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A Solo Performer - the Beauhorn Virtuoso Reference

Back into the Future

[Italian version]

Product: Beauhorn Virtuoso Reference Speaker
Manufacturer: Beauhorn - Thomas Transducers - UK
Approx. Price: 4,130 UK Pound, 6,700 US$ (6,275 Euro)

[The Beauhorn Virtuoso loudspeaker]

We are driving headlong to the close of this century, which has seen the Development of recorded music from Edisons Wax Cylinder to the latest 96/192kHz & 24Bit digital Audio systems.... We have come a long way; have we not?

Actually NO. I am writing here about a Speaker that uses technology that is almost as old as Electrically Amplified reproduction of Music. The Beauhorn Virtuoso Speaker uses one of the very distinctive drivers made by Lowther in England.
Yes, you heard correctly, only ONE Driver. No ordinary driver too. The basic design of all Lowther Full-Range drivers goes right back to a design originated in the 1930's by an expatriate German living in England.

This guy, who went by the name of Paul Voight, more or less invented most of what is used in today's Audio-Systems.... I have a copy of an ancient (1920 or so I believe) Patent. This shows a single-ended Amplifier coupled to Loudspeaker (the electrical Gramophone "trumpets" of the time) with a correction signal being taken from the Loudspeaker and used to reduce the Distortion of the Speaker. Back then (and I believe before Bell Labs Mr. Black) P.G.A. Voight invented Negative Feedback and not only that, he immediately applied it to include the Loudspeaker as well.

P.G.A. Voight did a lot of Work on better Loudspeakers and the result was a family of Dual-Cone Drivers with about 8 inch Diameter, very high sensitivity and wide frequency response.
One of the price's one must pay with such a driver is the need for either electrical Equalisation (throwing away the high sensitivity) or for a hornloaded Bass enclosure.

With that we have a speaker-system that has remained fundamentally unchanged for over 60 Years. The Beauhorn Virtuoso uses exactly this technology.
However, anyone who has ever heard Lowther based Speakers cannot but admit that almost all Lowther based speakers have some serious Problems soundwise. At the same time Lowthers have a certain something that is hard to describe or explain, but which is extremely attractive.

Lowthers seem to bring you closer to the music. MUCH closer. The price to pay is an often tinny balance with often significant peaks in the upper Midrange that can be VERY irritating. So what to do?

Thomas Transducers Designer Eric Thomas asked himself the same question. Lowthers had a certain something that made you come back to them, for all their faults. So, could it be maybe possible to keep the good things of the Lowther sound and reduce the Problems?
Starting in 1992 Mr. Thomas began trying different enclosures, drivers and so on, finally releasing in 1994 the Brio Speaker, a HUGE rear-horn loaded unit using Lowther Drivers.
Continuing research helped not only to reduce the size (today's Virtuoso is half the size of the Brio, still large, but manageable), but also solved some problems about the sound.
Most Lowther based speakers have very heavily folded Horns with many parallel or near parallel surfaces. The resulting slew of internal resonance's tends to severely colour the lower Midrange.

Most Lowther based Speaker also only use a rear horn. If implemented well this works okay, but often Lowthers lack warmth in the lower Midrange, because they lose some efficiency there. The most recent narrow Cabinets used by almost all Lowther based Speakers do not help either.
While they improve looks and imaging, they tend to result in a further loss of lower Midrange Energy. Furthermore all Lowther Cabinets I ever came across are backbreakingly heavy.

Eric Thomas's solutions? Put the Lowther into a front-loaded Horn that then will increase the sensitivity of the lower midrange. Use a relatively short horn in the rear and avoid heavy folding of the rear horn. Use light composite materials to control Vibration and shape the horn.
The last upgrade was a new Phaseplug (the wooden "mushroom" in front of the Driver in the picture above). At this point I found a Press-Release from Thomas Transducer in my E-Mail intray announcing the upgrade.... So I thought, another "we fixed all the problems of the Lowther" Speaker.

After a few e-mail exchanges I had an okay from Eric Thomas that I would be reviewing the new unit.

It's coming - the advent of the Monster

As some of you may know, my living room is relatively small. So would I be able to fit these Speakers? And would they sound good? Well, I was about to find out.

Thomas Transducers makes three different Models of the Virtuoso, the "Bronze", "Gold" and "Reference".
The main difference between these is the Driver and the Phaseplugs, as well as small internal modifications depending upon the Driver used.

The "Bronze" uses Lowthers "entry level" PM6C Driver, a not at all bad sounding unit, but certainly not the Ultimate. As we work our way up drivers get better, with the Reference tooting a pair of Lowthers latest Neodymium Magnet powered DX-3 Driver.
With the better Driver comes more bass and more Detail in the sound and an increase in Sensitivity.

However all that is said here about the Virtuoso Reference fundamentally applies to the whole series of Speakers. Upgrades are possible as well, without a new Box, so if you start out with the Virtuoso Bronze, you can eventually upgrade "in the Field" to the reference....

I was allowed to have a pair of Virtuoso Reference for almost a month. In addition to the Speaker I was supplied with an Amplifier manufactured by Thomas Transducers.
This will be subject to a separate Review, but the Obligato Amplifier is designed to match the Virtuoso Speakers.

The Virtuosos are rather large, but finished beautifully in wood. The Dimensions are an imposing 13 inch Wide, 41 inch High and 26 inch deep (that is 34 cm X 105cm X 67cm for all the Eurocrates who insist on making everything metric).
But as the Speakers MUST be placed as close to room corners as possible (the corner essentially are part of the actual bass horn), they do not really occupy much more space as it would be the case if you had any of the standmounted Speakers or floorstanding Speakers that need to be kept a bit away from the walls.

In my living room, they did not intrude much more than my normal Speakers (DIY Copies of the Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy) normally do. The only problem I encountered was that I had some difficulty reaching certain Records that where on shelves behind the Speakers. With my own Speakers I can walk around them.

Also, due to the arrangement of my living room I could not put the Virtuosos directly into corners, Record/Book shelves being in the way....

Still after an enjoyable afternoon with Eric Thomas and David ..... I got on to optimising the positioning (essentially as close to the corner as possible and with a 45 Degree toe-In) I got down to some serious listening.

Did the Virtuoso play my emotional Keys?

Now, listening to this Speaker is an unusual and somewhat frightening experience. But let me first note what this speaker does wrong.

There is not that much low Bass. It just ain't there. Maybe with a positioning right in the room-corner this would work a little better, but fundamentally, this Speaker has the Bass Extension of a better Mini-Monitor. Then there is also very little high Treble. I can still hear up to nearly 20kHz, so I notice this.
Others have not found this a distraction; I do. Lastly, the Speaker does have some notable Colorations in the Midrange and upper Bass. More on that later.

So if it is a Speaker that has no bass, no treble, a coloured Midrange and upper Bass, what does it do well!? It plays Music.
Never before have I had in my living room such an immense feeling of listening to the Real thing. Never before has my own system been able to communicate, what is in the music so clearly, directly and with such an emotional response.

And that is frightening. How can it be that a Speaker that has a VERY poor technical behaviour, a Speaker that clearly is an ancient and cast off stage of Hifi, a Speaker with major coloration's and frequency response problems, how can it be that such a Speaker manages to make the MUSIC real.
Real in a way that I have not heard from the latest, greatest and best high-tech Speaker made by Wilson Audio, Hales, KEF, B&W and so the list goes.

I think I must explain. I have quite a few very good Classical Recordings, like Karajan on various early DG's on Vinyl, or like a range of Works by Copland played by the Dallas Symphonic Orchestra. I also used to attend regularly symphonic Concerts and still try to make it every now and then. Listening to these recordings on the Virtuosos, the sense of BEING THERE was so strong that I needed to open my eyes to convince myself that I was still in my living room.

Listening to a recording of a Karajan rehearsal of Beethoven's 9th, the whole thing was spooky. Hearing Mr Karajan scolding the Violin player for not getting the timing right AGAIN. It was like being there (I'd love to have been).

Of course, acoustic Jazz and the like is UNBELIEVABLE. Yet, I listen to wide range of Music and during their stay the Virtuosos where worked out with all sorts of Rock Music (try ZZ-Top at full blast with a 300B Single Ended Amplifier - awesome!!!). Even some Goth was played at full tilt. Andrew Eldritch never before sounded so hypnotic....
Sure, the lack of deep bass and the lack of extreme treble had me wishing for Subwoofers and Supertweeter, but rarely. Imaging was VERY good, individual Instruments being a clearly defined pattern on a rich musical tapestry, which never became only a collection of individual sounds, but always a part of a performance. The soundstage was deep, but not as wide as it is the case with my own Speakers.

I can really not answer the Question WHY? I don't know what makes the Virtuosos sound like they do. Maybe it is the lack of the Cross-over. Maybe it is the lack of Distortion. Most conventional Speakers have Distortions of 1% and higher when played at level of 96db at 1m Distance (that is about 85db at a 3m listening distance). Maybe it is the special Way Lowther Drivers are made. Maybe it's the Hornloading of the Driver.
As for the midrange coloration's, well, they are there. But they seem System dependent. With my own 300B Amplifier they where much less notable than with the Beauhorn Obligato Amplifier.
A change of the Phase-Plug on the Lowthers also had dramatic effects. Having played quite a bit with various phase-plugs on the Virtuosos, I think by careful choice (there are at least 2 to 3 different designs that Eric Thomas has handy) you will be able to match the Virtuosos to your Room, Electronics and taste.

On the last and sad day before Eric Thomas took the Speakers away, we tried some added bracing on the rear-horn mouth and found that to improve the Speaker notably. Expect something more to come out of this, possibly soon.

Lastly, the Speaker goes very LOUD with little Power. Using my 12-15W 300B Amplifier flat out clearly overloaded my living-room and my ears.... I think any amplifier with at least a good 3 Watt would be an Ideal combination. But be sure that the Amplifier has a low noise-floor. The Virtuosos show up any background Hum or Hiss mercilessly....

As usual - my conclusion

Should you buy this Speaker? Well, it is not a Speaker with a broad appeal. Certainly Bass-friends will find it lacking, as will audiophiles who have become too accustomed to the "low coloration, low impact, low excitement" sound, so often produced by today's HiFi Systems. If your mainstay of Music is rock the lack specifically at the lower end will prove and obstacle.

If you like to listen to well-recorded Classical and Jazz, these Speakers might be your ticket. My friend Jon (who has self confessed been listening to Lowthers "on and off" for the last 30 Years) thinks that these are the best Lowthers he has ever heard.
So do I, with the possible exception of massively expensive (18,000 UK Pound) Carfrae Horn. Coupled with a single-ended valve Amplifier of modest power but VERY HIGH quality, this Speaker can be the ultimate in REPRODUCING the original Event.

On the Amplifier front, the moderately expensive (2,000 UK Pound) Beauhorn Obligato Amplifier is a good match. However, in my opinion, the Virtuoso Reference deserves a better Amplifier. The Wavelength Triton with a 2A3 Output Valve, the SJS Arcadia, the Audio Note Neiro, the Audio Note Bansaru or the Border Patrol 300B units come to mind.

A last note, the Virtuoso if Exported to the US for example will allow the VAT (Viciously Added Tax) mandatory in Europe to be taken off, which is pretty much enough to cover the shipping.

I myself, I have now on longer term loan a pair of used Virtuosos Gold Speakers from Eric. I might even buy them, if I find the money. Having gone back to my own Speakers (Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy Clones) for a while, just see how it is, I cannot wait to put the Virtuosos back.
They may be big, coloured and lacking in Bass and Treble, but for me at least they are the currently best solution to enjoy music.

The System

The Virtuoso Reference were auditioned in my own System consisting of:

Other Equipment at hand included the Obligato El-34 SE Amplifier as well as a Marantz PM-66SE (modified). A Pioneer DV-505 DVD Players was used as CD-Source.

© Copyright 1999 Thorsten Loesch - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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