Audio Physic Scorpio loudspeaker
Back in the 1990s, the sweet spot of Audio Physic's line of loudspeakers was the Virgo II ($4995/pair at that time). Some thought the tiny Step filled that niche, but for me, the Virgo II was magical. I preferred it to an AP speaker that, at the time, cost $10,000/pair and whose name I can't even remember, which should tell you something.
I've been waiting for the Virgo II's replacement ever since. The Avanti III, which I reviewed in the August 2001 issue (Vol.24 No.8), was far more capable in every way than the Virgo II, it was my reference for a few years, and it's still a great speaker—but to my ears, the Virgo II's magical balance of strengths eluded it. Same with the Virgo III that Brian Damkroger reviewed in September 2003 (Vol.26 No.9): more capable in every way than the II and, at $7495/pair, more expensive than the Scorpio, but lacking the II's mojo.
After my less-than-enthusiastic review of Audio Physic's Caldera ($30,000/pair) in November 2005, credit AP and their importer, Gabby Amram of Soundquest LLC, for giving me the opportunity to review the Scorpio, which I requested after hearing a short demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. In fact, walking into AP's room at CES 2006 not long after that Caldera review had been published was, um, interesting. When I encountered Audio Physic's business manager, Dieter Kratochwil, and asked him how the show was going, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Until just now? Fine!" I loved his honesty and had a good laugh (to myself). Had our roles been reversed, I'm sure I wouldn't have been thrilled to see him, either.
Audio Physic's Scorpio is a rear- and bottom-ported design that could be considered a smaller version of designer Manfred Diestertich's Avanti III ($12,495/pair) or a larger version of AP's Tempo ($3995/pair). Either view would probably suit Audio Physic, who intend the Scorpio to bridge the gap between those two models. The Scorpio costs $6495/pair–$6995/pair, depending on finish.
It's also handsome. The complex, well-braced cabinet, manufactured by Hornslet in Denmark using that company's patented Hornflex technology, features a narrow front baffle tilted back 7°, and nonparallel side panels that curve toward the rear. Unlike the curvaceous Avanti III, though, the Scorpio's rear surface is flat. The veneer and overall fit'n'finish are exceptional. This graceful-looking, ideally proportioned speaker would be at home in the swankest living room—especially in the review pair's ebony finish.
The foundation of the Scorpio's sound is provided by four 7" paper-cone woofers: two on each side operating in push-push configuration, which is said to cancel cabinet resonances. The lower of the two front-mounted 6" coated-paper-cone drivers operates as a midbass/lower-midrange driver from 150 to 500Hz, while the upper one operates between 150Hz and 2.8kHz, and hands the signal off to a 1" modified soft-dome tweeter.
Like the Caldera and other recent AP speakers, the Scorpio has, on its rear panel, a massive, elastomer-suspended vibration-control plate of solid aluminum that contains the speaker terminals. Spiked metal cross-braces attached to its base support the cabinet.
No loss of fine detail?
The Scorpios offered the best tonal balance and spatial presentation when placed in the same positions other Audio Physic speakers have occupied in my room, give or take a few critical inches one way or another. This was no surprise—room dimensions play a major role in speaker and listening-seat positions, and the Scorpios ended up where most speakers, regardless of brand, end up in my room. Audio Physic supplies one of the most informative set of speaker-setup instructions I've seen, though the English translation could be reworked to provide greater clarity.
Cold out of the box, the Scorpios produced an unmistakably coherent picture. The musical message solidified, leaving only faint traces of mechanical artifacts that might have been described as bass or treble. Like any other speaker, of course, the Scorpio had a sonic signature. What's critical to a speaker's success is making sure that signature cuts across all design parameters. For example, if you're going to have soft and supple bass, you don't want to couple that with aggressively fast transients and spotlit high frequencies.
One reason the Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grand struck me as a success (see my review in the May 2006 issue) was its consistency: delicate, smooth, silky trebles; warmish mids; and supple, textured bass. From top to bottom, the Beethoven was less about attacks and more about textures and harmonics, though it provided sufficient balance in every parameter. Out of the box, the Scorpios were more about air, attack, transient detail, and spatiality, but didn't fail to provide the harmonic underpinnings, the supple textures, the required delicacy to sound both exciting and inviting.