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Feature Review

December 2005

Verity Audio Parsifal Ovation Loudspeakers

by Jason Thorpe

Click to view measurements of this product

read Part One

So there I sat while Bruno Bouchard and Julien Pelchat busily unpacked and set up in my listening room the same Parsifal Ovation speakers that I'd evaluated a few weeks earlier in Quebec City. At first glance, the Parsifal Ovation appears to be two fairly rectangular boxes, one serving as the midrange/tweeter enclosure and the other housing a dedicated woofer. A closer look reveals that there's more -- much more -- than meets the eye.

For starters, the enclosures are not rectangular. Although the top, bottom and sides form 90-degree angles, the front and rear are gently and asymmetrically sloped. While this likely has some benefit in the realm of standing-wave-reduction, my immediate impression of the slight rake of these speakers' flanks is one of understated sexiness. The Parsifal Ovations remind me of an elegant woman -- perhaps the Rolls-Royce fairy -- leaning towards me with her torso thrust forward in a slightly aristocratic pout. It's a delightfully subtle styling cue that may be lost on those who might only give these speakers a cursory evaluation.

The midrange and tweeter enclosure rests atop the woofer cabinet, with a thick slab of aluminum separating the two pieces. On either side of this plate are four discs of sorbothane that provide some damping while still marrying the two enclosures together in a firm, stable embrace. Other thoughtful touches abound. The Parsifal Ovations' feet are sharp spikes that emerge from chunky brass cones, while the binding posts are a proprietary design that is geared toward spade connectors, with which they work exceptionally well. There are openings for the binding posts on the front and rear of the lower enclosure (top and bottom, in order to connect the jumpers from the bass cabinet to the head), providing the ability to face the woofer forward. This option isn’t really optimal, but it may be useful for those without a wall behind the speakers, of which the rear-firing woofer is designed to take advantage. The front of the midrange/tweeter enclosure is covered with very fine felt in order to minimize diffraction, and the supplied grilles mount to the baffle by way of small magnets. However, the magnets protrude from the felt, so they're visible and pretty much as obtrusive as your standard peg holes would be.

Component-wise, the most important driver in the Parsifal Ovation is the custom-made 5" midrange. This one driver, which is manufactured by AudioTechnology, covers the range between 150Hz and 5.4kHz. There’s no crossover at the upper-frequency limit and only a 6dB filter at 900Hz, which compensates for an intrinsic upward tilt in the driver’s frequency response. Instead, Verity relies on the natural mechanical upper limit of the driver. So, for difficult-to-reproduce instruments such as female voice, the Parsifal Ovations have no true electrical crossover and have a mechanical crossover point that's up high, out of the range where the human ear is most sensitive.

Of course there's no free lunch in audio, and relying on a 5" driver to produce that high a frequency invokes a bit of a tradeoff. When I questioned Julien about the behavior of the Parsifal Ovation's midrange at its upper-frequency limit, he mentioned that the driver does indeed beam, meaning that it doesn't produce as much energy off-axis as it does on-axis. However, he explained that their listening tests showed that the benefits of getting the crossover out of the presence region far outweighed the drawbacks of limited off-axis output. An additional consolation, according to Julien, is that because the Parsifal Ovation doesn't produce as much output off-axis, it's possible to place the speaker fairly close to side walls without detrimental sonic consequences.

Another benefit of running the midrange driver high in frequency is that it makes life much easier for the tweeter. A lower crossover point would mean that the tweeter's power handling would decrease and distortion would increase. The Parsifal Ovation's Scan-Speak tweeter, which has extension up to 50kHz, is literally loafing, working well within its comfort zone.

After Bruno and Julien had unpacked and set up the speakers, Bruno took over, moving them centimeter by centimeter. At first, the speakers sounded congested and closed-in, very different from how I’d heard them sound in other instances. I began to wonder if somehow my room or my system wasn't conducive to gleaning the best from these speakers. However, as the day passed, they began to sound better and better.

Once we got the speakers set up to Bruno's satisfaction, we continued on with part two of the extended listening session that we'd begun a few weeks prior in Quebec City. The Parsifal Ovations have a knack for communicating the emotion that's buried in sparse, delicate music. I have to admit that I'm a sentimental softy, and my maudlin side can get the better of me in the most compromising situations. In my review of the Blue Circle BC202 amplifier, I related the story of Bruno and Julien's visit, when we three listened to Astor Piazzolla's Tango: Zero Hour [Pangaea PAN-42138]. We sat there in quiet, contemplative silence for an entire side of this dramatic and devastatingly sorrowful album, and when it ended, I was distinctly misty-eyed. There's space galore on Tango: Zero Hour, and the Parsifal Ovations floated every instrument clear of its position, giving an unparalleled wall-to-wall image spread.

While the Parsifal Ovation is capable of being set up with its woofer facing either forward or backward, its optimal configuration is with the woofer facing the wall behind the speaker. The woofer is thus essentially firing into a corner, taking advantage of its close proximity to three boundaries (two walls and the floor), which adds significantly to the output of the 8" woofer. By factoring in this additional gain, Verity claims that the Parsifal Ovation can produce the same amount of bass as a forward-firing woofer, but with significantly less cone excursion, which translates to lower distortion. Another benefit comes by dint of some additional lower-midrange roll-off. Because the woofer is facing away from the listener, less of its midrange energy reaches the ears, giving the effect of an even steeper low-pass crossover.

On "Moment’s Notice" from Blue Train [Classic Records/Blue Note ST 46095], Paul Chambers' bass was physically present and distinct, with its level slightly higher than I'm used to with other speakers. However, it sounded just right, not overblown, bloated or thick in any way. Wood, rosin and big chunky fingers resonated in the playing. The Parsifal Ovations have a wonderful way with acoustic bass, bringing it right into the room, even on vintage recordings where this poor instrument almost always gets the short end of the stick.

Having never heard a speaker whose bass sounds as consistently right in my room as the Parsifal Ovation's, I'm forced to wonder if maybe Verity isn't on to something with this rear-firing-woofer thing. In my experience, something almost always seems to suffer when you're trying to optimize bass. If a speaker goes really low, then there's often some amount of bloat. If it's steel-trap tight, then extension and richness seem to be diminished. And if you can get all of those parameters figured out, then some types of music sound just right, while others get shafted.

Associated Equipment

Amplifiers –  Anthem Statement P2 stereo amp, Audiomat Opera integrated amp, Song Audio SA-300MB mono amps.

Preamplifiers – Sonic Frontiers SFL-2, Song Audio SA-1, FT Audio LW-1.

Analog – Pro-Ject RPM 9 turntable, Shelter 501 Mk II and Roksan Shiraz cartridges, Ayre Acoustics P-5xe phono stage.

Digital – Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 digital-to-analog converter, Toshiba SD-3750 DVD player (as transport).

Interconnects – Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval, Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference.

Speaker cables – Acoustic Zen Satori.

Power cords – GutWire Power Clef 2, Cardas Hexlink 5.

Power conditioners – GutWire MaxCon, Chang Lightspeed CLS6400 ISO.

The Parsifal Ovations work so well on acoustic jazz that you'd think maybe they'd sound overblown on groove-based soul or trance, but somehow they avoid that trap. While the Parsifal Ovations go low -- Verity claims a 25Hz -3dB point -- they couple with my room and never seem to overload it. This is a wonderful trait, one that reliably delivers a most tuneful, rich and rhythmic foundation to every form of music that I threw on the 'table.

Pretty much the only criticism that I could level at the low-end of these Québécois speakers is that, perhaps because the woofers are rear-firing, the bass doesn't slam into your chest when the music reaches high levels in the way that some large-displacement, forward-firing woofers are capable. Nonetheless, the Parsifal Ovations managed to fill my listening room with kick-ass bass, and they didn't excite any room modes or raise any issues. This is a tradeoff I'm more than happy to make, especially when combined with the speakers' all-types-of-music friendliness.

Still rummaging happily through my Classic Records haul from last year's CES, I pulled out Peter Gabriel's Passion [Classic Records PG-8] and cued up side two. The start of "In Doubt" brought the percussionists into the room, along with all of the rumble and ambience hiding deep down in this track. It didn't sound like two woofers pushing air -- it sounded like my room had turned into a cavern inhabited by angry men banging on big, honking drums. This track also highlighted the seamless transition up into the midbass and through to the midrange, that tight, deep bass handing off to the quick, crisp articulation of the lower midrange.

At the excessively loud levels that Passion begs to be played, the Parsifal Ovations belt out the music in a clear, evocative manner that never sounds forced. In fact, it's possible to play these speakers at outrageously high levels without any sense of strain -- either emanating from the speakers or perceived by the listener. I grooved to "Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking" from Ricky Lee Jones's Pirates [Warner XBS 3432] playing LOUD. This is a seriously busy song that presents a challenge to any speaker, especially at the level I was listening. Yet the Parsifal Ovations handled it superbly, delineating each instrument, from Jones's voice to the shouted counterpoint of the male singers. In fact, while the Parsifal Ovations handle low volumes quite well -- they don't sound flat or reticent at low levels -- they really shine when you crack the throttle.

Over the course of my several months with the Verity speakers I had the chance to try them with many different pieces of equipment. As you may have read in my review last month of the GutWire MaxCon Extreme power conditioner and Power Clef 2 power cords, I found these speakers to be a reviewer's best friend. The Parsifal Ovations faithfully described in great detail any and all traits of upstream components. But more important than that, they managed to remain musical, enjoyable and engaging while doing so. The Verity speakers unhesitatingly informed me as to the grainless nature, deep soundstage and rich midrange of the Blue Circle BC202 amplifier, but they refrained from any thickness or muddiness while doing so. The Parsifal Ovations told me in no uncertain terms that the Ayre P-5xe phono stage was a crisp, clear, harmonically pure performer, but they said so without becoming threadbare or thin.

While the Parsifal Ovations sounded so very right via the Anthem P2 Statement amplifier and Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp, I couldn't help but feel that they were holding back a bit. Compared to what I'd heard in the past, both at the Festival Son & Image and at Verity's headquarters, I felt that I could improve on the sound quality that I was experiencing. I wasn't dissatisfied; I was already hearing pretty much the best sound that I'd ever had in my room. It was just that I felt it could get even better; although the view was already great, I was on a quest to reach the summit.

More tubes, I thought. My next stop was Applause Audio here in Toronto, where Rob Doughty kindly offered to lend me an Audiomat Opera integrated amplifier. The beautifully made EL34-based Opera was definitely a step in the right direction -- the Parsifal Ovation is one tube-friendly speaker. Via the Audiomat integrated, the midrange gained a very slight richness, a sheen that added depth and delineation to instrumental textures. Over the 20 years that I've been following his career, Robert Fripp has given me the gift of immense musical satisfaction, but I don't find myself listening to his records anywhere near as often as I used to. Tastes change, I guess. However, something about the combination of the Verity speakers and the Audiomat integrated instilled a hankering for Fripp's biting, incisive guitar, so I yanked Fripp and Eno's Evening Star [EG EGED 103] out of the dusty, little-used rock section of my record rack and settled back with these two old friends. The clear, coherent midrange of the Parsifal Ovations highlighted the complexities of Fripp's electronically augmented guitar, and Fripp's swirling melody infused the room with a rich, multilayered tonality that felt more like animated artwork than it sounded like music. When Fripp came in with a long, building chord in the first part of this track, I let out an audible sigh of pleasure and sank back into the music. I don't do that very often.

If a small dose of tubes is good, shouldn't more tubes be more good? That was the question that Song Kim of Song Audio sought to answer when he dragged his SA-300MB single-ended-triode monoblocks and SA-1 tube preamp into my listening room. Mr. Kim is a true enthusiast, and he really loves to get down and dirty when it comes to swapping gear around.

When we first set up the amps in my system, we only hooked up the heads of the Parsifal Ovations. After all, Verity sells these as true monitor speakers for professional use, and according to Julien Pelchat, they'll produce bass down to a solid 50Hz. Besides, Julien warned me that the bass module might present the SA-300MBs with a bit tougher load than their 7 watts could handle. Sure enough, the monitors alone sounded wonderful with the Song Audio amps. Vocals and instruments gained a palpability of image that verged on physically solid, while female vocals dripped with with wet, glossy emotion and feeling. Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges’ Back to Back [Verve/Classic Records MG VS-6055] was astounding via the combination of the Verity speakers and the Song Audio electronics. Every instrument was placed clearly in space, with an easily discernable outline. The musicians' intent was laid bare, bringing me intimately into the performance.

The real surprise, however, came when we gave a what-the-heck attempt at driving the entire Parsifal Ovation with the Song Audio amps. To my great surprise the low-powered 300B-based amplifiers were able to drive the speakers to room-filling levels. Sure enough they'd compress a bit if I turned the music up loud, but such levels were far above where I'd normally listen. This amp-speaker combination would make me very happy for any listening situation short of a party. Of course, any 300B-based amplifier has other limitations, and I could hear some frequency-response aberrations, most likely due to the SA-300MB's high output impedance. There was a dip in the midrange that took some of the power out of male vocals and instruments that shared this same region, and a small peak in the lower treble added some hardness. However, the treble sparkled beautifully, and the bass was acceptably solid. I could happily listen through this combination's drawbacks in order to revel in a midrange that sounded like a rich, red sunset looks.

While it might be indolent of me to suggest that the Parsifal Ovation is ideally suited to single-ended-triode amplification, my experience certainly seems to point out that it's worthwhile to investigate this avenue. After all, if you've just shelled out the Parsifal Ovation's not insignificant asking price and you haven't yet broken out a sweat, then what's another $4k for a set of the Song Audio SA-300MB amps? Some people wouldn't want to eat crème brûlée every day, while others would jump at the chance, especially if they knew they wouldn't promptly seize up with arterial plaque. And so, too, you might not want to listen to sound this luscious and sexy all the time, but then again you just might. So having the option of yanking the ol' 300Bs out of the closet might be just the ticket on a cold winter's night.

No matter what amplifier was connected to the Parsifal Ovations, they sounded consistently engaging up top. I was never able to hear the midrange hand off to the tweeter, the delicacy in the treble factoring high on the list of reasons why these speakers are so very musical. There’s a feeling of purity to the highs of the Parsifal Ovation, a clean, airy smoothness, that puts the listener at ease while still providing good extension and superb retrieval of detail. The Parsifal Ovation’s tweeter is so clean and grainless that I wouldn’t be surprised if some people dismiss this speaker after hearing it. It’s possible to become used to some of the artifacts that come along with lesser tweeters, and often audiophiles expect some grit in the treble. Remove all this excess baggage and a quick audition could easily lead you to think that the highs are rolled off. The measurements will certainly tell all, but these speakers should not be auditioned if you don’t have the time for an extended listen. It takes more than a cursory evaluation to reveal all of the talents of the Parsifal Ovation.

These speakers perform at the very highest level I've experienced, but my experience listening to other people's systems has proved to me that there are a huge number of radically different-sounding speakers out there, and this abundance exists because different people like different-sounding speakers. On one occasion I was visiting a prospective writer here in the Toronto area in the company of Doug Schneider. The system was a best-of-the-best setup, with tubes, vinyl, and a pair of extremely high-end monitors. Of course, our host loved his system; after all, he'd assembled it and was proud to show it off. Doug also approved, stating that he found the resolution of detail to be exceptional, and the tonal balance was 100% to his taste.

Me? I found it kind of hot up top, with a slightly forward treble that would have driven me up the wall if I had to listen to it over the long haul. The Parsifal Ovations, on the other hand, have an exceptionally natural, silky top-end -- one that immediately relaxes me and draws me into the music while still providing heaps of detail. However, I can't help but wonder if some might find it lacking in sparkle and pizzazz. The only way to tell for sure is to take a listen.

At $19,495 USD per pair, the Parsifal Ovations are anything but cheap. However, that tired adage which states that you get what you pay for most definitely applies. The speaker’s carriage work is overtly luxurious and covertly subtle at the same time, and the Parsifal Ovation, like all Verity speakers I’ve seen, exudes old-world craftsmanship and begins to justify its asking price even before it plays a note.

But the proof is in the listening, and it's here that the Parsifal Ovation stands out. This is a thoroughly engaging speaker that does all of the audiophile tricks but still remains a delight to listen to. Never dry, never sloppy, the Parsifal Ovation draws the meaning of the music to the surface, and makes the listener want to keep playing CDs and LPs. Near the completion of this review I had to box up one speaker in order to ship it to Ottawa for measurement at the NRC. I must have sat there for three hours with a binding-post wrench in my hand while I played those few last albums. "I'll take the speaker down after the next record," I kept promising myself. It was well past 1:00 a.m. on a work night when I began the process, which made for a drowsy morning at the office.

But it was worth it. That kind of tired I can definitely live with.

...Jason Thorpe

Verity Audio Parsifal Ovation Loudspeakers
$19,495 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Verity Audio
1005 Saint-Jean-Baptiste Ave., Suite 150
Quebec, QC G2E 5L1 Canada
Phone: (418) 682-9940
Fax: (418) 682-8644

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

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