Verity Audio Sarastro loudspeaker Page 2
Verity uses a shorter (2" tall) variation of the Raven aluminum-ribbon tweeter used in Aerial's 20T, fitted with a custom waveguide designed specifically for the Sarastro. The tweeter's response covers six octaves and is said to extend beyond 60kHz. The mineral-filled, damped–polypropylene-cone 6" midrange driver covers an exceptionally wide range: 150Hz to 5.5kHz. Its unusually low resonant frequency of 28Hz allows it to be minimally filtered with a first-order (6dB/octave) handoff from the woofer.
In using the Raven tweeter, Verity faced the same problem Aerial did: How to seamlessly integrate the outputs of the midrange and tweeter? The midrange needs to extend up to 5.5kHz because of the ribbon's lower-frequency limitations, and to keep instrumental fundamentals away from the crossover point. However, pushing a 6" driver to deliver high frequencies can result in beaming, which can negatively affect imaging and limit off-axis frequency response.
The high-sensitivity (93dB) midrange driver, also developed in cooperation with AudioTechnology, features an underhung voice-coil: a short coil in a long gap. Power handling is improved by venting the pole piece. Verity claims responsive, high-speed, linear performance that, combined with the tweeter's fast response time, results in seamless, electrostatic-like performance.
Setup: Off the wall
With their rear-firing woofers, the Sarastros had to be set up at least 4' away from the front wall; otherwise, there was way too much, and boomy, bass. While the tweeter's vertical dispersion is limited, the shorter ribbon chosen by Verity makes it less directional than Aerial's—the Sarastro is a speaker you can enjoy even when you get up and walk around the room. Still, you should sit at least 10' away, if possible, for the best integration of tweeter and midrange. And depending on the height of your ears when listening, you might find it necessary to tilt the speaker forward slightly, using the adjustable spikes. Toe-in is critical in dealing with the inevitable tendency of the midrange driver to beam at the high end of its bandpass. I found the imaging and soundstaging ideal with the speakers slightly toed-in so that the tweeter axes fired just past my shoulders and crossed just behind my head. Its ribbon tweeter and rear-firing woofer make the Sarastro a tweaky speaker—it demands precise setup if it's not to sound boomy and discontinuous.
For consistency, I removed the jumpers connecting the two boxes and biwired them with Harmonic Technology Magic Woofer and Tweeter cables.
Despite its relatively compact size, the 93dB-efficient Sarastro was not specifically designed for small rooms, though it can be made to work in them. A pair of them sounded impressively powerful, dynamic, and wideband in Verity's listening room, which I suspect is larger than most users' rooms. Once precisely dialed-in, they sounded the same way in mine.
How there is there?
Read Verity's statements about the Sarastro on their website and their mission is clear, even if never stated explicitly: to bring you to the concert hall, not bring the musicians to your room. In last month's review of the Mårten Design Coltrane, I wrote: "Nor are you likely to get a more vivid sensation of hearing Neil Young singing in your listening room than you can through the Coltranes, which are more about bringing the event to you than about bringing you to the event." A few days later, the Sarastros arrived with a presentation precisely the opposite, but equally enticing—if not more so.
The Sarastro was more about touch, texture, resolution, and context than about slam and throwing me back in my seat. In fact, while the Sarastro could play loudly, and produced just about full-frequency extension from top to bottom, as well as fine dynamic performance, I was never kicked by a kick drum or seared by a squealing, feedback-laden, solid-bodied electric guitar. All of the bass drum's texture and extension were there to enjoy and feel, and the guitar's harmonic heights were scaled, but no matter how loudly I cranked them up, the Sarastros would not engage in musical combat. For one thing, in my room at least, the bass seemed to be tuned for extension, touch, weight, and texture more than for tautness and speed.
Even after Bruno Bouchard and Julien Pelchat paid a visit and positioned the speakers as optimally as possible in my room, I found the Sarastro's bass a bit prominent and somewhat rich and ripe, especially at higher volumes—as I'd found the bass to be with the Rockport Merak II/Sheritan II. The bass performance was more subtle at lower volumes, balancing and blending better with the rest of the spectrum.
This may be related to how speakers with side- and/or rear-firing woofers couple to my room—none of the speakers with front-firing woofs exhibited such bass excess, and the Aerial was actually deficient, though clearly capable of outstanding bass in other environments. But even in an ideal situation, I suspect the Sarastro's bass will be somewhat underdamped, tuned to match and cohere with the tone, texture, and timing of the drivers in the upper box; ie, rich and supple as opposed to fast and sharp. Tighter bass probably would have created a discontinuous sonic picture.
I predict that JA's measurements will show the Sarastro's response to be gently and subtly suppressed at the very top of the audible frequency range despite the tweeter's almost limitless extension, with the tweeter's resolving power and speedy transients subjectively filling in for the response drop. This was probably done to make the speaker sound more natural with most classical music recordings, which tend to be somewhat brighter than what you hear in the concert hall. Whatever's going on on top, this tweeter, as applied, rivaled the mbl 101E's for the best I've ever heard.
None of this means you can't enjoy rock music through the Sarastro—you can and I did. It's just that the Sarastro is not optimized for rock. For one thing, rock likes the sensation of "loud." This speaker could play loudly, but that didn't change the picture, except to make the same subtle presentation louder—and, in a moderately sized room like mine, perhaps overload the room with bass. When I played something hard and charging, such as the Clash's first album, The Clash (LP, UK CBS 82000), the snare drum popped as expected, the guitars chimed fully, and Joe Strummer's vocals had their full power—but I felt I was observing rather than being immersed in the music.
The Sarastro might have fooled my ears, but it didn't fool my SPL meter. I played Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's pressing of the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (LP, Mobile Fidelity reissue), and while it had never sounded more supple, rich, detailed, and believable—especially in the cymbals and the acoustic-guitar overtones and transients—it just didn't sound loud enough. My SPL meter told a different story: 90dB average, with peaks approaching 100dB—plenty loud for the musical program, or for any musical program at home. It just didn't sound that loud, perhaps because the very top was subtly tamped down, or because the Sarastro's sound was so sophisticated and linear that there were no peaks to add false detail and hard edges.
The Sarastro's sweet spots were classical, jazz, and all genres of acoustic music. You might think that, for $30,000, you should have it all, and perhaps you're right. But what the Sarastro delivered with acoustic music was much more viscerally believable than any other speaker I've reviewed. If that's what you mostly listen to, you'll easily forgive its subtle deficiency in slam and subjectively polite though extended top end (though it wasn't so polite that it suppressed tape hiss or transient "snap").
The Sarastro delivered literally breathtaking delicacy, detail, transparency, and subtlety, and was capable of creating as strong a sense of concert-hall or in-the-studio reality as I've heard from a loudspeaker—especially because it proved capable of delivering appropriately wide dynamic contrasts at realistic concert-hall levels, as opposed to unnaturally loud playback levels. Unlike speakers that require hard-core cranking to come alive, the Sarastro produced "the breath of life" at even lower-than-realistic playback levels. When your partner yells at you to "Turn it down!," this is one speaker that will let you comply with that order while losing no listening pleasure.
The Sarastro's ability to resolve low-level detail was astonishing. Play your favorite recordings and, with virtually every disc you play and at any playback level, you're sure to hear previously buried details of air, space, floorboards, back walls, instrumental harmonics and colors, and, especially, textural details—unless you live with the best electrostatic speakers, in which case you'll also now have the added pleasures of deep, supple bass, wide dynamic swings, concert-hall SPLs, greater image body and three-dimensionality, and a top-to-bottom coherence few electrostatic speakers in my experience can deliver. The Sarastro created a level of believable palpability and sheer physicality that no other speaker in my experience has rivaled. Just don't expect to be thrown back in your seat. Instead, expect to lean forward, as you might in a concert hall.
Because the Sarastros resolved so much low-level information, such as ambient cues and reverberant fields, they produced an exceptionally coherent, creamy, and seamless soundstage. Instruments and voices were not left hanging, "carved out" in space, but instead were integrated into a subtle, airy apparition in which the locations of the two speakers were kept well hidden. Stage depth was well developed behind the speakers, but the front of the stage never extended past the plane of the speakers' fronts—which is what you'd expect from a speaker that takes you to the event.
It would be wrong to leave the impression that the Sarastro sounded soft or polite, because it didn't. In fact, the Sarastro rendered well-recorded acoustic guitars with greater verisimilitude than any speaker in my listening experience. No soft or veiled speaker can produce such a sensation. I've heard Classic Records' 200gm LP edition of Willie Nelson's Stardust hundreds of times, and through every speaker in this series of reviews—yet through the Sarastros, the guitar's picture was a revelation, thanks to a perfect balance of the transient attacks of the plucked strings, the reverberating strings, and the guitar's body. The subtle balance produced a natural, believable guitar texture, timbre, and three-dimensionality. The recording's other elements were delivered with equal sophistication and subtlety.
That experience led me to pull out an endless series of acoustic-guitar recordings, including a stash of monophonic Capitol FDS LPs of Laurindo Almeida. I was not disappointed by the Sarastro's ability to draw me into believing—not that Almeida was playing in my room, but that I was in the studio at a recital, sitting a comfortable distance from him.