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January 2008
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Reference 3A Grand Veena Loudspeaker
A world beater from north of the border!

Review By Phil Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

  What's going on up here in Canada? First the EMM Labs CDSA SE, a world beating digital source, and now this.

Well first let me tell you why it's not the perfect speaker for everyone:

It's only four figures, but they're pretty big figures

It's tall and not my idea of beautiful

It prefers a big listening room

There are other speakers that dig deeper

It's a bit fussy about room placement

Smaller speakers may offer improved imaging in restricted spaces

The manufacturer's name may not be on the tip of your tongue

That's about it really.

 

Reference 3A
Reference 3a Grand VeenaHere a little background on the company with the strange name. 3A was originally set up in France in 1959 by French designer Daniel Dehay. 3A stands for Applied Acoustic Arts. 3A relocated to Switzerland in the late eighties under the name Reference 3A. The company passed into other hands before being repurchased by Mr. Dehay around 1992 and most of the features of all current models owe their heritage to his design precepts.

The salient features of Dehay's designs include direct connection of the main driver to the amplifier, time alignment of drivers and minimum phase change. His designs have a distinctive sloping front baffle that a number of other companies have now adopted. Today the company is located in Kitchener, about 70 miles west of Toronto, Canada under the direction of Tash Goka of Divergent Technology.

 

Design Essentials
The Grand Veena is based on the successful two-driver Veena speaker which Ron Nagle enjoyed immensely in June of 2006 (reviewed here). Tash and his colleagues wanted to build on the excellent performance of the $3000 Veena, creating a speaker suitable for much larger rooms. This would offer extended bandwidth and higher maximum volumes.

The smaller Veena uses a bass-midrange driver, handmade from pure carbon fiber and hyper-exponential in profile, connected directly to the amplifier. The shape is designed to minimize resonances. Those remaining are diffused by the non-conductive phase plug. A 1-inch silk dome tweeter with low-mass voice coil and a copper Faraday ring in the motor completes the driver complement. This driver, which has a low resonance frequency of just 590Hz, is custom designed and manufactured for Reference 3A. It is connected in series with a single high quality capacitor to protect it from low frequencies that's the only other component in the signal path.

Why isn't everyone doing this, you may ask.

Gemme Audio also sells a two driver speaker, the Tanto, where the bass/midrange driver is directly coupled to the amp with just a single capacitor in line with the tweeter, like the Veena. I reviewed the Tanto in December 2007 (review here). For the Grand Veena, Reference 3A retains the directly driven midrange driver with its hyper-exponential woven carbon fiber cone and the 1" tweeter with its single capacitor. This capacitor here is from Mundorf's Supreme series which features silver foil in oil.

Above the tweeter you'll find an exotic Murata Exciter. You can't hear those high frequencies directly, but in testing the designers could clearly hear the benefits of including this Exciter in terms of imaging and definition. The Murata unit contains a 12mm gold coated ceramic dome which expands and contracts in a range from 20kHz to 100kHz using a spherical rather than pistonic motion, for optimal dispersion. This Exciter is also directly connected to the amplifier.

Below the midrange driver Reference 3A use two identical 8-inch woofers. These long-throw bass drivers feature very stiff and light cones formed in a honeycomb construction made from Fiberglass and Kevlar. An internal acoustic device absorbs excess pressure from the enclosure's standing waves to avoid interference with the diver's motion. A simple phase coherent quasi second-order low pass filter shapes the frequency response that is flat to 36 Hz falling smoothly to 15dB down at 20Hz.

The main driver is capable of deep bass as in the Veena but here the low frequency performance is curtailed by the shape of the enclosure behind the driver to produce a 3dB roll-off starting at 95Hz. The drivers are offset to avoid diffraction effects and are aligned so the sound from each driver arrives at the listener's ear at the same time.

Reference 3a Grand VeenaThe cabinet uses high-density fiberboard (HDF) as well as the more common MDF. Faces are made from unequal thicknesses of HDF so that they have different resonant frequencies, while the internal braces and the bottom employ MDF for its slightly greater rigidity. If you open up the cabinet you'll find a vertical brace and a cross brace at the base of the speaker and you'll see perforations in the slats of wood designed to reduce resonance. Further internal damping is achieved by the use of AVM fluid coating on the voice coils and on the skirt and centre of the cones. This coating is also applied to the solder and capacitors. Van Den Hul copper / carbon hybrid cable is used to connect the midrange driver and the tweeters, while the bass drivers use silver coated copper cable, also from Van Den Hul. Bybee Quantum Purifiers are connected internally on the tweeter and midrange drivers. There is a lot of expensive parts in these boxes.

The rear port is actually an elbow, which releases pressure in a more linear fashion than the straight variety and is carefully located at the acoustic centre of the speaker.

To accommodate the extra drivers, the Grand Veena has grown from 36 to 51 inches in height and from 31 lbs to 75 lbs, while retaining the same overall shape. It sits on three stabilizers with spikes to couple rigidly to the floorboards.

 

Listening Tests
For the extended listening sessions, the Grand Veena sat at the end of my reference chain of components EMM Labs CDSA SE SACD Player, Perreaux Radiance R200i integrated amplifier, Thor Power Conditioner and end-to-end Nordost Valhalla Cabling. I also tried other cables and top of the line tube preamp and monoblocs from Antique Sound Labs, which produced a rounder warmer sound with rather less definition and frequency extension, but the Grand Veena needs no special treatment to sound sweet and musical. The Radiance suits it to a T and shows off its fabulous evenhandedness, resolution and dynamics.

I throw a wide range of music against test components. I want to see if they're good for headbangers, folkies, opera buffs or salsa fans. Usually a speaker will do better in one genre than another. It's a rare component that does everything well. Will this be the exception? Now sit back and relax while I take you through the good stuff. We're going on a musical ride.

 

Piano
Piano is one of the toughest instruments to nail. Dynamics, articulation and resolution let most speakers down here. Have you heard a fine Steinway in full flight? Do you know how softly it can play? Can you still hear the ppp notes when the right hand comes crashing down. This is why I love my Wilson Benesch Act 1 it has the wide dynamic range and the inner resolution required to do the grand piano justice.

The Grand Veena sounds very similar to the Act 1 on piano they both sound quite realistic, with the nod going to the Grand Veena on extension and a slight edge to the Act 1 on ultimate resolution. Both are so good that it is tough to stop the music once the disc starts spinning. The Grand Veena has the more refined treble and digs a little deeper in the bass, making it easier to hear each deep note distinctly when several are played together. Both speakers have lightning reflexes, stopping and starting on a dime, but sustaining held notes like in a good concert hall. In terms of maximum volume, the Grand Veena is a much bigger speaker and holds all the aces here, although in my room (12 ft by 24 ft) the Act 1 does not compress at realistic volume levels.

Rubinstein's performance of the Funeral March Sonata by Chopin [JVC JM-XR24008] sounds simply marvelous on the Grand Veena the years are thrown off and Rubinstein's extraordinary tonality shines through. It may be over thirty years ago since the last time but I've heard Rubinstein in the flesh on several memorable occasions. Nobody else has that sonority. Very few speakers can do it full justice - most make this particular recording sound thick, dark and flat. The Act 1 and especially the Grand Veena stand head and shoulders above most rivals here.

Another killer recording features Marc Andre Hamelin in Shostakovich Piano Concertos [Hyperion CDA67425]. If you only ever buy one record of 20th century classical music, this should be on your shortlist. The virtuosity on display here in the outer movements is breathtaking, and that's the least of Hamelin's achievements. He inhabits the music completely and the performance sounds like he is composing as he goes along. Yet if you listen to this recording on most stereo systems you may not be transported, swept away by the passion and beauty, depth and color present in this performance. Like the Chopin, I like to use this disc because it makes it so easy to tell the merely good components from the truly excellent. The Act 1, with its lightening reflexes and excellent dynamics, reveals the full majesty of this performance. The Grand Veena's extra bass extension and sparkling clear treble bring out even more magic than the Act 1. Sensational! For a change of pace, play the dreamy slow movement from the third piano concerto. The quality and subtlety of tone, both from piano and strings, is as good as Redbook gets. I could not have been happier. This tough test is passed with flying colors.

 

Organ
Organ provides a tough workout for bass performance and maximum sound pressure. E. Power Biggs on the Flentrop organ at Harvard [Sony LSBK 46551] provides the challenge and, for the most part, the Grand Veena steps up. My listening room is not ideal for this test, being easy to overload with bass energy. So I dragged my amp and cables over to Tash's listening room in Kitchener, where the speakers could be ideally positioned and I could set the sofa sixteen feet back for best effect. Tash uses the same digital source as me, so no need to schlep that heavy thing with me. The Perreaux amp took a good five hours to warm up to top performance. I had a meeting to attend at the University, so this wait proved not to be a problem.

Yes, there is something missing here in the deepest bass. The Grand Veena's response starts dropping off around 45Hz, and is 15dB down by 20Hz where the deepest organ notes reside. The bass is however under control all the way down, significantly tighter and quicker than in my room and leaving the Act 1's in the dust. The bass response drops smoothly with no obvious peaks or valleys, so although the slam of a Hansen King is missing, organ is still absolutely thrilling and you can really feel the power and drive of the mighty instrument.

So yes you can do better in terms of bass slam, although it is the rare speaker that can do so and still maintain speed and precision at the lowest frequencies. Those that can - Wilsons, Krells, Hansens, TADs - all cost several times the price.

 

Percussion
After piano, percussion is the most difficult instrument to reproduce accurately without fatigue. It helps of course if you hide your CDs and switch to vinyl or a high-resolution format like DVD-Audio or SACD from an impeccable source. High frequency performance has come a long way in recent years, and some of the best sounds I have heard come from ribbons, which can be difficult to mate with midrange drivers due to their unusual dispersion characteristics. The Sound Fusion Hyperion Speaker is an excellent example as is the much less expensive Aurum Cantus Volla. Other speakers have impressed using more conventional tweeters the Hansen King being a prime example. Some manufacturers are using exotic materials such as beryllium or diamond, including my all time favorite, the TAD Model-1. So the bar is set high, considerably higher in fact than my Act 1.

For this test I used Art Pepper's Getting' Together in an excellent SACD pressing [Contemporary CSA-7573-6]. Jimmy Cobb plays drums here and I find no trace of harshness or overhang. The speed of the speaker is soon evident, the level of detail surprising and the location of each instrument precisely defined. This is one great disc; with Conte Candoli's angular trumpet work a wonderful counterpoint to Pepper's flowing saxophone. The Act 1 comes very close to the Grand Veena in all respects, but without the relaxed ease of Grand Veena.

Further evidence of a sweet and detailed treble response comes on Lilison Di Kinera's Bambatulu [MUS2-1119]. This remarkable record of African music tests all aspects of a speaker's performance, from deep bass to airy resonances of acoustic instruments and voices, to color and spatial integrity, sheer drive and transient response. Ideally, the music should float in a deeply layered relaxed acoustic, but sting with its impact when the need arises. It's another of those recordings, like the Chopin, where it's easy to miss the high achievement unless all the fundamentals come together correctly. In my room the Grand Veena is indeed spacious, exciting, fast, open and revealing, just like the Act 1. But in Tash's bigger room it opens out still further and fills the space with warmth and precise deep bass, bring Di Kinera to life as I've never heard before. There are bass notes I didn't know were there, which are not so much heard here as felt. Imaging on this disc is problematic in the bigger space until you move the listening position well back and turn the speakers in about 15 degrees. Then the picture comes into focus. Yes it takes patience and a lot of experimentation to find the best positioning for these speakers, and it changes as you switch amplifiers. Take the time, because the results are well worthwhile.

Definition and palpability. Magic!

 

Chamber Music
The Act 1 and the Grand Veena both effortlessly plunge into the profundity of Haydn Quartets [Astree 8786] and Mozart Quintets [Calliope CAL 9231.3]. Don't think for a minute that this is gentle music with few dynamic contrasts. Perhaps that's how these masterpieces were once performed, but there's passion and even extreme dynamics on these fine discs to sweep you off your feet.

The Haydn features original instruments that produce a prodigious amount of high frequency energy. It's easy to sound strident here but both speakers take this in stride, making music where others have failed. The Grand Veena throws an image which is a little closer to the speakers than the Act 1, so you may have to position them closer together or sit further back for best effect. The Act 1 is a little faster and more pitch accurate in the bass, while the Grand Veena is more detailed in the treble and also a little sweeter. The differences are slight and I would take either of these over all comers in this repertoire.

 

Full Orchestra
I don't play a lot of symphonies or heavyweight concertos in my regular listening. Besides driving the family crazy (remember I like a realistic volume) I simply prefer solo piano or chamber music. But a speaker that aces small scale compositions holds no guarantee of success with the Symphony of 1000!

So I regularly pull out some large-scale recordings as a matter of course. The Grand Veena simply pinned me to my seat and I was transported by the spirit of Bruckner, Mahler and Shostakovich. Haitink's magnificent performance of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony [Decca 425066-2] sounds bigger, bolder and more riveting than I remember from the reference. In Tash's listening room, the soundstage opens wide and deep to allow more detail to emerge while maintaining pinpoint accuracy and delicate instrumental color. There's more flesh on the strings, breath in the winds and slap on the drums.

This clearly is what this speaker is all about. It takes the sound my Act 1 produces in my medium size room and brings that same quality into the larger space. Then it goes one better by taking advantage of that larger space to expand the height width and depth of the image while maintaining the pinpoint imaging. It also brings greater clarity and weight to the bass (perhaps impossible in a smaller room) and this serves to further improve the musical balance.

 

Voice
Voices are generally softer and warmer through the Grand Veena than the reference but also more diffuse and less precisely located. I'd give the edge here to the Act 1.Garett Brennan's guitar work is stunning on "The Dog Song" [Blue Coast Records - The E.S.E. Sessions] through both speakers, but the voice is more forward, vital and craggy on the Act 1, better balancing the instrumental attack.

In Patricia Barber's "You & The Night & The Music" [Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2003] the Grand Veena again sets the voice further back in the mix, but the instruments love the extended bandwidth on offer and my vote goes to the Grand Veena here.

 

Should You Buy It?
I admire this speaker a lot in my own listening room, although I prefer the image thrown by the Act 1 here. The Grand Veena needs plenty of space all around and in particular, a good distance between you and the front baffle, as do most tall speakers. In my room, the smaller Veena would likely be a better fit. I think it best to base my judgment on the kind of room the Grand Veena is optimized for, one of at least 15' by 25' and preferably larger.

In Tash's listening room, the Grand Veena presses all my buttons. I enjoyed every single disc I played, and I'm pretty damn fussy. Just so you know, I played a lot more discs than those listed here, over thirty in all, but the story never changes. I love the music it makes and I wouldn't hesitate for a moment if I had the space to do it justice.

The Grand Veena can stand comparison with any speaker I know, and will bring you close to the emotional heart of whatever type of music you hold dear. It achieves this by projecting a stable coherent image full of detail and color. And it'll do this equally happily with any high quality amp, low or high powered, tube or transistor based. You won't need to break the bank on massive monoblocks.

True to its lineage and the result of a great deal of clear thinking, this is another winner for Reference 3A. Altogether, the Grand Veena represents a high achievement for a small Canadian company. No wonder the Canadian dollar is doing so well. I'm not here to tell you what to buy. I'll just say that if you are considering new speakers for a high-end system in a big listening room and the price ($7,990) doesn't put you off (it shouldn't), go audition a pair of Grand Veenas. Tell them I sent you. I say this even if you can afford to spend thirty or forty grand.

 

Manufacturer's Reply 
Tash Goka provides this advice on optimizing setup:

In smaller rooms with the listening position closer to the loudspeakers, adjusting the slope angle of the front baffle forward by rotating the rear spikes a couple of turns will improve the soundstage images in focus depth and height.

Experimenting with vertical alignment simply by using the three adjustable large spikes can be quite rewarding.

Tall narrow cabinets with an array of loudspeakers such as the Grand Veena will benefit from even incremental adjustments of this sort as it ultimately involves more proper phase correction, hence the enhanced realism.

He adds this comment on the Murator Exciters.

I am glad you are calling them exciters rather than super tweeters. I think the sheer presence of the very high frequencies they produce, embedded in the music does excite (or trigger) our senses to perceive and further define the sounds.

 

Specifications
Type: Reference floorstanding loudspeaker

Efficiency: 90dB/W/m

Frequency Response: 36Hz to 20kHz ( 3dB)

Phase: Almost constant at 10 at 94dB wideband

Bass Loading: F3 @ 36Hz, tuned port 

Impedance: 5 Ohms

Binding Posts: 5-way bi-wired

Power Handling: 200 watts rms

Dimensions: 51 x 10.3 x 19 (HxWxD in inches)

Weight: 75 lbs each

Warranty: Five years

Price: Maple Finish: $7,990, High gloss black piano finish is $8,800

 

Company Information
Divergent Technologies / Reference 3a
480 Bridge Street West
Waterloo, Ontario N2K 1L4
Canada

Voice: (519) 749-1565
Fax: (519) 749 2863
E-mail: diane@divertech.com
Website: www.divertech.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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