Canton Vento 809 DC loudspeaker Page 2

I ended up cuing up Jumping the Creek, simply because it gives a shout out to producer Joe Harley. Good call. Jumping the Creek is a powerful recording—atmospheric, with a nice sense of space, powerful tenor sax and piano sound, and some of the tightest precision drum sound I've ever heard. And bass—rich, deep, taut, punchy acoustic bass.

The Vento 809 DC delivered it all with lithe grace. This was no heavy-handed speaker. In fact, I characterize it as light, agile, and accurate. When there was bass to deliver, however, the 809 delivered it with lots of slam. At other times, the speaker's balance reminded me of a high-end stand-mounted monitor.

Of course, even the best stand-mounted two-ways have a hard time delivering the dynamic swings and shades of a jazz quartet at full-tilt boogie. The 809 DC didn't. "Canon Perdido" is almost a textbook example of dynamic shading, beginning with a fast tattoo on snare and tom-tom, then swinging hard with the entrance of the double bass and tenor sax. In a sense, the percussion is the lead instrument here, the other two guys providing the forward momentum that motors it along. The 809 DC kept things light and lively, but managed to put the boot in when the musicians really dug down. There was lots of power, but it was all under complete control.

If you like the sound of a classic quartet of sax, piano, double bass, and drums, you have got to get a copy of Jumping the Creek. It ranks with the best of Lloyd's career—which means it ranks with the best of anybody's.

As for The Ground, it confirms the promise of 2003's Changing Places (ECM 1834), which is one of those albums I can't stop listening to. The soundscape is about as different from that of Jumping the Creek as can be, substituting a crystalline cerebrality for Lloyd's rooted earthiness. It suits the musicians, however, and again the Vento 809 DC delivered the sound with clarity and a deep, deep physicality.

The Canton delivered such clarity, I'm convinced, because of that tweeter, which put out an unusual amount of sparkle and air in the harmonic overtones of the piano strings and cymbals (or anything else on the recording). You say you don't like metal-dome tweeters? Maybe you're right, but the ADT-25 didn't sound like a metal dome—or a soft dome either. To a stunning degree, it got out of the way of the sound of music.

This was particularly evident in a CD-R that Millennia Media's John La Grou sent me (God, I love my job): excerpts from his recording of the American Bach Soloists' Messiah. When the official release comes out, don't even think about it—just go buy it. It was recorded in the 1800-seat Mondavi Symphony Hall in California, which La Grou reckons ranks as one of the great performance spaces. His recording offers some proof of that conviction.

The CD-R La Grou sent me consists of unedited, unprocessed master takes from the primary pair of microphones—something no record label in its right mind would release to the public. Maybe they should, though—there's an honesty and excitement in these takes that's all too frequently missing from "official" recordings.

But I was talking about the tweeter. Usually, there ain't nothin' like an authentic-instrument recording to reveal a tweeter's tendency to screech, but all the Vento 809 DC showed of La Grou's Messiah was the bright, clear sound of strings and brass in a great hall. There was lots of silvery flash and sparkle, but no breakup, oil-can flex, or scritch in sight—er, hearing.

And the voices! The 809 DC loved singers. The American Bach Soloists shine on "Glory to God," and there's a spectacular performance from the countertenor on "He Was Despised." If you like the human voice, the 809 DC just might give you the performance you thought you could get only from really expensive speakers. I mean the "cost no logic" kind. Clarity and grace—a darned nice neighborhood to inhabit.

What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens
I had a pair of Sonus Faber Cremonas on hand, and it seemed natural to compare and contrast the Canton Vento 809 DC with that $7495/pair Class A contender. The Cremona, too, is a ported floorstanding three-way with a curved cabinet profile. I level-matched the speakers for the comparison.

Having spent a fair amount of time listening to both speakers individually, I expected that they would tell essentially the same story, with only minor differences in lower-midrange tonality, where I had always felt the Cremona to be a trifle warm (a coloration I entirely enjoyed).

As it turned out, the results were considerably more . . . interesting than that.

There was more warmth and body in Charles Lloyd's tenor sax on Jumping the Creek with the Sonus Faber. The soundstage also seemed a tad more distant (which is not quite to say "muffled"). The 809 DC delivered more slam from Robert Hurst's bass—I'm not sure it sounded deeper, but it did sound more powerful.

The overtones of Eric Harland's cymbals sounded clearer and brighter—again, not more extended, just more there. Which was more realistic? I'm not sure. I'd become used to the sound of the Sonus Faber's ring-radiator tweeter, so I may have overreacted to the Canton's zip just because it was different. Different isn't always better, but I was very taken by the sense of life and air I heard from the Vento 809 DC.

It began to dawn on me, as I switched between them, that the two speakers might actually be exhibiting a difference in their designers' points of view.

Playing Messiah, I heard much the same changes in perspective, but voices were considerably warmer through the Cremona. Not radically so—sopranos didn't become mezzos or anything else that extreme—but the singers seemed about 20 lbs heavier than they did through the Canton. But their voices still sounded good through the 809 DC.

Bass sounded deeper and tauter through the Canton, however. For authority and pure sensation of slammitude, the Vento 809 DC was clearly the champ, though the Cremona never felt deficient in this area. In fact, the Cremona is clearly tuned, like a musical instrument, to create a top-to-bottom coherence that's really easy to like. And like it I did.

But I also liked the Canton, which sounded as if tuned to be as accurate as possible over as wide a range as possible—and to be silent where emphasis would be a stain on the truth.

If you'd asked me which approach I philosophically embraced before I compared the two speakers, I probably would have answered in favor of the Sonus Faber: sometimes a slight exaggeration is the quickest route to a form of truth. Now that I've compared them, I'm not so sure—the Canton proves that accuracy needn't be ruthless.

Ecstasy affords the occasion; expediency determines the form
Factor in price and the Canton Vento 809 DC is really hard to resist. No, $5000/pair is not inexpensive or even "affordable." But the Canton is better than anything I've heard that's cheaper, and cheaper than anything I've heard that's better.

Any way you look at it, the 809 DC is a lot of speaker for the money. It's the product of a concerted engineering effort that has paid off in real-world performance—and I think they look good, too.

In fact, as of right now, the Canton Vento 809 DC just might be my favorite loudspeaker, period. You can spend more if you want to, and it might even get you incrementally better sound—a few Hz at the extremes, perhaps a few dB more output. Substantially better? You can get that too, if you want, but it's going to really cost you.

Now isn't that interesting?

504 Malcolm Avenue SE, Suite 400
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 706-9250