However, the ease of drive and adjustment shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security. Just like the Wilson Duette, the Grand Veenas sound so good from the off it’s tempting to leave well alone, but the requisite care spent on really precise adjustment of toe-in and tilt (a laser pointer is pretty much a prerequisite given the visually confusing shape of the speaker, and do not forget to compensate for rear wall spacing) will pay real dividends in terms of sound stage focus, transparency and the creation of a natural perspective. In the absence of genuinely subterranean bass, staging does tend to favour instruments over acoustic, proportion over scale, but that’s to be expected. The important thing with the Grand Veenas is that the soundstage is naturally presented and believable, consistent within itself so that – vagaries of the recording aside – it doesn’t bend the performers, or more importantly the relationship between them, out of shape. Work on position and toe-in until the you’ve got the spatial balance just so and along the way the sense of musical timing and integration will lock in and the performance will spring to life.
The other thing you’ll notice as soon as you hook these speakers up is no shortage of apparent bandwidth – more than the numbers might lead you to expect (ever a Reference 3A trick). Their bass is quick, tuneful and powerful. The question is, has it been added at the expense of the communicative, lively and direct mid-band that makes Reference 3A’s two-way designs so musically appealing? In a word, no. In fact, quite the opposite, with the Grand Veena actually building on the strengths of models like the Da Capo, extending their performance envelope up and down, dimensionally and in terms of micro-dynamic resolution.
So, play girl and guitar, be it the delicacy of Nanci Griffiths or the more driven style of a KT Tunstall and you’ll get all the immediacy and appeal of the small speakers – but more so. You’ll get a greater sense of presence, body and personality, more intimacy, space around the voice and instruments, a greater sense of life and emotional communication. Play something stellar like the direct to two-track ‘Some People’s Lives’ from Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence and the sense of physical presence, the natural inflexions in the vocal, the subtle shifts in the pace and phrasing conjures the sort of picture that demonstrates to unbelievers just what a good hi-fi system is capable of. The weighting of each piano note is so precise, its placement so clear that the fragile balance between lyric and the instrumental underpinning is beautifully preserved, and with it the emotional weight, the sense of sadness and loss in the song. But what’s fascinating above and beyond the superbly convincing nature of the rendition is the part played in achieving it by the frequency extremes. The melody is not bass heavy, with a sparing use of lower left hand, yet the added extension brings presence, body and harmonic substance to the piano. It adds a greater sense of space around the performer and instrument, adds a convincing solidity and stability to the picture. At the other extreme, the Murata ceramic dome operates out to well beyond audibility, but like all good supertweeters its effects are heard right across the mid-band and bass. Yes, there’s an added sense of air, transparency and focus, but the real musical impact is in the clarity and precision it brings to the music. A well-balanced super-tweeter instills a sense of order and organization, purpose and structure on the music. Suddenly there’s a place for everything and everything is in that place. That’s exactly what you’re hearing with the Janis Ian track Each note from the piano is clearly defined, its weight, placement and position in the phrase natural and predictable. It’s this feeling of natural spacing and progression that makes the music so convincing and affecting, ironing out the subtle ripples in the timing that jar against our perception. No surprise then, that high-frequency extension is high on the list of high-end speaker designers’ priorities. No surprise too that the excellent (if pricey) Murata dome is becoming an increasingly common sight.
But the other neat trick in the Grand Veenas’ hand is the nature of the bass. They don’t have a huge internal volume to play with while their basically flat impedance also limits their ultimate bass weight and extension. But, place against those limitations the benefits of building their own drivers in-house (and the control that affords over their mechanical behaviour) and the ease of drive that results from the minimal crossover this makes possible and you have the foundations for a carefully executed balancing act – one that’s been judged to a ‘T’. The port loading augments low-frequency output, but unlike most reflex speakers the Grand Veenas don’t die away quickly, the carefully tailored driver response maintaining useful output well down into the upper 20s. Add in the ease with which the amp can get a grip on those drivers, courtesy of the lack of large crossover elements and you’ve got considerable punch and weight through the vital midbass where so much of music’s drive and energy originates, underpinned by more than just a vestige of the deeper fundamentals. Just listen to Aston Barrett’s joyously energetic and agile bass lines from Babylon By Bus, the Reference 3As endowing them with a proper propulsive energy and characteristically undulating pitch, always sure footed, tactile and weighty. At their upper reaches, the bass drivers meet seamlessly with the midrange, neither tripping the timing nor blurring the point of transition. Reference 3A’s gentle slopes certainly help smooth the journey from one unit to another, although I can’t help wonder to what extent they contribute to one of the Grand Veena’s few flaws, a subtle lack of texture and range to their tonal palette the further you travel from their gloriously tactile mid-band. It’s a limitation that only becomes apparent compared to (far) more expensive speakers, generally those endowed with real low-frequency extension. The suppressed energy in the bowing of the extended bass passages that open the Gorecki 3rd Symphony is less apparent, but it’s a tendency that also afflicts broad swathes of both Du Pre’s cello and Ricci’s fiddle.