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Positive Feedback ISSUE 5
as reviewed by Bob Neill
Last time out, in my review of the new Reynaud Mk III Twins, I made an observation that surprised me but not those of you who have been around the audio block a few more times than I have. To wit: recordings perfectly recovered by one of the world's best studio monitors, though quite beautiful and tonally on the money, nevertheless sounded less like musical performances than they did on the tiny Reynauds. I had come upon what is apparently one of the classic anomalies of audio: truth to source does not necessarily mean truth to musical performance. My experience with the Twins' slightly larger and three times as expensive brothers, the recently reconfigured Trentés (pronounced Tren-tay) the past six weeks has taken this observation into the sky. While a piano coming through the Trentés lacks some of the pristine beauty and sense of sonic perfection it has coming through my Monitor 40's, it also sounds more immediate and far more exciting. It is all piano, with no frame around it. Some speakers will let you see perfectly all there is on a recording but won't let you touch it. If I were required to reduce to one word my description of both the new Twins and Trentés, it would be 'tactile.'
Reynauds and Harbeths
It is possible to get something of this tactile quality with Harbethsshould one want to do thatby sitting at the apex of an equilateral triangle with the speakers aimed directly at you. This is how I came to listen to my Monitor 40's over the past year after finding them a bit reticent from a more casual seating arrangement. Alan Shaw has since informed me that since his monitor series was designed to be used in studios where near-field listening is the rule, even a slightly projective presentation is unwanted. More important, he feels that 'real' sound is a bit distant:
I offer this quotation from designer Shaw (with his permission) because it is the clearest statement I've heard about why Harbeths sound as they doand why, in particular, they sound different from Reynauds. To say that a speaker is 'laid back' is of minimal interest to me because a lot of speakers that sound laid back don't sound like each other. But to say that our experience of realitythe very object we are trying to reproduceis laid back is of great interest. Now listen to Jean Marie Reynaud: "Alive, aliveSound must be alive. Speakers must be able to express the life and joy in music." What we have here is a significant difference in prioritiesand perhaps in principle as well, which is something a good deal more concrete than we usually have in comparing audio components.
Robert Greene in his review of the M40's in TAS a while back, quoted a visiting friend as saying that a piano coming through his M40's sounded "real but more beautiful." I couldn't say it better myself. Music never sounds "more beautiful" through Reynaud Trentés. It sounds compelling. ("I don't want anyone preparing a meal while listening to my speakers." JMR). If you prefer a little distance in your recorded music, the slight remove that tends to make beauty and tonal purity the first priorityand I'm not talking about euphony here or lyricism, I'm talking about reality conceived as being slightly "away," in Alan Shaw's senseyou will likely find the Trentés a little too present. On the other hand, if you like your music present'live'you may well find them the very best of their popular mid $2000 class, as I did.
I have characterized Harbeths as being "direct" in their presentation. They are indeed, compared with Spendors: but having spent the last couple of months with Reynauds, I now hear the Harbeth directness as comparable to that of a photograph taken by an 8 x 10 view camera, with its remarkable resolution and depth of focus. Reynauds are direct in a different way. They are direct in the manner of a performance. The focus is on the foreground. We are aware of performers directly before us, in the room, where we can nearly feel their physical presence. The presentation is less finished, but more affecting. Reynauds are expressive, joyful speakers. If Spendorswith apologies to William Wordsworthare ultimately about music as lyrical ballads and Harbeths are about music as a portrait of music, Reynauds seem to be about music as live performance. In the artificial world of music reproduction it is becoming clear we can't achieve all of these worthy goals equally well.
Which are the real Reynauds?
I have had the Trentés in my house a good deal longer than I had the Twins because they are a good deal more versatile than their little brothers and harder to pin down. Though they have an identifiable character, they revealed a multiplicity of personas, depending on what I fed them. Where the Twins clearly preferred slightly warmer single-ended electronics and did not respond all that well to my exceptionally neutral sounding, balanced Blue Circle AG hybrid electronics, the Trentés responded well, though differently, to both the AG's and to warmer preamps and amps. I fed them caviar and I fed them beans and they never flinchedeverything came out music. I listened to them on the AG electronics, which cost-wise are way over their head; on the more reasonable single-ended BC 3 Despina and Galatea with my AG8000's (still in balanced); and on both the BC21.1 and BC3 Galatea with the new BC24 hybrid stereo amp. These last are the combinations that would seem to make the most sense economically. The BC24 did extremely well with the Twins last month, as you may remember.
The Trentés sounded clearest, most authoritative, and most dynamic on the balanced AG's,Blue Circle's most straightforward electronics. I expect their performance on the AG's is generally representative of how they would sound on most premier solid state or hybrid preamps and amps. On this AG3000/AG8000 combination, the Trentés were able to retrieve a stunningly transparent, naturally smooth but also robust version of what's on recordings, coupled with Reynaud's characteristic immediacy, presence, contrast, and tactility. On the Arditti Quartet's recent recording of Berio's String Quartets (Montaigne), the electricity and dynamics were riveting. On the Emerson Quartet's Haydn Project, the instruments were clear, powerful, and bursting with vibrancy. Pamela and Claude Frank's Beethoven Violin and Piano Sonatas (BMG Music Masters) were clear, crisp, smooth, beautiful, and illuminating. I found this recording thrilling on the AG's. In summary, I would say the AG/AG pair seem to maximize the Trente's powers of musical resolution, which are truly remarkable. I have heard what I consider to be their principal competitionHarbeth Compact 7's and Spendor SP1/2'son these same electronics, and the Trentés in all respects sounded superior. No one I know would put $2600 speakers on $26,000 electronics; but I'm telling you here that if you did, the Trentés would give you serious second thoughts about how expensive speakers need to be to truly get it.
With the single-ended BC3 Despina and Galatea, Blue Circle's more sensuously expressive electronics, running through my Blue Circle SE/XLR converter to the AG8000's running in balanced, the Trentés projected a warmer, airier, slightly softer and less contrasty, more blended presentation. The result was a little firmer sounding than I am accustomed to hearing from a system with a BC3 in it because the preamp was connected to David Elrod's EPS Signature 2 power cord. Edges were softened a bit, in comparison with the AG/AG combination, a little more on the Despina than on the Galatea, but since the characteristic Reynaud immediacy and presence were still there, this came through more as ease than euphony. And then there was that special single-ended thingthe ability to count feathers in the dark! On the Florestan Trio's latest, Beethoven Piano Trios, (Hyperion), the violin and cello were especially detailed and feathery. In direct comparison with the AG/AG combination on the Emerson's Haydn Project, the strings were warmer, more elegant, more delicate, airer, less forcefulthough still vibrant. On both combinations, they were immediate and tactile. That is the Reynaud contribution, the constant in both hearings. On rock music, it was nice to have the greater dynamic punch and stronger back-bone of the balanced AG's. Feathers don't help with rock. The Galatea, with its larger power supply, produced a notably firmer and clearer presentation overall than the Despina and the Trentés were a bit more responsive to it.
Several weeks after CES, the BC24, Gilbert Yeung's updating of the much loved BC6, arrived, along with a BC21.1 (BC21 with 6922 tubes), and I got to hear a similar but also subtly different pair of Trentés. Gilbert Yeung's preamps make strong statements, so it is not always easy for a reviewer to hear through them to get at exactly what his amps are doing. I pretty much know what the BC24 sounds likeI have heard it on both a BC3, which warmed it considerably, and on the all solid state preamp in the Purse and Shoes, which on the Twins was a superb match. With the BC21.1, the combined impression of the 21.1 and 24 through the Trentés was of a less refined version of the AG/AG approach: a bit yangyfull of beans and energy. Music was clear, crisp, spunky, and very dynamic. Jimmy Heath's sax on the recently reissued Freddy Hubbard recording, Hub Cab (Blue Note) was about as there as a sax can get. Jazz and rock music will love this combination. The 21.1/24 combination definitely asks the Trentés to play music sunny side up, which they are fully capable of doing. (Note: A digital front end less robust than my Naim CDS2 would doubtless soften this presentation a bit and I would recommend that.)
The BC3 Galatea and BC24 were, as you might expect, in contrast, more like a version of the Galatea/AG8000 combination, only here the compromise was more modest. The overall presentation was more laid back than the 21.1/24, smoother, with an increased sense of ease with very little loss of clarity, which is unusual when these virtues are featured. The sense of space, especially depth, was very pleasing. With this combination, Hubbard's trumpet and Julian Priesters's trombone on the Hubbard disc were the starsrich, smooth, presentand percussion was present without some of the insistence they had with the 21.1 in the system. This is definitely a system I could live with for a long time.
At about this point in the audition, I stepped back and marveled at how many truly different pairs of speakers I'd been listening to. Clearly, the Trentés can go pretty much anywhere you want to goand excel there, so long as you want the music in the room and full of life. The AG/AG combination had shown me, allowing for the scale and bandwidth limitations of a stand-mounted monitor, how much musical resolution the Trentés were capable of. The BC3 Galatea/AG8000 combination had taken a more sensuous view of this resolution, turning the Trentés into sophisticated romantics. And the BC21.1/24 and Galatea/24 combinations showed me that these takes on music could be had from the Trentés for what, in high-end terms, we have come to call reasonable money.
Not only did the Trentés sound different on different electronics, they also sounded different (and generally better) on JMR's Magic Stands than on my own, as did, by the way, the Twins. The stands arrived too late for my Twin review. The improvement, interestingly enough, was mainly in the midrange, which becomes a bit more solicitous as the bottom end becomes flatter, which is what the MS's are designed to achieve. My own stands tended to give both Reynauds a subjectively more authoritative bottom end, but when I introduced the Magic Stands, while that authority seemed a little diminished, the mids improved, suggesting that it was an intrusive artificial bass boost that was my stands' principal contribution! Once I'd adapted to the Magic Stands, I stayed with them happily.
While the Trentés are more resolving and more versatile than the Twins, both speakers are clearly on the same course. On all electronics, the Trentés put a premium on 'in the room' presence and expressive immediacy. Instruments and voices are compelling, not assertive, compelling. Not to be denied or ignored. You feel your attention is being called to. The experience of listening to Reynauds is comparable with listening to 'live' music at a concert hall, where it is (generally) equally impossible to ignore the performance, whereas many music systems are surprisingly easy to be distracted from, to talk over. Listening to music on the Trentés, you are more inclined to shush your seven-year-old when he interrupts Ida Kafavian and Robert Levin playing Schumann (ECM). There is something about the performance that feels unique, not likely to be repeated, to be lost if not attended to.
Do they have any faults? Any speaker worth listening tothat is any speaker that has a point of view will not please everyone. Those who don't share Spendor's priorities and point of view will say that those speakers err on the side of charity; those who don't share Alan Shaw's view that the sound of reality is slightly distant will say that Harbeths err on the side of civility. Those who hearken more to 'the beauty of innuendoes than to the beauty of inflections,' will likely say Reynauds err on the side of effusiveness. The Trentés have never met an instrument or musical phrase they didn't want us to hear: "Attendez!" you can almost hear them say.
Like all smallish stand-mounted monitors, Reynauds are not ideally suited to full-scale orchestral music, though I'll have to say that on the basis of Rubbra's Symphony 3 (Chandos) and John Adams' Naďve and Sentimental Music (ECM), they can sound surprisingly rich and full, even in my 5000 cubic foot room. Listening to the Kings College Choir doing A Festival of Lessons and Carols (EMI), the organ in particular, while not window-rattling, was deeply present. With Christopher Herrick's Complete Bach Organ Music (Hyperion), both the reedy brilliance of the smaller pipes and the throbbing weight of the large ones unleashed by the foot pedals were there in surprisingly credible scale. For that matter, even the low end of the piano sometimes startled me with its impact. On the other hand, the Trentés could not quite satisfy Abbado's Beethoven Symphony Nine (DGG), which requires weight as well as extension. They got a lot of the necessary extension but not the weight: they just can't move enough air to convince us that all of those large brass instruments and double-basses are here. That said, they do symphony orchestras as well as any stand-mounted speaker I've heard that doesn't sacrifice detail, especially if you crank 'em up a bit.
On bi-wiring the Trentés, M. Reynaud says, "Because of the crossover used, bi-wiring generally offers a real improvement: the sound will be more airy and there will be better bass damping." My experience did not confirm JMR's recommendations when I bi-wired with my Au24. I found the Trentés sounded a bit phasey, thin, and less smooth. Very unpleasant. I took this to Jean Marie, who explained my experience as follows: "Bi-wiring is an improvement with some cables and not with some others. Your cable is probably excellent in term of capacitance resistance and time group propagation; but doubling cable with these characteristics could generate phase problems at the crossover entrance, even with the kind of crossover used for the Trente. It's not a mystery, simply a logical consequence of the design choices of the cable manufacturer. I have always said that a very good single cable is better than two of lower quality, but it is also true that two very good cables of a design that prioritizes time group propagation, could be a bad choice."
Because I happen to love Au's presentation of music, I ended up following another of Jean Marie's recommendations: wiring up a single cable with the positive spade to the tweeter's positive tap and the negative spade to the woofer's negative tap, bridging with Au24 jumpers. This arrangement sounded excellent. You will clearly need to experiment for yourself.
Experiment with toe-in. I came to like a full 45 degreesspeakers aimed directly at me, but I'm getting old and have probably lost a bit of hearing on the high end!
The Trentés are very handsome, especially in the cherry stained beech. The tweeter, mounted on top to maximize dispersion, is encased in matching wood!
They are very solid and appear to be very well made.
How good does a speaker have to be? For many of those who value Jean Marie Reynaud's point of view and priorities, the point of diminishing returns may well set in with the Trentés, just as it does with the Harbeth Compact 7 and Spendor SP 1/2's in their respective marques. How good a speaker has to be depends almost entirely on your experience. It is evident that I like the Trentés a lot but I have lived with and grown accustomed to larger speakers with more authority, weight, and fullness; and so I feel the need, which you may not, to press on to the re-voiced Offrandes, which M. Reynaud tells me have gained nearly an octave of bass over their predecessors; and then to the new floor-standing Concordes. It will be an exciting spring in our house.
ADDENDUM: HP. 216A
Two weeks after I posted the above, I got a note from JMR suggesting I experiment with his own proprietary speaker cable, HP. 216A (which is used to wire the Trentes, Offrandes, and Concordes internally) to test his thesis about the benefits of bi-wiring Reynaud speakers. I have done so and M. Reynaud is extraordinarily correct. Everything I said above about the Trentes is even truer on bi-wired HP. 216A. Bass and air in particular improve significantly; there is also added quickness and liveliness, if you can imagine Trentes needing that at times they sounded almost like active speakers. I have not heard all of the competition but Ill have to say that among those cables I have heard, bi-wired HP. 216A is clearly the cable of choice with Reynaud speakers.
At some future date I hope to be able to compare the Reynaud cable with Au 24 on some non-Reynaud speakers to see just how well its excellence travels.
JEAN MARIE REYNAUD