Serene Audio Talisman Speakers

Device Type: Self-Powered Speakers
Input: 3.5mm analog, DIN in for speaker connection (left speaker only)
Output: DIN out to left speaker, 3.5mm Headphone out, Subwoofer out (RCA)
Dimensions: 8.0" H x 5.0" W x 6.0" D
Weight: 10 lb
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $445.00/pair

A Baga snake from Guinea or a woozy Brancusi?
The more I looked at the Serene Audio Talisman Speakers sitting atop my desk, the more I liked them. The striking curvaceous single-driver Talismans, whose outsides are made from "sturdy and acoustically dead" 3/4" bamboo and leather-covered MDF, may lead one to think they're not a serious speaker: All looks, no sonics. Appearances can be deceiving.

The Talisman's are master/slave speakers where the right speaker houses a 20wpc 24-bit DSP-controlled amp with an accompanying volume control mounted on a brass plate around back where all of your ins and outs reside. The 3" full range, long throw driver mated to that 20W amp, delivers 65 Hz - 20 kHz (±3 dB) according to the company. Each rear-ported cabinet is also stuffed with acoustically deadening material. There's a 130mW class-AB amplifier for the headphone output. Serene includes a 5' speaker cable to connect master to slave as well as a 6' 3.5mm cable for connecting your DAC device's analog output to righty.

Here are two quotes worth quoting from the company:

We have carefully used DSP only to help the speakers stay true to the original mix, and not to try to "improve" or "enhance" it.

Our drivers achieve this level distortion by:

  • Shorting copper cap on the pole piece of the magnet assembly
  • Very powerful magnet
  • Precise manufacturing that places the voice coil at the center of magnetic gap with high accuracy.

Serene Audio assembles the Talisman Speakers by hand in Vancouver, CA. and again, I like their looks from their Miro-looking feet, to the underside where that leather piece is brass tacked at the seam, to the pointy Gumby-ish head (sorry for that but Gumby lives directly next to the Talisman on my desk so the comparison was unavoidable). Of course the wavy shape is meant to lessen the effects of internal standing waves. The Talisman weigh in at 10lbs a pair and stand 8" tall.

For this review I paired the Talismans with my DragonFly V1.2 DAC, which was plugged directly into my iMac (running Roon), using the included 3.5mm cable.

From Wikipedia: "A talisman is an object which is believed to contain certain magical or sacramental properties which would provide good luck for the possessor or possibly offer protection from evil or harm."

Clearly, single driver speakers have their good points and not so good points, as do all speakers. In the plus column I'd list immediacy, cohesiveness, a wonderful disappearing act, and a lovely connection to some music. The negative column is inhabited by lack of physicality (unless the associated cabinet is nearly man-sized), difficulty dealing with the complexity without sounding small, and a limited frequency response (same man-sized caveat as above). If I add all of this up, the desktop strikes me as a great place for a single driver speaker where intimacy is the name of the game.

The Serene Audio Talisman are enjoyable on the desktop where their strengths shine. Bob Dylan's World Gone Wrong, which I've listening to too much as of late, is all string sparkle and Bob's crazy nasal voice hanging out in space offering themselves up for aural ingestion. Nice. Webern's Complete Music for String Quartet as performed by the Quartetto Italiano is nice and rich and plucky leaving out only the chesty cello's full body. Where things get a bit strained and thin sounding is with complex music, such as FKA twigs latest M3LL155X, and the louder you listen the more the sound closes in.

The little Talisman can play loud, really loud, but that's not where they shine, for me. Back down to realistic listening levels on my desktop, they handle The Gun Club just fine, Sonic Youth is pushing things a bit, large scale orchestral music sounds a tad small and strained when pushed toward loud!. Back off the volume and things get nearly lovely.

I gave the Talisman's headphone amp a brief listen with the wonderful to-my-ears AudioQuest Nighthawks and the sound was OK. OK because things sounded dark and somewhat muted. So I switched over to the Audeze EL-8s which made for a better mate. Since Roon's volume control controls the DragonFly's volume, it didn't matter that the Talisman's volume control is behind the right speaker. Plugging your 'phones in also mutes the speaker output, which is a nice touch. Even with the Audezes the sound was too damped sounding for my taste as if a tiny blanket had been pulled over Richard Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

They Had Me At Hello, Or Not
Back to the desktop, it seems clear to me that you are either going to love or leave the Talisman's on hello. Just based on looks. If their looks grab you, they are very nicely put together, coupled with the ability to deliver a welcoming, immediate, and intimate view into your music, you may want to give them a listen.

If you are shopping in their price range, I'd also recommend taking a look at similarly priced options from our Greatest Bits list. If you don't mind a more traditional looking speaker, you'll find you can get more musical horsepower for your money.

Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Talisman review: ADAM A3X speakers

ednaz's picture

I'd like a bunch of whatever it is you're putting in your coffee. Along with a recommended dose level...

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Just a splash.

carewser's picture

I agree, I wouldn't pay more than $100 for these cool looking speakers, regardless of how nice the mids and highs are because the bass is lacking. $445 is laughable.

senojhrj1's picture

I like previous models that were shaped as diving dolphins.

Jorgen Skadhauge's picture

Are you still able to use your old B&O telephone ?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Still works like a charm.