World Premiere Review!
For as long as I can remember, I've been interested in audio and particularly the qualities associated with really good Stereophonic music reproduction. And I've often noted how there are such a myriad of different ways to design a pair of speakers and still get a high quality sonic illusion that easily communicates qualities like believable imaging, spatiality, height, dynamics, frequency extension, sense of immersion, and toe tapping musicality; should they be found in the recordings listened to in the first place. Apparently, speakers can come in all shapes and sizes, be constructed of wood, metal, glass, carbon-fiber, concrete, and even plastic. And they have been in use in telecommunications and related industries for almost a hundred and fifty years, now – the end of a long chain in a line starting (most often) with the microphone or pick-up; along with the telephone and phonograph which inspired it's creation.
Early on, I was lucky enough to attend recording sessions where my father would be playing keyboards: harpsichord, piano, organ, or clavichord. And the producer and engineer(s) would often bring several different pairs of speakers to use as control room monitors – these were their sonic window on the recording process. The B&W 801 (first made in 1979) was a perennial favorite, showcasing a big box woofer but with a midrange and tweeter that were in separate smaller cabinets that rested on top of the woofers. In my experience, this was one of the first designs I encountered where some kind of isolation and time alignment of the drivers was taking place. And this was before the compact disc (1983) had even been fully conceived or prototyped by Philips and Sony.
Another great speaker I first encountered was at a gathering at then Stereo Review magazine critic, David Hall's house; I was introduced to the highly respected Quad ESL-57; an odd, slightly curved rectangular panel with little depth that sounded amazingly transparent and immediate! Dare I say I was mesmerized by the sonics as well as the rest of the system, consisting of all original quad tube gear. David's explanation of the QUAD were a bit beyond my scope at the time, but since then I've developed a special love for how bi-radial figure-8 panel speakers can offer soundstage and imaging accuracy that is often unrivaled. I wonder whatever happened to that particular pair of speakers –hopefully still making beautiful music, somewhere out there?
Lastly (but hardly least), one of my parents dear friends, Harry & Natalie Maynard, owned a set of BSR two-way speakers that looked a lot like something out of a sci-fi film. Flat, black and four inches thick, they were a meter tall with a pair of rectangular pistonic drivers under an acoustically transparent grill cloth. Their voice-coils were unique and rectangular, made of a carbon doped plastic and designed to offer as little weight and sonic coloration as possible. Harry used them as the front pair of his four-channel quadraphonic (discrete) living room review system, with a pair of Ohm-Walsh dodecahedron (12-sided) speakers filling out the back channels. His devotion to getting the whole soundfield correct in his living room was legendary in the 1970's, and I was gifted with many listening sessions where he extolled quadraphonic tapes, records, and even four-channel replayed over two FM radio stations simultaneously and live – a triumph of the time both technologically and aurally.
The above three examples:
1) The B&W dynamic driver system is tight sounding but sometimes boxy or colored
2) The see-through transparent and boxless QUAD electrostatic panels, which have limited high level output (won't play loud), and being a complete dichotomy (opposite) of technological approaches to sound reproduction are still only two ways to make a loudspeaker. Others, like the
3) BSR mentioned above and many others exist and have come and gone over the many decades since Stereophonic (more than one channel) sound first came into production (1954, believe it or not). And with the switch from mono to stereo and more speakers also came an increase in the expected quality of those recordings.
Could those early much higher quality albums and recordings have something to offer us today not easily experienced with our modern audiophile designs? A different level of emotional involvement with our music than many are used to, these days?
Strolling up and down the long hallways of the Oakland Hilton, I saw and heard many intriguing stereo systems on display, many for the first time. And while there were examples of both fine and often expensive designs, with a few of them topping out near $500,000 clams, I found several more affordable options that sounded just fabulous for a fraction of that price. So it was with the PureAudioProject room, featuring the new Quintet15 Horn1 loudspeakers ($9990) designed by Ze'ev Schlik and powered here by the unique $13,000 Whammerdyne "Truth" Ultimate Tube Amplifier (uniquely simple output signal path) with Verastarr copper & silver foil cables.
These tall (84") two-way loudspeakers only became available to hear on the second day of CAS 2017 and featured no less than four – 15" woofers / low midrange drivers (per side) with a compression midrange / tweeter attached to a 14" by 6" flared wood horn in the middle of each speaker array; both custom made for PureAudioProject by Eminence Speakers LLC in the US. They included a high-end crossover with hand-wound coils by Mundorf, high resolution ceramic resistors by Mundorf /HP Audio, and caps by Mundorf / Rike Audio all connected point to point on a board with golden screw terminals.
And naturally, at this level, internal connection wire (and also speaker cable) was custom made by Verastarr in either 26 mm wide pure Silver or 11mm 99.9997% (9N3) pure Copper flat ribbon cable (Reference AudioFoils). Pretty much state of the art while looking and sounding as big as life, towering over me as you can see from the photos. They were powered by the three watt Whammerdyne "Truth" handmade, single-ended 2A3-based Ultimate Tube Amplifier ($13,000), which distinguishes itself by using absolutely no resistors or capacitors in the signal path! And in this special combination really made for a truly enjoyable and amazing, musical, tactile listening experience in a way that allowed me to more closely connect with the music being played than anything else at this show!
I returned to the PureAudioProject room quite a few times over the three days I was in attendance, first hearing and liking the smaller Trio15 Voxativ (see photos and the December 2017 Enjoy the Music.com reviw) and finding that the qualities exuded herein continued to increase in abundance with the larger Quintet15 Horn1. I heard things like wide front soundscaping, spot on timbre, pulsing rhythms, pinpoint imaging, heart pounding dynamics, live and realistic tone quality all combining to create some intense holographic magic rendered with elegant and realistic verisimilitude with all the fine musical selections I heard. Although quite a few of the other twenty CAS 2017 rooms caught my ears and eyes for various reasons, making my scoring process difficult, it was this particular combination that really hit me, repeatedly: I felt I was in the midst of the musicians each time I came in and listened for a spell.
And with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (Verve 1956) playing through either the Trio or Quintet speakers, it defined what I think and feel really producing an audiophile product is all about: Achieving that feeling that you're listening to real musicians creating live music, often with sufficiently tactile and otherworldly resolving power that you loose yourself in the illusion and feel it's real; like the individual dynamic and tonal qualities produced by these two great musicians and the Oscar Peterson band behind them. It's a miracle of sonic and historic time travel!
Setup And Review Process
The open baffle design in combination with a compression horn is nothing new; just Google it. But here, on a radial curved design, it seems to work wonders in a way that easily bridges the gap of time and place (imposed by a recording) to create meaning and emotional significance while listening to great music; a rare thing in these days of portable distraction and tiny ear buds. From the moment I started this new system up, featuring several different types tube, solid-state, and digital amplification in rotation, it became instantly apparent how every recording had something unique to offer through the Quintet15 Horn1. As you read within last month's Enjoy the Music.com December 2017 Review Magazine of the smaller PureAudioProject Trio15 Horn1 loudspeaker (reviewed by Paul L. Schumann), there is a special magic to how these speakers, with there simple crossover and custom drivers, just get out of the way of the sound and music. They are immediately capable of intoxicating qualities of persuasion while drawing the listener directly into the performance.
As you might imagine, set-up is key with these speakers in order to achieve the highest level of transparency because a significant amount of the sound energy is also coming out of the back of each speaker. Therefore, care must be taken to achieve the best in-room acoustic balances. The quality of sound and voicing of the speaker's generated soundfield is easily affected by the speakers proximity to nearby walls, ceiling and floor. Positioning at two feet from the rear wall is a recommended minimum distance. And a certain amount of experimentation is definitely advised; just a few centimeters movement can make the bass shine or become reticent and lacking. Thus a period of getting to know how best to set-up and appreciate these musical instruments is necessary; and reasonable considering the price point.
And because this is a modifiable (adjustable) speaker design, where the internal wiring and crossover elements are visible and accessible, special performance upgrade options include:
1) Choice of Silver or Copper flat foil cables
2) Different brands and types of capacitors, resistors, and inductors (many hand manufactured).
3) Alternate midrange / tweeter modules.
You are looking and listening to a speaker capable of changing its sonic spots easily with just a simple substitution. I did briefly play around by adding a Mundorf Cap to each crossover (a five minute process), and in so doing providing an alternate high frequency slope that better suited my choice of rooms. So it is a little hard to imagine not being able to create an outstanding musical presentation with these speakers, given a little listening and adjustments by the end user.
Sound And Music
Speakers are voiced by human beings and designed to operate in a certain room setting or size; most of the time. This is how products are produced for reliable and enjoyable sales. Yet the PureAudioProject Quintet15 Horn1 loudspeakers are sufficiently different in performance characteristics due to their open baffle design plus sculpted wood horn combined with simple and modifiable crossover networks that you are very likely to get sensational dynamic and tonally inspiring sound in most set-ups home or office settings I can typically imagine. I experimented with two different room interiors and several speaker locations throughout the ninth week on and off review period from the middle of August to November 2017.
Because the Quintet15 Horn1 is essentially a larger version of their smaller Trio15 Horn1 but with twice the effective woofer surface area to generate bass and lower midrange, thanks to twice the number of 15" woofers, the Quintet15 Horn1 will play more authoritatively and louder in larger rooms where a greater amount of air needs to be moved while the listener is often sitting or standing farther away. The intriguing curvature of the Quintet15's frame (not found on the Trio15) focuses the sound in a manner that mates well and quickly with most habitats. Sitting near or faraway, located in a medium or large room, given both small and large amplification, I had great success producing believable three dimensional imaging that (in a controlled acoustic) created a holographic sound image that spanned in front of the speakers from way left to way right and even beyond.
Now, what do I mean by that, exactly? Just have a listen to the XLO/Sheffield Labs Test & Burn-In CD (10041-2) with Track 2 "Relative Phase / Out-of-Phase" with Roger Skoff – one of my favorites for system set-up and evaluation. Roger's voice announcement is intended to verify phasing: whether + (red) and – (black) leads are correctly hooked-up between the amplifier and the speakers. But I like to also use it for imaging evaluation. And when everything is set-up correctly in a playback system, this particular announcement track images way out to the sides of your listening environment or even beyond – quite an audiophile thrill, really; considering you can turn your head the imaging stays off to the side.
When an "Out-of-Phase" signal (like XLO / Roger Skoff example above) images precisely and repeatedly off to the extreme left and right sides of your listening area (when seated in the sweet spot), then any recording with that kind of deep spatial information will also image correctly, out into your listening room. And here is where different recordings and albums will demonstrate significant acoustical information about the instruments, vocalists, or venue that can redefine your listening experience, entirely. And when I auditioned other material that I knew had such strong side soundstage imaging, it was no surprise that each item sounded uniquely different and vivid, especially through the Quintet15 Horn1.
Let's take a quick look and listen to the 1956 studio album called Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong on Verve (LP, CD, SACD, and Hi-Res Audio files of various degrees) and featuring the Oscar Peterson Quartet. This album was playing at CAS 2017 and at other shows, this and every year; be on the lookout for it. Technically, it's a simple mono (one channel) recording presenting eleven ballads all captured on August 16, 1956 at Capital Studios, Los Angeles. This is the beginning of the Capital Records era of great sound; and much of the artistry comes from the beautiful and intimate rapport between these amazing musicians, captured so subtly
Just have a listen to track 8 "Cheek to Cheek" by Irving Berlin in any of the versions available and you will be drawn in by this seductive production by Norman Granz; particularly so when heard on the Quintet15 Horn1 loudspeakers and a simple tube amp (Rogers, Bob Carver, Mesa Boogie, etc.). And not a lot of watts are needed since these are extremely efficient (>96dB/W/m) speakers. But the better the amps, the better the sound reproduction; especially from the Digital Amplifier Company's Golden Cherry Amps, which distinguished themselves by not changing their sound quality at all regardless of material being played or it's playback volume.
An album reminiscent of James Bond from the 1960's but with consistently stunning sound quality is the CD of Austin Powers Complete Scores, Baby [RCA Victor 63735] featuring a huge array of instrumentation and recording techniques. George S. Clinton is a master of film & television composition and his unerring ability to be inspired by and graft the Bond style mixed with jazz of the period onto Mike Meyers' English spy comedy provides both a great musical backdrop but also a terrific audiophile listening session, anytime. Track 7."Probe / Fembots / Evil Orbit" and Track 15. "Chess" are easy picks for listening and evaluation of any high-end audio gear, with "Probe" giving a huge orchestral soundstage with excellent dynamics and detailed tone quality and "Chess" creating a much more intimate image with more individual elements of the ensemble soloing, such as the harp, hammered dulcimer, and guitar; creating clearly defined acoustic boundaries of the recording studio with individual musicians playing within. And vivid and compelling are two terms I'd use to describe the sound of this album played on the Quintet15 Horn1 speakers, with a compelling sense space depicted both in front of and behind the loudspeakers that sounds quite authentic and tactile – sprawling imagery (again given a well tuned room).
As a remastering engineer (since 1990), it's always rewarding to go back and listen to fine work done by others, and witness fully realized versions of great songs under the ear of a master. And so I delight in Steve Hoffman's outstanding work remastering top 40 on the album Awesome '80s [OPCD-4551]. From the very first track of this two disc compilation: (1-01) "Another One Bites The Dust", Queen sets the stage for a rip roaring couple of hours that are far, far more involving than listening on the car radio ever was. Tiny details that often are taken for granted or missed altogether are clearly fleshed out by the Horn1 and supported by the eight 15" woofers, that manage an unusually good balance with most rooms the speakers are set-up correctly in. It is this coupling of the speaker to the room that makes such a remarkable contribution to the overall sound and musical pleasure derived when hearing music through the PureAudioProject loudspeakers. Conversely, if I listen to the same songs but from their original CD releases that were not remastered by Steve Hoffman, they sound distinctly different; both the tone and the space of the songs are different; sometimes being similar and almost as good, but often not – proving that the quality of the acoustic engineering in the Quintet 15/Horn 1 is truly of a refined order that can present music (and audio containing dialog) with startling immersion.
Lastly, I'd be remiss not to comment on what some recordings I have personally produced, recorded, remastered, etc. sound like under controlled conditions. And as you can imagine, most folk do not have the professional experience comparing actual live sound at the concert hall, studio, or wherever with the sound achieved in the recordings of that same sound. Microphones all sound different, and engineers can produce any sound they desire, given enough skill, luck, or people. But it is an entirely different thing to produce a stone sober mirror facsimile of that live sound out of a pair of speakers. And few will have even imagined that this is possible or is a trick of the mind. Let me tell you about the albums:
Pennies From Heaven w/ Clark Terry (Chesky JR2 – 1990)
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons w/ Igor Kipnis (Chesky CD78 – 1993)
Chants & Carols: The Yale Russian Chorus (Epiphany Recordings Ltd. EP9 – 2005)
Concerts Royaux: Baroque Flute Chamber Music (Epiphany Recordings Ltd. EP23 – 2017)
Epiphany Recordings Ltd. - Concert & Test Sampler (Epiphany Recordings Ltd. EP7 – 1994)
Each of these albums has been produced and engineered using ONLY a single stereo microphone, so that the stereophonic imaging over speakers (and headphones) is realistic and repeatable on many different playback systems. I would encourage everyone to assemble a small group of albums (format is less important) that they are very familiar with to use when comparing speakers and other aspects of one's stereo system and it's gear. By carefully listening to this small well known group of albums (or tracks), over and over, again, you will slowly be able to discern whether significant changes have occurred during an equipment substitution or even how atmospheric changes from day to day effect the acoustics of your room. In any case, you are certain to find better and worse sounding recordings but the best will shine out in ways that are clearly obvious and enjoyable to hear. Go explore!
And when all of that was carefully tabulated and compared, measurements and listening observations, the results were obvious: the very same pair of speakers I had heard at CAS2017, sans hand-made Whammerdyne amp, produced wonderfully immersive, tactile, dynamic, tonally nuanced presentations that could throw a substantially believable soundstage out into the listening room. At the audio shows, including Rocky Mountain 2017, the smallness of the hotel rooms was not an issue for Ze'ev Schlik (CEO of PureAudioProject) to create striking and involving presentations. And I was able to achieve as much and more in my much larger playback rooms under both better and worse acoustical settings. And while it still required a little bit of experimentation for several hours over a number of days (or weeks) the sonic end results are riveting and a bit intoxicating; resulting in many, many long nights of listening well past normal bedtime.
If your desire is to connect with your music, then you probably already have a substantial investment in your audio and, dare we say, video system. But even if you don't, you might be surprised how obviously superior some speakers are to others. And that superiority can take many forms: size, shape, sound, and how they make you feel. PureAudioProject's latest loudspeaker design, the Quintet15 Horn1, takes its place among a cherished handful of great speakers that are true musical instruments. I mentioned a few that I came across growing up in my introduction. Each continues to have merits that draw attention from audiophiles, even today. The asking price of $9990 is reasonable given the quality of the custom components and the perceived listening value provided by this new speaker system. And I suspect that anyone already committed to high-end sound will be thrilled to add the Quintet15 to their systems. Furthermore, I have requested additional pairs of this brand of speaker to create a true (8 to 12) multi-channel music / media / movies & television playback system. Please stay tuned!