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July 2021

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere Review!
Verdant Audio Blackthorn 1 Monitor Speakers
An over-achieving monitor with a musical performance well beyond its' modest size.
Review By Dr. Michael Bump

 

Verdant Audio Blackthorn 1 Monitor Speakers Review

 

  I first had the pleasure of meeting Scott Bierfeldt, President and Chief Designer at Verdant Audio, at AXPONA 2019 in a by-chance meeting. I was planning on heading out earlier than expected on Sunday, as the snow was starting to come down (attendees may recall), and I was a bit nervous about the six-hour mark. drive home to the cornfields of Missouri. Nevertheless, the rooms beckoned me back for one more quick tour that morning, where I happened to walk by a familiar blue glow within the Verdant Audio room.

At the center of a very attractive system were a pair of stunning Art Audio Quartet 845 push-pull monoblocks. I was familiar with Art Audio from an introduction years prior to their 50-Watt SET Adagios, and was aware that Verdant Audio had re-introduced the UK company to the U.S. earlier that year as the sole domestic distributor. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued stepping into the room noting several examples of Art Audio pieces, as well as the premiere of two monitor designs created by Scott, under the Verdant Audio name.

After chatting for some time and spinning some tunes (so much for getting ahead of the snow!), we managed to arrange some quality home time with the Quartets for a review (see Enjoy The Music.com's November 2019 Review Magazine), which, when completed, were admittedly difficult to part with. Fast-forward to January of this year, when Steve Rochlin put out the call to review either of the two Verdant Audio monitors (Nightshade 1 is $7499 and the Blackthorn 1 is $9999), which were undergoing subtle upgrades to their designs. It was with delight that I took the opportunity to do so. Handing the choice to Scott, he proposed an evaluation of the Blackthorn 1, largely in that it had not yet received a published review.

 

 

Prelude
Founded in 2018 by Scott and his wife, Laura, Verdant Audio is both a high-end audio salon, representing a comprehensive menu of top-shelf manufacturers in all manner of source components, speakers, amplification, cabling, and accessories, as well as an independent designer and manufacturer of quality speakers. The objective of the company is to offer anyone, regardless of budget and experience, an informed opportunity to match and invest in audio components that deliver extraordinary listening experiences.

Scott describes his motivation behind creating the Verdant Audio Monitors:

"When I started Verdant in 2018, the landscape for speakers in the $6000 to $10,000 range looked a little different. I really struggled to find a monitor I liked that sounded big, looked simple and was easy to drive in that price range. They were either tough to place, lacked the detail I was expecting, the soundstage was disappointing, too bright, too warm, etc.... I just couldn't find the goldilocks product for me. Ultimately, my wife challenged me to solve these problems and make a speaker that made me happy."

 

In all, there are four monitor models currently offered by Verdant Audio, all under $10,000:

Bambusa AL 1 (Bamboo cabinet) @ $3499

Bambusa MG 1 (Bamboo cabinet) @ $4999

Nightshade 1 (Fiberglass cabinet) @ $7499

Blackthorn 1 (Carbon Fiber cabinet) @ $9999

 

The Nightshade 1 and Blackthorn 1 designs have a "Silver Reference" upgrade option (+$2500), whereby offering a substantial improvement in both transient detail and soundstage. The details include VCap silver-gold oil capacitors on the tweeter (Mundorf on the Nightshade 1), pure silver wire from Kimber Kable, and silver binding posts from WBT (It should be noted that my evaluation pair did not include this option).

 

 

The Blackthorn 1 Design
The Blackthorn cabinets are made from panels of carbon fiber with a DuPont Nomex honeycomb core. I am familiar with the Nomex honeycomb material as used by Michael Borresen within his proprietary Borresen speaker drivers, which I had the opportunity to research and review last year (see Enjoy The Music.com's July 2020 Review Magazine). Applied to speaker cabinetry, carbon fiber offers superior rigidity, while the honeycomb core provides against unwanted resonances (similar to the body makeup used on Formula 1 type racing cars). Personally, I found the sharp, minimalist presence of the Blackthorn 1 cabinet attractive. However, any styling limitations one may perceive in cabinetry are well made up for in performance. The pair I was sent was finished in a mirror-like jet black with an automotive-grade paint job. This is a beautiful image, to be sure.

 

 

Drivers
The 5.9" mid-woofer is Eton's Arcosia. Made from a magnesium composite and coated in an olefin film, the Arcosia has superb musical characteristics, maintaining an exceptional tonal balance while helping present a soundstage that is at once immersive and realistic. Eton's 1" tweeter is made of a magnesium composite coated in ceramic. This sandwich is extraordinarily rigid and imparts wonderful detail without a hint of harshness or brightness.

 

 

Crossover
Generally applied, Eton drivers do not require extraordinarily complex crossovers. Using a hybrid second and third-order design in the Blackthorn 1 allows for an otherwise seamless and homogenous transition between tweeter and woofer. ClarityCap CSA capacitors are employed for their ability to deliver an uncolored sound with exceptional detail and nuance. Goertz Copper Foil inductors offer tight tolerances and exceptional quality ensuring a clean and consistent synthesis. Kimber Kable solid copper wiring is used throughout the cabinet, as well as hefty WBT binding posts, capable of accepting all standard connectors.

 

Stands
The monitor stands provided are similar to those I recall at the show within Verdant Audio's room. Constructed of aluminum, these are a simple industrial design of moderate weight, whose cabinet base has a tripod arrangement of 2" x 1/8" depth impressions that accommodate a variety of decoupler disc options. Those I used and recommended by Scott were the IsoAcousticsOrea "Bronze" isolation discs. Floor spikes were also provided to help further decoupling, to which I added my own Herbie's spike pucks. As of this writing, Verdant Audio is in the process of upgrading / redesigning their monitor stand (the Olneya 2).

The two primary modifications will be thicker top and bottom plates, as well as replacing the hollow tube post with a more rigid solid piece of billet aluminum. It will retain the standard mat black powder coat as a standard finish and priced at $1200 per pair. Customization is an option, whereby the cabinet plate can be modified to accommodate any monitor shape and weight, with other colors and finishes available as well.

 

 

Performance
I've enjoyed having these speakers in my home audio toy box now for an exceptionally long review period (going on four months!). My sincere appreciation goes out to Scott for allowing me this window of evaluation. Much of this was a consequence of my teaching and performance calendar, which, as 2020 restrictions began to relax/post-vaccination, slowly began returning to normal mode, which translates to extended travel, coupled with a seven-day week work calendar. Nevertheless, thanks to the wonders of digital playback repeat, I was able to provide the Blackthorn 1 ample seasoning within my dedicated audio system. Further, I was fortunate to have been able to feed them quality power and source material, which I'm certain helped to reveal their fullest potential.

 

 

If I may momentarily inject a thought: From my perspective as a professional musician, the magic and challenge of the audiophile journey is coming as close as possible to documenting the psychoacoustic variables of live performance. All of my personal and review audio pieces are assessed with this end-game in mind, with the core question being: Through the synergistic relationship formed with other mechanical audio pieces, how does piece X help or detract from accurately representing the complete performance experience? Yes, of course, it is a process of ultimately resigning oneself to an illusion, as there is no equal to the live performance aesthetic.

And yet, we participate all the same, as representation through highly-refined audio playback is a fulfilling hobby that provides deeply personal and engaging experiences. Indeed, like art itself, it represents a deeply personal/psychoacoustic connection that compels us to engage, compelling an internal as well as external identity.

So then, in the quest for that sonic hologram, how do the Verdant Audio Blackthorn 1 monitors fare? For starters, they do grab your attention in many ways, but principally through their exceptional balance and presence. Make no mistake from their demure size, these unassuming monitors will pressurize a moderately-sized room with ease. They throw a wide and convincing soundstage with marvelous imaging. I found they benefited from a modest toe-in within my 17' x 14' dedicated listening room, with the ideal being 40" off the front wall (long) wall, 8' spread, at a 112" listening point.

Localization of sources within the soundstage (i.e. sense of scale) was quite accurate. Although the stage depth tended to come off as a bit shallow, the side-to-side placement was wide and true to source. Indeed, an impressive sense of scale overall.

The presentation never became saturated. Music was always well-managed. I particularly enjoyed the Blackthorn 1's ability to retain full information at low-amplitude listening. This I partly attribute to my VAC Statement 450S iQ backing them up. At 84dB efficiency, they will appreciate and return the favor of hefty power, be it solid-state or tube.

 

 

The Blackthorn 1 offers a well-balanced frequency spectrum (in the context of a two-way monitor), with no artificial extension, stridency, or bloat. Crisp transients prevail with a full timbral representation of instrumental sources. Conversely, they present an exceptional reach of lower frequencies, producing tight and well-defined bass/midbass, firm transient definition, and plenty of heft and body. Verdant Audio suggests pairing the Blackthorn 1 with a sealed subwoofer with the crossover set at 60Hz. Upon conversation with Scott and further experimentation with my Velodyne DD10+, I found my situation responded best with the crossover set at 50Hz at a very mild amplitude for a seamless blend.

One can say much when framed in the context of, "For a monitor…" All the same, one will be for want of little beyond what this exceptional speaker can deliver. It will provide all that is behind it. That is to say, to the extent that source, power, and conduits can provide, the Blackthorn 1 will present the best possible reproduction of that cumulative live performance energy.

 

A Few Reference Examples
Charlie Haden / Antonio Forcione Heartplay [180 Gram Vinyl / Naim]
For years, I've been a tremendous fan of both these virtuosic artists for their ability to marry their solo voices with unique amalgams of musical partners. Each has a deep library of collaborations that speak to this: His political activism aside, Haden's dance with liberal open-mindedness via free musical discourse played out boldly throughout his entire career. The duo model, in particular, is a setting well-represented within Haden's opus of recordings. His oft-quoted comment to this fact; "Before music there was silence, and the duet format allows you to build from silence in a very special way," gave credence to joining musical hands with similar open-minded artists such as Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, and Carla Bley.

Italian acoustic guitarist, Antonio Forcione, has often integrated his voice with those of middle eastern, north/east African, and Mediterranean sonic flavors. His collaborations with the likes of percussionist, Adriano Adewale, and kora player/pioneer, Seckou Keita, strive to synthesize similar but otherwise rarely-met musical relationships.

 

 

I found this particular reference recording to be a perfect sonic canvas to assess the Blackthorn 1's frequency and timbral control, without segregating or isolating these musical values from each other. Haden's sound is tactile, yet heard organically and felt visceral. One of the things I admire most about Haden's performance is his innovative sense of harmonic exploration while well-anchored rhythmically. In a path carried forward in true Mingus-esque style, Haden's character is well-delivered through the Blackthorn 1. Tracks like "For Turnya" are heard with all the harmonic complexity and timbral coarseness Haden creates. Similarly, Forcione's connection with his guitar is as soulful as it comes, the dialogue between the two seemingly unfolding in real-time ten feet in front of me, each engaging with the other in a manner that the Blackthorn 1 diminish nothing from the reality of the moment.

 

 

Jeff Hamilton Trio The Best Things Happen [CD/Azica]
"Moonbird"& "C Jam Blues" are two great reference standards for Jeff's brushwork artistry and effective drum kit mic-ing techniques. If you want to know what your audio system can do at low amplitude listening, check these tracks out. Above all, Jeff knows how to swing… anything. I've had the delight of chatting with him over a beer at a recent Percussive Arts Society International Conference in Indianapolis and watched in awe as he converted a copy of the conference program and the table itself into makeshift drums by whipping out a pair of brushes to play "Salt/Peanuts," as in the infamous YouTube duet performed with Journey's, Steve Smith.

Enjoying The Best Things Happen, the Blackthorn 1 helps the listening experience move beyond listening to feeling tactile elements of the swing, from the feathered bass, to the placement of the stick on the ride, to that just right laid back walking line in the double bass. This was also a great reference to experience the expanse of stage width, and source imagery, which was both spot-on.

 

 

Bruce Hornsby Harbor Lights [RCA Vinyl LP]
This reference has traditionally leaned ever so slightly to the warm side in my library. As presented through the Blackthorn 1, perhaps even a bit more so. However, not in a dull sense, just the overall backdrop tenor seemed slightly warmer. Here's a moment I would have enjoyed A/B-ing with the "Silver Reference" upgrades.

This 1993 release was the first without "The Range," and, with the exception perhaps to the fifth track, "Fields of Gray," really broke loose of the pop shoestrings that, IMHO, tended to tie down Hornsby's amazing virtuosity, both in performance as well as compositions. His choice of guest bandmates had as much to do with this, guests such as Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Jerry Garcia, who collectively were given ample musical room to stretch out and feed off of one another in an otherwise improvisational, jazz-like setting (For further study, I highly recommend his 2007 project, Camp Meeting, with Jack DeJohnette and Christian McBride).

The overall mix of this recording is quite hot, with a fairly forward balance, but otherwise good dispersion side-side. The opening title track, "Harbor Lights," in particular, really tests the Blackthorn 1's ability to tame saturation in the mid-bass and bass frequencies, which it does with aplomb. There's enough groove, attitude, and personality in these tunes to keep any crowd in perpetual motion for days on-end, and the Blackthorn 1 doesn't miss a step. They expanded the walls of my listening room and opened the ceiling without issue. Quite an aural illusion for such small speakers!

 

 

Coda
As I came to learn through my earlier review process of the Art Audio Quartets, working with Scott Bierfeldt is indeed a pleasure. Discussions / advice on all things audio will produce tremendous satisfaction in expanded knowledge, friendship, and acquired resource. In short, you will not be disappointed connecting with Scott, be it regarding the Verdant Audio Blackthorn 1 monitors, or any high-end product Verdant Audio represents.

There are a few developments in the pipeline for the Verdant Audio speaker line that bears note. In addition to the monitor stand improvements mentioned previously, these include:

A crossover redesign for the two Bambusa models.

A new monitor design that will feature a simple, first-order crossover and low (~1000Hz) crossover point.

Full-range floorstanding versions of both the Nightshade 1 and Blackthorn 1. Experimentations with bass reflex, transmission line, and isobaric designs are ongoing. There is intent to have a prototype ready for the 2021 shows this Fall.

Continued research and experimentation with 3D printed cabinet and bracing designs.

 

 

The above suggest an ongoing commitment to growth and innovation in high-end audio, whose objective remains focused on developing speakers that deliver extraordinary listening experiences. One can of course argue the perspective and attainability of a $6000 to $10,000 speaker budget relative to the average audiophile consumer. Perhaps more relevant however is to note the impressive and over-achieving musical presentation offered within the context of this price range.

As the flagship model, the Blackthorn 1 is truly an over-achieving monitor design, offering a massive and articulated stage to musical performance well beyond its modest size.

With the integration of a fine subwoofer, they offer an amazingly full-range presentation with fantastic imaging, rivaling my Daedalus Athena v.2 full-range reference speakers. Anyone seriously considering monitors that will serve a variety of high fidelity applications (and even those who thought a monitor would not be enough) should make every effort to audition these fine speakers. Highly recommended!

 

 

 

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: Two-way monitor speaker
Tweeter: 1" Tweeter (25mm), ceramic magnesium composite dome

Frequency Response:
    60Hz to 18.7 kHz (+/-3dB)
    51 Hz to 19.1 kHz (+/-6dB)
    43 Hz to 20.0 kHz (+/-10dB)

Dimensions: 8.5" x 15" x 11" (WxHxD)
Weight: 12 lbs per cabinet
Finishes: Jet black, wood veneer, and clear coat carbon fiber
Price: $9999, with their Silver Reference upgrade being +$2500

 

 

 

Company Information
Verdant Audio, Inc.
120 York St
Jersey City, NJ 07302

Voice: 475-350-9876 
E-mail: info@verdantaudio.com
Website: VerdantAudio.com
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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