When I walked into their room at the last RMAF I knew these speakers were something very special for anyone trying to put together an extremely affordable system. Vanatoo is a new company and their first product is the Transparent One that was five years in development.
The name Vanatoo comes from the isle of Vanuatu, a small island in the South Pacific that Vanatoo says is known as “the happiest place on Earth” (though of course Disney wouldn’t agree). Gary Gesellchen and Rick Kernen are the people behind Vanatoo. The information in their website is well organized, and they seem honest about their desire to bring high-end sound to the masses. I spent a good hour and a half just absorbing the information on there.
From their website I gleaned that Gary and Rick have what seems to be a combined lifetime of mechanical and electrical engineering experience.
Vanatoo has brought us a speaker, the Transparent One, that is packed full of features. It is a powered speaker with a built-in 60 watt class D amp; you thus do not need to provide an amplifier. They are just small enough to fit on a desktop or a bookshelf (6.5”W x 10”H x 8.125”D). On the back one of the speakers looks like any other speaker, while the other has lots of inputs, switches, and controls. Of course being a powered speaker they have to be plugged in, and speaker wires run from the active unit with all the controls to the other speaker.
I must admit that I don’t have the technical expertise when it comes to digital playback to even begin to understand how this unit handles digital files. For example they state that the speaker has 24/96-capable USB input that isn’t a DAC. 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.
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.
• 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!
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!
Vanatoo claims bass response down to 49Hz, and I pretty much buy it. Furthermore, it will do bass with honest strength. They do so without much boom and fairly good P.R.a.T. The designers at Vanatoo seem to understands a small speaker’s limitations. This helps in producing a really good speaker, not only in how it measures, but how it sounds. I tried these little speakers fed directly from my MacBook, iMac, iPhone, Marantz Blu-Ray player, and a TEAC Reference DSD player. Even as small as the Vanatoo’s are, I found they sound best toed-in and not too close to the wall behind them. They do sound better after playing for about fifty hours, but they sounded great after about thirty minutes out of the box.
Like the Audioengine speakers I have enjoyed for the last five years, the Vanatoos are not an assault on the state-of-the-art in loudspeakers. They are for me though a new standard in how musically satisfying a small self-powered desktop speaker can be.
With the Vanatoos you get nice enough micro-dynamics and better-than-expected dynamics after using the Audioengines. They played complicated passages with lots of instruments and bass better than a speaker and amp combination at this price should. The bass and dynamics of these little wonders are quite amazing to be honest.
They reproduce vocals quite well. I listened to Holy Cole, Ella, Satchmo, Cat Stevens, and many others. I was consistently pleased that such an inexpensive speakers could play vocals so beautifully. This was also true of instruments such as violins, clarinets, and trumpets. No, they don’t have the bite of a real trumpet or the air of a real clarinet, but they do sound like trumpets and clarinets. I think that’s a pretty good accomplishment at this level.
The Vanatoo Transparent Ones are great little powered speakers. I had rather have them any all-in-one box systems I have heard. They are just a wonderful way to listen to music while you work on your computer or in a small office system. I also think they would be great for a teenager or college student who can’t afford a system of separate component yet. Well done!
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