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May 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premier!
Sound Fusion Hyperion Loudspeaker
A specially revealing window to the music.

Review By Phil Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Sound Fusion Hyperion Loudspeakers  I gave the editor advance warning. I gave you the reader advance warning too. My Montreal Son & Image Show Report awards Sound Fusion Best-of Show sound. So let's put the cards on the table. This is the best speaker I have reviewed and possibly the best I have ever heard. While it's not exactly cheap, as an active speaker system priced from $18,000 (remember you won't need to buy a stereo power amplifier or monoblocks), this represents great value for money.

Where's the catch? Sure this speaker has some limitations. There are bigger speakers that dig deeper, and Sound Fusion will be delighted to sell you a couple of their matching subwoofers if you are interested. The geometrical shape of the speakers might not be to you taste. And you may not find a dealer near you to let you audition them just yet. Sound Fusion is a new company, and distribution is not in place. But unlike many new companies, Sound Fusion's finances are not precarious, since it is a subsidiary of a multi billion-dollar furniture manufacture with deep pockets and a willingness not to cut corners. This makes it a dream come true for engineer Marlen Mogilever, Director of R&D for Sound Fusion and their chief designer.

Marlen has been an avid audiophile for many years, a tube lover and hobbyist, who designed his own speakers for his home system. He later found another serious audiophile with deep pockets who had the factory, craftsmen and machinery necessary to build the very complex cabinets involved.

Sound Fusion brings to market two speaker systems, both two-way designs, one with two drivers, the other three. Each is available in active or passive form, and in a wide variety of rich wood finishes. Marlen is currently working on a larger three-way design, and of course there is the aforementioned subwoofer, the Titan. The smaller system is the active Ariel and its passive brother, the Luna.

 

The Design
Today's test system is the $18,000 US Hyperion, whose passive twin is the Nova. The designer's aim here is to create a lightening fast speaker capable of explosive dynamics and imaging to die for. Lightening fast usually means staying away from moving-coil drivers. Electrostatics can do the lightening reflexes job, but they won't give you the kind of dynamics Marlen has in mind. He has chosen to go down a route taken by a number of other designers lately, by choosing a ribbon tweeter and mating it with moving coil bass / midrange drivers. The Aurum Cantus Vollas, which I am reviewing simultaneously, take a similar approach and succeed brilliantly.

After trying many ribbon tweeters Marlen selected the LCY-110, a Chinese unit that has wonderful potential but is apparently very difficult to work with. This unit covers the range from 2kHz to 60kHz. He also picked a cut paper Scan-Speak 6.5-inch midrange / woofer which he regards as the finest moving coil driver available. With a team of computer programmers and engineers, he spent a long time designing the fourth order crossover and cabinets to make this combination work optimally. By choosing smaller drivers he was able to achieve the speed he was looking for, and by combining two such drivers and directly coupling them to the power amplifier, he was also able to achieve a remarkable level of bass extension. The Hyperion speaker covers a range from 30Hz to 60kHz, which is remarkable for a two-way design.

The cabinets are constructed from a series of 1-inch MDF rings glued together, an expensive method of production. This helps to eliminate standing waves and resonances. Each driver is isolated in its own compartment. A large forward facing tuned port is featured near the bottom of the bass enclosure. The amplification is by NuForce, two monoblocks per speaker, but Sound Fusion has substituted beefy analog power supplies for the digital power supplies that NuForce provide. These NuForce switching monoblocks have attracted a great deal of attention recently and you can read more about them at their website.

Crossovers play a vital part in any speaker, and especially here. In an active speaker system the crossover comes before the power amplifier. In this case it is a passive crossover. In a configuration like this there is no insertion loss, the term that refers to the amplifier output powerlost when a passive crossover is installed between an amp and the speaker drive units. This crossover is designed and tested in-house with an MLSSA acoustical measurement system. Each power amplifier now operates only in a limited frequency band, which makes its job much easier, providing optimal damping, broader dynamic range and lower distortion. The NuForce power amps are rated at 350 watts into the 4-ohms bass/midrange drivers and 250 watts into the 8-ohms tweeter. Did I tell you I was a fan of active speakers? I don't have them now, but Meridian M2's were my constant companions for around 12 years and I still remember them fondly.

With active speakers, you really only need a source and a preamp, interconnects to tie them together and some power cords. Don't forget you need power cords for the speakers too. If you want to go whole hog, you can use a digital source with variable output or built in preamp. For this review I use my Meridian G08 CD player, an ARC LS26 preamp and a Bluenote Stibbert tube CD Player as an alternative source. I have Nordost Valhalla Balanced interconnects between the CD players and the preamp, and Stealth Indra balanced interconnects to feed the speakers. I use an innocuous looking Digital Power Cord from Soundstring to power the Meridian G08, and all the other power cables are from Dynamic Design.

Sound Fusion also markets a range of vibration control devices, including equipment stands, CD player supports and Vibe Buster damping devices. The Hyperions are fitted with 4 massive spikes that fit into four Vibe Buster 1s which in turn sit on your floor. We'll come back to vibration control devices later, but first, lets spin a few discs.

 

Musically Speaking
Simply put, every single disc I play through the Meridian on this system leaves me thrilled with the music. This system has an immediacy and power that knocks my socks off. Richter' Appassionata from a brittle 1960's recording [Philips 456 949-2] has me playing violent air piano. Chava Alberstein's mesmerizing Margaritkalach [NMC 20126-2] brings her right into the room standing clearly just a few feet in front of me, just as she was in Toronto's Weston Hall this January.

There is no need to play great sounding CDs on this setup. I left all my HiFi discs behind. Instead I've been pulling out my favorite recordings and reveling in the experience. The noise floor is so low and the sound so clear you don't need to turn up the wick for the music to come to life. Listening at lower than normal levels coupled with the extremely flat frequency response (measured within 1.5dB from 100Hz to 20kHz), surface imperfections like tape hiss are minimized.

As an experiment I put on Hamelin's magical recording of Piano Concertos by Shostakovich and Shchedrin [Hyperion CDA 67425], reviewed here [Steve please insert Link]. Hamelin has lightening fast reflexes and this is exactly the system to do his performance justice. I tried to find out how the sound changes as you adjust the volume. Here's the thing it doesn't. Yes, it gets louder or softer of course, but the nature of the sound, the balance, detail and imaging stays the same. I wish my own system did this! If the music plays without apparent compression at the highest levels my ears can stand, then you can be assured that at normal listening levels, these speakers are not compressing dynamics to any significant degree, and that is why they sound so immediate, so realistic. They don't slow the music down by blunting the transients, and they don't decrease the vitality of music by compressing it.

These may not be the most accurate of speakers, or the most extended. Let's talk about that. There are certainly speakers that can reach down lower into the deep bass than these. After all, the Hyperions sport just two 6.5-inch midrange / woofers. The Hansen Kings or the TAD Model 1s, two of my favorite big speakers, have them beat there for sure. But neither can improve on the bass speed or pitch accuracy of the Hyperions, and I have not felt the need for more. In fact I tried two Sound Fusion Titan subwoofers with the Hyperions and decided not to feature them in this review because I never missed them once I took them out of service. At the top end, the ribbon tweeter is probably as extended as any other transducer, but while the response is flat when you stand between the speakers, the treble falls off rapidly as you move well outside the sweet spot, and again if you just stand up from your seat. However, that sweet spot can be quite wide. 

The setup for the listening test involved a 15 toe in with the speakers almost 10 feet apart and 18 feet from my listening position. As you reduce the toe in, the sweet spot expands and the speakers can be used comfortably used without any toe in. In fact this ribbon tweeter has a horizontal dispersion (35) more than twice as wide as most dome tweeters. The speakers were placed roughly 5 feet from the semi-circular rear wall in a room 20 x 35 x 8 (WxDxH in feet). Much of the wall space was fitted with a dispersive material. As for accuracy, I don't know for sure. I certainly am not aware of any particular distortions, no sins of commission, but that doesn't not mean there are no sins of omission.

 

Comparisons
The other top flight speakers all have their special strengths and my ears are not so sensitive as to be able to compare subtle nuances heard in years past in various systems and rooms. I can only tell you that perhaps only one speaker has ever brought me this level of realism, and that speaker, the exotic TAD Model 1 is a much more expensive proposition even before you factor in the cost of suitable power amplifiers.

When I'm having so much fun just listening to the music, it's difficult to start dissecting it and rating each element. It either works or it doesn't, and here it works. But for those of you who prefer the play-by-play, here you go.

Does each instrument sound the way it sounds I real life? No speaker is perfect in this regard, but the Hyperion does a wonderful job with the piano, traditionally the hardest instrument to reproduce. It preserves the weight, the color and the attack of all the various piano recordings I've thrown at it. Strings are clear and focused, although not as warm and textured as Sonus Faber's Homage speakers. I like the way the most delicate shadings are captured on Haydn String Quartet Opus 20 No2 [Astree E8786] played on original instruments by the Quatuor Mosaiques. Perhaps the most revealing instrument to look out for is the cymbal. So often the sound of brushes against metal is harsh or thin. Not so here. Art Pepper's New York Album [Analogue Productions APR 3012] surprised me in revealing a most delicate percussion touch that is as far from harsh as you can get.

 

The Finale Part 1
I've talked a lot about speed, and by that I mean how quickly do the drivers start on transients, and more importantly, how quickly do they stop vibrating when the music stops. To achieve this, which in my opinion is a far more important quality than a flat frequency response, you need lightweight diaphragms, amplifiers with high damping factors, high performance cables and control over resonances. This system performs magnificently in this regard. The explosion at the end of the Shchedrin Piano Concerto might have been written just to test the speed of every element in the chain of reproduction. Here it is like a bolt of lightening, and it stops just as quickly as it begins. If you haven't heard electrostatic headphones or speakers, you may not think this level of achievement possible. If you have, you are unlikely to have heard the full dynamic range that lightening strike demands, and which this system provides.

Did I just belittle the importance of a flat frequency response? This is a tough one to measure, since it is so room dependant, and where you sit or stand is also going to make a major difference. The best we can ask is that the speaker's response should have no obvious and sudden dips or peaks, on and off axis, and that the fall off at each end of the spectrum is as gentle and extended as possible. The Hyperion displayed no anomalies in this regard, but it is perhaps not the ultimate speaker for head bangers, or for the largest rooms.

As you move up into the realm of high-end stereo, you expect more resolution of fine detail. This is important to me too, and isn't it fun to say, "I never heard that before!"  But by resolution, I prefer to think of the ability to maintain all the strands of the music simultaneously. One instrument should not overwhelm another. It is important to have pinpoint location of each instrument or voice, so that the ear can make sense of the music. You achieve this by using small drivers, located close together to emulate as far as possible a point source. Many other factors are involved here of course, including phase coherency. This system scores very high on this measure, as do my reference Wilson Benesch Act 1s.

I cannot finish without remarking on the superb fit and finish of the speakers. You can get the in a wide range of finishes, and I suspect you could order custom finishes too. Here are prices for the standard finishes:

Macore             $18,000
Walnut               $18,000
Eucolyptus        $19,500
Paduck              $18,900
Mappa burl        $20,100
Sapelle              $20,100
Birdeye maple  $20,100

 

The Finale Part 2
Now for a word of warning. These speakers are extremely high-resolution beasts, and they will only sound as good as your source and preamp. They will expose all limitations in your source and preamp too. So take special care with the rest of your components and your cables. In preparing for this audition I found simply a world of difference between three digital sources. The first, the Meridian G08, sitting on Sound Fusion Sound Boosters and with a Sound Fusion Vibe Buster 2 placed on top of it, imaged very well and was quite dynamic, showing strong articulation and speed. The second, the Bluenote Stibbert sitting on a Sound Fusion suspension, was warmer and slightly higher in resolution, but also slower paced and with an image that shrank back somewhat to the speakers. The third, and excuse me while I keep you guessing for a while, was absolutely sensational.

Transient response was perfect, bass was far more resolved and articulate, dynamics were amazing and the level of realism much greater. All the listening comments above are based on this setup. Now I can tell you. It is the Meridian G08 again, only this time sitting on a Sound Fusion Universal CD Player Platform, which alone will set you back from $800 to $920 US, depending on finish. The Sound Boosters are not used in this setup, since the idea is to drain the vibrations from the CD Player into the acrylic shelf and from there to dissipate it into the three layers of suspension at work in the device. This is not a test of the Universal CD Player Platform, but it does speak volumes about the importance of vibration control. This message comes from someone who has only really worried about vibration control for his Linn Sondek LP12 until now.

Would I buy the Hyperions? Much as I admire the sound, I think they would look cosmetically a bit out of place in my living room. More importantly, they are really too large for my room, which would better accommodate the smaller Ariel speakers. For that reason I chose not to review the Hyperions at home. Instead I used a demonstration room in Sound Fusion's head office, and I brought my own CD Player and cables along for the ride. At home I use a Perreaux R200i Radiance integrated amp to drive the Act 1s, and I value just those aspects of performance I have found in such abundance today, speed, dynamics and imaging before all else. I would say my home system is a close match in speed and imaging, but for dynamics and extension at both ends of the frequency range, the Hyperion system has the edge. I also much prefer the looks of the Wilson Benesch speakers, which rival even Sonus Faber's best.

Should you buy the Hyperions? I think they are something special, but hey, I'm just one guy, and I like my music a certain way. The next reviewer may say something quite different. I recommend you seek them out and put them on your short list if you're spending five figures on speakers. Let me know what you think of them.

 

Specifications
Type: Full range, 2-way floor standing, front-ported, active

Tweeter: Ribbon LCY-110

Midrange/woofer: Two 6.5-inch Scan-Speak cut paper drivers

Crossover frequency: 2200Hz

Crossover slope: 26dB / octave 4th order

Frequency Response: 40Hz to 32kHz  (1.5dB)

Connectors: RCA

Dimensions: 48 x 9.5 x 18 (HxWxD in inches)

Weight: 115 lbs.

Price: From $18,000

 

Company Information

Sound Fusion Inc
1111 Flint Road, Unit #1
Downsview, Ontario
Canada M3J 3C7

Voice: (416) 645-1726
Fax: (416) 645-1727
E-mail: info@soundfusion.ca
Website: www.soundfusion.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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