World Premiere Review!
The ClairAudient 1+1, and its newer V2 version, the subject of this work, is an extraordinarily compact and extremely high-performance mini-monitor. Their uniquely truncated, multi-faceted, beveled trapezoidal shape, is just 8" high, 9.75" deep, and a scant 6" wide. Weighing well under eight pounds apiece, each speaker employ's a pair of Audience A3S active drivers in a bipolar configuration, one centrally located on both the front and back black baffles. They further employ a pair of slightly larger passive radiators, with one centered on each of the beautiful rosewood-grain finished side baffles. The result is a striking crossoverless point source design that is deceptively unassuming.
When I auditioned the original (now called the V1) ClairAudient 1+1 PRM (Personal Reference Monitors) here in July of 2014, I was blown away by their singular voice. While they had their apparent drawbacks, (namely, limited LF extension as well as a necessarily restricted dynamic and SPL capability), I concluded the review by saying, "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!"
With the introduction of its ClairAudient 1+1 V2 and 1+1 V2+ Personal Reference Monitors, Audience has incorporated a host of innovations, starting with a newly realized version of the A3 driver, the A3S2-16. The A3S2-16 was developed to eliminate the use of jumper wires and 10 solder connections required to convert the dual 8-Ohm voice coil of the original A3S2 design to a single 16-Ohm voice coil featuring an exclusive titanium alloy cone material fashioned in a curvilinear shape, the new concave dust cap has been specifically constructed to control high-frequency cone breakup and provide for more optimum dispersion. The surround features a unique "S"-shape, allowing it to behave more closely to an ideal pistonic radiator.
It further incorporates a more powerful motor, achieved through the use of higher quality steel for the magnets, allowing an excursion of 12mm, or nearly half an inch! As a result of the retooling of the basket and more effective CNC machining of the motor structure, they have also been able to achieve a higher tolerance fit of motor to basket assembly. Finally, they now use Audience's own proprietary OCC copper tensile wires throughout its assembly.
That defines the changes wrought to yield the V2 iteration. The V2+ includes all those improvements, and adds the striking-looking solderless Tellurium spring tension binding posts as well as incorporating Audience Au24 SX wire for all internal wiring. Though I have no sense of how much more sonically neutral the new five-way binding posts may be, I can say that the SX cables have set an entirely new bar for Audience cable performance. See my take on benefits of the superlative SX cables here.
The Sound Of Music
At first blush, the V2 sounded so much bigger; they clearly sounded like a physically larger speaker. And, while they were still not going to play at arena rock concert levels, they effortlessly played at considerable louder levels than the V1's. More on these attributes soon enough.
And, they were able to dig deeper than the V1's too. In my main rig, situated along the short wall in a room that is 44.5 feet long, by 13 feet wide, and 7.5 feet tall, they were positioned in the same location that my VSA reference speakers normally occupy, with the front baffle some 74" out into the room, away from the front wall. While they still don't have deep or macrodynamic enough performance below about 70Hz at that distance from the wall (hey, did I mention they use a pair of three-inch active drivers loading a pair of four-inch passive radiators playing over 6 feet away from a wall?), what the updated version of the ClairAudient 1+1 V2+ can do, and in such a good sized space, is phenominal!
And talk about resolution! And transparency! And truthful timbre! As good as the V1's are, I was hardly prepared for the unmistakable advances made in these previously highly-accomplished areas. They are every bit as significant and apparent as the improvements in their bottom end extension and overall sonic character. The exposure of violin characteristics, it's bloom and body as well the wooden piquancy of its sound, beyond merely string and bow, on recordings like the Bach "Violin Concerto #1 In A Minor, BWV 1041," from Bach: Violin Concertos and Double Concertos (Philips) or Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for Strings, Op. 48" by The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner (London), was revelatory. In this regard, the 1+1 V2+ virtually rivals my $60,000 reference loudspeakers! Yes, you read that right!
But I was truly taken with their accomplishment of a larger sense of scale, of sounding so much bigger than their diminutive size would suggest. Combined with their ability to scale louder, and slightly deeper, they also were presenting me with a stage size that was extraordinarily wide and deep. Images were remarkably "right" in their size, placement, and especially in the way that the sense of "air" around them, and the space between them, was rendered.
Next, I installed them on the same stands in my second listening space, which is also my theater. Using over-achieving Emotiva pre- and power amplification, sourcing from either an optical disc player or my dedicated music server (the same one I used in my big rig) over my home network, cabled with a synergistic mix of SoundString and Audience cabling, I would now be able to pair them with a subwoofer.
One of the advantages here would be having the ability to manage the frequencies directed to the 1+1 V2+ as satellites and the subwoofer using an active crossover. With the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) management available from the Emotive processor/preamplifier, I could now remove frequencies (in this case I settled on 65 Hz) below their natural roll off from even being sent to the 1+1 V2+; this yields multiple advantages. First, the speaker wouldn't be straining itself by trying to reproduce any signal below that selected flex point, frequencies that it wouldn't be able to play anyway because of its physical restrictions.
This has an enormous secondary benefit. By removing everything below 65Hz from even being directed to the 1+1 V2+'s, and sending those lower frequencies only to the active subwoofer, we are relieving them of the wasted effort attempting to generate frequencies below their effective range; frequencies that may contribute mechanically induced driver distortion which would affect the purity and speed of the frequencies in their effective range. This allows them to be more efficient, to more effortlessly and dynamically reproduce the frequencies above the flex point that they can handle.
Revelations And Disappointment
Yet even in this case, the results were clear. They were now capable of rendering an even greater sense of clarity, transparency, and focus, having been relieved of the duty of the attempting to play the lowest octave and a half of the musical spectrum. Transients were exhilaratingly fast, tone undeniably faithful, pitch irrefutably truthful, and transparence to the source was ruthlessly honest.
While it's true that the ClairAudient 1+1 V2+ suffers the physical limitations imposed by the use of such small drivers, limited low frequency extension, SPL capability, and macrodynamic slam, what it achieves beyond those confines is simply extraordinary. My belief is that there are a great many listeners, especially those who listen in small to medium sized spaces, at moderate to moderately loud volumes, primarily to intimately scaled or otherwise acoustic music (like some forms of classical, jazz, folk, blues, or bluegrass genre's), that will find them to deliver more than they've ever dreamed they could afford! Those who need the additional support below the 1+1 V2+'s natural roll off in the bass should explore paring them with a great pair of subs. Honestly, I know of no other speaker available for less than $35,000 to $40,000 that can come close to, let alone rival, their tonal purity, coherence, transparency, and resolution. That's just how damn good they are.
Note that you will need to mate them with the best electronics and cables available or you may be likely to attribute the weaknesses of upstream component or cable to some defect of these virtually perfect transducers. While I concede that they are not for everyone, and that not everyone will "get" just what stellar performers they are, those who do will find that they can enjoy a form of musical nirvana normally reserved for people who are able to spend more like $40,000 on speakers...