Positive Feedback Logo

The Vanatoo Transparent One Encore Powered Loudspeakers

09-09-2021 | By John Zurek | Issue 117

How's your consumer confidence these days? Mine could be better. Seems like the more I buy, the less I'm satisfied. Higher price and lower quality is starting to become the rule rather than the exception. I especially take umbrage with products that feature a description that seduces you into thinking they're great, and then disappoint when used. What about the subject of this review, the Transparent One Encore powered speaker made by Vanatoo? Here's hoping they'll restore some of my faith.

Most audiophiles I know have a second (in some cases a third and fourth) system. Although I dabble with headphones and IEMs, and do listen in the car, I consider my living room system my second system. Some weeks the second system gets less use than the big rig—my 2 channel system in its dedicated room—some weeks more.

In my mind I think of the living room system as my civilian-social system. Two speakers flank the 51-inch TV, with a small sub on the floor off to the right. I guess you could call it a 2.1 configuration. Almost all of my listening is done off-axis, and I'm rarely, if ever, in the sweet spot. But obviously I still want it to sound as good as possible. I'm watching/listening to video streaming over Netflix, Hulu, etc., which includes TV dialog, special effects, and movie/TV music. Sometimes I play CDs through the Blu-ray player, although most of the music-only listening in this room is played from my phone streaming Qobuz. It's also what I use when friends are over and we just want some background party music.

After five or so years I felt the Audioengine A5 speakers and Fiio D3 DAC I was using might benefit from some modernization, so I got in touch with Gary Gesellchen and Rick Kernen (both a pleasure to deal with) at Vanatoo and requested a review sample of the Transparent One Encores (T1E). The T1Es and their accoutrements arrived in a few days, well-packed and double boxed. The inside box had excellent padding and a nice little handle should you choose to tote them around. Unboxing revealed a solid feel. These speakers are well-built, with excellent fit and finish. If I handled them without knowing the price I would guess higher than $599.

The 18mm thick cabinets are available in either a satin black or with real cherry wood veneer (mine came in cherry, loved it), with a hand-rubbed finish. Dual integrated amplifiers send 100 watts of power to each of the woofers, and 20 watts to each of the tweeters.

The Vanatoos are feature-rich, especially when you consider their price. I'll hit the highlights here, but if I went into all the details of their attributes we'd be here a long time. The T1E is a true 2-way stereo powered speaker system, and has built-in DACs and DSP for equalization and subwoofer control. Inputs include USB, Toslink Optical, Coax, Analog, and Bluetooth. Vanatoo ClearBass™ Technology includes custom aluminum cone woofers with the patented XBL™ technology, and a long stroke passive radiator. The 100 W per channel high efficiency Class D amplifiers are bi-amped, and a 24-Bit DSP (Digital Signal Processor) are optimized together as one integrated system to provide in-room frequency response from 48Hz to 20kHz +/- 3 dB. They include volume, bass and treble controls, and a subwoofer output with AutoSense (more about this later). I love the low power sleep mode that lets my lazy self just saunter off to sleep without having to turn them off. They also come with a set of black grills and (hard to believe at this price) a 3-year warranty.

If all those features weren't enough for you, the T1Es give you even more options to customize the configuration settings. They include Sleep Mode setting, Remote Enable key setting, DSP setting, Stereo/Mono setting, Auto Input Switch setting, Limiters setting, Bluetooth Enable setting, Bluetooth Pairing Time setting, USB service Port Enable setting, Default setting, and Download new firm ware setting. Impressive.

A feature-packed remote control also comes with the speakers and has options for inputs, mute, volume, treble and bass, and many other functions that are explained in the Owner's Guide.

I got them set up on 24" stands on either side of my TV, connected the proprietary umbilical from the main speaker to the slave, installed a digital optical cable from the TV to the main speaker, connected the AC cable, and I was up and running. I knew it would take some work to integrate the sub, plus I wanted to concentrate on the T1Es first, so for the time being I just satisfied myself with getting the T1Es set up. As soon as I had the speakers powered up I tried the TV. Streaming channels were working fine on the first try. After that I tried the Bluetooth connection. The T1Es recognized my phone and made the connection without a hitch.

I started watching some streaming TV to get a general impression. Straight off I noticed they could use some break-in. They were a little thin and unfocused right out of the box, so I connected the Bluetooth, selected Qobuz on my phone, and gave them a couple of days of music. After that everything sounded much better. After a little experimentation I decided they worked best with no toe-in, firing straight ahead in order to cover the room as evenly as possible. I was trying to get a balance for all the positions where people sat in the room, on the couch and chairs. The set up experience for this system was unusual for me. I'm used to setting up everything for maximum performance at the sweet spot in my dedicated system, but here I wanted to get (reasonably) good sound in the whole room.

After breaking in I used them without a sub for several days and enjoyed them. I experienced detail, grace, and finesse like I've never heard in my living room. Dynamics were surprisingly good for two small boxes. My AV experience, especially the A, was definitely enhanced. I could easily be happy using them on their own, but hey, a few inches away was a sub just begging to be integrated. It was time to consult the Owner's Guide. After a quick scan it was obvious that someone at Vanatoo knows how to write. The manual is well-organized, easy to understand, clear and concise. Definitely not a Chinese translation as so many are these days.

In the Owner's Guide I found the section "CONNECTING TO AN OPTIONAL SUBWOOFER" which tells me all I have to do is connect to the "SUB OUT" RCA from the main speaker to the sub. I used my modest HSU STF-1 (150W RMS, 8 inch downward-firing) powered sub. The guide tells me "When a subwoofer is connected, the active speaker automatically detects the connection and adds a digital crossover network between the T1Es and the subwoofer."

Once I established that the sub was working I first tried the default "Shelved" DSP setting, which sets the crossover at 125Hz. After physically moving the sub to align the center of its driver to the rear ports of the T1Es I listened and thought it sounded pretty damn good for a first try. But, from my experience setting up subs in my main system I thought a lower crossover frequency might be better. So, I went to page eight of the Guide and used the table to change to "flat DSP setting mode" which sets the crossover to 80 hz. I listened again. I was wrong. Not sure why, but the system as a whole sounded better with the 125Hz crossover. Punchy and coherent, the sub not interfering with the midrange vocals. Go figure.

Once you start using the table on page eight of the Guide, changing settings, you'll see it's a teensy bit geeky, but it is easy to use and works as without a hitch. Would I rather have a nice app for these controls on my phone? Yup, but really, with a pair of speakers that have so many features at this price, I can (and so can you) easily live with a few low-tech controls.

After break-in and sub setup, I settled in for my multi-media experience. I noticed several things straight away. The dialog on most TV shows and movies was more articulate and easier to understand. Then there was the bass. The time spent setting up the sub was well worth it. Even with my inexpensive HSU STF-1, I was experiencing quality bass that merged well with the mains. It frankly surprised me and really delivered the goods. Punchy, room-energizing, the added sub no doubt helped the TE1s sound better, which is what a sub (in my opinion) should do.

Lately I've been listening to music for pure fun, not concerned with audiophile parameters, like I used to in my pre-audiophile days. Felt good. The streaming revolution has opened up new worlds, giving you instant access to your old, old faves that might be hard to find on CD or vinyl, or trying new recordings that you may not have taken a chance on if you had to buy them. It's been a pleasure to listen in non-audiophile fun mode (but with high quality sound), and this little system featuring the T1Es is a treat.

Overall the Vantoos sounded smoother, more coherent, and more dynamic than what I was used to in the living room. They really enhanced my streaming TV, movie watching, and music streaming experience with not only sound quality, but convenience (love the Bluetooth connection for streaming music). Although not a multichannel setup, watching movies that were well recorded gave me a thrill. I never considered myself much of a home theater enthusiast, but the T1Es could be my gateway drug. I even tried some broadcast TV (not something I normally watch), and was unprepared for how much better the audio is these days since we've gone to digital TV broadcast signals.

The T1Es could play loud when called for but had finesse when played at a softer level. On the other hand when the fascinating bombast of special effects and low notes came through I really enjoyed it. Of course the very low notes were mostly due to the sub, but I was really surprised at how well the T1Es mated with the sub, and how quickly I could integrate the two. The combination was fast and coherent, even without room correction. The Vanatoos were easily better than my old set up, although they're more expensive, but hey, we're talking a few hundreds, not thousands.

So what did the Vanatoos do for my consumer confidence? Took me straight to the good place and gave me some new found optimism. The T1Es possess many of the qualities of my Swiss Army knife. Lots of options, well built, and so versatile they can do a good job in many situations. The only thing I could really wish for from these speakers is a volume control on the front, and RCA analog inputs instead of the 3.5 mm stereo jack. But hey, these are minor nits, and I understand Vanatoo making these tradeoffs to keep this very sweet price point. In fact, I think that possibly the greatest achievement of these speakers is their very well rounded integration of sound, price, and attributes. These are well-made, high-quality, feature-rich speakers that simply sound great. I think they would also excel as nearfield monitors in a computer desktop. If I was still at my old day gig working at a computer most days they would be my first addition to the setup. That said, If you're looking for a powered monitor my recommendation is to buy a pair of the Transparent One Encores at the $599 price before Messrs Gesellchen and Kernen come to their senses and charge much more. A great speaker at a very attractive price.

Transparent One Encores Powered Loudspeakers

Retail: $599