For all its domestic virtues and easy matching, where the Auditorium really scores is once you start playing music. The various Auditoria and Avatar models have always had the ability to swell effortlessly and do dynamics with authority. They are qualities that come from having more than enough sensitivity coupled to just enough bass, making dynamic shifts appropriately sudden, with enough weight and impact to impress. The R25A takes that to a whole new level when compared to its predecessors, adding a significant increase in coherence and articulation to the mix. Individually, these are all critical factors, but in concert they feed off each other, magnifying the musical results, creating a whole that way extends the sum of its parts. Being familiar with most of the Auditorium/Avatar variants and their evolution over the years, I’m confident that this latest Auditorium is superior to the previous RW – making this year’s entry level model superior to what was the flagship in this line only a couple of years back. Play the dramatic opening to Mendelssohn’s 2nd Piano Concerto (Lisiecki/Orpheus C.O. on DGG) and the R25As capture not just the explosive dynamic contrasts but also the shape of Lisiecki’s phrasing – and the way it interlocks with the orchestral parts – the contrast between his delicacy and power, the effortless articulation in his playing, the tonal and expressive range he conjures from the piano. This is a beautifully scaled instrument, full of complex layers and textures, from which notes flow in a tumbling cascade of energy. Lisiecki is arguably the most impressive new pianist to emerge in years. With the Living Voice speakers you hear him: the musical authority and command that belie his years, the beauty and colour in the composition and playing, the close relationship he enjoys with the Orpheus and their mutual respect. In fact, you hear everything except the speakers and the system driving them.
It’s an impressive demonstration of not just how capable and sorted the R25As are, but how their easy load and carefully judged balance succeed in bringing the best out of partnering electronics. Sure-footed and uncluttered, rich and vibrant, they allow music to breathe easily and with an unforced, natural clarity – a quality that also, ironically, makes them incredibly easy to set up. Simply plonk them down and their easy dynamics and enthusiastic response means that they’ll never sound bad, but every time you shift them, even very slightly, you’ll hear exactly what it does to the sound and the sense of musical coherence, right up to the point where you get their positioning, attitude and toe-in just right. At that point you hit a sense of proportion and shape, expressive range and colour, an effortless combination of delicacy and explosive dynamics that allows the music to hang suspended in the room, independent of the speakers and the system, a living, breathing performance. It’s indicative of that happiest of knacks, the ability to bring the best out of the partnering electronics. I achieved the results described with amps as diverse as the Icon Audio Stereo 60 integrated, the Gryphon Diablo 120 and the Rowland 625 S2. You’ll note that the latter amps are both reasonably powerful, solid-state designs but the R25A shows no fear or favour. Instead you get to appreciate the strengths of each amp in turn, the presence and rich colours of the Icon Audio, the drive and energy of the Gryphon, the subtle dynamic shadings and textures of the Rowland, each shaping and contributing to (rather than defining or limiting) the overall coherence of the musical presentation.
The revised, mixed-material cabinet first seen in the previous model certainly plays its part, helping to eliminate the thrummy, one-note resonance that bedevils the mid-bass and musical immediacy of so many low to mid-priced speakers, but the extent of its contribution (or lack of it) has only really become apparent with the total redesign of the crossover. What started as corrective measures to accommodate changes in the design of the tweeter have ended up as a full-scale revision – one that has far-reaching musical consequences. Not only has the crossover point itself been raised, requiring complete re-voicing, but the actual components have all been changed, while considerable effort has gone into taming the out-of-band behaviour of the drive units. That means a more complex network, although the improvements to those components that impact the audible band more than make up for that. Cabinet and crossover refinements, particularly to out-of-band performance are the coming thing. Indeed, you only have to look at the Focal Scala Evo if you want to appreciate their scope and importance. But applied to a speaker as conceptually sorted (and relatively affordable) as the Auditorium, the benefits are spectacular.
Of course, Mendelssohn piano may not be your thing, but that same unforced clarity that illuminates the Lisiecki performances brings purpose and intelligibility to other music, whether it’s the convoluted evolutions of Coltrane and McCoy Tyner on ‘My Favourite Things’ or the intimate yet angular exchanges between Ray Brown and The Duke on ‘Do Nothin…’, the primal grind of the Art Pepper Quintet’s ‘Las Cuevas De Mario’ or the pile-driver impact and dense mix of Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’. Whatever the piece, its parts and their pattern are effortlessly preserved. Ring the musical changes and you’ll change the sound – from one disc, one performance, one performer to another. Just as the R25A allows the music to breathe and progress at its own pace, so it gives each performer their own voice, each recording its own atmosphere and acoustic.
In fact, speaking of acoustic brings me to one of the few significant trade-offs in the Auditorium’s make up. Whilst in musical terms it goes deep enough (and emphatically so), the absence of the deepest bass robs the acoustic space of boundaries and some depth. Lateral spread and separation is excellent, but full range speakers will give you greater dimensionality and a more defined acoustic – at a price. That aside, the R25A covers its tracks without you even noticing. The music it makes is so immediately engaging and vivid that any other considerations become secondary. The performances it reproduces are so complete, so convincing in terms of their musical and artistic range and expression that the overall affect is a step-change in the performance of the Auditorium model, a leap in audio and musical performance so significant that it easily out-paces anything I’ve heard at more affordable price levels – and a lot of speakers that cost an awful lot more.