Equipment Review No. 2 November 2003
SRP: $2,395 (standard black satin lacquer finish).
Jean-Marie Reynaud, Zone Industrielle de Font
Close, 16300 Barbezieux - France. www.jm-reynaud.com
US Importer: Fanfare International
500 E. 77th Street, Suite 2923
NY, NY 10162.
Intro. I was thinking that this may have been the first French product ever reviewed in Bound for Sound. I did a CD player about 14 years ago that may have been French, but that's far too long ago for me to accurately remember where it was from. Then I remembered that many moons ago I reviewed a couple of speakers from JM Labs. They were good speakers,speakers we obtained before the company became the darling of the American press. There's a reason the JM Labs have become such favorites in the States; in addition to all the advertising dollars they have spent, they, for the most part, sound like American speakers. The Jean-Marie Reynaud speakers don't sound American, they sound European, a subject I'll broach later in this article.
I've attempted to obtain French gear in the past, most memorably some digital equipment and a power amplifier from Micromega. At least from them, all I can say is promises, promises.... When will manufacturers realize that I'm much less likely to feel put-off if I'm told the truth up front about a product loan. All the lying about sending equipmentthat some manufacturers are prone to simply makes me dislike them, or, at least not trust them. As far as I'm concerned, a manufacturer would be better off just saying "We don't want a review in Bound for Sound" and leave it at that. Maybe some day I should write about all the promises made to us regarding equipment for review that have not been kept by "well meaning" manufacturers.
Which was certainly not the case with these speakers from Jean-Marie Reynaud (jmr). After talking to Victor at Fanfare International, the speakers arrived within a matter of a week or two. Promise made, promise kept. Says something about the importer too. The Trente loudspeakers are beautiful two driver loudspeakers that require a pedestal for proper listening. As of just a few months ago, Jean-Marie Reynaud made a specially designed stand for the Trente called the Magic Stand; a unique "Helmholtz resonator" pedestal, it's purpose being to extend the low frequency response of the Trente (or any speaker put upon it). Unfortunately, from what the importer tells me, the speaker stand is no longer available from France (or any where else). A pity, for all reports on the Trente in the European press indicate that the speaker
benefited mightily by their use. Victor has hopes of reviving the stand on his own, and I wish him well in doing so.
Tale of the tape. The Trente has two drivers, a 6.5" woofer and a 1.1" freestanding tweeter (see picture). The crossover is described as a three way, leaving one to contemplate where the third driver has been hidden. There is no third driver in spite of there being crossover points at 1200 Hz and 3,800 Hz with 6 and 12 dB attenuation rates. The trick here appears to be the use of a double magnet system on the woofer; each magnet being treated like an independent driver. Unlike most speaker crossovers, the filters here are in series. Well, not exactly; themidrange/treble crossover is a series type. Which leaves us with a parallel configuration for the crossover at 1200 Hz. Bass loading is via a "tuned triangular transmission line" lacking internal parallel sides. The woofer has an aerogel cone treated with viscoelastic resins (though I can't say I've ever seen an aerogel cone that looks like this one - must be the resins). The polymide tweeter is eye catching, not only for being free mounted on the top of the enclosure, but for the gold "anti vortex" phase plug at its center and the quasi horn loading. Significantly, the entire cabinet is made of real wood of medium hardness. In the past, it has been the Italians that understood the importance of "wood" enclosures. Apparently, jmr gets it too. Stated efficiency is 88 db/one meter. Impedance 4 Ohms. Size is: 20" x 8" x 10.5" (HWD).
Set-up. The Trente was designed to play on a particular stand. As stated above, that stand no longer exists. Fortunately, I have on hand a pair of trusty Sound Anchors that have served me well for more than a decade. On the Sound Anchors the center of the tweeters (the anti-vortex) is exactly 39" from the floor. I had to bring the Trentes in a closer together than is generally the case in my room, otherwise it was left, right and a recessed center. Right now, I have the centers of the tweeters exactly 77.5" apart. Since the Trente is a 4 Ohm design, one needs an amplifier capable of driving a low impedance loudspeaker of medium efficiency. Because this speaker is of modest size and employs only two drivers, its load is much less demanding than that of the 4 Ohm VMPS RM40 even though the RM40 is more efficient. Consequently, this a pretty easy to drive speaker, though I can envision it giving some tube amps fits just because of the nature of its impedance. No solid state amp worth its weight in silicon should have any problem whatsoever. I don't know how long these speakers take to break-in. The pair I received had some hours on them when they arrived (Victor had been using them). For me, they were basically plug-in and play, the speakers maintaining a very even sonic character their entire stay.
Sonics. I've avoided 2-way bookshelf speakers for quite a while. I know there are good ones around, and I keep a couple of pairs of different brands here for the purposes of portable musicality. But I make no bones about it, I like full range speakers capable of moving serious air. To wit; I've been listening to the VMPS RM40 and Silverline La Folia a lot during the last twelve months with amps of all kinds. Stepping down to "little room" speakers hasn't seemed all that attractive....not when I'm having so much fun with the "real" speakers already on hand. But the Trente made a very good impression on me at the latest CES, and it's good to switch gears every so often just to keep the ears in tune. During this evaluation I felt the need to maintain a perspective on the sonics of the Trente by the use of comparison listening with another bookshelf 2-way that I knew well and respected. Out of retirement came the Silverline SR 17s. A few wipes with a handi-cloth had them ready for a play, though a few days in the Big Rig was required to assure their best sound.
A European Heritage. There really is a difference in how things are made in the US and in Europe. I'm not including England so much in this analogy, as I am France, Italy and Germany. These speakers are from France, and as corny as this may sound, there is something "old world" in their sound and construction. Contrasting that with the USA made 2-ways that I have on hand, i.e., the Silverline SR 17, the Merlin TSM and the Speaker Art Super Clef, the jmr Trente is delicate and superbly refined. It's like this to me. The American loudspeakers seem to have a robust drive to them wherein they emphasize one or two of the more important aspects of the design (generally something big and ear catching associated with dynamics). That's done by taking design principals deemed important to Western designers (and ears), then taking those principals to the extreme (or at least its logical limit for the price point), while not developing as completely other aspects of the work which are not deemed as important (taking those other not so necessary attributes only as far "as need be"). There is a "thrust" to a design like that which is able to focus most aspects of the sound on just a few important parameters which have been done incredibly well. It's a "get this right, and everything else will fall into place" mentality. Whichisn't bad at all if everything else does indeed fall into place.
Many of the European pieces that I've seen appear to apply a different means to the goal. Is the European means to the end approach better than that employed here in the States? Not really, not as far as I can see. It's still an implementation thing, depending on the designer's overall objectives, all resulting from a different understanding of how to do things right. The better European components that I've seen, including the Trente, tend to view the entire product more as a whole, a single entity wherein all the parts have to come together in a balance where no aspect of the design predominates over the rest of the design. More attention seems to be given to little things like the material used in the cabinet, things like that. Think of the above difference in terms of cars. A red blooded American car tends to be first and foremost - powerful. It was true of the muscle cars of the 60's and 70's. Lots of power, but, how did they handle? Not so good. Same today. The Dodge Viper is one of the most powerful cars ever made, drenched with torque and tire burning acceleration. However, it's also known for its less than outstanding handling. The Porsche 911 on the other hand has less displacement and less power, its power plant being dependent on a turbo to do what the Viper does easily and naturally. But the Porsche handles much better than the Viper in spite of having less disposable power and torque. Realize that both products can do well what the other excels at, but the emphasis with the Viper is on gut wrenching power, where the Porsche depends on a more balanced approach to the entire driving experience. Audio can be like that. Me? I like Vipers.
So, I'm listening to the Trentes regularly. My system was a mess when the speakers arrived, and getting everything ship-shape took awhile. I went back and forth between the SR 17 and the Trente as part of the process used to resurrect the sound quality of the Big Rig while adjusting it to the very different requirements of small loudspeakers. It was during this going back and forth process, and while listening to a disc by Audioslave that the distinctionbetween the speaker types made its presence felt.
Debussy ain't exactly Audioslave. In my show report this last year, I noted how wonderful and sweet these speakers sounded on the classical fair Victor played for me in his exhibit. I ended up that section of the report by wondering how these speakers would do with some rock music. I'm the guy that looks for the fly in the ointment, and then thinks it's funny when I find it. I like to observe peoples faces when I say something outrageous. So, it was only natural that I give Victor a tweak to see how he would respond....he didn't. One of the personables that work for him did however, informing me that he liked 70's rock as much as I did and that the Trente would not disappoint.
The Trente works well with rock music, especially rock music that has acoustic elements within it. This speaker has such a savvy way with harmonics, textures and transient snaps that any natural, non-electronic sound oozes life all over the listening room. Maybe it's because the speaker has a real wood cabinet, and not one made of wood-like material, glue and petro-chemicals. A cabinet made of various hardwood materials helps the Trente take on the quality and character of non-electrified instruments. Maybe it's a more natural way of doing things. After all, everything resonates even MDF. If something has to resonate, perhaps the ear gravitates and likes the resonance that sounds more like wood, rather than glue and wood chips.
Still, the speaker is not overly polite, it's capable of some fine bite when called upon. And even without the Magic Stands, which were intended to fill out the bass, the speaker goes deeper than the SR 17, though marginally so. This dimension of the sound, in my estimation, is more one of box size than anything else. The Trente has a fairly large cabinet and its internal volume is definitely larger than the Silverline's. Therefore, it goes deeper and is less tight than the SR 17. It's still quick, however, above the lowest bass (the Trente having a low bass bump that can be a smidge wooly). This speaker is about nuance, timbres, sonic relationships, intimacy with the music, communication; all those things needed to create the privacy of a warm audio nest. But, were it only those things it would getboring, would it not?
I just finished the California Guitar Trio's Heart of the Sunrise off of the "CGT With Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto" album. Fast, full and tonally correct - great music. Acoustic guitars are wonderful tests of a speakers ability to snap and fill. Strings and box must play in unison, one not overpowering the other. The Trente captured a nice balance between strings and box, though I would say that tone and harmonics had a slight advantage over action. The next CD I put on sounded even better, that being, Camille Saint-Seans', Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor. In addition to the superb natural tonality, the progression of the music took on its own essence - a very fluid movement forward 1. Because classical music tends not to be as intimate as three acoustic guitars in a semi-circle (seating and mic placement assures that), tone and harmonics tend to be more important than snap and action especially with the long strings. It's the tweeter in this design that makes sure that in spite of the slight lushness heard in the mids and lower mids, that treble and lower treble instruments come through with clarity and vitality. The Trente displays a very sophisticated interweaving of the woofer to the tweeter, the
two working in very different ways toward a single musical goal.
It was in the area of electronic rock and progressive rock selections, modern and relatively ancient, where the extra dynamism of the Silverline started to win the day. With a more up front presentation, the SR 17 has a way of getting down and dirty with powerful electric based music. Which serves as a defining counterpoint to the jmr. I know that some may disagree with me on this point, but I feel that part of the Trente's allure is its midrange, and in the midrange I sense a slight recession of the energy in the presence range. It's not much mind you, but drawing back the upper range of the woofer just a little allows the gorgeous articulation of the speaker in the mids and lower mids to bloom a little more fully.2 But the sense of detail does not suffer for the reasons stated above regarding the action of the tweeter.
The Trente has adequate resolution and detail to keep themusic from seeming like it has been smoothed over. It accomplishes this by having a very fast tweeter, that is in no way rolled off or pushed back into the stage. It get up there cycle wise, basically flat to beyond 22,000 Hz. I didn't test the phase response characteristics of the speaker, but my suspicion is that if you did some step responses you'd see the tweeter on the front edge of the signal. It's not elevated to my ear, meaning that the sound is in no way tipped up in the treble. But it might be a little in front in the treble, allowing the designer to have his highs seem to cascade down a little lower in frequency than they really do. In a 2-way speaker (quasi 3-way in this case) every element of the sound needs to be tweaked to cover over the necessary compromises that must be made. The highs are airy and extended, though I wouldn't refer to them as dreamy in the way the midrange can be. jmr has a real feel for what sounds right, and what is accurate.
Conclusion. If after all of this you conclude that the Trentes sound heavy, dark or slow, you'd be wrong. These speakers do have a certain real world warmth, but they don't go beyond that to the point of underdamped gooey bloom. The Trente is one of those rare creatures capable of expressing warmth and air in the mids and lower mids, without resorting to obvious bass bumps and excessive richness. Instead, the Trente sounds very organic without resorting to artificial sweeteners. And in all honesty, the speaker doesn't sound like it favors any range over another, it's balanced....but its also very good in some regards. Its personality is to place images at a mid-hall perspective where whole tones and complete harmonics are best displayed.
This really is a speaker for the music lover. There is nothing artificial about its sound as it seems to seek out the emotional aspects of the sound in equal parts with the intellectual, and that is where the beauty of the balance struck by jmr seems to shine. Due to the way this speaker is "voiced" I feel it is a near perfect choice for smaller rooms where its woofer isn't forced to energize a space too large. Its basically mid-hall approach to sound and detail can be brought a little forward in a smaller room. So, there is some flexibility in that regard. For a smallish speaker costing under $2,500, jmr has done a masterful job of creating a product that captures the musical essence of a performance without depending on low tech trickery....this speaker respects its listener with a balanced approach to reproduction where in no detail is too small to be addressed and the emphasis is on the "art" of speaker building, as opposed to the sterile science of it.
1. Note: I did not say "liquid". The Trente has a fair
amount of grain-lessening liquidity, but the fluidity of the
sonics allows the musical motion or the feeling of movement
to build, and in effect, carry the listener away with it.
2. I'm being a little picky, maybe too picky, but in the
upper range of the woofer before the tweeter really kicks in
there is a very narrow band of dryness which probably
represents the transition area between the narrowing
dispersion of the woofer as it goes up in frequency, and the
widening dispersion characteristics of the tweeter at its
lowest operating range.
Reprinted with permission from: Bound for Sound Report
Martin G. DeWulf, Editor & Publisher
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