Decemvber 15, 2007Verity Audio Rienzi Loudspeakers
Granted, a speaker needs to enclose drivers, so some sort of box is pretty much a given. And an amp, preamp, or CD player will most likely encapsulate the Platonic ideal of another bloody box. Still, so many audio components have designs so unimaginative -- or so far over the top -- that only an audiophile mother could love them. Sure, you can tart up a box in a nice veneer, carve a faceplate out of anodized aluminum, or encrust an amp with all kinds of fruity-colored tubes -- but at the end of the day, anyone in the house who isnt an audiophile will most likely take exception to all that rigmarole youve laid out in the front third of the room.
American and, to a lesser extent, British audio designers seem to be particularly inelegant in this regard. I love big, Cadillac-finned American audio gear, but much of it seems to lack a sense of scale, a feeling of proportion. European designers seem to have a much firmer grasp on what it takes to build stereo gear that visually flows, that graces a room with the same sort of proportional richness as a sculpture by Rodin.
Quebec City, though located in North America, has a distinct feel of France. If you visit, at least learn to say "Hello," "Thank you," and "Goodbye" in the citys primary language, French. (I find that "Two beers, please" is also useful.) And get ready for the best dining experiences of your life -- Quebec is home to some of the continents best restaurants. Its a little piece of Europe right here in North America. Elegant. Sophisticated. Shouldnt hi-fi gear be the same? Well, if Verity Audio, who are located in Quebec City, have any say in the matter, it is.
Verity Audio has been producing speakers of the highest quality for the last 12 years, quietly polishing their line, and honing their first and core speaker, the Parsifal, through several distinct yet always recognizable iterations. As theyve perfected their chops on the Parsifal, Verity has introduced several other speakers, both more and less expensive versions that hold true to their core principles.
The latest speaker from Verity is the Rienzi ($8795 USD per pair), and its immediately identifiable as a stablemate of the venerable Parsifal Ovation. Remember that European elegance I was blathering on about? Look at the Rienzi from any angle, with or without its grille. From the side, what initially registers as a stack of two simple boxes slowly morphs into a sinuously swaybacked female form not dissimilar in proportion to a female Lladro porcelain figurine. Viewed from the front, the Rienzi takes up little more room than a minimonitor on a stand, and the magnetically attached grille makes it look even smaller. Without the grille, the black, felt-faced top module soaks up the light, retaining a low-key aspect. Besides looking graceful as all get-out, the Rienzi is a dense little guy; the monitor and bass cabinet together weigh a sturdy 64 pounds, though they feel heavier.
If youve ever seen a Verity speaker in the flesh, you dont need to be told that the quality of the companys veneer and lacquer work is second to none. High-gloss lacquer is now more common than it used to be, especially on speakers imported from China, but none Ive seen can match the depth, consistency, and luster of the Italian polyester lacquer that Verity applies by hand to each speaker. The Rienzis standard finishes are genuine wood veneers of satin sycamore or makore woodgrain. The high-gloss piano-black lacquer for which the company is famous costs $1000 extra per pair.
Like all of the other Veritys other than the Tamino, the Rienzi is a two-box affair, its upper cabinet being essentially a standalone minimonitor thats usable without augmentation. Indeed, the Verity Parsifal Ovation, which I reviewed for SoundStage! last year, is widely used as a monitor speaker in recording studios. Separated from the monitor by an MDF platform sandwiched between Sorbothane discs, the bass module uses Veritys signature rear-firing woofer, which, the company claims, uses a rooms front corners for additional bass reinforcement, thereby allowing their designs to produce the same bass for which other companies require larger drivers.
That rear-firing woofer is an 8" paper cone from Scan-Speak. Firing out into the world from a ported cabinet, the woofer reaches down to a claimed 35Hz. That means itll reproduce any naturally generated sound other than the longest pipes of an organ, or the lowest notes of a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand. Fair enough, thought I. That covers everything I normally listen to; we should be fine.
The Rienzis 3/4" soft-dome tweeter is manufactured by Scan-Speak, its midrange by SEAS. As in the Parsifal, Verity runs the Rienzis midrange without an upper crossover, using the drivers own mechanical limitations to roll off the upper frequencies.
I auditioned the Rienzis over a fairly long period during which my system remained uncharacteristically unchanged. Long-term satisfaction with amplification is a relatively unknown concept to me, but I seem to have found it with my Audio Research VT100 Mk.I. This all-tube big boy received balanced signals from my freshly re-tubed Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamplifier. Analog signals were courtesy of my AQVOX Phono 2 CI phono stage, also fully balanced. Upstream was the formidable Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable, squatting sphinx-like atop my equipment rack and holding in turn my Roksan Shiraz cartridge. All balanced interconnects were Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval, except for the stock Pro-Ject phono cable, which Ive felt no pressing need to replace. All power duties were admirably handled by Shunyata Research products, from the Hydra Model-6 through Taipan cords. Speaker cables remained consistent: I used a pair of Acoustic Zen Satoris that Ive owned and loved for many years. For the duration of the review I used no digital sources -- aint I the tough guy.
About halfway through the review period I swapped out the Audio Research VT100 for a pair of Song Audio SA-300 MB monoblocks, which, Ive discovered, are appropriate for significantly more speakers than anyone might imagine a low-powered tube amp could be. With the Songs in the chain I used a pair of Acoustic Zen Matrix interconnects.
The Rienzis were installed by Julien Pelchat and Veritys new young-gun designer, Maxime Chiasson. The setup was an almost perfect re-enactment of the Parsifal Ovation procedure. At first the Rienzis sounded closed-in and muffled, both down low and up top, but careful manipulation of speaker placement and listening position slowly improved the sound until, by midday, wed pretty much nailed it down. Once we had the proper locations figured out, I marked them off with electrical tape and didnt move them again. The Rienzis ended up 46" from the front wall -- farther out into the room than Im used to -- and 32" from the sidewalls.
While I expected a somewhat similar sonic experience to what Id had with the Parsifal Ovations, I wasnt prepared for how much alike the two speakers would sound. After the Rienzis had settled in for a few hours and lost their huffiness at being moved about, I was immediately aware of just how easy they were to listen to. As Ive said in other reviews, how loudly and how long I can play a pair of speakers depends on their upper-midrange prominence and harshness. While I can appreciate a speaker with a more forward tonal balance, I cant listen to one for long, or at too high a volume. Theres a big difference, I feel, between speakers that go out of their way to present detail and information, and those that, first and foremost, present music. The Rienzi, like the Parsifal Ovation, made music.
Also like the Parsifal Ovation, the Rienzi had a silkiness in the highs and an utter lack of bite in the upper midrange. As a direct result of this smoothness, it begged to be played loud. Keith Jarretts The Köln Concert [2 LPs, ECM 1064/65 ST] is beautifully recorded, but it has a tendency to get a touch clangy; theres a slight upper-midrange prominence to his piano. Despite that, its glorious music, a lusty celebration reminiscent of Charles Minguss "Better Get Hit in Yo Soul," and as such needs to be played loud. I kept returning to this recording, as it speaks volumes about what the Rienzi did so very well. "Part I" begins introspectively, Jarrett noodling away as if theres no one else in the room. Each note is redolent with sustain, and the tails of the harmonics filled my listening room with rich, strain-free sound.
Remember, the Rienzis midrange lacks a low-pass crossover; throughout an album such as The Köln Concert, the midrange driver is reproducing essentially the pianos entire range. Sure, the woofer helps fill in the bottom, and the tweeter undoubtedly helps with some top-octave air, but for all intents and purposes, this is a one-driver speaker. And it showed. The Rienzis midrange was startlingly quick, reacting to dynamic shifts with an electrostatic-like agility that drew me into the music from day one.
Strain-free -- that was the key to the Rienzis sound. There were no sharp edges, but there was a wealth of detail and tons of air. Your ears might have perked up at my mention of smoothness, which you might have assumed was a code word for lack of extension. That wasnt the case. If you were to listen to the Rienzi immediately after auditioning a more aggressive speaker, you might at first feel that the Verity leaned slightly toward the polite side of the spectrum, and to some extent youd be right. But after a few minutes listening, youd most likely reach for the volume control, crank it up, and settle in for the long haul with a smile on your face. Gil Evans Out of the Cool [LP, MCA Impulse! 29033] is the strangest big-band album. Evans scoring is so sparse its almost invisible, long periods of peaceful introspection interspersed with moments of discordant clatter. But its loaded with percussion details, and the liner notes include a map of where each bandmember sat and which microphones were used where. If that isnt handy for an audio reviewer, what is?
The cymbals on "La Nevada" should sound brassy and detailed, and the Rienzis reproduced them with the full complement of requisite overtones, adding no extra glare but including a full dose of the bite that I know is present on this recording. In a like manner, the woodwinds on this track can get a bit shouty, most likely due to the poor state of my LP. While the Rienzis didnt beat me over the head about it, they did inform me in no uncertain terms that perhaps I might want to look into getting a new copy.
Aural memory is notoriously fickle, but I got the feeling that the Rienzi was, surprisingly, slightly more extended up top than the Parsifal Ovation. Perhaps a better term might be more lively. The Rienzis treble was extremely refined, but there seemed to be a tiny bit more of it than I remember hearing from the Parsifal Ovation. Julien Pelchat and I share similar musical tastes. After hed set up the Rienzis to his and Maxime Chiassons satisfaction, we commenced playing music in earnest. One standout of the evening was Pelchats surprise choice of Frank Zappas Overnite Sensation, first released in 1973 [LP, DiscReet MS 2149]. Much to the consternation of Chiasson, who didnt seem to get the joke, we sat there grooving to "Dirty Love" at an absurdly high volume. The sound quality on this album is surprisingly good, and the Rienzis dug deep into the treble, hauling out details I hadnt known were there. It was a good sign, and showed that the little Veritys could rock out in a manner that belied the dainty audiophile appellation with which theyre sometimes lumbered.
Lower in the audioband, the Rienzis energized my bass-sucking basement listening room with low frequencies that I just plain hadnt expected from a modestly sized box with a single 8" driver. Reasonably tight and very tuneful, rich, and warm, the Rienzi produced satisfying bass that perfectly complemented the speakers midrange and top end. Tom Waits Real Gone [LP, Anti- 86678-1] has some scary-low bass that just jumps out of nowhere. On "Make It Rain," the bass drops down viciously low in several places, and the Veritys viscerally energized the room with it. Not once during the review period did I notice the Rienzis 35Hz low-frequency limit. Then again, I didnt go out of my way to slap some pipe-organ music on the table. Perhaps I should have, but as I dont normally listen to pipe-organ music, I didnt bother.
I mentioned earlier that the Rienzis top end was slightly more prominent than that of the Parsifal Ovation. Well, the smaller speakers bass was just a tiny bit looser and warmer than its big brothers. While in no way sloppy, the Rienzi wasnt the last word in bass control, and the leading edges of bass transients lacked a small amount of the crispness that some speakers can provide. It was no big deal, really; the speaker never descended into sloppiness, and always retained its rhythmically assured tunefulness.
Perhaps the Rienzis best feature was its ability to seem to completely disappear and leave only the music behind. While the pair of them tended to present music right on the plane of the speakers -- not a bad thing, as it tends to indicate that the midrange hasnt been deliberately recessed to simulate depth -- the Rienzis could induce an illusion of depth and height that Ive heard matched only by the Parsifal Ovations. Listening to Calexicos brilliant The Black Light [LP, Quarterstick QS52], I was consistently struck by how lifelike and realistic pretty much every instrument sounded. "Gypsys Curse" is densely packed with guitars, accordion, cello, and layered percussion; every instrument was graced with its own place in the soundstage, and every image had a lifelike size and feel.
How did it all come together? If youre not horribly offended by raunchy lyrics, take a listen to "Dynamo Hum," from Zappas Overnite Sensation. Toward the end of the track you can hear some very busy guitar doing the chunka-chunka funk rhythm. Together with the busy bass line and the tightly controlled drums, this track presents a challenge that the Rienzis rose to as they portrayed an enveloping acoustic across the front third of my room. Listening to this track, I was easily able to focus my attention on any of the perfectly delineated instruments; conversely, it proved just as easy to sit back with my eyes closed and let the whole of the music wash over me.
As mentioned above, for three delightful weeks I also used the Rienzis with the Song Audio SA-300 MB amplifiers. The Rienzis were possibly the best match for these low-powered tube monoblocks that Ive yet heard. The Songs never ran out of steam at any sane listening level, and I could hear no frequency-response aberrations that would lead me to believe that speakers and amps were incompatible.
And boy oh boy, was this ever a deliciously lush, enveloping combination. The diminutive Song Audios continually surprise me with their ability to drive a wide range of speakers, but they outdid themselves with the Rienzis. Via the Songs, the Rienzis clear, expressive midrange took on an even more see-through character that completely lacked any feeling of overt tube richness, while at the same time gaining an entirely natural warmth. And while I fully expected the Rienzis bass to take a serious hit in terms of control and extension with the Songs, it just didnt happen. Sure, there was a slight softening and a reduction in impact, but it wasnt that extreme; I was quite content to accept it, given the stunning gains in transparency and plain old human warmth that the triodes brought to the party. If youre thinking about making the jump to a 300B-based system, in my opinion youd be crazy if you didnt explore the obvious synergy of this combination of speaker and amplifier.
Should I wrap it or will you wear it home?
What dont you get for your nine grand? Thats an important question -- although the Rienzi is the bargain-priced Verity speaker, it still costs a fair chunk of change. First off, you wont get the deepest, tightest, lowest bass for your money. The Rienzi goes down to only 35Hz; if thats important to you, you can get more bass for less money elsewhere. Another area of concern for some listeners will be top-end extension. While I consider the Rienzi to be an incredibly rich and lifelike transducer, I know that there is a large contingent who might feel it a bit on the polite side. It would be difficult to argue with that; Ive heard plenty of speakers that measure nuts-on flat in an anechoic chamber but tend to sound brighter and more aggressive than the Rienzi.
But you need to look at what your nine grand does buy. First off, youll be inviting long-term musical satisfaction into your home. The Rienzis low end will likely go low enough for you, and if youre listening to it rather than measuring it, itll probably be just about right. And if you like to listen loud and for long periods, odds are youll be thrilled with the ease with which the Rienzis present music.
And if, like me, youve sat transfixed at hi-fi shows before a pair of Verity Audio Parsifal Ovations, wishing that twenty large would drop into your lap, youll be pleased to hear that a frighteningly close facsimile is now available for less than half that. In my book, even if that doesnt make the Rienzi a stone-cold bargain, at the very least it makes the speaker a very good deal that any music lover would be happy to spend many a winter night listening to.
Verity Audio Rienzi Loudspeakers
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