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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000 and Hadcock GH Export arms, Rega Super Elys & Garrott Bros Optim FGS Cartridges
Digital Source: Accustic Arts Drive 1/Audio Aero Prima SE DAC
Preamp: Bel Canto Pre2P
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bel Canto e.One REF1000 and Canary CA-330 monos, Opera Audio Cyber 211 monos [on extended loan], Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated
Speakers: Tidal Audio Pianos, Hørning Perikles, Thiel CS 2.4, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade
Speaker cables, interconnects and digital cables: JPS Labs Superconductor 3
Power Cords: JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords, ZCable Heavys, Red & Black Lightnings
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Cyclone Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance Platform, 2-inch Butcher Block platforms with Quest for Sound Isol-pads, Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy ZSleeves, Viablue QTC spikes under speakers, Auric Illuminator, Gingko Audio Mini Clouds
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $6,500/pr

Regular readers will hopefully appreciate our lack of formula. Unlike other sites whose formulaic fill-in-the-blanks reviews are made obvious as you click from one review to the next, 6moons was conceived as a gathering place for multiple and varied voices; as a regular melting pot of opinions and writing styles. From the start it was the publisher's expressed belief that any piece under review should dictate how best it would be written about. If it took 500 words to complete the tale, so be it. If it took 6000, then that's what it would be. At least in theory.

In practice, it's not quite that simple. Yes, sometimes a product is so far removed from the norm as to mandate such in-depth analysis. At other times, a product can be effectively summed up in a considerably shorter report. The Hyperion HPS-968 is just such a product. These speakers could probably be summed up in five or six paragraphs and most readers would know everything they wished to know about their performance. Alas, the naysayer and those who simply enjoy reading in-depth scrutiny would come away shortchanged. With that in mind, I'll attempt to appease both appetites.

The first thing brevity is the soul of wit readers need to know is that the Hyperion speakers are
indeed as good as you've heard elsewhere. I never did get to hear the earlier HPS-938 but Hyperion has been listening to the comments of those who have and the 968 is their answer to all those assessments and requests. The second thing you need to know is that I believe this model to be an important product because never before has such an accomplished and complete speaker been made available for the HPS-968's asking price of $6,500/pr. Never before was such a speaker this domestically friendly; this deep and powerfully articulated in the bass; this accurate and uncolored in the midrange; and this clean and sweet in the treble. Period. If you're looking for a full-range speaker with no glaring faults, this is it. If you're looking for a remarkably versatile speaker that is easy to place, here it is. If you want a speaker that'll take you off the audiophile treadmill to instead let you hear as much of your music as possible without introducing potentially troublesome artifacts, you simply must hear a pair of Hyperion HPS-968s. It's plainly an exceptional all-around speaker that looks great and is priced more than right. If you have a friend who appreciates good sound but knows nothing about what the market bears -- nor cares to -- introduce him to the Hyperions. He'll be indebted to you for years to come.

More specifically, the Hyperion is a powerful and robust-sounding speaker that will take you from the very deep bass (25Hz) to the highest of highs (25kHz) with an uncommon degree of warmth and smooth musical finesse that runs with the best of anything I've heard in the class. At 90dB sensitivity, this speaker also sports a benign impedance (6-ohms nominal, 3.8 ohms minimum) that makes it easier to drive than most of its natural competition and equally copasetic with tubes and transistors. In terms of colorations and idiosyncrasies, the HPS-968 does have a distinct personality. It's full and it's warm. It's smooth, laid-back and musically forgiving. It's a relaxed come-hither speaker, not an in-your-face activist. The words sterile and analytical are anathema to the 968 and never to be mentioned in the same breath as the Hyperion brand.

There, that's it. That's as much as I believe most music-first buyers need to know. Unless you have a tiny room or camp on a basketball court; unless your budget is thrice the Hyperions' price - you need to put these speakers on the top of your audition list.

That's it, truly. You guys and gals are excused now because it's time to get into the minutiae where only the truly manic will feel compelled to tread. You go ahead and listen instead. Have fun.

Back to the beginning
The basic form factor of the Hyperion loudspeaker hasn't changed much over its predecessor. For specs, it carries a quoted frequency response of 25Hz to 25kHz, a 90dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6-ohms, 3.8 ohms minimum. Hyperion recommends a minimum of 10 watts and a maximum of 200, seeming perfectly reasonable to me. When stacked upon the HPS-968's brass footers, the speaker stands about 44 inches tall, 19 inches
deep and 12 inches wide and tips the scales at 86 pounds (21 lbs for the head, 65 lbs for the bass cabinet). Filter frequencies are said to be at 150Hz and 3kHz and right now you can get this model finished to please your interior decorator as long as she's a big fan of glossy black.

I asked Hyperions' Albert Wu to outline what differentiates the 968 from the older 938. And so he did:

1. Driver design:

2nd generation midrange driver with mechanical rear pressure reduction device and hard surround, which evolved this midrange driver into one the of the best in the world. It is faster and even cleaner than that of the HPS-938. The speaker now covers 20Hz to 25kHz with 2nd generation aluminum-cone woofers. The midrange covers from 150Hz to 3kHz.

2. Crossover Design
Perfect matching of custom drivers with cabinets instead of music-killing capacitors, the new crossover design achieves extreme phase accuracy. No low-pass cut on the midrange driver which runs open at the bottom and all drivers are on 1st-order filters.

3. Cabinet Design
Enlarged bass cabinet for deeper base extension is now back-ported.

4. Advanced Features
Adjustable tilt angle for head unit to lock in the sweet spot with the included laser pointer. 8dB room reactance control for adjusting treble to different room conditions. 3-point head placement on bronze-bearing spheres for easy installation.

What hasn't changed is the use of Hyperion's spider-less driver assemblies that feature flat centers (not dust caps) direct-coupled to the voice coils behind them and thus eliminate the standard spider as the more conventional driver suspension [right].

On your mark - ready, set, stop!

Following a 3-week break-in period during which the Hyperions were left to play all day while the family was out of the house, it came time to move them into the listening room and commence critical listening. In doing so, I noticed something I wish I hadn't. During mid-bass enriched programming -- i.e. those musical elements that require real excursions of the midrange driver -- I could hear a buzzing and scraping sound from both midrange units. The origins of this didn't take the skills of a highly trained detective to ferret out. While the speakers seemed to have arrived in pretty good shape, as I unpacked the boxes it became obvious that these speakers had been manhandled and abused en route. One grill from each speaker had its pins sheared off by the forces encountered, for example. While it would be easy to fault the manufacturer for not designing, producing and packaging a product to withstand whatever the men in brown decide to dish out, I do have to say that as an audio reviewer, I've encountered shipping damages that evidenced abuses well beyond what should be reasonably anticipated. I'm talking about abuses that if you knew were going to be inflicted on your property, you'd find another way to get it there.

Once notified of the problem, Hyperion's Albert Wu was so doubtful that both midrange drivers could have been damaged simultaneously in transit that he insisted upon a personal visit. He didn't say so but I knew that he arrived expecting to find something other in the system responsible for the buzzing than his proprietary drivers. I had two options then. I could take offense at this presumption or view Mr. Wu's insistence as assurance that this indeed was a rare occurrence, so rare in fact that he felt compelled to make a personal road trip and see with his own eyes. I chose the latter. Fortunately, Albert brought with him two fully broken-in head units and after better than a month's delay to coordinate our schedules, I was back in business.

On the road again
I had one more unanticipated hitch, however. During the time the speakers had been sidelined, I'd completely forgotten one of their key features - the ability to dial in tweeter output to suit a room, tastes or both. At first I'd assumed that these robust beauties were just too much speaker for my room because their balance unduly favored the bass. Eventually it dawned on me: the tweeter control. Each speaker is equipped with a 5-stop potentiometer so the user can dial in treble output of -4dB, -2, 0, +2 and +4dB. Mr. Wu had delivered the pair at -4dB. When I'd unboxed the first pair and readied them for break-in, I'd adjusted the virgin speakers to -2 while the fresh tweeter was still a little hot. As the speakers settled in and the tweeter smoothed out, I found the 0 setting to be just right. Yet in my smaller room, the 968's tonal balance was best restored with a setting of +2dB as the sound went from bloated and recessed to warm and full yet essentially neutral.

In my room, these speakers sounded wonderful right where most other speakers do. The tweeter was about 40 inches from the front wall and with about four feet to the left sidewall and five feet to the right. After experimenting with toe-in, I ended up with a fair amount such that the tweeter axes crossed well behind my head but with a good amount of the inside panels visible. In short, I found the speakers easy to place and optimize and not terribly fussy about placement.

The 968s were born to rock. Their effortless bass communicated both ease and authority. The opening bass lines on "Love Will Keep Us Alive" from the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over [GEFD-24725] didn't as much hit me in the chest as engulf and energize the room to saturate me in a bath of low frequencies. These speakers don't kick you in the pants as much as they saturate the room with energy and warmth. They trade some supernatural punch for what to me is a more natural way of loading the space. "Tequila Sunrise" produced a pleasing degree of bass palpability and detail that put to rest any fears of a billowing and indistinct underbelly. The opening sequence of "Hotel California" showed the Hyperions perfectly capable of layered depth as the classical guitar was clearly placed upfront of the stage while most other musicians assumed various positions in the rear. The bass drum on this cut is recorded overly ripe but the 968s produced it cleanly
and effortlessly without undue drama. Low-level instrumental articulation was very good. The harmonic overtones of the 12-string guitar were reproduced smartly with a good amount of detail and sparkle but no brittle hardness or piercing barbs. The myriad of acoustic guitars put the treble performance of these speakers in an excellent light. There was plenty of detail and natural timbre but I never got the feeling that the tweeter was working hard to be noticed. At all times the treble was sweet and smooth and quite natural. In other words, you find yourself listening to the music, not the speakers. "Wasted Time" demonstrates just how smooth and liquid these speakers can sound. Yes, the bass drums are exciting and the string section soars. But the piano sounds remarkably balanced, even and natural and it contrasts Henley's voice so nicely as to lend the song an air of unanticipated sophistication. It's quite beautiful, actually.

If these speakers are going to be faulted at all, it will likely be by those who fault such a level of sophistication. If you like your music raw and at times impolite; if you like your speakers to peel back the paint on occasion; the 968s may not be your first choice. The HPS-968s are so warm, smooth and lush that it's only in the rarest of situations where they may exhibit such boorish behavior. I have to admit that on occasion, I did wish they would cut loose just a bit more to get down and dirty. But when one considers all that the speaker does for the money, I have to conclude that not only do I seem to want my cake and eat it too, I want it without calories to boot. In this price range, it's still easy to fault just about any speaker. The question becomes how silly you must be and how low you have to reach to find that something. In the case of these Hyperions, you really have to dig deep. For your money, these speakers offer an unprecedented degree of everything. You won't find many speakers that offer this degree of fit and finish for starters. If you do and they offer this degree of power, extension and dynamic expression in the bass, I'll bet you a nickel that they won't have this degree of detail and finesse in the treble. My experience is that speakers in this class usually have it in the bass or the treble but not both. A prime example of that was the Soliloquy 6.5. In 2002, it sold for $400 more than these Hyperions do today. In some ways, it was one of the more impressive full-range speakers I've reviewed in its class and a ton of speaker for the money. It offered all the audiophile niceties as well as powerful bass and a first-class midrange. Its Achilles heel, however, was a somewhat unrefined treble. I view the Hyperion HPS-968 as a very similar type of speaker - but without a single fly in the ointment.

It's not that the speaker can't be bettered in one area or another. Though the midrange is very good, I have heard better. Quite recently, too. Both my Hørning Perikles and the recently vacated RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8s possess a more detailed, open, immediate and transparent vocal band. Both will set you back another $2,000 as well. Yet neither will even
approach the level of warmth and bass power the Hyperions have. I also must say that I'm impressed by the finesse of Hyperion's treble. I like that it's there when it needs to be but never draws attention to itself. It's stealthy. Of course, you can dial that treble any way you like.

These speakers are almost equally at home in large and small rooms. They sound great in my almost thrice-sized living room where I played them for weeks during break-in. I loved their big sound and equally expansive bass. After a week or so of playing in that larger room, I decided I liked the tweeter best at -2dB. When I moved the speakers into my smaller listening room, the balance naturally shifted significantly toward the bass region to necessitate a rebalanced tweeter. The +2dB setting restored that spectral equilibrium. The low and upper bass were both very full but not distractingly so. I wouldn't recommend these speakers in a room much smaller than mine though. In this setting, the overall character of the vocal range was similar to that of the Thiel CS 2.4s, which incidentally just incurred a healthy price increase. If you find Thiels bright (I don't) or wish for more mid-bass heft,
Hyperion HPS-968 at the NYC HE 2007 show. Visit Marc Philip's French show report for his impressions on the room.
the Hyperions should be on your list. The Thiels won't approach the same degree of bass extension and ease either.

Audiophiles are a notoriously picky and sometimes even fanatical bunch. We love to split hairs. When asked for recommendations, I usually get a little uneasy. We can find any number of reasons to exclude from consideration some really excellent products. I love hearing from people who are looking for their first high-end system. "Can you recommend to me something I'll like
better than my Bose system?" These are my favorite letters. To people who simply want a really good speaker for their investment and won't go rabid over gear, there are some truly idiot-proof speaker recommendations in any number of price ranges. For about $1600, the ACI Sapphire XLs are a no-brainer monitor. For twice their budget, the Gallo Reference 3.1 is a speaker at around $3,000 only the truly irrational can find fault with. At twice that budget again, the Hyperion HPS-968 is a very different kind of speaker worth twice the investment because most rational music lovers would be happy to live with it until the end of time. It's easy to appreciate what this level of speaker brings to the table and why it costs more than the others I mentioned. You pay more and you clearly get more. It's an easy and rational recommendation for the rationally minded - and even the irrational ones perhaps who would also consider the truly exceptional Tidal Audio Pianos at their ultra-serious sticker of $17,000/pr.

Having started my Hyperion journey with the Bel Canto Reference 1000 Class D monos, I thought I had a handle on the 968s. That is, until I put them on a pair of Opera Audio Cyber 211 SETs. What a beautiful combination. Resolution took a great stride forward as did dimensionality. "If You Say Goodbye" from Peter Frampton's Live in Detroit [International 06076 86291-2] frankly shocked me. I've been enjoying the DVD for years and purchased the CD mainly for car use. But man did it sound great now. What really impressed me were the acoustic guitar pieces. Everything about the attack, the decay and the overtones of Frampton's guitar spelled authenticity. These speakers are very visual, too. They throw up a very dense image that invites the listener to reach out and try to touch it. The delicate ride cymbal about 2:20 into the song really impressed with its delicacy and the fact that it came from as far back on the stage as it did. Plus, there was precious little between Frampton's vocals and I. The acoustic simplicity continued on "Oh For Another Day" and the sense of air and space around his guitar was almost spooky. If I say these speakers excel on acoustic instruments, it shouldn't be taken to mean they shortchange other forms of music. They don't. But they simply sounded... well, I'll say it, astonishing on this disc. I found it truly astonishing that such a wholly complete and full-range speaker in this price class could simultaneously sound so musically adept and communicative. If you want to hear how far into a recording these speakers can take you, try this Frampton disc or another like it.

You see, I'd pretty much made up my mind that with everything these speakers do so well, they just wouldn't compete with the likes of a good single-driver speaker as the Lamhorns in the area of immediacy - and in truth, they really can't. But I'll be damned if this recording and these 211 amps didn't help close that gap to an almost unbelievable extent. That was the source of my astonishment. Even considering their 90dB sensitivity, I wouldn't have dreamed that the Cyber 211s could prove this good a match yet there was no doubt that unless your room is fairly large or you like your music crazy loud, I have to wholeheartedly recommend this very combination. In every aspect, the amplifiers sounded much more powerful than rated and the Hyperions responded to them in the most musical and insightfully demonstrative of ways. Time and again I kept asking myself, could I live with this pairing? only to feel my unequivocal yes regardless from what angle or aspect I considered the question.

The HPS-968s image beautifully, too. Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels [Warner 925900-2] was positively huge and open. When I listen to this disc with my eyes closed -- and when it's done right -- I usually envision a 4th-of-July night sky with sonic fireworks exploding here and there and everywhere ever so randomly. Bells over there, a drum over here, some fleeting percussion at the rear of the stage and it's gone. A guitar will enter from nowhere way over there and then quickly disappear again. Various Bobby McFerrin vocalizations absolutely pepper the stage at various locations. Every once in a while the sky will explode with a burst of deep bass energy that'll shake the room's foundations if the speakers are up to it. And the Hyperions brought it all to life in my room. The vocal and sonic pyrotechnics imaged sharply and solidly and they could be heard emanating from just about anywhere at the front of my room, with points of origin anywhere between the floor and ceiling. Spectacular. On "Coolsville", Anderson almost sings a duet with herself where one of her incarnations originates from distinctly behind the other at the rear of the stage. High percussion is crisp yet without edge.
Deep percussion is just as crisp but powerfully so without slurring or overhang. From top to bottom, I doubt that I've heard this CD sound better. Anderson's voice is clean and unfettered and originates from a point on the stage but frequently reverberates then as it expands like concentric rings on a pond until its amorphous and almost ghostly body seems everywhere before me. This was a top-flight presentation by Hyperion, of a very exciting Bob Ludwig recording. Well done!

The Hyperions more closely resemble my German Tidal Audio Pianos that sell for almost three times their price than they do any other speaker under my roof. They have the big and extremely smooth personality of the Pianos though they are slightly easier to drive and thus a good choice for various tube amplifiers. They're slightly smoother and rounder than the Thiel CS2.4s and by virtue of their compatibility with SET amplifiers, can portray a more open and immediate midrange. They of course don't quite stack up to the ultra transparency and immediacy of the $8000 Hørning Perikles with its Lowther midrange but in turn you get an easier-to-place speaker with much deeper and more powerful bass. In my field of reference speakers, I have three very strong contenders in what each of them does best. There's no doubt that the Hyperions stand very tall amidst such competitors.

Alright already. No matter what reader expectations may have been, by now I should have made my point about these speakers abundantly clear. The new Hyperion HPS-968s are clear winners and should please an enormously large group of listeners. I can't think of anything that I've heard in their class that betters them in top-to-bottom performance. Bass fanatics take note - these speakers do bass. Vocal fans? You'll probably have to go to a single-driver horn or superior electrostat to significantly better the Hyperions. Good luck dealing with the numerous tradeoffs though. Are you a rock fan? These speakers just about do it all and they're fast and powerful. Classical fans? Yes, they have you covered. If you're not
impressed by the beautiful soundstaging and smooth linearity, their excellent depth of field should grab your attention. As a matter of fact, about the only thing these speakers don't do is come in your choice of finishes - though give Hyperion time to work on that, too. Highly recommended for your audition!
Manufacturer's website