The Audience ClairAudient Loudspeaker—A 20-Year Dream Realized

Posted by: Robert Harley at 3:03 pm, June 22nd, 2009

The Audience ClairAudient Loudspeaker: A 20-Year Dream Realized
Robert Harley
 
On a recent visit to Southern California, I stopped in to see Audience, maker of a highly regarded line of AC power-conditioner and signal cables. During the visit, however, I discovered that Audience is much more than a cable and power-conditioner manufacturer.
 
Back in the late 1980s, Audience founder John McDonald and his then partner, the late Richard Smith, conceptualized what they viewed as the ideal loudspeaker. The exercise was more of a “what if” thought experiment rather than a concrete design brief. Their idealized speaker would use many small, identical full-range drivers in a line-array, which confers the advantage of needing no crossover. Each driver would reproduce the entire frequency spectrum, although without much acoustic output. Multiple drivers would increase the power handling, dynamics, and ability to play loudly. A crossover-less speaker had the advantage of no discontinuity between drivers, uniform polar response, and no inductors or capacitors in the signal path between the power amplifier and the loudspeaker drivers.
 
This approach sounded intriguing, but no driver was available that could reproduce the entire audio band and have enough power handling and excursion to produce adequate listening levels. Over the past 20 years, Audience has worked on-and-off to develop such a driver, but recently put forth their full effort. The result is the Audience A3 3” driver, the foundation for the entire eight-product ClairAudient line of loudspeakers. Every speaker in the line uses only the A3 driver, with the differences between speakers simply being the number of drivers employed.
 

 Audience Chief Engineer Roger Sheker and Audience Founder John McDonald with the A3 driver
 
 
The A3 is a very interesting device; its basket, motor structure, and diaphragm are unlike other similarly sized units that are used as midrange drivers. Instead, the A3 is built just like a subwoofer driver, but miniaturized. The unit has an open basket design, neodymium magnet, only 2.5 grams of moving mass, and an extraordinary 12mm excursion. The motor is patented, and the surround and basket are patent-pending. Frequency response is 40Hz–22kHz.
 
The ClairAudient line includes eight models, ranging from the $9500 four-driver LS4 to the $47,000 32-driver LSA16+16. The model number indicates the number of drivers employed. Each model is available as a monopole with all drivers front-firing (LSA4, for example), or as a bipole with an identical driver array on the side/rear panel (LSA4+4, to continue the example). The LSA4+4 has a sensitivity of 93dB and a maximum continuous output level of an astounding 121dB. The LSA16+16’s sensitivity is a whopping 99dB with a maximum continuous output level of 128dB. (Audience is about to introduce a two-driver version, called the LSA2 at “under $2000,” and the bipole LSA2+2 at “under $4000.”)
 
I listened to the LSA4+4 and the LSA16+16 in John McDonald’s home listening room, driven by Audience’s new preamplifier and power amplifier. Although I was impressed by the A3 driver’s specifications and apparent capabilities before listening to the full speaker systems, I nonetheless had a preconceived idea that the system would not have much extension at the frequency extremes, and not play very loudly.
 

 The ClairAudient LSA4+4
 

The ClairAudient LSA16+16 with the prototype LSA2+2 in front
 
I was wrong on both counts. The LSA4+4 sounded like a full-range speaker in every way, but with a coherence and seamlessness that was undoubtedly due to the lack of crossovers and disparate drivers. The midrange was palpable and immediate without sounding forward or emphasized. The top end had a full measure of detail and resolution, without the lack of air and extension I’ve heard in the past from full-range drivers. But the most surprising aspects of the LSA4+4 were its bass and dynamics. The bottom-end exhibited real weight and body, with a wonderful palpability of instrumental texture on acoustic bass. Similarly, they system was very quick, dynamic, and agile, with impact behind musical peaks.
 
Switching to the LSA16+16 reinforced these impressions; the big speaker had all these qualities but in greater abundance—the bass had more weight and power, the dynamics were more startling, and the soundstage became more expansive. The system didn’t reproduce the lowermost octave (20Hz–40Hz) with much authority, but Audience makes a matching woofer for those who value sub-40Hz response.
 
My audition was unfortunately quite brief, but in the short time I had with the two ClairAudient models, I was impressed by the top-to-bottom coherence, seamlessness, and sense of transparency—over and above my surprise at just how “full-range” the system sounded, along with its ability to play loudly without strain.
 
The ClairAudient loudspeakers have been more than 20 years in the making, but, at least from initial impressions, the effort has been worth it.
 
 
 

Comments

SundayNiagara -- Mon, 06/22/2009 - 19:00

I can only see the shot of the driver.  The rest just keep the browser's running, (both Firefox and the latest IE).
 
This also happened on your Rockport blog.

JR-1 (not verified) -- Mon, 06/22/2009 - 19:19

Looks good - and I wish this design the best. As known by many, Audience has exceeded at power products and speaker cable.
 
I just note how this type of speaker (boxed dynamic-line) is extremely rare in high-end audio. Magnepan and Martin Logan (planars), seem to be the only line speakers getting multiple reviews these days. Harry Pearson loves lines and reviews them at any chance he gets. Maybe another one for Harry !!

Pendragon1 (not verified) -- Thu, 06/25/2009 - 16:09

Simple physics dictates the high frequencies will mirror Mr. Harley's views on the lower ones - good but not great. A ribbon or Diamond tweeter (& many of the better tweeters as well) will certainly outclass any cone driver every time at these frequecies. Maybe they'll add an add-on tweeter to complement the sub. At these price points it would seem mandatory unless the 99db sensitivity rating is accompanied by an equally benign (meaning high) impedance curve that is truly tube friendly. It certainly sounds like the ultimate car midrange though.

John McDonald (not verified) -- Fri, 06/26/2009 - 15:49

Pendragon1 ... You raise a very important issue; however I am not aware of any laws of physics that dictage that a larger piston cannot reproduce high frequencies as well as a smaller one.  The bottom line is that the Audience A3 driver provides exceptional high frequency performance, even better than some very  highly regarded tweeters.  This fact is illustrated by Vance Dickason, in his recent Voice Coil Magazine review of the A3 which can be accessed at  http://www.audience-av.com/reviews/PDF/VC509_TB_Audience.pdf.  The size of the diaphragm only directly effects dispersion and not any of the other important parameters. This purposely controlled dispersion can be used to an advantage greatly reducing wall reflections.  Of course, this is only an advantage if cone dreak-up at high frequency is benign.  This is very carefully engineered in the A3 driver resulting in very low distortion and exemplary HF performance.  To delve into this subject more extensively I will set up a FAQ web page at the A3 driver section of the Audience web site at www.audience-av.com within the next day.  John McDonald/Audience     
 

Tidepool (not verified) -- Thu, 06/25/2009 - 17:19

I heard the ClairAudient tower speakers at the end of last year with the previously-employed drivers (not made by Audience), which had been used by Audience at audio shows for several years, and with Audience's new amp and preamp.  I will simply add that these speakers presented one of the most holographic and palpable, in-the-room soundstages, that I've heard.  It's dramatic, and exhilarating!  In my view, you can't get the soundstage right unless you're also getting the music right.  Thanks for the vision and perseverance, Audience!

Robert Harley -- Fri, 06/26/2009 - 09:30

I think Pendragon 1 might have misinterpreted my comment about the bass and treble. I should have phrased the following sentence more clearly: "The top end had a full measure of detail and resolution, without the lack of air and extension I’ve heard in the past from full-range drivers." I meant to say that other single-driver systems I've heard sound rolled off in the upper treble ("lack of air and extension") but that the ClairAudient did not sound that way.

Terr K (not verified) -- Fri, 06/26/2009 - 23:17

I think Roger Russell beat these guys to the punch with his IDS speakers. Amazing sound from small drivers!

M.D. (not verified) -- Tue, 07/21/2009 - 00:31

 Did you get the equalizer with your IDS' too?  

Mr. E (not verified) -- Sun, 12/20/2009 - 09:31

Terr K, you're missing the point of the A3 driver array. Its design goal is to eliminate the need for electronic filtering and equalization which introduces a host of problems.

Roger Russell's design approach with his IDS array reminds me of Dr. Amar Bose's "Better Sound Through Brute Force" approach with the 901speaker (i.e. heavy equalization to artificially shape the sound). BTW, how could the US patent office grant Mr. Russell those patents???

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