Perceptual listening is the brand new thing

10/10

Summary

Perlisten R7t Tower Speakers REVIEW

Witchdoctor hi-fi guru ANDREW BAKER has heard a lot of speakers in his time, but this amazing new brand takes the cake (and wins the award).

$15,190

You’re forgiven if, like me, you had not previously heard of Perlisten speakers. Indeed, the company seemingly appeared around a year ago, and with a full range of high-end speakers and subwoofers. But as local distributor Stephen Seque of Soul to Sole Audio told me, this was following at least four years of research and development.

According to their website, the company was started by a pair of audiophiles with lengthy backgrounds in audio (JBL, Klipsch and Harman International to name a few) and corporate technology. Designed in America and built to the highest of standards in China, Perlisten offers a full range of high-end speakers from stand mounts to full home theatre suites. And if you want big, they do big. I was given a tour of the Rapallo Audio home theatre room and the Perlisten subwoofer in that room is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen in person.

Build And Features

The R-series aren’t the top-of-the-line model. That honour goes to the S series (the S7t, for example, goes for close to $30k) but we get some trickle-down technology. Especially of note here is the DPC-Array which we’ll get to shortly.

The Floorstanding R7t’s are rather large. Standing at just over 1.2 meters tall on their solid metal plinth footings, they towered over my hi-fi rack, making my Reference 3A speakers look quite insignificant. These large high gloss finished cabinets (available in Piano Black at the moment, with Piano White coming soon) contain seven drivers – hence the ‘7’: ‘t’ standing for tower – two 165mm woofers above and two below the triple 26mm silk-dome tweeter mid-treble section.

The woofers are made from a multi-fibre composite (bamboo, hardwood and wool) but it’s those mid/treble drivers that are really most interesting. You have the tweeter, set recessed into the centre, between two 26mm drivers, one above and one below which manage the mid-range. This is part of a patent-pending array known as DPC (Directivity Pattern Control) forming a “waveguide lens” with the aim of creating a coherent and optimised sound.

A 4-way bass reflex design with down-firing ports, the R7t are said by Perlisten to have a frequency response of 27–32kHz with a typical in-room bass extension of 19Hz. The optional foam plugs when inserted put the speakers into “acoustic suspension” mode, altering the frequency response to 38–32kHz –  ideal if you don’t need so much bass or your room is small or otherwise less than ideal (or you wish to match with subwoofer).

These THX-certified beasts have a nominal impedance of 4ohms nominal with 90dB of sensitivity and they require 100wpc or more of amplification power to be driven at their best. Two sets of luxurious speaker binding posts each allow for bi-wiring or bi-amping and quality metal jumpers are supplied for single cable users.

Constructed using HDF (high-density fibreboard), the 50kg R7t are simply stunning looking and the build and finish is just breathtaking. The partially protruding front baffle is finished in matte black which makes an appealing contrast to the glossy cabinets. Which leads me to what I consider the only downside to these speakers’ construction, as that finish makes them fingerprint and dust magnets. Not a major complaint.

Listening

All listening was done using Simon Brown’s excellent The Wand 14/4 Turntable and 12-inch The Wand tonearm mounted with an EMT TSD15n MC cartridge, feeding an EAR 834P tube phono stage via an A23 SUT. My Electrocompaniet DAC handled the digital side while my tube hybrid amplifier delivered at least 200wpc into the R7t’s 4ohms.

I’m not big on equipment burn-in but loosening up moving parts, especially in speakers, kind of makes sense. For argument’s sake and as per most manufacturers’ recommendations, I let them play for around 50 to 100 hours before undergoing serious listening in reviewer mode. Straight out of the box they sounded fabulous and I can’t categorically confirm that running them in improved their performance in any way.

My initial fear that the R7t would overpower my room as soon as I raised the volume by any degree, was swiftly allayed. You might suppose that given the size of the R7t, and the relatively small size of my room, that they’d be instantly overpowering but this was absolutely not the case. Of course, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that a larger, more size-appropriate room would allow speakers of this size to perform at their utmost best, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced.

I was presented with a wonderfully clear and balanced sound. Bass was deep and punchy but concise and beautifully controlled, never overbearing or unkempt whether at my usual listening volume or beyond. Treble was clear and detailed, lit up but never ever harsh – a lovely contrast and complement to the bottom end. It seemed to give more prominence to things such as rim taps and ride cymbals – making them seem a more integral part of the sonic picture than with some other speakers – while also heightening their individual dynamic characteristics.

The R7ts featured some of the best imaging I have heard so far in a loudspeaker of any price. Not just in terms of placement and isolation but also scale and timbre and it had an easy, natural and uncoloured quality. I enjoyed a lovely sense of space, in and around performers, from left to right and especially top to bottom, helping to create that illusion of life-size images. Layering from behind the speakers, out to my ears and beyond also added to the immersive experience.

Incrementally raising the volume enhanced the aforementioned effects while keeping everything in order. Nothing was boomy or bright and shrill or unrealistically portrayed. Of course, pushing the volume up well beyond my usual level of tolerance started to create issues in my small room but I’d never do that under normal circumstances anyway. At lower volumes, I still got the same sense of dynamics, even in the bottom end, which I found really good for listening at night when the family was asleep in bed (or playing PlayStation when they’re supposed to be asleep).

Despite their size, music wasn’t so much propelled from the speakers as it radiated forth in a most delightful and delicate manner. Sure, if I cranked that volume knob round, I got a good blasting but I really felt the R7t dealt in quality before quantity. Here it’s probably worth mentioning that despite my smallish listening room, I didn’t bother with the acoustic suspension plugs because I simply never felt I needed them. The R7t is not at all bolshy in that regard. They are much more refined than one might think and while they certainly do pack a punch in regard to bass, at the levels I usually listen, they did so without once making me reach for the volume knob.

Indulging in tracks from the superb Rhino Records re-issue of The Doors’ LA  Woman (1971, Elektra Records) I enjoyed the sense of scale and presence given to each member of the band. With ‘Riders On The Storm’, the drumkit was at the back but I was given a real impression of each component of the kit and not only how it was placed but how it was played. I fancied I could better feel John Densmore’s deliberate actions in the process of keeping time on his kit. While the left side of the soundstage was filled up with those distinctive and articulate ascending and descending keyboard notes, I felt I could almost see the point from where they emanated even down to the very movement of Ray Manzarek’s fingers across the keys. Likewise, the guitar to the right, played by Robbie Krieger in his usual understated but eloquent style, was conveyed here with purpose and gravity. That unmistakable bassline with its repetitive simplicity had good texture and body. Jim Morrison was in front or sometimes slightly to the left – I know his vocals were recorded in a small room to one side – but the Perlistens created a captivating life-sized illusion, putting him there in the room in a manner that was quite remarkable. The ghostly background vocal, parroting Morrison from somewhere close behind his right shoulder, was eerily more present too.

Playing through Aldous Harding’s utterly sublime record Warm Chris (2022, Flying Nun) I was treated to a rather intimate setting. Harding seems to have a completely different voice for each song on this record – child-like to angelic, a near-croon to mildly unsettling. But whatever she was singing, her voice was rich and expressive through the R7t and captivating in a very similar manner to that of seeing her perform live. The speakers excelled at capturing the softest of octaves and contrasting it with higher and louder notes, going from intimate to quick and snappy in a heartbeat. The brushwork on cymbals and snares sounded absolutely lovely. The percussive nature of the piano stood out more (especially on ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’) and I could plainly hear whether an electric or acoustic piano was being used. This is because of the prominence of the sort of muted effect of hammers hitting strings inside an acoustic piano. Rather than being a distraction, it gave the illusion that I was sitting next to an actual piano. Another thing with piano is if a speaker is over-emphasised in the bass, it can sound unnatural and bloated, especially in the lower notes. The R7t excelled here with its well-balanced frequency response, keeping the timbres of all instruments and voices sounding as accurate as possible.

As I inferred earlier, the R7t demonstrated an uncanny ability to go from playing music gracefully with nuance and subtlety to visceral power with astounding dynamics and authority. ‘Chocolate Chip Trip’ from Tool’s Fear Inoculum (2019, Tool Dissectional/RCA) features a pendulum of synthesised chimes and effects, panning far left and right and here it was presented crystal clear and detailed and also out of the speakers (yes, they “disappeared”). When the drums kicked in, never before had I heard a drum kit through speakers come as close as this to sounding like the real thing. The tones, speed, sheer impact and dynamics were a marvel and the full scale of the presentation was nothing short of exhilarating. The R7ts gave this track an enveloping, ballsy yet organic presentation. Fast and punchy, with a deep powerful bottom end from the kick drum and crystal clear mids and treble without being at all clinical or unrealistic, I had nothing to complain about.

It is absolutely compulsory that I play Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ (Paranoid, 1970, Vertigo Records) in every review situation. It’s such a fun, fast and dynamic blast of metal and it can play differently on different setups. Some react well to it and some not so well. And some absolutely thrive – as was the case here. You might say “Well, duh. Look at the size of those speakers!” but actually, some of the larger speakers, which might be, shall we say, tuned for a more mass-consumer based market, can have too much emphasis either at the low or the top end. Or both. Depending on the music, this can result in basically a hot mess – overpowering, unrefined bass or piercingly bright treble. The R7t were in complete control at all times. Ozzy’s howls and cries reached their high notes with no sense of strain or harshness – weirdly I even got a sense of his pauses. The electric guitar, like Ozzy’s voice, posed no threat to the speakers’ mid/treble range while the bass had a heightened sense of melody and texture. I noted a second guitar in the mix, which I’m sure I had always heard but it did seem more distinctive this time. Drumming was fast and dramatic and as I increased the volume, as I always do, really moved the air, slamming and pounding in a well-controlled fashion. Again, the Perlistens displayed an impressive level of speed, immediacy, presence and slam; transients were faster than my kids fleeing to their bedrooms when asked to empty the dishwasher. Listening to this or any similar track with my Reference 3As, even though I get a similar thrill and they do sound superb, I always have a feeling that they’re perhaps only just managing. This is mostly the case at louder levels. It’s as though at any moment they might go “Fuck it, I’ve had enough” and blow up in my face. The R7t gave no such impression. “Is that all you’ve got?” is what they seemed to say.

I didn’t just listen to rock – EDM from the likes of John Tejada, Pitch Black, Eden Burns, Nice Girl, et al, were all presented to glorious effect by the R7t. Again, the music was clean and fast with a solid rousing bottom end and a crystal-like mid/treble where sparkling electronic effects and artefacts flitted and bubbled about the room with impressive clarity and detail. As usual, it was simply effortless. Whether it was a minimalist style track or more complicated and full-on, the Perlistens filled the room with sound with admirable ease and alacrity.

One minor drawback is that dreadful recordings still sounded dreadful. My son has a record by the band Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats called Blood Lust (2012, Rise Above), an album clearly inspired by Sabbath but with a more stoned-out style. Like a lot of these stoner metal recordings, it has that kind of washed-out, muffled sound across the frequency spectrum, ultimately lacking dynamics and, as was the case with Blood Lust, a straining, distorted treble that can become quite grating and fatiguing very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun music and I have a few albums similar to this in my collection but for me, it’s low-volume listening only. Despite the easy nature of the R7ts, they just couldn’t make the proverbial silk purse here. Even my son said, after just a few songs, “Yeah, that’s enough.” One possibility is that as this is a splatter-coloured pressing, the standard black may be better. I don’t believe coloured vinyl is necessarily bad sounding but it can happen. I own many coloured records with just one that sounds considerably worse than its black counterpart.

Conclusion

The Perlisten R7t are by far some of the finest speakers I have heard to date. Merely plying them with the usual audiophile superlatives (as I have clearly just done) simply isn’t good enough. Describing them as sounding “life-like” simply doesn’t do them justice, either. Listening to these speakers was a unique, invigorating and heartening experience where I could somehow hear musicians’ intent as much as what they were creating. The name Perlisten comes from the company’s own phrase “Perceptual Listening” which kind of describes the experience perfectly.

The main things I can think of to take into consideration when looking at these speakers is of course their size (in relation to your room’s dimensions, whether the room is shared with other people, et cetera), amplifier power and, well, the price. Personally, I think the price is extremely reasonable for what you get. Other than that, I cannot fault them. I’m certainly not going to mark them down for sounding too good.

For some time now, my idea of a pleasant music-filled evening had been listening to Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty back-to-back through my Audeze headphones while sipping hot black tea from a large mug. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the R7t have rekindled my love of loudspeaker listening – unfortunately for me, I had to give them back.

Retail – www.rapalloav.co.nz

Trade enquiries – soultosoleaudio.com

 

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