My usual methodology when reviewing small speakers is to audition them first on my desktop for a month before moving them into a room-based system. Unlike some speakers, which require a substantial break-in period before they sound their best, the Radiance 1s produced better than acceptable sound from the get-go. Since they are a ported design, they put out substantially more bass energy than comparably sized sealed-enclosure speakers. This took some getting used to. Prior to the Radiance speakers I’d been listening to a steady diet of Spendor SA1’s, ATC SCM7s, and Paradigm S1s on my desktop, all of which have sealed cabinets.
In my conversations with the Radiance’s designers I learned that the speaker was intended to be used without a subwoofer. According to the folks at AE, considering subwoofers de rigueur with small speakers is a uniquely American thing. So I did most of my critical listening with my subwoofers turned off. (Naturally I did try using subs in both my desktop and room-based systems—I am an American, after all—and found it difficult to obtain a blend that successfully avoided excessive upper bass and midbass.) As the Radiance’s published specifications confirm, don’t expect to get anything below 50Hz even in the most bass-friendly environment. Also don’t expect the Radiance’s bass to have the same rise time as a sealed-enclosure speaker. The initial attack from percussion instruments such as tympani is not as quick as through any of the sealed-enclosure speakers that I mentioned earlier.
Since on my desktop speakers are only one-and-a-half feet way from my ears, any discontinuities between drivers are obvious. The Radiance 1’s drivers integrate as seamlessly as any speaker I’ve experienced. This continuity between drivers makes the Radiance’s midrange especially beguiling. Even when I listened to the speakers from a room away, instruments such as acoustic guitars possessed a particular rightness that was both musical and exceedingly natural.
Considering their size, the Radiance 1s have quite decent dynamic response if used in a properly proportioned space. These are definitely small-room speakers. In larger venues they run out of steam well before they get beyond a mezzoforte. Even in a small room they need a fairly powerful amplifier to ring out their maximum in clean SPLs. The Bel Canto REF 1000 II and Accuphase P-300 amplifiers had enough juice to drive them comfortably, but my Dyna Stereo 70 did not. But even with these larger output amplifiers the Radiance 1s are not going to give you lifelike levels from a recording of a full symphony orchestra without noticeable compression.
Through most of their range the Radiance 1s have excellent resolution. On my latest live concert recordings made at 88/24 and played back through the Amarra software package into the Bel Canto 96/24 USB/SPDIF box I was able to hear well into the mix, so deeply in fact that I could identify the conductor’s breathing as he led the orchestra through Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Only in the midbass does the Radiance’s resolution falter. String basses and even the piano’s lowest register lack the same level of resolution as violas and the pianos’ upper octaves.
The Radiance’s upper registers rival several more expensive small monitor speakers. The tweeter is revealing without being artificially airy. On my Seraphim reissue CD of Rudolf Kemp’s Beethoven Symphonies I can clearly hear the tape hiss from the original analog masters, but the hiss is well in the background, and the piccolo and violin section’s highest notes come through without any sense of veiling.
As you would expect from a decently designed small monitor the Radiance 1s image spectacularly well. Whether on my desktop or in a room they displayed the entire breadth of a symphony orchestra with panache. Did the Radiances beat the other small monitors I currently have on hand? No, but they didn’t perform any worse than several that were substantially more expensive.