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|Reviewer: Steve Marsh
Source: Nottingham Analogue Mentor turntable with 10" Anna tonearm, Roksan Shiraz cartridge; Vecteur D-2 CD transport, Audio Note DAC Kit 1.2 with upgrades (additional ps choke, Tantalum resistors, Black Gate capacitors, copper grounding bars on digital chips wired to central ground); Thorens TD-125 MkII with SME 3009 tonearm, Garrot P77 mm cartridge and Cotter Verion phono cable; NAD 5000 CD player
Preamp/Integrated: Hovland HP-100 MC tube preamplifier, fully updated; Pilot 590 preamp/tuner; Juicy Music Blueberry [in for review]
Amp: Red Rose Model 2A Silver Signature tube amplifier; Pilot SA-260
Speakers: Audio Physic Anniversary Step & Audio Physic Luna active subwoofer; JBL Century L-100
Cables: Harmony Audio, Stealth Audio CWS, Baton (analog); Music Metre Fidelis (digital); homemade twisted pair of mil-spec silver cladded multistrand copper; Baton (speaker); Analysis Plus Power Oval, PS Audio Mini Lab (power)
Power Conditioner: PS Audio P300; Adcom ACE-515 AC Enhancer
Equipment rack: Michael Green equipment rack
Room size: 29' x 16' x 10' and 22' x 17' with 10' vaulted ceilings
Review component retail: $4000/pr
With a number of reviews on the Hyperion HPS-938 speakers already in print or online, what more could be added? For starters, let's dispense with a physical description or technical discussion since this has already been covered in our pages. The only relevant observation to add is that the firm Hartley Loudspeakers predates Hyperion for using the spider-less magnetic suspension technology.
My first exposure to the Hyperion HPS-938 was at a Connecticut Audio Society (CAS) demo this past fall. Albert Wu, Hyperion's U.S. sales manager, personally drove up from Queens with a pair to a member's house in Greenwich. Albert set up the speakers along with the Hyperion BEC-250 solid-state amplifier, a Sony SACD-1 and Hyperion cables. Unfortunately, the Hyperion BEC-P25 preamp did not make it since customs had seen fit to dissect it under orders of John Ashcroft. A Creek passive preamp was pressed into action instead along with the host's stand-alone phono stage. Albert tri-wired the speakers with Hyperion's own speaker wire.
CAS members brought along a fine selection of recordings and Albert played a number of CDs and SACDs of his own. My first impression was none of greatness and I began to get uncomfortable. Then Albert explained that the pair was fresh out of the box and needed break-in. Nonetheless, the smoothness of the speaker and the good integration of the drivers was clearly apparent. About three hours later, the speakers had already opened up and filled out noticeably.
There was a major problem in the 80-120Hz region but the host assured us this was a known bass node in his room. Given the promise of the speaker and the fact that it is efficient enough to be driven by low-power tube amps, I thought it might be a good candidate for my own system. In talking to Albert later in the meeting, I discovered that Srajan was pre-scheduled to review them. We arranged with Albert to have the speakers shipped to me on their way back from New Mexico to NYC. It would be a minor diversion and I'd do a short follow-up review and possibly purchase them. What a plan!
Hyperion uses a privately contracted shipper to distribute product to dealers. This shipper apparently is more careful than the usual commercial suspects. However, they apparently could not pick up at Srajan's remote desert hideout and FedEx was called into action only to do a serious number on them. One of the woofer unit packages took a bad hit on one corner. This crunched the cabinet and one woofer was rattling around inside the cabinet. Additionally, the grill cloths had their mounting pegs broken off in all but one of the packages.
As Stereophile noted recently, review publications don't usually discuss packaging. Perhaps this is because it's viewed as a matter between the manufacturer and their dealers. The dealers are the ones who need to worry about getting product delivered intact. Hyperion's selection of a private shipper may meet this need (after all, Srajan's review pair arrived in perfect condition) but it does not take into account the end user who might eventually want to sell the speakers on the used market and ship them via FedEx or UPS.
In this light and given that I spent countless hours dealing with FedEx and Hyperion to get the damage claim settled, I feel entitled to make some relevant comments. It is apparent that FedEx did indeed mishandle the package(s). On the other hand, I do not feel that Hyperion's packaging is sufficiently robust to withstand the punishment everyone knows is dished out by these commercial carriers. As of this writing, there is a pair of HPS-938s for sale on Audiogon with a FedEx-damaged woofer cabinet. I fear this will increase as more speakers reach the used marketplace.
Another factor in the damage was the actual construction of the woofer. Previous reviewers didn't point out that the woofer's frame is made of plastic. This only becomes apparent when you view the raw driver removed from the cabinet. Interested in Hyperion's choice of plastic, I e-mailed Albert. He sent me a logical but confidential explanation listing five technical points supporting better performance results from the plastic frame so it would seem that there are some tradeoffs at work here.
After a long and arduous claims process hampered by the triple whammy of Hyperion moving their California office, Hyperion's preparations for CES and FedEx failing to return phone calls, I finally got the claim settled and a replacement woofer cabinet was shipped out.
I began by setting up the speakers in my main downstairs system, placing them in the same tape-marked locations as my Audio Physic Step SLEs. Heeding the advice of prior reviews, I bi-wired them with my mil-spec wire on the upper cabinet and TARALabs Phase II on the bass cabinet. There was no bass node problem as heard at the CAS meeting. I first popped a tag sale-purchased CD Jazz Like You've Never Heard It Before [Polygram Jazz Sampler 819 344-2] into the Vecteur transport. Cut number one is Oscar Peterson, "Something's Coming". The stand-up bass had good pitch definition and Oscar's piano fine tonality with full overtone development. However, Oscar's trademark vocal growling in the background was less discernable than with my Steps.
The Hyperions are very easy on the ears and quite forgiving of forward or bright recordings. In fact, I would say they lean a little toward the dark side of the tonal continuum. Recordings with upper midrange harshness such as poorly recorded trumpets or strings are much easier to bear than on many other speakers. The next cut, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on "Summertime" illustrated this well. Louis' horn with its strong presence on this CD was more laid back than on my Steps. Some may argue that this is a coloration. However, I find the ability to allow enjoyment of more music to be of merit.
The Hyperions are definitely speakers that serve a wide range of music. They have the weight and dynamics in the upper bass to convincingly portray large-scale orchestral pieces yet they retain the ability to play small-scale recordings without overblown soloist images. Bass extends to a solid 40Hz and has good impact. I did hear some wooliness especially on the decay of bass notes, however.
While the speakers are transparent and exhibit good depth, I do not feel they are truly exceptional in this regard though they're very good at their price point. I consider my 1994 Audio Physic Step SLEs (84dB sensitivity] with Luna subwoofer to be superior in this regard [above]. The difference between the two speakers in their portrayal of depth was two-fold. The Step SLEs with subwoofer exhibit light in the spaces between instruments on the stage. This light is of the same quality and quantity from the front of the stage to its rear. With the Hyperions, the stage got darker and a bit murky as one went toward the rear. Having become hooked on this particular strength of the Steps, I am probably rather sensitive to it. Certainly, there are many other speakers that do not fare well in this comparison. I can only recall hearing this type of rear-stage clarity from certain demos of Avalon and Wilson speakers. [It's also likely that the infrasonic contributions of the Luna contributed to the differences noted in soundstaging. This is a well-known advantage of superior subwoofers. The twin-woofer'd Luna was rated at -3dB @ 10Hz for rooms of 335sft with 8' ceilings - Ed.]
|Prior reviewers have pointed out that the Hyperions provide a very good amount of detail. I agree but find that very fine resolution is even better with my Steps as it is with a number of crossover less designs such as Lowthers. On Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs [Columbia 85953, 2001], his voice is closely miked. It's one of those recordings where one can hear the parting of his lips and other such minutiae. This type of information is more audible and informative on the Steps. They produce an almost tactile quality on leading edges whereas the Hyperions are more rounded. Coincidentally, I had an experience during this review that shed some light on the subject of leading edges/transient performance in music and music reproduction. A friend of mine is a professional trumpet player. Lou has a recording studio built into his basement and often calls me over to help him with decisions about different mixes, microphone choices and|
|placement etc. Over the past year, he put in a lot of effort with a custom trumpet maker to get just the sound he wanted by deciding between two different mouthpieces. One mouthpiece gave him a mellower tone but didn't provide the bite he sometimes needs. This bite is analogous to the leading edge performance of speakers. The other mouthpiece had the bite but was also sounded more brash overall. A musician can tailor his/her instrument to produce more or less of this leading edge or bite. Regardless, I feel that the Hyperions slightly round off the leading edges no matter which way the musician plays the note(s).
To give the speakers a listen in a second known environment, I decided to move them into my upstairs system. I used a preamp under review, the Juicy Music Blueberry, and mated it to a highly regarded vintage tube amp, a fully restored Pilot SA-260. The Pilot amp is a push-pull EL34 design and uses dual 5U4GB tube rectifiers and beefy transformers. I started out with the same speaker wires from downstairs but decided to pull out an old favorite from the closet, Baton speaker cables and interconnects. Most audiophiles have never heard of this product as it was never advertised properly nor reviewed. John Taylor, creator of the Yankee Audio ribbon planar, designed it. This cable, most notably the speaker wire, has a vise grip on the bass and also wonderful presence in the midrange. It can also have a tendency for some upper midrange hardness but this was not a problem with the Hyperions. I substituted the Baton speaker wire to the woofer cabinet and the result was tidier and more powerful bass. With these speakers, pay careful attention to your cabling.
The one area where I felt the Hyperions departed from neutrality was in the upper bass/lower midrange. As most readers know, Leonard Cohen has a deep and resonant voice. It is particularly resonant in the lower range of the male voice. The before-mentioned album 10 New Songs was able to draw immediate attention to a chesty quality that the Hyperions imparted to vocals probably between 200 and 300Hz. To a lesser degree, it was also noticeable on the excellent Johnny Cash American Recordings [Universal 586790]. This added thickness was not present when I played the Leonard Cohen CD through my Steps, JBL Century L-100s or the Klangfilm Bionors at Damoka studio in New York City. Even when I heard the Hyperions at the Connecticut Audio Society meeting, someone played a Johnny Cash CD and the member next to me leaned over and whispered "That doesn't sound like Johnny Cash". At the time, we wrote it off as the speakers needing more break-in.
|I thought I would investigate this coloration further by disconnecting the bass cabinet and listening to the Leonard Cohen CD playing just the mid/tweeter cabinet. Cohen's voice was lacking its fundamental and sounded too thin. Therefore, the woofers reproduced some of Cohen's voice. A speaker designer friend hypothesized that the chestiness/thickness might arise from the breakup mode of the woofers above their pass band. I don't know if this is true but would note that the new Hyperion HPS-938W speaker -- which looks identical, see below -- now sports metal cone woofers and greatly increased internal bracing. I wonder if this isn't what Hyperion was trying to address with their new design. As a final measure, I brought my Red Rose 2A Silver Signature upstairs. With its highly regulated and stiff power supply, it can|
|go up against the best of tube amps in the bass and has excellent control over even relatively inefficient speakers. It is tight and tuneful. However, the amp swap had no affect on this chesty quality.
|It might seem that my brief follow-up was inordinately critical. Don't get me wrong, I like these speakers. They do large-scale music better than my Steps and play with less strain on dynamically complex material. They have a big open soundstage and a warm and inviting feel. It's been great to be able to plop anything into my CD player or on the turntable and just enjoy the music. These speakers do just that. They are the George Bush of the audio world, spreading democracy to your CD collection. I just felt that it was necessary to carefully and perhaps over-explain my criticisms given the several awards these speakers have already received. In the final analysis, I have become so enamored with the great soundstaging abilities and very revealing nature of the Steps mated to the Luna subwoofer that I cannot go backwards on these particular sonic attributes. Perhaps I am an über-resolutionist?|