ClairAudient 1+1 Loudspeakers
From time to time I enjoy gathering with good friends on Friday nights to dine at one of the finer family owned Mexican restaurants in our community. This restaurant serves thin fried whole corn tortillas rather than the usual basket of chips. The patron can break apart the tostadita into smaller pieces or leave whole. The crisp discs are served with small bowls of delicious medium spicy blended salsa. On this particular evening, one of my friends turned to our affable waitress and requested the “salsa from the back” or rather, the salsa chefs prepare for their meals on break. With a wink and a nod she soon returned with shallow cup of roasted and diced green chilies, onions, cilantro and various other herbs. The smokey and spicy mixture packed a punch but complimented the fine food and drink to perfection. As determined by years of experience, the medium blended tomato based salsa is well suited to the tastes of the general public. However, to truly take your taste buds and dining experience to the next level, ask for “salsa from the back.” In a word, 1+1speakers from Audience are like the cook’s salsa; intense, flavorful, uniquely satisfying, and reserved for those who appreciate the difference.
The 1+1 is designed and assembled is San Marcos California. Audience’s chief is John McDonald. John’s ambition is not only to run a successful company, but also to fundamentally change the way you listen to music. If you spend a significant amount of time with the radio on during your commute to work (as most southern Californian’s do) or enjoy listening to a certain very popular set of headphones, then your ears are accustomed to elevated bass and treble. The effect is pleasant enough for the general public although not entirely accurate or linear. Crossovers also introduce distortions and colorations that sacrifice a measure of transparency. A single, wide band, point source driver has always been the elusive Holy Grail of speaker design. Such a design would require no cross over which can introduce phase distortions and colorations to the original signal.
In his quest, John has spent years of research and resources developing the three inch titanium coned A3S full range driver. For more specific information about the A3S driver, click over to http://www.audience-av.com. The 1+1 is a true dipole design with one driver facing forward and one driver facing backward. The small toaster sized cabinet is rigidly constructed. A pair of four inch passive radiators mounted on each side of the trapezoidal box augments bass output. The finish is brilliant with glossy black bottom, back, top, and front with richly grained rosewood sides. The grill cloth frames are held in place with magnets imbedded in the cabinets.
Contrary to what their appearance might suggest, the 1+1 is not a bookshelf speaker. In fact, because the speakers project equal amounts of sound both forward and backwards, they should be placed out into the room as much as possible in order to avoid image smearing early reflections. I set up the speakers on 24 inch stands about five feet into my 20′ by 13′ living/listening room. The speakers were connected with my old standard Analysis Plus Oval 9 copper speaker cable to the award winning Bel Canto C7R integrated. The Bel Canto is rated at 60 watts into the 8ohm 87dB 1+1. Ninety percent of my listening was accomplished on the Mac Mini playing iTunes playlists with no additional software enhancements.
Upon hearing the 1+1 straight out of the box, they sounded like someone rolled off the mid to low bass and cut the highs. This was to be expected as the manufacturer recommends 50 to 100 hours of break in for optimal balance to develop. Two weeks of FM Hip Hop while I was at work during the day brought the speakers closer in line with their true voice.
That voice can be characterized by extreme clarity across the upper bass, mids, and high frequencies. One of the first selections I listened to was “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” by Herbie Hancock from his 1969 recording Fat Albert Rotunda. This track is a classic example of soul flavored jazz. The music begins with forlorn horn joined by flute, Fender Rhodes electric piano, and drums. The sound of the spacious studio is clearly evident. Each instrument is coherent and lively. The rendering of drums and cymbals is especially noteworthy. One would think that without a dedicated tweeter the brilliance of cymbals and other instruments with high frequency energy would be sacrificed. However, in effect, the A3S driver behaves like a three inch tweeter or three times the size of a typical high frequency unit. With no crossover to alter the signal, all of the action and overtones of cymbals and snare are preserved and projected with uncommon purity.
As per my custom, I listen to solo piano for hours to get a handle on the sound of unfamiliar speakers. The 1+1 recreated all my usual favorites with superb clarity and definition. Nachtstucke, Op.23: No.4 Einfach by Schumann as played by Andras Schiff sounded sublime and effortlessly present in the room. Chopin’s Etude Op.10: No. 3 in E Major as performed by Idil Biret on Naxos achieved great emotional depth and dynamic contrasts that unbelievably emerged from the diminutive one-eyed sentinel atop the stands.
Symphonic works such as Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings in E, Op.22 as recorded by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Mariner on Phillips were well suited to the 1+1 transparency and projection of ambiance. I preferred listening with the rear grill cloth frame on due to lack of absorbing or diffractive material behind the speakers. The view from the listening position was deep and wide with very little variance for those not directly on axis.
Because of the absence of a crossover network to interfere with the signal and its point source design, the 1+1 performance with vocal selections was truly exceptional. If you haven’t heard The Secret Sisters sing Peggy Gordon backed by the Chieftains from the album Voice of Ages, I urge you to do so immediately. The performance is sublime, like a shot of Irish nostalgia straight into the veins. Chase that song with the Sister’s Tennessee Me and you’ll be enlightened with the sweetest female vocal harmonies heard for some time.
Dialogue in movies was also well served by the 1+1 in my 2-channel system. The Desolation of Smaug was thrilling to watch at my local multiplex. Nevertheless, the dragon Smaug’s words as spoken by Benedict Cumberbatch’s much altered voice sounded murky during his pivotal encounter with Bilbo under the mountain due to the sound systems overwhelmingly boomy bass. Here at home with the 1+1, dialogue was crystal clear and coherent restoring amusement to the character’s game of riddles. The clash of metal in sword fights, shots of arrows, and galloping of horses was a completely enveloping experience.
This issue’s Latin Jazz recommendation is La Habana by trombonist Wayne Wallace from his Grammy nominated recording Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin. The tune starts slow with motif of trombones in harmony and the heat turns up to a steady simmer. A brief electric bass solo leads into full montuno chord progression before the band returns to top and ends. In my opinion, Latin Jazz music starts with the bottom, an ancient energy that reaches up through the feet, to the hips, and heart. The 1+1 focuses your attention on the locked in rhythm, the harmony of horns, and precise interplay of percussion. After wrapping your ears around all that musical goodness, then you start to feel the energy from below and you have surrendered yourself to the clave.
Rock music such as the Smashing Pumkins’ Quasar from their recent release Oceana filled the room with tumultuous energy. The band’s signature layering of guitars was unambiguously spread out like an exploded view technical illustration. Listeners with a penchant for heavy rock, Hip Hop, or EDM may consider a quality powered subwoofer to help the little 1+1 vibrate the floor boards and rattle the walls.
Finally, I must note the passing of one of the Giant Sequoias of flamenco music, Paco de Lucia. Paco de Lucia’s legacy cannot be overstated. His technical mastery of the instrument and passion were peerless. I was fortunate to see Paco live several times throughout the years and consider each concert among the highlights of my musical experiences. I recommend listening to Convite a rumba from one of his later recordings Live in Spain 2010. The track begins with applause, shouts, and whistles from the enthralled audience. The 1+1 admirably recreate the atmosphere and realism of people demonstrating their enthusiastic appreciation. The music begins and Paco casts another Spanish spell over us with his magical fingers and Duende. “Viva Paco!” Long live Paco!
The ClaireAudient 1+1 is a superb speaker of clarity and quality. However, there are some minor details to consider. During my evaluation period, the volume setting on my 60 watt Bel Canto C7R was near 85 to 90 percent for the speakers to get a grip of my listening space. My usual settings are between 60 to 75 percent. The popular notion of elevated bass of questionable quality may not be in line with the 1+1 lean, but linear bass. I’m concerned that the speaker may not be showcased under the best of circumstances. Owing to its bidirectional design, the 1+1 should be as far out into the room as speaker cables will permit in order to achieve the desirable balance of direct and reflected ambient sound. In many regards, the 1+1 reminded me of a pair of critically acclaimed Magnepan 1.6 I owned years ago. They both communicate music with uncommon coherence, seamless mid to high frequencies, and tempered low bass. This is very dear company, indeed.
In closing, I can confidently recommend the Audience 1+1 to those who place a premium on midrange clarity, depth of perception, and indiscernible levels of coloration. If you are ready to take your listening experience to a new level, seek out the 1+1 and taste what chefs prepare for themselves.