Sound Fusion Hyperion Loudspeaker
A specially revealing
window to the music.
Review By Phil Gold
here to e-mail reviewer.
I gave the editor advance
warning. I gave you the reader advance warning too. My Montreal
Son & Image Show Report awards Sound Fusion Best-of Show
sound. So let's put the cards on the table. This is the best speaker I
have reviewed and possibly the best I have ever heard. While it's not
exactly cheap, as an active speaker system priced from $18,000 (remember
you won't need to buy a stereo power amplifier or monoblocks), this
represents great value for money.
Where's the catch? Sure this speaker has some limitations.
There are bigger speakers that dig deeper, and Sound Fusion will be
delighted to sell you a couple of their matching subwoofers if you are
interested. The geometrical shape of the speakers might not be to you
taste. And you may not find a dealer near you to let you audition them
just yet. Sound Fusion is a new company, and distribution is not in place.
But unlike many new companies, Sound Fusion's finances are not precarious,
since it is a subsidiary of a multi billion-dollar furniture manufacture
with deep pockets and a willingness not to cut corners. This makes it a
dream come true for engineer Marlen Mogilever, Director of R&D for
Sound Fusion and their chief designer.
Marlen has been an avid audiophile for many years, a tube
lover and hobbyist, who designed his own speakers for his home system. He
later found another serious audiophile with deep pockets who had the
factory, craftsmen and machinery necessary to build the very complex
Sound Fusion brings to market two speaker systems, both
two-way designs, one with two drivers, the other three. Each is available
in active or passive form, and in a wide variety of rich wood finishes.
Marlen is currently working on a larger three-way design, and of course
there is the aforementioned subwoofer, the Titan. The smaller system is
the active Ariel and its passive brother, the Luna.
Today's test system is the $18,000 US Hyperion, whose
passive twin is the Nova. The designer's aim here is to create a
lightening fast speaker capable of explosive dynamics and imaging to die
for. Lightening fast usually means staying away from moving-coil drivers.
Electrostatics can do the lightening reflexes job, but they won't give you
the kind of dynamics Marlen has in mind. He has chosen to go down a route
taken by a number of other designers lately, by choosing a ribbon tweeter
and mating it with moving coil bass / midrange drivers. The Aurum Cantus
Vollas, which I am reviewing simultaneously, take a similar approach and
trying many ribbon tweeters Marlen selected the LCY-110, a Chinese unit
that has wonderful potential but is apparently very difficult to work
with. This unit covers the range from 2kHz to 60kHz. He also picked a cut
paper Scan-Speak 6.5-inch midrange / woofer which he regards as the finest
moving coil driver available. With a team of computer programmers and
engineers, he spent a long time designing the fourth order crossover and
cabinets to make this combination work optimally. By choosing smaller
drivers he was able to achieve the speed he was looking for, and by
combining two such drivers and directly coupling them to the power
amplifier, he was also able to achieve a remarkable level of bass
extension. The Hyperion speaker covers a range from 30Hz to 60kHz, which
is remarkable for a two-way design.
cabinets are constructed from a series of 1-inch MDF rings glued together,
an expensive method of production. This helps to eliminate standing waves
and resonances. Each driver is isolated in its own compartment. A large
forward facing tuned port is featured near the bottom of the bass
enclosure. The amplification is by NuForce, two monoblocks per speaker,
but Sound Fusion has substituted beefy analog power supplies for the
digital power supplies that NuForce provide. These NuForce switching
monoblocks have attracted a great deal of attention recently and you can
read more about them at their website.
Crossovers play a vital part in any speaker, and
especially here. In an active speaker system the crossover comes before
the power amplifier. In this case it is a passive crossover. In a
configuration like this there is no insertion loss, the term that
refers to the amplifier output powerlost when a passive crossover is
installed between an amp and the speaker drive units. This crossover is
designed and tested in-house with an MLSSA acoustical measurement system.
Each power amplifier now operates only in a limited frequency band, which
makes its job much easier, providing optimal damping, broader dynamic
range and lower distortion. The NuForce power amps are rated at 350 watts
into the 4-ohms bass/midrange drivers and 250 watts into the 8-ohms
tweeter. Did I tell you I was a fan of active speakers? I don't have them
now, but Meridian M2's were my constant companions for around 12 years and
I still remember them fondly.
With active speakers, you really only need a source and a preamp,
interconnects to tie them together and some power cords. Don't forget you
need power cords for the speakers too. If you want to go whole hog, you
can use a digital source with variable output or built in preamp. For this
review I use my Meridian G08 CD player, an ARC LS26 preamp and a Bluenote
Stibbert tube CD Player as an alternative source. I have Nordost Valhalla
Balanced interconnects between the CD players and the preamp, and Stealth
Indra balanced interconnects to feed the speakers. I use an innocuous
looking Digital Power Cord from Soundstring to power the Meridian G08, and
all the other power cables are from Dynamic Design.
Sound Fusion also markets a range of vibration control devices,
including equipment stands, CD player supports and Vibe Buster damping
devices. The Hyperions are fitted with 4 massive spikes that fit into four
Vibe Buster 1s which in turn sit on your floor. We'll come back to
vibration control devices later, but first, lets spin a few discs.
Simply put, every single disc I play through the Meridian on this
system leaves me thrilled with the music. This system has an immediacy and
power that knocks my socks off. Richter' Appassionata from a
brittle 1960's recording [Philips 456 949-2] has me playing violent air
piano. Chava Alberstein's mesmerizing Margaritkalach [NMC 20126-2]
brings her right into the room standing clearly just a few feet in front
of me, just as she was in Toronto's Weston Hall this January.
There is no need to play great sounding CDs on this setup. I left all
my HiFi discs behind. Instead I've been pulling out my favorite recordings
and reveling in the experience. The noise floor is so low and the sound so
clear you don't need to turn up the wick for the music to come to life.
Listening at lower than normal levels coupled with the extremely flat
frequency response (measured within 1.5dB from 100Hz to 20kHz), surface
imperfections like tape hiss are minimized.
As an experiment I put on Hamelin's magical recording of Piano
Concertos by Shostakovich and Shchedrin [Hyperion CDA 67425], reviewed
here [Steve please insert Link]. Hamelin has lightening fast reflexes and
this is exactly the system to do his performance justice. I tried to find
out how the sound changes as you adjust the volume. Here's the thing –
it doesn't. Yes, it gets louder or softer of course, but the nature of the
sound, the balance, detail and imaging stays the same. I wish my own
system did this! If the music plays without apparent compression at the
highest levels my ears can stand, then you can be assured that at normal
listening levels, these speakers are not compressing dynamics to any
significant degree, and that is why they sound so immediate, so realistic.
They don't slow the music down by blunting the transients, and they don't
decrease the vitality of music by compressing it.
These may not be the most accurate of speakers, or the most extended.
Let's talk about that. There are certainly speakers that can reach down
lower into the deep bass than these. After all, the Hyperions sport just
two 6.5-inch midrange / woofers. The Hansen Kings or the TAD Model 1s, two
of my favorite big speakers, have them beat there for sure. But neither
can improve on the bass speed or pitch accuracy of the Hyperions, and I
have not felt the need for more. In fact I tried two Sound Fusion Titan
subwoofers with the Hyperions and decided not to feature them in this
review because I never missed them once I took them out of service. At the
top end, the ribbon tweeter is probably as extended as any other
transducer, but while the response is flat when you stand between the
speakers, the treble falls off rapidly as you move well outside the sweet
spot, and again if you just stand up from your seat. However, that sweet
spot can be quite wide.
The setup for the listening test involved a 15° toe in with the
speakers almost 10 feet apart and 18 feet from my listening position. As
you reduce the toe in, the sweet spot expands and the speakers can be used
comfortably used without any toe in. In fact this ribbon tweeter has a
horizontal dispersion (35°) more than twice as wide as most dome
tweeters. The speakers were placed roughly 5 feet from the semi-circular
rear wall in a room 20 x 35 x 8 (WxDxH in feet). Much of the wall space
was fitted with a dispersive material. As for accuracy, I don't know for
sure. I certainly am not aware of any particular distortions, no sins of
commission, but that doesn't not mean there are no sins of omission.
The other top flight speakers all have their special strengths and my
ears are not so sensitive as to be able to compare subtle nuances heard in
years past in various systems and rooms. I can only tell you that perhaps
only one speaker has ever brought me this level of realism, and that
speaker, the exotic TAD Model 1 is a much more expensive proposition even
before you factor in the cost of suitable power amplifiers.
When I'm having so much fun just listening to the music, it's difficult
to start dissecting it and rating each element. It either works or it
doesn't, and here it works. But for those of you who prefer the
play-by-play, here you go.
Does each instrument sound the way it sounds I real life? No speaker is
perfect in this regard, but the Hyperion does a wonderful job with the
piano, traditionally the hardest instrument to reproduce. It preserves the
weight, the color and the attack of all the various piano recordings I've
thrown at it. Strings are clear and focused, although not as warm and
textured as Sonus Faber's Homage speakers. I like the way the most
delicate shadings are captured on Haydn String Quartet Opus 20 No2 [Astree
E8786] played on original instruments by the Quatuor Mosaiques. Perhaps
the most revealing instrument to look out for is the cymbal. So often the
sound of brushes against metal is harsh or thin. Not so here. Art Pepper's
New York Album [Analogue Productions APR 3012] surprised me in
revealing a most delicate percussion touch that is as far from harsh as
you can get.
The Finale Part 1
I've talked a lot about speed, and by that I mean how quickly do the
drivers start on transients, and more importantly, how quickly do they
stop vibrating when the music stops. To achieve this, which in my opinion
is a far more important quality than a flat frequency response, you need
lightweight diaphragms, amplifiers with high damping factors, high
performance cables and control over resonances. This system performs
magnificently in this regard. The explosion at the end of the Shchedrin
Piano Concerto might have been written just to test the speed of every
element in the chain of reproduction. Here it is like a bolt of
lightening, and it stops just as quickly as it begins. If you haven't
heard electrostatic headphones or speakers, you may not think this level
of achievement possible. If you have, you are unlikely to have heard the
full dynamic range that lightening strike demands, and which this system
Did I just belittle the importance of a flat frequency response? This
is a tough one to measure, since it is so room dependant, and where you
sit or stand is also going to make a major difference. The best we can ask
is that the speaker's response should have no obvious and sudden dips or
peaks, on and off axis, and that the fall off at each end of the spectrum
is as gentle and extended as possible. The Hyperion displayed no anomalies
in this regard, but it is perhaps not the ultimate speaker for head
bangers, or for the largest rooms.
As you move up into the realm of high-end stereo, you expect more
resolution of fine detail. This is important to me too, and isn't it fun
to say, "I never heard that before!" But by resolution, I prefer to
think of the ability to maintain all the strands of the music
simultaneously. One instrument should not overwhelm another. It is
important to have pinpoint location of each instrument or voice, so that
the ear can make sense of the music. You achieve this by using small
drivers, located close together to emulate as far as possible a point
source. Many other factors are involved here of course, including phase
coherency. This system scores very high on this measure, as do my
reference Wilson Benesch Act 1s.
I cannot finish without remarking on the superb fit and finish of the
speakers. You can get the in a wide range of finishes, and I suspect you
could order custom finishes too. Here are prices for the standard
Mappa burl $20,100
Birdeye maple $20,100
The Finale Part 2
Now for a word of warning. These speakers are extremely
high-resolution beasts, and they will only sound as good as your source
and preamp. They will expose all limitations in your source and preamp
too. So take special care with the rest of your components and your
cables. In preparing for this audition I found simply a world of
difference between three digital sources. The first, the Meridian G08,
sitting on Sound Fusion Sound Boosters and with a Sound Fusion Vibe Buster
2 placed on top of it, imaged very well and was quite dynamic, showing
strong articulation and speed. The second, the Bluenote Stibbert sitting
on a Sound Fusion suspension, was warmer and slightly higher in
resolution, but also slower paced and with an image that shrank back
somewhat to the speakers. The third, and excuse me while I keep you
guessing for a while, was absolutely sensational.
Transient response was perfect, bass was far more resolved and
articulate, dynamics were amazing and the level of realism much greater.
All the listening comments above are based on this setup. Now I can tell
you. It is the Meridian G08 again, only this time sitting on a Sound
Fusion Universal CD Player Platform, which alone will set you back from
$800 to $920 US, depending on finish. The Sound Boosters are not used in
this setup, since the idea is to drain the vibrations from the CD Player
into the acrylic shelf and from there to dissipate it into the three
layers of suspension at work in the device. This is not a test of the
Universal CD Player Platform, but it does speak volumes about the
importance of vibration control. This message comes from someone who has
only really worried about vibration control for his Linn Sondek LP12 until
Would I buy the Hyperions? Much as I admire the sound, I think they
would look cosmetically a bit out of place in my living room. More
importantly, they are really too large for my room, which would better
accommodate the smaller Ariel speakers. For that reason I chose not to
review the Hyperions at home. Instead I used a demonstration room in Sound
Fusion's head office, and I brought my own CD Player and cables along for
the ride. At home I use a Perreaux R200i Radiance integrated amp to drive
the Act 1s, and I value just those aspects of performance I have found in
such abundance today, speed, dynamics and imaging before all else. I would
say my home system is a close match in speed and imaging, but for dynamics
and extension at both ends of the frequency range, the Hyperion system has
the edge. I also much prefer the looks of the Wilson Benesch speakers,
which rival even Sonus Faber's best.
Should you buy the Hyperions? I think they are something special, but
hey, I'm just one guy, and I like my music a certain way. The next
reviewer may say something quite different. I recommend you seek them out
and put them on your short list if you're spending five figures on
speakers. Let me know what you think of them.
Type: Full range, 2-way floor standing, front-ported, active
Tweeter: Ribbon LCY-110
Midrange/woofer: Two 6.5-inch Scan-Speak cut paper drivers
Crossover frequency: 2200Hz
Crossover slope: 26dB / octave 4th order
Frequency Response: 40Hz to 32kHz (±1.5dB)
Dimensions: 48 x 9.5 x 18 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 115 lbs.
Price: From $18,000
Sound Fusion Inc
1111 Flint Road, Unit #1
Canada M3J 3C7
Voice: (416) 645-1726
Fax: (416) 645-1727