Behringer Ultracurve Pro Digital Equalizer to boost the treble with excellent success. With the B2 I found that 300B's that previously sounded overly bright and rough (like the Valve Art 4300B or the Tesla/JJ 300B) now complemented the Speakers tonality well. The cheap Chinese 2A3's which I normally find overly brassy, brash and forward now managed to produce very nice and civilised sound.
As a matter of comparison, I had recently the chance to hear a Pair of Hedlund Horns equipped with the AER MK II Drivers. This combo was much larger and to me delivered a sound that was quite comparable to the B2. I would count the B2's as being slightly more balanced and involving, while the Hedlunds where a little more dynamic and detailed, as well as having on axis a slightly more extended top end. Given the choice however I'd probably walk away with the Beauhorn B2's, though I'd much rather have a pair of Virtuosos or my own Speakers. Still, considering the glowing comments others have made for the Hedlund Horns and considering much of what is currently available in the high sensitivity speaker marketplace the B2's manage a very credible performance. Overall the time for the audition was limited and the Speaker is the prototype, so all comments and figures should be taken as indication of what the final version will be like, rather than as a final account.
I did carry out some measurements, though not as complete as I usually do. Within the 100hz - 10khz range the overall response was very well behaved and flat, just what I'm used to with Beauhorn Speakers. The lowend in my room and with some help from a fairly strong 55Hz room mode extended to around 50Hz, with some peaking below 100Hz, again very similar to the Virtuoso. In the treble range the Virtuosos beam less than the B2's, if you are off axis with the B2's the treble roll-off becomes more notable. Using my usual in room measurement with pink noise at 1m Distance and with 1V RMS (about as loud as I voluntary will stand pink noise) I measured 88db. This translates to around 97dB/2.83V/1m. I did not get the chance to carry out distortion and compression measurements, sorry.
While so far still a prototype and not quite ready for the big time I think that the B2 is a great addition for the Beuhorn line-up, bringing much of the sound of the rather more expensive Virtuoso with it and thus to wider audience. If one where to partner the Speaker with a good quality 2A3 Amplifier (which can be had nowadays under 2,000 US Dollar) and a nice Front-end (how about one of them newly fangled DVD Audio or SACD Players?); if one added a reasonable Subwoofer (Rel Strata) and good Super tweeters (Fostex or Visaton come to mind) one could assemble a very nice and high quality Ultra Fi System under $ 10,000 and likely have enough change for cables and a few Recordings. Even so, the B2's are not inexpensive (unless the price drops dramatically before release), yet I would certainly feel that they are worth it.
True, if you can spend more than twice that money and get the Beauhorn Virtuosos plus suitable partnering equipment one would get more music, yet what is available from the B2 is really good and worthwhile for anyone on a somewhat limited budget. Of course, if one where to apply conventional HiFi criteria the B2 would likely be considered a not so hot item. You will have to play MUSIC and LISTEN for yourself to appreciate just what these do. But be warned, you may end up liking what you hear. I for one would hope that once full production has begun and another review unit is available to spend some more time with the B2's and to experiment more to see just how good these can be.
I could (and really should) write more, both about the B2's and my time with them and about so many other interesting pieces I have had the chance to live with recently, like the excellent Consonance M500 Kit Amplifiers, all the different 300B Valves I have been group testing or the incredible German Acoustic Solid Turntable, but this will have to wait a little longer. The whither is great, the sun is out the Girls are dressing sexy and look oh so pretty, I guess it's time to grab a little of the Summer while it lasts.
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