My scepticism about whether this really was a horn-loaded design was laid to rest by an impedance curve which clearly showed the series of peaks characteristic of a horn, and confirmed that this 8+ Ohm design should be very easy to drive. The port outlet apparently acts as a band-pass filter for the horn output.
I couldn’t quite match the claimed 92dB sensitivity rating, getting around 90dB with my far-field in-room averaged technique, which is still a useful figure. The frequency response is far from flat, showing significant -7dB suckouts at 1kHz and 10kHz (which the designer Robert Gaboury confirms and attributes to the driver), while the bass alignment didn’t seem to match my room too well either – which is rather larger than the 100-200 square feet recommended for this design. Best results were obtained with the speakers a little wider than usual, and about eighteen inches out from the corners. Here the actual net bass energy was pretty well maintained down to 35Hz or so, but output was rather too strong 45-80Hz, and too weak 110-200Hz.
Perhaps the most unusual feature is the strong and seamlessly flat output through the presence and lower treble (1.5-7kHz), and this was very audible indeed, giving the speakers a ruthless but beguiling openness on voices in particular. Stereo focus and imaging were dramatically good, with very little boxiness, while diction was exceptionally clear and voices were unusually expressive. Brass had a satisfying rasp, and percussive detail was both delicate and realistic, though applause was a little less convincing. There did seem to be a measure of ‘cuppy’ coloration and a tendency towards hardness here, but it’s difficult to say whether the speakers or the system was responsible for this.
The overall sound is very fast and exciting, and excellent microdynamics bring subtle instrumental textures to woodwinds and strings, and they were particularly effective when operating at very low levels, where full detail and communication is effortlessly retained. Less concerned with describing the sound than her reaction to music as a whole, my partner commented that they made her want to dance and sing along.
Although the bass end of things wasn’t a disaster, the problems with room matching were audible enough on bass-led material. Bands such as Massive Attack and The KLF were never that convincing: although the speakers deliver a healthy enough thump and a decent impression of weight, the harmonic relationships of bass guitars seemed rather skewed, leading to some lack of punch and propulsion. Bass sinewave at decent levels didn’t sound particularly clean either, suggesting some harmonic distortion here.
With their vivid communication skills and edge-of-seat excitement, there were times when the Vivaces reminded me of my Rehdekos. They’re a little less dramatic, but certainly smoother and more room friendly. On high quality recordings with sympathetic electronics, results can be magical, but my reactions did vary somewhat according to the character of a recording: dull ones sound exciting, but bright ones can go over the edge, especially if the volume is turned up.
The Vivaces can sound rather relentless with some source and equipment combinations, but the bottom line is they bring a huge amount of fun to the listening experience, and make you want to go on listening long after you should be in bed. While the compromises inherent in a single-driver horn system won’t persuade those who like their music loud and heavy, their superiority in musical coherence and agility are more than ample compensation.