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Set Up and Listening:
I set up the 2 + 2 first in my bedroom system to give them break in time and casually get to know their personality. They were put on 26 inch Atacama sand filled stands, and driven by Belles electronics and QED speaker cables. After about a week, I was ready to move them into the main system; normally occupied by my Harbeth Compact 7ES3 monitors. I first hooked them to the 200 wpc solid state McIntosh MA6600 integrated amplifier and Transparent speaker cables. The results are exactly what I heard at McDonald's, but now I was able to understand what the 2 + 2 were doing in my familiar set up and room.
With the McIntosh solid state powerhouse (McIntosh MA6600 Review), the 2 + 2 was smooth, detailed, and very seductive. Again, the bass was seriously impressive for monitors about a third bigger than the classic LS3/5A design, of which I owned two pairs in the past. After a good amount of listening sessions, I was ready to come to a few conclusions. First, the presentation was as close to an electrostatic panel, the holy grail of seamless as I have heard from a box design. And this was with none of the typical limitations of an ESL, specifically inadequate bass and limited volume levels.
I also had on hand the Manley Neo Classic 300B tubed mono block amplifiers on hand for a pending review. The Manley’s output is rated at 11 wpc in Single Ended mode and 24 wpc in Push Pull Mode. I was surprised how easily they drove the 2 + 2’s without breaking a sweat. And the sound? Simply gorgeous. Just to cover all bases I also used my main amp, the Audio Research 50 wpc VS55 with stunning results as well.
I remember hearing the track “The Cuckoo” from the great Pentangle’s 1968 classic, Basket of Light, on big, expensive Martin Logan’s, and being astounded at how wide the soundstage was and how individual instruments seem to hang in the air, free in space, like a holograph. Hearing the track on the Audience 2 + 2’s came as close to that experience, which I have been chasing ever since, as I have found to date. It was especially true with percussive instruments, like piano, vibes, cymbals, and bells.
Richard Thompson, a hugely underrated singer, songwriter, and guitarist, best known for his work with the classic English folk rock ensemble Fairport Convention, has for decades consistently put out superb albums, including 2007’s Sweet Warrior. This excellent recording serves the brilliant songs well, with Thompson’s, close miked husky singing voice hanging in space, and his stinging electric guitar work weaving in and out. The 2 + 2’s really shown here, providing a very intimate presentation and an “ in the room” experience.
To provide a bit of counterpoint, I threw on the new disc from Malian legend, Sailf Keita, La Difference. The title track has officially cast me under its spell. It features, dense, West African modal vocal melodies, percolating percussion, snake like lead guitar lines, and pulsating bass. A complex, dense track, with Keita’s soaring lead voice on top. Through the 2 + 2’s it was a real treat, with a tightness and a completeness to the sound that can easily trip up any loudspeaker with even minor shortcomings.
I must also point out there was a very small period of adjustment for the 2 + 2’s. Initially, I felt the sound was a bit overly warm, and that there was a bit of loss of high frequency detail. But, and this a big “but”, everything just sounded so “right”. The coherence, the smooth midrange, the beautiful integration across the whole frequency spectrum sounded as natural to me as live music. Why did I have to “adjust”? I have some theories. I have always thought that most conventional designs have tweeters that overly emphasize the treble and that most crossovers add some amount of distortion. But I also felt that ultimately, the best speaker designers could compensate for this. After hearing the 2 + 2’s my theory is that most audiophiles have become conditioned to the “beaming tweeter” and just live with it as the accepted way high end speakers are supposed to sound.
Another way of putting it is that people who dine out frequently have been conditioned to think that overly salted or overly sweetened food is “tasty”. When this heavy handed over seasoning is removed, the food is thought to be “bland”. But nothing could be further from the truth, it is just that things are being presented correctly.
During the review period, Audience sent an entire set of their cables to work into the system. This included their single ended AU24 e interconnects, speaker cables, and their PowerChord AC cables. I believe the system went to a new level with the Audience loom installed. I don't know if it was the synergy of an all one brand set up, or the fact that the 2 + 2 are internally wired with the same high quality copper as found in the Au24 e line. Either way, the presentation went to a different dimension. I am impressed enough that a full review of the Audience cables installed will follow down the road.
I believe after spending well over 500 hours listening to the Audience ClairAudient 2 + 2 monitors that its a breakthrough product. Using them with at least three amplifiers, tube and solid state, various cables, and in two different rooms confirmed that that the 2 + 2's provide a natural, coherent, and seamless sound. There is nothing artificial or ginned up about their presentation. They remind me very much of my days listening to my father's Quad ESL's when I was a teenager. Except the 2 + 2 can handle lots of power and have plenty of bass. While some listeners may, incorrectly, in my opinion, get an initial impression of too much warmth, I believe this is due to being conditioned to the unnatural sizzle of many tweeters and due to the distortion introduced by many crossover designs.
I found my time with the 2 + 2's immensely rewarding musically. I never found my self growing fatigued, bored, or unengaged. I really believe those shopping for a top class monitor should really find a way to hear these. Besides their sonic beauty, they are also beautiful too look at, and will integrate into any decor. The 2 + 2's are extremely well made and are hand crafted at Audience's factory in Southern California. The 2 + 2 is the result of a long period of development and pursuit of a vision. If that vision includes an untarnished, coherent, and dynamic window into the music, I say well done. Highly recommended.