Canton Vento Reference 1 DC loudspeaker

What, exactly, is one to make of a speaker named "Reference"? An easy answer might be that it will be expensive. Another easy answer is that someone might be being overly optimistic or downright deceitful. Ambitious? Certainly.

Of course, it's also possible that a company that calls its flagship speaker a "reference" is just telling it like it is. (Stop laughing—it could happen.)

While Canton Elektronik's Vento Reference 1 DC is unquestionably expensive at $30,000/pair, its name owes a lot more to fact than to brag—and, as insanely priced luxury goods go, it just might be a bargain.

Okay, okay—even I can't say that with a straight face. But let's leave value to the side for a moment and talk about quality. When it comes to solid engineering, build quality, and pedigreed parts, the Vento 1 DC definitely deserves that Reference tag.

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The Vento Reference 1 DC is a floorstanding, 3½-way, five-driver, bass-reflex loudspeaker measuring 56.3" H by 15" W by 22.2" D and weighing 193.5 lbs. The low end is handled by two 12" extended-excursion aluminum-cone drivers, the highs by Canton's renowned 1" ADT-25 aluminum-manganese tweeter. The midrange is taken care of by two 7" aluminum-cone units, one handling the 180Hz–3kHz range, the other the 180–400Hz range. Canton says this increases power-handling capabilities while preventing the unwanted cancellations and off-axis anomalies that occur in the upper midrange with double midrange drivers.

The cabinet is built up of seven layers of MDF molded into a curved monocoque shell and pressure-laminated together, then strengthened with additional structural supports. There are four internal chambers; the largest, containing the two woofers, is vented out the bottom of the cabinet by way of a double-flared port tube. Further deep-bass response is boosted by Canton's Displacement Control (DC) technology, essentially a high-pass filter that eliminates the harmonics of infrasonic frequencies that the drivers can't produce but that generate high levels of distortion. Canton claims that the DC technology can "decrease the lower cut-off frequency of the drivers by as much as a full octave."

The Vento 1 is biwirable via five-way binding posts—new and improved WBTs that are more accommodating than models I've cussed in the past. They're connected with the stoutest buses I've ever seen on a speaker. No, you're not going to buy an expensive speaker because it has better binding posts, but you'll smile each time you use these. Nice touch.

You can find a downloadable white paper delineating all of the Vento Reference 1 DC's technological underpinnings, here.

Everything deep is also simple and can be reproduced simply as long as its reference to the whole truth is maintained
Setting up the Vento Reference 1 DCs was easy. Canton importer Paul Madsen and I watched Canton's PR firm, Gordon Sell and Associates (that is, Gordon Sell and Raney Nelson), muscle 'em into the living room and move 'em into place. No, that's not special treatment—buy a pair of $30,000 loudspeakers, and I guarantee somebody else will supply the muscle.

The Ref 1s weren't hard to position, either. Like most large speakers in my room, they sounded best when well into the room (28" from the sidewalls, 66" from the front wall) and about 61" apart. I sat 12' away. Nor did the Ref 1s seem hard to drive—not really. I'd been listening to a pair of NuForce Reference 8B monoblocks when the Cantons were delivered, so I just connected the Cantons to those tiny 100W amps (footnote 1). The system made sounds, so I paid it little mind and continued talking to Madsen, Sell, and Nelson. Eventually, however, it occurred to me that the Cantons just weren't making the sort of magic one expects from an expensive "Reference" loudspeaker.

"Maybe I'm being a bit silly with this review-continuity stuff," I said. "Why not try the 200W Portal Paladin monoblocks I have in the on-deck circle?" So I did.

Did we gape in disbelief? Well, perhaps not—but the three other guys relaxed for the first time. We were starting to cook! What was the difference? Well, it wasn't loudness—not as such—though there was now more dynamic snap to the music. The difference came more at the quiet end. Music moved with more pulse, starting and stopping with more definition. The four of us shut up and began to listen. And anything that shuts up four hard-core audiophiles is a good thing.

As I began to listen to the Ref 1 and experiment with ancillary equipment, I discovered that it was very revealing of differences. That sounds like a bad thing—as though the Canton was driving me nuts with It's different, but is it better? That wasn't the case, but it quickly let me hear if something I'd done improved my system—like replacing AC distribution boxes with in-line filters with the untrammeled Furutech eTP60, or adding a Furutech RWL-1 acoustic panel to the door on the wall behind the speakers.

I liked the Vento Reference 1 from the get-go, though at first I suspected it might be a bit soft. Not that there's anything wrong with that—I know many music lovers who dislike the X-ray hyperreality of some contenders for world's greatest speaker, and I suspected the Ref 1 might appeal to them. It certainly appealed to me.

But every time I thought I'd discovered the Ref 1's Achilles' heel, I'd make some improvement in my room or system and the speaker would just sound better. I was pretty happy with the sound my system—Ayre C5-xe universal player, Conrad-Johnson CT-5 preamplifier, Portal Paladins—was producing with the Cantons, when Krell Industries sent me one of their Evolution systems. Normally I try to avoid system reviews, since it's hard to compare element for element, but because Krell's CAST technology treats the signal, from source to speaker terminal, as a single global circuit, I thought it made sense to evaluate it as a whole. Besides, I kinda wanted to hear what the Ref 1s sounded like with the 600W Krell Evolution 600 monoblocks driving them.

I had no idea what I was in for.

I've been around this particular block a time or two, but I'm always caught out by my preconceptions. Intellectually, I know that going from a 200W to a 600W amplifier won't sound "louder"; I always expect the "authority" represented by all that extra power to be manifested as, well, power. In fact, what actually happens is that the gestalt gets vaster. With the Krell Evolution system, for instance, I heard deeper into the re-creation of the performance and the performance venue. That was most noticeable at the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum, where the system's lower noise floor and true authority added a sense of relaxed control and reserve.

The Vento Reference 1 DCs were now as nimble as any two-way stand-mounted monitor I'd ever heard. They'd been easy to take before that, and sufficiently responsive for me to consider them contenders for Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components"—but driven by the Evolution stack, they were positively coltish.

A final note: Excited by the progress I'd made, I removed that hefty WBT jumper and biwired the Ref 1s. Yes, I know—there's no reason why that "should" work—and it did. More openness, air, and ease. Don't you just hate when that happens?

At this point in the evaluation process I hit a minor snag. Actually, the East and West coasts hit the snag; I was just along for the ride. We had a heat wave. The Krells gobble a lot of juice and throw off a ton of heat, so I had to choose between listening to my hi-fi and intensifying the steam-bath proclivities of a Brooklyn summer, or enjoying my air-conditioning. My listening room's 15 amp circuits wouldn't support both.

I chose a third path. I finally had a 20-amp circuit installed, dedicated solely to audio purposes. You know those differences I experienced when I replaced a highly enjoyable audio system with a $60,000 stack of flagship Krell electronics? Well, going from a shared circuit to a dedicated line with an independent group plane was precisely that huge: lower noise floor, more agility, more swing, more slam—more more. And a lot of less, too: Boy, was everything quiet.

Footnote 1: The NuForce Reference 8Bs have since been replaced by the Reference 9SEs, said to offer much better performance into loads that aren't a straight 4 ohms. I'll be reviewing the 9SEs soon—although not, probably, driving the Canton Ref 1s.

Canton Electronics Corp.
504 Malcolm Avenue SE, Suite 400
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 706-9250