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January 2012
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Supravox Carla Bi-Reflex Single Driver Tower
Enjoying the expressive midrange details and dynamic quickness of this design.
Review By A. Colin Flood

 

Supravox Carla Bi-Reflex Single Driver Tower Speaker  AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) is an annual Eastern United States trade show where tweaking audiophiles can see and hear the gamut of audio systems. Enjoy the Music.com's very own editor Steven R. Rochlin heard this full-range Supravox model Carla there. The Carlas have outstanding 95dB/W/m sensitive at 8 Ohm and have a claimed frequency reange from 50 Hz to 18 kHz. Steven said the Carlas had an "attractive, cohesive sound" that drew him "into the music." He called it "all-day listenability." So I jumped at the chance to hear them for myself.

Been a long time since I've reviewed speakers. My last loudspeaker review was in 2008. In "The Best I've Ever Heard"*, I lauded the mid-range charms of Omega TS1 single driver speakers. The $2000 Supravox Carlas remind me of those speakers. When it comes to sound quality, four Blue Notes is better than the average speaker that I have auditioned for Enjoy the Music.com. When I review, I consciously listen to a variety of orchestral, hard rock, smooth jazz, folk, even some gospel (but no opera or country-western). See my Test Discs, Reference Recordings For Subjective And Analytical Comparisons series. Just about the best compliment about any audio component is that its sounds wonderfully musical. This $1999 pair struck me as enjoyable beyond the ordinary. They sound wonderfully musical.

 

History
Before World War II, in France, the Super Electro Mecanique (SEM) company started making small drivers for use in radios. After the war, SEM developed the first full range drivers on the market. Then and now, SEM is still renowned for its broadcast drivers. 1956 was the start of production of speakers under the SUPRAVOX name, and the foundation of all research and manufacture by SEM, in particular of its exponential membranes and highly sensitive full-range speakers. After a business hiatus, in 1996, SUPRAVOX launched a range of loudspeakers perpetuating the original philosophy: full range speakers of great sensitivity. All their internal components are made and assembled by hand in France.

Although Supravox has their own speaker line, they are still best known for their drivers. Also at AXPONA 2011 was Mantra Sound. They showed off a big, square horn loudspeaker. It used a 12-inch Supravox cone woofer to fill in the lowermost frequencies.  This new line of Supravox speakers however, comes from the low cost manufacturing hands of China. The Carla driver is the Supravox Classic Line 135 LB. It is a 135mm (5.33 inches) full-range driver. It is a simple enough looking black cone. It is made in France, by a company with a 50-year year history, Supravox. Supravox is said to be very accurate within the entire hyper-critical frequency range of human hearing and that it is easily driven by low power amplifiers. There are no cone treatments, except special glue on the suspension. The cabinet and ports serve to deepen the bottom end and improve its efficiency.

 

The Sound
Tonality
Like the Omegas, the single driver mid-range of the Carlas exhibits an easy-listening smoothness and coherence. They too are open, airy, without muddiness. Listening to music was effortlessly enjoyable. Their tone is not cold, sterile or monochromatic. They have an even balance throughout the hypercritical mid-range of the human voice. The result is involving, natural and musical. The Carlas have two external ports. One in front.Another on back.Hence the bi-reflex appellation. A third hole is inside, on the wall dividing the inside of the cabinet into two compartments. The effect of the three holes is to deepen the sound from the single driver. The result is pleasantly palatable. The Carla has far more bass than its small driver would normally provide. It sounds more like the eight-inch Omega driver. When banging out the bass, you can easily feel the air chuffing out the ports.

Sub-bass (10Hz 60Hz)
Although rated as low as 50-Hz, the Carlas don't have the deep bass that shakes your seat. Like the leaning transmission lines of the Newtronics' Skate Mark IIs, the concept of the two ports in the Carla is to reproduce the low notes. Unlike the Skates, they just don't get you there. It is an improvement, but I am sub-woofer man with two 15" bass bins and a deep bass sub.

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)
So I added my ACI Titan sub to the mix. On its dual equalizer controls, I kept adding more bass. Eventually I ended up with the dials at 250 Hz. This is much higher than I expected since the Carla's bottom is rated at 50 Hz. This meant on Dire Straits' classic "The Man is Too Strong," not only did the crescendo have impact, but the mid-bass and the mid-range was full and deep. It was this configuration, with tube amplifiers, that thrilled me.

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)
At shows and audiophile Meetups, I've heard some amazing systems. Speakers can get quite sophisticated, yet single drivers keep showing up at audio shows. There is something beguiling about what they do that keeps bringing us back for more. A simple driver in a box persists today as one of the most wonderfully sounding devices. There is smoothness, lack of artifice and a natural completeness to their sound. The real beauty of a single driver speaker is its reproduction in the hypercritical range of the human voice.

Single drivers with tube amplifiers are masters of the mid-range. They never wear out your ears. They provide a polite, levelheaded sound. Of the half-dozen speakers here now for review, the Carla's are the ones that tempt me into late-night listening sessions. Their single driver has an organic wholeness. The Carlas' mid-range is as smooth as many expensive systems. They really make listening enjoyable. Here, like the Omega speaker, the Carla shines effortlessly.  With tube amplifiers, pre-amplifier and a powerful, deep-bass sub-woofer, the highly-efficient Carlas provided an exciting version of music.

High Frequencies (3,000Hz on up)
Of course, single drivers don't have low or high frequency extension. This is quite noticeable on high-energy dynamic instruments, such pianos, kick drums and double bass. So tweaking audiophiles add subs, then they add super-tweeters. Next thing you know it, you have yourself a multi-driver speaker system; one with possibly other, different types of problems. The Carla treble doesn't hiss at you as some loudspeakers can. They don't have the realistic ringing of big old horns, the muted flow of Vince Christian's E6c Satellite System or the tantalizing sizzle of the Axiom Audio M80Ti line driver arrays, with their double tweeters. The Carlas are NOT "spec heavy" loudspeakers that only imitate the sound.

Attack
They articulate the notes, albeit with a very nice quickness, but of course they don't have the slam I enjoy so much with my Big Ole Horns. You notice what is missing and if you can live with that, they never stop sounding like they are making music.

Decay
Think of decay as the ability to sustain a note. The longer the amplifier and driver can hold that note, the stronger it will sound. Some of this ability comes from solid bass response. Considering only the single driver, I found the Carlas have no problem with sustaining notes.

Supravox Carla Bi-Reflex Single Driver TowerInner Resolution
Inner resolution differences are a combination of factors, including the ability to hear lower volume instruments as clearly as louder ones. A single driver has trouble with multiple instruments. They don't distinguish between them very well. Often, the larger and more drivers a loudspeaker has, the better the sound of multiple instruments. Orchestras are enjoyable on the Carlas, as is everything, but large numbers of instruments aren't clearly distinct or separated as they are on Christian's multi-driver E6c system.

Soundscape Width Front
This is another area where the slim towers shine. United States distributors Kanda Feng and Andy Xie of Audio Mercury drove down to Florida with their son for a vacation. They dropped off the speakers and took me for drinks in Tampa's historic cigar-rolling district. Feng and Xie are audio distributors from China since 1998, and exclusive Supravox distributors since 2004. There are no retail stores to their products so far. Andy says break-in period is 60 hours. Delivery time is 15-days, directly from China. They do not know why the speaker is named Carla. They are planning an English web site soon, but Google Translate does a fair job. Both Kanda and Andy are polite and earnest, but speak broken English.

Kanda knows the English, Andy knows the engineering. Over $2 shot-n-beers, we had a lovely evening translating stereo. Back at my house, Andy set-up the Carlas. He pulled them about three feet closer to my listening position right in the middle of my small 12 by 18' listening area! Once he did, everything snapped into place like press-fit plastic.

Soundscape Width Rear
My listening room has open sides: sliding doors on one side, hallways on the other. Even so, once centered in the room -- like Cardas recommends -- the Carlas exhibited wonderful imaging and sound staging.

Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers
Placement of instruments, whether small rock group or large symphony orchestra, was wide at the front and the rear. Separation between instruments was good, though of course, not as exact as multi-drivers can be. Moving the Carlas so far forward into the room provided an unusually deep soundstage. In a family room, this in the "middle of traffic" location is not practical. But in a bachelor pad, this ideal placement can be permanent.

Soundscape Extension Into The Room
Probably because of my slider and hallway, but none of the speakers auditioned here projected their 3D sonographs into my room. The Carlas did not do this either. Singer and musicians displayed in wide and deep sound stage, just not forward, in front of the speakers. (Christian's E6c did, but in another room.)

Imaging
What can I say? How lucky am I? Have the distributor come to your house, treat you to drinks and set-up your speakers!

Fit And Finish
No nits to pick. No complaints. A clean black box. They came doubled boxed. I prefer another two inches of Styrofoam instead. A plastic bag is a good moisture barrier. The speaker cable binding posts are smaller than I expected, but then my Coincident rattlesnakes are thick and stiff. There are screw holes in the bottom of the Carlas for their round-tip brass spikes. The locking nut on the feet is useful for precise angling. These Carlas were Rosewood veneer, but did not have a reddish tinge. They have an angled front that slopes so gently, you notice the slope only from the side. The Carla walls are 25mm medium density fiberboard (MDF). The internal bracing is also 25mm MDF. There is no dampening material inside the cabinet except some felt.

Self Noise
Due to its very high efficiency, Kanda says the Carla "is reflecting everything input, like a mirror reflects everything in front of it." The only noise the Carlas make is when the volume is so loud that the poor driver mashes all the sound together into a stream of distortion. This is easy to do. The charming nature of a single driver does not lend itself to really loud music. The Carlas can play loud, but not without mashing the sounds together. They become harsh in the mid-90s decibels (analog Radio Shack SPL meter, slow, C-weighted scale). The Carlas will certainly serve an adult party, but a teenage PA system they are not.

Solid-State
With my Class A Pioneer solid-state amplifier, there were more vocal details, but there was also the stiff clinical feel to music. My Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours don't have the headroom to capture the dynamics of large groups, loud music or large rooms, but with them, the Carlas nailed the 3D sonic holograph of the intimate concert hall performance. With the tiny Trends as a pre-amplifier, there was some sharpness on Norah Jones' "Come Away with Me," so that appears to be an economical, but not ideal, combination.

Value For The Money
Despite their shortcomings, my only real concern with the Carlas is their price point. For a new French design speaker, they have great sound, but at $2000, they also have stiff competition. Many other speakers give them a run for their money. I would jump at Classic Audio Reproductions' Cinema Ensemble* loudspeakers, but they are discontinued. Also discontinued are the well-regarded Cain & Cain Abbys single-driver towers*. I would also consider Omega models and the new Carnegie Acoustics' CST-1s (review coming) in the same price range. Wait there's more! The wheelhouse of the Klipsch line is the RF-82 II towers with a frequency response from 33 Hz to 24 kHz (3dB) and are about $1200 a pair. You should be able to drive those easily with their 98dB/W/m efficiency. Consider also the impressive Axiom Audio Millennia M80Ti line driver arrays as they do indeed produce a quite good midrange and have low bass and high treble.

Bang for the Buck
Because of this stiff competition, I can't quite eek out yet another fourth star for the Carlas in this category. Although I certainly want to. I needed the sub for the bottom; I am still drawn to using tubes on horns and l like my music at realistic concert volumes. If these issues don't eliminate you, then feel free to slap another star on the Carlas for this category. I can easily see tweaking audiophiles coupling them with ASL or Cayin integrated tube amplifiers and smiling for a very long time.

Enjoyment
Supravox's thoughtful design yields a competently solid loudspeaker with endearing musical qualities. They are enjoyable speakers. The Carlas remind me what this stereo game is trying to achieve. They are a mid-range standard for all other speakers to measure up against. I have to give the Carlas a high score in my set-up. With my tube amplifiers and deep sub-woofer, they provided a wonderfully musical listening experience. Not jaw dropping startlingly fantastic, as few dream systems can do (see Deprecating The Gifts Of The G-ds), but almost always enjoyable. They made me enjoy the music. The Carlas have a nice size, solid construction and are reasonably priced. The finish is quite good too. This excellent driver provides the expression of midrange details and produces dynamic quickness. It is also easy-to-drive and overall this package is at a very reasonable price.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Single full range driver speaker
Driver: Supravox Classic Series 135LB
Efficiency: 95dB/W/m
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 18 kHz
No cross-over
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Dimensions:9 x 34.25x 11 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 37.5 lbs.
Price: $1999 per pair

 

Company Information
Audio Mercury
Zhuoyi Kanda Feng, Manager
Andy Xie, Director 
4298 Millhouse Lane
Norcross, GA 30092

Voice: (404) 751-8019
E-mail: audiomercury@hotmail.com
Website: www.audiomercury.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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