Waterfall made quite a splash, if you'll excuse the obvious pun, with its attention-grabbing, all-glass Niagara speakers. But at $53,000 a pair, I suspect that the French company is likely to have more commercial luck with the Waterfall Serio 5.1 system, a seriously scaled-down sub/satellite system that embraces much the same design aesthetic.
The five speakers are made of slightly more practical cast aluminium cabinets this time, but they're mounted in thick glass, giving them their distinctive Waterfall twist.
Waterfall's use of glass to frame its single drive units makes the speakers look like ornaments, but it's not all for show – these speakers are beautifully built.
The rigid safety glass is heavy and helps anchor the rubber-footed cabinets to the tabletop, thereby reducing unwanted vibration. Also interesting is the brand's so-called Heatstream technology that allows the speakers to dissipate heat through the cabinet, and output 150W of peak power – and far more volume – than is normal from such diminutive boxes.
Similarly, the subwoofer, dubbed the High Force HF1, is comically compact, but capable of an astonishing level of noise. Measuring little more than a foot on all sides, it squats on spikes with a forward-firing 9in bass driver. It looks harmless enough, but you risk putting your back out when lifting it from the box – its largely metal construction makes it super rigid and pushes the weight over 15kg.
Bring on the wall
Being flat makes the Serio satellites the perfect partners for a flatscreen TV, and they sound best when mounted on their spiked wall mounts. The small enclosure obviously limits their output, but the wall, in this case, provides bass reinforcement.
In fact, these boxes create a larger soundfield than they have any right to. I partnered this sexy set with a fairly high-powered Marantz SR6003 amplifier that was able to really make the drive units sing.
I loved their very open upper mid-band and precise treble. The crossover point is quite high, which means a lot of work for the little subwoofer, but this isn't a problem – the sub's 150W amplifier mercilessly drives the woofer to produce a surprisingly potent output, giving the system a punchy low-end. It gives music an appealing snappy pace with rhythmic basslines and crisp treble detail.
Classical music, in particular, thrives on the clear upper range, so with the Trondheim Solistene: Divertimenti Blu-ray (DTS-MA 5.1), the strings soar, while electronic music benefits from the fast bass. Movies are always a more serious challenge for smaller sub/sat systems.
The trouble is, it's actually very difficult to get a smooth crossover between speakers and sub. Care needs to used with the setup to prevent the bass sounding disembodied. If I do have a criticism, it's that the midrange could do with more clarity and focus.
Dialogue can lack presence through the centre channel, too, and the front soundstage hasn't got the cohesion typical of a larger speaker system. But then this system is far from ordinary. Note that the cable management has been designed to accept only thin bare wire cables, which may impact on how you wire up your kit.
Clever and appealing
It's tempting to write off the Serio 5.1 system off as boutique speakers targeted at interior designers, but listen closely and you'll realise they do manage to throw a remarkably clear, open and revealing sound around into the room.
I think Waterfall is definitely onto something with these clever and appealing speakers. Their style is clear to see.
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