ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article

Decemvber 15, 2007

Verity Audio Rienzi Loudspeakers


I believe that fidelity, sound quality, and accuracy to the original source are the guiding goals of audio reproduction. If a component isn’t at least accurate -- or, at worst, enjoyable to listen to -- it doesn’t amount to squat and it’s not worth buying. So why is so much stereo gear ugly, industrial in design, or just plain . . . plain?

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 isn’t an audiophile will most likely take exception to all that rigmarole you’ve 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 city’s 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 continent’s best restaurants. It’s a little piece of Europe right here in North America. Elegant. Sophisticated. Shouldn’t 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 they’ve 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 it’s 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 you’ve ever seen a Verity speaker in the flesh, you don’t need to be told that the quality of the company’s 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 I’ve seen can match the depth, consistency, and luster of the Italian polyester lacquer that Verity applies by hand to each speaker. The Rienzi’s 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 that’s 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 Verity’s signature rear-firing woofer, which, the company claims, uses a room’s 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 it’ll 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 Rienzi’s 3/4" soft-dome tweeter is manufactured by Scan-Speak, its midrange by SEAS. As in the Parsifal, Verity runs the Rienzi’s midrange without an upper crossover, using the driver’s 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 I’ve 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 I’ve owned and loved for many years. For the duration of the review I used no digital sources -- ain’t 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, I’ve 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 Verity’s 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, we’d pretty much nailed it down. Once we had the proper locations figured out, I marked them off with electrical tape and didn’t move them again. The Rienzis ended up 46" from the front wall -- farther out into the room than I’m used to -- and 32" from the sidewalls.


While I expected a somewhat similar sonic experience to what I’d had with the Parsifal Ovations, I wasn’t 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 I’ve 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 can’t listen to one for long, or at too high a volume. There’s 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 Jarrett’s The Köln Concert [2 LPs, ECM 1064/65 ST] is beautifully recorded, but it has a tendency to get a touch clangy; there’s a slight upper-midrange prominence to his piano. Despite that, it’s glorious music, a lusty celebration reminiscent of Charles Mingus’s "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 there’s 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 Rienzi’s midrange lacks a low-pass crossover; throughout an album such as The Köln Concert, the midrange driver is reproducing essentially the piano’s 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 Rienzi’s 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 Rienzi’s 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 wasn’t 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 you’d be right. But after a few minutes’ listening, you’d 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 it’s almost invisible, long periods of peaceful introspection interspersed with moments of discordant clatter. But it’s loaded with percussion details, and the liner notes include a map of where each bandmember sat and which microphones were used where. If that isn’t 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 didn’t 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 Rienzi’s 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 he’d set up the Rienzis to his and Maxime Chiasson’s satisfaction, we commenced playing music in earnest. One standout of the evening was Pelchat’s surprise choice of Frank Zappa’s Overnite Sensation, first released in 1973 [LP, DiscReet MS 2149]. Much to the consternation of Chiasson, who didn’t 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 hadn’t 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 they’re sometimes lumbered.

Lower in the audioband, the Rienzis energized my bass-sucking basement listening room with low frequencies that I just plain hadn’t 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 speaker’s 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 Rienzi’s 35Hz low-frequency limit. Then again, I didn’t go out of my way to slap some pipe-organ music on the ’table. Perhaps I should have, but as I don’t normally listen to pipe-organ music, I didn’t bother.

I mentioned earlier that the Rienzi’s top end was slightly more prominent than that of the Parsifal Ovation. Well, the smaller speaker’s bass was just a tiny bit looser and warmer than its big brother’s. While in no way sloppy, the Rienzi wasn’t 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 Rienzi’s 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 hasn’t been deliberately recessed to simulate depth -- the Rienzis could induce an illusion of depth and height that I’ve heard matched only by the Parsifal Ovations. Listening to Calexico’s brilliant The Black Light [LP, Quarterstick QS52], I was consistently struck by how lifelike and realistic pretty much every instrument sounded. "Gypsy’s 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 you’re not horribly offended by raunchy lyrics, take a listen to "Dynamo Hum," from Zappa’s 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 I’ve 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 Rienzi’s bass to take a serious hit in terms of control and extension with the Songs, it just didn’t happen. Sure, there was a slight softening and a reduction in impact, but it wasn’t 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 you’re thinking about making the jump to a 300B-based system, in my opinion you’d be crazy if you didn’t explore the obvious synergy of this combination of speaker and amplifier.

Should I wrap it or will you wear it home?

What don’t you get for your nine grand? That’s an important question -- although the Rienzi is the bargain-priced Verity speaker, it still costs a fair chunk of change. First off, you won’t get the deepest, tightest, lowest bass for your money. The Rienzi goes down to only 35Hz; if that’s 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; I’ve 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, you’ll be inviting long-term musical satisfaction into your home. The Rienzi’s low end will likely go low enough for you, and if you’re listening to it rather than measuring it, it’ll probably be just about right. And if you like to listen loud and for long periods, odds are you’ll be thrilled with the ease with which the Rienzis present music.

And if, like me, you’ve sat transfixed at hi-fi shows before a pair of Verity Audio Parsifal Ovations, wishing that twenty large would drop into your lap, you’ll be pleased to hear that a frighteningly close facsimile is now available for less than half that. In my book, even if that doesn’t 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.

…Jason Thorpe

Verity Audio Rienzi Loudspeakers
Price: $8795 USD per pair in satin sycamore or makore woodgrain veneer; add $1000/pair for piano-black lacquer.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Verity Audio
1005 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Ave., Suite 150
Quebec, Quebec G2E 5L1
Phone: (418) 682-9940
Fax: (418) 682-8644

E-mail: info@verityaudio.com
Website: www.verityaudio.com

US Agent:
Tempo Sales & Marketing
P.O. Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454
Phone: (617) 314-9296

E-mail: jquick@verityaudio.com

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