What? I’m surprised and disappointed. No Lohengrins under the tree? Not even a pair of Sarastros? I was sure I’d wake today and find a couple of flight cases under the tree. I was a good boy in 2005. I wasn’t naughty…
It’s Christmas morning 2005. Two days ago, I paid a visit to the Verity Audio loudspeaker manufacturer’s office in Quebec City. Some say there isn’t a Santa, so I brought my wife along on my visit just in case. But alas, not even a pair of Tamino’s under the tree.
Every Christmas, my family and I take the 11-hour drive from Philly to Quebec City to visit my wife’s family for the holiday, and we love it. There’s nothing as beautiful as Quebec City at Christmas. I have been a Dagogo reviewer for six months now and thought of visiting Verity Audio of Quebec City a few weeks ago for an article. I first heard of Verity Audio just about three years ago at the Montreal Audio show. Back then, in 2003, they were sharing a room with DCS and Nagra and the sound from the room was of such a quality and character that I kept them in mind as a brand to watch.
Montreal and Quebec City and the areas near have some of the most fantastic audio companies in the world… and I hope to take advantage of my quarterly trips north to visit them as well. Companies like Totem, Sim Audio, Oracle. Speaking of Oracle, that’s where the founders of Verity Audio, Bruno Bouchard and Julien Pelchat met and from which they decided to start Verity Audio just over 10 years ago.
Verity’s offices are located in a very non-descript office park off a main highway in Quebec City. Julien was my very hospitable host for our visit and gave us a quick walk through their offices. Past reception on the left and the offices on the right, past the conference room and sound room, we walk into the open and very clean assembly room. Verity has their cabinets manufactured and finished by separate outside contractors. Taking a look at the speaker enclosures shows meticulous attention to quality and finish. Verity is really a design shop that out sources enclosures and parts to their specifications. They make their own crossovers, but really pride themselves in the entire package they’ve been able to design, tweak, customize and tune to their specifications and sonic goals.
Julien shows us some parts custom designed by Verity and manufactured to Verity’s specifications. They design and assemble their own binding posts. The bass port you see in the photos is made for the Parsifal Ovation. It needs to be bent in order to fit in the cabinet yet still achieve the proper length and width for optimum sound. Those black aluminum slabs you see in the case are to sit between the top and bottom enclosures of the Fidelio Encore. Julien mentions how they found that aluminum works better at absorbing vibrations then granite, which they have used in the past. Lastly, a photo of the stock room well organized and filled with parts.
Verity uses high quality drivers from manufacturers such as Audio Technologie and Scan Speak and has them customized to their specifications. Here are a couple of customized Lohengrin 15” woofers being tested and the original stock model from the speaker manufacturer for comparison. Hard to tell at this angle but the ones customized for Verity are a little shorter to better blend with the other drivers in the Lohengrin. Here’s Julien explaining what design adjustments they have made to the midrange driver of the Sarastro.
The staff at Verity Audio assembles, tests, performs quality assurance and packs each speaker at this location. Here’s a shot of some speakers being prepared to ship. Every Verity loudspeaker ships in tough ATA approved flight cases. The owner keeps these cases along with their speakers. The speakers are built to gem like quality and cared for every step of the way to the end customer. Below you can see where the design and testing take place. The room is adjacent to the sound room, which is miked and the audio fed back into this room for both design analysis as well as quality assurance. Each Verity speaker is individually tested and listened to in their acoustically designed and optimized listening room by Julien and Bruno prior to shipping.
The highlight of our visit, and where we spent the most time was in the sound room mentioned previously. This room is where they keep their music collection as well as set up and test each and every speaker. Julien mentioned that not many people visit them in their offices although visitors are always welcome. But I must say to hear their speakers in this optimized room with such amazing accompanying gear is well worth the trip. The top of the line Lohengrins were set up when we entered the room. We sat behind a rack of sources including the full top of the line DCS digital stack. The featured amps were Nagra. We listened to both solid-state stereo and mono block tube amps by Nagra. Below are some photos showing the room and the gear and the superstar Lohengrins (both from the front and rear).
Julien picked a couple of choice tracks from some sampler for us to listen to. First up was a song by Chris Jones called “No Sanctuary Here”. This was acoustic singer-songwriter fare with a unique deep humming/chanting along with acoustic guitar and main vocal. First, we listened through the Nagra tube monoblocks on the Lohengrins. (The source and preamp were all from DCS: the Verdi, Elgar and Purcell.) The first thing that struck me was the incredible texture and air. The performers seemed right there in the room with us. We then switched to the Nagra stereo solid-state amplifier and heard much more low frequency content. The Lohengrins are absolutely revealing of amplification character, that’s for sure. We stuck with the Nagra solid-state amp for the rest of our time.
The second track Julien played for us was by Paul Stephenson, “Moon in the Glass”. This was also acoustic fare with male lead vocal and female backing. There was also an accompanying synthesizer, which added an amazing amount of ambience to the tune.
I brought a disc with me, and Julien was very accommodating in playing. I am a big indie rock/pop music fan and this CD had a mix of what I considered (past tense on purpose, more on that in a moment) to be audiophile quality recordings of indie rock, electronica and jazz.
The first track I put on was Air’s “Run” from their Talkie Walkie album. This track has an extremely deep synth bass and very ambient synth pads along with a heavily processed female vocal. Immediately, even Julien was impressed with the sound, as this track, he surmised, had bass as far down as 16hz and the Lohengrins reproduced that with ease. When the synth pads came in, I literally felt like I was in a cloud, and the sound filled the entire volume of the room. Who needs surround sound!
Next up I decided to see if the Lohengrins could rock, fully confident that my next track selection would put them to the test. Unfortunately, the Libertines’ “Begging” from the album Up The Bracket sounded thin and bright, and I realized that what I thought was audiophile fare on my home system was in fact less then optimal on this very revealing truly reference system. So yes, the Lohengrins (with Nagra and DCS) were very truthful and revealing, yet human and realistic with decent material.
To best experience this jolt of truth, I decided to put on a track I am extremely familiar with. I put on a track called “To This End” from my old band, Ms. Lum. We recorded this track as part of our album Airport Love Song in 1993 at Water Music studios, Hoboken. The studio had amazing instruments and recording gear. We also had a top-notch engineer, John Siket, who worked with many great alternative bands of the day. Finally, our album was mastered at Masterdisk in NYC. So, needless to say, I knew this album and song like the back of my hand, from the recording studio to the mastering suite to many systems over the years. In the Verity listening room with all the gear mentioned above, I was transported back to the recording studio, the performance space. I could clearly hear the character of each guitar and amp. The oomph of the kick drum was more impactful and visceral than I remembered. I am always hoping to hear a system conveying as much message and emotion as possible. Paul, our singer, sounded great and his delivery and performance was as meaningful as the day I was standing in the studio performing with him.
Last track we listened to was on the Sarastros. They’re much smaller than the Lohengrins, yet have the same ribbon tweeter. The track was a cover of “Dear Prudence” by Brad Mehldau from Largo. This is a simple jazz trio recording of piano, drums and upright bass. The Sarastros didn’t reach as low, didn’t fill the room quite as easily as the Lohengrins, but were a little more athletic delivering the tempo and rhythm with a little more pace and drive. Just to put a few things perhaps in perspective, the Lohengrins sell for $60k per pair and the Sarastros, then next down in the Verity line sell for almost half as much at $35k per pair. And to put it all more into perspective, Verity sell approximately 200 pairs of speakers a year.
After our glorious listening session, Bruno, Julien, my wife and I sat down for a chat. I had 5 questions prepared and I fired away:
1. On how Verity Audio got started, and what was their inspiration and drive to build an audio business:
Bruno answered first and described how he and Julien were both working at Oracle in the R&D department. Bruno had always been involved in audio with a love for music obviously, and a passion for playing the guitar. My wife noticed Bruno’s long fingernails on one hand, indicating he played some sort of finger picked style of guitar, perhaps classical, given his love for classical music. Bruno also mentioned that when he and Julien left Oracle, Oracle was not doing too well as a business. It’s doing better now.
Julien mentioned wanting to take their own ideas and push them forward with their own company. That he and Bruno have an unorthodox view on things audio, and question just about everything, especially perceptions around human hearing. He mentioned the body obviously picks up frequencies outside of the 20-20k range.
2. On creating a physical form that supports the sound quality with domestic room appeal:
Bruno mentioned how this was really the original idea they had when starting Verity. Their speakers are designed for the home and performance is really important but the look, especially where speakers are placed, like in a living room, has to be beautiful and acceptable. He mentioned how, when Verity designs, they start with the cabinets first then fit the components to the cabinet design.
“What does it mean to design the best loudspeaker if no one can use it?” -Julien
Julien told us that the Parsifal was their first product. And I quote, “What does it mean to design the best loudspeaker if no one can use it?” He went on to say how all speakers are room dependent, so they had to establish the size of the average listening room and build the best and most appealing speaker possible for that size room.
3. On Verity Audio’s percentage of sales in North America vs. Europe/Asia; and friendliness of their speakers’ smaller form factor as compared to the competition at the technology/price point to the smaller rooms of Europe/Asia:
Bruno gave me some stats and mentions it’s still changing… approx 30% of total sales to North America, 30% to Europe and 30% to Asia. He mentioned that their smaller form speakers are as much an advantage in NYC apartments as they are in Europe. Makes sense, I would know, and would love to find out… hint, hint.
Bruno also mentioned how Europe recognizes Verity’s quality right away and appreciates the size; and how the US is starting to realize that size no longer equates to quality.
Then, Julien went off on a little tangent and asked why audiophiles still listen to horn loudspeakers. Horns are good for dynamics like in a PA system, for example. In Europe, audiophiles are more into unamplified instruments and that it was part of Verity’s initial goals to design and build speakers to reproduce unamplified music.
4. On designing speakers to have them perform to the ‘absolute’ reproduction of live acoustic music and studio recorded amplified music:
Julien’s opinion is that if a speaker is neutral and can produce unamplified music well, it will deliver what the engineer put on the recording just the same in amplified music. Ditto when putting together a home theater system. If the customer focuses on high-quality music reproduction first, then movies will sound much better.
Julien mentions that their products, such as the Parsifal, are in recording studios and mastering suites, such as Chesky records, since 1996. Fidelio records from Montreal also uses Verity speakers, as do yet a few other manufacturers, like Arcam, Nagra, DCS and Ack! Industries, makers of a terrific battery-powered DAC. Oh yeah, and Keith Jarret has a pair of Parsifals as well.
Back to the ‘absolute’ sound, and more specifically bass reproduction. Julien went on to explain how speed as a sensation when hearing speakers does not really exist, that the perception of speed is based on snap and extension (low frequency response). Bruno reiterates that bass is a matter of taste. Classical music has bloom and theater ambience that, if reproduced well, can come close to capturing the event. With that, Bruno takes it one step further in stating that Verity products give as much bass information through their designs so as not to miss anything from the performance and/or location; that, without limiting the low frequencies, one can be transported to the performance. When the low frequency response is limited, the illusion of speed (snap and extension) can be created but the performance is more in the room. Julien chimes in, “It’s more like you are there versus they are here.”
“It’s more like you are there versus they are here.” -Julien
5. I noticed the person now doing North American distribution (who now works directly for Verity, I am told) has experience with home theater. So I queried whether Verity believed their future might lie in multi-channel audio/home theater, and their opinion on the loudspeaker industry trend, with emergence of higher resolution audio, over the next ten years.
“Verity’s heart is in 2-channel music,” Bruno states.
Their move to introduce some multi-channel products is really to support their existing customers with options, if they want to stick with an all Verity speaker array as they move to multi-channel. But Verity’s focus is in 2-channel audio.
Julien pines that the home theater market is not what people really thought in high-end audio. From Home-Theater-In-A-Box to in-wall custom install jobs, very few customers build home theater systems around high-end audio products.
On the next 10 years…
Julien says Verity won’t put a product out on the market to meet a trend. They’ll only introduce something if it improves the quality of sound, and Julien thinks there’s much more to do around resonance control in loudspeaker research. Bruno responds with how their main objective is balance… balancing the best performance they can achieve with the technology available.
Bruno mentions how technology is moving so fast, that it’s hard to predict what’s next; but thinks that new speaker technology should yield greater performance from smaller speakers, for less money. Looking at storage technology like iPods and the like, Verity is thinking about trying digital technology with speakers. They are working with the University of Montreal Sherbrook as knowledge centers in Canada, to stay ahead of technology and see what is promising. Their customers are saying, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
“Our customers are saying, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’” -Bruno
I would like to thank Bruno and Julien for their hospitality. It was a very informative and fun visit to Verity Audio. They are a company of true conviction and drive… two of the most desired qualities of both a company and the sound a great audio company can create.
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