Hardware Reviews

Silent Pound: the new Challenger

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeakers

Trevor Butler discovered the distinctly different Silent Pound Challenger at the Warsaw show in 2022, it was there again last year and sounded so good that he encouraged me to try this substantial loudspeaker at home. What arrived was the heaviest pair of speakers to turn up on my doorstep in boxes, ever. At 60kg each plus packaging the Challengers required pallets for delivery and a very good sack barrow to unload and install, but it was worth the effort and then some.

What makes this distinctive loudspeaker different is that it’s made of steel and wood in Lithuania, actually that’s what makes it unusual, what makes it different is that it’s a dipole in the bass and has cardioid dispersion in the mid and treble. The thinking from co-founder and designer Audrius Balciunas is that combining these two technologies makes for a loudspeaker that should have constant directivity or dispersion at all frequencies, which in turn should result in a consistent result regardless of the room they are placed in. This is something of a holy grail for loudspeaker designers because the room has such a big impact on the sound of any loudspeaker placed within it. You can hear the acoustic characteristics of a room merely by speaking in it so it’s not surprising that reproducing the same sound in different room acoustics should be challenging for a loudspeaker, perhaps that’s where they got the name.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

 

We have come across dipole loudspeakers in the past, most panels fall into this category of designs that emit the same amount of energy both forwards and backwards, as do open baffle speakers. The Silent Pounds have an open baffle for the two large 12 inch bass drivers. Cardioid dispersion in the mid and treble is less common and usually requires some kind of DSP to achieve, the examples that are available today include the Dutch & Dutch 8C and the Kii Three, both active DSP loudspeakers.

The benefit that they credit to the design include a reduction in room mode excitement which would result in cleaner bass as a result of fewer reflections at this end of the frequency range. The dipole is said to produce a much more precise energy pattern that is focussed in front of the loudspeaker rather than radiating out to the sides. The dipole nature of the design mean that the closer this speaker is to the rear wall the less bass they produce, the complete opposite of a normal speaker where the bass is amplified by nearby walls. Silent Pound recommend that the Challenger be placed between 50cm and a metre away from the rear wall for optimum tonal balance.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

The two six inch midrange drivers and one inch tweeter are set in a shallow enclosure (15cm deep) with an array of holes in the baffle, which let the backwave out from the inner chamber. This part of the design is subject to a patent application so details are scant but Audrius says that the idea was to make an enclosure that works in the similar way to an open bafffle, without creating pressure in the box but with the cardioid dispersion required for even directivity. The midrange units are paper coned like the bass drivers and appear to be of pro origin but more than that is hard to say, the tweeter is a compression driver such as is typically found on a horn speakers and indeed this example has an horn machined into the baffle. This will give it considerable power handling but typically results in narrow dispersion, however, the precise shape of the horn will have a clear influence over this side of its performance.

The Challenger has a three and a half way operation and the crossover is located in the base, this is pretty obvious thanks to the glass cover that industrial designer Moses Kang chose alongside the overall aesthetic of this speaker. It’s a beautifully laid out and executed crossover as it would have to be given this degree of exposure, but that said the Challenger is a very stylish design given its scale and mass. One attractive detail is that the cable terminals are recessed into the base with a red line beneath the entry point for the positive connection for ease of identification.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

Those who prefer spade connections will be disappointed as it only accepts 4mm banana plugs. I asked about this and was told that the (elusive) style conscious audiophile customer would prefer clean lines to the alternative connection options provided by five-way terminals sticking out of the base. Let’s hope they are right. Another unusual decision was to supply flat rather than spiked feet for the Challenger, the argument being that the nature and construction of this near enclosure free design means that little energy will be emitted from the base. As spikes are particularly good at transmitting energy into the floor I can only applaud this move, the fact that the feet supplied are high quality is also a bonus.

Sound quality

I was able to put between 80 and 90cm between the wall and the back of the Challenger’s baffle which meant that the bass enjoyed was controlled and powerful without ever losing composure. My room is (atypically for the UK) wooden framed and while it is heavily insulated and has both concrete and wooden cladding it’s not as reflective as typical brick or concrete rooms at low frequencies, as a result I rarely find a speaker that causes bass overload problems. Which is exactly what this loudspeaker is designed to combat, so I’m not best placed to assess exactly how well this aspect of the Challenger works. I can say that the bass it produced was powerful, extended and articulate.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

This was obvious from the first track played where the drum sound stood out for its speed and articulation, Little Feat’s Old Folks Boogie on the Rega Naia is a treat at the best of times but with this degree of control in the bass it really chugged. The nature of compression in the recording is also pretty clear, suggesting a high degree of transparency and the price you have to pay in listening terms for real transparency. It soon became clear that detail and speed are the Challenger’s strongest suits, on Funki Porcini’s Fast Asleep you get the foggy nature of the production alongside the filigree detail, not much escapes this speaker’s attention. They clearly have plenty of power handling capability too, and could have been made for the low pulse of Nils Frahm’s Sunson which comes across in visceral fashion with speed, depth and openness. To paraphrase Aphex Twin it’s a real analogue audio bubblebath, the track #2 is also pretty cosmic, Frahm sure knows how to build a climax.

Dropping Patricia Barber’s Subway Station #5 (A Distortion of Love) proved to be a very good idea too, this has to be a live in the studio recording, the combination of virtuosity and energy is inspiring when you have a speaker that’s as dynamically responsive as the Challengers are. Stonking doesn’t being to cover just how good this piece sounded. I invited the Ear’s speaker guru and he who discovered the Silent Pounds for us, Trevor Butler, over so that he could hear these speakers in less hectic surroundings than a busy hi-fi show. He was taken aback by how clean and dynamic they were with the pop-tastic tones of Belinda Carlisle singing Heaven is a Place on Earth live, I think the phrase “bloody fantastic, it feels like you’re at the venue” escaped his usually restrained lips. He was also impressed with how articulate the bass is, unlike many conventionally enclosed designs the Challengers can do the full range of bass notes and don’t just thump out the same tone when the action goes down low.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

The directivity element of the Silent Pounds seems to work well, the sound escapes the boxes really well and the fact that you can play them at level without the room joining in too obviously suggests that the cardioid aspect is doing its stuff. The mids and highs are pretty impressive, Nora Jones’ voice on Court and Spark (River: The Joni Letters) is outstanding or so it seems, however when Herbie Hancock gets to work on the piano the natural acoustic around that instrument gives it a realism that is very convincing indeed. It makes clear just how much work was done to get the voice sounding the way it does. There is little sense of a loudspeaker being involved when a recording of this quality is reproduced by a superb source like the Naia. The Challengers sometimes seem to prefer more dynamic recordings of amplified instruments over purely acoustic affairs, but differences between recordings are huge which suggests that they are merely revealing the nature of each more clearly than usual.

The Challengers do need a bit of power however, it will ever be thus with an open baffle because they don’t have the sensitivity gains in the low frequencies that boxes provide. I got excellent results with the 150W Moor Amps Angel 6 and did most of my listening with this amplifier, but the arrival of Aavik’s remarkable I-880 200W Class A integrated did reveal that they are capable of more. This pricey unit brought out the subtlety of each piece superbly, allowing the speakers to render the horn phrasing on Art Blakey’s Moanin’with considerable panache. Also clear were the ‘noises off’, thumps in the background that most speakers miss, this contributes to making this classic recording sound more vital and alive despite its considerable age. I also indulged in some Mahavishnu Orchestra and was glad that I did, the Challengers handled the intensity of this band in full flight with ease, making every instrument easy to follow and revealing that Billy Cobham is working just as hard as John McLaughlin, probably harder given the nature of drumming. The track Miles Beyond from Birds of Fire has rarely sounded so good.

Silent Pound Challenger loudspeaker review https://the-ear.net

 

Conclusion

For a company that has only made one previous loudspeaker the Silent Pound Challenger is quite an achievement. Not only is it really well built and finished but attention to detail in both the industrial and acoustic design mean that the Challenger emerges fully formed onto the high end scene. When you look at the price it becomes apparent that manufacturing costs in the Baltic states is lower than Europe, a design like this from the UK would be twice the price and in Germany three times. I take my hat off to company founders Audrius Balciunas and Martynas Serksnys for making a loudspeaker that’s so capable yet doesn’t take up the sort of space often associated with high end designs. The fact that it was specifically conceived to work in almost any environment should mean that the Challenger meets with success wherever it goes, it certainly deserves to do so.

Specifications:

Type: semi open baffle 3.5-way loudspeaker
Crossover frequencies: not specified
Drive units:
Bass: 2x 300mm doped cone drivers
Mid: 2x 160mm doped cone drivers
Tweeter: 25mm compression driver
Frequency range:  30 – 18,000 Hz (in room)
Nominal impedance: 4 Ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB (2.83V/1m)
Connectors: single-wire 4mm sockets
Dimensions HxWxD: 1240 x 360 x 350mm
Weight: 60kg each
Finishes: black or white
Warranty: 2 years

Price when tested:
€17.999
Manufacturer Details:

Silent Pound
T (+370) 698 88223
silentpound.com

Type:

floorstanding loudspeakers

Author:

Jason Kennedy

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