One of the AXPONA regional high-end shows was held last March in my hometown of Chicago after an almost 15-year absence from the windy city. I spent a full two days going to virtually every room with my test recordings and asked for the volume to be set at levels that allowed me to get a take on each system's performance. There were five rooms that I thought made beautiful music, even under show conditions. One of these systems used speakers from Vapor Audio. I had a very interesting conversation with the CEO and designer Ryan Scott; we decided that I would review his new stand-mount speaker, the Stiff Breeze, which retails for $1,895 per pair. Vapor Audio has five other speakers in its lineup. The Stiff Breeze is the next speaker up from the smallest and least expensive model that Vapor Audio manufactures.
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The Stiff Breezes I reviewed as a pair were clad in a very attractive and classy-looking piano-black lacquer. The speaker's sides are curved, ending in a more narrow back than front, which eliminates any standing waves inside the enclosure. On the back is one set of high-quality speaker-wire connections and a port for the low-frequency driver. Each speaker weighs 48 pounds. Its dimensions are 20 inches high by eight inches wide by 14.5 inches deep. The front baffle is almost two inches thick. Overall, the appearance and build quality are what you would expect from a much more expensive speaker model.
Each speaker contains three drivers from respected OEM companies. The tweeter is a RAAL 70-10 D ribbon and the two midrange/woofers are Wave Nomex six-inch cones. The frequency range is 44 Hz to 39 kHz, +/-3 dB. Its sensitivity is 90 dB, and its nominal impedance is four ohms. This means that the Stiff Breeze is an easy load for almost any amplifier to drive.
I placed the pair of Stiff Breezes six feet apart in my smaller system, slightly toed in and four feet from the front wall. I experimented with two different tube amps and a solid-state amp. The Stiff Breezes were so transparent that it was very easy to hear the difference in the upstream gear that was driving them. Lately, I have become a fan of push/pull or parallel 300b tube-based amps, and I used a pair of Audio Space monoblocks for the majority of the time spent reviewing the Stiff Breezes.
Instead of mentioning every individual music selection I used to review the sonic performance of the Stiff Breezes, let me just say that I used a variety of genres: small jazz quartets, big band, hard rock, blues, acoustic small groups with vocals and, finally, many large dynamic classical symphonic recordings. After spending many pleasurable hours listening to the Stiff Breeze speakers, I am still amazed with not only their overall performance, but with three major aspects and how they created the illusion of real music. First, the Stiff Breezes just completely disappear and develop an amazing soundstage with precise layering of individuals on the stage. Depending on the recording, it can spread across the room or give you the sense that you are in a small recording studio. The center fill was deep, having a real sense of the height of the stage or space where the music was recorded. Secondly, the overall dynamics and aliveness of the Stiff Breezes allowed them to have an effortless way of conveying the pulse and the pop of the music. The bottom end of the speaker was accurate in its tone and gave even big classical works the foundation needed to feel the impact of the orchestra at full tilt. Most importantly, I listened for its tone and timbres. If a speaker cannot present natural and accurate timbres, I find this weakness is so displeasing that I cannot relax and enjoy the music. The Stiff Breezes are truly at a reference level in this area that belies their cost point. The timbres and the air and the little details of the music are all there, presented in a natural, non-analytical way. One possible explanation for this could be the use of the excellent transducer, the RAAL ribbon tweeter, for the highest frequencies and the top of the midrange, plus a seamless integration with the midrange cone driver. I kept reminding myself that I was not listening to speakers that cost around $4,000 but was getting this type of performance from a speaker pair that costs less than $2,000.
Read about the high points and low points of the Stiff Breeze speaker on Page 2.
The build quality and the drivers used in the Stiff Breeze are at a high level and much better than you would expect at this price point.
Because the Stiff Breeze has excellent bottom-end extension, a subwoofer might not be necessary, even if it is used in a home theater system.
The Stiff Breeze produces a reference-level soundstage and has enough pop and overall dynamics that it could be used in a larger acoustic space than many other two-way stand-mounted monitors.
The Stiff Breeze offers beautiful and natural timbres and tonality far above what you would expect at its price range.
To get the Stiff Breezes to perform at their best, the cost of high-quality speaker stands must be included in your budget.
Like any high-resolution speakers, the Stiff Breeze will reveal any flaws in your upstream components. They are very easy to drive; however, that does not mean that they will sound good if your gear is not up to the task.
Competition and Comparison
Two speakers with which I am very familiar that are both in the price bracket of the Stiff Breeze are the Living Sounds Audio Statement Monitor (which is valued at $2,149/pair) and the KEF R-300 (which is valued at $1,800/pair). These are both excellent performers in their own right. Before reviewing the Stiff Breeze, my favorite stand-mount speaker was the Living Sounds Audio Statement Monitor, with which I gave five stars in my review about a year ago. I still think it is a wonderful speaker; however, the Stiff Breeze significantly outperforms it across the board and particularly in the areas discussed in the body of the review.� For more resources and reviews, please visit Home Theater Review's bookshelf speaker section.
Vapor Audio, with its Stiff Breeze speaker, has raised the bar for what to expect from a pair of small speakers that costs less than $2,000. The build quality, drivers, and level of sonic performance surpass any speaker that I have auditioned so far in this price range. If you are looking for a physically attractive stand-mount speaker either for your home theater or two-channel system - one that has great kick, aliveness and the ability to play at high-pressure levels yet still sound terrific when played softly - you cannot do better than the Stiff Breeze. It is also easy to drive and offers wonderful timbres and soundstaging. I highly recommend you put this speaker on your audition list.
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See more reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.