Monthly Archives: October 2015

Vivid Audio V1.5 Loudspeakers

OK, confession time. I really fell in love with the Raidho C 1.1 when I heard it at a recent RMAF, but I couldn’t justify the $17k required to make it mine. But I came upon the Vivid V1.5 at a show (I actually can’t remember which one) and ended up really admiring it, in fact it struck me as a “poor man’s Raidho”. The V1.5 sells for around $8000 and doesn’t require expensive stands, so it struck me as the next best thing at a price I decided I COULD spring for. And so, decision made, the deal was done.

They arrived in shipping crates so substantial that it would not have been easy for them to sustain damage and none was noted. Mine are in the “Graphite” finish, quite expertly applied. So far, strictly class act, which gives a great first impression. Would they make me forget the Raidho’s?

Vivid Audio is a speaker company based in South Africa with its roots firmly in the UK, specifically with B & W, one of the most respected speaker companies in the world. B & W needs no introduction, but Laurence Dickie might. He was the man responsible in large part for B & W’s ambitious Nautilus loudspeaker (among others) and the Vivid audio range is his latest thoughts on home monitor loudspeakers. Vivid Audio manufactures two basic lines, the larger, more elaborate and expensive GIYA series and the Oval series. The V1.5 is the least expensive in the Oval series, but despite that shares a fair amount of the companies characteristic technology. Their speakers are almost all floor standing, either full-sized or smaller with what are basically integrated stands. The cabinets are made of loaded carbon fibre filled polymer and are smoothly rounded and nicely finished, giving a luxurious, yet somewhat esoteric appearance. The Vivid line will not be to everyone’s esthetic tastes, I suspect, but I like them.

The cabinets are not the only unique part of the Vivid line. The drivers are also of high-tech modern design and incidentally, built in-house at Vivid. The V1.5 employs a 26mm dome tweeter featuring an anodised aluminium diaphragm and an integrated “Tapered Tube” device, designed to optimally load the driver. The woofer is a 158 mm unit also with an anodised aluminium alloy cone on a die-cast aluminium chassis. To minimise the restriction of the rear wave off the back of the diaphragm, the radially polarised magnet assembly is mounted on a series of narrow struts. The woofer is also is mounted on silicone O-rings, ensuring chassis vibration is minimally coupled to the cabinet. All in all, a lot of technology is brought to bear here.

And so on to a few specs from the manufacturer. The sensitivity is rated at 89dB/1w @1m with an 8 ohm Nominal Impedance. The frequency range is specified as 40 hz to 42,000 hz at their 6dB points and the frequency response is rated at 42 hz to 39,000 hz +/- 2dB on their reference axis. Harmonic distortion is 0.5% over their frequency range. The crossover frequency between to woofer and tweeter is set at 3000 hz.

So OK, how does it sound? In a word, impressive. Not in a “grab your ear in a demo” way (though it can do that with the right recordings), but in a natural, musically consonant way. The drivers do not betray much of their metal diaphragm material, an impressive feat considering that there is also seemingly little contribution to the sound due to cabinet resonances (which can sometimes cover up the sins of less capable drive units). The previously reviewed KEF LS-50 also took pains to employ a low-coloration cabinet and like the Vivid, the excellently designed driver was an essential part of the success of the system. A low-coloration cabinet with poor or modest drivers would not be a worthwhile exercise, in my view.

What hit me first about the Vivid’s sound was their subjectively low distortion, good resolution and fine soundstage. These were also hallmarks of my take on the Raidho C 1.1 sound, so that was a good first impression. It is true that sometimes the impression of detail can be somewhat a matter of treble resonances or excess treble level, but that did not seem to be the case here. While there is indeed full measure of treble, it never struck me as excessive and never seemed to stick out from the body of the sound but integrate nicely in to the overall presentation. It must be said that many speakers have a somewhat subdued treble from what is on offer here, a strategy to “civilize” some of the more aggressive recordings out there. There is something to be said for this, but I can’t hold it against the V1.5 designers that they choose not to compromise to accommodate dicey recordings. It should however be said that the V1.5 does not do it’s best to make the worst of lesser recordings. It pretty much lays out what the recording sound like, so overbright recordings will still seem overbright, but they do not exacerbate the tendency to make these recordings seem worse than they are like speakers with peaky or resonant tweeters or tweeters in break-up mode can do.

The midrange is, in my view quite good, smooth in response and well balanced with low perceived distortion and coloration. This, with the excellent left to right soundstage spread and good soundstage depth, allows one to listen into the music for subtle details if one desires without overwhelming the listener. There is a sense of clean and pure sound without crossing the line into sterility. In my room (about 14′ by 20′) they played as loud as I would desire (I do not generally listen at the earsplitting levels some do) with a good dynamic sense.

The bass they have is clean and provides a good foundation for the rest of the aural spectrum but is, of course, somewhat limited in deep bass extension as they employ, after all, effectively a bookshelf speaker sized enclosure. But there is enough there, in my view, to reasonably underpin the music in most cases. And, in common with most smaller speakers, they have a “vertically challenged” soundstage presentation. The effect of a taller soundstage may well be an artifact of larger speakers, planars and line sources and not be something literally captured by the microphones, but it must be said that this sense of vertical height does add a little to the “reality” of the reproduced sound as compared to live concert hall sound.

I do not maintain that there is any one absolute sonic presentation that is “right” while all others are “wrong”. This concert hall works like this, different areas in the hall produce different balance and soundstaging characteristics but ultimately can all be said to be characteristic of the hall’s “live sound”. And so, logically, in my mind this is also true of reproduced sound. Something like my Spendor S-100 loudspeakers provide a more laid-back sound with a more generalized sense of instrument location which is characteristic of a seat in the hall further from the orchestra than the more front hall sound of the Vivid’s. Both of these presentations are valid, which you would prefer depends on your personal preference. Personally, I can admire speakers that honor concert hall sound of whatever perspective they provide.

So no, I haven’t forgot about Raidho, and I do wonder how they would compare in my system. But I also really admire the V1.5 on its own merits. The Vivid’s have always made music that I enjoy listening to and I have not become tired of them even after two years of ownership. They are not cheap but, in my view, provide excellent performance for their price and I can recommend you give them a listen. Any speaker that can cool you jets about a design costing double the price is doing something right!

It’s been an exciting time for portable audio or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and wear headphones in public.

Back in the day, portable audio was a wild and wooly world of portable cassette players (some with built in analog FM tuners), and later, portable CD players, spent batteries and small, discrete (and sonically mediocre) headphones. And after all that, you had to plan what music you thought you might want to hear that day and schlep the attendant physical media based recordings with you. Still, being able to listen to music on the train or when walking through the park, etc. was enjoyable enough to make it worth while, at least for me.

The status of portable audio stayed pretty much quo until the first Ipod hit the market late in 2001. It may have not been the best sounding thing and it’s storage capacity was initially limited, but really, how many cassettes or CD’s could you carry in your pocket? You could carry an Ipod with a lot of music and a pair of the supplied earphones in that pocket easily. And to me that was a revelation.

The market place in general and young folks in particular thought so too and soon portable audio was a major player in consumer electronics. A proliferation of playback formats, digital players and IEM’s (as they became to be known) followed and the whole thing became a social phenomenon complete with “Beats” headphones becoming a must-have accessory for the hip youth culture and the emergence of the detached teen in his world of Itunes fodder for many first and second rate comedians. Mainstream? It was a torrent…

That audiophiles would join in was just an inevitability. The early Ipod MP3 sound was far from the best and the earphones and headsets available at first tended to be somewhat cheap and cheerful. But a world of more sonically sophisticated players and IEM’s, some of the custom fit style (adapted from live music performance and broadcast requirements), became all the rage in our little segment of the consumer audio world. And as more and more Avant-Garde young bohemians, wannabe gangsters and hipsters started wearing their over-ear Beats in public (I had a ringside seat to this traveling the NYC subway system), it gradually became acceptable to wear over-ears in public even for us old, repressed and self-conscious middle Americans to join in. So I did indeed stop worrying.

Now, people seem to be willing to just let their headphone freak-flag fly. I have seen all kinds of phones in the street and on the train, including upscale Audio-Technics, Sennheisers (including HD-600’s), lots of different Sony’s (including quite a few of the recording studio standby MDR-7506), JBL’s and even more than a few Grado’s. I have done my part in this, wearing at times a pair of HD-800, my FAD Pandora’s and even a pair of retro (and decidedly retro-looking) Beyer DT-48’s that date back to the Woodstock era whose almost identical forbearers first hit the market in the late days of the Great Depression!

And so audiophile digital players have evolved too. Many of us never bought into the ITunes concept and ripped our CD’s on to our computers to transfer to our (audiophile) players in their native format (eg. WAV) or somewhat compressed so-called lossless formats (such as FLAC or ALAC). And, moving forward, with the increased availability of Hi-Rez files originally initially intended for the home music server market, it would be inevitable there would be demand for portable players capable of Hi-Rez playback.

To the audiophile, the availability and the public acceptability of better on-ear phones made the ability to play back the better sounding file formats even more desirable. There are now many Hi-Rez audiophile players, some with more-or-less serious attention paid to the D-A conversion and analog output stages, available. Initially, the availability was in the high priced audiophile market, but in the last few years this has trickled down to more modestly priced units. The concurrent availability of smaller and higher data capacity storage devices (both internal and external), finally made the resulting larger HI-Rez files fully practical.

Of the new wave of Hi-Rez portable playback devices, I am mostly familiar with the Fiio X-3 and the Ibasso DX-50 as I own both. However, I have mostly used the DX-50 because of the OTG (On the Go) connector which allows external storage to be connected to augment the internal memory and internal microSD card. Unfortunately, the OTG port in the Fiio only allows you to input digital streams for playback on the Fiio’s D-A converter. This may be useful to some, but really what’s the point of being able to play back Hi-rez files with their large file sizes without expandable memory to store them? But I digress…

Connecting, say, a thumb drive to the DX-50 requires a somewhat unusual “USB OTG micro USB Male to USB A female” cable, available on-line through the usual sources. But I found that Micro Center had them in stock which allowed the instant gratification of driving to the store and picking one up to expedite the project, decidedly old school! So I bought that and a PNY 128Gb USB thumb drive for around $70. Presto, along with my 64Gb micro SD card I now had 192 Gb total storage. A good start.

I now have the 64Gb microSD card and three external 128 Gb thumb drives filled with music (Hi-Rez and not) set up for my DX-50. So I have around 448 Gb of storage available portably, not too bad, even for Hi-Rez files. And BTW, what’s the point of Hi-rez players without expandable memory? But I digress…

All my music files are now resident on a 1Tb hard drive. When I can find a 2.5 inch hard drive external enclosure with internal battery I will be able to carry around all my Hi-rez files for when I go on vacation and the like. You gotta love it!

So how does the DX-50 sound? Well, it sounds OK. It can sound a bit threadbare and artificial at times and to be sure even one of the small external amplifiers (in this case a Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline P-51 Mustang) helps things out a bit. But the DX-50 is reasonable for portable applications driving even decent headphones directly, good enough to enliven dull daily stuff like my commute for work with enjoyable music and that’s nothing to sneeze at. The Operating System is good enough for me (I don’t engage in stuff like complicated search features, playlists or other fripperies, I just pick an album or song a play it) and it has been reliable. I found a case that I could easily modify to carry and protect it at a “Five Below” store and the supposed-to-be belt clip holds two of my thumb drives. But how I wish the PONO had the ability to handle external storage…

To me, it’s a far cry from yesterdays cassettes and walkman…