The Talon Khorus X
4 March 2002
Height: 112cm (44.24")
Crown: Width 22cm (8.5") Depth 29 cm (11.37")
Base: Width 45 cm (17.75") Depth 52 cm (20.5")
Weight: 86 kg (190 lbs.)
Bandwidth: 17 Hz - 35 kHz
Power Handling: 1-1000 Watts
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohms
Talon Audio Technologies, Inc.
5175 South Green Pine Drive
Murray, UT 84123
Web Site: www.talonaudio.com
"In a world of abundance the only scarcity is human attention."
I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Flip your calendar back to the summer of 2000. Talon Audio's topmost engineer, Tierry Budge, sent ST column instigator Stu McCreary and myself his Talon Audio Khorus loudspeakers for the world's first appraisal. After an arduous 25-year pursuit, Budge, with the help of Mike Farnsworth, Talon's corporate maharishi, hoped to hit pay dirt with this unusual departure from predictable dynamic loudspeaker design. Our subsequent and unadulterated approval of this immediate and powerful sounding, yet wonderfully intimate transducer, combined with Talon Audio's audacious claims ("20-30 times faster/100 times lower in distortion"), set off a firestorm of debate that's still smoldering on several audio chat rooms. Irrefutable ear-witnesses, Grant Samulson and Greg Petan, from two other magazines, announcing the Talon Khorus as their new reference loudspeaker seemed only to fan the flames of debate even faster. Somebody call in an air strike because there is another loudspeaker from Talon Audio that's better than their original called the Talon Khorus X!
Budge's lifelong ambition - to design the lightning fast and naturally translucent quality ribbons, planars and electrostatics coupled with the legendary bass prowess of dynamic drivers - was finally realized. What's most amazing of all however wasn't that Budge delivered on the sonic goods as promised, but that he did it using a full-range all-purpose pair of 10" drivers as its foundation!
This dual 10" foundation has set the stage once again for yet another adaptation Talon has dubbed the Khorus X. The "X" nom de plume isn't for the unknown integer, it isn't for the Roman numeral, nor is it for the '60's Black militant, but rather for the UN-known qualities that come with an eXtra eXemplary approach in eXperimental loudspeaker design, built, you guessed it, eXquisitely. Here, is a loudspeaker that, in actuality, is nothing more than a gargantuan 200 lb. mini monitor comprised of two virtual full range 10 inch drivers, get this, loaded back to back (made to spec with specially designed voice-coil, motor assemblage, as well as super stiff suspensions). Talon woofers have the difficult, but nevertheless, prodigious task of reproducing signals beginning at 17 Hz up to a staggering 2200 Hz! This dynamic duo only then begins its near-perfect blend with its 1 ½ inch soft-dome sibling (a modified Scanspeak tweeter) sitting right above it. Though Talon does not use a midrange driver, this rather large tweeter is many times mistaken for a one because of its size and placement, and it extends frequency reproduction up to 13 kHz. Finally, a 1" titanium super-tweeter (made by Audax) takes over at just above 13 kHz and extends out to over 20 kHz, earning the speaker a unique 2.5-way designation. Talon professes the crossover "slopes" as being closer to first-order in their electrical function. Purportedly, because the crossover combines with the mass/size/speed-related characteristics of the drivers, the typical roll-off is somewhere between 3rd and 4thorder. Sound confusing? Take a glimpse at my last conversation with Budge on this subject. Excedrin Headache material indeed.
"The traditional approach to crossover slope design," says Budge, "states that the crossover is supposed to define (electrically) a very specific bandwidth for a chosen driver. This has been expanded to include driver-matching elements as well as the use of LCR (inductor/capacitor/resistor) circuits to 'equalize' the phase interaction and cancel basic driver-generated non-linearities. Speaker companies also seem to have a very specific selection of crossover "slopes," or electrical roll-offs, that they choose to use. Manufacturers of fast roll-offs tend to argue that such an approach favors power handling and dynamics. Whereas, Manufacturers who use more 'gentle' slopes argue that these types of slopes are kinder to musical flow and imaging. At Talon, we feel that both of these approaches ignore the deleterious characteristics naturally generated by the drivers and crossover parts themselves. Instead of allowing these inherent phase-shifts to become an unpredictable part of the sonic picture, each phase-shift is not allowed to operate in the range that begins its own roll-offs. Additionally, each of the passive parts works with the speaker to help create the final, desired output."
Other technical attributes include its power-friendly impedance of 8 ohms and 90.5dB rated sensitivity. Oh, one more small thing, power handling is rated at 1000 watts, while transient power handling is rated at an absurd 3000 watts RMS.
If it ain't broke, why fix it?
Why make a Khorus X if the first iteration was a reference tool and highly lauded by the audiophile press? Yeah, that's exactly what I said to Budge. Was the first an unfinished product? Was there something wrong with the first design? I had questions swirling about my cranium. However, the question I needed to ask myself that most hushed the voices inside my head lickety-split. "Was the Talon Khorus simply the best speaker I owned?" The answer was an undeniable Yes! Could it be improved? I guess so.
By the end of 2000, Talon placed itself in an envious position from a manufacturing standpoint. All cabinets, formally assembled off premises, were now built in-house which ultimately increased QC (quality control). In addition, to improve the look, Talon hired talented designer Dave Evett, of Evett & Shaw designs. Choosing to manufacture in-house gave both Budge and Farnsworth the opportunity to take a much better look at cabinet design from start to finish. It also provided the obsessive Budge an opportunity to see things that he could improve upon. Through a fairly serious study of porosity (bad for acoustics), rigidity (good for a woofer), and density (good for a tweeter), Budge discovered cabinet porosity affected performance far more than he believed possible. Further, Camp Talon discovered the reality of what Budge refers to as "the problems of cabinet breathability." "It was one thing," says Budge, "to 'discover' the breathability of even exotic materials (along with the resultant dynamic, tonal, and transparency problems.) But, it's another thing entirely to find an answer that solves this very problem without disturbing the mechanically dissipative effects of a well-designed cabinet." In the end, Talon settled on a material that they would like to remain anonymous that could be laminated (with special adhesives and vacuum-forming) to the inside of the cabinet without disrupting the cabinet's natural mechanical properties. Farnsworth quipped, "It's an arduous and pricey solution, but it is only about 1/5th as expensive as the alternatives."
The X model went into production and I was ready and willing to test drive this latest adaptation embodying all the abovementioned improvements.
My Khorus X came in the glossy piano black finish accented with chrome riding along its cornered edges, and further accented with chrome end caps (company name TALON proudly inscribed in upper case compliments of Dave Evett). Physically, the Khorus X is simply stunning. Its sophisticated appearance (with 7 optional finishes) makes this a very handsome piece of furniture. Against the glow of soft track lighting, especially in the evenings, they literally shine in my dedicated listening space. It's sophisticated, solid look, feel, fit and finish tells a story of success all its own. Hookup, formally a tedious affair, especially for us reviewers, has now been made much easier on the Khorus X. No longer are the speaker terminals located underneath these heavy behemoths. The screw-on special Cardas binding posts are centered 8 inches above its base and directly below its attractive "X" insignia plate. I'm relieved that the infamous burn-in period of four to five hundred hours for the original is no longer necessary. I was ready for serious listening after noticeable improvements occurred within one hundred hours. Placement was identical to the original, which was about 4 1/2 feet from the loudspeaker's outermost corner to my front listening wall and approximately 9 1/2 feet apart, with my listening chair about 10 feet away. Java in one hand, stogie in the other, I was ready for some serious listening. Equipment used was essentially the same. Amplifiers were two Bel Canto EVo's used in mono application. Sorry, but CD playback was changed to the Electrocompaniet player due to it thoroughly embarrassing my Sony SCD-1 in terms of sonic truthfulness, tonality, harmonic integrity and musicality. I've gained a new respect for 16/44 Redbook via the upsampled 24/192 digital freeway.
The oneness of sound
There has always existed the singleness of space and time from the Talon single driver technology. Whether listening to the Peregrines, which I use as center and as surrounds in my home theater setup, or the original Khorus. The sense - rather than the reality that all the sound emits from a single source in a distinct holographic space - never escapes this listener. The resulting qualities of this attribute cannot be understated. To this audiophile, the first thing one gets with the Khorus X version is an increase in perceived speed, weight, imaging, finesse and dynamics. This is a lot in a new loudspeaker of the same design employing the exact same drivers. Would I characterize these sonic attributes as a total departure? No. This sonic blueprint is still that of Talon; smooth, rich and incredibly textured without a hint of serrated edges so many designs are guilty of when played to extremes. However, there is no doubt there's a lot to like in this X version that some may have been sort of put off by in its previous incarnation. For example, the Talon X possesses a certain quality of upper treble sheen that was not previously evident. Same fabric, different embroidery.
The Khorus X offers nary a hint of being in the room once proper toe in is achieved and the music starts up (accomplished in my room with the speaker's side walls barely visible from the listening seat). From what I can hear from listening to various CD's, but mostly those used in my original review, is that the Khorus X doesn't localize nearly as much as the original model. It also achieves the delicate feat of having no sound of its own. And if it does editorialize, it's doing in a way that I cannot detect. I'm not saying that the sound, for example, from heavily panned (and previously used in the original review) Miles Davis' Someday My Prince Will Come CD [Columbia CK40947] sounds any better. I am noting that instruments sound more like they're coming from a place rather than a source. Again, the introspective "Old Folks" squeaky chair and all, was selected as well as "Teo." Again Miles blew into that muted Harmon communicating a loneliness and isolation all his own. Miles' incredible musical sense on such a slow and methodical, yet melancholy, number is conveyed like only he could. So much so, in fact, I renamed it the sweet and sour song.
No matter how many times I played this classic disc, engineering wise, Miles always stood out from the performance; yet this time it was even more engaging. This disc, mind you, with the speakers out more than 9 feet apart, offers a real sense of the wide panning techniques used at Columbia studios, yet manages to keep Miles tightly focused dead center. Hank Mobley's solo, following Miles, springs from the right speaker with a powerfully enveloping ambient field of delicacy and decay and that definitely sounded more resolute than the original Khorus. Another illustration was Wynton Kelly coming from the extreme left with a lyrical interpretation on piano that sounded so "in the room" that it came through like a present-day recording. Played at low to moderate levels, Kelly's piano seemed to free itself from cabinet resonance and coloration, allowing that "plinkety" sound every piano should make when the right keys are struck. Even with this new recognition in a classic-but-dated jazz studio recording there is this true sense of what was intended from the engineer. The heavy panning effect used widely in the '60's may negate total sound quality by exaggerating it on the extremes of the soundstage. But it sounds to me exactly what Teo Macero had intended for these recordings -- and more importantly, there's nothing more breathtaking than hearing 'Trane, Miles, Diz, Sarah and the Messengers as they were meant to be heard. When history speaks musically, through Miles' slurred Harmon mute or 'Trane's wild cord progressions, I want the real deal. The Talon Khorus X creates the picture perfect venue that allows me to do just that.
Saving the Best for Last
The most prominent character of Talon X, and the one thing that I believe it will be most famous for, lies in its bass performance. Most loudspeakers in this price range do wonders in the areas of soundstaging, three dimensionality, tonality and perceived depth along with midrange lucidity. The Khorus X performs flawlessly in these important areas but that isn't what it does best of all.
What it can do like no other loudspeaker I've heard to date is dig into the smallest crevice and unleash bass notes in a three-dimensional space of their own. Imagine bass that's harmonic, gut wrenching and rich. Bass as tight as a turtle's ass, yet delicate as silk and all at once, breathtakingly lifelike. I now can identify with my daughter Rebecca's favorite cartoon character Osmosis Jones when he yells out "Oh why ya' hit so hard?"
My guess is that these attributes are a direct consequence of its amazingly low noise quotient, speed and driver build, performance that previously was available only in the finest electrostatics. Unfortunately, due to life's unpleasant tradeoffs, electrostatics would start rolling off as soon as the word low bass was mentioned (which automatically warranted you go out purchase a subwoofer). I believe electrostatics still will win in the ultimate transparency sweepstakes but they suffer a tradeoff that I could neither tolerate nor live with.
Two discs the Talon X will make stand out as references for bass head demons is Hugh Masekela's Stimela, off the Burmester sampler [Burmester CD III] and the entire Deen Peer's Think…It's All Good CD [Turtle Records]. Both these recordings contain material that simply shakes you out of your listening seat. You just have to hear them for yourself. Through a pair of the Talon X, of course.
It's a Wrap.
Not a hint of these aforementioned qualities could ever present themselves in the ultra consolidated manner in which they do if it were not for the impeccably designed woofer/midrange drivers existing in the Khorus X. Period. End of sentence. Kudos should be extended to Camp Talon because the audio gods have never been kind to dream weavers of full-range drivers. Experienced designers hardly, if ever, ventured beyond a 6-½ inch woofer/midrange. Of the many attempts I've heard in simply trying to get deeper bass from a large 2-way, its most notorious tradeoff was a muddy and disproportionate bass hump, smack dab in the middle of the midrange, the heart and most sacred part of any transducer. The cleverness behind Camp Talon to build a no-copycat design devoid of a dedicated midrange, not to forget the ingenuity employed loading all this into a single box, masterfully avoiding all the pitfalls, speaks more of the real talents behind Camp Talon than any reviewer could ever extol on its products.
Lastly, this industry needs a new loudspeaker like a Moose needs a hat rack. So to hit a near bulls-eye in these dark, shark-infested waters of high-end audio with a totally new loudspeaker that causes this big a ripple, speaks volumes of Budges' design, irrespective of what any of us thinks. Talon has landed dead in the center of the high-end audio playing field with a state-of-the-art loudspeaker for the musical connoisseur to cherish. Camp Talon has done their job, and a damn good job at that.
Dedicated to Bob Lynch who gave his life saving others on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center. Bob, your tireless work ethic and support will always be remembered.
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