Canalis Anima loudspeaker Page 2
What is revolutionary about the Canalis Anima? In a word, bamboo. Allen Perkins told me that he'd begun thinking about and experimenting with bamboo plywood as a speaker-cabinet material 10 or so years ago, and that he still has stain and finish experiments from that time. The plywood of Canalis's speaker enclosures and the Anima's stand is ¾" thick, and distinguished by the fact that its core consists of substantial, vertically oriented fillets of bamboo rather than the usual multiple thin horizontal layers of hardwood, as in the Baltic-birch plywood often found in high-quality speaker enclosures. In most Shahinian speakers, for example, the enclosure's edges are beveled to reveal the layers of plies (and to make it clear that the cabinet is not made of MDF). The surface layers of Canalis's bamboo plywood are laminated of thinner fillets, oriented cross-grain to the core.
Why bamboo plywood? The short answer is: rigidity, plus self-damping. In this regard, it's important that Canalis chose bamboo plywood for acoustical performance reasons, which is different from choosing a bamboo veneer for aesthetic or ecological reasons. After a few weeks of living with Canalis's Anima, I found myself thinking of bamboo plywood as the poor man's carbon fiber. Indeed, the Anima's sonic coherence called to mind fond memories of various incarnations of Wilson Benesch's ACT loudspeakers. Gerhard bases his work on mathematical models by Don Keele, specifically the QB3 alignment, an overdamped woofer alignment that Gerhard claims behaves more like a sealed box, because of its longer port. Gerhard also believes that it's better to concentrate on getting the overtones of bass notes right and let the ear/brain system fill in the missing fundamental, than to make the trade-offs involved in including a large woofer in a two-way design. He chose the crossover frequency of 1900Hz to stay away from the range where the output of his 5" woofer becomes directional.
Those interested in learning more about the thinking that went into the Canalis Anima can download "What's Up With Those Animas" an eight-page white paper by Joachim Gerhard.
Seeing as the Canalis Animas' $1500/pair stands had yet to arrive, I made do with what was on hand, which positioned the speakers' tweeters too low. My initial listening impression was of the chilled-vodka clarity we've come to associate with Joachim Gerhard's designs. In that respect, I am completely in agreement with Wes Phillips' 2007 impressions of the Sonics Anima speaker, including the slight prominence in the treble that lends "enhanced definition" to detail.
But my second impression, and something that was obvious even before the stands arrived, was that this was one very quiet loudspeaker (footnote 1). It soon became apparent that Canalis's bamboo enclosure deftly threaded the needle. There was no apparent blurring or overhang owing to enclosure resonances, nor did the music sound constipated or dead. There was just an entirely natural sense of more space between the notes. While I didn't quite match Wes in rediscovering my entire music collection, I did enjoy playing recordings I hadn't heard in some time.
But before I get to some of those recordings, let's deal with those rather pricey stands. I'm not usually a huge believer in dedicated stands. I usually think that any good, well-damped stand of the right height should adequately do the job. The problem for me was that the optimum height for the Animas was at least 6" higher than I could easily accomplish.
When the Animas' stands showed up, my first reaction to them was, "My, how handsome." They're made of the same bamboo plywood as the speaker enclosures and are stained to match; the combination will fit in well in most interiors. The design of the stand makes for a gracefully slender visual profile when viewed head-on, but it obviously provides rigidity. With the exception of its hardware pieces, the stand is nonmetallic, and is stained to match the loudspeaker.
One feature I really appreciate is that speaker and stand are designed to bolt together. This not only provides a more efficient path for the evacuation of cabinet vibrations, it's a nice convenience and safety feature, regardless of whether your concern is a cocktail-hour guest's knocking the speaker off its stand with his hip, or a toddler trying to pull himself up by the speaker cable. So I set up the Animas on their stands, at the time not knowing what they cost, and attached the eight Strange Attractor footers.
Holy Schemoley. First of all, getting the Animas high enough so that my ear was more at the level of the middle of their woofers than slightly above their tweeters both tamed the top end and served to better integrate woofer and tweeter outputs. The other major differences made by the combination of stands and footers were that the bass went lower without booming, and the soundstage grew higher and wider. The stand-footer combo also made the Animas much easier and more rewarding to listen to. I decided to advise you not to buy the Animas without their stands and footers, but that was before I learned their combined total price: $2300/pair.
In defense of Canalis, Allen Perkins tells me that there's much more bamboo plywood in each stand than in each Anima, that there's more labor in cutting and finishing, and that the plywood they use costs $800 a sheet.
By the way, in JA's measurements of the Sonics Anima, he commented that it was not a loudspeaker to be listened to while standing up, owing to the nature of its vertical dispersion. I didn't get that impression at all from the Canalis Anima. Later, Perkins told me that one of the goals of the redesign had been to address just that issue.
Back to the Music
All comments refer to listening to the Animas perched on their stands and footers. All listening was done with AVM's cool, collected, and very competent Inspiration C8 CD receiver, and Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables.
First up was Vlado Perlemuter's autumnal performances of Chopin's Nocturnes (CD, Nimbus NIM 5012). What an underrated player! What poetry! Perlemuter's approach at first blush might appear undemonstrative, but that would be to miss his deep engagement with the music. His subtle shadings of rhythmic pulse and melodic phrasing make it difficult to imagine these pieces being played any other way and still be artistically valid. If you like Ivan Moravec's Chopin, I'll be very surprised if you don't like Perlemuter's. The Canalis Animas did a very satisfying job of rendering Perlemuter's delicate pinks and grays of tone color and sensitive dynamics.
Next: Iona Brown and Josef Suk in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Brown conducting as well as playing violin (CD, Argo 411 613-2). This should be on the short list of the greatest recordings of this most congenial and collegial of Mozart's masterpieces. Especially on the stands and footers, the Animas struck a wonderful tonal balance that had only a slight emphasis of the treble, while Suk's lamentably underappreciated viola playing had real weight.
Staying with bowed strings: The Canalis/AVM combination showed what a truly excellent job Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz did (in 1984, no less) in recording the Orford Quartet's set of Beethoven's string quartets (8 CDs, Delos 3039)a real sleeper among complete cycles of these works. The Orford lacks a big name, but they never sound out of their depth, even in the knottiest passages. The recording, done in a Toronto church, is, I think, competitive with most of the top-shelf recommendations. The Canalis-AVM combo got right both Beethoven's sweetness and his grittiness.
I have previously raved about composer Lera Auerbach's 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano, performed by Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe (CD, BIS 1242). The Anima/AVM combo filled the room with that challenging music. Last of the rediscoveries was Arvo Pärt's Da Pacem, with Paul Hillier conducting the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807401), which I raved about when it was released in 2006. The Anima-AVM combo did a great job of floating both vocal and instrumental lines in a very quiet space. Bravi!
When you get over the sticker shock, focus on the question of whether Canalis's update or renovation of the Sonics Anima, at a package price of $5550 including stands and footers, produces sound that not only passes the giggle test, but is competitive with what else you can get at or near that price. One easy comparison is with Vivid's Oval V1.5 ($7500/pair, see "The Fifth Element," October 2010). I think the Canalis and the Vivid are pretty much tied in terms of resolving power. The Vivid might be able to play somewhat louder and go somewhat deeper, but it also costs more, and its looks are more of an acquired taste. So for me, the answer to that question is Yes.
The remaining question is whether Canalis's improvements over the Sonics Anima are enough to lift the speaker into Class A, Restricted LFE of "Recommended Components." The speaker on its own? Not quite. With stands and footers? Yes, but just barely.
Footnote 1: I am indebted to JA for his having pointed out this particular quality of quietness, in his review of the Sonus Faber Amati Futura in the March 2012 issue. I later heard a pair of Amati Futuras, and was very impressed: They seemed to combine the best features of the Vivid Audio and Wilson Audio speakers I admire, while having their own warm but not sluggish personality