The gold plaque on the front of the Anima loudspeaker reads “Sonics By Joachim Gerhard.” Giving equal billing to the designer and the company is certainly not unique. It even implies a potential marketing synergy. However, my take is that Mr. Gerhard is actually providing a clarification. First, that he is no longer associated with or a driving force behind Audio Physic, where he once laid claim to authoring some of the industry’s most acclaimed speakers. And second, that in his new gig as designer and part owner of Sonics he has been able to renew his passion for speaker design. If Sonics’ new mini-monitor, the Anima (an intriguing choice of names) is any indication of what’s in store, Gerhard is clearly serious about getting back to his roots.
The $2600 Anima is a conventionally ported two-way. It is also unusually well built. Gerhard has rejected conventional MDF construction and chosen expensive birch ply (also known as marine ply) for the front, back, top, and bottom panels. He favors this many-layered “sandwich” of materials because he considers it to be less resonant, yet capable of dispersing resonances more evenly across the frequency band. The tweeter uses a very small diaphragm membrane with a wide surround that increases output and raises the resonant frequency above 40kHz. The 6" woofer has a chunky magnet for its size and an extended throw. But that also makes it a tougher load to drive. The Anima likes quality power amplifiers and electronics. Anything less and it grows a bit lifeless and dry.
From the opening movement of Previn’s recording of Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes [EMI] the Anima conveyed a skillset that I’ve come to expect from Joachim Gerhard—a signature that expresses itself regardless of size or combinations of drivers. First, there is the Anima’s boxless transparency, its absence of cabinet coloration—which obviously owes a great deal to the speaker’s narrow baffle and rigid construction. Second, there is the slightly laid-back tonal balance and hints of lower-midrange warmth, which favor classical music where soundstage dimensionality helps define the venue and the performance. Then, there is the sensation of detail and microdynamic energy that gives the Anima an ability to tickle the air as, for instance, when Jennifer Warnes’ angelic vocal overdubs on The Hunter [Cypress] hover and shimmer with crystalline definition around the soundstage. Transients are not merely fast and intense—they arrive fully connected to their respective instruments, part of a greater harmonic whole and lacking any artificial edginess. Finally, there is the difficult to describe “liveliness” factor. Whether you describe it as “jump,” pace, or mere listenability, this is a speaker with a heartbeat.
At a mere thirteen inches high—not much bigger than a mere “point” in space itself—the Anima achieves nearpoint- source coherency and laser-specific imaging that would be show-stoppers in any league. Although the soundstage is scaled down in size and images are a bit miniaturized, the Anima carves out dimensional space like a legendary few. (The Wilson WATT and the original Pro Ac Tablette come to mind.)
Unlike most mini-speakers that are thinly disguised head-units looking for the “body” only a subwoofer can grant them, the Anima reveals all kinds of colors and details in the midbass and gives a very satisfying impression of low-frequency muscle. Of course, it doesn’t have the subsonics to summon humpbacks from their Baja breeding grounds, but it will also give you much more than a taste of the lower octaves. Most of the time, I didn’t miss a subwoofer.
However, the strongest impression that the Anima imparted was the sense that it cannot be so easily defined as a dynamicdriver bass-reflex design. Particularly in the upper frequencies, the Anima delivers harmonics and speed that are more akin to a ribbon. It’s as if music isn’t being pushed forward but is simply flowing, liquid smooth, until it engulfs the ear.
No, the little Anima is not perfect. But you can hardly fault a thirteen-incher for occasionally overreaching. To be sure, there’s a slight elevation of lowertreble presence that adds sparkle and detail. Thus the brass and wind section tended to whiten slightly and grow a bit pinched dynamically during the orchestral fireworks of Kubelik’s reading of the Dvorák’s New World Symphony [DG]. And during “Joan of Arc,” the duet between Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen revealed that the port is not always invisible—the limited deep bass output is masked by some extra mid-to-upper bass support from the reflex housing. But these are issues that most small speakers confront, and Mr. Gerhard has elegantly resolved them.