Relative newcomers to the UK, Vienna Acoustics has still to celebrate its 20th birthday, so it's one of the younger speaker brands on the world stage. Vienna's UK distribution changed last year, as a result of US company Sumiko purchasing UK subwoofer specialist REL. Sumiko has long distributed both REL and Vienna Acoustics in the US, so bringing the two brands together in Britain was entirely logical.
Vienna Acoustics has just three ranges of speakers: Reference, the mainstream wood-finish Grands, plus the shiny, shapely metal-jacket Schonbergs. The subject of this review is the smallest of the mainstream range, the Haydn Grand; a quite exquisitely beautiful compact standmount that costs from £795 per pair.
The pair we actually reviewed cost £100 more, because they came dressed in a strikingly patterned rosewood veneer, with a deep gloss 10-layer lacquer finish - very pretty indeed. Alternative finishes at the standard price are maple, cherry or piano black.
Besides its lovely appearance, the box itself is very strong, with unusually thick front and back panels, cunningly veneered over chamfered edges, sandwiching the wrap.
Like the vast majority of standmounts, it's a simple two-way design, and is slimmer than many by virtue of a relatively small (150mm nominal diameter) bass/mid driver. Decent depth and height ensure that the enclosure volume of 10 litres is comfortably larger than the classic seven-litre 'miniature'.
The port consists of a casting integrated with the tweeter mounting, and vents through two slots either side of the vertically-oriented tweeter front plate. This affords great mechanical integrity, but whether the bifurcated construction offers any advantage over more conventional types is difficult to say. However, it certainly looks elegant and avoids using up space elsewhere on the small front panel.
Peter Gansterer, Vienna's design engineer, places great store by both the material used for drive unit cones, and the way these are made, in order to achieve the best possible compromise between obtaining good midrange clarity, while at the same time avoiding any attendant harshness. His material of choice is called X3P, which is a visually transparent combination of TPX (polymethylpentene) with polypropylene.
The main driver cones themselves, just 95mm in diameter, are fabricated in Austria, but then transferred to Norway where driver specialist SEAS builds them into drive units, using cast frames and generous magnets. The tweeter, also from a Scandinavian source, uses a 25mm doped silk fabric dome.
Much effort has gone into selecting the individual components for the crossover network design. This deliberately has relatively simple 6- and 12dB/octave slopes, and very high quality components. Just a single pair of top quality socket/binder input terminals are mounted directly through an alloy back plate, avoiding the usual flimsy moulded plastic terminal block.
Vienna takes great care to ensure that production samples are as close to the original reference as possible. This involves careful measuring pair-matching, with comparison to production references derived from the original prototype reference model. That said, a minor discrepancy was noted in the compliances of our pair's main drivers.
Sumiko's John Hunter was keen that we got to hear the Haydn Grands at their best, so he delivered them and spent some time, taking great care in positioning the speakers in the room.
It was interesting, if a tad mystifying, to watch Hunter move the speaker positions by small amounts in relation to the room boundaries until he was satisfied with the results. The final locations he chose were only about 30cm away from where I normally place standmounts - a little further back and further apart, and on higher stands - a fascinating sonic exercise in its own right.
A common thread runs through all the Vienna Acoustics speakers we've tried, and it's a thread that distinguishes them from the overwhelming market majority. It concerns a suck-out in the presence zone. And if this feature seemed somewhat less extreme with the Haydn Grand than some of its larger siblings, it was still obvious enough on our far-field in-room averaged measurement.
In this case, this was a lack of energy through most of the treble range. On our measurements, the output level fell something like 5dB between 1.2kHz and 1.7kHz, and above that the treble then stayed flat for nearly two octaves, before starting to rise steadily again above 6kHz, and increasing by some 4dB by the time it peaks up at 12kHz.
The bass and midrange was better ordered overall, holding within modest limits, if uneven along the way. It made little difference to the averaged measurements whether the speakers were sited in our normal standmount positions, or those specifically selected by John Hunter: either way, helped by 50Hz port tuning, the Haydn Grand seems well suited to free space siting, delivering usefully unexaggerated bass down to around 40Hz under in-room conditions.
The lack of presence and treble inevitably stamps its signature on the sound quality, and must be viewed as compromising fidelity in the true meaning of the word. But the sonic presentation sounds very nice indeed, as it has an attractive spaciousness and a freedom from aggression that many listeners will appreciate.
Listening past the balance, this is clearly a quality loudspeaker, with very well controlled cabinet coloration and an encouraging freedom from boxiness. The imaging is probably its best feature, perhaps in part because the laid-back presentation tends to emphasise the spaciousness and depth of the stereo image, but also maybe because the care taken in pair-matching helps the precision and focus.
Furthermore, this speaker always sounds sweet and never becomes aggressive, which might not be good news for Prodigy fans, but goes down rather well with Mozart. Speech is muffled, shut in and nasal, but intelligibility is helped by the way the treble peak enhances the leading edges of consonants.
While there are obvious limits in terms of bass extension and power, the Haydn Grand sounds bigger and more capable than one expects, and certainly shows good agility, while the freedom from unwanted 'thump', which is all too common with larger port-loaded standmounts, is much appreciated.