Product: Aurousal VS loudspeaker
Manufacturer: Aurousal - UK
Cost: £1650 (YMMV)
Reviewer: Maarten van Casteren - TNT UK
Reviewed: June 2009
Aurousal is a small, UK based company building loudspeakers using the Jordan full-range drivers. See the TNT interview with Ted Jordan. I did review the Aurousal A1 speakers last year, and I liked them, even if I also thought they were too bass light. Kevin Warne from Aurousal did agree that his speakers would benefit from a bit more bass and has recently introduced two new models. The first one is an upgraded version of the A1, the A1 Mk2, and the second speaker is a completely new floorstanding design, the Aurousal VS. I was mostly interested in the VS, to be honest, but when Kevin delivered them he did also bring a pair of the A1 Mk2 speakers for me to try. I'm glad he did.
In general the use of a single, full-range driver instead of several drivers has some clear advantages, and some potential problems. One advantage is that all the sound comes from the same source while in a normal speaker the bass and treble will come from different locations. Just as important is the absence of a cross-over, which always introduces phase shifts and other problems. The result is a speaker that doesn’t smear transients like most traditional speakers. The main disadvantage is that it is extremely difficult to cover the whole frequency range with a single driver, so inevitably the deepest bass and/or the top end will suffer. The success of a single driver design depends, obviously, on maximising the advantages without exposing the problems too much.
Let's start with the A1 Mk2's then. They look identical to the originals and use the same Jordan JX92S full range driver in the same front-ported cabinet. The only difference with the original A1's is a simple filter, consisting of a single inductor, which boosts the bass. It actually is a baffle step filter which compensates for the fact that speakers throw sound in a full sphere below a certain frequency, and in a semi-sphere above. But the effect is the same: stronger bass. I do have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this as I feared that boosting the bass would increase the cone's extension and perhaps increasing the hardness that I remembered the A1 showed when pushed too hard. But I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the Mk2's in my system. The bass is now a lot stronger and the speaker is much more balanced and substantial this way. And it still goes loud enough for my taste. Actually, this now is a very good speaker for a small room like mine, period. It still has that magnificent midrange and the excellent soundstage, so the improvement seems to have come without any significant sacrifices elsewhere. Sadly, the price has gone up, but it still is good enough value, being one of the most affordable single driver speakers on the market, so if that is your cup of tea then this speaker is very highly recommended. Actually, even if single driver speakers aren't your thing this speaker is worth auditioning, provided your room isn't too big and you're not a hard-rock fan. I compared them to the similarly priced XTZ 33.36 floorstanders and the little A1 Mk2 beat the big, impressive looking XTZ with embarrassing ease. The XTZ’s produced sound while the Aurousals made music. Great stuff for such a humble, simple speaker.
The floorstanding VS is a very different animal. It still uses the Jordan driver, but now utilises two per speaker and adds a super tweeter for good measure. This now disqualifies it from being a pure single driver design, but since the two main speakers are used in full range mode it still has all the potential advantages, like the absence of a cross-over and fine temporal alignment. The floorstanding cabinet is quite high and contains a quarter wave transmission line to boost the bass. In addition to that it also uses the same baffle step filter like the one in the A1 Mk2. This means that the frequency range has been extended in both directions and the double drivers should improve dynamics too. On paper all the weaker points of the smaller A1 have been addressed, so expectation was high indeed.
The super tweeter has a volume control at the back, and can even be switched off completely. Kevin recommended a medium setting, and that indeed worked best for me. Immediately it is clear that this is a more capable speaker than the A1 Mk2. The smaller speaker is excellent, but the VS simply betters it in virtually every respect. Obviously there's more and deeper bass, and this really helps to give some additional weight to the presentation. They are still a bit lighter than my own Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk2 speakers, but only by a small margin. The top end is slightly better than the A1's too, with more extension and a bit more fine detail. The overall sound is more refined than the A1 Mk2, in spite of a slight hint of nasality. Volume wise I had no problems at all in my room, but I don't play very loud and my room is only about 20 square meters.
Kevin set these up initially, and his preferred way of using these speakers is to put them very far apart, quite close to the wall and with enormous toe-in. The speakers were about 2.5 meters apart, less than 30 cm from the back wall, with the centre axes crossing about a meter in front of them! This certainly isn't a standard setup, but I have to admit that it sounded quite good. Imaging is excellent this way, and the sound is very sweet and spacious. After he left I experimented a bit more and actually ended up placing them in approximately the same locations as my Dynaudios. Positioned like this they sound more conventional and certainly more direct than in Kevin's locations. I have to say that I preferred them in this setup, but that might just be because it makes comparing them to other speakers easier. Call it reviewer’s bias. They did work very well in both locations.
Voices, piano and drums are really magical through these speakers. Voices work well because of the clean, tonally correct and transparent midrange. Drums and piano are great because of the absence of smearing in the time domain. A piano chord is really reproduced as a set of separate notes, melting together. The presentation is very natural and convincing, especially with smaller groups of musicians: these speakers do struggle a bit with big orchestra, or hard rock, but still manage well enough for the occasional CD. If your heroes are von Karajan or Metallica you might want to look elsewhere for your new speakers. But if you like Ella Fitzgerald or Miles Davis the Aurousal VSs are just about perfect.
These speakers have a wonderful, natural, non-hifi-ness about them that is extremely pleasant. There's a lot of detail there, especially in the midrange, but it is all presented in a very calm and even way and gets to the essence of the music in an effortless manner. Piano, for example, is powerful and has a strong impact, but can also sound very refined and subtle at the same time. All instruments feel more real and natural because of the coherent way they are being reproduced. And it isn't just the transients, because the Aurousal VS's also are very good at reproducing the tonal properties of instruments. Sometimes the midrange can sound a little bit stark and the top end slightly metallic, but soon you realise that this is more because of the extreme honesty of these speakers and the tonal delicacy and refinement that is on offer is actually quite unusual. It makes you realise that 'resolution' is really more than just plain detail, and that timing and tonality are just as important. Which brings us to rhythm, which is another quality that these speakers excel in. Again, it is that talent for transients and the coherence of the whole picture that does it. Complex rhythms are very easy to follow, and nothing really trips them up. It is only when things are required to be larger than life, like a complete symphony orchestra, that the VS starts to struggle to keep it all under control, and even then only when you turn the volume up. Otherwise there's nothing that really upsets these speakers.
The deepest bass can be a little bit slow. This comes as no surprise, as the two little Jordan drivers need a lot of help from the transmission line and that will never sound as tight as a speaker on its own. I improved the bass slightly by putting a pair of socks in the ports. But, to be honest, it is impressive enough that these speakers do bass at all, and even more that it goes quite deep and is of decent quality, but ultimately a bigger woofer will sound even better. To call the bass weak would be wrong, but it certainly is not in the same league as the midrange. The same could be said of the top-end. It is excellent, but if this is your highest priority you might need to look elsewhere. To my ears the VS speakers sound excellent and I do think that Aurousal have done a very good job. All visitors were really impressed too.
When I compare these to my own Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk2 speakers I have to admit that I wouldn't know which to prefer. They are quite different. The Dynaudios have a more substantial sound and go louder, but the Aurousals sound more refined in the midrange and have this wonderful consistency and realism. They also sound crisper and cleaner overall, unless you turn the volume way up.
Fit and finish of both these speakers are of a very high quality. Both are finished in a fine real wood veneer and feel very solid. The oval grilles of the VS are a little bit fiddly to remove, but that is not an enormous problem as I didn't find they interfered with the sound very much. The A1 mk2 was now supplied in a wood veneer, instead of the piano black that the A1's came in. I have to admit that I prefer the veneer, as the piano black only looks good when completely clean, and scratches very easily.
The A1 Mk2 is a big improvement on the already very good original A1, and can now be recommended without any other restriction than the limited loudness. The VS is a brilliant floorstanding loudspeaker that manages to overcome all the traditional problems of a single driver speaker without loosing any of the advantages. These speakers seem expensive at first sight, but they are well made and use very high quality drivers. Sonically they are worth every penny. The VS's are not just of interest to people looking for a typical single driver speaker. It would really be a big mistake to disqualify them because of that. They can easily compete with conventional 2 or 3 way systems, unless you like, or need, to play very loud. Both models are very highly recommended, even if you're not into single driver loudspeakers.
Maarten's room represented a challenge in setting up the VS so they gave their very best and we noticed a degree of room resonance (around 40Hz) interfering with the very low end which we did not experience in our larger 'test' rooms. This is always a problem when the speaker is producing bass notes lower than the room can really accommodate - the best solution is to bring the speakers forward and partially block the port, as Maarten rightly discovered. In medium to large (and less square) rooms the transmission line quality is tighter and low bass really shines, as discovered in previous reviews (Hi-Fi Choice, What Hi-Fi).
We note lack of mention about imaging, which these speakers have been designed to excel at. Here again there was a room restriction and the result was good, but better can be achieved in a larger room. With these speakers the soundstage width is largely decided by the distance between the speakers and the high degree of toe in cures the slight 'nasality' that Maarten experienced (on-axis response rises slightly to allow for the correct toe-in) and also leads to remarkably focussed instrument positioning.
This cannot be appreciated fully if the distance between speakers is not sufficient. The difference between these and conventional speakers/setup in this respect, is that much less is relied on in artificially expanding the soundstage due to wall reflection of the whole speaker output (a pseudo-surround effect). In contrast to this approach, the Aurousals have capability for pin-point positioning of instruments - the cone profile is specially shaped, like a torch reflector, to provide the stereophonically correct sound dispersion of around 60 degrees over the majority of the frequency range.
© Copyright 2009 Maarten van Casteren - www.tnt-audio.com