I first met Bruno 25 Years ago in Saigon... Or a little audiophile history I first encountered the Beauhorn Virtuoso Speakers almost two years ago. In many ways listening to these speakers was an epiphany for me (now that Shaft regularly tells us in the IBM Adverts about Epiphanies I guess I'm green for using this...). I had pretty much always had a liking for full range loudpeakers. I guess I'll have to go back almost 20 Years in time now when I worked for a small company making recording studio gear in former Eastern Germany.
I owned a pretty good system myself back then, based around a pair of large 5-Way high efficiency speakers from Coral in Japan (100db/W/m). I had a "Rema Toccata" solid-state receiver and a topnotch belt driven turntable made in East Germany. This was in some ways a lot like the Linn Sondek but build to totally different standards, including an electronic low distortion sine wave generator for the AC synchronous Motor. I had a Shure V15 in that s-shaped sonearm of that Table. An Akai 3-Head Cassette tape deck and a Revox Reel-2-Reel machine completed a system that for the time by anyone's standards was rather good and way above average.
One of the older guy's who had worked for the company for many decades invited me to his home one day and I thought he had a most peculiar system. The amplifier was based around an old small console Amp, with a single-ended EL84 amp, ECC83 valves in phono stage and preamp. He did have the same Turntable I used and the same cartridge (!!!), but the speakers where huge, old-fashioned looking bass-reflex things with a single 8 Inch Driver with a whizzer in the center. I recognized these Drivers as having once been in valve televisions. They had alnico magnets and a very high sensitivity. This gentleman listened only to classical music and when he played some music from his collection I was gobsmacked. Okay, playing some of my rock records the system somehow made not much sense, but there was a coherence, a wholeness and immediacy to the sound which I have since associated with full-range drivers.
I then build myself a pair of speakers using similar, slightly more modern full range drivers and using two for extra Bass and headroom. I even started taking these into studios when I got to work with bands, as I felt these speakers, without a crossover and all the associated problems gave me a truer sound than any of the Big Monitors we used back then. Eventually I relented and build another pair of Speakers in a tall column format, three-way, fully active with feedback on the Drivers and god knows what else and also kept around basically something like a Klipsch Cornwall, but with an EV SP-15 bass unit. However, most of the time I listened to the full-range units, accepting the lack of extreme treble and bass in trade for immediacy and transparency.
All that gear I left behind when I fled from former East Germany in early 1989. I was stupid, had I waited halve a year I'd seen the wall come down and would have kept my gear and record collection, car and so on.... Well, hindsight is an exact science. While in the West I moved around a lot and rarely had anything like a good system, often using some JBL Control 5's or similar small portable Monitors with some professional amplifier. When I finally settled down a bit after years of DJ'ing, running Clubs and live sound work with bands I build up a nice system around Sony ES series gear and listened to multi-way speakers. I eventually got upgrade fever and the rest of the story is the usual one.
When I encountered the Beauhorns first I was listening to a pair of DIY Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy clones, driven by a PSE 300B Amp of my own design and a preamp of my own Design. I was reviewing gear for one of the on-line magazines (not this one) and got a shot at testing the Beauhorns with the then very recent DX3 Lowther drivers. Now I had heard Lowthers before that, both in the Acousta 90 bass reflex enclosure and in Fidelio or Bicor (can't quite remember which) horns. And I must admit to thinking Lowthers sounded dreadful.
Well, I reviewed the Beauhorns, liked them very, very much and though I could not fail to note some sonic problems. This should have been all really and I should now tell you to read that old review, but things ended up different. Noting my enthusiasm for the speakers Eric Thomas the head of Beauhorn decided to lend me for an extended period a pair of fairly scruffy and scratched demo Beauhorns he at that time could not find someone to buy. As a result I lived for more than 9 Month with a pair of Beauhorns. In this time the enclosures were modified on my suggestion and over time a very nice matching subwoofer and supertweeters where found...
But I'm getting ahead of me. I always wanted to write a follow-up review for the Speakers covering the changes and add-on's, yet for a variety of reasons this never materialized. I eventually split with my previous magazine because of various reasons and now write here. So I guess I'll have to rewrite this now as a whole review, a review of a system made up from a number of components from two separate manufacturers who are however closely linked and co-operate. When combined into a system these components offer a sum that is much more than the constituent components and which in my opinion are something very special.
The Monsters Arrive
There is not that much low bass. It just ain't there. Maybe with a positioning right in the room-corner this would work a little better, but fundamentally, this loudspeaker has the bass extension of a better mini-monitor. Then there is also very little high treble. I can still hear up to nearly 20kHz, so I notice this. Other have not found this a distraction; I do. Lastly, the loudspeaker in their original guise had some notable colorations in the midrange and upper bass. More on that later.
So if it is a loudspeaker that has no bass, no treble, a colored Midrange and upper Bass, what does it do well!? It plays music. Never before have I had in my living room such an immense feeling of listening to the Real Thing. Never before has my own system been able to communicate, what is in the music so clearly, directly and with such an emotional response.
And that is frightening. How can it be that a loudspeaker that has a VERY poor technical behavior, a Speaker that clearly is to the mainstream an ancient and cast off stage of HiFi, a Speaker with notable coloration's and frequency response problems, how can it be that such a Speaker manages to make the music real. Real in a way that I have not heard from the latest, greatest and best high-tech Speaker made by Wilson Audio, Hales, KEF, B&W and so the list goes.
I think I must explain. I have quite a few very good classical cecordings, like Karajan on various early DG's on Vinyl, or like a range of Works by Copland played by the Dallas Symphonic Orchestra. I also used to attend regularly symphonic Concerts and still try to make it every now and then. Listening to these recordings on the Virtuosos, the sense of being there was so strong that I needed to open my eyes to convince myself that I was still in my living room. Listening to a recording of a Karajan rehearsal of Beethoven's 9th, the whole thing was spooky. Hearing Mr Karajan scolding the violin player for not getting the timing right again. It was like being there (I'd love to have been).
Of course, acoustic jazz and the like is unbelieveable. Yet, I listen to wide range of Music and during their stay the Virtuosos where worked out with all sorts of rock music (try ZZ-Top at full blast with a 300B single-ended amplifier - awesome!!!). Even some goth was played at full tilt. Andrew Eldritch never before sounded so hypnotic....
Sure, the lack of deep bass and the lack of extreme treble had me wishing for Subwoofers and Supertweeter but rarely. This loudspeaker is perfectly listenable and very, very good on it's own. Much will depend upon the selection of music. If all you listen to is classical and acoustic Jazz the performance of the Virtuoso on it's own may be sufficient.
Imaging was very good, individual instruments being a clearly defined pattern on a rich musical tapestry, which never became only a collection of individual sounds, but always a part of a performance. The soundstage was deep, but not as wide as it is the case with my own Speakers. I can really not answer the question why? I don't what makes the Virtuosos sound like it does. Maybe it is the lack of the Cross-over. Maybe it is the lack of distortion. Most conventional loudspeakers have distortions of 1% and higher when played at level of 96db at one meter distance (that is about 85db at a three meter listening distance). Maybe it is the special way Lowther drivers are made. Maybe it's the horn loading of the driver.
As for the midrange coloration's, well, they where there. But they seem System dependent. With my own 300B amplifier they where much less notable than with the Beauhorn Obligato amplifier. A change of the phase plug on the Lowthers also had dramatic effects. Having played quite a bit with various phase plugs on the Virtuosos, I think by careful choice (there are at least 2 to3 different designs that Eric Thomas has handy) you will be able to match the Virtuosos to your room, Electronics and taste. I found the large, mushroom shaped phase plug best, especially some antique units made from Plaster of Paris. The very latest generation of Beauhorns uses the same profile on the large wooden phase plugs to almost totally eliminate midrange colorations.
Another change that occurred during my very extended time with the Virtuosos was the addition of a very strategically placed brace in the larger section near the horn mouth. Without this male Voices (like Satchmo on Decca/London) had acquired a pluminess and chestiness that was unnatural. The Walls of the horn resonated and colored the sound. Fitting this brace (Eric came over to my place again to do that) completely cured the problem, making the latest generation of the Beauhorn Virtuoso very neutral, extremely so considering that it is a horn loudspeaker using Lowther units. Indeed, most unusual for a Lowther based loudspeaker is that the Virtuoso actually sounds slightly warm in tonality, just the right dash of warmth to make the sound inviting and not fatiguing, no more. Among all the Lowther loudspeakers that have come my way this is clearly the best, sonically speaking. However all was not well in Lowther land.
Who stole the Bass and Treble?
Still, I agreed to try and Eric arranged with Patrick from Southcoast loudspeakers for me to get a review unit of this subwoofer. When delivered and installed correctly I was positively surprised. Even without long optimization the integration between subwoofer and main loudspeakers was near perfect. And the much missed and needed low bass fundamental was suddenly present. I cannot emphasize enough the degree of improvement from this addition. What before was very much a cerebral experience when listening to modern and popular music became seriously funky. A lot of music that I had almost stopped listening to became again much listened to. Especially my selection of 1970's rock classics and reggae got much playtime.
Still, adding the previously missing low bass fundament caused the lack in the extreme to be highlighted even further. Eventually Patrick got a pair of the Supertweeters from Germany and in late September I added them to the system. So I had been listening on a daily basis to the Beauhorns for almost seven month, finding them very satisfactory speakers. Yet the lack in the extreme Treble continued top bug me. Well, the Visaton Supertweeters were exactly what the doctor had ordered. The level of immediacy and palpability of the music went up hugely. Not only could I now tell which brand of Cymbals was being played on the drum kit, I could also almost feel where in the room (or rather in the next one) they where located. If I had thought the imaging before to be very good, this now was scary. Considering the rather high crossover point I was prompted to substantially re-evaluate my view of the Importance of a very extended high frequency response.
Anyway, whereas the Beauhorns on their where "only" a very good, very natural Loudspeaker with some notable limitations, the complete system simply blew my mind. Now I have not heard everything out there in my own 4 Walls, yet I felt that overall I had never before heard anything approaching that level of realism, directness, immediacy and emotion from reproduced music. The system showed off easily tiny differences in VTA on the turntable, a change of feet below the CD player or a simple CD mat produce unbelievable impacts, certainly with the fully loaded Beauhorns and add-on's from Southcoast a Door into much larger sonic universe was opened. I will not go into much detail what other Speakers I know pretty well and like less, but they are many and varied ones.
I think the best illustration was when I had some friends around, one who brought along his sister who is a quite well reputed jazz vocalist in the UK. Playing her own recordings she exclaimed, "That's me" and commenting that even at most Studios it sounded nothing like this. And playing some LP's of her favorites from various periods had her exclaim "That's spooky, it is as if the musicians are really there!". Well, she should know she's on a stage with musicians on many an evening. Yet I can only concur, the realism from this system was positively scary. Over the time I had these loudspeakers I listened more than ever and managed to see my record collection growing at such an alarming rate that it soon spilled all over the living room floor. If nothing else, I guess that shows that I was really Enjoying the Music.
My only remaining complaint was the use of a single subwoofer, not so much because of Stereo effects, the problem is that one sub looses it much before the main system when you turn up the wick. True, I was pushing nearly 100db on the Radioshack SPL meter by then, but the system still sounded so clean and unstressed that one just wanted to turn it up further with a lot of music. Alas, I suppose the limit of the single subwoofer kept the neighbors happier than had I had two of them, but hey - they are just the neighbors.
And Did They Live Happily Ever
If I had to live on gear that I could buy instead of making for myself whatever takes my fancy I think I would have moved heaven and earth to make this System stay in my living room. Indeed, I would not at all mind if Eric dropped over a pair of the latest DX4 equipped Beauhorns in blonde wood veneer and Patrick would send the tweeters back over (Patrick - when are you going to collect the subwoofer?). For a long, very extended evaluation period (say a few years or so) I'm sure this system would keep me Enjoying the Music and forgetting to worry about much else in High-End Audio. But that would hardly be me now, would it.
As it stands I think I can strongly recommend this system to anyone looking for a reference grade loudspeaker setup that is compatible with low powered SE Amplifiers. True other such systems exist, but very, very few. The price for the total package is high at nearly $ 10,000 (here in the UK) for the top of the range Beauhorns, a pair of subwoofers and a pair of Supertweeters, yet I know plenty of loudspeaker system that cost much more and manage much less. For me personally I feel that this system remains the reference where commercially available Loudspeaker System are concerned.
What more can I say? Go and try to listen to a pair. As we speak I believe a real distribution in the US is being set up, Greece has a distributor, this should finding a way to audition these rather special loudspeakers easier. However, quite frankly, from the money you save by not buying a $ 30,000 Pair of high-end loudspeakers you can have nice holiday in Europe and just fly over to London to hear the system. No, I cannot recommend buying these unheard; I cannot do that with any piece of high-end audio gear. Yet I can say that I'm very confident that you will find an audition worthwhile enough to travel rather far afield for it. If you do, try arranging listening to the whole, fully loaded system I enjoyed for a while. The way you perceive the reproduction of recorded music will likely never be the same, even should you end up not buying such a set-up.
And in closing I have a last request of Eric Thomas. Please, at the next Hi-Fi shows at which you exhibit do take the subwoofers and Supertweeters along and include them in the demo. Without them the sound in your room is always pleasant and very good. With them it would be something else again.
Until another time folks, enjoy the music, hopefully as much as I did in the process of this.
The Geek Files
The Beauhorn Virtuoso loudspeaker uses one of the very distinctive drivers made by Lowther in England. Yes, you heard correctly, only one Driver. No ordinary driver too. The basic design of all Lowther full-range drivers goes right back to a design originated in the 1930's by an expatriate German living in England. See my recent Review of the Hørning Perikles loudspeakers for more info on the Lowthers and their problems. Anyone who has ever heard Lowther based loudspeakers cannot but admit that almost all Lowther based loudspeakers have some serious problems with tonal balance and the like. At the same time Lowthers have a certain something that is hard to describe or explain, but which is extremely attractive.
Lowthers seem to bring you closer to the music. Much closer. The price to pay is an often tinny balance with often significant peaks in the upper midrange that can be very irritating. So what to do? Thomas Transducers designer Eric Thomas asked himself the same question. Lowthers had a certain something that made you come back to them, for all their faults. So, could it be maybe possible to keep the good things of the Lowther sound and reduce the problems?
Eric Thomas's solutions? Put the Lowther into a front-loaded horn that then will increase the sensitivity of the lower midrange. Use a relatively short horn in the rear and avoid heavy folding of the rear horn. Use light composite materials to control vibration and shape the horn. The whole enclosure is combined from veneered MDF and suitably formed blocks of light but stiff foam forming the horn contours. This avoids any sharp bends that will induce discontinuities in the horn and no overly resonant internal boards are present to color the sound passing through the horn.
The front horn reminds somewhat of that used in the large Audiovector enclosure from Lowther, where it points upwards, not forward as in the Beauhorns. The more recent upgrades included new phase plug (the grey "mushroom" in front of the driver in the picture above) and additional bracing. The latest version of the phase plug seen at this years London HiFi Show has a profile that is not as steep as the original Version of the wooden phase plug which I changed over to the old plaster of Paris types. I felt that the older steep profile wooden phase plugs introduced a slight coloration to the music. The latest generation of wooden phase plugs and the DX4 Driver make a most splendid combo. Both the latest phase plug and the addition of the bracing in the horn mouth improve the neutrality of the speaker substantially.
That said, with a LF extension of only around 40 - 60Hz (I got around 50Hz at -6db in my room) and a Treble that extends not very high the Beauhorns are really crying out for some help in these areas. This was over time found with the help of Patrick from Southcoast Speakers in Southampton in the form of a Subwoofer and pair of Supertweeters based on technology from the German Loudspeaker manufacturer Visaton. Visaton is not very well known outside Germany, in Germany it concentrates on the DIY Market and is known for very high quality drivers and solutions.
The Visaton Subwoofer uses a small box made from veneered MDF very smartly turned out. This uses the Box assembled by Southcoast Speakers in the UK, the driver and amplifier is supplied from Germany. The amplifier included is made for Visaton and the whole package is optimized for the subwoofer, a pretty substantial cast frame unit with a very stiff but light paper cone. Such cones tend to offer a much better perceived "speed" over plastic cones. The box is loaded with slotted port to the front and allows very low bass notes to be played from a surprisingly small overall package. In order to offer correct integration I found that feeding the Subwoofer from the main Loudspeaker feed directly to the RCA Inputs was best. For this the volume control on a single unit had to be turned up almost to full. Otherwise the unit was reliable and pretty much fit and forget.
The automatic standby function means the unit can just be left on. With the crossover set to 50Hz and the subwoofer placed well behind the plane of the main Hornspeakers to account for the acoustic delay in the rear horn integration was seamless. I have also tried the Subwoofer with varying success with other loudspeakers. In general, if the main loudspeaker had notable output below 50Hz the integration was not easy to achieve Speakers with higher Cutoffs generally integrated extremely well and benefited tremendously from the added heft and solidity in the bass. I think this Subwoofer would be an excellent solution with smaller monitors or indeed many of the more conventional horn cabinets based on Lowther and similar drivers.
The Supertweeters are turned from a solid aluminum block and use a rare earth magnet to drive the 16mm voicecoil. The Supertweeters came with a smartly done little wooden pod, allowing them to be very neatly placed on top of the main speakers. It is necessary to shift the Supertweeters backward for time alignment with the main speakers. This is best done playing some FM interstation noise or a noise track from a test CD and having a helper moving the Tweeters forward/backward in small intervals. The sonic effect when the time alignment "locks in" is quite distinct. Use the lower Crossover Frequency for that and do it first channel by channel with a final fine-tuning with both channels playing.
The crossover that was eventually build by Southcoast Speakers to my Specifications is wired with DNM Solidcore Speakercable (the same as used inside the Beauhorn Speakers) and uses high quality Foil & Film Capacitors. I found these to sound airier and more detailed than the Jensen Paper/Oil units I used originally. To make the Supertweeter more universally usable the crossover Frequency can be switched between two positions and 3db attenuation for the tweeter is possible. I have used the same combo successfully with a wide range of Speakers, differing both in Sensitivity and High Frequency extension. I found the Supertweeters to integrate very easily using the provided switching facilities. Again, a very high quality fit and forget option offering very high standards in execution and component quality. These units come highly recommended, as does the Subwoofer.
Measurements for the Beauhorn /
Measuring Sensitivity with Pink Noise (one Speaker only) at 1m Distance yielded 103.5db SPL for 2.83V RMS. This is slightly below the manufacturers Specification (106dB) but this is likely due to my measurement method, which is dominated by the LF efficiency. Still, with 103.5dB/W/m and with an Impedance considerably above 8 Ohm the Beauhorn is the most sensitive speaker I have encountered so far.
The in room LF behavior showed a fundamentally flat response with a broadband lift between 80Hz and 150Hz of around 3dB. Without subwoofer 50Hz where at -6dB with reference to the 103.5dB average sensitivity. Using the Subwoofer optimized and with the crossover set to 50Hz the -6dB point was shifted to around 22Hz, again this is heavily room and placement dependent.
Throughout the midrange but also in the normally quite troublesome lower midrange the in room 1/3 octave at three meters listening distance was impressively flat, fitting for the whole system mostly in a tight +/-4dB range between 100Hz and 10kHz. This is the flattest in room frequency response I have encountered so far, no doubt helped by the substantial degree of controlled dispersion, which takes the room influences mostly out of the equation.
Distortion and compression where measured with Lowther PM2C Driver and came out at less than 0.5% average between 100Hz and 10kHz for 96dB/3m. There where some spikes with very high measured distortion observable, these are likely cone resonances or room artifacts, I cannot be certain. The compression at 96db/3m (with a power of much less than one watt applied) was not measurable. No specific Tests for power handling where carried out. The level of headroom from the 18W 300B PSE Amplifier was simply ridiculous, the powered Subwoofer with only one unit used did run out of SPL much earlier than the rest of the system. I'd say anything from around one to two watt will splendidly.
I did not really measure the HF extension, so I cannot confirm or deny the > 30kHz HF response for the Supertweeters, but with the Crossover from Southcoast Speakers set to around 14kHz the integration was very good once the drivers where time aligned. The whole system showed a slight overall roll off, being around 4db down at 20kHz with respect to the 103.5dB average sensitivity at the listening position, avoiding any unnecessary sharp sound.
On measured performance this whole system, WHEN SET UP CORRECTLY and when measured in normal listening conditions sets extremely high standards. In all conventional disciplines (frequency response, phase response, load compatibility this system matches or exceeds anything I ever encountered and when it comes to low distortion and compression I have yet to encounter better. This is most definitely absolute reference grade performance.
Company Information &
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Southcoast Speakers / Visaton T25 powered Subwoofer
Southcoast Speakers / Visaton TL16 add on Supertweeters and Crossover
MSRP: appx. £ 300 (appx. $ 450) depending upon crossover components
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