Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeaker Herb Reichert July 2018

Herb Reichert reviewed the Joseph Pulsar in July 2018 (Vol.41 No.7):

Ever since loudspeaker designer Jeff Joseph, owner of Joseph Audio, delivered and carefully positioned in my Bed-Stuy bunker a pair of his stand-mounted Pulsar loudspeakers ($7700/pair without stands, serial nos. P-0187L/R), I've been experiencing a new variety of audio pleasure. I'd experienced short, scattered moments of a similar pleasure in Joseph's rooms at various audio shows, but I'd never been able to understand its cause or perceive its full nature until I heard the Pulsars in my home system. As I told Joseph as he walked out the door, "You know, I don't own any $7700 adjectives."

I needed to spend time with the Pulsar so I could understand what made it a Class A (Restricted Extreme LF) product in Stereophile's list of Recommended Components: Joseph Audio's smallest speaker (15" high by 9" wide by 13" deep), the Pulsar hadn't been in our pages since Michael Fremer reviewed it in the June 2012 issue—its design hasn't changed since then—and had fallen from our listing. And as John Atkinson reminded us in last April's "Recommended Components" feature, "In general, components do not remain listed for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's writers and editors has had continued experience with them."

In show reports, I've described Joseph Audio speakers as "quiet"—mainly because, through them, no fuzzy, blurry, grainy stuff happens between 1 and 4kHz. Unlike most two-way box speakers, the Pulsar's sound in that region fades to silent "black," not a gray haze. Usually, I expect metal cones to sound metallic, but the Pulsar's 5.5" cast-magnesium bass-midrange cone never sounded metallic. I occasionally think soft-dome tweeters sound too soft, but the Pulsar's fabric dome sounds only . . . invisible. I always expect thick, heavily lacquered boxes to sound almost imperceptibly restrained and less fully animated than the Pulsars. I also expect to hear the ports of ported speakers adding something to the sound—but the Pulsars' ports don't.

I suspect that these attractive speakers are countering my expectations because of their asymmetrical, infinite-slope crossovers. These turn off the audio signal to both drivers very sharply, thereby minimizing cone breakup and nonlinear behavior. Likewise, I imagine that these steep crossover slopes purify the tweeter's output while reducing the potential for metallic ringing from the bass-mid cone.

It's after midnight. Jeff Joseph is long gone. I sit peacefully, beginning to wonder what I really think of these uptown-bourgeoisie Pulsars. I'm listening to the gruff, gravelly voice of Guinean singer and tenor saxophonist Momo Wandel Soumah forcefully growling "Toko" and "Yérélélé," from his Afro Swing (Buda Musique 16/44.1 Qobuz stream). "Yérélélé" rolls forward in a quivering Afro-samba. Flute, marimba, and a chanted rap vocal propel a groove that seems completely unrestrained by the Pulsars. Wandel's timeless backbeats reach repeatedly for control of my mind. Wandel's wooden instruments and Joseph's Pulsars let me delight in sound purely for the sake of sound. The music of Afro Swing seems bigger and clearer than it did through my Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a's or Harbeth P3ESRs.

"Léfa Lu" is a wildly arranged call and response, flute and sax riding high over rhythms of marimba and congas. Soumah's sound has an enjoyable force and texture. The outlines of this album's precisely rendered images are beyond any I have experienced at home. The only aural images I've "seen" as clearly rendered as these came from Alta Audio's Hestia Titanium floorstanders ($32,000/pair).

To check that I wasn't dreaming, I played my trusty DSD download of Puente Celeste's Nama (DSDx2, M•A Recordings M084A) and almost instantly had to admit that I'd never experienced that quantity or purity of resolution in my own home either. Piano and voice were focused, but it was the textural pleasure of Santiago Vazquez's low singing and whistling over Luciano Dyzenchauz's bowed double bass that hooked me and held my attention.

I have experienced countless highly resolving loudspeakers, but almost none was also highly involving. The Joseph Audio Pulsar was both.

With the Pulsar, all types of recordings became newly enjoyable because of what was newly revealed. As I finished each album I smiled quietly for a moment, wondering what I should cue up next. Another old favorite? The Pulsars made me like a lot of my records better—not because they made bad recordings sound better, but because all recordings sound best when they're fleshed out, well sorted, and vigorously alive. The Pulsars specialized in that.

When Jeff Joseph arrived, my stereo had been sounding balanced and enjoyably musical. I had Mytek HiFi's Manhattan II DAC driving the Pass Laboratories HPA-1 line stage and headphone amplifier, connected to Pass's XA25 stereo amplifier driving the Harbeth P3ESR minimonitors. The imaging was locked in, with no 100Hz blip or dip. Except for the Harbeths, I used this basic system for the entirety of this report.

The Pulsars arrived in the middle of my latest obsession: Buddy Holly's "Apartment Tapes," released on Down the Line: Rarities (2 CDs, Decca 80011675-02), recorded only weeks before Holly's death (February 1959), and recorded with a single microphone on a consumer-quality, 7.5ips Ampex recorder. I began not with a song, but with the hum, tape hiss, and street noise surrounding the voices of Holly and his wife, María Elena, saying stoned, silly, intimate things. The room tone, spatial coordinates, and vocal articulation were all there in haunting, mesmerizing ways.4

After dozens of discs and files, I began to investigate how the Pulsars would compare to the Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition speakers, which I reviewed in the April 2018 issue. First thing I noticed was the extra flesh and density the 30.2s brought to male and female voices. The Harbeths are less transparent than the Pulsars, but considerably meatier and more straightforward in their renderings. They made singers sound more like real people, less like sonic holograms. The Harbeths image accurately, but don't showcase image outlines as well as the Pulsars do.

Each speaker delivered its version of monitor-quality neutrality—which made it all the more fascinating to hear how two equally neutral loudspeakers could sound so qualitatively different. I wonder if the differences I heard are apparent in John Atkinson's measurements of these speakers.

My positive experiences with the Joseph Audio Pulsars were most likely precipitated by Jeff Joseph's clever engineering trifecta: steep asymmetrical crossover slopes; low-diffraction cabinets that are neither too thick nor too thin; and a port that never sullies the midrange.

The Joseph Audio Pulsar is a reference-quality loudspeaker. If I were a mastering engineer, the Pulsars would likely be my first choice in studio monitors. If I were a card-carrying audiophile looking for a top-tier stand-mounted speaker, I might also choose the Pulsars. But forced to choose between the Harbeth M30.2 and the Joseph Audio Pulsar for listening to music in my Bed-Stuy bunker, I would forgo the Pulsars' flawless detail and transparent spatiality, and opt for the fuller bass, more saturated tone, and deeper textural descriptiveness of the Harbeths.

Fortunately, I don't have to choose.— Herb Reichert

Footnote 1: You can hear the Pulsars in my room for yourselves here.
Joseph Audio Inc.
PO Box 1529
Melville, NY 11747
(800) 474-4434

ppgr's picture

Since Mr. Fremer refers to the Wilson Maxx in his review, it would be most interesting to compare measurements from both speakers (Wilson and Joseph) in the same room (Mr. Fremer's).

When comparing both curves side by side, the Wilson's measurements seem a little... er... embarrassing, especially considering the vast difference in size and cost.

Of course, measurements tell only part of the story, but I had the occasion to listen to both speakers, and the Joseph were very impressive, while the Wilson sounded like an impressive collection of stacked boxes.

To my ears, the Pulsar sounded light and nimble and fun (think Mazda Miata), while the Maxx we're kind of big and sluggish, especially on small scale music (think luxo SUV). 

JItterjaber's picture

I have heard few speakers that have good time coherence/phase between drivers. The Josephs sounded good in the show demo I heard. Love those Norwegian soft dome tweeters!

AragonFan's picture

I purchased a pair of Pulsars last year after being enormously impressed.  They do everything very well: soundstaging, imaging, frequency response, dynamics...all the typical audiophile parameters.  To me they sound like truly elite monitors without ever sounding fatiguing.  I can hear deeply into the mix when I want to listen analytically, and I can just enjoy the music anytime.  Overall, I suppose the best way to describe them as superbly balanced with thoughtful, effective performance tradeoffs (chiefly in ultimate dynamics and low bass response) for a two-way loudspeaker.

The tweeters are excellent, even arresting when handling well-recorded cymbals.  The attack, shimmer, and decay are all there.  The bass is also very good down to the lower 40 Hz area; and I think it sufficient for most music, at least music that I enjoy.  I am also using a REL R-218 subwoofer, dialed in to provide some support for the lowest octave and just above. The REL is the antithesis of slow, plodding bass and a very good match for the light-of-foot Pulsars.

My amplification and sources are quite good (Aragon Palladium 1K mono amps; Aragon 28K MKII preamp; Arcam FMJ CD-33 CD-Player), but hardly ultra-high end.  To my ears I am getting sound of a quality that I could spend twice or even three times to get, and then likely with only incremental improvements at the edges.  By any measure, $7,000 is a lot of money for a pair of loudspeakers ($8,400 including the REL R-218), but for me, the expense pays back in joy with my music.  Others' mileage may vary, but I am quite pleased.