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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Cairn Fog v2.0 24/192 CD player, Pro-Ject 2 Xperience turntable w/ Nagoaka MP30 cartridge [in for review], Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/AT95E cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Stingray, Audio Zone AMP-1, Sonic Impact Class T, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage, Graham Slee Era Gold Mk V [in for review]
Speakers: Meadowlark Kestrel 2, Green Mountain Audio Callisto [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Revelation interconnects, Chord Odyssey biwire speaker cable [on loan], el-cheapo Radio Shack zip cord, Audience powerChord AC cables, GutWire Power Clef 2 AC cable
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow, GutWire MaxCon.
Sundry accessories: Pro-Ject Speed Box, Pro-Ject Speed Box SE [in for review], Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Audience Auric Illuminator MkII, GutWire Notepads and SoundPads, Duende Criatura Tube Rings, AudioPrism Isobearings, dedicated AC line with Isoclean ICP-002 outlet, homebrew acoustic treatments.
Room size: 13' x 17' x 8'
Review Component Retail: CDN$4,800/pr
When it comes to multi-way loudspeakers, the majority of modern designs either put me to sleep with bland sameness or attempt to jam ice picks through my skull with excessive brightness. It seems the more so-called technology becomes incorporated in many loudspeakers, the less musical they turn out to be. I have no idea why but I suspect many of their designers are not particularly fond of music. Instead, they might be more interested in nice and neat response graphs. Far too many contemporary speakers sound overly bright and highlight leading edges, probably to give the illusion of offering more detail. Perhaps that makes them stand out in hasty A/B/A comparisons on the showroom floor of your local audio emporium. Frankly, the only current multi-driver designs that interest me are the ones that attempt to preserve the original waveform.
I am also becoming increasingly fond of single-driver and horn loudspeakers. While they may not earn top marks for smooth response curves and wide bandwidth, they certainly excel in conveying the drama, immediacy and excitement of music. Over the course of the last couple of years, the Meadowlark Audio Kestrel 2 and the quite spectacular Green Mountain Audio Callisto have swayed me heavily into the time/phase coherence camp. Of the horn and single-driver variety, Omega, Hørning and Cain & Cain have also impressed me. Therefore, a vertical baffle, multi-driver speaker has to be special indeed to catch my ear.
I first came across Living Voice while prowling the halls during last year's Stereophile show in New York. One room featured the Avatar OBX-R2 hooked up to Chord equipment, the other the middle-range Avatar with Exposure electronics. Here were loudspeakers that didn't at all sound as boring and antiseptic as most other models I heard at the show. These British imports indeed sounded rather unique and interesting to my ears. While perhaps not the most neutral or uncolored of speakers, both Living Voice models majored on musical communication. I had a long pleasant chat with their designer Kevin Scott who only piqued my curiosity further. After the show, I contacted the North American distributor, Jay Rein of Bluebird Music to arrange a review. While I was indeed impressed with the upscale models, I was curious to sample the entry-level Auditorium especially since it fits within the price range of products I cover for 6moons.
Nottingham/UK based Living Voice built their initial success from offering huge, extremely sensitive (105dB) folded horn designs that were perfectly acceptable if you happened to live in an aircraft hanger and had several Swiss bank accounts. Realizing that most music lovers do not have the money, space or even desire to own such behemoths no matter how good they sound, designer Kevin Scott created a more affordable and domestically harmonious range consisting of three rather plain-looking compact floorstanders. All three sport a high-density hardwood particleboard enclosure with a pair of 6-inch doped paper woofers flanking a soft dome tweeter in a high-sensitivity D'Appolito arrangement. The three models -- Auditorium, Avatar and Avatar OBX-R2 -- feature identical cabinets and sit on spiked plinth boxes. Most loudspeaker firms spend a larger parts budget on bigger boxes and more drivers. However Living Voice, marching to the beat of its own drummer, uses the same enclosure for every model and instead offers better drivers, improved crossover components and extra internal bracing as one moves up the line.
|The entry-level Auditorium utilizes Vifa components. The minimalist crossover consists of non-inductive wire-wound resistors and hand-wound air-core inductors. Arranged to limit crosstalk, crossover components are mechanically isolated from the enclosure. Sensitivity is a whopping 94dB and nominal impedance is a comfortable 6 ohms. If you think these speakers would be an excellent match for low-power tube amps, you are correct. In fact, Kevin designed his speakers specifically for push-pull tube amps of modest power ratings. I thought my 50-watt Manley Labs Stingray and the Auditoriums would be an ideal pairing. As it turned out, they indeed got along well.
|A wide variety of book-matched veneers are available. The surprisingly light 17kg cabinet sits on a small box plinth via a few globs of Blu-tac. The plinth provides proper driver height for a cabinet whose internal volume Living Voice determined was the optimum size for this driver arrangement. Each plinth includes four threaded spikes with nuts for a secure connection. Jay stressed they should be tightened firmly with a wrench for optimum sonics. Biwiring is available via four plastic-covered binding posts set on a recessed panel on the rear just under the bass port. Banana plugs are mandatory as it was impossible to squeeze spades in such a tight spot. I would have preferred flush-mounted posts rather than set back ones. While I am no fan of biwiring, Jay believes otherwise at least for Living Voice. Indeed, Kevin strongly recommended biwiring his speakers when I spoke to him at HE2004. He obviously designed and voiced them with biwiring in mind. Not having suitable banana-fitted biwire cables handy, North American importer Jay loaned me a set of well-used Chord Odyssey cables for the review. I listened to the Auditoriums in my listening room and later in our TV room. Both the opamp-based Audio Zone AMP-1 and Manley Labs Stingray drove these British imports without so much as a hiccup. I also used the dirt-cheap yet ridiculously decent Sonic Impact amp that Jeff Day enthused over recently. However, most of my listening|
|was via the Manley Labs Stingray, which drove the Auditoriums effortlessly with 50wpc of EL84 sweetness and texture. Sources were mostly my Cairn Fog for digital and the Pro-Ject 2 Xperience with Nagaoka MP-30 cartridge and Graham Slee Era Gold V handling the black stuff.|