Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 Loudspeaker Review
An odd thing happened over the last year or so from 2020 through mid-2021. We changed how the world worked in many different ways, and the audio industry was no exception. All public shows, either public or trade-only, were canceled, put on hold, or made virtual. Companies could no longer debut their latest creations, exhibit their upcoming technologies, or garner interest in new ideas as they had in the past. Yet despite these challenges, the industry continued to produce new products, create new and improved components and speakers. One of these new speaker systems was destined to end up in my listening room right at the end of last year, as luck would have it. My review of the impressive Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 loudspeaker is below.
Heavenly Soundworks And The FIVE17
Kevin Couch shared his love of sound and his want to reproduce it as perfectly and pristinely as possible with his son Jonathan. Kevin, his background in machine maintenance, and Jonathan, his industrial design and product development experience, built speakers and DIY projects. Eventually, they decided to take things a step further and forge ahead into uncharted territory, forming Heavenly Soundworks to produce commercial products.
They started their journey building a passive loudspeaker. It made perfect sense to Kevin and Jonathan since everything they had built up to that point had been traditional. However, after spending a great deal of time sourcing drivers and designing crossovers to match, they learned quickly that things were not as they claimed. Drivers did not always meet their specifications. Therefore they faced a challenge when designing passive crossovers. According to Jonathan, "Using passive crossovers was archaic, as you could never achieve what is possible with digital crossovers. Creating perfect crossovers is nearly impossible." It afforded them the ability to make the precise driver corrections they needed and give a consistent and reproducible sound quality.
Ultimately this change to active technology formed the foundation upon which they built the FIVE17. Heavenly Soundworks' FIVE17 is a three-way loudspeaker system. The FIVE17 consists of several types of drivers, DSP, and digital amplification. The tweeter is a 1" soft-dome and has a neodymium motor, ferrofluid cooling, and a rear-mounted heatsink. The midrange driver is a 3.5" aluminum alloy with a neodymium motor and a four-layer, underhung voice coil. The bass is a long-excursion 5" woofer that has a four-layer voice coil and wide roll surround. Finally, to augment the sound, there are two 8", high-excursion passive radiators, one mounted low on each side panel.
Inside, the FIVE17 speakers are powered by a Hypex NCore FA123 amplifier that supplies 125W RMS to each woofer and midrange. It also provides 100W RMS to the tweeter. These speakers include a digital amplifier and a digital signal processor module (DSP) as well. This DSP is used to implement their active crossover and other filters such as time alignment and equalization. Finally, the DSP is used to implement one of three loudness presets.
Preset 1: Pure Signal (critical listening at higher volumes of >80dB).
Preset 2: Equal Loudness Setting 1 (mid-70dB to low 80dB).
Preset 3: Equal Loudness Setting 2 (lower volumes up to the mid-70 dB).
The Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 is available in three different finishes Zebrawood, Rosewood, and Ebony. The review sample we received was Rosewood, and it was simply beautiful. The imitation leather and wood blended together to create a modern-looking speaker that did not overpower the room. Instead, they gave a certain amount of flair to its environment. The FIVE17 does not come with grills, but they are available if you request them, should you feel the exposed drivers detract from their visual appeal.
The addition of the stands, once the review sample was available, was an absolute winner. They are built with the same materials as the speakers and match the speaker's design and color. Luckily they also were designed with performance in mind. While they are visually attractive, they also provide a stable platform that can be further enhanced by filling them with either sand or leadshot.
Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 Speaker Setup
The back of each speaker looks like the cross between a preamplifier and an amplifier. Each has a pair of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analog inputs. They also have two pairs each of balanced (AES) and unbalanced (S/PDIF) digital connections, one for input and one for throughput. There is also a TosLink optical input to round out the digital inputs. An LED indicator and button, which cycles through the presets or held longer, will indicate which channel the speaker is programmed to represent for digital signals. The final elements on the back are an IEC socket and a power switch on the back of each speaker.
Placing the speakers atop my speaker stands was easy. They were well balanced and did not require any special mounting or materials. Also, I found that they were straightforward to place and required minimal adjustment, with only a little bit of toe-in required. This in itself is a pleasure as sometimes smaller speakers, especially ones with side radiators, can need a bit more finesse when trying to place them correctly.
This is where the Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17s swiftly diverged from the traditional speaker setup. First, both speakers are connected to each other by a S/PDIF cable connecting the primary to the secondary. See, told you that the primary speaker would come in. The company provides a S/PDIF cable, but you can use your own, should you wish. You might find that changing this to the same one you utilize for your digital connection will improve your performance, it did in this review, rather substantially.
Once the speakers are connected, you follow two different patterns: digital sources and analog ones. The digital source pattern is quite simple. Your digital sources are made with the left or primary speaker. This is because the signal is carried from one speaker to the other through the S/PDIF output connection. The throughput is meant to pass the digital signal to another component, such as a DAC.
The analog pattern is slightly different. It follows the same approach as one would follow when utilizing monoblock amplifiers. That is essentially what you are using, after all. The analog inputs are connected to the left and right speakers, respectively. The last step is connecting either the company-supplied power cord or your own. Again, utilizing better power cords did improve performance considerably. If you are going to invest in these speakers, you should highly consider it.
After all the connections were finally made, it was time to turn on the speakers. It is essential to turn them on in the correct order. The right one goes on first, followed by the left. They misbehave when they do not get their way. It happened once when things were being moved around, and it took a few minutes to figure out why things were not working correctly.
One final thing to note when setting up this speaker system is there are two different ways to set up analog inputs. While neither of them requires a rewiring, they will cause issues if you are not vigilant. The difference has to do with how the volume is controlled. Unlike digital sources that utilize the speakers' volume control, analog sources can be controlled with either the speakers or the source. However, maintaining the analog input at the source requires setting the speaker at a reference level, which remains fixed even if a digital source becomes active during playback. The result would be extremely high sound levels until it was turned down with the speaker remote control.
The speakers were finally put to rest for a time once everything was finally set up. Though they have an inactivity timer built-in, the CXN remained streaming music throughout the 200 hour break-in period. Heavenly Soundworks does break the FIVE17 speakers in as part of their shipping process. Still, over time it has become standard practice to give everything the same amount of time to settle into the system. Sometimes even with factory break-in, things tend to change. Even within your system, the extra time can mean the difference between liking and loving a component, cable, or speaker. It is something highly recommended, even if it isn't quite as long. Luckily time went fast, and it was finally time to put the Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 speakers through their paces.
The Workout And Results
Another thing that caught my attention during the first selection was the amount of bass coming from this relatively tiny enclosure. Mini monitors tend to be somewhat anemic when it comes to bass, even ones with a woofer. There is absolutely no shortage of controlled, effortless harmonics that begin well below hearing and extend seamlessly into the midrange. It is a testament to the ability that is bestowed to the system by the DSP. The Couches should be commended for their efforts because it is one of the most successful efforts that I've encountered in quite some time.
The second track is another favorite to test and seemingly appropriate for this review as well, "Welcome to the Machine." These speakers really are like a well-oiled machine. They seem to work exceptionally well as a stereo pair one might expect, and this track gives a great example of that in play. The selection starts as music is being passed from one speaker to the other. It grows more complex. When you close your eyes, thanks to the speakers' ability to separate the channels and build a lifelike sound stage, the room disappears, replaced by a different world. A world the artist intended you to experience.
Days went by, and the number of albums continued to increase. Each one seemed to bring with it a different experience. The next notable one was Arne Domnerus's Jazz at the Pawnshop [FIM SACD M 034]. This live album has all the elements that make jazz tremendous and so hard to reproduce. The instrumentals are challenging to capture. Their sounds tend to lose their lifelike quality. It quickly collapses into the meaningless morass of sound on many systems. Luckily the FIVE17 does not suffer from the same fault as these systems. They can handle the difficult transitions and separations.
One of my favorite tracks, "Barbados," has a little bit of all the instruments. It does a beautiful job of highlighting the speakers' ability to create an open soundstage and fill it with sound as well. The music is perfectly balanced, and the instruments are detailed enough to hear their attack and decay with ease. The only complaint that can be found, in my opinion, is that you cannot quite pinpoint each instrument as well as you might in other systems. This is perhaps due to the amount of dispersion you get with them, which allows for a fairly wide sweet spot rather than having to sit in that one place on your couch. It is not so pronounced that it is a game-changer in my mind, but it does exist.
Once the speakers had settled in and I'd grown accustomed to them, it was time to shake things up a bit. The first thing was to try some analog versus digital music. While there was no incredible amount of time spent here, one album did stand out above Patricia Barber's Café Blue [Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2002]. I'll admit that Mobile Fidelity has always had a place in my heart. They have rarely produced an album that was not up to par, but this particular one was one of my favorites. Also, the album comes in several formats, and it is exceptional in both digital and analog reproduced from the SACD layer. So, to make a comparison, I replaced the Cambridge Audio streamer with an OPPO 205 Bluray player for the purposes of this part of the review.
The selection used was track seven, "Inchworm." My first pass was with the standard resolution CD digital layer. Patricia's voice was highly detailed and sounded sultry with a silkiness that seems to pull you in the more you listen. You could hear the breath and almost feel her presence as she uttered the words. The instruments just seemed to fit into place and made the whole selection fill with a brightness all its own.
Switching from the digital version to the analog one changed the dynamics substantially. Although both were impressive, the analog version did not seem to have as much detail, even though it came from a source with arguably more resolution. Each source was lifelike and captured my attention. Still, the digital version seemed more controlled and had a better-formed soundstage. Perhaps this is due to the analog source going through an additional conversion process. The amps are digital, so the analog source needs to be converted to digital before it can be amplified.
Regardless of the reason, several things became apparent after that test and several trials afterward. First, when using analog sources, my personal preference was utilizing the volume on the analog component or preamp. While there was nothing wrong with the one on the speakers, it was a digital volume which degraded, however slightly the sound quality. Second, the speakers themselves craved high-resolution material; in fact, the higher, the better. Although the upper limit for the digital inputs is a reasonably low 24-bit/192kHz. Finally, the volume did seem to affect the speakers' performance, which is perhaps where one of the most fantastic features of the speakers comes in, the speaker's presets.
One of the most exciting features included with these speakers is three loudness presets. I usually do not get excited about features that change the way music sounds. Any change to the sound is an invasion in my mind. However, the purpose of the presets is to level out the loudness curve and provide a better listening experience. Indeed, when you are critically listening to the correct levels, these curves are likely not necessary. Still, if you are like many people, you are listening to your sources at a level either too high or too low, and these can help balance them out.
The second preset is intended to be used at volume levels between the mid-70s and low 80s. That is primarily where most people are supposedly listening to their music. When first engaged, the change is almost instantaneous, meaning that you can hear the difference without even trying. Things become more apparent and more pronounced in the lower mid-range to upper bass. Everything is slightly richer and casts less of a shadow over everything else. However, it seems to work, as they claim, within a very narrow range of volume. Once you go above or below that range, its effectiveness fades, and in some cases, it does the opposite.
The third preset, like the second, is also specifically designed for use between certain volume levels. This one is for lower volumes up to the mid-70 dBs. Again, like the second one, it does something similar and brings out the lower mid-range and upper bass. It allows the listener to enjoy selections such as orchestral music at lower volumes without sacrifice, which is a plus considering the wide range of this type of music.
Accompanying these stellar speakers, one would think, would be an equally impressive remote, but unfortunately, that is not the case. The Heavenly Soundworks did a decent job of laying out the remote, but sadly that is where things stopped. The small, thick plastic remote is unlit, needs to be pointed precisely at the IR receiver, and does not allow you to select sources directly. It gets the job done, but just barely, and with everything else the FIVE17s represent, it is a shame that the weakest link is the ability to control them.
The Final Say
Their operation is straightforward and very consistent. The FIVE17s crave detail and overall perform best with high-resolution digital material. The presets were impressive, and the ability to listen to the material at lower levels was a nice fundamental feature. In the end, I still preferred the pure signal first preset for most material. Hopefully, this will continue to improve over time with later revisions.
The sound is impressive and stands out as one of the best examples of digital speakers to date that I've auditioned. Their ability to reproduce bass, especially in a mini-monitor, is beyond impressive. Heavenly Soundworks did a great job of combining a DSP, DAC, and digital amplifier into a tiny package and making it both visually appealing and functionally sound. The stands are another example of their ability to create a beautiful speaker that is equally form and function.
Sadly not everything about the FIVE17 is perfect. The remote is a severe letdown. Unlike the speakers themselves, the remote is not overly functional or has the feel of a luxury item. It will control the speakers only if your point is precisely in the right place, but it certainly will stand out against any high-end remote you might own. It cannot switch directly to a specific source, so even if you wanted to use the analog configuration, you would have to cycle through the digital ones. You would have to also select a specific source disabling the automatic signal detection and effectively turning off the automatic turn-on for the speakers for all but the current source. Again these speakers offer more flexibility than you can imagine.
At $10,000, plus another $1000 for the stands, these speakers just are not in everyone's price range. That, coupled with the fact that they perform better with digital material than analog, places them in a very niche market. However, even though they did serve better on digital material, you shouldn't rule them out if you are looking for an all-in-one solution.
The bottom line the Heavenly Soundworks FIVE17 speakers are very unique. If you can afford them, you should certainly give them a listen. Their special features and functions might be just the ones you needed. The performance in the right environment, especially with higher resolution material, is the best this reviewer has heard to date. You will not be disappointed.
Power To Each Driver
Amplification: Three Class D amplifiers with NCore technology
Max Output SPL @ 1 Meter (with musical source)
Weight: 24 lbs. each