World Premiere Review!
I have become increasingly impressed with the quality of truly affordable audio gear. The newly released Vanatoo Transparent One Encore qualifies under both the impressed and affordable category. There is a lot of technology and features crammed into a rather petite bookshelf speaker with a single cable running to the passive speaker. Within the active speaker is an amplifier, preamplifier, Bluetooth with AptX, active crossover for subwoofer output, DAC, remote receiver and, I'm pretty sure, a blender to make margaritas to enjoy while playing your tunes. Ok, maybe the blender was an exaggeration but these T1E's pack a lot of features and performance for a $599 product.
My first experience with Vanatoo was several years ago at the Capital Audio Fest. They were there featuring the prequel to the speakers under review. In a sea of speakers costing $2000 to $200,000, Vanatoo was a breath of fresh air, trying to offer a lot for a little; as opposed to offering a lot for a lot, or a lot for a whole lot. It was the kind of product that you heard, and then heard how much they were, and then began fighting that little logical voice in your head that prevents you from spontaneous purchases. So when my editor sent out the email blast asking who wanted to a World Premiere Review of Vanatoo's newest Mighty Mouse, I jumped at the opportunity.
Impressive Parts Make the Whole
Now comes the interesting bits. The active speaker's back has so much more than just that large passive radiator. First is a single output for the six meter cable that connects the active unit to the passive unit. Beside that is a switch that allows assignment of the active as either left or right to allow easy placement near your music and power source. There is also a hard wired power cord with internal power supply; wall warts need not apply. Inputs for analog and digital sources abound including a single 3.5mm analog mini jack to run your favorite CD player or turntable / phono stage as well as USB, TosLink and S/PDIF 24-bit/96kHz digital inputs.
If that's not enough ways to insert music tab A into Vanatoo slot B then you can always transmit your tunes via Harald "Blåtand" Gormsson's favorite technology, and it is aptX compatible. And if 48Hz extension doesn't float your boat there is a subwoofer output. A USB slot is there for service and software updates should they become available. The back is rounded out with a power switch and knobs to control volume, bass and treble. There are four Direct Digital Class D Topology amplifiers internally providing 100 Watts to each woofer and 20 Watts to each tweeter. This implements a DSP resolution of 24 bits at 48kHz and thermal, short circuit, over current protection.
The speaker allows to adjust between Flat Mode and Shelf Mode which changes the way the internal DSP processes to improve in room response and subwoofer crossover output. It offers customizable configurations including adjusting LED brightness, bass response, subwoofer crossover, amp limiters, sleep setting, has auto sensing inputs, and Bluetooth on/off. And it comes with a full function remote control so you can stick to your New Year's resolution of eating more and exercising less.
If your source is a computer, tablet, phone, TV, cable/satellite box, analog source or pretty much anything that plays music and outputs it through a cable or wirelessly then you can play said music through the T1E's. And to do so is remarkably easy. Setting the speakers up (can I call these "speakers" or is there a better nomenclature for these... maybe "Complete stereo in a box, just add music" would be more accurate) takes just a few minutes and the digital sources are recognized instantly and stay connected without issue. For those intimidated by technology, fear not. Although the T1E is chock full of features it's user friendly and maybe ranks a 2 out of 10 on the digitally challenged scary meter.
"Leave It" by Yes' 90125 [Friday Music AFRM 9012] is a reliable source for performer placement with its incredible opening harmony and electronically induced snare/gunshot. The recording is a bit hot, but its a great track to suck you in and get your toes tapping. The T1E did a solid job of properly placing performers where they belonged and with proper height and width. The air between performers lacked what I would expect from more expensive speakers, but I was never disappointed after reminding myself of what I was listening to. Switching gears to Oscar Peterson Trio's "You Look Good To Me" [We Get Requests, Verve, AVRJ 8606-45] brought that beautifully recorded piano, an almost magical upright bass and drum kit weaving tapestries of acoustic complexity. The piano lacked true depth and complexity, as did the upright. The layers of majesty escape the T1E. But the drum kit conveyed a sense of rhythm that was hard to resist and dynamics were always on point. I kept having to remind myself that these were essentially entry level, all in one speakers.
They did like placement on an actual bookshelf to utilize that room reinforcement. Mids were musical and engaging while not overly warm. I was stunned at the depth and width of the soundstage produced considering their size and, ummm, Swiss Army knife capabilities. Count Basie's band Live at the Sands [Mobile Fidelity AMOB401] had width and depth enough to permit proper instrument placement and spacial cues were well conveyed. Did I mention that vocals sounded correct and natural.
This is important as I see these speakers used with televisions where their primary role will be reproducing dialogue. I also see these being a fantastic choice for a simple bedroom, office, kitchen or dorm speaker where all you need to do is connect a computer or feed it music a'la Tidal or Qobuz via Bluetooth from your phone. And if you are wondering if they can play loud, that would be a very loud yes they can. In fact, because of where they will likely end up and how they perform, these speakers dramatically increase your likelihood of jamming on your every readily available air guitar in your bedroom or family room, in your skivvies; consider yourself warned!
Just For Giggles
As an aside, Vanatoo sent a set of IsoAcoustics desk/shelf speaker stands along and they do increase placement flexibility, tighten and deepen the base and widen the front soundstage. They also added a subtle additional sense of finesse and refinement. Can you live without the stands? Sure can. Will your wife hate the way they look? She sure will! But they do make an improvement.
More importantly, I would call these music lovers speakers because they get the music where it needs to be at a level of quality never previously attainable in such a compact and elegant package. In fact, this pair will not return to Vanatoo and will reside in my kitchen for my wife and family to enjoy and fight over. I sense many a "Blåtand" battle in the future between my wife and children.
Amplifier Amd DSP