Eastern Europe has been generating a clutch of new audio brands, among them loudspeaker marque Audio Solutions which has launched a new range. Trevor Butler’s been taking a listen.
I first heard Audio Solutions’ new range of loudspeakers at the busy Hamburg show at the start of the year and was immediately impressed. Any manufacturer who can create a good sound in a hotel bedroom has a product worthy of closer investigation. This Lithuanian brand is the creation of Gediminas Gaidelis who, after working in his home market for the best part of a decade, launched Audio Solutions as a global marque four years ago. The company is interesting: it targets mainly consumers in the 24-45 age group, including women, and offers a enormously wide range of finishes which extend beyond just colour choice to textures which allow the cabinets to integrated more easily in contemporary interiors.
With the mission statement of ‘Art and Science of Speaker Engineering’, Audio Solutions’ aim is to combine physics and psychoacoustics. It started with two model ranges: Euphony and Rhapsody. Euphony was upgraded and became Overture, while Rhapsody has been re-launched as Figaro. At the recent huge Dutch audio affair which is XFi I had the chance to hear the three-way floor-standing M (for Medium) model. This prompted me to try a pair in my own listening environment and I was delighted when two large cartons arrived containing a pair of the slightly smaller Figaro S models. S may stand for ‘small’, but such things are relative – it is second-up in the range, above the two-way bookshelf Figaro B. Here we have a €3830floor-stander which measures a substantial 94cm high.
I have always had a penchant for three-way designs – they are, after all, proper speakers, are they not? Two-ways are a compromise in that one is expecting a midrange cone to produce meaningful bass; while a plethora of drive units in a cabinet all too often sounds just that.
The [near] perfect drive unit combination of paper mid and bass drivers (doped for extra rigidity) with a soft-dome which comes into play at a higher than expected 4kHz, which is almost certainly the key reason I find the broadband characteristic of the Figaro S so enjoyable to listen to. The tweeter is referred to as a mini-horn which aims to overcome a silk dome’s tendency to become slightly dulled at higher frequencies. It is combined here with a carefully engineered waveguide to aid HF dispersion. The tweeter is smaller than one might expect on a speaker of this size, and that’s a deliberate attempt to create a faster response in the extreme top-end. As Gediminas explains, while bigger tweeters perform well in two-ways, where a greater power-handling is needed, in a three-way we can benefit from a smaller speaker with its much lighter membrane and this translates directly to a faster response and lower distortion.
There’s attention to detail throughout this speaker: from the WBT Nextgen connectors, to a ‘self-locking’ cabinet to give maximum rigidity, and deployment of Jantzen components in the crossover network. Everything is sourced in the EU with absolutely no Chinese labour, I’m assured. Audio Solutions manufactures cabinets in its own factory, sources drive units from leading producers including SB Acoustics, SEAS and Scan-Speak.
Normally something of an add-on, a designer’s after thought, with the Figaro range the grilles are worthy of note. The Stealth Grille has geometrically identical baffle option for either cloth-covered or bare drive units as a matter of listener choice.
The hefty speaker weighs in at 28kg and combines a pair of 150mm doped-paper woofers for frequencies below 400Hz, with a 150mm doped-paper midrange at the top of the array. Sensitivity is quoted at a respectable 91dB/W and nominal power handling at 90W RMS. The frequency response (-3dB) is given as 31Hz to 25kHz. A 90mm wide port is located to the rear of the reflex-loaded cabinet.
Placement proved relatively easy and I began with a direct connection to my beloved Hegel Röstintegrated. I knew that these speakers had been used at a recent show and therefore needed no run-in period. My memory was that they were good, but I hadn’t realised just how good until they were in my own system. Wow!
My usual routine of acclimatisation to newly-installed speakers, followed by careful and analytical audition using some well-known recordings went completely out the window. I became so immediately absorbed by the sheer quality, scale and detail of the Figaro S’s performance that it was several hours before I picked-up my laptop to begin making notes.
In essence it is hard to fault these speakers. For the size and, especially for the price, they offer a truly phenomenal sound which is hard to equal let alone beat. Bass was sufficient to alert my neighbour that I had something really special on test, while all the usual assessment parameters of imaging, soundstage, detail, transparency, attack, weight and involvement were passed with flying colours. Here was a product which I didn’t want to review, here was a product I just wanted to sit and listen to – not something I often say about speakers on test.
Down to specifics, though… and listening way beyond my normal test repertoire into library albums and tracks streamed from the cloud because I just could not stop enjoying everything the Figaro S did, and did so well. My favourite genre of choral works were just lapped up by this design which found it so easy to re-create meaningful renditions of even complex works to fill my listening space with some of the world’s top performers as though they were there in front of me. Such convincing realism is really what a top-notch loudspeaker is about. Full marks here to Audio Solutions as I wallowed in the immersive portrayal of Bach’s Magnificat (Collegium Vocale Gent under Herreweghe) on an award-winning Harmonia Mundi recording from 2002 where the tempo brings the composer’s kaleidoscope into focus. Here it was evident that the Figaro S handles even complex material with aplomb; rendering human voices with extreme realism is achieved with consummate ease during the twelve-minute whirlwind of exuberance and solos.
On to orchestral works and arguably Tchaikovsky’s most powerful symphony, his sixth (Kiov Orchestra/Gerfiev) on a Phillips CD made in 1995. Such weight, sheer power and phenomenal scale proved a cinch for these speakers which managed to capture virtually every facet of this amazing symphonic edifice from the conductor’s first recording with this orchestra. The listener is treated to the heart of the darkness at the beginning and end of the composer’s 1893 Pathétiquework, and can revel in the powerful extremes in a most moving and involving way. So many products at this price-point fail to immerse the listener fully in the performance, but not this one.
Many will know that I turn to well-know human voices to test speakers, and that many fall down given such material – all too often revealing a tendency to nasality, sibilance or chestiness. It amazes me, when visiting factories, to discover that there is a total absence of voice recordings and the thought of using some to prove a speaker’s credentials has not crossed the manufacturer’s mind. So it is, with some trepidation, that I pressed my well-used tracks into service.
Needless to say, the Figaro S passed the ‘voice test’ with flying colours. Trying first a 1994 recording of the mellifluous Charlotte Green reading BBC Radio Four’s news bulletin brought back memories of being in the studio as it was re-created with such natural realism as to send tingles down my spine. Moving to some BBC Radio drama, and my much-loved Rumpole of the Bailey material featuring the unmistakable voice of Julian Rhind-Tutt in the star role, this excellent recording is often the acid test. Passed! The midrange and, all-important ‘presence region’ of the Figaro S are sublime.
Unable to trick this Lithuanian box with my standard repertoire, it was time to get heavy. Rock, courtesy of Bon Jovi’s 1986 ‘Livin’ On a Prayer’ certainly showed how the Figaro S could move some air. Here is a design with plenty of rhythmic ability and pace in equal measure. Weight and scale are pretty amazing from the start of the distorted talk box effect guitar and, excusing the rather cheesy lyrics, the fake falsetto singer seemed to be at a mere arm’s length from me. What more can an audiophile ask from a speaker but such a level of natural realism?
I normally spend my mid-day break sitting at my desk with a sandwich ploughing through emails and listening to BBC Radio Three’s Lunchtime Concert through a DAB receiver. With the Figaro S in my system downstairs, I was increasingly migrating to enjoy a variety of intimate live recitals in all their glory. These speakers are dangerously addictive.
The Figaro S provided an unforgettable impression and one which other designers would do well to emulate. It plays quietly but it also goes loud, pretty loud indeed. I found that hours passed without any hint of listening fatigue, and that says a lot about a speaker’s credentials. Overall, the sound is balanced, detailed and well-controlled. Bass is deep (and highlighted a 40Hz issue in my room), but not over-blown or boomy. The midrange is exemplary, not only extremely harmonious but detailed and accurate in this all-important frequency band. High frequencies are handled well, there’s enormous transparency and fluidity without harshness or any hint of grain to the treble sound.
Should the listener expect more? Well, certainly not at this price point and, in my experience, would need to spend ten-times the amount to achieve any significant improvement. At its price point, the Figaro S sets new standards.
We are promised to expect from Audio Solutions a full range of cables, room acoustic solutions as well as plans for their own electronics, comprising amplifiers, preamps, DSP and streamer. If they live up to the experience I had with the Figaro S loudspeakers we are in for a treat.