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March 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere!
Venture Audio's Ultimate Charm Loudspeaker
Sonic charms and cohesive presentation.
Review By Dick Olsher

 

Venture Audio Ultimate Charm Loudspeaker  Ever since its inception in 1986, Belgian loudspeaker manufacturer Venture Audio has steadfastly gained a fine reputation and a loyal following. It has constantly been at the forefront of deploying the best available driver technology in the pursuit of musical realism. The Ultimate Charm (UC) is the smallest member of its Ultimate loudspeaker line and represents a significant update of La Charm, a model dating from 1990. To confess, I was originally reluctant to review the UC. To a first approximation, they resemble stand-mounted minimonitors, or to be more exact, minimonitors on steroids. Such a design is prone to suffer from a baffle diffraction step effect in the lower midrange, smack in the power range of the orchestra. Too often the end result is an in-room lean tonal balance, and that's definitely not the way I like it, and explains why minimonitors have not been my preferred mode of sonic transportation for the past 25 years. But then a quick listen during CES 2010 followed by a discussion with designer Hoo Kong Njoo (aka Didi to his friends) proved sufficiently persuasive.

 

Technical Details
The UC presents a familiar setting, a two-way, tweeter plus woofer, vented system. But there are significant differences beneath the surface, starting with driver technology, and proving that beauty is more than skin deep. Didi is most proud of his new 3" wide-range tweeter featuring a cone made of abaca fiber pulp mixed with graphite and a double neodymium magnet with an additional central neodymium magnet sitting on top of the yoke. Why abaca fiber you ask? Well, compared to synthetic fibers like rayon and nylon, abaca fiber possesses higher tensile strength and lower elongation in both wet and dry states. By the way, the Philippines is the world's largest source and supplier of abaca fiber for cordage and pulp for specialty paper including currency. Free air-resonance is very low and excursion limits are +/- 2mm. The 7" woofer features a carbon fiber-graphite composite cone with excellent internal damping and stiffness to weight ratio.

As with all other Venture loudspeakers, the crossover is first order. Didi, as was the late Jim Thiel, is a fan of first order networks primarily because of their excellent time domain behavior and uniform power response. The importance of a uniform power response, at least in the critical midband, is in coupling ambient information into the listening room and more completely immersing the listener in the original soundfield. The trick, as Jim Thiel explained to me many years ago, is to work with drivers that are content with shallow 6 dB/octave slopes. And of course, the ability to customize drivers for such applications is of critical importance. The crossover frequency is 1200 Hz, quite low compared to a nominal 3000 Hz frequency typically deployed for 1" dome tweeter. Lower is better for the simple reason that it makes driver integration less problematic. The idea of chopping up the musical spectrum and feeding it to a set of specialized drivers may at first seem elegant from an engineering standpoint. However, the difficulty lies in the acoustical realm. The problem of trying to blend the output from drivers spread out on a baffle without significant interference effects is far from trivial. The task is made easier when the driver spacing is small relative to the wavelength at the crossover frequency, as it is at 1,200 Hz when the wavelength is about 1 foot. Another benefit of crossing the tweeter so low is a wider midrange sweet spot.

The cabinet is said to be constructed as a sandwich of interleaved layers of high-density fiberboard and solid hardwood resulting in exceptional constrained-layer damping. The low magnitude and quick time signature of cabinet resonances gave the subjective impression of quick bass, being unobscured by slowly decaying cabinet energy. Speaker connections are possible though either WBT Nextgen binding posts or Neutrik Speakon twist-on connectors. Dedicated stands are offered as an option. These are made of cast aluminum sections for greater stiffness and minimal energy storage and feature rubber dampers on the top plate for decoupling the speakers from the stands. The good news is that the stands do enhance the UC's bass precision. The bad news is that they are horrendously expensive, effectively doubling the price of the complete system. However, I suspect that you can do almost as well with far less expensive stands.

 

Sonic Impressions
Loudspeaker drivers are much like playful children sometimes they misbehave; the art of speaker design is to extract as much "good behavior" as possible. You should not be surprised therefore to find out that the tweeter isn't perfect. First of all, it lacks the finesse of a high-quality ribbon or air motion transformer. And second, it beams severely in the upper treble, resulting in a rising response over the range from 10 to 20 kHz, being +12 dB at 20 kHz. Listening on axis resulted in much too relentless a tonal balance with treble transient over emphasis. Fortunately, the treble balance can be fine tuned, in a manner similar to the action of a brilliance control, by simply rotating the speakers to about 10 to 15 degrees off axis. My preferred listening position was with the speakers facing straight out (no toe-in) and spaced apart to give about a 10-degree angle with respect to the tweeter. The deep bass was extended to about 55 Hz, as measured in room, and that's pretty darn good performance relative to that of an average minimonitor. The mid bass was strong facilitating upright jazz bass. But I could have used a few more dB of output in the upper bass, in the octave spanning the range from 120 to 240 Hz. Still, the tonal weight was superior to that of a typical minimonitor. Instruments such as piano and organ, rich in sonority, though slightly lacking in body, came through with reasonable timbre fidelity. But it's not all about bass extension, let us talk about quality. Bass lines were exceptionally clean and well defined to the point of being able to easily resolve competing bass parts. And there was little or no compression in evidence as the orchestra ramped up, shifting gears from soft to loud. Volume modulation was effortless without any obvious glitches.

The impedance magnitude is reasonably flat (3 to 6 Ohm) over the range from 100 Hz to 20 kHz, making the UC a good match for tube amplifiers. That's a good thing, because the UC performed best in the company of a good tube amp, specifically the deHavilland Electric Amplifier Company's KE-50A, which added tonal richness and textural density missing with solid-state amplification. This superb sonic marriage highlighted the UC's ultimate charm, its imaging prowess. The use of a wide-band tweeter did pay dividends in terms of coherency, speaking as it does with one voice from about 1,200 Hz and beyond. I can flatly state for the record that the UC has superb coherency, and that is an essential catalyst for timing and imaging excellence. The soundstage was spacious, cavernous on some program material, and well delineated in terms of width and depth perspective; I've only experienced more convincing dimensionality from full-range driver designs. Image focus and localization were laser sharp and the palpability factor was in spades! It was clear that the UC imaged like a minimonitor but with far more substantial power handling and bass slam. For example, you really had to watch the juice with the classic BBC LS3/5A minimonitor; if the amp sneezed too hard you'd pop a woofer. The UC, on the other hand, can safely sink up to 200 watt transients without complaining too much.

Midrange textures were smooth and pure, while the lower midrange displayed a surprising degree of weight. When everything was right, it was capable of producing delicious string tone. Reproduction of human voice was superb, with uncommon timbre fidelity, and the innate ability to extract the singer's full palette of emotions. Its combination of speed at the point of attack, transient control, and soundstage transparency made for engaging immediacy.

 

Conclusions
If you crave minimonitor sound but would like to treat yourself to better bass extension, slam, and dynamics, then the Ultra Charm is definitely for you. It brings to the table a couple of excellent and well-integrated drivers. Hence, the big attraction and major source of its sonic charm is its hugely cohesive presentation. It is eminently suitable for small to medium sized rooms and excels with tube amplification. If the price tag is within your means, be sure to give it a listen. I'm certainly glad I did.

 

 

Specifications
Type: Two-way monitor speaker
Tweeter: 2" Venture Abaca graphite pulp composite fullrange driver
Woofer: 7" Venture graphite
Frequency Range: 40 Hz to 60 kHz
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohm
Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
Recommended Power: up to 200 W (no clipping)
Dimensions: 42 x 28 x 34 (HxWxD in cm); 111cm high with dedicated stands
Weight: 45 lbs; 110 lbs with stand
Price: $16,500 in black or pearl white finish ($33,00 with stands)
$18,000 in veneer finish ($33,000 with stands)

 

Company Information
Venture b.v.b.a
Hanendreef 23 - 2930
Brasschaat, Belgium 

Voice : +32-3-653 07 32 
Fax : +32-3-653 13 49
E-mail : info@ventureaudio.com
Website: www.ventureaudio.com

 

United States Distributor: 
Precision Audio & Video
12277 Arbor Hill Street
Moorpark, CA 93021

E-mail: mike@precisionav.com
Website: www.precisionav.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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