The Fifth Element #62 Page 3

Initial setup brought to light some quirks. One, the speaker terminals are set up for biwiring, so jumpers are required. Although the terminals are sourced from WBT, there's not enough clearance between the terminals' plastic hex nuts and the overhanging lip of the back of the integral stand's base to allow use of a standard speaker-lug wrench. So the nuts were never really tight. If I were buying these speakers, I'd get speaker cables terminated with banana plugs at the loudspeaker end, and use the lug nuts for the biwire jumper.

Another factor is that, obviously, a monitor speaker with an integral stand has a very small range of height adjustment, provided only by its spikes, whereas the buyer of, say, Harbeth's P3ESR can choose stands from 24" to 36" tall, depending on circumstances and preferences. At first, I found the V1.5s' image height not all that I'd hoped for. The first step was to screw the two rear spikes as far inward as possible, and then to screw the front spike as far out as possible, which tilted the speaker back a bit, but put it on the cusp of instability. I later put an acoustical baffle in front of the fireplace flanked by the speakers, which not only helped center the focus but also, to my surprise, increased the image height. I was glad that there was no muting of highs. The final step, which resulted in very satisfactory image height, was, in consultation with Laurence Dickie, to get a couple of 12"-square paving blocks from a garden center and put the speakers on those, thus raising them by almost 3.5". Bingo.

Other than that, setup was fuss-free. I grew to like the look of the V1.5. The response of most visitors was "Ehh," but Steve Martorella, Minister of Music at the First Baptist Church in America, loved the look. Steve, by the way, was so knocked out by the differences between JA's electric bass on the in-and-out-of-phase test (track 2) of Stereophile's Test CD 2 that he asked what kind of loudspeaker was behind the fabric screen in the middle. He was flabbergasted to learn that he was hearing an auditory illusion of sound coming from a place where the speakers were not. I was chagrined. I have played that test for him before, and he never seemed to "get" it, let alone be fooled into thinking there was a center-channel speaker. Just goes to show.

Steve offered the opinion that the Vivid V1.5s had more resolving power and coherence than the ESP Concert Grands he'd heard years before at my place, and which, ever since, had been his ideal of great home audio. Stay tuned—more mighty oaks will fall in due course.

The initial setup consisted of a borrowed Einstein tube hybrid integrated amplifier and a Wadia 861 SE CD player, both of which I was familiar with. Interconnects and speaker cables started out as MIT Merlin M1 and MH-770 CVTerminator. Replacing the older and less expensive MITs with Cardas Clear speaker cables ($6600/12' pair terminated in spades, footnote 3) resulted in not at all what I had expected. Perhaps the name Clear had led me to expect a more pronounced treble. Instead, what I heard was the biggest improvement in bass extension I have ever heard from a speaker-cable substitution. And that was with stone-cold new cables. With break-in, the top became noticeably more open, but the biggest changes were even more bass—about two or three more bass notes from pipe organs, it seemed—a much lower noise floor, and spooky resolution.

The resolving power went into warp drive when, a few weeks later, the companion Cardas Clear interconnects arrived ($1840/m terminated with RCAs). There was no additional bass, but the timbral coherence snapped into place. Space limitations mean that I can't go through the litany of construction features of the Clear, which may be a blessing in disguise. I think that neither I nor any other audio writer really can say whether the Clear sounds as good as it does because of—or despite—any particular construction or design choice. They are what they are, and are also the best-sounding cables I have heard.

With the wiring aspects of the system thus maxed out for the nonce, I did the final tweaks of physical setup, as described above, but not before trying the system with the Vivid V1.5s positioned according to the Cardas speaker-setup formula. I did not find it superior. Images no longer extended as far past the outside edges of the speakers as before, when they were about 2' farther apart and about 5" more forward. The speakers were toed in to face the listening position dead on.

Apart from the setup tracks on Test CD 2, discs that found frequent rotation as the setup evolved were: my own pipe-organ recordings (Pipes Rhode Island, CD, Riago 101) Sixpence None the Richer's Divine Discontent (CD, Reprise 86010-2); David Gray's White Ladder (CD, RCA 69351-2), which has never sounded so good; Sir David Willcocks' An Oxford Elegy; Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky; Sir John Barbirolli's 1964 recording with the Boston Symphony of Delius' Walk to the Paradise Garden (DVD); Eric Whitacre's When David Heard (CD, Hyperion), and Bill Evans' The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 (3 CDs, Riverside).

In When David Heard, I heard with unprecedented clarity not only the individual voices, but also the "town sound" of all that was happening outside the recording venue, a London church. The clarity of the voices was amazing on Browne's "Late for the Sky" and "Fountain of Sorrow." From 0:30 of track 1 of CD 1 of the Bill Evans set, for the first time ever listening through speakers instead of headphones I could make out most of the quiet conversation between Evans and bassist Scott LaFaro. LaFaro asks what they're going to play (!), and Evans answers, "Let's start with your tune—the one we were just playing."

Where does the Vivid V1.5 stack up in JM's album of old love letters sent to previous speaker faves? Well, the V1.5 had decisively more resolving power than the Harbeth P3ESR (as it should, at more than three times the price), Wilson Benesch's ACT, or Peak Consult's Empress Reference. The V1.5 also seemed to have a lower noise floor, but I think a lot of the credit for that goes to the Cardas Clear cables. In resolving power, the V1.5 was up there with the new Wilson Audio Sasha, which I heard with Cardas Clears and Ayre Acoustics electronics at a dealer event at Fidelis AV in Derry, New Hampshire.

The Vivid V1.5 excelled at coherence—right up there with the Quad ESL-2905. Distortion was very low. Dynamics were fast. With the right recordings, the speakers seemed to disappear.

Timbral accuracy is often in a tug-of-war with timbral beauty. In this regard the Vivid V1.5 was right up there with ASA's Pro Monitor, but offered a cleaner, more neutral sound that was as beautiful.

For a 6" bass driver, the V1.5's bass was astonishing, but then, the cabinet is twice the size of that of the usual 6" two-way, about 22 vs 11 liters.

The ESP Concert Grands could play louder and scale large works better, but were a step behind the Vivids in resolving power.

Now that I've heard the V1.5, I can readily believe that Vivid's G1Giya is the best loudspeaker Wes Phillips has ever heard. In my system as described, the V1.5 is the best two-way speaker I have heard, as well as the best speaker under $10,000/pair. Rather than concentrate on its limitations in scale, loudness, and bass, just think of the V1.5 as the BBC LS3/5A concept raised to the nth power. With real bass.

I'm not ready to go all Herbert von Karajan on you and claim that, after the Vivid V1.5, "all else is gaslight," as HvK said of digital sound the first time he heard it. But the game has been changed, perhaps even more by the $7650/pair V1.5 than by the $65,000/pair G1Giya.


Footnote 3: Cardas Audio, Ltd., 480 11th Street SE, Bandon, OR 97411. Tel: (541) 347-2484. Fax: (541) 347-2301. Web: