[SoundStage!]Planet Hi-Fi
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February 2004

Talon Audio Technologies Hawk Loudspeakers

Hawk impresses audience at Chelsea air show

I finally had the opportunity to check out the floating air/sea museum docked at Pier 86 in New York City. Although the name implies some sort of barge tied to a pier with a generic warehouse on top, the museum is actually the USS Intrepid, an authentic WW II-era aircraft carrier. Docked on Manhattan’s West Side and ominously overlooking the Henry Hudson Parkway, the steel-gray behemoth sits quietly, watching the cars and pedestrians dance below.

Perched precariously on her deck are dozens of military aircraft, all significant in one way or another. An F-14 Tomcat sits in the catapult, while an A-12 Blackbird peeks out over the deck’s edge. There’s a AH-1J Sea Cobra helicopter, an AV-8C Harrier, and an old F4U-1Navy Corsair on deck as well, along with fighter planes and attack helicopters representing five decades of air combat and support.

Although I was fascinated by the circa-1945 Corsair, recognizing it from the television series Ba Ba Blacksheep (c’mon, you know you watched it too), it was the beautiful and understated A4 Skyhawk that I admired most. During its time of active service, the A4 was generally outperformed by its bigger and more costly US Air Force brethren, but the Skyhawk was surprisingly quick, agile and easy to master, and many of its pilots swore by its durability and reliability, key attributes when streaking over hostile territory.

Ironically, I have my own version of the A4 sitting in my living room. While not exactly the Skyhawk (I don’t live in the Superdome), it’s just as fast and honest. But instead of burning fuel, this bird feeds off amplifier power. And while the Skyhawk has a range of 1000 nautical miles, my version can't go below 40Hz. You want a sonic boom? Well, you can’t get there with the subsonic Skyhawk, but you’ll feel surprising oomph with the sleek stand-mounted units opposing my sofa. Oh, by the way, I'm talking about loudspeakers (as if you didn't know), so you don’t need a pilot’s license either -- just good music and some good-quality components in front of them.

Wait, let me back in the room -- I have a press baaadge!

My first experience with Talon Audio products came during the 2000 CES. There was quite a bit of good press about Talon speakers prior to CES Y2K, and a bit of controversy courtesy of SoundStage!. I won't dredge up the whole sordid affair, but it's safe to say that the measurements published along with the SoundStage! review of the original Talon Khorus were less than spectacular. With all this in mind, I was anxious to squeeze through the showgoers lined up in front of the Talon trailer located in the rear parking lot of the St. Tropez to hear the speakers for myself.

What did I hear? My old notes tell me that the sound was both great (Khorus loudspeakers) and good (Peregrine). Others would disagree -- that's the nature of CES. Anybody who has gone to CES knows that the rooms are as wild as beasts and as difficult to tame, and they are almost always the weakest link in the sonic chain. To be able to coax spectacular sound at CES is a rare and monumental task. Many have stumbled year upon year, and others are batting a very respectable .500.

So when Doug Schneider asked if I would like to write about the new Talon Hawk, I leaped at the opportunity to pick up where I left Talon almost three years earlier.

I definitely got what I paid for, although chocolates would have been nice

Mike Farnsworth of Talon Audio contacted me via e-mail to let me know that he would be sending along a pair of his latest Hawk stand-mounted loudspeakers. At $9000 USD per pair, these loudspeakers would inevitably set high expectations in my listening room. And though I have a fair amount of experience with smaller loudspeakers, I’ve never had any speakers at this price point in my living room/listening room.

In my experience, mostly due to the size of my room, stand-mounted loudspeakers have generally integrated much better in my environment than larger floorstanding loudspeakers. The additional low-frequency extension of floorstanders usually mucks things up more than it helps the overall sonic presentation. Better to have great but restricted low-frequency sound than average full-frequency sound.

Once received, the Hawks sat on 24" sand-filled Osiris Audionics speaker stands. These sturdy metal stands worked well with the 18 1/2"H x 13 3/4"W x 11"D Hawks, which weigh 40 pounds each. These speakers require a solid base with a rather large top plate. Don’t even think about placing them on wimpy single-pillar stands -- the Hawks will crush them like old cardboard. Of course, if you really want to hear the Hawks at their best, Talon recommends using the dedicated Hawk stands developed specifically for this loudspeaker. Unfortunately, when I received the speakers, the stands were not yet available. I’ll chalk that one up to bad timing. But curious folk should not despair -- Talon debuted the Hawk with stand at CES this year.

As you would expect for a component of the Hawk's price, construction and finish were first-rate. The black lacquer finish was mirror smooth, wrapping elegantly around the truncated pyramid-shaped cabinets. There are no sharp edges on the Hawk, with cabinet walls joining in smooth, rounded harmony. In addition, all walls of the Hawk are rock solid, especially the baffle. Give the sides of the cabinet a knuckle rap and you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying thud along with some broken skin.

Talon hasn’t left anything to chance, including driver and crossover-component selection. All internal parts and components are hand chosen and most are custom configured and/or modified to Talon’s specifications. This is impressive considering the already high level of quality of the chosen stock parts. From the stiff and fast 7" Accuton ceramic-cone woofer to the distinctive 1" Accuton ceramic-dome tweeter, the Hawk appears promising before it makes a sound. These two drivers are flush-mounted in a familiar tweeter-over-woofer configuration. And due to the reclining baffle, both drivers angle backward in an attempt to time-align their outputs.

Thankfully, there’s no fragile speaker grille to lose or easily break. Instead, Talon provides integrated grilles for both the tweeter and woofer -- honeycombed metal screens to thwart curious fingers. Aesthetically, they look fantastic, successfully eliminating those annoying plastic receptacles that never seem to get used. But, again, the features don't end there. Embedded on the rear of the loudspeaker, above the wide slotted port, sits a pair of beautiful Cardas rhodium-plated binding posts -- perfect recipients for my Cardas speaker cables.

All together, Talon has left little untouched with the Hawk. It is apparent from first observation, and obvious during closer inspection, that with the Hawk Talon Audio has done its homework in terms of design, development, and production.

Give me another page and you’ll re-think small speakers

The Hawks look imposing even from across the room, and their sound is impressive at the listening seat. From the very first note -- even through raw crossovers and drivers -- I realized that these loudspeakers were something special. But it wasn’t until I sank back into the listening chair after 200+ hours of break-in that I understood what the Hawks were conveying. It was honesty.

Associated Equipment

Loudspeakers – Merlin VSM-M speakers with battery BAM, REL Strata III subwoofer.

Integrated amplifier – Jeff Rowland Design Group Concentra.

Digital – Birdland Audio Odéon-lite DAC, Monarchy Audio DIP 24/96 digital-to-digital processor, Denon DVD-5900 universal A/V player.

Digital cables – Illuminati DV-75, XLO Signature 2.2.

Interconnects and speaker cables – Cardas Neutral Reference.

Cueing up "The First Cut is the Deepest" off The Very Best of Sheryl Crow [A&M B0001521-02], I was stunned by the Hawks' ability to resolve previously hidden nuances, elements that helped frame the soundstage, producing slightly more expansive sound and a more involving listening experience. The level of detail and sheer amount of new information were at times disorienting. I found this equivalent to receiving glasses with a new and stronger prescription. You walk out of the optometrist’s office and everything appears vibrant, new, and exciting -- as if another world had been opened up to your eyes. You want to test your new eyesight, read signs at a distance, and examine foliage from across the park. I found myself doing the same thing when I received the Hawks, except with music.

I just picked up a Denon DVD-5900 universal player, and with it new capabilities to spin SACDs and DVD-As. With Beck’s Sea Change [Interscope 493537] in the sled and the SACD LED illuminated, I paced myself through "Paper Tiger" and was rewarded with extreme melancholy and borderline depression. Perfect! For those unfamiliar with Sea Change, it’s a rampant departure from Beck’s previous albums such as Odelay and Mellow Gold. Beck’s self-examination leads to bitterness, but listeners will feel fulfilled with the Hawks on the runway.

While the wealth of new information helps contribute to thick and textured layering within the soundfield, soundstage depth and width also gained ground. Beck’s orchestral support easily filled in beyond the outside edges of the stand-mounted Hawks and seemingly penetrated beyond the wall behind the loudspeakers. On Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances; Vocalise [Classic Records DAD1004], the Dallas Symphony Orchestra sounded wonderfully expansive, with violins dancing far stage left, deep cello and string bass bellowing opposite stage right, and brass and percussion striking from the center. The music is both complicated and complimentary, with the Hawks easily navigating within and throughout the musical passages. Individual instruments were placed with pinpoint accuracy within the stage, and tempo and timing were dead on.

Unlike many stand-mounted loudspeakers, the Hawks can play loud. And in my system and room, they preferred to be pushed. I felt they really strutted during difficult musical passages, ones with great dynamic contrast. This is somewhat contradictory to my past experiences with smaller loudspeakers. But the Hawks are unique. During the non allegro from Symphonic Dances, movement from dead silence to full-orchestral string barrage was reproduced with flair and confidence. The Hawks never faltered and therefore the music always remained on cue. But these speakers aren’t just for classical and jazz lovers. I threw in Ryan Adam’s Rock N Roll [Lost Highway B0001376-02], and the Hawks picked up a chair and threw it through my window! Just kidding, but you get my point. These speakers can boogie.

The baby Talon’s bass response was also surprising -- and sometimes alarming. The depth of its reach and weight of its kick were greater than those of any stand-mounted loudspeakers I have heard. And though the Hawk’s cabinet volume is greater than that of most stand-mounted loudspeakers, it’s still a relatively small speaker in my book. Check out the kettledrums on Symphonic Dances. They sound appropriately hefty and full, with excellent attack and decay on each strike.

This particular small speaker highlights a potential sonic advantage its ilk has over larger speakers: speed, agility and quickness combined with satisfying bass. While kettledrums were communicated with power and authority, transients were also impressive. In addition, the leading edge of notes was always sharp and distinct. More SACD fun -- Thelonius Monk’s finger work on "I Didn’t Know About You -- Take 4" from Straight, No Chaser [Columbia CS 64886] sounded crisp and without harshness or glare. Notes disappeared under realistic decay, never sounding abridged or inconsistent.

And what about that all-important midrange? Well, the Hawk's midband sounds wonderful to me. Horns on "Mistreated But Undefeated Blues" from the Ray Brown Trio’s Soular Energy [Groove Note1015] sounded open and unobstructed. The Hawks successfully stepped out of the way of the music and delivered every crumb of information. If I closed my eyes or hit the lights, I could easily imagine the absence of any speaker in the room. And the tweeter? Again, first-rate sound with very extended high frequencies. Dogs will go nuts over these loudspeakers.

We’ve got air superiority

In my experience, high resolution is vital to reconstructing a realistic and natural-sounding musical presentation. This may sound obvious to some, but for many audiophiles, the world is one of compromise. A limited budget usually means sacrificing one aspect for other important criteria. For me, I listen for resolution first. In my opinion it is tantamount to great sound. But when you’re dealing with $9000 loudspeakers, you should have it all: coherency, dynamics, imaging and soundstaging, frequency extension, and resolution. And with the Talon Hawk, you get oh so close. You’ll just have to leave off that last octave of bass. If you require that your chest quiver or you have a large listening room, you should consider auditioning either the Khorus X II or Firebird, Talon’s larger and more expensive speakers.

The Talon Hawk should be considered state-of-the-art equipment. It can penetrate enemy defenses and can outperform and outfight almost any current or projected competitor. You want a speaker that can fly air-to-air, air-to-ground, long-range, day and night missions in any kind of weather? You want a speaker that can do it all? The Talon Hawk comes as close as any small speaker I’ve heard. And my wingman will back that up.

...Greg Kong

Talon Audio Technologies Hawk Loudspeakers
Prices: $9000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Talon Audio Technologies
5175 So. Green Pine Drive
Murray, UT 84123
Phone: (801) 619-9000
Fax: (801) 619-9001

E-mail: info@talonaudio.com
Website: www.talonaudio.com


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