September
2019

Country of Origin

UK

OBX-RW3

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega, Jay's Audio CDT 2 MkII & DAC-2 SE
Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE 300B or Elrog ER50; Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, SIT-3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos; SAG AIO; Bakoon AMP-13R
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150; sound|kaos Vox 3f [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000 and Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands 
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: £12'000/pr for Cherry, Black Ash, Mahogany and Walnut | £12'500/pr for Santos Rosewood and satin white | £12'800/pr for Burr Oak and Ebony | £16'000/pr for piano-gloss Ebony

Any journey of 10'000 miles starts with a simple first step.

Usually this bit of Taoist wisdom is marshaled to curry confidence in the face of serious obstacles. "Focus on what's right ahead of you which you can manage today. Just keep on doing that. Sooner or later you're bound to arrive."

It's rarer to have this saying serve notice that any journey's first step informs and determines the final outcome in ways we had zero control over. Providence factored.

For example, had Kevin Scott's early hifi sales career not included the Dali 104, his first Living Voice Auditorium MkI would have looked very different. It's when the Danes discontinued the 104 which just then played a central role in Kevin's carefully curated portfolio that our man decided to mint his own take. Needs must and all that ancient dust.

So, a specific circumstance at a particular place in time informed nay prompted his first step toward becoming an auteur speaker builder who today is most known as creator of the outrageously horny Vox Olympian and its descendants. But lo and behold, his OBX-RW3 flagship of their 'small speaker' range still looks virtually unchanged from that first Auditorium model a full 25 years onward.

That spells no modern drivers like Beryllium domes or carbon-fibre cones. It spells no lute-shaped cross sections for today's de rigueur boat-hull curvatures. It spells no 3- not even 2.5-way topologies.

It means vertical baffles and plain rectangular boxes. It means right angles, hardwood chip board and veneers. It means 26mm soft-dome tweeters and doped-paper 6.25" mid/woofers with foam surrounds and stamped steel baskets. It means hollow plinths affixed with BluTak.

At north of £10K/pr for the OBX-RW3 whose prefix signifies OutBoard Xover, such choices are bound to look and read anachronistic. We're in a post Serblin era that's indelibly imprinted by the Italian maestro's aesthetics. Apple have globally reset expectations for stylish design. High-End hifi must chase the latest in exotic materials to suggest that instead of old wine in new bottles, it keeps apace with science to remain in proper sync with ever-escalating prices. The subtext for the average Jill and Joe is plain. Progress relies on ever more inert heavy cabinetry which is studded with the very latest in driver tech.

Mind you, none of it precludes sonic excellence. It's simply no guarantee either. Everything must be judged on its own merits beyond marketing noises, fashion fads and related claims and beliefs. All that requires is to allow your ears to override your mind and remain open to being surprised. Then trust your own experience. Simple!

In early September, I'd spent a brief weekend in Britain's Midlands around Long Eaton to hear the very latest incarnation of the OBX. Its message was unmistakable. The particular anachronism of the compact range's best wasn't merely in rude health. It was fiercely relevant and utterly persuasive. When Kevin offered a review pair, I hesitated only briefly. The demonstrators were installed in their private residence driven by parallel single-ended Kondo 211 monos with matching preamp and Living Voice valve-buffered CD player or Kuzma turntable. Did I stand any chance on God's so very green Irish earth to replicate that special sound with our less celestial kit?

Then my mind 'saw' our Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with Western Electric 300B drive FirstWatt single-stage single-ended zero feedback static induction transistors with bona fide triode curves and no degeneration. That was a bloody celestial sight in its own right. If the SIT-1 monos were insufficiently powerful, the SIT-3 stereo scales up to 30 watts into the speakers' nominal 4Ω. Intuition suggested that if not the same, I'd manage similar sonics. That promise was seriously tickling and Kevin's offer accepted. Since we don't own a properly serious bi-wire set which this model relies on, he'd throw in a 3m stretch of entry-level copper Kondo.

To revisit Living Voice history and how this range was recently overhauled albeit invisible to the naked eye—think major crossover refinements—refer to my Auditorium R25A review. That'll have you properly prepped to skip all the in-between models and head straight for the peak that is today's OBX. To set the scene, here's a Dhafer Youssef track with Hüsnü Senlendirici on clarinet which we listened to in Derbyshire.

If you wonder about the story of 'o' for the outboard filter—unlike in Pauline Réage's book, there's nothing kinky going on—Kevin explains the advantages. The most obvious is getting microphonic parts like capacitors, inductors and resistors out of the loudest part of the room which is inside the speaker box. Less obvious is that increased real estate allows for greater parts spacing. This eliminates minor cross coupling from proximity and its effects on filter behaviour. Generous separation undermines parasitic interference. "This approach confers several musically valuable benefits: a quieter background, an elasticity and freedom of dynamic range and more distinct intelligible acoustic space conveying time and poise. This contextualizes a musical performance, adding to the easy suspension of disbelief. The outboard crossover has further benefits. Tonal colours are more radiant, textures more distinct and unambiguous. The presentation is calmer, with more expression in the playing. Perhaps most importantly, dense complex passages are easily comprehensible and unforced."

At the end of a 25-year evolutionary path then, the OBX-RW3 still uses low-mass enclosures, vintage-style drivers which are exclusive to Living Voice who own their tooling, a simple 2-way layout and modest if finely finished cosmetics. It's how a long journey's first step proved most decisive. To this day there's no persuasive evidence for needing a redraft or course correction. Hence the underlying motto remains one of relentless refinement. Where other brands cater to perception—if it's older than a year or two, it's passé—Living Voice practice distillation. That keeps maturing and deepening over time. Like for fine spirits, there are no shortcuts. It's a very different decidedly non-corporate concept from Apple. Each year, Cupertino must bow new iPhone models lest sales stagnate. If any innards modernize, Apple wouldn't dream of not changing the exterior. Change must be visible. Not so the Living Voice Auditorium range. It looks as it always has. The updates are invisible. Providence really did favor these designs by starting out with that perfect first step.

… to be continued…