Verity Audio Sarastro loudspeaker
The better designs did remarkably effective jobs of eliminating their boxes' unwanted contributions of resonance, and of providing, at the very least, reasonably linear on-axis frequency response and smooth and extended off-axis power response. A speaker's frequency response, once considered pretty much the whole picture, is now known to be but one of many pieces that make up the sonic whole. Read John Atkinson's measurements of these speakers and you'll see that all of them were competently designed within the limitations of today's best driver, cabinet, and crossover technologies, but all measured as differently as they sounded.
The measured differences explain in part the sonic differences I heard and described, but not everything heard is yet measurable, and how the interaction of some of these measured (and unmeasured) phenomena affect what we hear and feel is probably even less known or understood. Therein lies the art of loudspeaker design. I can personally attest to the keen-eared artistry of every designer whose expensive loudspeaker I have been lucky enough to review in the past year or so: All dealt effectively with the inevitable problems and compromises inherent in their chosen design configuration. Although I picked each of those speakers apart to discover its inevitable flaws and sonic signatures, I'd be happy to own any of them.
In my experience so far, no loudspeaker can really sound that much like live music, though some of the better ones—and not necessarily the most expensive ones—can come remarkably close, at least in some parameters. However, with experience, it's not difficult to hear any speaker's sonic signature after a very short time, and thereafter to never stop hearing it. The best we can hope for, and the best that we can get for now, is a speaker that can fool us into being willing to let go, suspend disbelief, and believe we're in the presence of the real event, live and uncolored. Getting there requires us to lower our expectations and ramp up our imaginations. If a speaker can do a few things really well while not screwing up big time everywhere else, we're there!
The Verity Audio Sarastro is so there
Headquartered just outside Quebec City, Verity Audio is a relatively small company located in an unprepossessing industrial park. During a visit there last fall, I was reminded of a trip I made to the Audio Physic factory in Brilon, Germany, after a hi-fi show in Frankfurt. Like AP, Verity's facility is more about research and development than manufacturing. Verity sources from outside vendors their impeccably lacquered speakers' drivers and cabinets, as well as the flight cases in which they're shipped. In-house manufacturing is limited to the crossover networks and small parts, as well as the final assembly and testing. As I recall, the largest space in the facility is devoted to one of the finest dedicated listening rooms I've experienced during a visit to a manufacturer—one filled with CDs and a large collection of LPs.
Verity's co-CEOs, president Bruno Bouchard and vice-president Julien Pelchat, are engineers—electrical and acoustical, respectively. Both deeply love music, and Bouchard is a pretty good guitarist. I had never met either of them, nor had I ever heard a Verity speaker. But I'd heard only good things about the Parsifal, their original design, introduced in 1995 and later upgraded to the Parsifal Encore.
The Sarastro ($29,995/pair), Verity's newest loudspeaker, sits one rung below the top-of-the-line Lohengrin in the company's roster. Like all Verity designs, the Sarastro is remarkably compact for what it accomplishes acoustically, its industrial design is low-key yet elegant, and the reasons for its relatively high price aren't readily apparent at first sight. Like the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7, Aerial Acoustic 20T, and other current, compact, high-performance loudspeakers, the Sarastro is a two-box design. But instead of isolating the boxes from each other with spikes, as Wilson and Aerial do, Verity uses a thick, heavily damped aluminum frame sandwich, both sides of which are fitted with gooey, thin Sorbothane pucks. Once the squishy Sorbothane has settled, the two boxes feel as if they've been welded together, though they're effectively isolated from one another regarding vibrations.
The Sarastro's asymmetrical cabinet of MDF is rigid and exceedingly well braced and damped. During my visit, I was able to look inside an empty cabinet before the drivers were installed. The standard finish is seven coats of high-grade, piano-black polyester lacquer imported from Italy; a variety of other high-gloss finishes, in lacquered wood and metallic automotive silver, are also available. Verity believes the multiple coats of lacquer, applied by hand, "wrap tight" the cabinets and contribute to the speaker's final sound. If you know how difficult it is to finish a large, flat surface in glass-smooth, high-gloss black lacquer, you'll quickly appreciate the ultra-high quality of Verity's work. I never saw waves or "orange-peel" on one of their speakers, nor could I see or feel a seam. The sound was pretty seamless as well . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The lower cabinet contains a rear-firing, rear-ported, 11" woofer with a damped polypropylene cone, a 4" short-throw voice-coil in a long-throw gap, and a vented pole piece. The cone was designed in conjunction with the Danish firm AudioTechnology, who make drive-units for Rockport, Sonus Faber, and other premium loudspeaker brands. Verity says they get bass extension down to the "low 20Hz region" from this smallish box by taking advantage of boundary proximity effects and carefully tuning the system for flat response.
Footnote 1: The Wilson WATT/Puppy 7 ($22,400/pair, September 2003), Aerial 20T ($23,500/pair, April 2004), AudioPhysic Kronos ($64,995/pair, June 2004), Rockport Merak II/Sheritan II ($29,500/pair, September 2004), mbl 101E ($44,900/pair, October 2004), Krell Resolution 1 ($11,000/pair, November 2004), Sonus Faber Stradivari ($40,000/pair, January 2005), and the Mårten Design Coltrane ($50,000/pair, February 2005).—John Atkinson