Living Voice Auditorium R25A Loudspeaker

The overlapping and constantly shifting time signatures that are so vibrant and exciting in live performance are enough to bring out most systems (and not a few performers) in hives. But the Living Voice speakers don’t just seem utterly unperturbed by the complexity of the task, it seems to actively energise them, filling the performance with purpose and direction, whether we are talking about the frenetic opening movement or the reflective calm and sheer beauty of Argerich’s playing in the second. These speakers do big, they do small, they do intimacy and they do impact – but most of all they do the transitions between those things. Argerich’s explosive energy – and her ability to control it – should underpin the slower sections, creating that vital sense of anticipation, the impression of life and energy bubbling under the apparent calm, just waiting to thrust its way into view. With the R25As on the end of the system, in the first movement you just can’t wait for that to happen. In the second you simply revel in the poised and measured playing. With the R25As on the end of the system, it’s the music rather than the amplifier that is in the driving seat, with the result that it’s the music you hear, rather than the speakers or the system producing it.

Coming of age…

The easy grace with which the R25A allows this music to burst forth, the ease with which it tracks the performers sudden shifts in pace or level, gliding from slow to fast, to sudden and back to slow without the slightest slurring or hesitation, speaks volumes about just how open this speaker is to input. It’s ability to respond to changes in level or intensity, tonal pallette or tempo is familiar from other high-efficiency systems – just not at this price. Comparing this latest Auditorium with earlier versions of the speaker helped to clarify what is going on here as well as the how and why. The R25A’s extraordinary articulation is down to two things – at least when compared to its predecessors. The first, which actually pre-dates the R25A, is the improved mechanical performance of the mixed material cabinet. But as is so often the way with hi-fi, cleaning up the contribution of the enclosure, eliminating the smudging and timing errors induced by stored energy in the structure, served to reveal shortcomings in the crossover. The solution was a ground-up reassessment of the network, embracing everything from topology to component parts. The R25A’s crossover boasts not just significantly improved parts and a re-voiced response (in part to accommodate a revised tweeter) it has a higher crossover point and for the first time, significant effort has gone into eliminating out-of-band artefacts.

This last factor is arguably the most significant, with evidence from other speaker ranges demonstrating just how destructive this supposedly inaudible output is in reality. The result is a more complex network, but that’s more than compensated for by improvements in phase coherence, overall linearity and a less complex drive characteristic. The R25A isn’t just a better, lower distortion transducer, it’s easier to drive, making your amplifier’s job that much easier and, in effect, making it a better amplifier too! By presenting an easier, less-reactive load, the speaker allows the amp to respond to dynamic and rhythmic demands more easily. That makes it easier for the amp and speaker to track the signal, better preserving its pattern and sense and producing a more natural, more expressive performance. Play the Argerich disc and you’ll hear exactly what that means. It’s apparent in the shape and the tonal/rhythmic contrasts of that chaotic first movement, but play the second movement and the delicacy, poise and pacing of the solo piano part really reveals the stability, confidence and balance between the left and right hands, the ability to support and sustain overlapping tempi, without clashes or confusion. In fact, once you’ve identified the R25A’s temporal confidence, you can hear it on any and everything you play. You’ll hear it in the natural diction of vocals and the placing and spacing of notes, the impetus that drives musical progress or the restraint that calms it.

Beautiful proportions…

Which brings me to the other quality that sets the R25A apart, not just from its immediate competition, but from most of the speakers out there. One of the things that contribute to the clarity with which the Living Voice speaker reproduces the complex dynamic and rhythmic demands of the Ravel, is its natural sense of proportion. Speed stability in a turntable, or reducing jitter in a CD player, are fundamental but often under-appreciated aspects of performance. Not in the sense that people don’t pay lip service to their importance, but in the way in which they live with or ignore their musical impact. When it comes to loudspeakers, that blind spot seems to be reserved for the very real significance of awkward shifts in their impedance. In theory, load tolerant amplifiers negate this problem: in practice, few amplifiers really are that load tolerant – and none that are likely to be used with a €5K loudspeaker. Which means in turn that output and energy levels, dynamic response, presence and impact are all going to vary with frequency.