At the Chicago Axpona Audiophile Show last year, my pick for "Best of the Show" was the Audio Archon room. The system was composed of a Weiss MAN-301 DAC/streamer, Melody AN-211 tube amplifier, MG cables, a Krolo Design rack, and finally Lawrence Audio Violin speakers. Listening to music on this rig reminded me very much of the sonic signature that my reference system delivers in my large home environment, and this is not a very easy task to accomplish in a small hotel room under show conditions. Mr. Lawrence, CEO and designer for Lawrence Audio, was at the show; when I expressed interest in reviewing the Violin speaker, he shared that he was working on a special edition that would be called the Violin SE and retail for $8,500/pair (including the stands). Those who read my reviews regularly already know that my reference speakers are the Lawrence Audio Cello speakers, which I loved enough to purchase after reviewing them. I have also reviewed two other Lawrence Audio models: the Mandolin and Double Bass.
Like the other three Lawrence Audio models I have had in-house for review, the Violin SE is gorgeous in its physical appearance. The pair sent to me where clad in a beautiful piano lacquer Rosewood veneer. The Violin SE follows the form of the other models in the so-called "stringed section" of the Lawrence Audio speaker line. By mimicking the shape of string instruments, the Double Bass, Cello, Mandolin, and Violin SE avoid parallel sides to minimize internal distortion of sound waves. The "neck" of the Violin SE allows a very narrow front baffle that dramatically reduces diffraction of the midrange and high frequencies. The Violin SE, like the Cello, is ported on the bottom front, and it can be placed closer to the front wall then other ported designs that have the port in the back. When the Violin SE is bolted onto the top plate of its dedicated matte-black stand, it looks more like a piece of lovely modern-art sculpture than a large stand-mount speaker. Each speaker weighs 59.5 pounds and measures 39.3 inches high by 15.3 inches wide by 20.8 inches deep. The Violin SE's frequency range is listed as 35 Hz to 40 kHz, its sensitivity is 90 dB, and it offers a nominal impedance of eight ohms, never dipping below 6.4 ohms, which means that almost any amplifier that offers at least 10 watts could easily drive this speaker.
The difference between the standard Violin and the Violin SE is based on two major changes. First, the five-inch ribbon tweeter used on the standard Violin is replaced with a five-inch AMT (Air Motion Transformer), which is the same driver that is used on the Cello model. Secondly, a rear-mounted two-inch aluminum ribbon ambient tweeter appears on the Violin SE, which is the same transducer found on the back of the much larger Cello speaker. What stays the same from the standard Violin is the eight-inch woofer composed of non-woven carbon fiber with a two-inch copper clad aluminum voice coil and a ferrite magnet system with a Faraday Ring and demodulation coil. I have found that, over time, I prefer the sound of AMT transducers compared with ribbon drivers because they are somewhat fuller/warmer and radiate sound in a less directional way. The AMT driver does not give up speed or clarity to ribbon designs, but it allows the speaker to disappear more and adds a little more fullness to the music.
When I played Kenny Burrell's Be Yourself Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (HighNote), the Violin SE completely transported me to this venue in New York City. The size of the soundstage and the location of each musician realistically filled my whole sound space. It was one of those moments where I felt that I had been transported to this club and was listening to a live performance. I believe this wonderful illusion of space was due in part to the rear ambient ribbon tweeter.
One of the most important albums in the history of Blue Note Records is trumpet player Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" (Blue Note) because it became the best-selling album ever recorded on this label and saved the company from going bankrupt. Lee Morgan was at the height of his playing powers regarding his range, unique phrasing, and pure, warn timbres/tone that his trumpet sounded like "butter." The Violin SE was able to render this as well as any speaker I have ever heard. His trumpet, along with the rest of the instruments in his band, had great image density and a three-dimensional palpability that was quite impressive. Many highly regarded speakers on today's market are super-detailed, very resolving, and as fast as lightning, but they sound analytical to me. The Violin SE is very transparent and has great transient speed, which allows you to hear all the micro-details effortlessly. However, what sets it apart (along with the other Lawrence Audio models) is its natural, rich timbres/tonality throughout the mid-range and upper-bass frequencies.
My final selection was Steely Dan's album "A Decade of Steely Dan" (MCA Records) to see how the Violin SE would do with very well-recorded vocals and pop music. I have heard Donald Fagen perform at an excellent-sounding small acoustic venue, and I have a good take on what he sounds like in person. The nuances and tonality of his voice, through the Violin SE, were rendered in a highly vivid manner, while the emotions he's trying to convey came across in a compelling way. The speakers also produced the right tonality, along with the speed and kick of Walter Becker's lead guitar solos and with his taut electric bass lines on many of the tracks.
• Because the Violin SE is clad in a beautiful piano lacquer Rosewood veneer and has the unique shape of a piece of modern art, it has a gorgeous appearance that will add to the décor of your room.
• This speaker offers world-class soundstaging, transient speed/micro-details, taut/powerful bass extension, beautiful tone color/timbres, and three-dimensional imaging.
• The Violin SE can be driven with everything from a "Flea Watt" SET tube amp to high-wattage solid-state amplifiers to produce a wonderful musical presentation.
• The Violin SE will perform at its optimum level in relatively small rooms, yet it still can play effortlessly at very high volume levels and pressurize even large acoustic spaces.
• The Violin SE is easy to drive and is somewhat forgiving because of its overall silky smooth/liquid presentation. However, it will unmask any shortcomings in your upstream components.
Comparison and Competition
Two speakers that I have auditioned that would be the competitors to the Violin SE based on design and price would be the Von Schweikert Audio Unifield Two MK2, which retails for $7,995, and the Vivid V-1.5, which retails for $7,650. The Von Schweikert Audio Unifield MK2 offers excellent bass extension for a stand-mount speaker. However, it did not produce a large holographic soundstage and completely disappear like the Violin SE does. The Violin SE's midrange tonality/timbres, along with its transition to the lower high frequencies, were at a higher level of refinement than the Unifield MK2. The Vivid V-1.5 offers speed, powerful micro-dynamics, and excellent transparency/clarity, allowing all the little details of the music to be easily heard. However, it suffers from what I previously mentioned in the body of the review regarding many speakers on today's market: It sounds somewhat analytical and slightly dry in its overall presentation of the music. This is where the Violin SE pulled way ahead in being able to allow me to relax and get into the emotions of the music because of its rich and full tonality/color/timbres, without losing micro-details or transient speed.
I have now reviewed four different speakers in the Lawrence Audio stable. I have totally enjoyed my time with each one and purchased the Cello model to use as my reference speaker. The Violin SE, like all Lawrence speakers, is built to a very high standard and provides a beautiful and unique physical appearance. The Violin SE provides reference-level performance in the areas of soundstaging, rich and natural tonality/timbres, extremely fast transients/micro-details, octave-to-octave seamlessness, and powerfully taut bass extension. Finally, it allows you to hear everything in the music without sounding analytical in any way. During my time with the Violin SE, I nicknamed this speaker the "Baby Cello" because it comes so close to the performance of its big and much more expensive brother. I consider it a sonic clone of the Cello Speaker; the only difference between the Violin SE and Cello would be if you have a very large listening room, play music at insane volume levels, and want to pressurize the room to a higher degree. Then the extra cost of the Cello might be worth it to you. Even after saying that, the Violin will still play at very high dB levels effortlessly and has an excellent powerful/full bottom end. Mr. Lawrence has created yet another wonderful music maker to add to his stable of great speakers.
• Lawrence Audio Double Bass Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Lawrence Audio Mandolin Speakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit our Audiophile Bookshelf and Small Speakers category page at HomeTheaterReview.com.