At the California Audio Show last August, I got to see and hear the striking Serene Audio Talisman desktop speakers. A few years ago finding a pair of powered desktop speakers was next to impossible, yet now there are so many powered desktop speakers on the market that a manufacturer has to do something to set their speakers apart from the others. As audiophiles we of course think the only way to do this involves the sound; while this is certainly of great importance, for speakers that are going to set on your desk or credenza, looks also matters. The Serene Audio Talisman speakers are handcrafted from bamboo, leather, and brass; combined with their curves, they are truly eye catching.
Their looks, build quality and sound make it hard to believe they cost $445 a pair and not $1,495. I admit that Andrew Jones’ new little Elac speakers sound better, but only if you put them on stands and have a really good integrated amp.; and even then, they aren’t nearly as good looking as the beautifully artistic Talisman’s. Thinking about it, every time I have heard the little Elacs they were in systems where the stands and cable cost more than the speakers. So, it’s a stretch to say they are better. With the Serene Talisman speakers, you just plug in your iPad, iPhone, computer or any device with a headphone output, and press “play.”
The Serene are the opposite concept to the Vanatoo Powered speakers I reviewed. The Vanatoo speakers have a built in DAC, digital inputs and many other features, and use multiple drivers with a woofer on the back. The Serene Talisman is simply a speaker with an amp built in it. This simplicity may not appeal to a gear head, but I think it’s wonderful, and it let the company spend more money on the amp, driver and cabinet.
These hand built speakers are brought to us from Canada by engineer Siavash Rezaei. He says, after buying and auditioning so many small speakers for his home recording studio, he hadn’t found any that met his needs of tonal balance, dynamics, and hours of non-fatiguing listening. Rezaei couldn’t find any that pleased him, so he decided to build his own.
The packing of the Serene Talisman speakers is almost as beautiful as the speakers. They arrived in a well-packed, simple cardboard box. When I opened the box, I was surprised by how good they looked in the box. Even though they looked neat in the online photos, they are stunning in person. They have seductively curved bamboo fronts and rear panels with MDF side panels that are wrapped in leather. The unique and creative designs of the speakers are not just for visual effects. Their asymmetrical shape reduces the effects of standing waves and minimizes the effects of diffraction from the front panel, but come on I love how they look on a bookshelf.
The Serene Talisman is designed around a very special single 3-inch, long throw, full range driver. On the Serene Audio website, it says, “It won’t be an exaggeration to say Serene Audio would have not existed if it wasn’t for this driver. How would one start a whole business around a single component? And what’s so special about it? You ask. Because, drivers are the main ingredient in designing speakers.”
So what about this special driver? It has a frequency response supposedly from 65Hz to 20 kHz ±3 dB. The single full range driver is a high quality off the shelf driver that is modified by Serene Audio to fit particular sonic needs. The driver uses an under-hung motor structure, which reduces the weight of the driver allowing the speaker to have a very fast transient response. The driver also uses a very strong, rare earth magnet.
On their website Serene says they could not find the amp they wanted to mate with the driver. “So we made a decision to develop our own amplifier. This would allow us to tailor the design to a perfect fit for our speakers; pushing their performance to the next level.” I think they pulled it off nicely. If you want to know more about their design go to Serene Audio’s website and click “read more” for the cabinet, amp and driver. This is some very interesting reading, but I see no reason to rewrite it all here.
This is the space in a review where I usually talk about tone, pace, rhythm, and timing, dynamics, micro-dynamics and other things. The Serene Talisman aren’t little speakers trying to be high-end speakers, nor are they little boxes you sit on your desk that play louder and hopefully sound better than your computer’s or cell phone’s speaker. They are speakers that produce a toe-tapping musical experience that is just plain fun. The Talisman are beyond many of the other leading desktop speakers in terms of tonal balance, clarity, articulation, openness, aliveness and overall musicality.
The Serene Talisman are a very different product from the Teresonic speakers I have enjoyed for the last seven years and the Vanatoo that I reviewed in 2014. They are not trying to make an assault on all the features you can get into a computer speaker. They are, for me though, a new standard in how musically satisfying a small self-powered desktop speaker can be. The Vanatoo played deeper, but the Serene Talisman are more tuneful, have better tonal coloration and just are –to put it plainly — more fun to listen to. To get this fun sound they don’t have to be carefully positioned as they have a huge sweet spot.
With the Serene Talisman, I got snappy micro-dynamics and real Pace, Rhythm, and Timing. The tunefulness of the bass and dynamics of these little wonders were quite amazing, to be honest. It was with vocals that these little speakers distinguished themselves. I listened to Ella, Satchmo, Sarah Jarosz and many others. I also watched TV and YouTube videos. With everything I listened to, the Serene was consistently articulate and alive sounding.
With the Serene Talisman, pianos sounded full bodied with good tone and nicely articulated. Whatever the genre of the music, the Talisman presented an amazingly clear window on the performance. Yes, they sounded better using my 47 Labs Midnight Blue CD player, but they sounded better than I would have ever expected via the headphone output on my iPhone.
The Serene Talisman give us a wonderful way to listen to music while you work in your office or any other small room. The most amazing thing is that you don’t need a computer or a device with a USB port; you can just play from any headphone outlet and still get really fun sound. Of course, you could plug a DAC’s outputs into the Talisman and get even better sound, but part of their magic is you don’t have to, adding to that the fact they are the most best looking small speakers ever. Some visitors have said they are a work of art.
I should mention that the current production Serene Talisman have a small phono preamp included. This adds $46 to the price, and it is amazing how good it sounds at that price. No, I’m not saying it’s better than phono preamps that cost more than the speakers, but it sounded nice. Someone could find a used B&O turntable and hook it up to these speakers and have a nice sounding and killer-looking vinyl setup that only requires nothing but speakers and the turntable.
I love these little guys. No, they’re not going in one of my main listening systems, but they are going in my bedroom.
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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