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August 2014
Enjoy the Music.com
Audience ClairAudient 1+1 Personal Reference Monitors
World-class performance for only $1800!
Review By Greg Weaver

 

Audience ClairAudient 1+1 Personal Reference Monitors  The ClairAudient story starts, at least for this journalist, back in January 2006. The then prototype, four drivers-per-side in a line-array (with the drivers still sourced from Bandor), that Audience was showing that year at T.H.E. Show. This was along with prototypes of their own amp, preamp, and subwoofer. This was clearly indicative that Audience were off to an impressive start and meant business. Though I had known John McDonald and the late Richard Smith since 2003, that event also marked my introduction to Audience's Design Engineer, Roger Sheker.

Further, while I had come to admire and respect Audience's exquisite cable lineup, given all my experiences with them, that 2006 show is when I first learned that John and Richard had founded the company (in 1997) with a fundamental goal of building a loudspeaker that would set a new standard in audio performance, ideally, one of crossover-less design.

 


The ClairAudient Prototype at T.H.E. Show 2006, with John McDonald and Roger Sheker.

 

The prototype ClairAudient 16+16, July 2010.

July 2010 saw me visiting long-time audio pal and BluePort Jazz recording engineer extraordinaire, Jim Merod, in Carlsbad, California. During my stay, I was thrilled receive an invitation to visit Audience President John McDonald at his home in nearby San Marcos. During that visit, I had the privilege of hearing the first ClairAudient 16+16. It was a stunningly impressive speaker: one that towered over me in height and had a projected retail of (now) $72,000. By this time, Audience had moved from using the Bandor sourced 3" driver, to employing their own in-house designed A3 driver.


Roger Sheker with his hand atop the ClairAudient 2+2 at T.H.E. Show 2011.

Next came T.H.E. Show 2011, and the audition of The One, which received my Writers Choice award last year for its unparalleled purity of timbre, utter transparency, and faithfulness of pace and timing. That event also saw the inaugural showing of the ClairAudient 2+2, and 4+4. By this time, their A3 driver had evolved to its current A3S iteration.


Dan Rosca, Roger Sheker, and John McDonald surrounding the ClairAudient 4+4, also at T.H.E. Show 2011 .

Next, at T.H.E. Show 2013, came the introduction of the speaker under review in this work, the ClairAudient 1+1. When I stopped to listen, the first thing played for me was a Redbook FLAC file, "From the Beginning" from Emerson, Lake and Palmer's 1972 release, Trilogy. I have to say that while I've heard this cut hundreds of times, that listen was revelatory!


The visually stunning, sonically transparent ClairAudient 1+1 at T.H.E. Show 2013.

These gorgeous little monitors served up everything in a delicately layered, remarkably liquid, eerily resolute, clearly defined, and musically compellingly manner. The concept had been proven; it was an absolute and stunning success. I have to say that, as taken as I was with The ONE Personal Reference Monitor's, and given the initial experience I had with the 1+1 at T.H.E. Show 2013, I was more than just a little interested in getting a pair for evaluation.

 

Tank
With their uniquely truncated, beveled trapezoidal shape, weighing well under eight pounds apiece, and at just 8 inches high, 9.75 inches deep, and a scant 6 inches wide, they are minute, even by mini monitor standards. The 1+1 is aptly named; it is comprised of precisely double the driver complement of The ONE. Using a pair of A3S active drivers, one centrally located on both the front and back baffles, they further employ a pair of slightly larger passive radiators, with one centered on each side baffle, inside and out. Where the A3S driver measures ~2.75" wide, from surround edge to surround edge, the passives are ~4" wide, from surround edge to surround edge.

Speaking with Roger Sheker, Designer and Engineer at Audience, I learned that the choice to use a passive radiator was an obvious one, given the two-fold benefits they afford. In this application, they both offer enhanced bass extension and prevent the A3S driver from unloading below the tuning frequency. That eventuality would be bad for reliability, as it would allow for over excursion of A3S drivers.

Further, as a true bipolar design (both A3S drivers are wired in-phase), each driver and its respective passive radiator, are housed in their own isolated chambers, i.e., two separate enclosures inside the same cabinet. Build quality, fit, and finish are world class, as you'd expect. With a perfectly finished black lacquer top, bottom, front, and back panel, the two side panels, which hold the two passive radiators, are finished with an equally well-appointed wood grain.

The binding posts are ultra-low mass gold plated brass without any nickel in the mix. The binding posts, solder joints, and internal wire (Audience's own high purity Ohno hook up wire in a cross-linked polyethylene insulation jacket), are all cryo treated together as a completed assembly. Finally, the internal damping of the dual cabinet is unique, but because it is proprietary and confidential, that is all I can say about it.


The ClairAudient 1+1 gracing my sunroom system .

As gorgeous and well-built as the 1+1 is, the most significant design attribute is that, true to their founding design goal, and like all the ClairAudient loudspeakers, they employ no crossover whatsoever! That's right, no capacitive/inductive filtering, on any order, to muck up the sound.

 

Take A Pebble
I knew long before these little beauties arrived that I would be trying them in a variety of installations, ranging from elegant but simple setups in my office and sunroom, to dropping them into my full-blown $200,000 reference rig.

Although this installation would not prove to be quite as successful as I hoped, it yielded remarkable results nonetheless. The problem was simple; the higher efficiency of my VSA's meant that the lower registers were a bit too loud in comparison to the lower SPL output of the 1+1s. As such, the evaluation began with 1+1s solo, sitting atop the silent VR-5 woofer modules. I started the audition with Roger Waters' 1992 magnum opus, Amused to Death, on LP [Holland 468761], using the powerful closing quartet of songs, "Watching TV," "Three Wishes," "It's A Miracle," and "Amused to Death."

Moving to "Three Wishes," the Q-Sound effects of the woman's voice discussing the murder of her children and her attempted suicide, was recreated well off my left shoulder and outside the wall, and was almost as coherent and localized as with my reference speakers. On "It's a Miracle," the pronounced individuality of some of the backing and doubled vocals was uncanny, as was their purity of timber. I have listened this cut on virtually every speaker I've reviewed or auditioned since the album's release in 1992, and only a handful have come close to offering this measure of distinctiveness and tonal coherence.

With "Amused to Death," the expansive and dense soundstage was as intricately layered as with my reference speakers, if not quite as deep or focused. Vocals absolutely sparkled; they were vital and alive in a way that raised goose bumps. It was very hard to keep in mind that the speakers under evaluation sold for $1800, fer Chirs' sake!

From the listening chair in my room, with the 1+1's located some six-and-a-half feet away from the front wall and sitting atop the VR-5 woofer cabinets, I noted them to be about -5.5 dB at 101 Hz, about -8.5 dB at 93 Hz, and fully -15 dB at 74 Hz. They performed better in either of my two office locations, where their proximate placement to the walls behind my desks served to help reinforce their output down to about 65 Hz.

This is when I got serious about, and found an effective method of, supplementing their LF output with the woofer cabinets of my reference speakers. After some futzing around with placement, cables, and metering, I found that connecting only one of my Von Schweikert VR-5 Anniversary woofer units yielded an extremely effective compromise. Not perfect mind you, it wasn't stereo. Yet with this method, I could effectively replace the missing foundational low frequency information of the music. Perhaps more to the point, the space, realistic perspective, and atmosphere that recordings can only fully reveal when reproduced by a full range loudspeaker, or with the augmentation of subwoofers, was also restored.

Next up was the DSD64 version of Carlos Santana's 1970 sophomore release, Abraxas [Acoustic Sounds XSON65490D64]. Wow, I was astonished! With "Oye Como Va," the space of the soundstage, while slightly flattened in comparison to my reference speakers, was simply amazing, allowing one of the prevalent attributes of DSD files their exceptional regeneration of space to shine through with masterful aplomb. Moving to the Rickie Lee Jones' EP, Girl at her Volcano, playing "Under the Boardwalk," I was treated to an elevated discernment of the nuanced dynamic interplay between all the voices on this track, from Rickie, her background vocalists, and the instruments themselves; the piano especially. These little guys are the definition of transparency.

With the Crosby, Stills, & Nash 1982 release, Daylight Again [Atlantic SD 19360], I was dumbfounded by the individuality they revealed to these three amazing voices. Listening to the closing of the title cut, when the three sing, "...do we find the cost of freedom...buried in the ground..." at 2:07 into the track, in the brief pause just between the word "freedom" and "buried," there is the unmistakable sound of someone's moist lips parting. Most speakers in this price range offer up that noise as some abstruse vocalization. The 1+1's clearly reveal that sound to come from the lips of Steven Stills, whose voice is center stage on that recording.

Moving to their remastered CSN album from 1977 [Audio Fidelity 1787], the liberal use of maracas' and other subtle percussion instruments smattered throughout the track "Fair Game" finds me queuing it up regularly for evaluations. Exceptional loudspeakers allow you to hear the individuality of each distinct maraca shake; as the seeds hit the side of the gourd, they should sound slightly different each time. Sadly, not every speaker has that ability. The ClairAudient 1+1's pulls it off effortlessly!

 

Knife Edge...
Looking back at my notes, certain patterns became overwhelmingly apparent. I had repeatedly logged that I was hearing subtleties of inflection and microdynamic shadings unlike anything I'm used to hearing from sub $20,000 to $25,000 loudspeakers, let alone from such diminutive and affordable personal reference monitors! Their ability to effortlessly unravel complex and detailed recordings, to lucidly present the subtleties of timbre, their inextricable grip on pace, rhythm, and timing (even better with subs), their faultless pitch definition, their boundless microdynamic resolution, and their unfettered transparency reveal them to be one of the finest transducers I've ever experienced.

The ClairAudient 1+1's will rise to the level of whatever associated gear, or cables, you are able to afford to pair with them. One of my biggest concerns is that, given their relatively modest pricing, perspective owners will severely underestimate these speakers, either because of their modest asking price or minute size. Those owners would be selling themselves, and their sonic results, short by only pairing them with similarly priced electronics, cabling, or sources. They clearly have the ability to do so much more. I can assure you that whatever system you drop them into, any limitations you discern in tonal color, pace, resolution, or microdynamics is a fault of some other part of the system, not the 1+1.

In my auditions, the better the associated gear (sources, electronics, and especially cables), I used, the more information they uncovered and recreated! While I began with the overachieving Audience Ohno speaker cables (10-foot pair for $399), I quickly moved on to vastly better and even ridiculously expensive speaker cables, some costing more than 10 times the price of the 1+1's themselves. To understand that such an inexpensive, miniscule speaker can effortlessly reveal the differences between $2,000, $5,000, even $25,000 speaker cables is hard to believe, bordering on ludicrous. But the 1+1's did so, and with considerable grace!

Overall, the 1+1's were uncharacteristically revealing, unnervingly articulate, with a haunting honesty of timbre, and were supremely transparent. These speakers (the entire ClairAudient line, not just the 1+1's) have simply rewritten the rulebook. With the ClairAudient line of loudspeakers, Audience has irrevocably advanced the product category known as the loudspeaker! Prior to their arrival, had anyone told me that a pair of mini-monitors selling for under $2,000 a pair, weighing less than eight pounds each, would be able to compete with, let alone excel in some areas over, a $30,000 reference loudspeaker, I would have laughed out loud hysterically. If you don't give them your attention, the laugh will be on you. In a word (albeit, one hyphenated word!), they are a world-class product.

While I'm sure there are listeners out there who will not "get" the ClairAudient sound, consider this warning, music lovers; these speakers will ruin you. Don't give these speakers a serious audition if you aren't prepared to have your perceptions of reproduced sound forever rocked. Once you hear the ClairAudient perspective, you will likely find that you will be unwilling, even unable, to accept anything less! By less, I mean you will not find this level of transparency, purity of timbre, coherence, microdynamic shading, and resolve without spending eight, ten, or even twelve times more money!

During my time with the 1+1's, it became obvious that the only faults that can be ascribed to them are their inherent low frequency roll-off (starting at about 100 Hz in room, 65 Hz near a wall) and limited macrodynamic and SPL capability. It is important to note that these are not design flaws or something that could be addressed with further thought or time; rather, they are purely a derivative of the mechanical limitations of the physical size of the amazing A3S driver, nothing more. To that end, if you are willing to invest in a pair (yes, stereo) of good subwoofers, you'll easily be able to overcome one of those intrinsic issues, and have one of the most resolute, tonally pure, musically expressive loudspeaker systems that any amount of money can buy today.

As I look back over my time in and around this industry, beginning back when brands like Phase Linear and Advent were setting previously unrealized standards, the Audience ClairAudient project represents one of the most significant and exciting advances to our hobby that I can recall. Welcome to the uprising!

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

N/A

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Stand mounted monitor speaker
Driver: Special A3S 3" cone driver
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
Maximum Power: 50 watts RMS
Dimensions: 8" high, 9.75" deep, by 6" wide
Weight: 7lbs 5 oz each
Price: $1800 per pair

 

Company Information
Audience Av
Email: info@audience-av.com
Website: www.Audience-AV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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