As with so many audiophiles, my first dedicated listening room was a spare bedroom. In my case, this music lair was a mere 12' x 15' with an 8' ceiling -- barely big enough for speakers, an equipment rack, and CD racks.
Even so, I still had a burning desire to own a full-range floorstanding speaker. My first floorstanders were Mirage M3si's, which Thiel CS3.6es later replaced. If you're doing the math in your head, you probably know how this turns out. Both of these speakers are large and created all kinds of issues in my small room. I eventually sold both pairs to finance the completion of a larger basement listening room, in which I later put even bigger speakers.
Hence, the desire for something approaching full-range sound was in my blood from my early days as an audiophile. Too bad I didn't know about the Verity Audio Parsifal; it likely would have solved my problems and worked well in both of my early listening rooms. Perhaps its most unique feature is the ability to face its separate woofer cabinet forward or to the rear. This effectively allows you to tune the bass of the speaker to the room.
It works! But it is impossible to reduce the Parsifal to this one novelty. As Jason Thorpe points out in his comprehensive Feature Review from earlier this year, the Parsifal has been in production since 1995, with new versions appearing in 1998, 2002, and 2005. Thus, it is a highly polished speaker design, not a one-time phenom. The Parsifal Ovation ($19,495 per pair), which debuted earlier this year, retains the same general driver complement as the first-generation Parsifal: a 1" Scan-Speak soft-dome tweeter along with a 5" custom-built midrange and 8" woofer from AudioTechnology. The bass cabinet is wider and longer, and the first-order crossover has been redesigned to accommodate the larger cabinet and reported 50kHz extension of the tweeter.
The Parsifal is a medium-sized floorstander whose impeccable finish (from Jason's review: "That's real Italian polyester lacquer, and many coats of it.") and suave proportions make for a lustrous piece of audio gear. Verity's hand-applied finish is very different from the automotive-grade finish of Wilson Audio speakers, but it looks every bit as good. I feel confident in saying that you won't find a glossy finish that's better. On the other hand, I have seen the Parsifal in a couple of Verity's optional wood veneers, and they are stupefyingly beautiful. Makore or sycamore adds $1000 to the price, while quilted big leaf maple -- a finish fit for royal presentation -- is a $5000 premium.
Beauty also plays a big role in the Parsifal Ovation's sound. This is a speaker for listeners who recognize and appreciate beauty refined to the non-extraneous -- beauty intensified. There is OTL-like transparency and directness in the midrange, which is nonetheless a touch laid-back. This is a very appealing combination. The great detail and expressiveness aren't propelled at you. They emerge without exaggerated speed or edge definition. The Parsifal Ovation is a speaker that compels you to approach it, not a speaker that attempts to grab you with bluster and showiness.
Accordingly, "juuust right" describes the Parsifal Ovation's way with piano and, interestingly, electric guitar. All of the tinkliness and brutish energy of both instruments are communicated in an unpretentious way. I discovered this ability with seemingly disparate instruments while listening to Anything Goes [Warner Bros. 48606-2], perhaps Brad Meldau's single best CD to date, which I chased with the remastered version of Rush's Moving Pictures [Mercury 314 534 631-2]. Why this odd lot? I was using both recordings to break in some headphones, and I wanted to hear them in open space. The speakers had no trouble keeping Meldau's piano notes distinct or untangling Alex Lifeson's power chords. While the Parsifal Ovations' small stature and single woofer don't make them the epitome of sheer output or horn-like dynamics, they can play loud and sound powerful with an appropriate amp driving them. Still, the big Wilson Audio speakers can do this while imparting a physical sense that the smaller Parsifal Ovations cannot.
Listening with the grilles off increases the high-frequency life of the Parsifal Ovations, but they still remain on the smooth, slightly dusky side of neutral when the performance of other speakers is considered. However, in direct opposition to the "wow" factor that we reviewer types talk about, the more I listened to the Parsifal Ovations, the more I liked them. Each time out I would discover something new about their sound that would lead to deeper appreciation of the music. Call this the "hmmm" factor. I spent an entire afternoon listening to Greg Brown's new CD The Evening Call [Red House Records RHRCD 198], which had just come in the mail. I hung on every line, each song an event. A speaker that can accomplish that, especially with all of the gear rotating through my system, is a rare thing indeed.
While I believe the Parsifal Ovation's flexibility in regard to its bass cabinet will have its greatest utility in small- or medium-sized rooms, even in a large room like mine having the ability to fire the woofer forward or backward proved to be useful. I settled on Verity's preferred configuration -- woofer to the rear -- which added meaningful low-end extension and weight. Toe-in was especially important, with the output of the speakers meeting right at my listening seat being optimal.
In regard to the load the Parsifal Ovations present, as our measurements show, impedance is not an issue but sensitivity can be. For instance, the 18 watts of my Lamm ML2.1s weren't enough if I wanted to listen to the Parsifal Ovations at anything greater than a moderate level. These amps can drive speakers that other SET amps can't, but not the Parsifal Ovations. However, the class-A, hybrid Lamm M1.2 Reference amps were complementary mates for the Parsifal Ovations, having a similar unforced sonic character and providing more than enough power. I would consider 50 very refined watts a minimum. Verity has demonstrated earlier iterations of the Parsifal with 50-watt Nagra VPA tube monoblocks, and there were no loudness or dynamic deficiencies.
The only downside of the Parsifal Ovation has nothing to do with the speaker itself. It's a matter of the competition, which is very stiff at the $20,000 price point -- and considerably below. You should listen to speakers from Wilson Audio and Thiel, with stops at Dynaudio and ProAc in between. If after this survey you settle on a pair of Parsifal Ovations, you will get no argument from me.
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