Don't feel bad if you don't know about Vaughn Loudspeakers, as the company is just starting to pick up a little editorial and consumer momentum as an Internet-direct audiophile firm. A few of the speaker models from the Vaughn Loudspeaker Company's stable have garnered much praise at recent audiophile shows, while other models are getting love from some enthusiast audiophile print publications. When I approached Jim Jordan, designer/owner of Vaughn Loudspeakers, about the possibility of setting up a review, he suggested that I examine his Barbera model, which retails for $3,995 per pair. All of Vaughn's speakers are based on the following motto: "High efficiency speakers designed for tube and solid state amps without the compromises found in most high efficiency designs." The Barbera uses bamboo plywood for the sides of the baffle and Baltic Birch plywood for the front and back of the speaker enclosure. The front also has a covering made out of carbon fiber. These different types of materials are used to ensure a very inert and solid speaker box. The Barbera is beautifully built and has a high-tech yet retro look.
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The speaker comes with a screw-on platform, with excellent quality spikes and discs if used on a hardwood floor. The Barbera's dimensions are 44 inches high, 11 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Each speaker weighs 84 pounds, with a frequency range of 35Hz to 20KHz. The Barbera's stated sensitivity is 93dB, with an impedance of eight ohms. Because each Barbera includes a side-firing subwoofer on one side and a passive radiator on the other side, protected by a three-wire grille with a built-in subwoofer amp (300 watts), you can drive this speaker with as little as three watts. The Barbera uses a single full-range eight-inch driver without any crossover network at all. A high-quality jumper cable is provided to attach the subwoofer system in each speaker's terminals on the back. Jordan auditioned numerous full-range drivers until he found one that would eliminate the "beaming or honking" on the top octaves, a flaw that plagues most full-range drivers suffer. Another interesting design feature of the Barbera is that it has a large open port on the back. This allows the full-range driver to operate in a bi-pole fashion, where the back wave of the driver is used to create a larger ambient soundstage.
In my exploration of the speaker, the first musical selection was Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" (Telarc Digital) to test what the Barbera would offer regarding blending its subwoofers with its single full-range driver on the kettle drum blasts on this piece. It was seamless and offered one of the most powerful and natural bottom ends I have ever experienced in such a relatively small floor-standing speaker. The foundation of the orchestra was all there, along with purity in both details and timbres that full range-single driver designs can offer.
The next selection was "Drop Me Off in Harlem" (Savant Records) by a trio composed of the great jazz players Richard Wyands-Piano, Ray Drummond-Bass and Grady Tate-Drums. Unlike other single full-range driver designs, the Barbera's volume and dynamics were able to fill my listening space with all the pop and drive this piano trio was playing. Incredibly, there was still the purity of natural timbres, great clarity and micro-details in the higher-frequency range. The air and space between the individual players were reference quality, presented in a large and lifelike soundstage.
Finally, it was important for me to experience accurate timbres and hear the fine details of a singer's voice, as well as being captivated by the song through the singer's emotions. While listening to Julie London's famous version of "Cry Me a River" (Phoenix Records), the Barberas gave me a wonderful illusion of her singing in my room, allowing me to feel her angst and emotions.
Read about the high points and low points of the Barbera loudspeaker on Page 2.