Living Voice Auditorium Review

Living Voice OBX-R2 Loudspeakers : Hi-Fi Choice Review

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Living Voice does not go in for surround systems or subwoofers — it doesn’t even make a bookshelf or budget speaker. 

What it does is make full-scale horn systems with over 100dB sensitivity (so that they will run on ten, preferably valve, watts) alongside a small range of floorstanders which attempt to emulate these horns from compact and relatively affordable enclosures.

LV produces three Auditorium models in basically the same cabinet, changing drive units and crossover components as you ascend the range. 

The ultimate model tested here is named the OBX-R2, which stands for ‘outboard crossover’ because its crossovers sit in separate enclosures which are completely removed from the speaker cabinets.

This is not something you see very often because it is expensive and rather untidy — you need cables from amp to crossover and two sets from crossover to speaker.   It is also expensive without looking it — you can get a high-gloss lacquer or an exotic veneer for the price of a cabinet to put your crossover in.  But it is beneficial.

We have long understood that electric components are affected by vibration and put our source and amplification on tables designed to maximize the energy produced by the speakers. 

Crossover components, however, usually sit in the midst of this resonance, so by extracting them from the speaker cabinet you are making their lives a lot easier and giving them more space to escape from one another’s radiations. 

Crossover components produce fields that can directly induce other components to produce distortion.  You can get around by careful orientation but spacing also plays a part, and the generous size of the OBX-R2 external crossover’s case (9.5 x 42.5 x 26.5cm) offers a far greater area than most crossovers get to spread out in.

The Avatar is an elegant and compact loudspeaker compared to many floorstanders, making it more domestically friendly than most contenders of a similar calibre.  Beautiful real wood veneers contrast with three drive units in a two-and-a-half-way configuration.  Two 165mm doped paper bass/mid units flank a costly Scanspeak Revelator tweeter in the classic d’Appolito configuration with the tweeter offset.  The steel basket bass/mid units may not look very fancy but they were not selected for their aesthetics — this is quite simply the best 165mm driver that Living Voice can source.  The Revelator tweeter on the other hand is an obviously classy unit and one which you’ll find on speakers costing as much as five times the price being asked here. 

The changes wrought for the OBX-R2 compared to its OBX-R predecessor are chiefly in the crossover, though there have been changes to pretty much everything except the tweeter since our last review.  The wiring harness, the bass/mid drive units, capacitors, resistors and hand-wound inductors are all revised.  The current Avatar cabinet is now built by Castle out of high-density chipboard — not a material you’ll often find in a high-end speaker but one that certainly seems to have its strengths.  The veneer is superb book-matched yew, in this instance the single leaf variety  that adds •400 to the price but results in a stunning piece of furniture.  The standard veneers are ripple maple and ripple cherry while natural Santos and split leaf yew command a •200 premium.

The crossover has been completely redesigned in order to increase overall impedance and thus make the speaker easier to drive, and LV has also sought to extract even more energy from an already dynamically superior design.  The crossover has shed the Zobel network on the HF (high frequency) system and had a complete reshaping of the low pass (bass) filter.  Living Voice describes crossover topology as «the DNA of a loudspeaker», which is essentially true.  There is a finite limit to the variations of drive units and cabinet shapes you can practically combine but the choices in crossover design are infinite, every change has multiple effects and the interactions between components are a technical minefield.


Above: The OBX-R2’s crossover components are housed in a separate box,

isolating them from speaker-induced resonance.

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Having used original Avatar OBX-Rs for much of the last four years it was intriguing to hear the changes brought about in this latest incarnation.  Oddly enough this makes it harder to hear the quality of the speaker, the differences being far more obvious than the overall sound.

However, slipping in a couple of alternatives at around the same price reveals that this is, as ever, a phenomenally dynamic loudspeaker, its high sensitivity (92dB) having been joined by a less challenging amplifier load to create a product that’s even more spectacular in this area than its predecessor.

It’s not something that many loudspeaker designers prize so highly — you’ll probably need to have spent time with the kings of dynamics, horn loudspeakers, to pursue this aspect of quality with such single-mindedness.  But it’s well worth it if energy, vitality and life are what you are listening for in your music — and if you’re not, the chances are you haven’t heard it.  It really is that fundamental.

The new crossover combined with the Castle cabinets have brought about a significant increase in dynamic energy and so-called micro dynamics — the small changes in the level of individual notes or sounds that give instruments their character.  So not only do trumpets, guitars, voices, you name it, have more pizzazz, they are also more obviously played, recorded and treated in certain ways.

Sound is also more substantial and three dimensional than many alternatives achieve.  Jan Hammer’s keyboard with the Mahavishnu Orchestra for example, has greater solidity and structure to it than you often encounter, while the low frequency effects produced by a jet engine on Radiohead’s Breathe are all the more menacing, even disturbing.  This track also reveals the Avatar’s ability to reach for the sky when the right phase manipulation comes along, the sound expanding and swooping around in waves.

Eminem’s ‘charming’ Kill You reveals that the bass is not only deep and tight, it is elastic and fluid to boot, with deep rich tone and real texture.  Comparing old and new crossovers on the new speaker reveals that the bass is now tighter but no less deep, while an upper bass fullness has been eradicated to leave the midrange more transparent.  The effect is to reveal more low-level detail in the mix and to allow denser passages to untangle themselves so that you can hear precisely what’s going on.

Although it wasn’t the stated intent, one effect of the changes wrought to this speaker is a greater degree of neutrality.  This is a less colourful speaker than when it started out and therefore the character of partnering equipment is all the more obvious.  Unless you have a particularly aggressive source component or amp this won’t be a problem, but when you put a better component in and then have to let it go it’s all the more obvious.  And the pining lasts that much longer!

For instance, the Exposure CD player reviewed on p38 has a distinctly snappier sense of timing than the Eikos used for this test, and Eminem doesn’t sound quite so perky without it.  Timing is not an aspect of performance that these speakers emphasize, or at least that doesn’t seem the case until you make changes such as this.  Then you realize how sensitive they are to this critical aspect of performance.

There are arguably two areas in which these speakers concede ground to their peers, and those are imaging and bass extension.  A standmount such as the B&W Signature 805 will produce greater image precision though it’s arguable that its relatively dry bass limits the sense of expansiveness.  A Tannoy TD8 on the other hand will give you deeper and more powerful bass but whether it could swing the dynamics to the same degree is hard to tell without comparison.

Above all else, the Avatar OBX-R is a musical communicator par excellence.   Its transparency gets the message across in an effortless and engrossing fashion, making it a genuine stay-up-all-night-going-through-your-music-collection product.

Its high sensitivity also means that tube amp enthusiasts, even those with a single-ended bent, will be able to enoy their AC/DC albums at full bore. Yet they also work a treat with our Gamut D200 solid state powerhouse.

A speaker for all seasons?  Yes, and a thoroughly enjoyable one too.

HFC  Jason Kennedy


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