Audience ClairAudient 2+2 loudspeaker Page 3

This was most noticeable with voices. I cued up Ike & Tina Turner's cover of John Fogerty's "Proud Mary," from Greatest Hits (LP, United Artists UA-LA592-G), and was stunned. Far from sounding flat or the least bit dull, voices seemed to practically jump out of the soundstage. I heard levels of detail and inflection that had obviously been masked by the churning of other speakers. This track has always been cool, but never this stunningly so.

The 2+2's magic extended well past voices. I was particularly taken by the woodwinds' sound in Charles Munch and the Orchestre de Paris's recording of Ravel's Boléro (LP, Angel 36584). Everything about them—the reediness, the hollow sound of wind echoing in the wooden bodies, the buzz of the double reeds—was perfect. The way they interacted and drove the space around them was also perfect, and another example of the ClairAudients' sounding significantly more natural and organic than other speakers I've heard.

Sometimes, though, I longed for more bass from the little 2+2. The ominous, subterranean power of the double basses in works such as Holst's The Planets (LP, London Stereo CS6734, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic) just wasn't there. The 2+2 went low enough, but didn't have the weight and power to make these passages really work. It was as if I could hear into the low-frequency passages, get the pitches, and follow the line, but somehow the bass wasn't really there. Nor could the 2+2 quite pull off rumbling bass-drum rolls. The impacts were audible, as were the trailing skin tones, but there just wasn't the feeling of deep foreboding that I get with other speakers, or in a live performance.

Conversely, with other, typically smaller recordings—such as "Talk of the Town," from Buddy Tate's The Texas Twister (CD, New World NW 352)—it seemed as if the 2+2's bottom-end performance was entirely credible. Another great example in which the double bass was right on the money was Schubert's "Trout" Piano Quintet. I listened to several recordings of this work, and the one that proved a showcase for the 2+2 was a version by Menahem Pressler, Philip Sklar, and members of the Guilet String Quartet (mono LP, MGM E3128).

The other area in which the ClairAudient seemed to lack a bit of energy was the very top. The shimmer of the cymbals in The Texas Twister didn't spread out and fill the space the way it does live—or as it does, to a lesser extent, through the Harbeth or Castle. Triangles in classical works were another good example, and illustrated the 2+2's strengths and weaknesses in the treble. Triangles rang sweetly, in a way that sounded very natural, but didn't have the impact or edge that cuts through the air above an orchestra. I recently attended a wonderful performance by the American Philharmonic Symphony of Sonoma County, the nation's premier all-volunteer orchestra. It provided a great and immediate reference that told me that the ClairAudient lacked enough energy at the very top to give triangles the bite they have in a live performance.

But the 2+2 never sounded dull, and most percussion transients did have the power and impact they should. One evening, I popped on Military Fanfares, Marches & Choruses from the Time of Napoleon, a collection of works performed by the Brass and Percussion Ensembles of Gardiens de la Paix de Paris, directed by Desire Dondeyne (LP, Nonesuch H71015). The percussion, especially the snare drums, were reproduced with as much power and panache as I've ever heard from my system, and were nothing short of spectacular. It was mostly with instruments whose sounds have both a hard transient and a rich, resonant ringing tone—triangles, cymbals, celesta, bells, etc.—that I longed for more impact and edge.

Summing Up
The Audience ClairAudient 2+2 is an ambitious undertaking. Its designers have tried to bend the laws of physics along two different axes, and have largely succeeded. The speaker is a unique and thoroughly modern take on a full-range, crossoverless design. The ClairAudient 2+2 sounds dramatically different from a "normal" dynamic loudspeaker, with a purity, a freedom from distortion, and an organic ease that are addictive. The 2+2 makes it hard to accept the tension and internal "churning" that we're used to hearing multiway speakers weave into the music.

But the road less traveled is often avoided for good reason, and it's no accident that the technology of music reproduction has evolved in the direction of speakers with multiple drivers and crossovers. The 2+2 doesn't go as low or as high, or play as loudly and dynamically, as a well-designed multiway speaker such as my Wilson Sophia 2.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Audience ClairAudient 2+2. I was taken aback at first by how different it sounded from the other speakers I'd been listening to, enough so that I wondered if there were actually something wrong with my review samples. As time went on, however, I grew more and more convinced that the 2+2s were doing something very right, and that it was the other speakers that were erring. I was sad to see them leave.

It's important to remember, however, that the 2+2 is the smallest and least expensive of Audience's ClairAudient line, which brings up the other area in which the clever folks at Audience are trying to bend the rules. No matter how many drivers and crossovers you have, it's difficult to fill a room with full-range sound from a speaker as small as the 2+2. Harbeth's wonderful little P3ESR is the latest incarnation of the hallowed BBC LS3/5a minimonitor, a lineage that represents the gold standard in this regard. But as good as the Harbeth is, it's nowhere near as good, or as full-range, or as room-filling as the ClairAudient 2+2. Admittedly, the 2+2 costs more than twice as much; nonetheless, it's an impressive achievement.

$5000 is a lot of money for a pair of small, not-quite-full-range speakers. But it's not a lot to spend for a loudspeaker that makes listening to music as enjoyable as does the ClairAudient 2+2. Plus, it's small enough for even the tiniest spaces, and an easy load for even modest amplifiers. Don't seriously audition it unless you're equally serious about buying new speakers. Once you've gotten used to not hearing the distortions created by crossovers and multiple, different drivers, it's awfully hard to go back. Very highly recommended.

Audience, LLC
120 N. Pacific Street, #K-9
San Marcos, CA 92069
(800) 565-4390