Hales Design Group Transcendence Five loudspeaker Page 2

Transient quickness proved to be another of the Transcendence Five's strong suits. Plucked instruments like guitars, and percussion with a lot of upper-treble energy, had a lot of "surprisingness," with no apparent smearing of their transient onset.

If there's an area where the Transcendence Five's performance was at all disappointing, it was the bass. This was a surprise for me, because the Transcendence Five uses the same woofer as the Revelation Three, and I thought the Revelation Three's bass response was one of its strengths. The Transcendence Five's bass extension was about the same as the Revelation Three's, reaching the low 30Hz region with agreeable tightness and firmness—but it seemed a bit "slower," and not as clear and highly resolved, as the rest of the range. The bass drum at the climactic conclusion of the first part of Russian Sailors' Dance (Beachcomber: Encores for Band, Reference RR-62CD) came across as not quite integrated into the sonic fabric, or as if the percussionist's timing had been slightly off—and, having listened to this piece many times, I know that this is not the recording.

I still wouldn't want to rule out that what I was hearing was a problematic interaction with the room, but I suspect that's not the entire answer. One explanation, perhaps too simplistic, may be that the polypropylene woofer has trouble keeping up with the quickness and resolution of the magnesium-cone midrange, and its inherent character is better matched to the Revelation Three's polypropylene midrange. I note that the top-of-the-line Transcendence Eight uses two magnesium-cone woofers; although the Transcendence Five's bass performance is quite acceptable, I can't help wondering how much better it would be with one of the Transcendence Eight's woofers.

Although audiophiles often like to claim that our standard of comparison is live music, the fact is that it's hard to get a piano or a jazz trio, let alone a symphony orchestra or rock band, into a listening room for comparison purposes. What we really mean by this conceit is that we try to remember what live music sounds like in a concert hall; our actual comparisons are with other sound-reproduction equipment.

The last two speakers I had for evaluation were the Hales Revelation Three ($2195/pair) and the Dunlavy SC-IV/A ($7995/pair). Talk about hard acts to follow! In my book, the Revelation Three sets the standard in the $2000–$3000 range, inviting comparisons at double the price. The $7995 SC-IV/A is Dunlavy's spectacular successor to the speaker that was Stereophile's Speaker of the Year and Component of the Year in 1994. The SC-IV/A is my reference standard for providing Class A performance at a reasonable price.

By the time I was listening to the Transcendence Five, I no longer had the Revelation Three review samples, so I was not able to make A/B comparisons. But my experience with these speakers is fairly extensive, so I feel reasonably comfortable commenting on their similarities and differences. And, as might be expected given the consistency of design approach, the similarities are greater than the differences. Both speakers have a fundamentally neutral tonal balance, an open, easy, unstrained quality, and both are able to project a wide, deep soundstage with very good imaging.

However, the Transcendence Five's resolution in the midrange and treble was superior, and the highs were smoother. The treble superiority was particularly apparent at high levels, where the R3's tweeter occasionally evinces a bit of sizzle. There is no difference worth mentioning in bottom-end extension, but, as noted earlier, I felt that the Transcendence Five/Revelation Three woofer didn't seem to fully match the quickness and resolution of the Transcendence Five midrange.

A pair of Dunlavy SC-IV/As costs $2000 more than a pair of Transcendence Fives, so perhaps it's not fair to compare them—but who said life is fair? Once again, both speakers offer a neutral tonal balance and can be generally described as low-coloration designs, but they definitely don't sound the same. The Transcendence Five was a bit more laid-back and forgiving, with a slightly sweeter presentation, and even less grain through the upper midrange and treble. This may or may not be more "accurate"—I'm not about to go down that particular road.

The Transcendence Five had a more "airy" sound, and its tonal balance changed less with listener position. The SC-IV/A's bass performance was quite superior, going down to the 20Hz area, and there was better integration of the bass with the rest of the range. The Transcendence Fives' imaging was excellent, but the SC-IV/As' was better still, providing sharper delineation of images within the soundstage (at the cost of a more limited optimum listening area). The speakers were pretty much even in dynamics, except when the program material had a lot of bass content, at which times the SC-IV/A pulled ahead. The SC-IV/A is a much taller and heavier speaker (6', 180 lbs) that visually dominates most rooms; the Transcendence Five is more decor-friendly.

With its tonal neutrality, timbral accuracy, high-resolution midrange and treble, expansive soundstage, precise imaging, crisp dynamics, and attractive appearance, the Transcendence Five is an outstanding example of the science and art of loudspeaker design. Is it the speaker for you? Well, any price-conscious person considering the Transcendence Five should also listen to the Hales Revelation Three. The Transcendence Five is overall a better speaker, but it's not better in every respect (I prefer the Revelation Three's bass-to-midrange transition), and it costs nearly three times as much. Assuming you can handle its price and size, there's the $7995 Dunlavy SC-IV/A, which provides greater bass extension and an even more sharply focused image. And if you don't find $10k too daunting, then by all means consider the Hales Transcendence Eight, which sounded most impressive in several systems at the 1999 CES.

Or, having listened to these and other contenders, you may decide that the speaker that provides the best balance between price and performance is the Transcendence Five. If you do, you won't get an argument from me.

Hales Design Group
16812 Gothard Street
Huntington Beach, CA 92647