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Gordon Brockhouse's review of the FIVE17 Loudspeaker system was published at SoundStage! Simplifi this month. See some of the highlights below!
A few notable quotes are captured here, for the full review click the link below!
"Could these stand-mounted speakers actually deliver bass output below 27Hz, as Heavenly Soundworks claims? You betcha." ... "these speakers had solid output down to about 25Hz."
"Cassandra Wilson’s cover of “Don’t Explain” sounded wonderful" ... "it was almost impossible not to sway to Wydler’s hypnotic floor-tom beat. The huge soundstage evoked a cavernous nightclub, but despite being soaked in reverb, every element—electric guitar, piano, bass, drums, loops—was clearly defined on that stage, with Wilson right at the center. It was easy to imagine sitting in a smoke-filled club, wrapped in a boozy haze, and think that Wilson was singing right to me."
"I find recordings of solo piano useful for assessing a speaker’s timbral consistency, freedom from resonances, and dynamics. Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Plays, a compilation of live concerts by the late Chick Corea (24/96 FLAC, Concord Jazz/Qobuz). I played this 112-minute album in its entirety several times through the FIVE17s, and it sounded glorious." ... "Corea’s playful right-hand trills and chords sounded ideally crisp and articulate, not overlit or etched—just natural. And when he slid into the lower-register rolled chords that begin his arrangement of Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s “Yesterdays”—wow! Although those chords were gentle and restrained, the FIVE17s conveyed the size, power, and harmonic richness of Corea’s instrument. Dynamics, macro and micro, were very impressive. The FIVE17s delivered Corea’s big staccato phrases effortlessly, and in legato phrases showed off his subtle dynamic shadings. Throughout both tracks, piano tone was completely convincing, and consistent through the instrument’s entire range."
"I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a solo acoustic piano reproduced more convincingly in my living room."
"To assess the FIVE17s’ ability to deal with dynamic extremes, I cued up a 2014 live recording of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No.3, “Organ,” by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, with James O’Donnell playing the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall organ (24/96 FLAC, LPO/ProStudioMasters). This massive instrument has 7866 pipes, including 32′ pedal pipes that can play down to 16Hz." ... "This also gave me an opportunity to verify the usefulness of the FIVE17s’ preset modes. Through much of that slow movement, the strings play a serenely ecstatic theme underpinned by a deep organ-pedal note. While the EQ tamed those troublesome modes, when I listened at quiet levels, those pedal notes sounded too faint. Engaging Preset 2 made those pedal notes more audible, and the cellos and double basses fuller, for a more pleasing balance of the LPO strings. I listened to the entire 10:26 movement with these settings, and it was meltingly beautiful. The FIVE17s resolved the gentle bowing of the LPO strings, scaling up naturally in orchestral swells. The attacks of pizzicato notes later in the movement were fast but not overlit, each pluck of string decaying naturally into the resonance of the instruments’ bodies. Bowed violins sounded just a tad steely, but the cellos were gorgeous: woody and richly resonant. The FIVE17s threw a wide, deep soundstage populated by precisely drawn aural images, while also providing an excellent sense of the hall ambience, which seemed to extend far out into my listening room." ... "Through the FIVE17s, it sounded magical. The strings and piano floated in space between my speakers, and the organ filled my room."
"to confirm Heavenly Soundworks’ claims of the FIVE17s’ bass response" ... "I cued up the title track of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (24/88.2 MQA, Warner Bros./Tidal). On this album, Victor Wooten plays a five-string fretless electric bass guitar, its bottom string tuned to B0 (30.87Hz). The big, lumbering, two-note bass riff that opens the track sounded huge and effortless, confirming that the FIVE17s could indeed go very deep." ... "Halfway through this track, Wooten plays a long solo: the first verse on his bass’s upper strings, the second on its bottom string. In that second verse, there’s loads of bass between 30 and 40Hz, and the FIVE17s showed no hint of struggle in reproducing it. Quite the contrary—these deep notes sounded big, bold, and effortless" ... "The FIVE17s were just as satisfying higher in the audioband. The star of this show is, of course, Fleck’s banjo. Each plucked string exploded out of the Heavenlys without sounding the least bit harsh or etched, followed by the twangy decay of the banjo’s head and resonator. It was glorious."
"To try those presets one more time, I turned the volume way down, so that I was getting peaks of 68dB. Wooten’s bass still sounded delicious, but not as big and bold as it had at higher levels. Selecting Preset 2 restored that impact" ... "For late-night listening, or keeping peace with the neighbors, these presets can be a great feature."
"When Kevin and Jonathan Couch founded Heavenly Soundworks, [The goal for us was the best possible reproduction of sound,] Jonathan told me. [For us, it was reproducing as closely as possible what the artist or mastering engineer intended.] To a great extent, they’ve succeeded." ... "what stood out ... was these speakers’ impressive dynamics, lively sound, revelatory detail, and deep, authoritative bass. And the workmanship is impeccable—make that luxurious."
"I’m sure many DIY speaker builders dream of turning their hobby into a business. But it’s a huge leap from assembling one- or two-off speaker kits to developing a serious consumer product and bringing it to market. Bravo to Kevin and Jonathan Couch for successfully making that leap. In the FIVE17, they’ve created an active speaker that deserves—no, demands—to be taken seriously."
Check out the full review over at SoundStage!
In Pursuit of Perfection...
If you’ve followed along on the Heavenly Soundworks journey, or merely read through a few of the pages on our website there are a few things that should stand out. One of those things has been the primary driving force behind our work, the pursuit of the ultimate listening experience.
Reproducing the music in such a way that even the most discerning listeners have a hard time distinguishing between what’s played from the loudspeakers and the real thing.
But what does it take to produce a loudspeaker that performs at this level?
Quality components? Solid engineering? Attention to detail? Craftsmanship?
One of the keys to success is the ability to accurately measure your system’s output, interpret the results, and implement the necessary changes in the pursuit of better performance. This is a process that takes time, dedication, specialized equipment, and know-how.
Accurately measuring the performance of a loudspeaker is no small task.
As a small, startup business our access to the necessary equipment is somewhat limited.
Below is a quasi-anechoic frequency response measurement of our FIVE17 Loudspeaker done in-house at Heavenly Soundworks.
Thanks to the kind folks at “SoundStage!”, here is the frequency response chart of that same FIVE17 Loudspeaker captured from the anechoic chamber in Canada’s National Research Council.
The difference between these charts is quite substantial.
Armed with this new information we’ve gone back to the lab and fine-tuned our measurement system.
Using the NRC’s Anechoic measurements as a baseline, we are now able to perfect our in-house equipment/setup to duplicate those results as close as we can. While we don’t have a chamber, we do have other means of measuring and achieving similar results.
Here is the NRC’s measurement when scaled to properly overlay with our in-house measurements.
As you can see in the below chart we can achieve a very close correlation with our In-House measurements to the NRC’s.
The Beauty of Active Crossover Design
With much better calibration of our measurement system, we can now go back into our Active Crossover and fine-tune it even further. In the old days, this kind of revision to a loudspeaker’s crossover would mean a lot more time physically building passive crossover designs until we got it right (not that we would be able to refine it to this level with a passive design anyway). With an Active Crossover, the process is much simpler. We measure our response, identify a frequency range that needs adjustment, make that adjustment in the DSP program, and re-measure the response. This process goes on until every part of the audio band is as close to flat as possible.
The Catch 22
Winston Churchill once said, “Perfection is the enemy of progress”. If we decided to never ship a product until it was perfect, we would never ship any products. This pursuit of audio perfection would be a never-ending (not to mention expensive) hobby that would never make its way into a commercial product. We know that “Perfect” isn’t possible. So, we strive for “as close to perfect as possible”.
With this new data from the great folks at SoundStage! and the NRC that bar has been raised!
Take a look at the updated frequency response curve below (using the newly calibrated in-house measurement system).
+/- 1 dB along the majority of the frequency band! (the frequency response in the lowest registers is very difficult to measure, even at the NRC they are limited by the size of their anechoic chamber and cannot accurately measure the bass response. We know it’s there, just not in the charts… we’re still working on that.)
From Good to Great Great to Greater
It is important to note the level of refinement that we are talking about here.
The loudspeaker that was measured at the NRC was not mediocre. It was great! You don’t have to take our word for it.
"I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a solo acoustic piano reproduced more convincingly in my living room." - Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage!)
“In the FIVE17, they’ve created an active speaker that deserves—no, demands—to be taken seriously." - Gordon Brockhouse (SoundStage!)
"The FIVE17 has the most natural presentation I have ever had in my home." - Bob Fairbairn (Audiophile Style)
“FIVE17 is one of the best active speakers, scratch that… one of the best speakers I’ve reviewed to date.” - Jay Lee (Next Best Thing Studio)
All three of these reviewers listened to the same FIVE17 loudspeaker model that was measured in the chamber.
Great Things Ahead!
Here comes the exciting part! We know how good the FIVE17 was. Now we’ve made it even better!
Thanks for joining us on this journey as we continue after the Ultimate Listening Experience!
Also, a big thank you to Doug Schneider and the SoundStage team for making the Anechoic measurements at the NRC possible!
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Yet another FIVE17 Loudspeaker review is set to publish next month! Keep an eye out for it. We'll be sure to link to it in the newsletter's next issue!