Audes Bravo loudspeaker
Sometimes, however, magic happens. As when fellow reviewer Kal Rubinson was on his way to a room at CES 2004, in Las Vegas. But the music wafting out into the hallway from the room across the hall was so enticingly realistic that he had to turn on his heel and wander in. What he heard was a tiny pair of bookshelf speakers from Audes, the $999/pair Bravo.
When Kal got back to New York, he fired off an e-mail: "Bob, you must review these awesome little bookshelf speakers from Audes!"
Yes, sir, Mr. R!
Audes, which is based in Estonia, has been designing and manufacturing high-fidelity loudspeakers since 1984. Their design team is led by engineer Alfred Vassilikov, whose background includes work for USSR-owned research centers. In fact, Audes was founded in 1959 as a maker of transformers and cables for the Soviet Ministry of Defense.
The two-way Bravo is the entry-level speaker in the Audes line. The bookshelf speaker is a magnetically shielded, biwirable bass-reflex design with a 1" dome tweeter and a 5" cone woofer, both made by SEAS. All Audes crossovers feature Mundorf capacitors from Germany, and DH Lab wire from the US. The Bravo is available in paint or real-wood finishes; my sample had a very attractive cherry veneer. The equally attractive, dedicated stands cost $299/pair, but I reviewed the Bravos with my trusty Celestion Si stands, which I've loaded with sand and lead shot. Audes recommends listening to the Bravos with their grilles removed. I agree—the speakers sounded slightly more detailed and transparent this way—but found the difference negligible.
I believe that any good speaker needs to get the midrange right. The Bravo did so in spades. The midrange was completely devoid of coloration, revealing a considerable amount of inner detail, and the subtle and sophisticated articulation of microdynamics and room ambience made listening to well-recorded woodwinds and piano a delight. Moreover, I've not heard more realistic reproduction of the human voice from a bookshelf speaker. On "Hey Sweet Man," from her Dreamland CD (Atlantic 82946-2), Madeline Peyroux's rich, holographic, naturally seductive and inflective, closely miked voice through the Bravo is best described by my listening notes: "That voice is just damn perfect!" The Bravo was sufficiently revealing that I was immediately able to tell the type and amount of digital processing used on Sade's voice throughout Love Deluxe (CD, Epic EK 53178). Then, I just kicked back and enjoyed her silky vocals over the tuneful, throbbing electronic groove.
With such a tiny pup as the Bravo, one might be concerned about bass reproduction. Surprisingly, the speaker's bass capabilities were among its strongest points. On all acoustic and electric recordings I tried, the mid- and upper bass were tight, tuneful, clean, round, and fairly extended, with no coloration. On Elliot Kallen's "Ellis Island," from Klip's Herman Sonny Blount (LP, Should I Be Concerned About This Music? Records 1001-2), John Lauffenberger's arco string-bass pedal point, which extends throughout the bulk of this dramatic piece, bellowed its natural rosiny woodiness. Yet the electronic bass synth on the Sade recording was equally tuneful and involving. Don't expect much low-bass action from the Bravo, however—you won't be breaking the lease with room-shaking bass drums or organ pedals. Still, the bass that the Bravo did reproduce was quite satisfying.
High frequencies were natural and detailed, airy and quite sophisticated, although with certain recordings I noticed a shade less top-octave air and sparkle than through other speakers I've heard. Transients, however, were damn near perfect on all recordings. This may be the bookshelf speaker for percussion freaks. I found myself analyzing Shelly Manne's drum solo on "I'm an Old Cowhand," from Sonny Rollins' Way Out West (CD, JVC VICJ 60083). Through the Bravo, I could tell how the skin of his bass drum was tightened; his ride cymbals sounded natural, and shimmered despite the slight truncation of top-end air; and the timbre of each drumstick stroke on the snare and toms was realistic enough that I could estimate how far from the center of the drum each stroke was.
The Bravos' timbral integrity, resolution of detail, and ability to throw a wide, deep soundstage while seeming to disappear made them ideal for well-recorded chamber music. George Crumb is my favorite chamber composer; I spent a good deal of time with his Makrokosmos III (LP, Nonesuch H-71311) and Quest (CD, Bridge 9069). Crumb loves to compose with silence, the sounds of shakers, classical guitar, bowed cymbals, piano, and triangle popping out of thin air, then beginning their long decays into the natural ambience of the recording space. The Audes Bravos kept me listening to entire sides of Crumb albums.