This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Peachtree Audio iDecco with WAV/AIFF-loaded 160GB iPod Classic; Apple 1TB iMac via Firewire 800 into Weiss DAC2]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves)
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5 and J2; Octave MRE-130 monos
Speakers: Anthony Gallo Acoustics Strada + TR3 [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, 1 x Furutech RTP6
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: €1.990/pr

In audio, the Chinese invasion isn't restricted to affordable valve amps. Aside from Usher however—who operate out of Taiwan—no PRC firm has really entrenched itself solidly in the US or EU loudspeaker sectors. Swans might beg to differ.

My 2008 attendance of China's preeminent Guangzhou show had singled out their exhibit as the by far biggest and boldest of any Chinese brand. Clearly this conglomerate was a major force to be reckoned with. CES 2010 saw a similar show of force on US soil. Not that Swans-made speaker were exactly news there. Mark Schifter's web portal had previously imported select models whose latter-day versions remain in Swan's catalogue.

Who then is Swans? Since 1997 joined with the Guangzhou transducer manufacturer HiVi Research who launched their R&D facilities in Toronto/Canada in 1994, Swans Speaker System today operates corporate offices in California led by president Frank Hale. Hale also serves as chief designer for HiVi whose founder and president Hong Bo Yao "continues to drive the company to new heights." Hale's son Michael meanwhile runs global sales. For a bit of scale, "HiVi wholly owns 300 retail stores across Asia and has a direct retail presence in an additional 700 locations. Annual driver output is 3.000.000." Now add 600.000 enclosures a year (OEM and their own). Then consider how the Italian Pearl Evo Ballerina speaker reviewed in these pages sported an exclusive driver complement from HiVi/Swans. And that the Swans magnetostatic tweeter has featured in speakers from Coincident Technology to Expolinear.

Swans' inevitable assault on the West today is thus two-pronged. There's a speaker range which spans everything from powered desk-top boxes to Infinity IRS-style statements. And there is the supplier of ambitious loudspeaker drive units spanning the proverbial gamut including a Cabasse-style triaxial. To underscore corporate seriousness of purpose, they have established the Swans Europe headquarters in Hannover/Germany to properly serve their European dealer accounts.

Once you look closely, there are probably very few loudspeaker companies on the planet who compete with Swans on size and resources. I think of them as a younger Chinese B&W. Now add their origin's price advantage which has sent everyone else years ago to at least partial offshore production. The potential and potential threat of Swans come home to roost. It's really just a matter of time and playing their cards right.

How to pick from a lineup this deep? Where to begin as punter or reviewer?

Michael Hale had a suggestion. It's called the M3. "That set is actually one of my personal favorites."

The set turned out to be an 88dB three-way monitor with purpose-designed drivers consisting of a ribbon tweeter, 2-inch upper midrange dome and 6.5-inch Kevlar mid/woofer. The upper two drive units are mounted to a solid aluminum sub baffle which is set into a matte black baffle hugged by a solid Pecan-planked enclosure with a claimed bandwidth of 40Hz to 30kHz and 6 x 2.5" rear port. Retail price is an attractive €1.990/pr., warranty a confident 5 years.

This did very much seem like a high-value proposition worthy of a closer look.

Whenever one reads of purpose-designed drivers in an affordable speaker, there's a loud moo on the bull meter. In this case, the marriage of Swans and HiVi ends it. The 50 x 25mm isodynamic tweeter and 50mm soft dome operating above 800Hz—with about "eight times the radiating area of a conventional 1-inch dome to increase headroom by roughly that factor and proportionately reduce distortion"—are Swans' own (ribbon high-pass at 4500Hz). So is the hybrid Kevlar midrange with curvilinear cone, butyl rubber surround, alloy phase plug and alloy basket. That was "specially developed just for the M3 and larger M6 tower". With overall dimensions of 258 x 318 x 445mm (10.2 x 12.5 x 17.5") and a net weight of 12kg/26.4lb, the M3 is a compact monitor of the sort that litters the speaker landscape with more entries than any other category. Except that small three-ways (here a 4th-order vented alignment) are actually far from common. The popular Usher 718Be, a direct competitor on price, is a traditional two-way for example. What's even less common than a compact three-way monitor is one with a mid/woofer transition at 800Hz. Certain models by Mark & Daniel come to mind but those are two-ways.

As this photo shows, the M3's mid/woofer appears suitably stout. While general fit 'n' finish are what you'd expect given immaculate Sino precedents, they don't quite reflect a proper sense of scale of the Swans/HiVi operation.

For that we'll have to presently rely on architectural renderings since the new headquarters won't be finalized until the end of the year. If you thought my previous Chinese B&W statement frivolous, you might reconsider. Also remember that many of B&W's cabinets are today sourced from Mr. Pu's Sound Art China factory. I met Mr. Pu during the same Guangzhou show where I encountered Swans' show of force. Mr. Pu also builds for mbl and I believe even my Frank Tchang Tango speakers have their enclosure origins there.

To speak of a Chinese invasion as I did earlier was incorrect in many ways. That's because it implies a process. In truth, it's fait accompli. The only thing different about Swans is their very open acknowledgement. Others continue to pretend at being British or American or German when they're really transnational at best. Swans takes pride in being Chinese. I think it's overdue that an ambitious hifi firm did.