[From 1999, but a gem of a loudspeaker. If you can find a pair for sale second hand, grab them. Superb in so many ways.]
By Anthony Kershaw
Awarding the Verity Audio Parsifal loudspeaker Best Sound of Show at the last two Montreal Audio Shows was no coincidence. On each occasion, the Quebec company’s statement loudspeaker delivered sound that Audiophilia staff members heard as brilliant and dynamic but, most of all, very beautiful. Even on brief acquaintance, they impressed us in significant ways. This exalted performance, however, came at a high price: US$12,500.00. Too rich for most blood. Ever the astute businessman, urbane Vice President Julien Pelchat realized there would be a market for a less expensive model, one that retained many of the qualities we heard in Montreal. Et voila! The Fidelio was born.
I received my review pair from the Canadian distributor who, after only a week, needed them back for a sales demo! Capitalism before words, I assumed. The little taste I did have was very appetizing, and showed clearly the mettle of the design and construction. Happily, the distributor returned the pair quite quickly [You call three months quickly? - AC] and musical equilibrium replaced speaker withdrawal shortly thereafter. Along with the speakers, the distributor offered the loan of her Audio Research D125 amplifier during the review period - it was a superb match for the Veritys. Alternatively, I coupled the speakers to a SimAudio Celeste Moon W-3 solid state heavyweight, which also turned in a stellar performance but without the slightly more inviting sound of ARC’s tube-based behemoth. Also used in the review: a latter-day Arcam Alpha 6 one-box CD player (smooth and somewhat detailed), the venerable ARC SP9 Mk. II preamp, the wonderful VPI HW-19 Mk. 3 turntable, and an Audioquest PT6 tone arm with a Benz Glider cartridge hanging on for dear life, all strung together with cables from van den Hul, Audioquest, and Wireworld.
The Fidelio is the product of long hours on the design table and many hours of fine-tuning through careful and critical listening. It shares the same footprint and driver placement (tweeter and midrange driver in front with bass driver in the rear) with its richer sibling, but not its price - the Fidelio retails for US$6850.00. Each speaker comes as a two-piece package. A monitor, housing the tweeter and midrange, is bolted firmly to a separate bass enclosure. The two enclosures are separated by two thin slabs of what looks to be the same material as the main enclosures - “a complex acoustical impedance system”, to quote the well-written Verity manual. The bass driver position (and the driver’s two-inch port just below) reinforces bass quite cleanly down to 35Hz. It is beautifully defined and accurate. If set up correctly, bloat is never a factor. I spent considerable time experimenting with speaker position, and found a happy balance of toe-in (ten degrees) and a listening seat twelve feet in front of the drivers. Listening off-axis did not prove fatal to the sound stage or the Fidelio’s fantastic imaging within that stage. The speakers were spaced eleven feet apart and, as set up, liked my room boundaries. I allowed two feet from the back wall and three from the sides (too close, and kabloom!).
The Fidelios’ construction and parts smack of class. The three drivers are of a proprietary design and, as Verity states, “offer a blend of lightning speed and sweetness, and a cathedral sound stage”. The company’s self-serving words do not lie. In addition, they suggest the midrange’s 5.5 kHz crossover point is the ultimate in coherency, comparing the tonal qualities to that of a fine electrostatic. The single wire, five way, gold plated binding posts and superb spikes are also of Verity design. The company’s moniker “The Experience of a Lifetime, Everytime” is accurate where the Fidelios are concerned. They strike a very happy medium between the conceptual sound of hi-fi and truthful musical timbre.
The speakers’ enclosure will not overwhelm moderately sized listening rooms, and weighs a substantial sixty pounds per side. While not as pleasing to my eye as others in this price range, the box is quite attractive. It is, however, finished superbly in Italian polyester lacquer. The hand crafted black lacquer is the standard finish - the purchaser has the option to pay a premium for piano black. Verity Audio offers a basic five-year warranty.
The Fidelios did a super job on vinyl and bits, bringing all the qualities of both formats to the ear. They played very loudly, without strain, only echoing the limitations of the power amplifiers used in the review. Delicacy and power cohabit pleasantly, a not-always-happy marriage when listening to modern speaker designs. Some, even at this price point, are all guts and brawn, while others tinkle away, leaving all the power and brilliance of good amps at the back door. With a sensitivity of 88dB/1W/1m, the Fidelios will be a good match for most quality amplifiers, even those of limited power.
The Fidelios are very much a brother to the Parsifals in information retrieval (wonderful and non-fatiguing, helped by ultra low distortion), offering an accurate portrayal of a recording’s quality, or lack thereof. As such, they do two things that make it a real contender for champion of its price point. The first is their reproduction of timbre - these speakers display instruments and voices in all their natural glory. From the dry, up front presentation of the Dallas Symphony (Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances on Athena ALSW-10001), with slightly congested strings, blended brass and wobbly woodwinds, to the subtle changes in registration and magical touch from Valda Aveling’s harpsichord playing (Scarlatti Sonatas on EMI HQS 1365), to Gerald Finzi’s vocal masterpiece, Dies Natalis (Argo ZRG 896), the Fidelios reproduced all with uncanny accuracy and complete aplomb. Second, the Fidelios feature some of the best imaging east of the Mississippi. I mean real pinpoint, smell-the-bad-intonation-in-the-third-oboe imaging. Moreover, to have this specificity within believable soundfields is another reason for celebration.
Some late night listening to the score of William Wyler’s great 1946 film, The Best Years of Our Lives, gave pause for thought on how wonderful the Fidelios sounded at low levels. Hugo Friedhofer’s brilliant score does great justice to the sentimental, but not cloying, narrative; musically, its style is right up my alley. Although blustery in spots, much of the music (on this recording, at least: Entr’acte EDP 8101) is recorded at low level. Quietly, the Fidelios captured all the timbre of the great London Philharmonic soloists without losing emotional impact, a common fault among many loudspeakers. I loved those late night sessions, the Fidelios drawing me into their spell with absolute confidence. They do magically what all excellent speakers achieve - get right to the heart of the complete production. The Fidelios’ report card on Best Years was typical for many obscure seventies’ efforts: great performance, average recording, and pressed on subpar vinyl. Even so, this is a record you may want to seek out at yard sales. The music packs a powerful wallop.
The Fidelios really let the cat out of the bag on over-sampled, over-produced, tweeny-bopper releases. Let us just say that the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync never sounded so average. With these artists, and others of their ilk, the Fidelios let out a roar, allowing all the distortion of the recording and mind-numbing mediocrity of the talent to attack. When clearer sounding items of popular music were used, the Fidelios rocked the room as the original musicians and engineers envisioned.
The nineties have been good to many of us North American folk, with unemployment and inflation low, and lots of cheap money floating about. Sadly, this good fortune has not been quite so empathetic to the high-end. Nevertheless, even after a poor turnout for the 1999 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, things seem to be on the rise again. I want so much for the great artists of our passion to build, develop, and succeed at their tasks. Julien Pelchat and his colleagues deserve at least that. That they can bring a speaker like the Parsifal (and its Encore upgrade) and its younger brother Fidelio to market is a testament to their vision and skill. Nevertheless, brilliance does come at a price, and, where I come from, $6850.00 is a lot of money. Do I think the Fidelios are worth that price? Absolutely!
I like how Verity has named the loudspeakers in their line. Both operatic titles hint at what the designers have attempted to achieve. The Beethoven opera Fidelio is a story of a common man overcoming adversity, and uses a more earth-laden (not moribund) libretto when compared to Wagner’s knight, Parsifal, and his search for ultimate truth and the Holy Grail. Well, I do adore the Parsifals, and believe with them that Verity have reached a lofty, even ultimate, plateau. Yet, in the important price/performance ratio, the Fidelios may be an even more amazing achievement. They will allow you to reach, and almost breathe, the Parsifal’s rarified air, and in a most musical and refreshing way. Very highly recommended.
Manufactured by Verity Audio, Inc.
840, rue Sainte-Thérèse, S110 Québec (Québec), G1N 1S7, Canada
phone: 1-888-837-4895 or 1-888-VERITY-5, fax: (418) 682-8644
web: http://www.verityaudio.com, e-mail:email@example.com
Source of review sample: Canadian distributor loan