Vanatoo Transparent One Powered Speakers
Input: S/PDIF (Coax and Toslink), USB, analog 3.5mm minijack
Output: RCA Sub Out
Amplifier: 60 watts per channel D2Audio® Class D amplifier with integrated Digital Signal Processor (DSP)
Frequency Response: 49Hz – 20K Hz ±2dB
Dimensions (H x W x D): Passive Speaker: 10" x 6 1/2" x 7 1/2", Active Speaker: 10” x 6 1/2” x 8 1/8”
Weight: Passive Speaker: 11 lbs, Active Speaker: 12 lbs
Availability: Direct and online
Price: $499/pair Black on Cherry Finish, $549 Natural Cherry Finish (as reviewed)
Manufacturer’s website: www.vanatoo.com
Vanatoo is a new company and the Transparent One Powered Speakers are their first product. Five years in development, according to Gary Gesellchen one of two Vanatoo founders, the Transparent Ones arrive packing some interesting technology including a USB input that's not connected to a DAC but can handle up to 24/96 data (more on that in a minute), an A/D converter, a 1” silk dome tweeter, and a custom 5 1/4” passive bass radiator that assists the 5 1/4" XBL™ woofer/midrange driver in reaching down to a claimed 49Hz (±2dB) in a 10" x 6 1/2" x 8 1/8" box. If that's not enough for ya, there's a subwoofer output if you feel the need to reach beyond the 40s, bass and treble controls, an AC power inlet so you can plug in your powered devices like an Apple Airport Express, and Coax and Toslink inputs. And if you stick with basic black, that package will run you a hair under $500 for the pair. Vanuatu is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean and was selected as the happiest place on Earth by the New Economics Foundation and its also where Vanatoo got its name. Don't worry, be happy.
Let's talk about that 24/96-capable USB input that isn't a DAC first. Here's what Gary Gesellchen has to say:
The Transparent One takes a little different design path than most of its competitors. It is technically accurate to say that the Transparent One does not incorporate a traditional digital to analog converter (DAC). Let me explain.Gary also explained and Co-founder Rick Kernen clarified that while this USB to S/PDIF converter can handle data up to 24/96, the D2Audio digital amp and its integrated DSP (Digital Signal Processor) converts all incoming data to 24/48. I mentioned that the Transparent One has an A/D converter and you've probably figured out why—to convert the analog input to digital to feed that digital amp.
All “analog” (or linear) amps and many Class D amps have analog inputs. Any digital signal must be converted to analog by a DAC before going to the analog inputs. In the case of the Class D amps the analog input is converted a second time to generate the pulse width modified (PWM) output classically produced by Class D amps.
The D2Audio Class D amp has no analog input, but does have two digital inputs, one I2S and one S/PDIF.
Therefore, if you start with a digital source, the Transparent One allows it to stay digital all the way through the loop. This is how we believe it ought to be!
- The analog input to the Transparent One first runs through a high quality Wolfson ADC to convert it to 96K/24 bit I2S. This is then fed to the amp’s I2S input.
- All incoming digital signals are routed to the S/PDIF input. The coax and optical signals are already in the S/PDIF format. The USB input goes through a Tenor TE7022, which is a high quality USB to S/PDIF converter chip, and then to the S/PDIF input.
- The Transparent One has a microprocessor based monitoring system that “looks” for signals on the four input lines and implements our hierarchical input switching. Note that this microprocessor is not in the signal path!
So where is the “DAC”? The short answer is there really isn’t one in the normal sense of the term. The D2Audio amp’s PWM output drives its output transistors, which in turn drives the crossovers and the speaker terminals. The PWM switches very fast (on the order of 384kHZ), and the very minor “ripples” at the high switching frequency are smoothed out by a low pass filter and by the filtering effects of the speaker’s input impedance. So there really is no “traditional” DAC!
Since the Transparent Ones are of the Master/Slave type, meaning all of the electronics are in the Active/Master speaker, you just connect it to the Passive/Slave with the included speaker wire. The Master also includes a "Left/Right" switch which you set to match where you decided to put it. Everything else in terms of inputs and outputs (I did not try a subwoofer) is straight-forward and I used the Transparent One's on my desktop connected to their USB input for the duration of this review connected to my iMac with an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable.
If you like bass but you can only accommodate a small speaker, you'll love the Vanatoo Transparent Ones. I know you saw this coming from a mile (or at least a few paragraphs) away but there's no getting around the fact that your typical desktop-sized powered speaker will start to fade in the 50-60Hz range and that extra Hz is musically meaningful. So yes, the Vanatoo's deliver big, fat, and tuneful bass on your desktop. The one issue is, and we're talking physics here, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction, so having a speaker with a passive radiator pumping away and putting out big bass means vibrations. For a desktop speaker, this is an issue that needs a remedy.
From the Vanatoo website:
The speakers can sometimes vibrate and even move around slightly if placed on a rigid surface and played loudly. We have not supplied feet with the units since we can not guarantee compatibility with your furniture finish. We would recommend a trip to your local hardware store for ”rubber feet” if you place your speakers on a rigid surface. We also recommend Bostick Blu-Tack reusable adhesive, which is specifically designed for this purpose (available on Amazon.com).I'd recommend that Vanatoo consider including LRF (Little Rubber Feet) or some other solution since my guess is most pairs of Transparent Ones will live on a "rigid surface" (what other kind of surfaces for speakers are there?) and they'll also get played loud enough to make them dance around mainly because they sound really, really good loud. Dangerously good for a desktop speaker and most of the time they had my desk vibrating to the point of distraction. I went the Blu-Tack route since I always have some on hand (right next to the other all-purpose tool duct tape) and while it served to pretty much alleviate the vibration issue, I find this to be a rather inelegant fix. But enough about bass, what about music?
It took some twiddling with the Bass and Treble controls to get the Transparent Ones to where I wanted (Bass down a bit, Treble up a bit) but once they were dialed in there's a hell of lot to like. As compared to my ADAM A3Xs, the Transparent Ones move the presentation back a bit so you're always looking into the soundstage as opposed to it unfolding inside your head, and their overall voice runs toward a darker bass/mid-bass heavy sound. Upper frequencies are delivered without edginess or bite but there's also a lack of sheen and harmonic richness. This adds up to a slight sense of sonic sameness to musical voices being sent through the Transparent Ones. Back on the plus side, the Transparent Ones are also punchy as hell, and kick drums kick with real authority.
The Vanatoo Transparent Ones have a lot to offer especially considering their price. With the included USB input and two additional digital inputs, they deliver a complete plug and play desktop package that can boogie your bootie till it shakes like jelly (unless you've stuck some Blu-Tack under it).
I'd imagine that music lovers who are also into gaming would get giddy with delight at their bass and slam prowess and while I've spent a lot virtual ink in this nether sonic region, the Transparent Ones deliver an impressive musical package. If I had one itch that went unscratched it would be their somewhat dark overal sonic character which is perhaps better described as being mid-bass rich. Cymbals don't have all of their sheen, trumpets don't bite as hard as I've heard from other speakers and the complete rainbow of sonic colors is delivered a tad muted.
Of course we're delving deeply into the land of voicing and personal preference and all of this could have you thinking—Damn! These Vanatoo's sound exactly like I'd want my speakers to sound, transporting me to my musical happy place. And I wouldn't argue with you one bit.