Chario Academy Sovran loudspeaker Page 2

The bottom octaves were exceedingly clean and nimble. While 35Hz can't give you the full bottom weight, the Sovran more than compensated with clarity and ultralow coloration, which are easily preferable to greater bass extension that comes at the price of bloat, overhang, and detail-obscuring warmth.

The Sovran's complete freedom from midbass overhang meant that, until I got used to the speaker's clarity and honesty in the lower octaves, I had to check to make sure the woofers were working, because they were impossible to "hear." When called on to produce deep bass, they did. When not, they shut up.

The Sovran's integration of its bass, midbass, and midrange outputs was also subjectively seamless, producing spectacular resolution of "event detail" with individual instruments. Voices, especially, "popped" brilliantly in three-dimensional space, and were never obscured by "warm" zones. The handoff from the mid/woofer to the tweeter, which according to a graph in the manual occurs at an unusually low 1180Hz, was also smooth and impressively transparent. Not surprisingly, male and female voices sounded pleasingly coherent and fundamentally correct.

It's always fun to hear a new tweeter, and Chario's Silversoft dome proved highly resolving, ultradetailed, and "fast." If the Focal 1037 Be's inverted beryllium-dome tweeter sounded on the warm, smooth, burnished side of detailed, Chario's was on the airy, exuberant side—much like Dynaudio's famed Esotar tweeter.

All together, I heard a tonal balance that was predicted with remarkable accuracy by the frequency response graph printed in the Sovran's manual. According to that plot, the speaker rolls off steeply below 35Hz and is remarkably smooth through the midbass. A dip beginning at around 800Hz extends up to about 4kHz, with then a rising response up to 8kHz, followed by another slight dip, and then by a peak at around 15kHz.

The Sovran's overall timbral balance was on the lean and cool side of neutral, but just slightly so—the kind of smooth, measured tonal balance that's easy to fine-tune to neutrality with accessories and good choices of associated gear.

Driven by the warm, smooth, detailed Luxman M-800A power amp (see my review in the November issue), or the Music Reference RM-200, the Chario Sovran produced a nearly ideal tonal balance with just a slight, smooth glisten on top, whether the speakers were toed-in or firing straight ahead. Driven by the Musical Fidelity kW monoblocks, they sounded a bit cooler than ideal, but the combination still made for pleasing, exciting listening.

While a number of other speakers have matched the Academy Sovran's impressive timbral neutrality, few at any price have managed the believability of its reproduction, even straight out of their crates, of the sounds of musical instruments. I didn't hear music pouring forth from a pair of boxes, nor did instruments within a given frequency range sound tied together in a "frequency zone." There were no zones of warmth or coolness through which I had to listen to reach the instruments. The Sovran was one of the least colored speakers I've heard, with an addictive immediacy and vibrancy to its presentation.

Julie London's Julie Is Her Name (45rpm LPs, Liberty/BoxStar) produced a mesmerizing combination of vocal detail and instrumental clarity. The Sovrans presented London's voice vividly in three-dimensional space with sufficient presence and resolution to be believable without sounding over-analyzed. Barney Kessel's guitar comping produced effervescent rhythmic zip, as well as delicacy and harmonic and textural complexity. A test pressing of a new Warner Bros. reissue on vinyl of Van Morrison's cosmic Astral Weeks revealed the Sovrans' ability to present images super-cleanly in space and make the speaker baffles seem to disappear. The delicate finger cymbals on "Sweet Thing" floated as tangible crystalline presences well in front of the baffles, their decays trailing off for what seemed impossibly long times.

If you like a warm, fuzzy, comfortable sound, the Chario Sovran might not be for you. If you like a tightly sprung ride with great clarity of attack, clean sustain, and long decays that glorify great recordings, the Academy Sovran will give you all that and more. But be prepared: this speaker gives problematic recordings nowhere to hide their junk.

Though not a large speaker, the Sovran could play loudly without strain, and maintained its clarity and cohesiveness with equal competence at the level of a whisper. Instruments maintained their timbral and physical integrities, and their images were placed well clear of the baffles at high, low, or medium SPLs.

If I had to sum up the Sovran in a single phrase, it would be "well organized." It spoke with one voice, rhythmically, harmonically, and dynamically, and produced sonic pictures that sounded as if produced by a pulsating sphere—more so than even Cabasse's La Sphère, which is a sphere. It was as if the sound were being launched from a single point.

Reference Recordings recently released Tutti!, a sampler of spectacular-sounding orchestral recordings from its catalog (SACD/CD, RR-906SACD). This sort of musical fireworks display has been a staple of audiophiledom since the 1950s, and Tutti! delivers the goods with such familiar sonic blockbusters as Rimsky-Korsakov's Dance of the Tumblers (from The Snow Maiden) and Mussorgsky's Great Gate at Kiev (from Pictures at an Exhibition), both with Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra. While the Sovrans couldn't match the Wilson MAXX 2s' massive attack or depth-charge bass punch, they did reproduce different but equally impressive facsimiles of these Prof. Keith Johnson recordings that were more compact, tightly drawn, and spatially coherent, particularly in terms of soundstage depth and the clean separation of individual instruments.

The Sovran did rock and jazz as well as, if not better than, it did classical (which was plenty good), where ultradeep bass is more important. (You might be surprised by how little bass there is below 35Hz in most rock and jazz recordings.) The Sovran shone on such well-recorded rock albums as Elvis Costello's Trust (LP, F-Beat XX11LP). The cymbals shimmered brilliantly, the snare popped, and the drum kit appeared tightly focused in space. Steve Nieve's piano produced a pleasing sparkle above the instrument's harmonic envelope, without ever hardening or turning brittle. Costello's voice floated convincingly between the speakers, fully fleshed out, each ironic inflection communicated with great clarity.

Hearing the 45rpm reissue of the Bill Evans Trio's Waltz for Debby (LPs, Analogue Productions) through the Charios was a real treat. The Sovrans placed me in the Village Vanguard, close to the stage. Paul Motian's cymbal work produced brilliant shimmer, palpable textures, and a lot of air. I could feel Scott LaFaro's bass plucks, the weight of the instrument, and its tightly defined image in space. Evans' piano combined a complex percussive attack, a woody-metallic sustain, and delicate decays that lasted even as the notes piled up. Time and tonal smear were thankfully missing in action—a difficult feat with this recording. Few speakers manage it so well.

Visiting audiophiles, novices and veterans alike, were impressed by the Sovrans' lack of obvious colorations, their rhythmic snap, their spatial coherence and three-dimensionality, and especially their effervescence—these speakers' ability to quickly conjure up and make vanish musical moments in time. So was I.

Elegantly conceived and beautifully built, Chario's Academy Sovran offers a high level of sonic performance in every possible category except the deepest bass—and what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for with the high quality of the pitch-perfect bass it does produce.

The Sovran impressed me most with its rock-solid rhythmic coherence and its clean, nimble attack, followed by its smooth tonal balance. Add to that its solid imaging and impressive soundstaging—depending on the speaker positions, you have a choice of a deep, narrow soundstage or one that's a lot wider and a bit shallower, but with consistent reproduction of timbres either way. Add to that the meticulously finished cabinets of solid hardwood, exceptional resolution of high-frequency detail with only a slight tilt toward brightness, and you have a speaker that, while not inexpensive, offers exceptional performance with fit'n'finish to match. But equally impressive was what I didn't hear from the Sovran: bloat, false warmth, etch, grain, or—especially—congestion.

The US loudspeaker market may be overcrowded, but there's always room for a speaker as well designed and executed as the Chario Academy Sovran. It challenges anything else in its price class, and many speakers costing far more.

Chario s.r.l.
US distributor: Koetsu USA
PO Box 1909
Carolina, PR 00984-1909