A lot of loudspeakers are derived from the same basic recipe: a dome tweeter, midrange cone, and woofer cone arranged vertically in some kind of box. Obviously, there are differences in materials and the number of drivers involved, but it’s a tried-and-true recipe that’s hard to improve on—right? Maybe so, but here are two speakers that depart radically from that formula.
Let’s start with Endow Audio, which introduced its first loudspeaker, the FS301, back in late 2019. The curved-baffled loudspeaker retailed for a whopping $44,000 per pair (all prices in USD) and featured a distinctive tumor-shaped protrusion that housed nine 3″ drivers in a novel, semi-spherical orientation, loaded by an internal 8″ woofer mounted directly behind the array, and partnered with a 10″ woofer.
Several months later, the company introduced the T35 loudspeaker, which iterated on the FS301 by using a similar driver arrangement in a non-curved cabinet. It retailed for less than half of what the FS301 did: $19,900 per pair. Then COVID-19 happened. Since that time, Endow has been refining its midrange array and is reintroducing itself to audiophiles with two models: the $6500-per-pair Bravura 7 bookshelf loudspeaker and the $14,000-per-pair Bravura 12 floorstander. Let’s focus on the latter, though both were at the show.
The Bravura 12 is intended to be an evolution of Endow’s earlier models, but more affordable and listener friendly. According to chief technology officer David Strunk, one of the criticisms of the earlier models was that they sounded terrific off-axis, but when one listened in the sweet spot, their stereo imaging couldn’t match what a traditional design could achieve. So Strunk and co. went back to the proverbial drawing board and began several years’ worth of trial and error. Through rapid prototyping and subsequent verification through use of a Klippel analyzer, Endow arrived at a midrange platform that measured well both on- and off-axis, and promised to sound fantastic to every listener in a given room. Here’s what that looks like in practice.
The Bravura 12 uses a 0.9″ Wavecor textile tweeter nestled in a deep, widely flared waveguide. Arranged perpendicularly behind the tweeter is a ring of nine 1.5″ drivers that fire midrange energy all over the room, but not directly at the listener. On the bottom of the cabinet are two opposing and side-firing 12″ Morel woofers. The Bravura 12 is a sealed design, so no bass-reflex port here. The 12’s on-axis response is listed at 38Hz–20kHz, ±3dB. Crucially, thanks to the Bravura 12’s 12dB/octave rolloff, its -10dB point is 25Hz, so while the midsized floorstander may not be quite full-range, it promises to throw out a lot of meaningful bass.
The Endow towers were partnered with a Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier, an AC Infinity Aircom cooling system for the Hegel, and an iFi Audio Pro iDSD Signature digital-to-analog converter. Cabling was Endow’s own. If, like me, you’re curious about the use of the AC Infinity cooling system on top of the big Hegel amp, it’s worth noting that the Bravura 12 is listed as having a sensitivity of 84dB (2.83V at 1m) and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. Reportedly, the cooling system was a precautionary measure that would enable the Hegel amp to run continuously for three days. Suffice it to say that a high-powered solid-state amplifier looks to be a mandatory partner for Endow’s newest creation.
How did they sound? Properly good. There’s no question that the unorthodox midrange array pays real dividends, as I was able to sit well off-axis and enjoy the various tracks I heard with almost the same clarity and insight as I could when sitting in the prime position directly between each loudspeaker. More importantly, stereo imaging was excellent, which surprised me. Interestingly, the entire soundstage seemed to be pushed far behind the speakers, placing me farther from the various performances that I heard.
After a few minutes of listening, I warmed to this characteristic, as the Endows put on a convincing disappearing act. Strunk queued up “Catatonic” by composer Hans Zimmer off of the original soundtrack for Sherlock Holmes. The playful tune showcased the Bravura 12s’ dynamic abilities. While the hammered dulcimer peeked through the mix with a smooth, sweet ring to it, the contrasting bass line was impressive for its reach (there was definitely energy below 30Hz) and concussive impact. It was delightfully taut and powerful. The Bravura 12 is a fascinating loudspeaker, and I applaud the company’s bold, unorthodox approach.
Moving up a few floors, I was turned on to the Suncoast Audio room, where the Clarisys Audio Minuet loudspeaker was making its North American debut. Based in Switzerland, Clarisys makes a range of ribbon loudspeakers heavily inspired by the memorable designs of Apogee Acoustics in the 1980s and 1990s, designs that were (if we’re being charitable) a little difficult to drive in light of their punishing nominal and minimum impedance specifications. Heroically powerful solid-state amplification was mandatory, both in terms of stability into loads of 2 ohms and below, as well as pushing out the wattage necessary to motivate the low-sensitivity designs to perform their best.
There are two versions of the Minuet. The standard version with its 86dB sensitivity is not being offered in North America, apparently because it’s too insensitive and its price wouldn’t be much lower than that of the upgraded version, which retails for $33,800 per pair and uses neodymium magnets to boost sensitivity to “over 90dB.” Nominal impedance is listed as 3.5 ohms—to unearth the best performance from the big ribbons, an amp that can deliver a fair bit of current would be a good idea. The two-way design is 47.7″ tall and 27.6″ wide. Despite being the smallest speaker in the Clarisys line, it’s not exactly compact. The listed frequency range is 28Hz–25kHz.
The Minuets had an impressive supporting cast in the form of Hegel Music Systems’ H30A power amplifier and P30A preamplifier, as well as an Aurender N200 music server; Lumin P1 digital-to-analog converter, preamplifier, and streamer; and cabling and power courtesy of Shunyata Research, which included the company’s Denali 6000/S v2 power conditioner and a couple of its Altaira grounding components.
Coming straight from the Endow Audio room, I found it jarring to sit and listen to the Clarisys Minuets. Whereas the Endow loudspeakers impressed with their wide sweet spot and more relaxed sound, the Minuets were the complete opposite. Groove America’s “Hands of Time” was shot into the room with staggering speed and clarity. Richie Havens’s soulful vocal was laser-etched, with a clear upper midrange emphasis that spotlit microscopic detail on the 2002 recording. The hi-hats were splashy and vibrant, and the Minuet’s treble extension was seemingly endless, a contrast to the Endow Bravura 12’s softer top end.
I stopped by later and enjoyed a demo by the Shunyata Research team, who A/B tested the effect of their Altaira grounding hub on the system’s performance. They played Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” several times in succession, with the hubs in and out of the system. It’s an interesting recording given Cohen’s borderline-hot vocal backed up by a chorus that’s more evenly voiced. And my, the Minuet shone its spotlight on Cohen’s smoky delivery. Spatial definition within the soundstage was impressive, and depth was at a premium given how forward the Clarisys loudspeakers pushed Cohen and the chorus that flanks him into the room.
Endow Audio’s Bravura 12 and Clarisys Audio’s Minuet: two very different loudspeaker designs with two very different sounds, each hugely compelling in its own way. This is what high-end audio is all about.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!