Hyperion Sound’s HPS 968 Loudspeaker
|Hyperion Sound’s HPS 968 Loudspeaker|
|A Rising Star’s New Flagship Model Casts an Irresistible Glow|
First impressions mean a lot…
Most people like nice things, nice places and nice people. Oh, and tacking on a “new” in the front of these can also be another bonus. Recently my wife and I moved into a lovely new house in the beautiful neighborhood of Maywood, NJ. These were two new experiences for us in that we had been married for over two years yet still owned two individual properties that we were traipsing back and forth between in Manhattan and Irvington, NJ.
As physically beautiful as the new house and neighborhood are they wouldn’t add up to much without our beautiful neighbors who are truly a blessing to know, and around whom to live. I would say the people are what give the neighborhood its “soul.” The same can be said of any business or audio company, whereby those who create and showcase the products, and even those who deliver them, can influence the soul of that company.
A case in point is one Mr. Albert Wu, Hyperion Sounds' East Coast NJ office rep who I met earlier this year a few months before moving to our new home. Albert is a gentle, affable soul who has been a pleasure to know, greet and listen to music with at both my old and new houses. Initially, I had retrieved a pair of Hyperion’s now discontinued HWS – 733’s from Clement Perry that had undergone some tough times during transit and weren’t able to perform to the best of their abilities as a result of the physical damage. Albert, upon hearing of this, decided that a replacement pair was in order, so plans were made to make the swap but as my schedule would have it, I was off to Europe for another tour last spring.
By the time I returned I was in a new home and Albert delivered the replacement pair of the 733's but shortly thereafter Mr. Wu gave me a call to say that there was a new model on deck replacing the HWS-733 which was about to be discontinued. Albert posed to me “How would you feel about instead reviewing Hyperion’s new flagship HPS-968 model”.
Hmm. “How would I feel??? (Something shiny AND new?) Bring them by right away! I’ll supply the juice and hors d’oeuvres!” (Actually my wife did in the end, and Albert and I happily ate them.)
Albert brought the HPS-968s over during the early summer in an impressive 4 boxes that had some of the most diligent packaging and protection I have ever seen. The bass modules were contained in a box within a box. Inside the inner most box soft Styrofoam padding was applied on all the walls of the container and within laid a cabinet enclosed in a soft cloth bag featuring Velcro fasteners. 2 Nylon straps fully encircling each cabinet were thoughtfully applied to the exterior of each cloth to assist in lifting the units from their boxes. Just witnessing these being pulled from the boxes in all their “dressings” was already impressive.
A kit included in each of the upper module boxes contained the gold plated screw-on feet, their screw lock-adjusters, binding post jumper wire, the gold pucks that were to be placed on top of the lower bass module upon which the feet of the upper module would rest, a gold screw and knob that would be attached to the support arm of the upper module, and attachments to secure lasers to the tops of the upper modules to insure uniformity of the tweeter firing direction and heights between both channels. Altogether this kit was another touch of class in its packaging and presentation.
As the 968s can be tri-amped or tri-wired, Albert, knowing that I hadn’t 4 matching monoblocks or bi-wired cables, brought along Hyperion’s top-of-the-line silver jumper cables to do the duty. Albert stated that he’s seen the best results on the 968s when connecting the amps directly to the midrange posts but due to the stiffness and short length of my Straightwire Black Silc speaker cables we had to settle for wiring the monoblocks directly to the bass modules. (Though less than ideal in setup I wasn’t left with a lurking suspicion the sound was obviously being compromised by this during my time listening to the speakers.)
Initially Albert applied about 30 degrees of toe-in on both speakers and the upper modules looked to be tilted forward about 7 to 10 degrees to account for my somewhat low seating position judging from the lower plane of each upper module’s cabinet. As time wore on and we received comfy new furniture (more new stuff, hmm…) with a higher seating position, I found that leveling the upper modules off so that they were parallel to the tops of the bass modules gave me the best performance. I also flattened out the toe-in so that the speakers were only about 5 – 7 degrees off of being perpendicular to the walls behind them. From the center of one channel’s woofer to the other is about 7 feet 3 inches. My ears are about 9 feet from each of the tweeters on their slanted-back front baffles.
The 968s feature the ability to adjust the tweeters in 2dB increments up to +4 dB or down to -4 dB via a rear-mounted knob on each upper module. After much experimentation over a good number of weeks ultimately I chose to set the tweeters to the 0 db level. The roll off of 2 db was nice at first but as time wore on I decided that no attenuating or accentuation of the highs gave me the most lifelike and cohesive reproduction of the music. However, I did change the power cable on my primary listening source, a Marantz 8260 SACD player, from an old PS Audio Mini Lab to an ElectraGlide cable to achieve a warmer sound. At that point I felt that I attained the most satisfyingly neutral and balanced sound from the system.
Interestingly enough, raising and lowering the upper module could achieve to a lesser degree something of a similar effect. Lowering the height of the tilt forward to parallel to the top cabinets sent the tweeter firing higher into the air which gave me a warmer more rounded sound, while raising the rear tilt up higher forced the tweeters to fire more directly at me gave and a more incisive and slightly brighter sound.
Positioning and setting the HPS-968s for the best sound is simply a matter of personal taste. With the combination of the electronically adjustable tweeter output levels, and adjustable tilting upper module containing the tweeters and midranges, as well as the toe-in variable, the user is presented with more options than with your average speaker. This level of customization is refreshing and I welcomed it as it served to be an invaluable tool in setting up the 968s. No longer did I have to pick a relatively low seating position to mate with my Thiel 2.2's for the best sound. The only possible drawback is that with all of these options comes a level of complexity that if not paid attention to could end in some not so spectacular results. But with a bit of care and attention to detail (that most of us audiophiles do any way) the listener can optimize the setup according to their room and tastes.
Unfortunately, no literature or manuals regarding setup came in the packaging of the review sample speakers.
Fit and Finish
The Hyperion 968s finish is a piano quality lacquer of high gloss black. It is blemish free, equal in appearance to that of the highest quality musical instruments and furniture. It surpasses that of the finish on my well taken care of 1967 Yamaha U3 piano. The binding posts and supplied attachable and adjustable feet are gold. The feet themselves are weighty, and have the feel of a high quality, quite dense metal, crucial in isolating the speakers from spurious vibration energy.
The 3 pairs per speaker of massive gold binding posts are textured to allow for a good grip. There is one pair on the bass module and two pairs on the midrange/tweeter module. The posts are attached to the speakers with what seem to be removable metal plates as there are screws on the plates. I did not remove the screws or remove the plates. (Perhaps with Hyperion's approval and assistance I may get a gander of the internals, at which time I will report my findings.)
Hyperion design aspects
Of most interest to me after living with the speakers for a quite a while in my somewhat large (15 feet wide x 28 ft & 4 inches long x 7 feet 9 inches tall) virtually untreated new listening space (except for 4 of EchoBusters' Corner Busters and some rather large soft furniture) is Hyperion’s “Rear Pressure Reduce Device (R.P.R.D.) technology, meant to minimize the rear pressure reflection influence." In a nutshell this technology apparently seeks to reduce the amount of sound coming off the rear of the speaker thus removing the sound muddying effect of reflections from the wall behind the speakers. I can say without a doubt this works!
I hadn't even noticed this technology in my initial glances at Hyperion's site page dedicated to the 968s and just noticed it in preparing for my final review notes. (I actually try not to get caught up so much in a product's technology while doing the majority and initial phases of my listening. I feel that getting too attached to the technology pushes me more on the road of listening for things in a product's rendering of the music rather than listening to a product's performance and in essence, losing sight of the larger overall experience.)
After setting up the new listening room I noticed a decline in quality of performance with the old Thiels in place. The old house's listening space was much smaller but it had soft pine floors, and plaster and lathe walls with curtains directly behind the system. The combination of 1920's plaster and lathe (which does sound better than modern sheetrock) as well as the curtains gave me a reasonably warm and focused sound back at my old home. The new house's sheet-rocked walls proved to be much harsher, as well as depreciated the focus in my system. I had been meaning to address this with some wall treatments but upon placing the Hyperions in my room I achieved a noticeably better focus than my old Thiel 2.2's, such that it put my need and desire to further treat the walls on the back burner. Don't get me wrong, as I'm sure that extra treatments would squeeze even better sound from my system but Hyperion's Rear Pressure Reduce Device (R.P.R.D.) technology worked so well it's given me some time to wait on this.
Listening – where the fun starts
I'm going to dive in before mentioning any specific song selections and throw out a few descriptions of the HPS-968s from my review notes. Hyperion's HPS 968s have astonishing clarity, speed, agility, and faithfulness, along with a tremendously beautiful amount of extension on both extremes of the sonic spectrum that serve the music to the best I've ever experienced from a pair of speakers I've ever had in my possession. I would even dare to say they rank easily in the top 5 speakers I've ever heard in my life in any setting whether at a trade show or within a personal system. I can confidently say the Hyperion 968s ranks up there with the finest from Thiel, Vandersteen, Dynaudio, Wilson Audio, and Wilson Benesch.
One of the first things I immediately noticed was the need to set my preamp a good bit lower in level relative to the Thiels because of the 968s sensitivity rating of 90 dB. The Thiels are rated at 87 dB and as such are not as efficient as the Hyperions.
On the "Presto" as conducted by Karajan from Beethoven's Symphony no. 7 in A Major, op .92 [Deutsche Grammaphon SACD 474 604-2] I heard a tremendous weight and authority from the HPS 968s. The combination of an enormous amount of speed, clarity, dynamics and gobs of textures was rendered from the Hyperions in the most lifelike, spine-tingling and musically satisfying manner I have ever heard in my system. The crescendos and suddenness of dynamic contrast were absolutely breathtaking. As clear and deft as the Thiels have been in my system the Hyperion’s simply bettered them.
The Hyperion’s portrayed the back and forth transitions from the grand bombast of full strings and tympani down to the delicate sections of woodwinds with violins and solo flute in a most spectacularly dramatic and nimble manner. The 968s, in combination with the Nuforce ref 9V2 SE’s, performed with so much ease in rendering of the difference in texture AND dynamic capabilities between the different instruments and sections that I could easily sit back and just be amazed with the music without ever once worrying about any noticeable distortion or sonic anomalies.
For example at 1'25" into the “Presto” the 968s handled the decrescendo and settling of the music with aplomb featuring less overshoot, with more ease and flow than my Thiel 2.2’s. There was no sign of driver overhang and the resultant smearing of the music. After this moment in the music the gradual crescendo up to the capitulation at 2'32" was portrayed by the 968s with equal effortlessness with nary a hint of strain or glare heard in the delivery while at the same time maintaining a phenomenal amount of transparency.
What shortcomings that could be heard were only those of the recording itself. For example I could swear that I noticed for the first time that at 3'13" in there was an edit as evidenced by either some studio engineered dynamics that seemed artificially softer or the splicing of a recording which revealed a slightly different mic placement. The fact that I could hear these things was a testament of the Hyperion 968s astounding amount of detail and world class clarity.
The Hyperion 968s conveyed Carl Nielson's Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon, op. 43 mvt. III - "Praeludium: Adagio; Tema con variazioni" [Sony Classical, SMK 46250] with a tremendous amount of differentiation between the individual instruments that was surprisingly new to my ears. Once again I heard a phenomenal amount of texture along with a healthy dose of each instrument’s natural overtones and harmonics more so than that heard via the Thiel’s. I could hear and feel the flesh of the fast flute lines, as well as distinguish the tonguing techniques of the player. This hallmark served as a testament to the 968s amazing ability to deliver both the flesh of the unadulterated midrange and the pristine highs of the flute.
Hyperion’s choice of employing 1st order cross overs has paid off in spades as the 968s imaging is stellar. The positions of all the performers in the quintet on the Nielson were easily noted both laterally and depth wise. Thiel speakers have a history of being champions in this category and the 968s equaled the Thiel’s in this matter while doing it with less stress and fatigue that in the end gave me the perception of even greater depth and focus. Overall I heard a sound that was easily recognized as being sweeter and cleaner, with a richer, more fleshed out and fulfilling midrange, featuring greater purity than my usual Thiel 2.2’s on any other speaker that’s crossed my review bench. In fact I could say that I’ve only heard a few times in passing whether at trade shows or visits to other audiophiles’ homes, this kind of purity to reproduced sound.
On "Africa" from The John Coltrane Quartet's The Complete Africa Brass Sessions [Impulse IMPD-2-168] I was treated to a more beguiling sound through the Hyperion 968s with a significant reduction in stress, strain, and distortion than what I had been hearing via the Thiel 2.2’s. All of these improvements were there while at the same time I had a more revealing and lifelike view of the music and performance space that John Coltrane, his quintet and his brass orchestra occupied. Here the midrange was once again so captivating that I heard Coltrane’s lines with a lifelikeness and propulsion unlike ever before. With the speed and clarity of the 968s drivers, even during his fastest, most ferocious runs I could hear EVERY note's articulation and pitch clearly yet at the same time I never felt any of the stress and fatigue that so often comes with speakers that might feature so much pace and resolution but at the unfortunate expense of musicality. There was a palpability, roundness and flesh from Coltrane’s horn that pulled me deeper into the music and elevated my appreciation of his mastery of his horn and art even more than ever.
As compared to the Thiels, the HPS 968s also served up more rhythmic pace and bounce from Elvin Jones’ cymbal beat. His direct-from-Mother-Africa linearly rolling tom, snare and bass drum work had an immediacy and drive that was spectacularly portrayed by the 968s in the closest form in spirit to hearing him live that I’ve ever heard. Up and down the entire frequency range of the kit I could hear more rightness and believability in its reproduction. Having heard Elvin play a decent number of occasions in live intimate settings – one time even when he sat in at the legendary Bradley’s along with Betty Carter with a band of young lions I sat directly next to him inches from his hi hat - I can verify these speakers got his vibe right.
Via the 968s I heard greater texture, timbre, and better room cues within the recording. The instruments of each and everyone were more distinct with gobs more information than I had ever heard it in my system.
I must also note that I have heard this same recording on, our editor Clement Perry’s state of the art mega-buck system several times as it is a reference piece that Perry likes to play for the jazz musicians and music lovers who visit him, just so he can watch them well up with emotion and not too uncommonly cry. (The greatest thing about Perry’s choice here of a reference is that it is purely based upon the music and not so much some audiophile notion of great products that ignores the music.) With the Hyperion 968s in place in my relatively humble system I was able to hear this wonderful piece of great American Music in a reproduction that held its own as compared to Perry’s system that cost many times more. Though surely not as resolved as that what I heard from Perry’s $500k system, I was still left with as deep an emotional impact from the performance the 968s effortlessly posited.
Perry himself heard my system with the HPS 968s in place but being driven with the lesser, non-SE versions of Nuforce’s Ref 9 V2’s and he was similarly impressed. He even congratulated me on having a great sounding system to match our great new house.
David Pizaro’s organ performance of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" from Barber's Adagio [BMG 09026-68758-2] was warm, enveloping as well as accurate in a way that I’ve never witnessed before on any reproduced performance of organ music. The low end extension, without a hint of distortion, played through the Hyperion 968s just simply wasn’t possible on the Thiels as their frequency range doesn’t extend as deep as the 968s.
This disparity in bass performance is understandable as the Thiels are not even half as expensive as the 968s but I’m nonetheless impressed at the how much the relative newcomer Hyperion has done to produce such an amazing speaker at this price point. The extra 3k of moolah, as it concerns the 968s, gets you a speaker that will shake you to your core when paired with the right amplification, at least. I must have listened to this Pizaro performance 5 times in a row and kept turning it up each time until I approached real-world levels and never once noticed any driver distortion being induced from the any of the lowest organ notes. In fact, as I noticed the speakers were so efficient, accurate, and distortion free at loud volumes, I actually became more fearful for the structure of my house than I was for them!
Each time the music approached the 3’53” spot of the music where a gigantic, gut rumbling, room vibrating low E flat is played moving up to an E natural shortly thereafter, I braced my self for what I thought would be a driver crackling, magnet bottoming out, stress of a passage but the 968s sailed through this torture test with no problems in terms of driver breakup. I didn’t perceive even a hint of distortion even at with playback set at Unity Gain on my Channel Islands Audio preamp! That huge low E flat was spot on and clearly recognizable with none of the sub standard one-note-bass that is the result of lesser engineering.
I tell you, at that moment, with fear in my heart and my thumb hovering over the stop button of my SACD player’s remote my jaw dropped in shock and awe (thank you Bushie for that one!) as I heard and SAW one of the most gigantic musical moments I have ever witnessed in my entire life. I literally saw the woofers’ bounce in and out from the front plane of the cabinets like it was some cartoon movie but it didn’t sound distorted in any way! Whether this is a testament to the speakers or the amps or both might be debatable, but I have to admit I couldn’t do this with my Thiels.
What was all the more amazing was that all this sound and clean extended bass was coming from a speaker that is just a bit over 3 feet 7 inches tall. That 90 dB sensitivity rating was clearly showing its worth here. Touching both the upper and lower cabinets during some of the loudest passages on this selection revealed that very little resonant energy was being transferred from the drivers to the cabinets on either lower or upper module. Lovers of organ music with limited space and a good strong amp or amps, just might find the Hyperions 968s to be a ticket to heaven on earth.
The Hyperion 968s served oodles of funk n’ thump on Erykah Badu’s "Rimshot" and "On & On" from Baduizm [Universal, UD 53027] as another testament to their ease in delivering the pace, weight and authority found on this disc. A veil was lifted from the music as compared to anything I have ever heard in my system so much so that I could make sense out of some of Erykah’s previously indiscernible mumblings. All along, the head bouncing groove was there unlike ever before to me. In this way the Hyperion’s once again showed their greatest strength – the ability to disappear and just let the music speak for itself while at the same time shedding a new light on recordings that I thought I already very well knew, only to find even more luscious detail and sonic glory within each of them.
The most impressive thing about the Hyperion 968s is their ability to get out of the way electronically and let the music speak for itself. With some care and attention on finding the right setup for me in my own space, great recordings sounded amazing, good recordings sounded great and bad recordings sounded well, merely OK through the 968s. At the same time borderline recordings sounded noticeably better through the 968s than anything I’ve ever heard in my system but still one can’t get around bad in, bad out.
Care should also be made in finding components that have a commensurate quality to that of the 968s but at the same time with all their wonderful amount of resolution, the act of changing or upgrading something as simple as a power cable in one’s system will be readily noticeable and just might be the ticket to sonic bliss if for some reason these speakers aren’t doing it for you as evidenced by my changing of the power cord on my CD player.
Hyperion’s 968s mated beautifully in my none-too extravagant system with glorious results and represent a true value at their price level. Also keep in mind these speakers may be tri-amped or tri-wired which should give even better performance than what I even experienced.
The Hyperion 968s are truly a reference quality speaker in all the most important facets of performance, fit, finish and design. They have marveled me in the most undeniable way with their uncompromising musicality, clarity and faithfulness. I have the gut feeling that it will be quite some time before I hear anything at this price point that will surpass them. If any one is in the market for a speaker below $20k (and possibly even higher) I highly recommend taking the time to listen and/or audition these speakers before possibly coming too heavily out of one’s pocket. I have a feeling they just might be very happily impressed and surprised at their price to performance ratio.
Bravo, Hyperion, as you have melded together Earth and Heaven to produce a truly Titanic speaker.
Frequency Response: 25 Hz to 25k Hz
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 6 ohms, 3.8 ohms Minimum
Power Requirement: 10 W Minimum, 200 W Maximum
Woofer: 8", 2nd Generation Aluminum S.V.F. Woofer x 2
Midrange: 6-1/2", 2nd Generation Hard Surround Carbon Fiber Driver with S.V.F., M.F.D.S. & R.P.R.D.
Tweeter: 1” Silk Dome
Crossover: 1st Order @ 150 Hz & 3k Hz
Finishes: Black Piano High Gloss
Dimensions: Upper Cabinet H 340 x W 300 x D 365
Lower Cabinet H 700 x W 300 x D 465
Weight: Upper Cabinet 21 Lbs (Unpacked)
Lower Cabinet 65 Lbs (Unpacked)
1. With S.V.F. and M.D.S., the newly designed 2nd generation midrange driver is built with hard surround to further improve the performance in terms of speed and clarity and Rear Pressure Reduce Device (R.P.R.D.) to minimize the rear pressure reflection influence.
2. Matching drivers with cabinets perfectly instead of music killing capacitors, the new crossover design achieves the extreme phase accuracy. No low frequency cut on midrange, and all drivers are in 1st order arrangements.
3. 2nd generation aluminum woofers for lower base extension to 25Hz.
4. Adjustable tilt angle for top cabinet in the effort of finding the sweet spot (with laser pointer).
5. Top cabinet 3 point placement with bronze bearing spheres for easy installation.
6. Room Reactance Control for adjusting treble in different room conditions.
Price: $7000 per pair
Address CA Office:
Hyperion Sound Design, Inc. (CA Office)
1305 John Reed Court,
City of Industry, California 91745 U.S.A.
Address NJ Office:
Hyperion Sound Design, Inc. (NJ Office)
Princeton, New Jersey 08540 U.S.A.
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