Odeon La Traviata loudspeaker Page 2

Colored links in the chain
Go room to room at a Consumer Electronics Show and you'll hear more sonic signatures than are on The Declaration of Independence. That's especially true when you compare speakers using different methods to move air. Every technology has particular characteristics, whether it's a paper cone, a ceramic-coated metal cone, a sheet of Mylar, or a tiny compression driver loaded into a horn. You have your point-source crowd, your line-source true believers, and on and on. Partisans conveniently ignore the specific character each design imparts to the sound, preferring to concentrate on what it does best. We all do this. What choice do we have if we want to build the mental illusion of musical "reality" coming from a box—or a panel, or whatever? That we can be fooled is a testament to a successful design.

Fire up any new speaker and it's like taking a cold shower. It's going to sound very different from what you're used to, and you'll start by hearing those differences magnified. Write a review from that perspective and few speakers can get a fair shake—unless they're clearly and overwhelmingly superior. Your ear needs to acclimate, most speakers need to break in, and—if they're fresh from an airplane cargo hold—warm up as well.

Each of the speakers I have reviewed over the past 18 months or so—Sonus Faber Amati Homage, Infinity Prelude MTS, Audio Physic Avanti III, ProAc Future Ones, Merlin VSM, Red Rose R3—has required modest shifts in listening perspective to accommodate differences in presentation so that the illusion of reality could be maintained. You kind of make peace with a loudspeaker—unless it's so off the mark it goes to war with your senses. The truly smitten think that their choice in speakers is the Holy Grail or the reference or whatever, and these people will find followers, but count me out of that game. Transducer technology and speaker-system design have come a long way, but the speaker is still the most colored link in the audio chain.

That Horn Sound
When I first sat down to listen to the Traviatas after putting them in the usual places and toeing them in as per usual, their midrange/top-end presentation was so different from what I was accustomed to that I immediately began playing with toe-in. One person's "bright" is another's "extended," but to my ears what I was hearing would sound bright to anyone. Not "bright" as in "peaky" and "ragged," just "shine a blue light on the music" bright. I decided that having two horns aimed at or near me was not a good idea, and ended up with them firing almost straight ahead. But the balance, though slightly warmer, still struck me as somewhat clinical on top—though incredibly detailed and remarkably transparent—and remained so even after break-in, warmup, and long-term acclimation.

Familiar references such as The Weavers' Carnegie Hall Reunion 1963 (LP, Analogue Productions APF005), Davey Spillane's Atlantic Bridge (LP, Tara 3019), Mel Tormé and Friends at Marty's (LP, Finesse W2X37484)—even the excellent-sounding if warmish JVC XRCDs from RCA's Living Stereo catalog such as the Charade (JVCXR-0213) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (JVCXR-0212) soundtracks, and The Reiner Sound (JVCXR-0215)—were just too much on top. Again, they didn't sound peaky or even bright, as you'd hear from a zingy dome tweeter, but too much like a laser beam for my tastes. Even the Sonny Rollins Way Out West XRCD (VICJ60088) didn't gel for me as it had through the Toscas when I heard them in Germany. Still, there was no denying the speed, openness, and transparency of the presentation.

And it wasn't the supertweeter, which kicks in at 16kHz. I put my ear up to one while music played and couldn't hear a thing. I don't think you're supposed to. As with a good subwoofer, you should be aware of its presence only in its absence. But unlike most supertweeters, the Traviata's can't be turned off, so I can't be sure what its contribution to the total sound was.

But along with the HF extension came superfast, effortless, ultraclean transients. Bells, cymbals, percussion, and plucked instruments were presented grain-free and with excitingly crystalline clarity. Air and hall ambience were presented with a stunning resolution that contributed to an enormous sense of space with live recordings, and superbly focused rear-wall reflections with well-recorded classical CDs and LPs. The Traviatas were exciting to listen to, and never edgy or harsh unless the recording was. Though the promised "you are there" experience never materialized, "the speakers are there" experience did.

My ears told me that the Traviata's bass response, though limited to about 40Hz in my room and rolling off rapidly below 50Hz, was well-suited to the horn's speed and extension and blended well with it. Whether or not a 40Hz response for $9500/pair makes it for you is your decision to make, but unless you listen to a great deal of organ music, I don't think you'll find the Traviata's low end lacking. Whatever it gave up in response it made up for in nimbleness and reasonably good articulation and control. More important, the low end from the cone woofer didn't separate out from what the horn was providing above.

My Primitive Measurements
Mating a cone woofer with a superfast compression horn mid/tweeter can't be an easy task, and is one of the usual drawbacks to a hybrid design like this. Subjectively at least, Odeon has accomplished it in the Traviata. The response in my room, primitively measured from my listening position with a RadioShack SPL meter and Mobile Fidelity's out-of-print Sound Check CD (produced by Alan Parsons), showed the response down 6dB at 40Hz, but flat referenced to the 1kHz test tone at 50Hz. There was a 6dB dip between 100 and 123Hz, and a 5dB dip at the 315Hz and 400Hz tones, probably due to room effects.

US distributor: Axiss Distribution
17800 S. Main Street, Suite 109
Gardena, CA 90248
(310) 329-0187