Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at
It seems as if Gingko Audio’s ClaraVu 7 MkII loudspeakers ($2995 USD per pair) have been in my house for years. I was just about finished listening to them and writing this review when Vinh Vu, the company’s owner and chief designer, sent me an e-mail stating that he’d redesigned the front baffles, and wanted me to swap out the review samples’ baffles and tweeter with the new design. The woofer is decoupled from the baffle, so it should have been a simple matter of unscrewing four long Allen screws, unhooking the tweeter wires from the crossover, then reversing those steps to install the new baffle and tweeter. However, that proved unsuccessful, so Gingko sent a new pair.
The fact that the ClaraVu 7’s woofers are decoupled from the baffle should be a strong indication that this speaker is designed a little differently from most conventional speakers, and it is. Each speaker has two woofers, though only one is visible. The woofers are positioned one behind the other in a heavy paperboard tube, in what’s called an isobaric configuration.
I hadn’t listened to an isobaric system since M&K made one years ago, so I was intrigued. In such a system, the rear woofer works with the front woofer to, in effect, create a sealed chamber between them. In theory, this creates a space behind the front woofer with no air compression, and has the potential to reduce even-order harmonic distortion. But often, what sounds simple in theory can be difficult to achieve in the real world. To obtain the desired results, the front and rear woofers must be closely matched and built to fairly tight tolerances. I’ve also been told that it can be difficult to dissipate the heat generated by the front woofer’s voice-coil in the small cavity between the woofers.
A foam-rubber gasket isolates the woofer mounting tube from the baffle and seals the cabinet. Four hex-head screws hold the baffle in place and double as contacts for the grille magnets. The original baffles of heavy, satin-gloss MDF included acrylic waveguides for the front woofer and tweeter. The new baffles are made of a much lighter material, and the waveguides are machined directly into the surface. In both designs, the tweeter is permanently mounted on the back of the baffle. I prefer the look of the original baffles, but the new ones sounded better.
The tweeter, a 1" silk dome made by TBI, utilizes transmission-line technology in its rear chamber. The woofers are 6.5" custom units. Frequency response is stated to be 45Hz-20kHz, ±3dB. Impedance is rated at 10 ohms nominal, 8 ohms minimum, while sensitivity is said to be 87dB.
The ClaraVu 7 MkII’s cabinet (22"H x 9"W x 15"D, 40 pounds each) will look familiar to some involved in DIY projects, but don’t let that throw you. They’re lovely, tapering toward the rear in a gentle curve. Inside, they’ve been heavily modified and braced to accept the woofer tube. Clearly, the design has been well thought out, and is unlike the inside of any speaker I’ve ever seen.
The first pair of review samples was finished in real cherry with a satin finish and was very attractive. And while I’m a sometime woodworker who’s a sucker for real-wood finishes, I preferred the second pair’s gloss-black finish, which perfectly matched the finish of the Gingko’s stands ($500/pair). Normally I’d caution readers away from such pricey stands, but these are worth it for their looks alone, especially with black speakers.
Setting up the ClaraVu 7s in my small, dedicated listening room took a little time, but the results were worth the effort. The ClaraVus aren’t all that picky about setup, but a little extra time and care spent positioning them reaped tremendous rewards in soundstage width and depth. I got the best results with the speakers about 3’ out from the front wall, and slightly farther apart from each other than either was from my chair. Gingko’s setup guide tells you to try the speakers in both orientations: tweeters on top, tweeters on bottom. I ended up with the tweeters at the top and the speakers on the stands, which put the tweeters well above my seated ear height. Once I got the setup dialed in, the soundstage depth and breadth was nothing short of phenomenal.
I did the bulk of my listening in this room using a tubed integrated amplifier. I’m told that the ClaraVu 7 likes a fair amount of power, but the 35Wpc output of my tube amp was more than enough to drive the pair of them to ear-splitting levels in this smallish room with no sign of strain. And with that amp fitted with EH EL34 tubes, bass control was never an issue. In fact, the combination sounded so good that I eventually had to force myself to move the speakers to my home theater, where I could test them with solid-state amplification.
That theater is roughly twice the size of the listening room, which meant I had to push the ClaraVu 7s a bit harder before they overloaded the room. Properly set up in the theater, the 7s sounded as good as they had in my listening room, but the theater’s layout, which includes an 88" screen just over 10’ from the main listening/viewing position, meant that the Gingkos had to be too far out from the wall and too close together for the room to still be usable as a theater. Nonetheless, here I was able to test the speakers in an all-solid-state system.
I came to the Breaking Benjamin fan base a little late, dragged in by friends and family members who are all younger than I. I grew up listening to bands like the Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, and the Ramones, so I’ll never understand how I missed this group when they first hit the scene in the early 2000s. When I first heard Phobia (CD, Hollywood 62607), it sounded somehow familiar and fresh at the same time -- no small feat. "Evil Angel" proved that the ClaraVu 7s could rock when asked to. While the Gingkos weren’t bass-heavy by any stretch of the imagination, the bass they did present was tight and tuneful, with plenty of slam. Even at high volumes in my small listening room, they never sounded too harsh or glary.
With "Love Game," from Lady Gaga’s The Fame (CD, Interscope 13535), the soundstage was huge, and deeper than I’d thought possible in this space -- it extended past the boundaries of the room. Though the bass wasn’t terribly strong with this track, it had good slam and was extremely clean. But there seemed to be no lack of bass with other tracks, such as "Paper Gangsta." A subwoofer might help in reinforcing the lowest notes, but it would have to be an exceptionally good sub to keep up with these speakers -- a typical boom-and-gloom home-theater sub would ruin their sound. Think more in terms of a sub designed to work with planar or electrostatic speakers and you’ll probably do well.
Mythologies (CD, Blue Note 59564) is one of my favorite albums by Patricia Barber. While the album has gotten rave reviews, many people were put off by "Phaeton." I’m in the opposite camp -- it’s my favorite track on the album. Across a strong backbeat is hung a lush fabric of music and voices that ends as a hip-hop chorus takes over, with only the backbeat remaining for a time. It’s not your typical jazz track, even for Barber. Throughout the song, the voices were more clearly defined in placement than I’d heard before. You know something is right when you can almost "see" where the singers are standing: here, a female vocalist in front, and, slightly behind and to either side of her, two male singers.
I’m not one to buy many albums whose titles include the word favorites, but I made an exception for Italian Baroque Favourites (CD, Naxos 229287), in which Capella Istropolitana takes on selected pieces from a handful of mostly lesser-known Italian composers. The results are astonishingly good, and this has been one of my favorite classical CDs for over a decade. These baroque works are delicate, detailed, and a little on the busy side, and the Gingkos were able to extract every nuance of the very finely detailed performance of Tomaso Albinoni’s Concerto No.3 in B-flat major, Op.2, with amazing clarity. The precise layering of instruments in the soundfield with works such as this only added to the apparent depth of the soundstage.
For some reason, I’d never gotten into the Feelies until recently, but I love their debut album from 1980, Crazy Rhythms (CD, A&M 75021-5319-2). Their music is much more complex than you’d expect from a band with obvious roots in punk, and this album was unusually well recorded for the genre. There’s good slam from the bass and toms at the opening of "Raised Eyebrows," but what really caught my attention through the ClaraVu 7s was the three-dimensional sound of drummer Anton Fier’s rimshots. I grew up a percussion guy, and that sound is forever ingrained in my head. This is perhaps the most realistic recording of the sound I’ve ever heard, and the Gingkos got it just right.
The most reliable-sounding reference speakers I’ve ever owned are the Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.3s ($2200/pair, discontinued). It doesn’t matter what room I put them in or how I arrange them, they sound substantially the same, and always very good. For this reason alone, I have long recommended Paradigm speakers to friends -- but they’re also some of the more technically accurate speakers you’ll find, with a very flat frequency-response curve.
Pitting the Reference Studio 100 against the somewhat more expensive Gingko ClaraVu 7, the first thing I noticed was that the Paradigm’s bass went deeper, and with much more impact. This was especially noticeable with pop music from the likes of Lady Gaga, and to be expected, considering the Paradigms’ larger multiple woofers. What the ClaraVu 7 lacked in bass impact it more than made up for in bass quality, with much better detail in the lower registers.
Other than the bass response, both speakers were highly articulate and tonally very similar, though the Gingko’s midrange was richer and ever so slightly warmer. Where the Gingko really pulled ahead of the Paradigm was in soundstaging and image layering. No amount of tweaking of the Paradigms’ positions was able to re-create anything close to the ClaraVu 7s’ soundstage width or depth, let alone the combination of those qualities. In my tubed system, the Paradigms sounded as if they were being driven by a good-quality solid-state amp. The Gingkos, on the other hand, took real advantage of the tubes, producing a wonderfully layered fabric of instruments and voices with astonishing depth.
Which brings me to my second comparison, a completely unfair one. Lately, in my tubed system, I’ve been playing around with a pair of used Magnepan MMG speakers ($599/pair) I picked up cheap. At roughly one-fifth the price of the ClaraVu 7, the MMG was clearly overmatched. However, if I ignored the MMG’s somewhat compromised high frequencies and focused more on the strengths of soundstage depth and speed common to all Magnepans, the similarities between the two speakers became very interesting indeed. The Gingko speakers out-Maggied the Maggies in my small listening room, with a wider, more enveloping soundstage, and better depth and layering of voices and instruments. To best any Maggie in these areas is a very rare thing.
I’ve been completely blown away by Gingko Audio’s ClaraVu 7 MkII. My listening room is a difficult space for many conventional speakers, but the Gingkos excelled in this tough environment. While tolerant of less-than-ideal placement, they really sang when I took the trouble to get their positions just right. This was when the ClaraVu 7 MkII became not merely a very good loudspeaker, but one of the most interesting I’ve heard in a long time. It combines many of the best qualities of some of my favorite speakers, while avoiding many, potentially troubling issues of room interaction. Top that with the fact that it’s consummately tube-friendly, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
. . . Jeff Van Dyne
- Speakers -- Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.3, Magnepan MMG
- Integrated amplifier -- Cayin TA-30 (modified)
- Sources -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch, Music Hall MMF-5 turntable
- Speaker cables -- Analysis Plus Oval 12
- Interconnects -- Audio Magic Apprentice
Gingko Audio ClaraVu 7 MkII Loudspeakers
Price: $2995 USD per pair.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
8 Nicklaus Lane
Farmingdale, NJ 07727
Phone: (732) 946-9439
Fax: (732) 946-9439