March 1, 2010

Verity Audio Amadis Loudspeakers


When I began paying attention to audio gear, each new acquisition -- speakers, an interconnect, even a simple isolation cone -- made me gravid with excitement. I’d rush home with my new item, unwrap it with little regard for instructions or packaging integrity, maneuver it into position, and let the music fly. I was in my early 30s then, but my mental age with regard to audio was really at least a decade younger.

Anyway, I’d sit there, poised on the edge of my seat, listening to that component, trying to hear whether it was going to affirm my purchase of it. Those were tense seconds -- nascent, encapsulated moments when the placebo effect could spontaneously generate a miniature black hole, even an entire other dimension.

In those days I was listening for my grail -- detail -- and, of course, more and tighter bass. I know that I was enduring some really atrocious systems, but if I heard more detail and more bass, I felt I was making progress. But, laboring away in my vacuum, without regard for musicality or ease, I probably wouldn’t have recognized a good-sounding system had it punched me in the nose.

This sport that is audiophilia can engender that sort of listening attitude. I’ve sat around with some knowledgeable industry experts and listened to systems that were bright enough to put a new edge on a hunting knife. Everyone seemed to be enjoying things immensely. One thing’s for sure: Some people aren’t listening for music, but searching for something that may well be unattainable.

There are ways to get off the treadmill. Right now I’m listening to Rickie Lee Jones’s Pop Pop (LP, Geffen/ORG 007) through the third set of Verity loudspeakers to cycle through my system. I’m relaxed, happy, and blissfully unaware that there’s a stereo playing in my room. I’ve left the system behind and am enjoying the music. I can’t stress this strongly enough. Everyone always says they’re in this thing for the music, but I’m not sure I believe them.

That Verity speakers don’t jump out and grab your attention is both their blessing and their curse. It’s a curse because I imagine that many people sit down in front of a pair for a quick audition and aren’t immediately blown away. Veritys don’t lunge for the jugular, they don’t go for the quick showroom kill. You need to spend an afternoon listening to Veritys, and as the day wears on, your shoulders will drop, you’ll sit back, and you’ll relax out of your The Thinker pose.

That’s what happened to me, and here I sit facing a pair of Verity’s newest speakers. With the Amadis ($30,000 USD per pair), Verity plugs the hole between their venerable Parsifal Ovation ($21,000/pair), formerly their premier product, and the Sarastro ($42,000/pair). Besides the doubling of price from Parsifal to Sarastro, there’s also a fair difference in size between those two. The Parsifal is a reasonably compact floorstander; the Sarastro leans toward the scope and scale of a component that will truly dominate a room. At 44"H x 12.8"W x 17.9"D, the Amadis -- especially in its light-sucking, hand-applied, multi-layer, piano-black lacquer -- blends nicely into my 17’L x 14’W room. I get the feeling that the Sarastro might be a touch overwhelming -- not that I’d be averse to finding out for myself.

The Amadis is immediately recognizable as a Verity speaker. First, it comes packed in the company’s signature flight cases, which I’ve always found a very classy bit of filigree. More expensive speakers have arrived here in wooden crates -- even in cardboard boxes. Verity speakers are a high-end product, and the company appropriately presents them as such.

Each Amadis consists of two graceful, subtly sculpted cabinets: a two-way monitor speaker resting atop a woofer module, the two enclosures separated by a weighty aluminum plate and Sorbothane pucks. Despite closely approximating two rectangular prisms separated by a platform, there are, as near as I can tell, only two parallel panels in the entire assembly: It’s not immediately noticeable, but the Amadis widens slightly toward the rear even as its top panel slopes downward. In profile, the Amadis has a swaybacked grace that vaguely evokes the hood ornament of a Rolls-Royce -- a flying sprite hinting at motion while remaining firmly rooted. The Amadis showcases all of the research and development chops built up by Verity over the years. And it’s a dense little guy -- according to Verity, the Amadis weighs 75 pounds, though to me it seemed substantially heavier.

From where I sit, the Amadis’s main focus is its midrange cone, made by the Danish company Audiotechnology to Verity’s exacting specifications. (I saw Verity’s list of extensive changes and revisions during a visit to their factory.) This 6" short-coil, long-gap symmetrical drive-unit is also used as the midrange driver in the Sarastro. As with their other speakers, Verity doesn’t use a low-pass crossover at the top of the midrange’s frequency extreme, instead letting the driver’s mechanical limitations roll off the highs.

The absence of a crossover at the top of the midrange has several consequences. First, it means that the midrange driver will beam -- that is, it will disperse less sound to the sides the higher in frequency it plays. A side effect of this is that there will be less reflected sound, and more sound directly from the driver itself arriving at the listening position, which will result in a bit of a dip in output near the top of the driver’s range.

However, by disposing of the midrange crossover, Verity gets that one driver to play from around 200Hz to somewhere north of 5000Hz -- a very wide range. And since the tweeter doesn’t have to kick in until a much higher frequency than normal, it’s got an easier job -- which means, among other benefits, that it can handle more power with less stress.

And the Amadis’s tweeter sure is interesting. When I first saw it, I thought someone had poked it with a finger -- it has the most unusual-looking dimple in its center -- but it’s OK, really. This fourth-generation ring-radiator tweeter from SB Acoustics lacks the previous generations’ nipple-like protuberance, which some felt caused phase anomalies due to reflections. The tweeter cone is supported in the middle from the rear; I was told that you can actually push on the middle of it and feel the phase plug behind it, though I chose not to do so. According to Verity, this tweeter’s range extends up to 50kHz.

The Amadis’s rear-firing woofer, too, is a Verity trademark. Another Audiotechnology design, this 9" short-gap woofer uses a 3"-long voice-coil to reach down to a claimed 20Hz, -3dB. The Amadis’s ported cabinet displaces 40 liters, in comparison to the Parsifal’s 28 and the Sarastro’s 60 liters. By firing the woofer toward the rear corners of the room, Verity claims that they gain some efficiency in the bass by, in effect, horn-loading the driver. Also, since the woofer faces away from the listener, fewer midrange frequencies reach the listening position from the woofer, and Verity thus nets an extra slice of crossover efficiency.

Verity rates the Amadis at 93dB efficiency with impedances of 8 ohms nominal, 3 ohms minimum. I found that the speaker sounded best off my Audio Research VT100 power amplifier’s 8-ohm tap.

And the rest . . .

I strapped the Amadises to Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 speaker cables and used Solo Crystal Oval balanced interconnects from preamp to power amp and from phono stage to preamp.

My Sonic Frontiers SFL2 preamplifier continues to squat, troll-like, on my equipment rack. Another longtime resident is my Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable, and I’m still using and loving my Roksan Shiraz cartridge, now on its third rebuild. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of that wonderful transducer. The Blue Circle Audio BC703 phono stage (review forthcoming) is still in residence, but a major illness over the holidays has delayed that review. A Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6 power conditioner handled filtration and distribution of AC, and power cables were Shunyata Taipans.

Comfort is not the enemy of vigilance

Way back when, after I landed my first real job, I was shopping at a nearby store that specialized in remaindered designer clothes. There was a ton of dreck at that place, but every once in a while something interesting would materialize. That day, rooting through one of the store’s dustier sections, I hit paydirt, a nugget the size of my thumb: a really classy Armani suit, in my size, in a beautiful light gray, for $300. This was a genuine made-in-Italy number, not the downmarket Hong Kong crap that, at the time, was beginning to appear.

I wore that suit for years, until the pants got shiny, and after that I wore the jacket with jeans. The Suit, as I came to think of it, was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever owned. It also looked fantastic, and made me feel like some kind of superstar. Many people equate true comfort with sweatpants and woolly jumpers -- stuff that feels good but looks lousy. It’s the same with audio: If something sounds really pleasant and easy on the ears, of necessity, it’s going to be loose and sloppy.

Not so, people, not so. The Verity Amadis was the aural equivalent of The Suit. In every respect, it exuded quality, sophistication, and refinement. I mentioned Rickie Lee Jones’s Pop Pop earlier -- it’s been seeing a fair bit of rotation on the big Pro-Ject ’table since the Veritys landed in my listening room. "Dat Dere" was the first track of this album I ever heard, and it’s still my favorite. In its reproduction of this rich, evocative song, the Amadis removes from the music every trace of the equipment. I’m well aware that that’s a big, sweeping statement, but the musicality of these speakers gives me plenty of ammo with which to back it up.

I wish you could hear how the Amadises placed every instrument on a real, holographic soundstage, how they put out bass that was deep, tight, and correct without straying to either the sloppy or the dry side. If you heard the electrostatic speed of the Amadis’s midrange, its clear, unforced, edge-free yet extended highs, you’d immediately understand what I’m blathering on about. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That happens when I have this much fun.

Perhaps the most striking and endearing feature of the Amadis was, strangely enough, its self-effacing nature. From the lower midrange right up through the highest reaches of the treble, there was not the slightest roughness or grit. There were no peaks I could hear, and nothing to draw attention away from the music. Closely recorded trumpet is instructive, as it clearly highlights any midrange anomalies. Listening to Freddie Hubbard run through the registers on "Weaver of Dreams," from Ready for Freddie (LP, Blue Note 8 32094 1), I was struck by the clarity of his tone, the shine from his trumpet’s bell, the precision of his phrasing. But my attention was never drawn to the speakers. Instead, the music hung there. For the purposes of this review, of course, I did have to actively pay attention to what the speakers were doing. Let me tell you, it was work.

So its lack of any peakiness, and perhaps, just maybe, even a tiny bit of reticence through the midrange, made the Amadis incredibly easy on my ears. What this resulted in were long listening sessions completely devoid of listening fatigue.

As Verity doesn’t cross over their midrange driver at the top of its range, this single cone was essentially reproducing the entire fundamental range of Hubbard’s trumpet. Perhaps the absence of a crossover is partly responsible for just how stunningly fast the Amadis sounded through the midrange. Either that, or this is just one heck of a good driver. More likely it’s a combination of the two. The Amadis handled dynamic musical swings with ease.

Another side benefit of the Amadis’s smooth, uncolored midrange was that I could listen to these speakers loud. Oh, sure, most full-range speakers do go loud these days, but these here Veritys were a hill of fun to listen to at high levels. They didn’t compress, they didn’t get even remotely peaky, and they didn’t change character as the volume rose. As I leaned on the throttle, the Amadises just became more enjoyable. I’ve noted this with the other Verity speakers I’ve had in my system. Both the Parsifal Ovation and the Rienzi come alive as the music approaches what I consider realistic listening levels. The Amadis continued that trend.

In respect to tonal accuracy, the Amadis was a touch polite through the upper midrange, possibly due to its lack of a high-pass crossover and the attendant beaming near the top of the mid’s range. But Verity, well aware of the consequences of the absence of a mid/tweet crossover, has refined the concept to net, in the process, a light touch, a delicacy and sense of immediacy. Nancy Wilson, slinging out "The Old Country," from Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (LP, Capitol SM-1657), sounded corporeal, slinky, and perfectly centered. The Amadises’ evocative midrange reproduced a real, live singer surrounded by a delightful shimmering aura, right here for my listening pleasure. From my listening position, Verity’s choice of midrange alignment is a fine one.

I was somewhat perturbed when Verity’s Julien Pelchat informed me that Verity was using a new ring-radiator tweeter in the Amadis. While I’ve enjoyed some ring radiators, I wouldn’t have considered them conducive to The Verity Sound. Here, I thought, was Verity’s chance to mess the whole damn thing up.

I needn’t have worried: The Amadis’s tweeter disappeared into the fabric of the speaker’s sound, never drawing attention to itself. Even with poor recordings -- the bane of high-end speakers -- the highs were silky, extended, and rich. And if the recording was truly abrasive, at least the Amadis didn’t batter me about the head and neck with the fact. My wafer-thin Canadian pressing of Tom Waits’s The Heart of Saturday Night (LP, Asylum 7ES-10015) is a crispy piece of crap, but I love listening to the records Waits made back before he started gargling with gravel. Even with the volume juiced to a level that would be difficult to talk over, the cymbals on tracks such as "Drunk on the Moon" didn’t intrude. In fact, via the Amadis, they managed to retain a semblance of what was most likely on the master tape. Considering the quality of this LP, that’s quite an achievement.

On better-recorded and -pressed fare, the Veritys shone. Pianist Jeffrey Siegel’s performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with Louis Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony -- a Reference Recordings disc o’ bombast (LP, Reference Mastercuts RM-1003) -- is my kind of orchestral piece. It’s big, lyrical, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Tons of high-frequency detail are embedded in this album -- triangles, bells, cymbals, etc. -- and the Amadis presented me with all that detail in an outrageously natural, unforced manner.

There were times when I could imagine listeners who are used to more incisive speakers becoming a touch bored by the Verity’s highs. Not bored with the quality of the treble, mind you -- that was truly impeccable. Rather, I would imagine that those who live by the mantra of Detail Above All Else might find the overall level of the Amadis’s treble just a touch low for their taste. I can empathize, but I don’t agree. The Amadis’s high end had plenty of air and detail, and was of such a silken and jewel-like character that it just didn’t need to shout. I also suspect that the utter lack of abrasiveness in the Amadis’s highs might trick some listeners into thinking they’re missing something. Some won’t appreciate this sort of refinement, preferring, I suppose, quantity over quality. But when I listen to Classic Records’ wonderful vinyl reissue of John Coltrane’s Blue Train (LP, Blue Note 1577), and Philly Joe Jones’s high-hat work just leaps from the front of my room, I think that there’s more than enough HF information for any sane listener. Once more, it’s all about how the Amadis serves up not detail, but musicality.

I’ve left the bass for last; in some ways, it’s my favorite feature of the Amadis. I’ve had speakers with more bass in my system -- the WLM Gran Viola Signature with Duo 18 subwoofer ($24,330 for the system), from way back, featured a sub with two 18" drivers, and I really enjoyed feeling the onset of an aneurism from total body shock. But sometimes a speaker gets the low end so correct that I forget about the carpet-bombing side of audio LF reproduction.

Sticking with Blue Train proved instructive. Older jazz albums aren’t exactly famous for the excitement of their bass work, and I sometimes find the solos painful -- as if everyone’s just humoring the poor guy for having to schlep around that huge instrument. But through the Amadises I could hear into the bass, and discern behind the instrument the bassist’s intent. Somehow, the Amadis managed to unearth a boatload of detail from a very complex mix. The bass solo in the title track still sucks, mind you, but Paul Chambers’ accompaniment swings along with loads of rhythmic intensity; and it’s neither elevated nor buried. As I mentioned earlier, it’s correct.

You may be thinking that, for your 30 grand, you want more than just correct. Don’t worry -- the Amadis could crank out some serious bass when asked to. Although the music on Cat Power’s Jukebox (LP, Matador OLE 793-1) doesn’t go that low (I’d guess most of the bass and drum sound is in the 40-50Hz range), "New York, New York" is a bass-hound’s paradise. The entire group sounds as if it was recorded in an echo chamber, but it’s a fun listen, even if it’s an artificial acoustic setting. The opening bars are dominated by a honkin’ great kick drum, and the Amadises slammed it out in no uncertain terms. I know I’m repeating my adjectives, but the bass was rich and deep, yet at the same time tight and controlled. Rather than simply lashing out with a wallop to the chest, the Amadis’s bass seemed to infuse my room, thereby creating a thoroughly believable and eminently satisfying acoustic environment.

A couple of notes on amplifier pairing: Despite the 93dB efficiency rating, Verity recommends powering the Amadis with a minimum of 18W, and that seems sensible to me. I did try a pair of 300B-based monoblocks on the Amadis, but in my opinion, the 7Wpc that these amps put out wasn't quite enough to generate the kind of sound -- levels and control -- that these speakers are capable of. With the 300B amps there was a noticeable midrange suckout, and the bass was too indistinct for my tastes.


The Verity Audio Amadis is a very special speaker, but it’s got to find the right home. Inveterate gear-swappers -- those looking for something from audio that’s missing from their lives -- should steer clear: they’ll end up taking a loss. This is no speaker for hobbyists.

The Amadis is a speaker for music lovers. I imagine that the typical Verity Audio buyer will end up keeping his set for a long time. Once you settle in to listen to these speakers -- and I mean really listen -- you’ll likely find the musical satisfaction that you knew was possible but had never before found. Once discovered, this kind of comfort is hard to let go.

Comfort? My couch is quite comfortable, I’m settled in, and I’ve been listening to music all day. In fact, I’m listening to Pop Pop again. It’s been a long listening session, and tonight, when a friend comes to visit, it will probably just keep going.

. . . Jason Thorpe

Verity Audio Amadis Loudspeakers
Price: $30,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

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


US agent:
Tempo Sales & Marketing
P.O. Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02454
Phone: (617) 314-9296


Canadian agent:
9692 Trans Canada Highway
Montréal, Québec H4S 1V9
Phone: (514) 333-5444



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