Verity Audio Sarastro II loudspeaker

I've been listening with great pleasure to Verity Audio's Parsifal Ovation loudspeakers the past few years, so I was intrigued to hear the company's step-up model, the Sarastro II. At 150 lbs each and $39,995/pair, the Sarastro II weighs and costs nearly twice as much as the Ovation. Would it sound twice as good?

Though bigger than the Parsifal in every way, the Sarastro II still cuts a relatively trim profile, unless you view it from the side. In that case, the rear of the woofer cabinet slopes out like Darth Vader's gown to accommodate its11" rear-firing polypropylene driver with its 4" high-power motor. Atop this sits, as in most of Verity's other models, a smaller enclosure, this one containing a 6" polypropylene midrange cone and a tweeter featuring a 2"tall aluminum ribbon. The upper enclosure is separated from the woofer cabinet not by cones, as in many two-story speakers, but rather by a 1¼"-thick plate of damped aluminum, to keep low-frequency rumbles from passing between the cabinets. This plate is reinforced to and bottom with pads of sticky Sorbothane, to damp vibrations in the mid- to high frequencies.

The cabinets themselves, made of 1"-thick MDF, are very rigid, as are their extensive layers of internal bracing, and are coated with polyester lacquer in a piano-black finish (also available, at extra prices are finishes of high-gloss silver, makore, or quilted big-leaf maple). The assembly is coupled to the floor by adjustable, tight-locking spikes of solid brass and stainless steel.

The woofer and midrange drivers are custom-built by the Danish firm Audio Technology, but the Sarastro's design and the philosophy behind it come from Verity's proprietors, Bruno Bouchard and Julien Pelchat, music-loving Quebecois engineers who have spent much of their time the past two decades doing research and development into loudspeaker behavior.

The Sarastro II's midrange driver uses an underhung voice-coil—ie, a coil that's shorter than the magnet—which is said to maximize linearity. A copper Faraday ring on the coil's formers keeps the magnetic field focused in the gap containing the voice-coil, to prevent variations in the signal from producing variations in the field's intensity. Keeping this driver under control is a delicate task, as it covers an unusually wide bandwidth, from 150Hz to 5.5kHz. The idea is, first, to keep the music's midrange as smooth as possible, and second, to free the ribbon tweeter from the burden of reproducing fundamental tones (the highest note on a piano sings at about 4.2kHz) and letting it do what it does best: emit high frequencies, which it does across six octaves, all the way up to a claimed 60kHz.

It's the speaker's new tweeter that led Verity to upgrade the original Sarastro (which Michael Fremer reviewed in the March 2005 Stereophile, Vol.28 No.3). The older version was also a ribbon design, but the tweeter in the II, designed and manufactured by Verity, incorporates a reworked magnet, a wider ribbon element, a suspension that handles power more efficiently, and a redesigned front plate to better match the dispersion of the midrange driver. However, all of these changes required adjustments to both sets of crossovers, the bracing and air flow inside both cabinets, and all the internal wiring (which is now solid silver with OFC conductors suspended in a Dual Micro Mono-Filament design).

But it's the woofer—11" in diameter, weighing about 35 lbs, with an underhung 4" voice-coil and a 4" flared port of aluminum—that is the most controversial and potentially problematic element of the Sarastro II. It's rear-mounted. (Verity's smaller Parsifal lets you turn the woofer cabinet in either direction, to fire forward or back, but there's no such flexibility with the Sarastro.) Most speaker designers try to minimize, or simply ignore, the effect of room reflections. But Bouchard and Pelchat have found that almost all rooms boost bass to some degree, so the Sarastro is designed to exploit these effects—"to integrate smoothly and accurately with the room," as Verity's literature states. At the same time, the woofer alignment uses Bessel tuning, which initially rolls off gradually before reaching its eventual 24dB/octave—behavior that supposedly "compensates for" the bass boost that a room provides. With proper speaker placement, Bouchard and Pelchat claim, the Sarastro II's bass can extend flat to below 25Hz.

The key phrase, of course, is "with proper speaker placement." Even more than the Parsifals, which took a whole afternoon of tweaking to set up so they sounded right, the Sarastro IIs were extremely finicky. Place them too close to the front wall, or toe them in too much, and they sounded overripe. Place them too far away from the front wall, or toe them in too slightly, and they sounded thin. I'm talking adjustments of a few inches or a dozen degrees. Then, of course, you have to balance the bass with considerations of soundstage, imaging, and top-to-bottom coherence. The good news: The Sarastro II's price tag of $40,000/pair includes a visit to your home by a Verity sales rep or trained dealer, who will set up these heavy, persnickety speakers for you.

System and Setup
I drove the Sarastro IIs with Krell's FBI, a 400Wpc integrated amplifier, connected via Nordost CAST interconnects to a Krell Evolution 505 SACD/CD player. Vinyl was spun on VPI's HW-19 Mk.4 turntable with JMW Memorial tonearm and Clearaudio Victory H cartridge. Audible Illusions' Modulus 3a preamplifier was used as a phono section. Analog interconnects and speaker cables were by Nirvana. All electronics but the FBI were plugged into Bybee Technologies' Signature Power Purifier. Black Diamond Racing Mk.4 Cones were used throughout the system, as were Walker Audio pucks.

Verity's able US sales rep, John Quick, spent a few hours helping me set up the Sarastro IIs. They ended up 4' from the front wall (probably the minimum distance in any room) and toed-in to the point where the drivers were aimed above my shoulders.

Verity Audio, Inc.
1005 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Avenue, Suite 150
Quebec, Quebec G2E 5L1
(418) 682-9940