Audience ClairAudient The One loudspeaker Page 2
In setup 2the Ones on the console table, driven by Creek electronicsthe speakers' overall timbral balance and articulation were pretty much identical to that of setup 1 in the midrange and highs. Alison Krauss's Forget About It (CD, Rounder 11661-0465-2) revealed her rich and holographically reproduced voice, with all stringed instruments articulated with high frequencies extended and intact. The low end did seem more extended with setup 2. "The Man-Machine," from Kraftwerk's Minimum-Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60611), features some thundering electronic percussion on the bottom, and these were reproduced with clarity, drama, and sock, though the Ones didn't shake the room as other speakers have with this track. Similarly, in Stampede, the second movement of Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto, with pianist Keith Jarrett, Naoto Otomo, and the New Japan Philharmonic (CD, New World NW 366-2), there is a highly spirited interchange between pounding lower-register clusters in the piano and a fortissimo bass drum. The Ones reproduced this perfectly, with startlingly explosive high-level dynamics, and the most realistic reproduction of a bass drum I've heard from a small bookshelf speaker.
It reminded me of the sound of a performance of this work I heard more than 25 years ago from my front-center orchestra seat at Carnegie Hall, again with Jarrett, and Dennis Russell Davies conducting the American Composers Orchestra. However, with the speakers closer to the wall behind them, this recording's depth was foreshortened compared with how it sounded with the speakers in free space.
With the console table system, I tried the Ones sitting directly on the table and on their optional desk stands, which, designed as they are for nearfield desktop listening, tilt the speakers up at a slight angle. The stands made no change in timbral or dynamic performance, and will be a good option for those who want to use the Ones in a computer-based system. Finally, I also tried the Ones with Audience's own Ohno speaker cables. The Audience cables and my reference Acarian Systems Black Orpheus cables were both neutral and detailed, but I felt the Ohno had a slightly cleaner upper bass, the Black Orpheus slightly deeper bass extension.
A caveat: I wouldn't try to push the ClairAudient Ones beyond their intended limits with respect to bass reproduction or volume levels. I listened to a test recording John Atkinson made of me performing my composition Recessional on the Greenlaw Memorial Organ, at the Community Church of Douglaston in New York City, which I was preparing to record and perform with my quartet, Attention Screen. I was very careful not to play the finale, during which I played three 32' pipes at full cry. But before the finale comes a solo passage for organ pedals that includes a very forceful section covering the 3545Hz region. I left the volume up a bit too loud during this passage, and could hear the driver in the right-channel One flapping. I immediately turned the volume down, but a bit too late. Although the speaker sounded fine after that with recordings of acoustic instruments, cuing up the Sade disc triggered the flappingwhich it hadn't the first time I'd played those tracks. I shipped that review sample back to Audience for repairs and they sent me a second pair of review samples, which JA measured. For the first time in 28 years of reviewing speakers, I'd damaged a review sample through my own carelessness.
I had a hard time deciding which speakers to compare with the ClairAudient Ones. My first thought was the Audioengine 2, which I'd reviewed in December 2007I thought it would be interesting to compare two nearfield desktop models. But comparing the $995/pair One to a $200/pair powered speaker didn't really make sense. Neither did it make sense to compare the Audience to a $1000/pair floorstander.
So I chose an old bookshelf standby, the Epos M5i ($899/pair when last available). The Epos sounded more relaxed than the Audience, with better resolution of low-level dynamics and low-level detail. The M5i's high-level dynamics were superior as well, as was its bass extension when compared with the ClairAudient Ones sitting on the Celestion stands in free space. However, I heard an intoxicating coherence in the sound of the single-driver Ones that I didn't hear from the two-driver M5i's. After listening to the Audiences, I could hear the Eposes' tweeters and mid/woofers crossing over to each othersomething I hadn't noticed before.
. . . where do they all belong?
Audience's ClairAudient One is an extraordinary speaker with superb resolution of detail, excellent dynamic contrasts, and subtle articulation of transients. It's capable of providing satisfying, involvingly uncolored long-term listening over a broad range of music. Given the One's unusual design, however, I suggest that potential buyers think very carefully about how they might configure a pair of them. I think the Ones would be an excellent match for a conventional system when mounted on solid stands 4' from the front wall, so long as you're not that concerned about bass extension. It would also work well in systems for which the buyer is limited to very small speakers that must remain on bookshelves very close to the front wall, and is willing to live with a shallower soundstage.
The Ones could also be a superb match for a desktop system when hooked up to a computer with a first-rate soundcard playing high-resolution digital files. But I wouldn't use these high-resolution speakers to play MP3s in a computer-based system with a cheap soundcard.
I'm skeptical that a subwoofer can be found that will seamlessly blend with these extraordinary speakersafter all, adding a subwoofer crossover to your system somewhat defeats the purpose of having a single-driver, crossoverless speaker. Finally, trying to find a spot in the room for a subwoofer that 1) achieves the most seamless blend with the Audiences, 2) maximizes bass definition, and 3) is a cosmetically appealing place, is likely to result in three different answers.
Nor do I want to underemphasize the importance of matching the Ones with high-quality electronics. These speakers could ruthlessly reveal differences among components as easily as they could sort out differences in sound quality among various recordings.
On balance, John McDonald, president of Audience, and his design team have created a revealing and involving loudspeaker. For $1000, I can't imagine obtaining significantly better sound than from a pair of ClairAudient Ones properly set up and used within their dynamic range low-frequency extension limitations. Congratulations to Audience for a stunning achievement in such a small package.