Larsen HiFi 8 loudspeaker
For one thing, because they tend to be healthy and well educated, and because their governments are at peace and, for the most part, economically and politically sound, Scandinavians can take a joke. For another, Scandinavians are famous for not only having a loudspeaker industrysomething that has thus far eluded Spaniards, Corsicans, Ethiopians, and the Maltese, among othersbut also for the distinctiveness of the speakers they make. Like the Scandinavian people themselves, their speakers are intelligent, serene, uncompromising, outwardly serious and inwardly whimsical, outwardly tidy and inwardly complex, and a bit quirky.
Much of that applies to everything made and consumed in Scandinavia, from Volvos to Dux lounge chairs to Earth Shoes to Legos to salt licorice. Scandinavian speakers are exactly like salt licorice, if salt licorice could transform electrical signals into soundwaves.
Scandinavian speakers tend to be quirky in two distinct ways: the shapes of their enclosures are often more exotic than mere rectangular boxes, and/or at least one drive-unit is pointed at a target other than the listener. Consider the classic Sonab OA-116, with its six every-which-way tweeters and a mid/woofer that looks up from the top of the cabinet at an angle suggesting the head of Ozymandias as Shelley might have imagined it. Then there's the three-way Gradient Helsinki 1.5, an open-frame speaker that resembles an abstract G-clef, and that I described in my August 2010 review as a "must-hear" product. And how about Bang & Olufsen's BeoLab 90? Of the 18 drivers in that $85,000/pair floorstander, which looks like Picasso drew it, only three are aimed at the listener.
Common to the designs of all of these speakers is an effort to liberate each from the deleterious effects of any room in which it's installed. That's also the prime directive behind the model 8 loudspeaker ($6995/pair) from the Swedish manufacturer Larsen HiFi, whose products are influenced by the work of the late Stig Carlssona legendary Swedish designer whose products include the above-mentioned Sonab OA-116, as well as other speakers similarly hailed as both brilliant and eccentric. According to the Larsen website, company founder John Larsen, who designed the 8 with Anders Eriksson, worked with Stig Carlsson for 16 years. (Larsen HiFi, in business since 2007, is located in the central-Sweden town of Skillingaryd, once home to the now-defunct Sonab.)
The Larsen 8 stands 36.1" tall and has a relatively small footprint: just 10.9" wide by 12.9" deep. Its bottom surface lacks threaded inserts or other means of attaching feet, pointed or otherwise; instead, Larsen includes ½"-thick soft-durometer (SD) pads for use under the speakers, "regardless of what surface you have," according to the two-page instruction sheet. Those circular pads are supplied in two diameters, 1.4" and 1.7", the smaller suggested for use under the cabinet's front corners, the larger for the rear corners.
The most visible of the Larsen's five drivers are a 1" polymer-dome tweeter and a 7" mid/woofer operated up to 2.5kHz, whose carbon-fiber cone is coated on both sides with air-dried pulp. Both drivers are attached to an MDF baffle that's mounted at angles to the back and the top of the speaker's main enclosure: approximately 45° inward toward a centrally seated listener, and 40° upward toward that listener's ears. The bottom edge of this angled baffle rests against another, horizontal baffle, which forms the top of the main enclosure, and the back of the rectangular-cross-section cabinet is intended to remain parallel to the wall behind it. The Larsen 8 is sold in "handed" (mirror-imaged) pairs.
At first glance, I assumed that the Larsen 8 was, at least in part, an open-baffle design, but that proved not to be the case. Fastened to the backside of the angled baffle is a segment of an MDF tubeimagine a larger-than-average Quaker Oats container, sliced at an obtuse angle and glued in place. This structure, which encloses the back of the 7" mid/woofer, directs that driver's rear wave into a reflex-loaded chamber, ported to the rear, that extends approximately 13" down into the main enclosure. This chamber is stuffed with acoustic batting and also contains the various elements of the crossover network. The rear of the 1" tweeter is sealed with a metal cap; like all of the model 8's drivers, it comes from the Danish manufacturer Scan-Speak.
Fastened to the upper corner of the angled baffle is a stainless-steel plate, made with a round opening just large enough for half of the tweeter's dome to show through, and folded at an angle of about 135°. It seems that this plate both prevents waves propagated by half of the dome from reaching the listener and reflects at least some of the output of the unoccluded half; according to the Larsen HiFi website, this arrangement helps the Larsen 8 to reproduce upper octaves "with more body" and contributes to "a more linear frequency response."
The horizontal baffle at the top of the cabinet is home to the 8's next two drivers: two 1" fabric-dome tweeters spaced 4.5" apart. These tweeters, which operate from 5kHz up and are attenuated by 10dB relative to the speaker's other drivers, fire straight up toward the ceiling, their dispersion controlled and contained by a triangular "blanket" of stiff, paper-backed insulation cut with a 1.8"-square opening for each tweeter and covered with black double-knit fabric. A similar but thicker fabric-covered triangular pad is held upright within a wooden frame at the top of the enclosure, adjacent to the angled baffle.
Finally, on the inner side panel of each enclosure is a U-shaped areas where black fabric takes the place of veneer, and where another 7" mid/wooferthis one operated only up to 300Hzand its reflex port handle the lowest low frequencies. Larsen claims bass extension down to 23Hz.
The Larsen 8 review samples arrived in individual wooden crates approximately 4" larger in each dimension than the speakers themselves; the inside surfaces of the crates were padded with two strips of plastic foam each, glued in place (although a couple of these had come unglued, as such things often do). Of the speakers themselves, it seemed that a glue join between one enclosure's topmost strip of wood and the rest of the enclosure had failed during shippingbut on closer examination it turned out that that relatively thin piece of wood had itself suffered a minor crack very near the glue join. (In woodworking circles, one often hears the dictum that most modern adhesives form bonds far stronger than the materials being joinedhere's at least one bit of evidence to support that.)
The Larsen 8's setup instructions urge the user to keep the backs of the enclosures within 3" of the wall behind them, without actually touching that wall. The instructions also suggest that, for best spatial performance, the distance between the listener and each speaker should be equal to or slightly greater than the distance between the speakers themselves, so that the axes of the tweeters on the angled baffles cross slightly in front of the seated listener.
In my 19' by 12' listening room, this was best accomplished by setting up the Larsen 8s along the long wall, just over 6' apart; I found that the speakers' bass output relative to the rest of the audioband was most realistic and enjoyable with the cabinets as close to the wall as possiblein my case, just over 1" away. Near-wall installation of the Larsens is complicated by the fact the connectors on these biwirable speakers are located on the rear panel; although the connectors are angled to minimize interference between cables and wall, cables that are exceedingly thick and stiff and/or have stupid-big terminations should be avoided. For the same reasons, it seems that in-line banana plugs, such as I use, are to be preferred to spade lugs. In my first hours of listening to the Larsens, I noted that having the speakers even slightly more than 3" from the wall behind them diminished bass extension and quality.