Sjöfn HiFi (the clue) loudspeaker Manufacturer's Comment

Manufacturer's Comment

Editor: We're confused!

Though Herb Reichert points out (the clue)'s transparency, dynamics, crisp transients, detail, "live" quality, gee-whiz low price, etc., he is disappointed in the "lean" bass, relative lack of warmth, and uneven tonal balance. We quote from his own blog comments from the Capital Audiofest, in July: "what I am now all about is finding that killer $5k system that out plays the $20k systems. And you know what? That is indeed possible and the sound in Sjöfn HiFi's room proved it. Typically, the first thing you give up in the lower end of the price scale is bass. Not with The Clue loudspeakers . . . They played the Ventures bass and drums with more weight and realism than I imagined possible. . . . The second thing you give up is midrange color and texture—again, not in the Sjofn room. Here, the guitars sounded more real than the prices!"

Blog comments about (the clue) from Stereophile's Art Dudley (October 2012): "I have no idea whatsoever how [Sjöfn's Managing Director, Lars Erickson] manages to wring such enormous scale, clarity, and impact out of such a tiny box. But he does." More from the esteemed Mr. Dudley (April 2013): "I've written before about . . . Sjöfn HiFi and their remarkable little loudspeaker called the Clue ($999/pair): an inexplicably huge-sounding thing that does a far better job than average of putting across force, feel, and fun."

And from Stereophile's Stephen Mejias (October 2010): "I walked into the room just as a thunderous bass note was struck. 'Whoa,' I thought to myself as I took the last remaining seat in the packed demo. . . . The system was small, but it produced nothing but big, room-filling sound. There was that well-controlled, thunderous bass and startlingly quick transients."

Furthermore, all of the dozen or so other reviews of and commentaries on (the clue) that have appeared elsewhere in the audio press have stressed the prowess and accurate fullness of its bottom end—and most have pointed out its consummate tonal balance. (Accolades include the Positive Feedback Online Writer's Choice Award for 2011, and Best Sound for the Money at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.)

And when we demo (the clue), whether at our showroom or an audio show, the first thing out of auditioners' pie holes is usually, "Where's the subwoofer?" (You get a free pair of speakers if you can find one!)

Clearly, something aberrant was going on in Mr. Reichert's listening room. We would have greatly appreciated a one-line e-mail along the lines of: "These sound different from what I heard at the show. Whassup?" Had we received such a message, we would have encouraged him to place (the clue)s within a micron or two of the front wall (rather than at almost 2" out), and/or to move one or both speakers closer to a side boundary, and/or to move the listening position forward or back a smidgen—while adhering, to the greatest degree possible, to the setup guidelines, including the optimal ratio of width to listening distance. We're 99% sure that he would then have heard the full bass energy and warmth of which our speakers are capable (and which he heard at the Capital Audiofest), as well as top-drawer tonal balance (which is also, for our speaker, dependent on room-correct placement)—and saved us the ignominy of unfavorable comments, and him the crazy-making, furious swapping in and out of amps and cables.

Instead, we received a copy of a final, set-in-stone review—with only a few days to craft our response, and with no opportunity to correct Mr. Reichert's setup. See, correct room-boundary coupling is critical to our being able to offer a monitor with deep, powerful bass, pitch-perfect tonal balance, and a Brobdingnagian soundstage (both horizontally and vertically)—and other of the positive attributes of which Mr. Reichert makes mention in his review. Get it right—it is not difficult (and we're here to help you get it right)—and you will have the vaunted "you are there" experience for under a grand. Of that, we are cocksure.

And please note: (the clue) is not for the Lawrence Welk crowd! If you like to listen to music in a soporific haze, you're well advised to seek out artificially warm, colored speakers and a mushy-sounding tube amp. Per the many comments in the audio press (see above), our diminutive wonders—punchy, dynamic as they come, replete with transient snap—are fun and exciting to listen to. We'll put you in the mosh pit for Patti Smith at CBGB's, at a front table at the Village Vanguard for Coltrane, at Folsom Prison with Johnny Cash. Of that, we're also cocksure!—Lars Erickson, Sjöfn HiFi

A technical addendum:

It is well beyond the scope of this short reply to address the complexity involved with measuring a device like (the clue), with its unique use model. But to make two simple, significant points:

1) When (the clue) is measured at an actual oblique-angle listening axis, the high frequencies are very smooth and extended, as Mr. Reichert stated in his subjective evaluation.

2) The nearfield bass measurement employed provides a half-space result, and does not represent the more complex "sequential" full-space to half-space to quarter-space, etc., enhanced bass loading of (the clue) when properly placed. When (the clue) is optimally set up, its in-room response provides transient-correct, reference-level bass down to at least 35Hz, and in many rooms lower (and as low as 28Hz).—Jim Croft, designer of (the clue)

Mikeymort's picture

You mention the Dynaco ST120/A-25 combo which is my reference as well. (I still use my A-25's but sold my ST125 years ago.) I have kept the A-25's in service as they have the quality of never being fatiguing. I listen to audio almost constantly, music, news and sports. (I love a baseball game on the radio, or these days, being streamed over the internet) Since you have liked the A-25's, I'm guessing you heard this quality as well.

You never really followed up on on how the Sjöfn was different from the Dynacos, I'm sure it's better on the top-end, I'd be interested in your observations.

Allen Fant's picture

Nicely done! HR-
IME, Creek builds a very nice integrated that does well w/ many loudspeakers, inculding my reference, Thiel CS 2.4 - while the little Creek cannot satisfy the high power/current hungry Thiel spearks, it holds its own regarding "timbre".

dalethorn's picture

I'm not surprised by any of this. They need to optimize at both ends - best cases and worst cases, and it looks like they did only one.

Ishmael's picture

I very much enjoyed the article, well done Herb. I myself own the Clues and am very impressed with them but it was not an easy road to get here. I, like you, tried the suggested configuration for setup. I also rolled through tons of amps and sources. I ended up with good but not great result.

After about 6 months of trying (I was about ready to bail on the whole thing) I ended up trying more placement options in a last ditch effort to make the things work. I went extreme on the wall placement - nearly touching on the one corner, slightly more distance on the other due to toe-in. I also spread them out more than usual which put the left speaker up against a side wall - an unthinkable placement with most any other speaker. Bingo. This did the trick, and I'm getting substantially better sound than any other speaker I've tried in this room (including the LS50 and a bunch more in the $2k-3k range).

In summary, I bought these hoping for easy placement and good sound in my difficult room. I ended up with GREAT sound but it took more work to get there than with any other speakers I've owned, in any other room I've tried.

brian2010's picture

I wonder if this is the same Jim Croft who built transmission line four channel speakers for me in Vancouver, WA in the 1970s? He and a gentleman named Huber were just starting out in the industry and the speakers, hooked up to a Pioneer QX-8000 receiver, Thorens, Nakamichi and Teac sources were awesome. The system is still the best I have ever owned four decades later.

brian2010's picture

It is the same Jim Croft and I can tell you from experience any speaker he is involved with is going to be exceptional. I will soon go to Seattle to personally check these speakers out and you should, too. I doubt he has regressed in 40 years in the business.

Hi-Reality's picture

Dear Herb,

I use a pair of (the clue) loudspeakers from Erickson/Croft at Sjöfn HiFi driven by a pair of Khartago Mono Extremes from Klaus Bunge at Odyssey Audio as a reference system. They generate a dynamic and transparent experience with an amazing LF response ('Coffee', rather than 'Wine', is perhaps a good word to describe them. I think they will perform even better after I am done with the necessary improvements planned. One of my to-do items is to ask Lars Erickson for some Supra speaker cables and interconnects.

So my question #1: did you sense improvement/added realism after you installed them? this info was unfortunately missing from your report.

My question #2: What were the room size and shape you tested (the clue)'s in? what I can reveal at this point of my project is that these speakers' highest performance level is achieved in smaller and symmetrical rooms (I can't say what shape or how small though :-). So, in that sense they are performing as near-field monitors rather than the usual stand-mounters. And damn good ones!

My question #3: you have listed headphones and headphone amplifier in your equipment list; but there is no mention of them in the review. what was their function?

Thanks for this review. I was very happy to finally see a Stereophile review of Sjöfn HiFi (I had previously asking Stereophile to be kind and review them, see url below for one)

I am looking forward to your feedback.

Regards, Babak
Founder, The Hi-Reality Project,

corrective_unconscious's picture

I see your base instincts have come to the fore.

danger's picture

HR starts out in his high chair and ends in his slippers with his little dog. Seriously!? I think the review says more about HR than the speakers. Writing is unfocused just like HR's review process. He is all over the place.

argyle_mikey's picture

The company website diverts you to their eBay page. That offers plenty of nice looking cables etc but no sign of this most interesting sounding speaker. I do hope that they didn't stop making it.


TennesseeTuxedo's picture

As an owner of the clues for many years now I am politely mystified by this review. As a Denver resident and long standing audio nut and therefore a regular attendee at RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest), I stumbled upon the Sjofn Hi-Fi room many years ago back when they had a product called the Guru, which was an excellent speaker though, alas, out of my price range at the time. I lamented that to Lars Erikson, the man in the chair in socks and sandals at the Sjofn room and he said "Don't give up on us. We're working on that!" And a few years later I was pleased to find the clues in the Sjofn room, and in my price range no less. In addition to being affordable I made numerous trips to many rooms and to come back and compare the clues sound against: NHT, Sonus Faber, Zu Audio, Vandersteen, everything by Andrew Jones, Siggy Linkwitz, Hsu Research, Emotiva, Macintosh (!), Magnepan, Audio Research, German Physiks, YG and I don't remember the others. What impressed me was that the clues sounded as good as the best of those, and much better than the worst of them. So I purchased a pair of the clues and have been QUITE happy with them ever since. I knew they would sound best in a smaller damped room like the hotel room I heard them in. So I paired them with a simple Yamaha Natural Air integrated amp/receiver and a Carver FM tuner and just plunked them on tv tables in the corner of my smallish bedroom. I can tell you Colorado Public Radio and KUVO the jazz Station sounded PHENEMONAL, balanced, rich, and 3-dimensional. And whatever computer audio I was running also sounded excellent (without a DAC). Now I have a tall condo with a tv hutch and wouldn't you know it - the clues are a perfect fit for tv hutch design, now paired with a Denon AV Receiver/Integrated amp (and boat wire tin coated copper as speaker cables - hee hee hee!). But they need lots of clean power and symmetrical geometry in the room. You give them that and they will reward you for years to come, as mine have.

I also have a robust Rotel component system powering Revel M22's, Vandersteen Model 2's and Thiel CS 1.2's all connected via the requisite absurdly expensive cables. All three of those speaker sets sound best in a BIG TALL room. Whereas the Clues rule the SMALL COZY room. So basically if your ceiling is over 12 feet the clues are not going to impress you. If the ceiling is under 12 feet and you put them very close to the wall on stands 22 inches high with a smidge of toe in, then you will be delighted. Music. Home Theater. Whatever.





argyle_mikey's picture

Well, Lars responded to my email pretty quickly. The Clues are still available for 999 of your US dollars and he will post to the UK, so I'm going to jump in too. Amp will be a NAD M2, which seems to fit the bill power-wise at least. Should be interesting...


LostnAmerica's picture

Greetings from across the pond, I am eager to hear if you have received your speakers how your setup is working with your "the clue" speakers and, if any insight you might share in seting up. I thank you in advance...



LostnAmerica's picture

The latest comment from November of 2016 gave a little hope, they are still available, thats good news for the average consumer. I am taking a "chance" on a used pair of the clue that I found. And are patiently waiting for their arrival this week. I read as many reviews on this speaker as possible and about 90% were positive and encouraging that is why I searched and searched for a used pair. With the exception of the review on Stereophile which had led to (less than favorable) a recommendation which is a little confusing. I understand that the issues of concise placement and possibly the correct power supply (?) and I hope to conquer them, being a novice, this will be fun. I am excited about these little gems and will hope to draw out their full capabilities . Time will tell. Meantime, I hope others will report of their successes and issues with these speakers and look forward to reading and learning. I can understand how the performance of such a diminutive speaker and company could conceivably cause issues with the mainstream and "hi-End" speaker system companies, but really...I would add that I am a subscriber to this magazine and love it. And I would hope another updated "review" by possibly another of these speakers with no malicious intent to the original reviewer/author (however unprofitable as this might be) for the average consumer who might be able to afford the $1000 speaker and might see and eventually hear. Thanks for listening to my tirade...

argyle_mikey's picture

The curse of the audiophile - household repair demands for your hard earned cash - delayed my purchase. Sorry. In the meantime, I also think it's time for a reappraisal. I can't think of another component that received such a mixed review but remains in the Stereophile Recommended list. This speaker appears to be a bit of an enigma.


argyle_mikey's picture

Just bumping this (do people still bump things?) because I’m genuinely curious.

I don’t understand why some long-standing products get re-reviewed every few years - Totem Mani 2 seems to get a full review more often than I change my underpants - yet others are ignored. If ever a product required a follow up, I’d say it was this one.

How about it JA ?