Impact Technology’s Vento Loudspeaker
|Impact Technology’s Vento Loudspeaker|
Prepare for IMPACT
3 July 2000
Size (W,H,D) 9" × 44.75" × 21"
Weight: 100 lbs. each
Frequency Response: 29 Hz to 20 KHz +/- 2.5 dB
Sensitivity: 87dB / 1 watt / 1 meter
Speaker Type: Two way transmission line
Woofer: 6.5" Composite Aluminum / Pulp / Butyl
Tweeter: 1" Fabric Dome
Crossover Point 2,100 cycles
Natural cherry and black ash finishes
Impact Technology, Ltd. P.O. Box 616 Ambler PA 19002
Phone: (215) 653-7440
Fax: (215) 653-7441
A couple of quotes from the manufacturer's web site state: "They behave like high quality monitors (great imaging and timbre) but with powerful and articulate bass. To accomplish this we developed a new line loading technique for the woofer, which we have dubbed the PCLline (Pressure Chamber Labyrinth Line). The PCLline consists of a chamber feeding a tuned pipe or line. The chamber is loaded with the back wave of the woofer and that chamber in turn energizes the tuned line. The benefits include extended low frequency reproduction, reduced cabinet resonance, increased power handling and the elimination of the port noise and turbulence so common in reflex designs."
"The Vento 2000 is highly recommended for the enthusiast who appreciates fine sound. They are easy to setup and will sound good in living spaces that are less than ideal acoustically…"
"The design goal of the Vento was predicated on the audiophile's wish for the quickness and imaging of a small monitor melded with the power of a large multi-driver speaker." From the front, if the speakers are toed in to face the listener, their profile is quite appealing. Measuring only 9" across and less than 4' high and finished in furniture-grade natural cherry veneers, they blend in nicely with modern decor. No grill is provided so the two drivers are exposed, with the tweeter oddly placed below the midrange/woofer. The port is front firing and visible, a black rectangular space located at the base, that aesthetically balances the black circular drivers at the top. Overall, the Ventos are pleasing to look at. The speaker rests on a glossy black base, which in turn is elevated by screw-in metal spikes. It comes bi- wire ready with two sets of quality gold-plated binding posts.
The manufacturer, Mark Conti, and his partner, Lawrence Blair, came by to install the Vento's. They recommend positioning them well out into the room, particularly away from the wall behind them. The setup was done quickly with the toe-in straight out to the listener, about 20" from the side walls and symmetrical. The supplied spikes were replaced with some Poly Crystal composite cones and placed on some pennies, so as not to damage my wood floor. Mark is not overly concerned about clearance in the area around the speaker. These are speakers that will sound good in most spaces used for living purposes. More care was given to insure that they were level and didn't rock on the spikes.
I found that with the toe-in firing straight out to the listener you get well-defined imaging, but the stage width was restricted. Reduce the toe-in by say 5 or 10 degrees, so you can see some of the wood cabinet. Position the speakers well out into the room. I'm following the rule of thirds -- speakers one third of the room's length from the front wall, listener another third from the speakers. Try to avoid any obstruction between the speakers and the side walls, and especially leave the space behind them clear. I had stacked a spare amp and some other large objects a couple of feet behind one, so that half my corner bass trap was blocked. Not smart. Imaging and dimensionality were compromised. The sweet spot, of course, is best. Off axis sounded equally good, but had little imaging.
Regarding break-in time, herewith are the manufacturer's comments: "Loudspeakers need to be run in to sound their best. This is certainly true of Impact products as we (primarily) make line loaded speakers whose special woofers need at least 75 - 100 hours of break-in to reach a satisfactory performance plateau. The source for this process can be music (yours – you know, the stuff you like) or a break-in tool such as the Purist Audio Design (PAD) disc." They're not kidding about the 100 hours.
How Do They Sound?
"They capture the gestalt of each singer in a way that I've not heard in my system before. One can hear the distinctive qualities or personalities of each voice clearly."
In short: warm, ambient, natural, slightly dark, smooth, and spacious. The speakers disappear visually and sonically and don't call attention to themselves. You'll be paying more attention to what's happening on the soundstage. Overall, they lean to the warmer side of neutral. The frequency spectrum is continuous over their playing range, which is all the way from high treble down to low-mid bass. I didn't detect any discontinuities, either suckouts or humps in this range. The highest treble seemed a bit on the soft side, giving a generally recessed sound. Maybe this is why most often the soundstage was behind the speakers. But then I'm used to the sound of my reference Maggies. It's not quite fair to compare a conventional design tweeter to this famous ribbon. The manufacturer's bass specification goes down to 29 Hz. In this region the bass fundamental is present, but you don't get a lot of articulation or definition, let alone slam factor.
It is in the midrange that these speakers really shine. They are not forward or bright, and there's certainly no glare in the upper register. Smooth is the adjective that comes to mind. These characteristics might cause some people to find them laid back or even lacking in detail. I found they revealed tons of inner detail and micro dynamic info, but in an unaggressive manner.
They excel on all types of vocal material. Regardless of what else is going on, the human voice is rendered beautifully: pure, warm, sweet, and focused. Something quite nice is going on here. They capture the gestalt of each singer in a way that I've not heard in my system before. One can hear the distinctive qualities or personalities of each voice clearly. You can tell who's singing with your eyes closed because they are distinguishable by more than their location on the stage. Returning to that issue of biases again, factor in here my preference for the sound of Carnegie Hall. You can guess that the Ventos won't do Cyber Funk or Heavy Metal. They will do full orchestra.
The Ventos exhibit little or no overhang and fast settle time. They sound clean and are able to carry on multiple musical lines intact. Studio effects like echo chambers or added reverb are quickly unmasked. I listened at reasonable levels for an apartment dweller. There wasn't a single instance of breakup or overload, and there was no downtime: the speakers gave uninterrupted performance throughout the audition period. In summary, there is an absence of detrimental artifacts. It took about 2 months to find the right combination of ancillary components. The Ventos are highly sensitive to the qualities of the upstream gear.
Initial use with the wonderful sounding EAR 534 tube amplifier (50 watts) presented a luscious midrange, slightly loose bass, and treble that was not fully extended. I found it had a classic tube sound: plenty of the expected virtues with some vices. I was very impressed with the palpable, expansive and dimensional soundstage, but it was clear, particularly when compared to solid state, they weren't sufficiently powerful to do the Ventos justice.
With the BAT VK200 (100 watts) the bass got tighter, more tuneful and extended, so it wasn't necessary to use the Carver sub woofer. But I liked the extra ambience the sub added to most recordings. Treble became a bit more extended; however, I didn't like the fine gray mist I heard in the mid-range and on up.
For most recordings the Ventos driven solo will do the job on their own. The addition of a subwoofer will add as much heft as you might want and also enhances the overall ambience, but if I didn't have it on hand I wouldn't feel compelled to go out and purchase one. I use it on the lowest volume and lowest crossover frequency setting. Late in the audition period, the Ventos really began to sing when I used the Legend pre- amp, Legend interconnects, the EAR amp, the Carver sub at its lowest setting, and Ensemble AC conditioning. While under-powered with the EAR, the sub compensated nicely. This little amp, when I finally got the system set up right, proved to be packed with life, dynamics, palpability and excitement. At only 50 watts a side it couldn't do deep bass, and the treble wasn't fully extended. But how sumptuous that midrange was!
The Ventos began to sing again (but with a different tune) when hooked up to the Innersound Electrostatic amp (350 watts) and Ensemble wires, including their interconnects, speaker wire, power cords and AC conditioning (review forthcoming). The question of whether to use a sub became more marginal. I wound up leaving it in. Now I was getting impressive dynamics with peaks that were pure and clear. There was no grain to speak of and the treble was extended and detailed. The sound was still on the warm side, and felt comfortable and relaxed. From satisfying low-mid bass to high treble I could not find fault. It took a long time to get the Ventos performing to the potential I knew they had because they proved to be tweak resistant. Most of the stock tweaks turned out to be counter- productive. In the end, only the Shakti Stone and one set of Onlines stayed in. I use these tweaks to remove artifacts, enhance harmonics and make the presentation more relaxed. The Ventos do this on their own. With a careful choice of amplifier and wires, they are smooth, with a warm and acoustic sound, and have a relaxed character. Adding tweaks that enhance these qualities was overkill, and generally resulted in too much warmth.
"If you like a natural, acoustic, ambient sound and listen mostly to classical material, you'll be smiling long and hard with these speakers."
I've saved their most excellent virtue for last. These are soundstaging champs. Room acoustics are superbly resolved and unambiguous. Sounds are evenly spread across the width of your room, treble and timbre are balanced from left to right. The plane of the soundstage varies greatly with the source material. The Tedesco was well behind the speakers, almost too far away. On "Sonny Meets Hawk" (Classic Records LSP2712), it is at the speaker plane. On "The Alternate Blues" (Analogue Productions APR3010), it is slightly behind the speakers. The stage is alive and fully fleshed out, excelling in dimensionality. They throw life-size images -- not the undernourished, lean little things you hear from most monitors and some floor standing models. You are not thinking or second guessing about what should be happening on the far right stage, or what the lower strings should sound like, if only that speaker was doing its job. You trust what you're hearing is all the info on the source, and stuff isn't getting lost because of reproduction problems. In other words you have confidence. This in turn lets you enjoy the music more.
This special sound staging quality I'm going to call "soundstage integrity" for lack of a better phrase. It definitely belongs on the list of fine sound attributes. All these things lead me to remember ‘The Joy of Stereo' from my youth. Remember when we first heard stereo, how thrilling it was?
The Vento 2000 is highly recommended for the enthusiast who appreciates fine sound. They are easy to setup and will sound good in living spaces that are less than ideal acoustically, although they do benefit from any extra care you can throw their way. You won't need to spend a lot on tweaks but do pay attention to choice of amp and wires, especially power cords. Some listeners will find the bass a bit shy of power and definition, after all it is coming from a 6 ½ " woofer. You can supplement the bottom end with a sub- woofer. Their forte is the wonderful sonic landscape spread out across your room. They excel with all kinds of vocal material.
If you like a natural, acoustic, ambient sound and listen mostly to classical material, you'll be smiling long and hard with these speakers.
Unforeseen things happen over the course of a review that affects your thinking. I had a couple of friends over one Saturday. I explained that first I wanted to put on an LP of known audiophile pedigree because I had a lot of new gear in place, which they had not heard yet. I had been doing battle with the following new arrivals which came in at nearly the same time: the Placette pre-amp, the EAR 534 Stereo tube amp, the Impact Technology Vento 2000 speakers, and the entire suite of Ensemble wires, including the Ensemble Isolink AC conditioner.
Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic performing Mahler's third(CSA2249) was queued up. This is a reference disk that easily makes it to my desert island pile. After about 30 seconds folks started gabbing again, enjoying each other's company. You know its bad news when you put on your most excellent record and it doesn't capture people's attention. This is a tell-tale sign of an uninvolving presentation. My only hope of salvaging the session was to come up with a quick component change. I plugged the Placette pre-amp into the Ensemble AC conditioner. This made a definite improvement, but the gabbing continued.
The verdict came in as good sound with no obvious problems or aberrations. But it wasn't exciting or immediate and seemed slow in the areas of rhythm and pace.
About this time, the professional classical musician started to pipe up about intonation problems and other performance parameters, phrases that could have been played differently, etc. I tell you, there's nothing as frustrating as attempting a sonic evaluation of new gear with recordings of known pedigree and having the focus of attention shifted to a critique of performance style. I had put in $10 K of new gear. I'm A – B’ing demonstrating pre-amps, and he's going on about articulation and phrasing! What I really want to know is what that massive component replacement did to the sound. So much for that listening session. I was ready to pack it in halfway through side one of the first LP! The group broke up and departed, excepting the courageous Sheldon, who was willing to lend me his ears while I labored away trying to adjust for perceived system shortcomings. We needed to have more attack, more detail.
The aural window was too cloudy and vague. I was open to tailoring the sound as per his suggestions, since by popular verdict nothing special was happening and I could always get back to the previous configuration.
We used the Classic Records reissue of "The Reiner Sound" (Classic Records RCA2183) at Sheldon's request, since he always uses this LP in his encounters with new gear. Rachmaninov's "Isle of the Dead" is well known for it's huge stage, massive crescendos, and great detail. Slowly, but steadily, as the BYBEE stuff came out, the sound approached his memory of how those many other systems sounded. Out went the HT cables and in went the Ensemble wire.
After two more hours, I was hearing impaired, but he claimed success. "Now it sounds like the better systems I've heard this LP on. It is accurate to the recording." The next evening I listened again. I had been to a recital earlier that afternoon. What I heard at home was not much like the concert experience.
The sound was good, similar to what I hear at other audiophile's homes. Good sound, but not very convincing or engaging. This sound is what Sheldon called accurate. If this is accuracy then I must state my biases loud and clear, because for me, this is just the beginning.
A Statement of My Biases
For the benefit of my readers, I want to layout clearly what I look for in home audio reproduction. The qualities I value most are:
Purity and accuracy of timbre.
Freedom from electronic and mechanical noises. No distortion or breakup. Expunge that glare.
Easy and relaxed sound, not aggressive.
As much dynamic range as you can eke out of the system. You must have impressive dynamics, but at the same time, it must not be aggressive.
The ebb and flow -- the life of music -- in unrestricted micro dynamics. It's the little inflections and accents that tell you a master musician is performing. Ask any classical musician what they find most difficult to play, or what is the most telling evidence of talent, and the answer will be the slow, soft, exposed passages.
But, overwhelmingly, the most important attribute is musicality. I don't care how much detail, palpability or anything else you've got, if it doesn't have what we recognize as musicality, I can't listen. If a component's specs are excellent, my assumption is that it has potentially good sound. As I said, accuracy is the starting point. If you begin with a technically flawed component, I think there's very little chance of achieving the grail.
Kevin Hayes, chief engineer for VAC, talks about this subject in Stereophile, vol.23, number four. When he designs his amps, getting them to measure well on the test bench is the easy task. Voicing it so it sounds good to your ear is more difficult, time consuming, and subjective. Every component is voiced by the manufacturer. Then, when you get it into your house, you voice it again. We do this for individual components and for the entire system. So begins the wire shuffle, the RFI/EMI AC power game, room acoustics products, for TWEAK WE MUST.
Some systems have a sound that impresses you so much you remember it long after you've heard it. It is possible to get this sound by carefully matching components and, as you'll agree, a lot of luck. Then no add-ons are necessary. It is rare to get these qualities with the components straight out of the box; I've only heard this happen with systems in the nether reaches of the high end. Often tube gear gives a taste of this grail. Solid state will give you this less often. But generally, you need to embellish the naked salad with carefully selected dressing, spices and seasonings.
For the record, a statement of my biases wouldn't be complete without mentioning my preferences in source material, which tend to natural recordings of the classical repertoire. Here are some recommended LP's I've been spinning a lot lately:
The LP "La Fille Mal Gardee", music by Herold, arranged by John Lanchberry (London CS6252). Crisp, a little bite or edge to the strings. Very well focused. Good stereo spread and good dynamics.
"Romancero Gitano" by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Klavier Direct Master Recording KS-572). All of side one, in particular, for solo guitar, mixed chorus and baritone is noteworthy. Inspired by Gabriel Garcia Lorca's poems. The chorus has many discernable voices. Natural dynamic scaling with a palpable, intimate acoustic. If you close your eyes, you'll be in a small church sitting in row 8. Voices are sweet and angelic, yet well supported. The choral parts are well constructed.
"Cantigas de Santa Maria," by Alfonso el Sabio (Harmonia Mundi HM977) performed by the Clemencic Consort. El Sabio died in 1284. For soprano, flute, Moorish guitar and ‘zarb' (some kind of percussion instrument). Center focus is excellent with stable images. More of the expected Clemencic recorded dynamics.
"Der Mond," by Carl Orff, performed by Herbert Kegel (Philips 6700083). Images are extremely layered front to back and spread out left to right. Convincing acoustic with a deep silent background. This is probably among the LPs with the stereo separation I have heard within the classical category. It's certainly one of the best Philips discs.
I would like to thank Marshall for his thoughtful review. Clearly a great deal of work and care went in to this effort and it shows. I would also like to thank StereoTimes and, in particular, Clement Perry for allowing us to submit our product. It is gratifying to be given a shot as a relative new guy on the block!
It is encouraging to a manufacturer, who puts his heart, soul, sweat equity and significant capital into a product, when a reviewer "gets it" as Marshall certainly has. I know this because of his comments regarding imaging, musicality, detail retrieval and smoothness. He has certainly pointed out the strengths of the Vento and the design targets we aimed at.
Particularly, I was pleased to read, "(the Ventos) exhibit little or no overhang and (have a) fast settle time." Correct dynamic attack, we think, is of paramount importance and we strive to hit the mark there. We would like to make a few quick points:
1) Marshall used a subwoofer to augment bass during much of the review period. The Vento is designed to function like a high quality monitor but with more bass. However, as the speaker is only a 6.5" woofer, it can only go so low. Therefore, the use of a quality subwoofer can extend the low frequency response of the system. If a sub is used, we strongly recommend running our speakers full range, as Marshall did;
2) We didn't try to make the product "tweak resistant." We did try to make it balanced so tweaking should be done judiciously;
3) In the case of the Vento, equipment really counts. Quality certainly has an influence, but different characteristics will be evidenced when using tube or solid state amps. Our customers have their preferences and there are contented users in both camps. In general, muscular solid-state amps will "deliver the goods" in the bass region. Excellent tube and solid state amps seem to perform very well in the mids and highs, with tube gear coaxing that last bit of musicality from the all important mid range. For those who are interested, these are, indeed, line loaded speakers. We source the custom made woofer from Europe (our lips are sealed on this one). The tweeter deserves mention. This is a particularly critical component in a two-way loudspeaker, particularly when crossed over at around 2,000 Hz. We use the new Seas Millennium Excel (seen usually on much more expensive products) exclusively. The crossover is a low order design with simple topology.
Again, thank you for this perceptive review.
Mark Conti, President
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