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It's most fitting to describe the OBX-RW tangentially. Kevin Scott fancies the original Western Electric 300B triode. He accords their now discontinued reissues from a specific batch of years the same enthusiasm. He does however not care for any of the Czech variants from JJ, KR, EAT or EML. For the better of them he acknowledges greater bandwidth and dynamics. Even so for his tastes they all lack fluidity, burnished tone and succulence. He describes them as being too rigid, mechanical, stiff and dry. He's having a blasted time sourcing acceptable WE replacements. The practical upshot? For Living Voice all roads must lead to succulence! The OBX-RW is hardwired for it. This includes an appetite for (superior) valve amps. Jolly good you say but in fairness - wouldn't all speakers benefit from such a diet? Theoretically perhaps but clearly not so in practice. The type of valve amps Kevin prefers—and driving them into passive crossovers—really favors simple two-way arrays, small woofers, linear high impedance, constant phase and higher efficiency. That's where the OBX-RW ticks off more than most conventional speakers do without horns.

Any judge of hifi might now frown. What to decide when unlike the majority of speakers the OBX-RW only fully struts its stuff with very specific electronics and cabling? To democratic demands of being all things to all people and to corporate speaker houses on a whole, such conditions are unacceptable limitations. They are too narrowly niche. Exclusionary. Bad for business. But to the enthusiasts of the far smaller Living Voice operation inside the Definitive Audio network they are a hallmark of distinction. They also become destination appeal in a world of sameness. Focus. A clear sense of identity. These folks approach hifi like expert consultants. Theirs is an inclusive system building perspective backed by years of hands-on experience with their customers. The backdrop is a showroom with floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall shelves full of choice vinyl and besides new kit an ever-changing conga line of used trade-in gear.

Extricating the loudspeaker from this equation which converts electrical to mechanical impulses just to judge it on its own... naturally that's what reviewing demands. Here it simply misses the point more than usual. My prior visit to Derbyshire plus this home audition have me convinced.

Being a reviewer I naturally had to be daft. Compare and extricate. Ideally placed I had a $13.800 pair of Mark+Daniel's new Fantasia S flagship in residence. Amplification was the F5 to suit both as best as possible. The Kaivalya monos would have been better with the OBX-RW but not Fantasia. There's the rub and conclusion. Even so this A/B was very instructive on multiple levels. The modular compound marble two-way from Shanghai with its 650Hz - 20.000Hz wideband air-motion transformer, auxiliary 7kHz+ ambient omni tweeter and high-output 8-inch woofer loaded into a downfiring 28Hz port had more extension in the frequency extremes, more stage depth, more air and keener separation. Despite an efficiency handicap of 8dB (86dB vs. 94dB) the Fantasia applied clearly greater magnification power and came on song at lower levels. The secret to this very unexpected stunt as I eventually understood it tied directly to superior dynamic contrast. Itself that seemed to be a function of the oft-cited 5:1 propagation velocity advantage of the pleated Oscar Heil driver which here is expressed over such a broad bandwidth. Not only does this driver's surface equate to that of 85 dome tweeters, it squeezes rather than pushes the air. That makes for more effective coupling and greater air displacement. As a result these speakers behaved louder at whisper levels, then scaled up far more quickly as SPLs increased. For the same volume I heard more. Such greased wideband reflexes demonstrated how much of what's conventionally meant by detail resolution or profound low-level clarity is really a function of transient fidelity and dynamic contrast.

For listeners whose software repertoire includes at least 50% modern and electronic music, the crisper more resolved dynamically more energetic synthetic stone speaker with its custom drivers and punchier weightier low bass would be the superior choice. Due to how those drivers from Shanghai handle tone density, the Fantasia S is not reliant on exotic amplification. It completely kicks its game into high gear with $3.000 transistor fare. In fact my €15.000 Octave MRE-130 pentode monos with optional SuperBlackBox capacitors banks were completely wasted. They were too slow and lumbering and needlessly diminished what makes that speaker special.

From an adrenaline/lucidity perspective particularly at the lower levels my present town-house living mandates, I had to give the Fantasia S all three nods. I'm sure Kevin Scott would have signed on the same line had he been there. He does listen louder however. There things equal out closer. For a change of mood meanwhile involving the SET archetype, the nearly grotesquely grown Mark+Daniel woofer is neither ideal load nor sonically matched. It really thrives on higher damping and control. That means lower output impedance and more current by way of transistors. From my transducer arsenal, going SET is a job tailor-made for the 97dB/12-ohm Zu Essence. Here the OBX-RW had the advantage on treble elucidation and resolution/refinement in general but particularly so around the all-important midrange. Zu's 10.3-incher had the punchier feistier bass and the greater overall tone density but in matters of tone modulations which are based on minor shifts in harmonic content the Living Voice had the sharper vision and deeper insight. On its own turf (tubes) the OBX-RW now enjoyed a similar advantage the Fantasia had over it with transistors.

Leashing up my beefy ModWright KWA-100SE for a look-see, the OBX-RW proved even more capable down low than the FirstWatt and Trafomatic amps had suggested. It wasn't really extension which benefited. What gained gravitas was what the British call welly. Needless to say the muscle Mosfets also shifted the presentation in other ways. This moved slightly away from what I've learnt the Living Voice ideal to be. That's back to tonal saturation, textural opulence and elasticity of phrasing. It's also back to a major annoyance. Given reasonable perception and its most gifted competitors, you'd like nothing better than to chew down the OBX-RW just a bit. Or outright castigate it for being too pricey at £10.000. It's easy to do and actually does apply I think once we move outside Definitive Audio's chosen context. In a regular high-street dealer dem against the most serious like-priced competition—the M+D in my crib—many shoppers should fail to get the OBX-RW's particular appeal. It's not a Western thing where individuals vie for attention and success by standing out. It's an Eastern thing where team work and community rule by consensus. Here the final result matters, not the achiever.

Say you've bought into the Definitive Audio/Living Voice house sound with a £4.200/pr Avatar II and entry-level Art Audio Symphony II amp. When your time to upgrade comes, the clearly most logical thing to do is stepping up within the LV range to remain on target. Where else would you go for exactly this sound? Customers who've done it apparently comment on 'epic' advances. On that level all is coherent, progressive and sound. It's for the wider world of the typical high-street scene which reviewers must include where Kevin Scott will eventually have to author what I suggested he call the Vox Avatar.
Just guessing that might perhaps become an 8-inch d'Appolito in a seriously scaled-up enclosure to champion the OBX values against greater bandwidth, more dynamics and higher resolution. Until such a model bows, once one moves outside the Scotts' own operation and their focus on valve sound, Living Voice won't have a top model that can fully go up against the sharpest crop of like-priced competition today *.


* One practical and slightly 'tacky' example is the plinth. It's nothing but a bottom/topless frame which gets white-tacked to the main enclosure. It's effective, invisible, practical and stable but perhaps not the last word in decorum to be commensurate with this sticker.

Conclusion: The only speaker manufacturer I can think of who has bequeathed an equivalent amount of tireless tweaking on a locked-in core platform of similar proportions is Bobby Palkovich of Merlin. Where he and Kevin Scott differ is that Merlin incorporates iterative refinements in one model whereas Living Voice has parceled them out across six. Most speaker houses equate flagship with what for normal consumption at least amounts to overkill. Their efforts can play louder and lower than regular customers can possibly exploit. Such bamboozled shoppers end up with a monstrous Escalade in the garage that's used only for grocery shopping down the block. Consider all that implies. Why spend money on specs—and the size, weight and often ugliness accompanying them—which you can't use? Living Voice doesn't suggest spending less if you've got it and refined ambitions. They simply prefer not giving you more than is practical.

The OBX-RW typifies British understatement. Unless you're living truly expansive, it's sufficient and no more than necessary. On top of that it's been hotrodded to the hilt. That's neither recipe for fast sales nor impressive to machismo. The OBX-RW is a simple speaker that's been custom-tailored to ordinary living rooms whose owners prefer low- to mid-power valve amps; seduction to conquest; and the quieter stories tone colors and temporal fluctuations tell over the louder stories of dynamics, tall impacts and infrasonic twists.

Just factor on sooner or later adding to this mix Kondo wiring both speaker and line level. It is (annoying but effective) part of a deal where the speaker was never considered in isolation but developed as an intrinsic member of a particular kind of very finely tuned system.

With flights to the UK not exceeding three hours from practically anywhere in Europe, it's advisable to experience the implications of this at the Definitive Audio plant in Derbyshire. Just don't come unprepared expecting casual extrication. The Scotts have their particular form of magic down pat. Chances are high you'll get bewitched. You'll also be treated like minor royalty. And you'll have opportunity to experience their outrageous Vox Olympian/Elysian system. From personal experience it's a road tour I can most highly recommend. Edward Barker on staff has previously seconded me on that here already...
Living Voice responds:
Thanks for your thorough and typically forthright review of the OBX-RWs, and for your many generous comments. I understand your comments about the plinth but I cannot let this go without responding. I can see how it appears that the plinth has not received the same close scrutiny as the rest of the design. However this is far from the case. The final plinth arrangement was arrived at after a lengthy and involved development process; the materials and its format were entirely performance derived. Just as we took considerable pains to evolve a precisely resonance-tuned main cabinet, so it followed that we would do the same with the plinth. The cabinet's resonance behaviour is affected by what it sits on and has a necessarily marked effect on the overall character of the musical presentation of the speaker.

Our development process was as follows:

1.Box section mild steel frames filled with different ratios of lead/sand ballast.
2.Hollow boxes of MDF - with and without lead/sand ballast.
3.Honed solid marble, slate and granite.
4.Open frames in 18mm and 25mm substrates in solid beech, beech ply, solid mahogany as well as veneered and un-veneered MDF.
5.Finally open frames made from the same material as the loudspeaker cabinet, veneered inside, outside, top and bottom.

The open frames proved to be more successful than the high-mass and mass-loaded options. Of the open frames the best performance was derived from the frames made from the same substrate as the loudspeaker cabinet. In retrospect this really should not have been a great surprise as its resonance signature is closely matched to that of the cabinet. We therefore made monocoque cabinets that extended to the floor to avoid the requirement for a separate plinth. However we had to discount this as an option after lengthy prototyping gave an unsatisfactory result both in terms of the musical performance and basic practical considerations.

Paradoxically making a plinth from the same material as the cabinet is more labour intensive and requires more processes (and hence expense) than the other more illustrious-looking options. In brief, the substrate needs to be veneered on all 16 faces. This is then 100% grain filled prior to the application of a double compound black texture coating to match the binding post panel. Furthermore the friable nature of the substrate demands that the spike anchor points need epoxy reinforcement.

Adhering the cabinet to the plinth with four small pieces of blue-tac has proven over the years to be the ideal solution. This simple 'wonder material' provides a lossy but physically secure interface between the cabinet and the plinth. For me this is the best sounding option by far - better than permanent compliant couplings. Using spikes between the plinth and the floor provides a further lossy interface with the resonances in the floor and is the natural choice for accurate levelling and secure placement.

I believe that the above is very important for people to be aware of so that they can view the OBX-RW in the correct light.

We are aware that our plinth lacks any overt 'design' aesthetic but it is not an afterthought. 

With best regards,
Kevin Scott

Quality of packing: Excellent.
Reusability of packing: A few times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Immaculate.
Completeness of delivery: Included Kondo wiring between crossovers and speakers and, for review purposes as an option to explore, between amp and crossover as well as from source to preamp.
Website comments: Recently overhauled to be perfectly timely, stylish and informative.
Human interactions: Kevin and Lynn Scott are pure professionals - witty, cultured, opinionated and very experienced.
Pricing: Expensive.
Final comments & suggestions: Specifically designed for valve amplification of paralleled 300B SET-type power. A wide array of immaculately applied fine veneer finishes cater to décor considerations. Form factor, size and finish execution are perfectly complimentary to ordinary living rooms rather than hifi man caves.
Living Voice website