Serene Au­dio Tal­is­man Ac­tive Speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Suave Ka­jko

If you’re an avid mu­sic lis­tener than you prob­a­bly have tons of great mu­sic caged up in­side your com­puter, smart phone or tablet. And if you care at all about sound qual­ity, the last thing you want to do is play your mu­sic through a lousy pair of speak­ers. Serene Au­dio is a rel­a­tively young Cana­dian speaker maker that would like to un­leash your favourite artists through its range of high-qual­ity com­pact pow­ered speak­ers.

Some mu­sic lis­ten­ers care strictly about a speaker’s sound qual­ity and there’s absolutely noth­ing wrong with that, but I’m not one of them. I agree that per­for­mance is para­mount but I value aes­thetic ap­peal nearly as much. To truly en­joy my au­dio gear, I pre­fer for it to look as good as it sounds. When Serene Au­dio asked us to re­view a pair of their speak­ers, I took a quick look at the com­pany’s web­site and some­thing be­came im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent: Serene Au­dio’s top pri­or­ity is qual­ity of sound but the com­pany also places a big em­pha­sis on creative de­sign. And so, with­out hes­i­ta­tion we asked them to send us a sam­ple pair for re­view.

de­sign | fea­tures

Serene Au­dio of­fers three speaker mod­els de­signed and man­u­fac­tured in Canada. Its prod­uct line-up con­sists of the Peb­ble, the Tal­is­man and the Pais­ley mod­els – each of­fer­ing a strik­ingly beau­ti­ful and dis­tinc­tive look. All three mod­els are rear-ported and avail­able in an ac­tive (pow­ered) ver- sion for $495 or pas­sive (non-pow­ered) ver­sion for $395. The ac­tive mod­els are de­signed for use with com­put­ers, smart phones, tablets and Ap­ple’s Air­port, if you de­sire wire­less play­back. The pas­sive mod­els on the other hand are in­tended for use with TVs and in home theatre en­vi­ron­ments. Be­sides their unique en­clo­sure de­signs, th­ese speak­ers use ma­te­ri­als you wouldn’t nor­mally ex­pect to find in a typ­i­cal speaker – the cab­i­nets are con­structed out of bam­boo and par­tially wrapped in high-grade leather. You get a choice of caramel or nat­u­ral bam­boo, and black or white leather. My ac­tive Tal­is­man re­view pair, mea­sur­ing 8” high x 5” wide x 6” deep, came in a nat­u­ral bam­boo and white leather con­fig­u­ra­tion and looked de­cid­edly beau­ti­ful on my com­puter desk.

A nice, at­trac­tive en­clo­sure is of course only a part of the equa­tion here. If you’re ob­ser­vant, you’ll no­tice from the pic­ture that th­ese speak­ers uti­lize a sin­gle, 3 inch full-range, long-throw drive unit that’s light­weight and quick. A sin­gle, com­pact driver like this isn’t ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the same fre­quency ex­tremes as a driver/ tweeter combo but it does come with its own ma­jor ad­van­tage – it does not re­quire a cross­over net­work. Serene Au­dio uses only a min­i­mal­is­tic baf­fle step com­pen­sa­tion fil­ter in its de­sign. The ab­sence of a cross­over trans­lates into a seam­less, less dis­torted sound across its fre­quency range ca­pa­bil­ity, rated from 70Hz to 20kHz (+/3 dB). Power for the Tal­is­man comes courtesy of a 2 x 20 watt dig­i­tal am­pli­fier with a ded­i­cated DSP chip, housed in­side the right chan­nel speaker. In ad­di­tion to the am­pli­fier, the rear panel of this speaker of­fers a vol­ume knob (which also serves the on/off func­tion), a sub­woofer out­put, out­put to the left speaker, a mini-jack in­put, a head­phone out­put and a power jack. The head­phone out­put uti­lizes an in­ter­nal class-AB am­pli­fier. If you lis­ten to the Tal­is­man while sit­ting at a com­puter desk, as I did for most of this re­view, you will of course get the ben­e­fit of near-field lis­ten­ing. With your ears this close to the speak­ers the sound will reach your ears be­fore it bounces off any walls, re­sult­ing in a cleaner au­dio pre­sen­ta­tion with­out the neg­a­tive ef­fects of a room’s acous­tics – which can be a great ad­van­tage.

Un­pack­ing the Tal­is­man was noth­ing short of a plea­sure. Th­ese speak­ers were not only very well packed, the man­u­fac­turer clev­erly uses the bam­boo left over from cut­ting of the speaker panels in­side the box. Right off the bat, po­ten­tial buy­ers should feel a pride of own­er­ship. Un­like other speaker man­u­fac­tur­ers, Serene Au­dio says that its speak­ers re­quire only a few hours to break-in prop­erly. The Tal­is­man can be con­nected di­rectly to a com­puter’s sound­card us­ing a 3.5 mm mini­jack ca­ble, but if you re­ally want to hear the full qual­ity that th­ese speak­ers are ca­pa­ble of, you’ll def­i­nitely want to con­nect them to a de­cent ex­ter­nal dig­i­tal to ana­log con­verter (DAC). I setup my re­view pair with the ADL GT40 USB DAC, ca­pa­ble of 24-bit/96KHz play­back and lis­tened to a wide ar­ray of mu­sic, rang­ing from clas­si­cal to live per­for­mances to rock. This DAC not only hugely im­proves the play­back qual­ity from the com­puter, it also of­fered the con­ve­nience of a front-mounted vol­ume dial, so I didn’t have to reach for the vol­ume dial on the back of the right speaker.

per­for­mance

I launched my mu­sic lis­ten­ing ses­sion with a num­ber of fa­mil­iar record­ings that I’ve been lis­ten­ing to lately in­clud­ing Ala­nis Moris­sette’s “Jagged Lit­tle Pill Acous­tic”, Florence + the Ma­chine’s “MTV Un­plugged”, Air French Band’s “Moon Sa­fari”, Led Zep­pelin’s “Moth­er­ship” and var­i­ous Best Au­dio­phile Voices al­bums. The Tal­is­man quickly had my head bop­ping and my body do­ing a chair-dance,

thanks to their sweet sound­ing and en­gag­ing midrange. Voices and in­stru­ments sounded nat­u­ral, the tonal ac­cu­racy was ex­cel­lent and my ears could not de­tect any coloura­tion or dis­tor­tion. The Tal­is­man pro­duced a slightly laid-back per­spec­tive, with voices and in­stru­ments em­a­nat­ing from just be­hind the speak­ers. I was de­lighted to hear that th­ese speak­ers were also ca­pa­ble of lay­ing out a re­spectable sound­stage that of­fered great imag­ing. When lis­ten­ing to the “Jagged Lit­tle Pill Acous­tic” and “MTV Un­plugged” al­bums, the in­stru­ments and voices were placed ac­cu­rately within a three di­men­sional space, mak­ing th­ese al­bums a joy to lis­ten to. I found that both the per­spec­tive and the sound­stage deep­ened even fur­ther as I leaned back in my chair.

As I was writ­ing this re­view, Serene Au­dio re­al­ized that my Tal­is­man re­view pair does not have the lat­est ver­sion of the firmware in­stalled, which of­fers a bet­ter over­all tonal bal­ance. This agreed with my re­view notes, as I found that my ini­tial re­view pair did not ex­tend par­tic­u­larly high in the tre­ble re­gion and didn’t of­fer the same rich­ness and level of de­tail as I’ve come to ex­pect from fa­mil­iar record­ings. I also found that the ini­tial pair lacked a lit­tle in the lower fre­quen­cies. Serene Au­dio ex­pe­dited an­other pair of the Tal­is­man speak­ers to me with the lat­est firmware ver­sion in­stalled and I’m glad to re­port that the new firmware fully ad­dressed the tonal bal­ance. The re­place- ment pair of­fered a won­der­fully clean high fre­quency ex­ten­sion, which trans­lated into a higher ex­trac­tion of de­tails, with a slightly in­creased amount of air be­tween voices and in­stru­ments. Many small speak­ers pro­duce a rather tizzy, un­nat­u­ral sound­ing top-end that can quickly be­come tir­ing but I’m glad to say that I didn’t hear any of that with th­ese speak­ers. Low level, high level and ex­tended lis­ten­ing ses­sions all brought plea­sure to my ears, with­out ever fa­tigu­ing me. The up­dated Tal­is­man pair also of­fered a no­tice­able im­prove­ment in the mid-bass and lower fre­quen­cies. The bass notes sounded cleaner, fuller and tighter, of­fer­ing a great foun­da­tion for most tracks that I lis­tened to. Serene Au­dio of course re­al­izes the lim­i­ta­tion of com­pact en­clo­sures and hence pro­vides a sub­woofer out­put for those who de­sire to ex­tend the bot­tom-end re­sponse even fur­ther.

While spin­ning up Rebecca Pid­geon’s Span­ish Har­lem from the “Best Au­dio­phile Voices Vol­ume 6”, the Tal­is­man once again de­liv­ered a clean, mu­si­cal midrange with great co­herency and of­fered a nice sense of pres­ence of the record­ing space. Pid­geon’s voice echoed re­al­is­ti­cally, ex­pos­ing the size of the space, with a good amount of air around the vo­cals and the in­stru­ments. The vi­o­lins played smoothly with a gen­tle tre­ble that rolled off pleas­antly at the top.

Switch­ing grooves, I lis­tened to some rock selec­tions in­clud­ing City and Co- lour’s “Lit­tle Hell”, So­cial Dis­tor­tion’s “Great­est Hits” and Johnny Cash’s “Amer­i­can IV: The Man Comes Around”. Again, all of the tracks I lis­tened to from th­ese al­bums demon­strated the Tal­is­man’s re­mark­able tonal ac­cu­racy. They con­veyed the en­ergy of harder rock tracks well and were able to play quite loud. I also ap­pre­ci­ated their large sweet spot and abil­ity to main­tain imag­ing when I moved off to the sides.

There aren’t many com­peti­tors in the $500 pow­ered speaker space but there is one that should be men­tioned – the Au­dio­engine 5+, es­pe­cially since I own its orig­i­nal brother, the Au­dio­engine 5 which nor­mally sits on my com­puter desk. The big­gest ad­van­tage this speaker of­fers is its tight, deep bass ex­ten­sion. But it does come at a cost of desk space as th­ese speak­ers have a far larger foot­print and over­all di­men­sions than the Tal­is­man. Also, the Au­dio­engine 5+’s con­ven­tional de­sign can’t com­pete at all with the styling of the Serene Au­dio speak­ers.

The Serene Au­dio Tal­is­man is a pow­ered speaker that brought me lots of lis­ten­ing plea­sure dur­ing the time it spent on my com­puter desk. It per­formed very well with a mix of mu­si­cal gen­res in­clud­ing acous­tic, vo­cal, live, rock and jazz. The only area in which the Tal­is­man lacked was with highly dy­namic and bass heavy mu­sic. If you’re look­ing to pur­chase a com­pact speaker to se­ri­ously en­hance the mu­sic from your com­puter, smart phone or tablet, this is cer­tainly one speaker you should lis­ten to. The flu­id­ity and ac­cu­racy of its mid-range can eas­ily be com­pared to larger, more ex­pen­sive speak­ers. And if you de­sire more bass en­ergy, you could al­ways sup­ple­ment them with a lit­tle sub­woofer. Serene Au­dio of­fers a 30 day in­home trial, so there’s absolutely no risk if you choose to pur­chase them on­line.

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