The Serene Audio Talisman Computer Speaker
Defining the Category
There's been some discussion around here lately concerning just what InnerFidelity is really about. Tyll has been using the phrase "personal audio", which isn't exactly easy to define. Obviously headphones are a major focus, and to a lesser degree the sources that feed them and the amplifiers that power them. We've also touched on content a bit, from obscure artists to music streaming services. Then there are the oddball categories like iPod docks, apps, and even DIY mods. Perhaps most difficult of all is the category of Computer Speakers.
What makes a computer speaker worthy of discussion on this site? Is it a price thing, or simply the way the manufacturer chooses to market the product? And for that matter, how do we even define "computer speakers"---must an actual computer be involved? Is there a maximum size limitation? Do active studio-monitors count? There are plenty of valid questions and I don't claim to have all the answers. My simple criteria: if it's small enough to reasonably fit on a desk, and seems focused on audio quality, then I'm willing to give it a try.
The Near-field Experience
Many people listen with headphones because their living situation doesn't allow for a full size speaker setup, either due to lack of space, financial restrictions, or volume limitations. Using a good pair of active speakers in a near-field situation negates most of those problems. You can have a reasonably small setup that doesn't take up any room outside the footprint of each speaker. More importantly, the sound reaches your ears prior to reflecting off walls, overriding most of the acoustic coloration caused by the room itself.
Much time and money is spent in the pursuit of better room acoustics---from physical treatments to hardware room correction devices from companies like Audyssey and DEQX. Near-field listening sidesteps those issues much the same way that headphone listening does, without the drawbacks. Of course, headphones have some advantages of their own, as no compact speakers will be able to reproduce low frequencies into the sub-bass region the way good headphones can. So there's always a tradeoff somewhere, here's more info on near field listening.
The Serene Audio Talisman
The Serene Audio Talisman Active ($495) is a relatively compact powered desktop speaker. Its major draw is the enclosure---solid bamboo panels combine with upholstery grade treated leather make for a very unique appearance and, as you can see, the shape is quite unusual. The Talisman is said to be inspired by the trunk of an oak tree. Other models include the Paisley and the Pebble, each having different looks but identical sounds. My sample uses caramel bamboo with black leather. White leather is an option, as is a lighter colored natural bamboo. Serene Audio also has passive models in the same designs for $100 less if you'd like to supply your own amp.
The Talisman measures 8" high x 5" wide x 6" deep. It is rear ported and uses a 3" full range driver. Power comes from a built in 15 W X 2 high-efficiency Class D amp with extremely low THD. One speaker houses the amp and controls, while feeding the other side through an included speaker cable. With just a single RCA input, it's clear that this is not a multifunction, do-it-all type product. Competitors often have features like multiple analog inputs, USB ports, iPod docks, remote controls, etc. The Talismans have none of those. Serene Audio hopes to win fans based on sound quality rather than convenience.
The key component in the design is the driver itself. I asked Serene Audio proprietor Siavash Rezaei to explain the benefits of their choice. His answer:
"The driver uses a long throw (long linear range) under-hung motor structure which is made possible by the most gigantic neodymium magnet you'll ever see in a driver of this size, creating a strong and even magnetic flux across a long gap. In terms of linearity and purity of sound these drivers are up there with the most expensive high performance drivers used in multi-thousand dollar speakers."Since full-range drivers don't need a crossover, Serene Audio just uses a minimalistic baffle step compensation filter. Here is a great article explaining BSC in simple terms.
It's also worth noting that Serene Audio is rather "green"---they use earth friendly materials whenever it is an option. This includes the wood, leather, glue, and finishing process. The North Vancouver based company collaborates with local craftsmen and is proud to proclaim "Made in Canada". Taking the high road always seems to cost more than the alternative, and I'm certain the price could be lower if these speakers were made in some factory overseas.
On to the sound ...