Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeaker

I approached this loudspeaker much as some of today's political candidates might approach sex: as a means of reproduction, not pleasure.

I brought it on myself. I asked to review Joseph Audio's stand-mounted, two-way Pulsar because I felt an obligation to step down from the rarified air of some of the absurdly priced gear I've been reviewing lately and sample something more "affordable." The Pulsar costs $7000/pair.

Also, I'd heard the Pulsars in Pure Vinyl's room at an audio show last year and was incredulous at their sound—how could such small boxes produce that much bass? I drew back the curtains and looked for a subwoofer. There wasn't one.

Still, here I was rolling away a pair of big, full-range, dynamically unrestrained Wilson MAXX 3s to replace them with a pair of puny two-ways that at best I might appreciate and respect, but would more likely be eager to pack up and return to the manufacturer so I could roll the Wilsons back in place.

Cut to Saturday night, a month after I'd set up the Pulsars. John Atkinson would be coming in the morning to measure them in my room, then take them away to his lab for more measurements. I listened well past 2am—not because I needed to hear more in order to write this review, but because the sound was so pleasurable, so musically revelatory, that I didn't want the Pulsars to leave.

Most surprising of all was that the final record I spun was the Kinks' Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround: Part One (LP, Pye NSPL 18359)—the original, on which Ray Davies still sings "Coca-Cola," before it had to be changed to "cherry cola." (Today, Coke would probably pay for such a product placement—even with transvestites involved!) Rock was the last music I expected to translate well through small two-ways, but I sat in a musical trance through both sides, listening way into the soundstage, hearing individual voices as I don't recall ever having heard them—so clearly delineated, both spatially and timbrally, in that raucous mix of many voices, the distinctive sound of Davies's National Steel guitar ringing and resonating with notable clarity.

Although I've done this job for more than 25 years, there are still surprises, and the way the Joseph Audio Pulsar completely won me over was one of them. That sounds like the conclusion. It's just the beginning.

Thinking Inside the Box
According to designer Jeff Joseph, the Pulsar is a "stand-mounted speaker with delusions of grandeur": a compact, rear-ported two-way with a 1" tweeter with a Sonatex dome and a 5.5" woofer with a cast-magnesium cone, both built to Joseph Audio's specifications by SEAS, in Norway. The tweeter is the same that Joseph Audio uses in the top-line Pearl floorstander. The cabinets are of MDF, with total sidewall thickness a shade under 1.5", which helps account for the 36-lb heft of this relatively small speaker. The cabinet has an attractively beveled front baffle in piano black; the side panels are available in a choice of four high-gloss veneers as well as piano black.

As nice as the Pulsar looks from the outside, Jeff Joseph says that exquisite care has been taken with how its insides are put together, including use of the highest-quality crossover parts, and the calibration of each unit's crossover network to perfectly match the design prototype. That network incorporates Joseph's patented Asymmetrical Infinite Slope circuit, which is claimed to optimize the transition between the drivers (what designer of crossovers would claim otherwise?), allowing their outputs to overlap without interfering with the speaker's vertical dispersion.

Joseph Audio also claims that the Pulsar's impedance never drops below 6 ohms, making it particularly friendly to tube amps. The crossover inductors are wound with heavy-gauge wire, and the internal hookup wire is from Cardas, as are the dual, single-knob binding posts—and the jumpers, if you don't biwire.

Setup and Use
Jeff Joseph delivered the speakers, along with a pair of heavy steel Osiris stands (no longer manufactured), into which I did not pour lead shot or sand. Joseph wasn't concerned about that, nor did he insist on setting up the speakers himself, which suited me fine.

The Pulsars ended up the same distance from the front wall at which the Wilson MAXX 3s sound best, but somewhat closer together, to produce the best center-stage focus and overall coherence. They sounded best toed-in to face the listening position, but performed differently if equally well when aimed straight out into the room, which produced greater spaciousness, if at the expense of some image density. Either way, the overall tonal character was remarkably similar. Overall, I found it relatively easy to set up the Pulsars so as to get the wide, forgiving listening window Joseph claims for them.

I drove the Pulsars, very briefly, with B.M.C. Audio's Amplifier C1 (which I reviewed last month), and also with a recently arrived pair of Ypsilon Electronics Aelius monoblocks, but mostly with Music Reference's RM-200 Mk.II tube amp (reviewed in December 2011). With speakers and amp together costing around $12,000, you can assemble a superb-sounding, apartment-friendly system for well under $20,000.

They Sure Look Smaller than They Sound!
$7000 may seem a lot to pay for a pair of small two-way speakers without stands, but that thought quickly vanished when I heard the Pulsars.

I've never designed a loudspeaker, but thinking up a good small speaker must be harder than devising a large one. It seems an almost impossible task to get a small cone to convincingly handle the bass, midbass, and much of the midrange as well, then seamlessly hand off to a tweeter that must chime in below its comfort zone.

But because I've spent so many years reviewing speakers, I expect to immediately hear any tricks employed by even the cleverest designer of two-way speakers—and, of course, hear what compromises have been made in trying to get out of a small speaker what only a big speaker can do.

Often, all is revealed in that first hearing. But once the Joseph Audios had been set up and I'd sat down for a serious listen, I was struck by how few secrets the Pulsars gave away, by how little of what was obviously missing I actually missed, and especially by the speaker's rich but subtly managed tonal balance, which so effectively seduced my ears.

Joseph Audio Inc.
PO Box 1529
Melville, NY 11747
(800) 474-4434

ppgr's picture

Since Mr. Fremer refers to the Wilson Maxx in his review, it would be most interesting to compare measurements from both speakers (Wilson and Joseph) in the same room (Mr. Fremer's).

When comparing both curves side by side, the Wilson's measurements seem a little... er... embarrassing, especially considering the vast difference in size and cost.

Of course, measurements tell only part of the story, but I had the occasion to listen to both speakers, and the Joseph were very impressive, while the Wilson sounded like an impressive collection of stacked boxes.

To my ears, the Pulsar sounded light and nimble and fun (think Mazda Miata), while the Maxx we're kind of big and sluggish, especially on small scale music (think luxo SUV). 

JItterjaber's picture

I have heard few speakers that have good time coherence/phase between drivers. The Josephs sounded good in the show demo I heard. Love those Norwegian soft dome tweeters!

AragonFan's picture

I purchased a pair of Pulsars last year after being enormously impressed.  They do everything very well: soundstaging, imaging, frequency response, dynamics...all the typical audiophile parameters.  To me they sound like truly elite monitors without ever sounding fatiguing.  I can hear deeply into the mix when I want to listen analytically, and I can just enjoy the music anytime.  Overall, I suppose the best way to describe them as superbly balanced with thoughtful, effective performance tradeoffs (chiefly in ultimate dynamics and low bass response) for a two-way loudspeaker.

The tweeters are excellent, even arresting when handling well-recorded cymbals.  The attack, shimmer, and decay are all there.  The bass is also very good down to the lower 40 Hz area; and I think it sufficient for most music, at least music that I enjoy.  I am also using a REL R-218 subwoofer, dialed in to provide some support for the lowest octave and just above. The REL is the antithesis of slow, plodding bass and a very good match for the light-of-foot Pulsars.

My amplification and sources are quite good (Aragon Palladium 1K mono amps; Aragon 28K MKII preamp; Arcam FMJ CD-33 CD-Player), but hardly ultra-high end.  To my ears I am getting sound of a quality that I could spend twice or even three times to get, and then likely with only incremental improvements at the edges.  By any measure, $7,000 is a lot of money for a pair of loudspeakers ($8,400 including the REL R-218), but for me, the expense pays back in joy with my music.  Others' mileage may vary, but I am quite pleased.