POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 34
Parsifal Ovation Monitors and Bass Modules
as reviewed by John Brazier
The Canadian firm of Verity Audio is a relatively young company having been formed in 1994 by its co-founders Julian Pelchat and Bruno Bouchard, formally of Oracle Audio. Furthermore, it is one of those rare companies that has been universally well respected as producing sound of the highest quality and whose products' fit and finish are considered beyond reproach. Limiting this discussion to speaker only manufacturers, I know of no other company whose product line is so well received.
While other manufacturers are more successful in terms of market share and brand recognition, "those" company's "house sound" tends to polarize the listening public's opinions from one extreme to the other. I have never heard anyone opine that the "Verity sound is way too _____ ," or "if you can live with _____ , then this speaker is pretty good…" In fact, the most derogatory comment I have ever heard are along the lines of ….the [Parsifal Ovation; Fidelio, etc] is a great speaker, but just not for me…" With this review, I get to step beyond my limited listening experiences with Verity Audio and decide for myself just how good they really are.
I was first introduced to Verity Audio in about 1998 when I had the pleasure of auditioning the first iteration of the Fidelios—the speaker just below the Parsifal. I ventured into this particular salon to audition the new and intensely hyped Bel Canto Evo TriPath amp, which just happened to be anchoring a pair of Fidelios. I was so taken by the sound they were immediately etched into my brain as a product to keep an ear out for. In fact, if memory serves, that night I penciled out several alternative financial strategies all in an effort to obtain that pair of Fidelios and forgo the amp that I so desperately needed. Yet, at around $7000 if memory serves, it was much too much for this graduate student to redirect his otherwise committed student loans.
In the subsequent years, I was able to enjoy later iterations of the Fidelios and the Parsifals. Verity Audio appears to run a very tight and focused ship keeping their product line to a manageable number. By far, the Fidelio and the Parsifal are their most recognizable and common products and both were part of their initial offerings. In fact, I understand the first Verity Audio product was the original Parsifals (1995) followed shortly by the Fidelios (1998). Since that time each has gone through less than a handful of revisions, the more significant ones tagged "Encore" or "Ovation" after their family name. Most of these upgrades could have been done by Verity Audio on existing products if the owner so desired.
The speakers that arrived for this review are the current version of the Parsifal known as the Ovations and are finished in the Quilted Big Leaf Maple. The MSRP is $19,995 and an additional $5000 for the Maple finish. Why should you spend an additional $5000 on the finish, especially when there is no plausible positive audible effect on the sound? Because they are stunning. For $19,995 the fit and finish is flawless and as close to being perfect in the details as I have ever seen. With an unknown amount (to me at least) of hand applied lacquer over the tight and impeccable veneering, there is simply nothing to quibble about. For the additional $5000 you get a conversation piece. In our house, these speakers share space in our entertainment room/family room, but they are the visual center point. While many visitors are first taken in by the 60" HD plasma screen to one side of the 23' x 23' room, they are quickly drawn to these speakers with an outstretched finger and an "I just got to touch these things" look on their face. In short, the Maple finish brings a level of quality to that reserved for finest handmade furniture. These will add sophistication to any décor.
John Quick, of Tempo Sales & Marketing, Verity's U.S agent, made the 3000 mile journey from Waltham, Ma, (John assured me he would have made the trip even if the temperature deferential between our respective domiciles had not been about 40 degrees that week in January) to Southern California. For the final few miles of the journey, he was accompanied by Maier Shadi of the Audio Salon here in Los Angeles, CA. John and Maier spent a solid hour setting them in place, toeing them in, toeing them out. When the results were not as he thought they should have been in my relatively compact room, they flipped the bass cabinet to fire forward in an all out effort to get the best possible sound out of the bottom end. After all this speaker wrangling, we sat there in total awe listening to the explosive dynamics and raw energy of Dianne Reeves' "Mista" from In the Moment. Once the track ended, we regrouped with a collective "wow" and the speakers were deemed to "be in place".
Four months after that initial set-up, my wife and I moved into our first home. With it came a new entertainment room measuring 23 x 23 with 9' ceilings. Knowing how they sounded ideally set-up with my equipment, I set out to replicate the sound in this much larger room. However, with a new room, new set-up constraints arose. I won't bore you with the details, suffice it to say that the bass cabinet is now rear firing (as designed and preferred by Verity Audio) and, with the increased volume in the room, the speaker has "expanded" into the space. The results are that they sound much better in this room and they sounded pretty darn good in the other one.
I know from the occasional emails that at least a couple of Positive Feedback Online readers regularly search out and read my reviews. For the uninformed, let me explain that I have been methodically plodding through a complete system overhaul, if not a rebuild, which thus far has taken 2 ½ years. The goal being to assemble a system that reflects my years of audio experience and that it is the grandest that I can afford and fit into my and my wife's, life. This accumulation is nearing completion with the recent acquisition of the Pass Labs X1 pre-amp. Last box to "check off" are the speakers. Thus far my system is comprised of the equipment listed in the side bar, but for the recent addition of the Audio Magic Mini Stealth power conditioner and the NuForce Ref 9 SEs have been way upgraded to the V2s.
I would like to comment on the contribution the CrystalCable References make to the sonic whole. As I had reported in my review, having a complete set up of these wires constructed a synergy that permeated the system in unprecedented form. With a speaker as refined and telling as the Parsifal Ovations, I cannot help but to want to share my conclusion once again. However, I will leave it to write that the CrystalCable Reference—Verity Audio synergy was undeniably present in the form of smoothness, consistency, and stability, and, if at all possible, should not be missed.
Yes, it is true. The burn-in time for these speakers is ridiculously long. I played my iPod through the X1, all day, every day for a solid month and it still took about 5 additional months of regular play before they really settled in. However, I am of the opinion that if you just purchased a $20k pair of speakers, you are probably in it for the long haul and a little front end nuisance is a necessary pain in the butt.
The Parsifal Ovation Monitors
The Parsifal Monitors are sold separately and come in all the same finishes available to the full range system. With the monitor system you receive the one inch CNC'd aluminum plate that separates the monitor and the bass cabinet when used as such. In the monitor only configuration, it is intended to sit between the monitor and the stands you choose. Currently in the works are Verity Audio designed stands to compliment these monitors, however, not available to me at the time, I used a pair of Sound Organization twenty-four inch with three pillars. Each pillar was mass-loaded with the sand scooped from a local beach. The aluminum plate is then sandwiched between eight three inch round and one fourth inch thick neoprene pads. The monitor sits directly on the top pairs and the bottom pads sit right on the stands. All in all, these speakers deserve much more attractive stands, and I suspect the stands Verity Audio is working on will be top notch in both form and function.
Verity Audio has always sold the monitor separately, but for reasons unknown they have never really marketed it as a stand alone product. Which is too bad. Given the remarkably good sound coupled with the natural upgrade path to later add the bass module when room and funds provide, seems like a no-brainer marketing plan.
There is a custom five-inch mid-bass driver and a one-inch soft dome tweeter in this ported enclosure. Verity has carefully designed the mid-bass driver to allow it to run an unusually wide bandwidth. When separated from the bass module, the electrical crossover in the monitors is a simple third-order high pass network at about 5.5 kHz for the tweeter. The mid range is actually wired directly to the amplifier, because the aforementioned specially designed mid range has been optimized to allow it to reach all the way up to the tweeter's crossover without any harsh break-up nodes. When using the bass cabinet, a custom jumper attaches to the bottom of the cabinet within which is another filter. This filter works at about 120Hz and addresses the signal before it is sent to the monitor cabinet via the provided jumpers.
As you would imagine, bass is not the deepest with the monitor or any monitor for that matter. I am told that the drivers can grab 55Hz, but as constructed, they are capable of going much deeper. As a previous owner of many stand mounted speakers, I can attest that bass response is as deep as I have ever heard, but significantly more tuneful when compared to the others I have known over the years.
Zigaboo Modeliste, "I'm on the Right Track" is a powerful and dynamic offering from The King of the Funky Drums as Mr. Modeliste has so claimed himself to be. As I listened to this recording it became clear that I am in no place to argue his coronation. This is a recording begging to be run with full range speakers, between the HDCD and the explosive recording itself, it is made for floor shaking and window rattling. That is not to say that these monitors don't get you most of the way there. With their wide frequency range mid driver so much of that power is delivered complete with crisp dynamic whacks and percussive rolls.
Nearly all of the pizzazz of this recording is captured, limited only by the physical characteristic of the driver and the cabinets, but not limited nearly as much as you would think after first looking at them. These monitors capture much more of the fundamentals which most monitors abandon as a compromise. This recording is full of punch, slam—all of it as tight as only HDCD can provide. At the same time, there was an abundance of a rich fullness that added body and soul to what typically are hollow representations of a human voice. As you would expect the deepest notes, as well as the sheer scale a full range speaker can offer up, is somewhat absent, but no so noticeably absent as you would think.
Moving on to something a bit more delicate, I dropped in the Tord Gustavsen Trio's The Ground—arguably the polar opposite of the King. Open and spacious this trio glided, if not sashayed into my room, light hits of the cymbal and an accompanied piano created a spacious soundscape. The monitors seemed to float the music in a pristine and luxurious manner. When there is no need for a thunderous bottom end, it is easily missed. Nothing seemed to be absent or incomplete and I mean nothing.
Just below and behind the wonderfully played piano, there were the very real yet subtle sounds of the foot pedals being depressed and then lifted again and again. Closer up front, the double bass of Herald Johnsen breathed with rich life just over the brushing of the snare. In as much as there was a noticeable absence of otherwise required information with the King banging away, this recording was noticeably complete and I was not left for wanting anything more out of the Verity Audio Parsifal Ovation monitors. In fact, this particular listening session nearly had me convinced there was no need to attach the bass module ...ever.
This was true for each recording I listened to in which the soul of the recording was found north of 45Hz. Detailed without the slightest hint of being analytical. Warm and comforting without being syrupy or dark, as a monitor alone, I can easily recommend the Parsifal Ovations. For most of my "audio" life, I lived with, and loved, monitors. Even when room size and my budget could have accommodated a fuller range speaker, I always seem to opt for the intimacy and ease that only a monitor can capture. This one is no exception, in fact, as I listen, I cannot help but wonder if I couldn't be happy with this alone. The answer is yes, I could and more so than any other monitor I have owned or listened to in the past.
Addition of the Bass Cabinet
After a month or so as a "monitor" only set-up, I returned to the full range speaker that I have been waiting to review. When making this change the set up was not altered as to the location in the room. I found with the bass modules underneath, I preferred a bit more toe in towards my listening position. When John was setting them up, he showed me an interesting tweak. If you alter the rake of the speaker by increasing the height of the rear spikes by a relatively small amount, the musical image rises higher up off the floor. Where once a vocal track was just below my ear level, with this slight adjustment, the vocals were now are raised to just above this level. I enjoy it that way.
With the addition of the bass module the musical "picture" became a complete system of musical reproduction. Not just in a depth/width of the sound stage completeness, but also in a fuller, richer, deeper way with more body and texture. The above is in no way to suggest that these speakers sound like monitors with a separate and distinct subwoofer, which is far from the case. It is, and sounds like a carefully designed and constructed, fully integrated, cohesive from top to bottom full-range loudspeaker. Or, it sounds every bit as you should expect from a $20,000 full range speaker.
By direct comparison, the Tord Gustaven Trio, now presented in full-range with the Parsifal Ovations, simply breathed a life and emotion into and out of the recoding that is nothing short of remarkable. Honestly, I am not sure what is more remarkable, the beauty and accuracy with which the full-range filled my room or, the amount of stark realism added to the disc over and above the already amazing performance by the monitors alone! The monitors were that good; yet, were surpassed by the full range Ovations even though the majority of the "range" within this particular recording is well within the specifications of the mid-bass driver in the monitor cabinet.
In full range, there was greater ambiance to be heard within the music. The dark was darker, the decay of the notes more plausible. The intimate details were part of the whole. The pluck of a string or the plinking of piano keys was all there in a balance that favored realism and not so much an analysis of the performance.
One thing I was not completely prepared for was the control the speakers had over the signal. In our old place, if the X1's LCD volume readout was 9 or higher, I was tempting the patience of my neighbors and possibly the wrath of my otherwise sweet wife. In the new room, the sky is the limit…..12….14…16…all the way up the presentation was as stable as if the volume were halved. Even at the most offensive levels, there was not the slightest hint of distortion or strain or a loss of control. In fact, I found the bass most enjoyable at higher levels, and I am sure such an opinion is not all that uncommon. I was not accustomed to these compelling visceral attacks, but now that I have them I don't want to give them up. I found these attacks surprising only because the woofer was rear firing and cognitively you would not necessarily think that would be the case.
Patricia Barber's release Live: A Fortnight in Paris is not ground breaking in many ways but, at the same time, it is wonderfully recorded. One track in particular, "Pieces" is a dynamic, highly musical track full of raw energy. Recording quality aside, I cannot recollect ever having been so taken by the sheer presence of the full-scale ensemble being placed directly and convincingly in my living room …or any other living room …ever. No, this is not hyperbole. I was not expecting the Parsifal Ovations to be so packed full of energy and excitement. Their ability to capture the dynamic excitement of this track and still remain true to Barber's soulful signature; it is what makes them so special and was something I had missed in all my previous encounters with them in the past.
Joan Osborne has long been a favorite of mine and her 2007 release Breakfast in Bed has been in heavy rotation in my house of late. The disc is a collection of R&B, soul, and other popular covers done in her very distinctive style. "Ain't No Sunshine", "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Sarah Smile" are some of the standouts in which Osborne's expressive nature is captured nearly flawlessly. Those that are familiar with Joan know that her voice can sound wonderfully raspy. At times and with speakers known to be of an analytical nature, such raspy-ness can become fatiguing. With a speaker on the warm end of the spectrum the beauty of this raspy-ness is usually smoothed over. The Parsifal Ovations get it right. With their inherent balance, Joan's voice is captured in just a way that the essence of "Joan Osborne" is there in all its beauty. This balancing act between what we need to hear and what we do not need to hear is struck to favor a more soothing and musical signature. Those preferring a sonic signature rich in detail, may find the Ovations somewhat too relaxed. Those that favor a syrupy romantic signature, may find the Parsifal's falling a bit short of their preferences. In between, there is a wide range of musicality waiting to be celebrated.
If I have done my job, it should be clear to the reader that the Verity Audio Parsifal Ovations are wonderfully balanced across the audio spectrum, and that they are both articulate with an appropriate amount of detail while being abundantly musical. As I review what I have written, I notice there is ample use of such descriptors as rich, beauty, musical, and soul. If the reader were to also conclude that there are speakers that fall on the soulful side of being completely neutral, that would not be far from the truth. If I did not do my job, and you missed all that in the body of the review, well then you have it neatly summed up here.
Bottom line: the previously unchecked box next to "speakers" on my list of products needed to be purchased to create my ultimate reference sound system is now been checked. I am keeping these beauties. John Brazier