The Fifth Element #24 Page 3

On the subject of getting the most out of these idiosyncratic speakers, Dan Banquer of RE Designs passed along to me the experience of one of his customers, who solved the problem of integrating the Diapasons (which, like the Hawks, are modular) into his room by use of a multichannel preamplifier with separate trim pots for each channel's volume, and a master volume control. This, of course, requires biamplification, but if you've gone that far you probably would benefit even more by being able to adjust the balance between the bass modules and the upper modules for the conditions in your room. For that RE customer, it was (surprise!) a preamp from RE Designs that saved the day. I was fascinated by this prospect, but there was not enough time to obtain the necessary equipment and try it. Perhaps for the Diapasons...

If I had to criticize the Obelisk, it would be because that speaker's 8" bass driver has to handle a substantial part of the midrange as well, before it hands off to the 1.5" midrange/tweeter. The Obelisk's midrange thus had a slightly velvety character, and the upper bass could be plummy. (The latter phenomenon could be related to floor reflections selectively canceling and reinforcing the woofer's output.) The Hawk addresses those issues by crossing over its bass driver (which is mounted higher off the floor) from 250Hz up, and having the four 4.5" midranges on the roof handle most of the middle octaves. This arrangement also gives the Hawk much more power-handling capacity.

The one thing that would still keep me hanging on to Obelisks is that each Obelisk uses four 3/8" supertweeters to cover the entire soundfield (the same device that the Diapason uses six of), while the Hawk uses four 1" tweeters. I found the Obelisk to have a wonderfully airy and open character in the upper treble, while the Hawk was warmer and more solid in that region. (I think it safe to say that this is almost entirely within the realm of personal preference. Also, I listened to the Obelisks with their grilles removed.)

To get a good idea of what the Hawks do best, you should hear them playing very-well-recorded orchestral music with lots of bass and dynamics. One excellent contender is a characterful recording of Geirr Tveitt's One Hundred Folk Songs from Hardanger orchestrations (CD, BIS CD-987), which you really should own. (If you buy it and hate it, then just stop taking my advice. It's that good.) Playing the Tveitt disc, the Hawks gave that floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall soundstage that many fans think of as one of the raisons d'être of Shahinian speakers.

Another sonic blockbuster, this one perhaps better known, but which doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves, is André Previn's recording of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (Telarc CD-80126). Don't pass it up just because it's meant for kids—it has some of the best-recorded orchestral instrumental timbres I know of. But even historical recordings with so-so sonics, such as an apparently unauthorized release of a Barbirolli/Boston Symphony recording of Delius' The Walk to the Paradise Garden (Music & Arts CD 251(2), no longer available), are arresting and entrancing. Organ recordings, of course, are particularly well served. By the way, one of the reasons you should visit the Shahinian website is that the site has a page with quite a few recommendations of recordings, most of them orchestral.

Ironically enough, the strongest impression the Hawks made on me during the time I had them was to reconfirm what a screamingly amazing bargain the Obelisks are, at half the price. In my medium-sized room, I never even remotely approached the limit of the Hawks' ability to move air. A quick consultation with my good chum and longtime Hawk owner Scot Markwell, formerly of The Abso!ute Sound, confirmed this impression. Scot said that, apart from the previously mentioned issues of velvetiness and plumminess, the Hawks will decisively show their mettle over the Obelisks in a much larger room, or on huge orchestral transient peaks.

When I listened critically, the Hawks were less colored, more seamless and smooth, and more coherent than the Obelisks. But at twice the price, they should be. Vasken Shahinian, Richard's son, hastens to point out that the Hawk is not an Obelisk on steroids, but a junior-varsity Diapason.

So it becomes a question of whether, taking into account ascending price, the airiness of the Obelisk outweighs its slightly compromised midrange and upper bass; whether the Hawk's overall coherence and power outweigh its less airy treble; or whether you should just have it all by buying the Diapasons. There are perhaps half a dozen speakers I could live with indefinitely, and the Diapason is on that list. (The others, in alphabetical order, are: Aerial 20T, DALI Megaline, ESP Concert Grand, Peak Consult InCognito Grande, and Wilson Benesch Chimera.) However, the Obelisk remains my go-to recommendation for classical music lovers who have to stay within an average budget.

To sum up the Shahinian Hawk: Pros: magisterial bass, huge soundstage, remarkably rendered instrumental timbres; in general, addictive to listen to. Cons: need an amp with high current and damping; stable-mate Obelisk has airier treble, and for most people will be better value for money (despite being more colored overall); few US dealers; usually a waiting list for speakers. Verdict: One listen will tell you whether you love the Hawks or just don't get them.

And if you don't, that's okay. We can still be friends.

Comments or questions.