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- Written by Diego Estan Diego Estan
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 01 July 2019 01 July 2019
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
AudioSolutions, a small Lithuanian speaker maker I’d never heard of, was founded in 2011 by Gediminas Gaidelis, who still owns it. Other than that, their website is short on backstory, long on intrigue. On the homepage, the reader is greeted with this: “Development of these fine speakers is a true challenge. We combine laws of physics with design, manufacturing stability and customers’ needs to make perfect speakers. Every smallest part is hand crafted and inspected for any flaws.” From this, it appears that all design and manufacturing are done in house. Very nice. Then: “Years of hard work and research are hidden behind this revealing short name -- not only in the realm of achieving ideal sonic abilities, but also in practical realization of pioneering ideas. AudioSolutions steps firmly into High-End territory.” Intrigued, I took a peek at the images of AudioSolutions loudspeakers. Beautiful! But would they sound as good as they looked?
AudioSolutions’ Figaro line comprises six loudspeaker models. The subject of this review, the Figaro B, is the only two-way minimonitor; the Figaros S, M, L, and XL are three-way tower designs of respectively increasing size and price. Then there’s a center-channel speaker, the Figaro C. The Figaro B costs $3250/pair (all prices USD).
The Figaro B doesn’t look like a typical bookshelf speaker. Its overall dimensions are 13.8”H x 9.1”W x 15.8”D, but in cross section it’s less rectangular than trapezoidal. The front and rear baffles are parallel to one another, as are the top and bottom panels; the four (not two) side panels are not. Viewed from above, the side panels flare out slightly from the front baffle to about a third of the speaker’s depth, then taper in again to join the rear panel, which is narrower than the front. AudioSolutions explains that the cabinet is a “self-locking” design with the same internal joint system found in their flagship Vantage Fifth Anniversary series. Each speaker weighs 24.2 pounds, and AudioSolutions provides four wide, rubber feet for setting each speaker on a stand.
The finishes are unique. Most of the Figaro B is covered in a granulated, textured finish of black/gray, which looks good and appears durable. The rearward side panels on my review pair had a glossy finish with a unique pattern of gray and white, with black “cracks” under the gloss finish. AudioSolutions offers these panels finished in no fewer than 17 different Xirallic pigments. I believe my review samples were finished in the Cracked Texture, but it’s hard to tell from the little thumbnails on the website. In any case, I thought these panels on my review samples were attractive.
Like most speaker makers, AS offers customers the choice of listening with or without grilles, and a unique feature of the Figaro B is their “Stealth” grille. This comprises two front baffles, one grilled, one not. The baffles are made of the same rigid, granulated, textured material as most of the rest of the cabinet, with a perfectly beveled cutout for each driver. One baffle is covered with a cloth grille, the other isn’t. Once the baffle is affixed and pressure-fit into the front of the speaker, it’s perfectly flush with the side baffles, providing a clean, minimalist look. Brilliant. For my time listening to the Figaro Bs, I chose the grilleless baffle.
The rear panel is a continuation of the single piece that makes up the rearward side panels -- there are no mitered corners or edges. On the rear panel are a port and one pair of quality five-way binding posts.
At first glance, the Figaro B’s drivers look like plain vanilla. The midrange-woofer is a 6” Extra Rigid (ER) paper cone, the tweeter a 1” “Mini-Horn loaded” silk dome, crossed over to each other at 4kHz. The driver arrangement is somewhat unconventional: the tweeter sits below the midrange-bass driver. The Figaro B’s specified nominal impedance is 4 ohms, and its in-room frequency range is 44Hz-25kHz. AS also claims that, in the Figaro series, they turned all the weakest points in their old Rhapsody range into strong points, while lowering the price by using more efficient production practices.
Unpacking the Figaro Bs was a breeze. I placed them on the stands I use with my Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers, and in the same positions: with their rear panels 18” from the long wall of my 15’L x 12’W listening room, the speakers toed in 18°. The speakers and my high-back recliner described a 9’ equilateral triangle. The room is relatively small, insulated, and quiet, with the two sidewalls and the speaker wall treated with broadband absorption, and bass traps in the front corners. On the wall behind my recliner are a variety of diffusion materials.
AudioSolutions specifies a 4-ohm nominal impedance for the Figaro B, so I connected them to the 4-ohm output taps of my McIntosh Laboratory MC302 power amp. Upstream, I used a Bluesound Node music streamer as a source, connected via optical interconnect to a miniDSP DDRC-22D processor with its digital volume control set to maximum and its built-in Dirac Live room-correction software deactivated. (With its Dirac Live filters bypassed, the miniDSP merely upsamples all incoming PCM resolutions to 24-bit/96kHz.) The processor’s digital output was in turn connected, via TosLink optical, to the DAC in my McIntosh C47 preamplifier, which feeds the MC302 via balanced (XLR) interconnects.
When I sat down for my first listen to the Figaro Bs -- with the backs of their cabinets about 18” from the wall, the front edges of the speakers nearly flush with the front edges of the stands’ platforms, and the backs of the speakers protruding significantly past the platforms’ rear edges -- my first impression of the lower midrange through the treble was very favorable. But I found the bass response thin -- some experimentation was required. I got out my roll of duct tape to mark my reference speaker-stand positions, then moved them back some, and listened to the Figaro Bs’ bass response again. I thought I heard a subtle improvement -- maybe. Eventually, I moved the Figaro Bs back until their rear panels were 12” from the front wall -- considering that these speakers have rear ports, and that soundstage depth was already beginning to suffer, I didn’t want them any closer to the wall. Because the Figaro B’s cabinet is pretty deep, I was easily able to compare their bass responses at 12” and the reference 18” from the wall by moving the speakers forward and back on the stands’ platforms. Careful listening told me that between these positions there was little if any difference in bass response, but that that the soundstage deepened with the speakers farther out into the room. I moved the stands back to their reference 18” positions, which also eased comparisons with my B&W 705 S2 speakers.
The last step in my setup process before I sat down for some critical listening was to wait while the speakers broke in -- I played them at a decent volume level overnight. I was told that my review samples had already logged some hours of use, but I wanted to be sure.
I first played “Try,” from Blue Rodeo’s newest Outskirts CD (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, WEA Music of Canada Ltd.). This version, remastered and remixed in 2012, is completely different from the original studio mix, released in 1987, and it sounds much better. Although “Try” isn’t particularly rich in bass content, there was enough for me to notice the Figaro Bs’ lack of bass weight, something that ended up being true with every track I listened to. The Figaro B’s sound was lean in the bass: its bass reproduction was no better than adequate to passable for a stand-mounted speaker.
The quality of what bass there was, however, was very good: tight and detailed. My in-room measurement, using my calibrated UMIK-1 microphone, yielded a 3dB-down frequency of 32Hz. While that looks impressive, audible bass output between 40 and 100Hz was clearly lacking. Whereas most speakers produce an in-room bass boost in this region due to boundary interactions, the Figaro Bs’ output between 40 and 100Hz was, on average, slightly below what I measured at 1kHz. Research at Harman International has shown that a bass boost of 4-8dB in this range is desirable, because it’s what sounds natural to most listeners. (A search of the web on “Harman target speaker response curve” brings up a wealth of reading material, but ignore the results related to the headphone response curve.)
The rest of the audioband sounded, in a word, impressive. The Figaro Bs were very transparent, exhibiting no cabinet colorations that I could hear; they imaged exceptionally well, with pinpoint accuracy; and, most important, they sounded smooth while retrieving large amounts of detail. In Blue Rodeo’s “Try,” Jim Cuddy’s voice was smooth, never irritating, yet all his subtle inflections were displayed. The images of the acoustic guitars flanking Cuddy on both sides were impressively realistic, and in perfect balance with his voice. The neutral, detailed sound reminded me of my reference system, in which I use Dirac Live with a filter that follows the Harman target curve mentioned above: +4dB from 16 to 50Hz, sloping down to +1dB at 200Hz, then 0dB at 1kHz, then a gentle slope down to -2dB at 16kHz. Above the bass region, the Figaro Bs sounded as if they were following the same gentle downslope, and when I returned to my in-room measurement that’s what I saw, on average (there were some mild frequency-response aberrations). Through the midband and treble, the Figaro B seems to have been designed to sound correct, or neutral, to most people.
“So Far Away,” from Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits (16/44.1 FLAC, Mercury), gave me more of the same. Bass aside, I heard a perfect balance among Mark Knopfler’s voice, the synthesizer, and the guitars. Cymbal crashes were detailed, with impressive decay, but never over-emphasized. The electric guitars had grunt and bite, imaging to the left of Knopfler’s centered voice, while each synth note was easily discernible to the right. The Figaro Bs also threw an impressively wide and deep soundstage, with the diffuse backing voices sounding well behind Knopfler, and the odd synth note extending beyond the outer edge of the right speaker.
“I Want to Believe,” from Sass Jordan’s Racine (16/44.1 FLAC, Aquarius), is simply arranged: Jordan sings at center stage, accompanied by acoustic guitar and violin -- essentially, there’s no low-bass content. With this track, the Figaro Bs’ exquisite transparency and realism pulled off the proverbial “disappearing speakers” act. Jordan’s voice was rendered with intimate detail, its image dead center, and clearly above and slightly behind the plane described by the speakers’ baffles. All the inner detail in her voice, every raspy intonation, all the anguish in her wail, were laid bare with no hint of strain. The acoustic guitars sounded reach-out-and-touch real, each plucked note occupying its own space in my room, and at times imaging slightly beyond the speakers’ outer edges. And, once again, there seemed to be a perfect balance between the acoustic guitars and the voice, with nothing over-emphasized, nothing masked -- a very neutral, very pleasing sound.
AudioSolutions vs. Bowers & Wilkins
My reference Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 minimonitors cost $2500/pair -- reasonable candidates for comparison with the Figaro Bs ($3250/pair). I first matched the levels of the speakers using a 1kHz warble tone, and found the Figaro Bs to be 4.5dB more efficient than the 705 S2s. Each time I switched between speakers, I adjusted the volume on my C47 preamp accordingly.
Listening to “Complicated,” from Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s Room with a View (16/44.1 FLAC, Arista), I heard similarities and differences between the two speakers. Both were very transparent, with an ability to completely disappear from the room as sources of the sound -- cabinet colorations were virtually undetectable, neither ever sounding “boxy.” The B&Ws sound inherently more forward in the midrange and treble, an attribute that many find appealing, especially on first hearing. Johnson’s voice seemed more forward in the mix through the B&Ws, with more intimacy and “air,” but it also sounded more sibilant at higher volumes -- something it never did through the AudioSolutions. The overall sound was brighter through the 705 S2s, as was evident when the drums and full cymbal crashes entered. With these passages the Figaro Bs yielded a smoother, more neutral, more balanced, and ultimately more pleasing sound. I felt that the 705 S2s somewhat masked the acoustic guitars; they were easier to pick out with the Figaro Bs, through which they sounded in perfect balance with the other instruments and Johnson’s voice.
The starkest difference between the two speakers was in the bass. No contest -- the 705 S2s provide impressively tight and ample bass for two-way minimonitors, outclassing the Figaro Bs in that area. Since bass is so important, and is often the foundation of musical enjoyment, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone choosing the AudioSolutions over the B&Ws while listening to any song with a reasonable amount of bass content -- this despite the fact that I felt the Figaro Bs outclassed the 705 S2s throughout the midband and treble.
The Figaro B’s lean bass response was a regularly recurring theme throughout my listening. It made me think they were just begging for a quality sub, and wonder what their big three-way brothers might sound like. I didn’t have on hand a pair of Figaro S, M, L, or XL floorstanders, but I did have a high-quality, musical-sounding subwoofer: an SVS SB-4000 ($1599.99 in Piano Gloss Black).
AudioSolutions + SVS vs. Bowers & Wilkins + SVS
After much measuring, listening, and tweaking of the SVS SB-4000’s settings, I settled on no parametric EQ filters, a volume level of -22dB, and what many home-theater enthusiasts consider the universally accepted, can’t-go-wrong-with low-pass crossover frequency: 80Hz. (When not using Dirac Live room correction, my low-pass crossover is set to 50Hz with the B&W 705 S2s.)
Now I heard some fantastic sound from the Figaro Bs. The same midrange clarity, detail, and realism, coupled with a smooth, nonfatiguing, yet accurate top end, were all still fully on display, now reinforced with a foundation of authoritative bass courtesy the SVS sub. The overall sound was bigger, and far more satisfying to listen to. Listening to “Everybody,” from Stabilo’s Happiness & Disaster (16/44.1 FLAC, EMI), I heard once again a more forward sound through the B&Ws -- when the music crescendos with percussion, it was a little bright and irritating. Not so with the Figaro B and SB-4000 combo -- I got the same impression of neutrality with detail as before. Everything in the mix seemed in perfect balance, giving me the opportunity to easily focus on any single aspect of the mix. It sounded great. The sound, never irritating, really got my toes tapping, compelling me to reach for the volume knob to turn it up. And up. Between these two setups, I give the nod to the Figaro B with SB-4000.
In fact, the Figaro Bs with SVS sub sounded so neutral and balanced that I wondered how the combo would fare against my reference setup with Dirac Live room correction.
AudioSolutions + SVS vs. Bowers & Wilkins + SVS + Dirac Live
You may be forgiven for thinking that this comparison doesn’t seem quite fair. That’s what I thought. After all, the Figaro Bs were running without any equalization or impulse correction from Dirac Live, while the 705 S2s were subject to the full Dirac Live treatment, following the Harman target-response curve described above. As it turned out, the two systems sounded quite similar. (As a general rule, I don’t subject speakers under review to Dirac Live room correction, as it would unfairly characterize their sound for readers who don’t implement broadband spectrum equalization. Nor do I usually compare speakers under review with my B&W 705 S2s with Dirac Live room correction. In this case, however, the neutral character of the Figaro Bs and my own curiosity convinced me to give it a try.)
In most rooms, equalization (EQ) can be very beneficial at frequencies below about 200Hz. Even the most sonically ideal listening rooms exhibit bass peaks and nulls. For example, my room’s most significant null is at 130Hz from the two main speakers. To combat this, I run my sub fairly hot, with a high (150Hz) low-pass crossover frequency. My sub sits between the two main speakers, so localization isn’t a problem. I let Dirac Live perform its magic and seamlessly blend the SB-4000’s bass output with that of the 705 S2s.
With the Figaro Bs, I tried replicating this by ear and by measuring, using the SVS SB-4000’s built-in three-band parametric EQ and the same 150Hz low-pass frequency, but I couldn’t get a satisfactory result -- with some recordings the bass felt balanced and authoritative, with others way too boomy. That’s when I returned to the trusty low-pass crossover frequency of 80Hz. While both systems then produced deep, satisfying bass, the AudioSolutions+SVS combo not only had slightly less accurate bass, it also suffered from less impact and slam than the B&W+SVS combo. This is not an indictment of the Figaro B’s bass performance per se, but rather of my ability to integrate the sub above 80Hz to help alleviate the 130Hz null without Dirac Live’s algorithms doing the heavy lifting.
Revisiting Dire Straits’ “So Far Away,” I noted that while the AudioSolutions+SVS combo provided very good, deep, balanced bass, the decrease in slam in comparison with the B&W+SVS+Dirac Live combo was evident. However, when I focused on the rest of the audioband, I found that the two systems sounded quite similar, and that I couldn’t decide which I preferred. Still, in terms of the reproduction of the sounds of voices and synthesizers, I might give the nod to the Figaro Bs, for their slightly better detail retrieval. This is high praise indeed for the Figaro Bs.
When I played “Far Away Like a Radio,” from Colin James’s Limelight (16/44.1 FLAC, Maple Music), the B&W+SVS+Dirac Live combo had more scale, again due to greater bass slam -- but above the bass region, it was difficult to tell the two setups apart. In both cases I heard spooky-good imaging, from the placement of the images of the layered backing voices to the right and behind James, to the guitars flanking his voice. Both systems also retrieved impressive amounts of detail, letting me peer into the voices of the two male backing singers, hearing the countertenor and baritone work together while still being able to “see” each on the soundstage as James held center stage. The two systems had the same qualities of transparency and realism, the same treble extension without over-emphasis, the same 3D imaging. James’s voice sounded a bit thinner through the Figaro Bs, but this was likely due to the 130Hz null. Both systems sounded incredible.
Should you consider plunking down $3250 for a pair of Audio Solutions Figaro Bs? That will depend on your room, the type of music you listen to, and whether your plans already include mating a stand-mounted speaker to a high-quality subwoofer.
On their own, in my room, the Figaro Bs told a tale of two speakers. Below 100Hz or so they left me wanting bass output and extension. Their sound was lean in the bass, and easily outclassed by my reference Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s. This may not be a problem for those with very small rooms, or who listen at moderate levels, or to music that doesn’t demand a strong foundation in the lower octaves. But below 100Hz, they sound worse than $3250/pair speakers should.
Above 100Hz, the Figaro Bs told a very different tale. Their midrange was accurate and smooth, the top end extended, grain-free, never etched or over-accentuated. Transparency, detail retrieval, and imaging were all topnotch, equaling or exceeding those of my unequalized B&W 705 S2s. In fact, the Figaro Bs sounded so neutral that it was hard to choose between them (without EQ) and my 705 S2s (with Dirac Live room correction using my version of Harman’s target response curve). Above 100Hz, the Figaro Bs are worth the asking price -- and perhaps sound even a bit better than $3250/pair speakers should.
It’s worth reiterating here that the Figaros Bs are built by a small dedicated team of craftsmen, with all aspects of design and manufacturing done in-house in their headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania. There’s something special about that. Although AudioSolutions is a small company, it has big ambitions, and their products exceed customer expectations, with such cosmetic touches as the “Stealth grille” and 17 different cabinet finishes -- rare for any speaker, let alone one in this price bracket.
If you’re in the market for a minimonitor to mate with a high-quality sub, I urge you to seriously consider the AudioSolutions Figaro B. When I used them with my SVS SB-4000 subwoofer and an 80Hz low-pass crossover, the Figaro Bs delivered in my room a complete musical package of truly exceptional sound.
. . . Diego Estan
- Speakers -- Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2
- Subwoofer -- SVS SB-4000
- Power amplifier -- McIntosh Laboratory MC302
- Preamplifier-DAC -- McIntosh Laboratory C47
- Room-correction EQ -- miniDSP DDRC-22 with Dirac Live (between digital sources and DAC)
- Digital Sources -- Bluesound Node music streamer, Rotel RCD-991 CD player
- Analog source -- Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit turntable, Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
- Speaker cables -- 12-gauge oxygen-free copper (generic) terminated with locking banana plugs
- Analog interconnects -- AmazonBasics (RCA), Monoprice Premier balanced (XLR)
- Digital links -- AmazonBasics optical (TosLink)
AudioSolutions Figaro B Loudspeakers
Price: $3250 USD per pair.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
Phone: +37 06-622-6342
High End by Oz LLC
1648 Westwood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Phone: (424) 344-0011