As a reviewer, speakers are an item that I always hesitate to review. Why? Because they can be large, heavy, disruptive to your living space and an irritant to your family if you have one; especially if you live in an apartment as I do. So, when I was approached by Christopher Russo of East End Hi-Fi, Coram, N.Y. to review some `unique’ speakers, I was cautious and noncommittal at first.
But I realized that I had some time on my hands, my wife and kids were away, it was summer, and I had a great need to be distracted (I won’t go into that). So without doing any research in advance, I suddenly decided (after about 2 weeks of twiddling my thumbs) to accept Mr Russo’s offer. I am so glad I did. What are the speakers in question? They are Lawrence Audio Violin SE speakers. Made/designed in Taiwan by Lawrence Liao, a multi-talented fellow (musician, artist, designer, etc.), the Violin SE is the second (from smallest to largest) of their `Instrument Series’ (Mandolin, Violin SE, Cello, Double Bass), all of which resemble in some way the instrument they are named after.
Although a two way design, and visually at first appearing to be a 2-driver speaker, this is not quite so, nor are they a `monitor’ speaker as are considered the lower level Mandolin speaker. They are not even closely shaped like a box and they are long (32” high) and require specific custom 13” stands that must be mounted on to bring them to a height of about 45”; the same total height as my reference Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 on stands, but the Celesta are only 15” high, and use a 29” stand. At $8,500 per pair retail, the Violins weigh 43 lbs each without stands, and about another 15 lbs with stands.
The front has a long(5”) and thin air motion ribbon tweeter (AMT) near the top, and a 8-inch mid/woofer below: but it even has a smaller (2.5”) rear-firing non-AMT ribbon tweeter on its upper back. The port of the Violin is on the bottom of the unit, reinforcing the importance of using their specially designed stands that have an opening for the port. The frequency response is 35Hz to 40kHz. The ones I were sent for review were made of an exquisite natural cherry wood, with a black front and black stands; absolutely gorgeous.
There are no protective front grilles if needed; the drivers are always exposed. If you have young kids or cats, this may be a problem.
Upon arrival I first put together the stands, requiring a small amount of effort with some screws and an Allen wrench; the speakers then mount on top with 2 screws using the same Allen wrench yielding a very stable unit. Four optional spikes per speaker stand bottom are supplied andI did use them since I keep my speakers on a shag rug, while my audio rack is on my wooden floor.
I must admit that these Violin speakers are by far the most unique looking/designed speakers I have ever had the pleasure of welcoming into my home for review.
Let us move onto to the artistic design itself, so unique indeed it is.`Cubist’ in appearance, with a violin-like shape, and with angular construction, if Picasso were still alive, I would imagine he had designed them—or would buy them on the spot if not.
Before any listening, I could easily visualize them as part of the extraordinary `Picasso Sculpture” exhibit MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) held here in NYC. In particular the sculpture ``Still Life With Guitar”, 1912.
I was so impressed with the Cubist connection that I set up the left speaker `appropriately ‘ in front of my own prized Cubist influenced painting. With minor modification of toe-in and distance from the back wall to optimize sound, it remained there throughout my review, where I felt it belonged; I think it truly felt at home.
In honour of the legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso whose Cubist paintings from more than 100 years ago (why do we all continue to call this `modern’ art?) continue to intrigue me to this day, I snapped right to it: As my first piece of music to play on the Violins I chose some pieces by the exceptional Spanish flamenco guitarist, Paco De Lucia (who sadly and unexpectedly died in 2014). I started with his 1998 album Luzia (intimate close up), and then moved on to the earlier album (1987) Siroco (farther away as if on a stage). (Both ripped CDs). Between the two, I quickly ascertained what I believed to be both the intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of these fascinating speakers, which led me to focus on their strengths to best enjoy what they offered: An intense, intimate, small close-up stage environment; like a flamenco guitarist sitting in a chair in front of you versus a symphony orchestra on a huge stage. Acoustic instruments were replicated beautifully and naturally and with keen neutrality, and not just guitars—or violins! Any acoustic instrument I threw at it had the same effect; drums, cymbals, stringed instruments and so on. At one point, while listening to the album Luzia, I heard a sudden sharp knocking wooden sound so vivid that I jumped up thinking that one of my stereo components fell off the audio shelf to my wooden floor! Nope, just Paco doing his thing with his guitar. Impressive.
Lucia was born in the Cadiz province of Spain; an area not only famous for being the home of flamenco, but also famous for its fine dry fortified Sherry wines, known as `Jerez” which is the Spanish name, and the name of one of three towns of the so-called `Sherry Triangle’.
So, I went out and acquired a bottle of Fino sherry (bone dry, chilled) to accompany my listening. These home-warming speakers made me feel as if on vacation.
I must digress: when my son was only 6-weeks old, I visited the Sherry Triangle with him (all 3 towns) on a vacation and I must say it was a most delightful experience. Years later, when he was 8 years old, I returned, just he and I -- a four-day January vacation in the town of Jerez, where we visited the famous Bodega Tio Pepe Gonzales Byass and got to see a Picasso autographed huge sherry cask in its cellar (Picasso, notorious for his enjoyment of bull fighting, even had painted a little bull on the cask). As part of the tour, the Bodega gave me a full bottle of their Fino to drink at a table, and gave my son a large glass of fresh juice. A wonderful memory. (Somewhere I have a photo I took of my son with that cask, I wish I could find it.)
Sound Quality: Pros and Cons
Here, I am using as my reference for comparison, my Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 (2-drivers, $15,000 per pair with stands) and the very same supporting equipment (see end of article for details).
Pros: Intimate sounding, with excellent tonality. Clean, natural and transparent sound; particularly for acoustic instruments. Can easily handle loud volumes. Even voices sound natural and right on. Nice, tasteful punchy bass going low enough to satisfy most of the time.
A single player (guitarist, singer) or even a string quartet can sound lovely, as do individual instruments.
Cons: Relatively small sound stage both in height and width and with less three dimensional imaging (with many instruments in play this is where I notice a problem), and less lingering decay after attack (as I prefer and view as real) as in cymbals.
Leonard Cohen’s voice, for example (`Waiting for the Miracle’ from the album The Future) is at a stage height smack in the middle way up high on my Celesta, and wanders all over my apartment space, whereas on the Violins he is standing much closer to the floor and only in a confined space.
Ditto for Diana Krall, `All or Nothing at All’ at 24/192 from the album Love Scenes.
The Lawrence Audio Violin SE Speakers are very unique both in sound and look; among the most fascinating and beautiful speakers I have seen or heard, and with a gorgeous and high quality construction, particularly inviting at such a reasonable price.
If you want an intimate natural /transparent sound in a relatively small environment/stage and with enough volume to have a party even, these are worth seeking out.
Moreover, I must say -- even if these were not actually speakers, but instead pieces of sculpture, they would be a lovely addition to my apartment (my painting is hinting/begging….)
Lawrence Audio Violin SE Speakers
Price: $8,500 per pair
Source: Manufacturer loan
Associated Reference Equipment
Speakers: Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2.
Amplifiers: 2 Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks Special Edition (SE).
Preamplifier: PS Audio BHK Signature
DAC: PS Audio DirectStream(with Bridge II) and Torreys firmware.
Music Server: Mac Mini (Upgraded by Mojo Audio, with Joule V power supply).
Music Player Software: Roon (1.2 (build 154)) using ethernet cable with `Roon Ready’ DAC Bridge.
Turntable: VPI Scout (upgraded with Ortofon 2M Black cartridge, and 1 and 3/8" platter)
Phono stage: PS Audio NuWave PhonoConverter.
Interconnects for turntable: Waveform Fidelity GS Mk3, one RCA one XLR.
USB Cable: Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 when ever using USB.
Speaker cables and jumpers: Waveform Fidelity GSMk3.
Interconnect cables DAC to Preampto amps (XLR):
Anticables Level 4.1 Reference PLUS Xhadow (with cryo option); Antipodes Reference.
Power cords: Waveform Fidelity.
Power generator: PS Audio P3 Power Plant.