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Positive Feedback ISSUE47
The Neoteric Listener...
the ClaraVu 7 loudspeakers
I've only ice skated one time. Sitting behind the Plexiglas, I watched the skaters hurtling by in their effortless display of grace, timing, and power. Meanwhile, I shivered in my turgid mediocrity, eating a Blimpie. With "Down on the Corner" distorting from a single JBL loudspeaker, I determined to pirouette like Dorothy Hamill and punch like Dave Schultz (such was my understanding of the sport), so I took off my Starsky & Hutch cardigan and wobbled towards the ice. I had roller skated a bunch of times, so how hard could it be? Turning to my buddies, who were busy flicking hot chocolate on the girls who skated by, my rented blades touched the ice and I shouted, "Watch this, dudes, I…"
Wham! Straight down. Straight out.
This cheerful incident came to mind during my encounter with the ClaraVu 7 Monitor System. Going to trade shows and audiophile meetings has only intensified my manic obsession to have a "high end sound" for my very own. You know what I mean, extended range and dynamics, pinpoint resolution, and that delicate soundstage that lightly shimmers only when the conditions are right. So when I had the opportunity to audition a monitor speaker designed for the discriminating audiophile market, I couldn't say yes fast enough. Even more fortunate for me, I still had on hand the Mystere ia11 from a previous review, which proved fortuitous for a number of reasons. But I quickly learned that the Clara Vu 7 is no wimpy roller skate for sidewalk stragglers; it's a speed skate for wingers who know what they want…
First one thing, it's pretty big, and weighs 40 lbs on it own (75 lbs when paired with the matching stand). I know I'm no Joe Weider, but I don't often have trouble moving around a standmount, either. "More monitor lizard than monitor," I huffed, lifting the ClaraVu 7s into place. Also, this speaker requires deft handling if you want it to perform at its best. Prior to delivery, speaker designer Vinh Vu cautioned me about pairing the "extremely revealing" Vu 7s with my Arcam 80 integrated. But hey, I had auditioned plenty of speakers, so how bad could my system sound? Promptly ignoring Mr. Vu's prescient warning, I connected the speakers to the Arcam, turned to my girlfriend, and said, "Listen to this, honey…"
Whoa! Straight on. Straight ouch.
"So Tired" from the Chambers Brothers The Time Has Come is a sublime performance on a dreadful recording, and is always my opening salvo when auditioning speakers. How quickly passable becomes execrable when high quality is introduced into a system. The blend of voices must have sent shivers down the spine of the RCA ribbon microphone when it was recorded, but the grainy, distorted muffle I now discovered on this edition gave me shivers of another sort. Got grain? I need to switch out the forward sounding amplifier, right? Yes and no. The marvelous Mystere could improve the presentation, but the ClaraVus refused to bury the imperfections. Cursing the man from the record label for shafting the boundary-bending Chambers Brothers with this wretched compact disc, I yanked out the CD and headed for the internet. Discovering that there is a newly re-mastered version of this CD, I ordered it, and then started looking askance at some of the other bad actor recordings lurking around my collection. They would have to go, or be replaced…!
The ClaraVu 7s make you do a lot of this sort of housecleaning, and not just with recordings, because they require every facet of the audio chain to be on form. Whereas I had previously been able to get away with a laissez faire approach to my system, the Vu 7s chided me for just being lazy. Changing out power cords, swapping cables, turning off display lights, cleaning contact points, all those things I know I should do but often neglect, made a strikingly audible difference. And because each adjustment had such a significant impact on accuracy, soundstage and immediacy, the pursuit of better and better sound became addicting. Positioning these speakers in my dwarven cave required plenty of heft and lots of patience, but the results were well worth it, especially from the prime listening area. The literature accompanying the Vu 7s urges the user to experiment to find the consummate listening set up: employing the golden ratios (the speaker manual helpfully references an article by George Cardas on this topic!), changing the phase by reversing the leads of the wires on both speakers, even turning them upside down so that the tweeters are more on line with one's ears. Naturally, I tried all of the suggestions, and each step provided a much more articulated and coherent sound. The manufactures explains in the manual that:
This high-resolution, of course, is what made my copy of "So Tired" so lame, but it's also what makes these speakers truly audiophile products. While at CES 2010, I was lucky enough to receive a number of recordings made by various manufacturers and distributors to showcase their products. By design, the selections on these discs are invariably eclectic because they are meant to show the versatility and range of the featured electronics, speakers, or source components. Initially, I feared that the Vu7s would be just another in the herd of speakers that are only suitable for the light jazz and female vocalist crowd. If that proved true, it would be like the scene from American Graffiti, "Is that you in that beautiful car? Geez, what a waste of machinery!" Why, because the ClaraVu7s are nothing if not impressive. To my relief, these speakers could present any genre in a (surprise!) wonderfully resolving and musical manner, just as advertised. I got good results from weird places, too, such as when I happened to play "You Don't Have to Cry" from the re-mastered version of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Hearing strings click on the fretboard, detecting the wavering of Graham Nash's vocal as he juuusst hits a harmony on one of the choruses, delighting in the Texan warmth and body of Stephen Stills' voice in his prime—these are the moments for which the ClaraVu 7s were created. From pulsating Euro disco to mainstream contemporary rock to a softly murmured solo vocal piece, the ClaraVu 7s delivered the sound that pleases all of us who love the precise "audiophile" experience. And what experience would that be? Dead-on imaging, a really accurate rendering of every bit of the recording, and an extended range from bottom to top. The only quibble was a slightly pinched, congested tonal representation of some male vocals, but it could be that the Vu 7s were merely illuminating an existing tendency that I hadn't noticed before. Given their size, dimensions, and quality of materials, you would expect better bass from these speakers than is typical for monitor speakers, and you would be right. But midrange and treble, too, had a depth and focus that enabled you to discern even the slightest element of the musical performance. With well recorded music, you had no doubt that you were listening to a sound that approximated speakers many times the asking price.
A few days after the Vu 7s arrived at my door, I decided to reread a review of the ClaraVu 88 monitor loudspeakers (http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue40/claravu_88.htm) by the the late, greatly missed John Potis. Talking about the forerunners to the Vu 7s, and saying it so much better than I ever hope to, he points out that "The ClaraVu 88 is voiced to be a musically friendly speaker… Of course this means that if you put on your favorite recording you may miss a little detail… a little spark from your music." His review is very complimentary of the 88s, in no small part because they are crowd pleasers where almost anyone can play almost anything and still be perfectly happy. The ClaraVu 7s, in contrast, are designed to mainly please those with ears, equipment, and musical recordings commensurate with high-end audio. You don't miss any detail, and there are sparks aplenty, but these newest Gingko Audio speakers really shine when given a chance to show off. These are not "lifestyle" speakers that you can recommend to your non-audiophile friend for their rec-room—the grills are held on by magnets and not meant for rough play, for example—and these are certainly no Bose-wonders. Anyone can appreciate stellar sound, of course, and excellent speakers always appeal to a wide audience, but for those who live for high-end performance these speakers deliver an audiophile experience at a price that's hard to beat.
Monitor Speaker System
Tweeter: 1" silk dome
using patented technology
Dimensions: 27"h x 13"w