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Vapor Audio Joule White 3 Speaker Review

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Placement in the room

I chose a more recent, wider placement in the room that has become my standard starting point for speakers. The top of the front baffle is 5’ 6” from the head wall and the outside corner of it 21” from the side wall. Behind the speakers reside two Legacy Audio EXTREME HD Subwoofers. This leaves not much room between their front and the rear of the Joule White 3. All initial testing was with the subs turned off, but even with them on they seem to have no audibly deleterious effect on the performance of the speakers. My placement of the front baffle of the speakers is flared a few degrees wide of each respective ear, as I have come to accept over time a slightly wider positioning to expand the soundstage and enlarge the center image at the marginal cost of a wee bit less sharpness of the center image. This was a big decision for me, as I love precision in images, but the trade off has been acceptable. The phantom image has been brought forward slightly, and this also my ear enjoys, making the change overall positive. I believe that over time I will experiment with a bit different positioning, but for the time being I have been so delighted with the current setup that it has remained untouched.

 

Cost no object, and don’t forget the hockey pucks. Better yet, casters!

The speakers were placed initially on hockey pucks. A bag of hard rubber hockey pucks can be had for $20 or less, and they have been a salvation in setting up speakers. It’s a real pain to place heavy speakers on spikes, then try to move them about for refinement of positioning. The hockey pucks can be used until the ultimate positioning is determined.

Considering I also had the unusual issue of the movement of the bass cabinet in and out of the room without marring it, I determined the correct course of action was to affix a set of casters to the speakers. Why not? Some of the most prestigious names in the industry utilize casters. When a speaker gets to a certain size, mobility becomes a very important factor, especially when an owner doesn’t have a crew of movers or a day to spend moving the speaker to suit tastes. Casters would be my solution, an especially appropriate one as the basement listening room features a half-inch pad under thick Berber carpeting. I have many times gotten on my knees and forcibly pushed smooth bottomed speakers across this surface to move them in or out of the room. Yes, I do have a hand truck, and if you think reviewing is just sitting around on your ass having fun, no work involved, you are wrong! With the outriggers astride the bass module the task was even tougher. Damn the potential for a miniscule sonic degradation – casters it would be!

It was a brilliant move, as they not only made positioning the speaker easy, they also elevated the speaker three inches. I was concerned that such a height increase might cause a problem, but my ears were rewarded with what I consider to be better sound! Once the speaker was higher I was struck by the change in the bass. It seemed as though it had crisped nicely, and it made me wonder whether there was a floor bounce that had been ameliorated. In order to address the midrange and tweeter being above optimal height I merely placed a couple of thick 1” leather squares atop the rear Herbies Dot – the top module sits on three Herbies Dots in its fitted space atop the bass module – so as to bring forward the front baffle, causing the output of the midrange and tweeter to strike my ears more as they would previously. I prefer this elevated position of the Joule White 3 likely because of my height. I am 6’5” and sit an inch or two above most listeners, so the adjustment was welcome for my ears.

 

What happened to the “break in” period?

I wrote up the bulk of my notes for this review after only a few weeks’ listening time. What? No lengthy Break In time? Shame on me, eh? Those who follow my writing over the years have learned I don’t subscribe to the idea that it takes weeks or months of listening to determine the fundamental qualities of a speaker. When I go to shows I have minutes to determine the native characteristics of components, and I had better be able to derive an accurate impression in that time frame. That does not mean “thin slicing,” or snap judgments, are infallible, nor does it mean there is not a lot more to learn about a speaker over months of use. It simply means it is possible to discover one’s disposition to the speaker holistically, and whether it will receive a passing for failing grade in terms of one’s expectations.

As an aside, I will share a piece of advice to audiophiles seeking new components or speakers. If you find yourself in a listening experience attempting to justify a component or speaker’s performance, I advise you not to buy the product. If there are aspects of performance that you love and don’t hear, then why buy it? However, if you hear a scrumptious performance that thrills you, then you know beyond doubt the electronics are capable of such performance.

There are far too many speakers in the world to accept one that cannot prove its merit.

In my experience, Break In is negligible to the audiophile experience. Having worked with hundreds of components and dozens of speakers in my home, I find that the phenomenon of Break In is not efficacious for arriving at a correct assessment of an electronic apparatus. As I have said in the past, if a component changes so much with use that it sounds significantly different from when it was made, I don’t want it. I think it shows the hubris of audiophiles that they consider their hearing perception over days, weeks or even months to be more stable and accurate than an electronic component! My rule is that you get 99.9% of the performance the moment you turn the rig on. From that point you are the one adjusting, not the system. The system doesn’t change for you, but rather you adjust to hear the nuances of the system. I am not including in this discussion of Break In the characteristics of tubes in electronics, which have their own peculiarities. I also am not interested in a debate with readers who wish to use the comments section of the review to excoriate me for not holding their position on the subject.

By building several systems I capture a wide swath of the speaker’s (or any other component’s) performance in a fraction of the time normally spent on doing nothing, making no changes. How much more do you think I can learn in two months about a speaker system by building four rigs versus listening to one rig over the same time period? I do enjoy a more leisurely engagement with a product, but I can adjust the throttle of discovery to whatever speed I desire, and reach a fairly exacting conclusion regardless of the time frame employed. When I work on a product for a manufacturer I am painstaking and take plenty of time. When I assess a potential purchase for myself, it’s “pedal to the metal.” Why waste time in getting to optimal performance?

 

From the nimbus to the joule

Another thing in my favor when it comes to a quicker assessment is that I have owned the Nimbus White speakers for about two years and I am intimately familiar with them. Consequently, by using a system I have partnered with several speakers, the Nimbus White among them, it takes me less time to assess the fundamental differences between the Nimbus White and the Joule White 3.

What are the differences? The Joule 3 is more seamless between drivers than the Nimbus, partly because the Nimbus uses twin Accuton midrange drivers. The ear can hear the multiple sources when more than one driver is used, i.e. midrange, and this effect disappears with the Joule 3. Along with this is a more extended and opened up top end and midrange. The larger RAAL ribbon acts like a larger panel speaker, whereby images are reshaped and resized with more “surface area,” just as a resized digital picture allows us to perceive more details in the image. In fact, the ear perceives this as hearing around the instrument, such that the note reverberates in the air surrounding the instrument.

The soundstage created by the Joule 3 is entirely gapless. The Joule 3 “disappears” more than the Nimbus because it delineates more detail causing the mind to sense sound everywhere up front, not just from point sources. The sources are there, but so is the ambient field of the sources, which mingles just right to recreate in the mind the musical session.

The Joule White 3 is a richer, more tonally deep speaker than the Nimbus White. Its particular drivers create a more sensuous fabric of sound, and they more accurately and widely blanket the room with that sound. The sonic “hue” is deeper, more appealing to the ear. The Joule White 3 is exceptional at this deeply enriched timbre. Its capacity in this regard reminds me of speakers known for the Midrange magic, such as older Quad speakers and High Efficiency speakers with coaxial drivers such as the Lotus Group’s Granada.

VaporJoule3-2a

Forget the foam pads (sometimes)

Another advancement of the Joule over the Nimbus is the use of the larger RAAL 140-15D Amorphous Core Tweeter. This ribbon is physically much longer than the one used in the Nimbus, the RAAL 70-20XR. Though the specifications seem identical in terms of top end extension, the experience of hearing them is quite different. The larger ribbon in the Joule is distinctly smoother and more exacting. It is capable of conveying more shimmer and decay of cymbals, better realism of drumstick strikes on drum rims, resonances of brass instruments, etc.

The 140-15D comes with magnetically affixed, contoured foam pads called Foam Deflector Pads, and RAAL has this to say about them:

“Wide angle polar response [of the Foam Deflector Pads] is of great importance for the natural reproduction, therefore using the larger ribbon drivers bares a problem, since they are showing very intensive ‘beaming’ of high frequencies, as they are line sources far bigger than the wavelengths of high frequencies in audible range. For model 140-15D, we found the solution for that problem in using the specially shaped foam pads in front of the ribbon. The dispersion pads are working as an acoustic lens, by slowing down the velocity of sound and thus shaping the sound wave front from cylindrical to spherical. The parasitic effect of partial sound absorption is inevitable, but acceptable. The pads are magnetic and they can slide on the front plate. By adjusting the distance between the pads, sliding them toward or apart each other, it is possible to shape the on-axis linearity vs. wide-angle vertical polar response. In this way anyone can adjust the high frequency output by his-hers own liking. If the pads are completely removed, 15 kHz on-axis response is increased in level of about 7 dB.”

It seems Vapor has accepted the conclusion that this larger ribbon’s beaming of a spherical wave front is a problem. Notice that RAAL’s decision was to partially block the ribbon, something I am loath to do. When I wrote my review of the Kingsound King III electrostatic speaker I applauded Kingsound for making a panel speaker that has removable grills, versus the “tomato fired at a strainer effect” of pushing a wave through a semi-acoustically transparent grill.

The foam pads cause a similar problem; instead of fully obstructing the entire driver with a thin, semi-transparent barrier as found in a speaker like the Magnepan 1.7i, the 140-15D blocks a portion of the top and bottom of the tweeter. Perhaps some will take umbrage at my use of the term “blocks,” as the blocking agent is foam. Nevertheless, it does block the tweeter. What a mess is created in the process! The suppression of the tweeter is easily heard, and one detects the smearing of the ribbon’s output. Remove the foam pads and instantly the openness and cleanness return. RAAL states, “The parasitic effect of partial sound absorption is inevitable, but acceptable.” No, sir, not for me! I do not accept the distortion caused by blocking a driver.

What to do about the elongated shape of the ribbon’s wave launch? As RAAL indicates, the shape of the wave launch without the foam pads is cylindrical versus spherical. I say that’s terrific! Its use without the foam pads yields an obvious increase in coherence between the tweeter and Accuton 7” midrange. Yes, the on-axis response is juiced, and is easily heard. So what? With proper components, cabling and positioning this tweeter emphasis can be addressed. All systems can be tuned. I tuned the system to address this treble emphasis, gaining the wide open, uncluttered performance of the 140-15D without the irritation of a bump in the 15kHz range.

I was not content with the speakers aimed directly at my ears, and this was primarily due to the increased treble output without the foam pads. By widening the speakers’ faces relative to my ears I was able to find the proper Goldilocks blend of bass, midrange and treble intensity, as well as the proper balance between left, center (phantom) and right images. The proof that it was the right setup for my ears has been found in two things. If I place even one foam pad on the top or bottom of the tweeters I dislike the muddying effect and remove them quickly. Also, I have had no impulse to futz with cabling, as I detect no error in the treble performance.

A word of warning; you may not be able to achieve a similar result. (In addition, we all have different tonal priorities. – Pub.) The precision and delicacy of the tweeter is such that you need a highly refined gear, or the correct type of cable, meaning ones with the proper geometry, gauge and conductor material, to achieve the best results with the foam pads removed. Do not be discouraged if you find the sound better with the pads astride the ribbons. It takes an exquisite balance of gear and cables with this tweeter to achieve a better-than-manufacturer-recommended result (as according to your ears. – Pub.). But once that balance is achieved the treble is unparalleled. The amount of space in recordings seems to have doubled with the tweeter dialed in. Even in many studio recordings I now hear echoes of the artist’s voice where I never had previously. In pieces recorded in churches or large halls I can hear the influence of the hardness of the walls upon the recessed reverberations in the background.

The cables I am using to achieve this result, the TEO Audio Liquid series, are truly extreme. Other cables I have tried with the unobstructed tweeter have failed to produce a perfect result. Hard conductor speaker wires have been unable to reach the same degree of radical resolution of the TEO Liquid Standard MkII. I believe the performance of the TEO Liquid Cables is no small part of the ability to run the RAAL tweeter fully open. How alternative is this system build? One pair of the TEO speaker cables costs more than the Joule White 3! It is absurd from a cost-to-performance basis, but it is unquestionably efficacious from a technology-to-performance basis.

My three best audiophile friends choke in disbelief when hearing such disclosure, but to a man they all declared the Joule White 3, Exogal Comet DAC and Red Dragon S500 amps in mono mode to be clearly the best system I have ever built. Look at the list of speakers and components I have reviewed, and consider that comment from friends who have heard them, including the large Kingsound King III electrostatic speakers. Preternatural purity is a big reason why the Joule receives those accolades, as well as the vastness and completeness of the soundstage benefitted so much by the ribbon running unobstructed.

14 Responses to Vapor Audio Joule White 3 Speaker Review


  1. I feel compelled to add one additional piece of information pertinent to the review, which I inadvertently omitted. Vapor speakers are not high mark up, high discount speakers. Ryan shared that the margins are much lower than many premium speakers which are sold through dealerships. Thus, the audiophile is not to expect large discounts off the MSRP of the speakers. I received less than typical accommodation pricing on my pair of Joule White 3, as I understand the costs to the company involved in the labor, materials and specialized parts involved in the build. This also is a primary difference between a Vapor Audio speaker and one produced in higher volume by a high end speaker factory.

  2. Don Patterson says:

    As a Vapor Joule Black Version 2.0 owner I would comment on wait time. It took seven months for me to receive my speakers from the day I ordered them. I would have received them a month earlier but I agreed to let Ryan show them at RMAF 2014. I received them after the show in early November. For a custom build I didn’t think the wait was that long. Communication with Ryan at times was spotty but in the end everything was totally worth it. The custom veneer and high gloss finish along with cross over upgrades is stunning. Absolutely the best purchase I have evr made in this hobby.

  3. Tim says:

    By the time you add a few up grades to this speaker…I hardly call it a bargain.
    Your are knocking @ the door of those other speakers you mentioned…
    JMHO…

  4. Tim,
    God’s Peace to you,

    Well, let’s look at a few examples; Perhaps the Joule White sits somewhere between the Focal Utopia Scala at $34K and Utopia Maestro at $52K. The YG Acoustics Hailey is about $43K, and the Wilson Alexia is $50K+. Imo the Joule White 3 would be plenty comfortable competing with such speakers, and to me it’s price at about $21K is not quite knocking at the door of the others. Instead, I would suggest my conclusion that to attempt commensurate sound would cost tens of thousands more to be correct.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  5. Tim says:

    Douglas,
    You have a point but any component $20k or above isn’t chump change to me .
    I do realize some speakers can go way beyond that price,
    Hopefully Vapor can keep it at that price point for a while if one so desires .
    Regards, Tim

  6. Tim,
    God’s Joy to you,

    I concur; $20K is serious money and speaker manufacturers had better put some nice work together to deserve that kind of money. I didn’t expand upon the thought in the article, but I noted that Ryan and Pete intended to put more affordable Vapor speakers in dealers’ hands. I expect such to be of similar sound quality, but at a better price point. If anyone can make a more affordable speakers sound good, I have confidence that Ryan can. I do not know the price points of such speakers, but I believe they will be significantly less expensive. You may wish to communicate with Vapor about that development.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  7. John A. (Tony) Petrakis says:

    Doug, Read your review “Damning with faint Praise”Most of the article seemed to be poor little ol’ me and my”ugly” wait???? Ryan builds truly bespoke speakers like none I’ve ever heard or seen before, and I’ve been at this since 1971. He’s a one man show and what he manages to produce (under difficult situations) are some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard in 40+ years as an audiophile and being in the business. The key word here is bespoke. I’ve known Ryan for some 4 years now (have an order that I’m waiting on and the key word is PATIENCE) If you were trying to do him a favor by reviewing his speakers, it sure didn’t seem like it to me. Plain and simple he doesn’t charge enough!!! You omit the tremendous discount you got and just went on and on about your “ugly” wait. Try ordering a pair of Peale or Lobb bespke English shoes and see how long the wait is. His fit finish and sound quality are impeccable. I remember when I first Dave Wilson’s new speaker in 1981 in San Jose the WAMM’s (or as one audiophile wag put it Wasted all my Money!) 30K$ in 1981 and they stank. Now all the sycophant rags laud him with praise and he can charge 250K$ for them. Of course money talks and the nasty part about ALL of the big rags is they can be bribed!!! These are not off the shelf and you kept changing the specs for them. You almost cancelled 4 times (did anybody need to know that?) I don’t know you and maybe you are a sincere guy, but the damage has already been done! I had to get my two cents in on this one
    Tony Petrakis

    • John,

      I read your comment with interest. Your passion for Ryan’s Vapor Audio speakers is palpable. The fact that you are coming to his defense speaks volume of your admiration for his talents, despite the patience needed, and it affirms the value of Doug’s Review.

      Thank you for your readership.

      Sincerely,

      Constantine Soo

  8. Tony,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I will make two corrections and one observation regarding your message. As I have stated elsewhere, I spent right at 20% of the article’s words on the topic of the timeframe of the project. This is appropriate to a company which does business in such a radically different fashion in several respects than most of the industry. It seems that those who would detract from my review misjudge the actual amount of content of the article regarding the timing of the speaker build.

    In regards to your suggestion that I kept changing the specs and almost cancelled four times, those are inaccurate statements. Ryan Scott kept changing the design as it went along, presenting additional options, and I concurred with all the changes, which added zero frustration in regards to the time involved. What added frustration was solely inability of Vapor to meet its own deadlines, ones which were set by Ryan, then missed. THAT was the issue with the length of the build. THAT was why I state there is such incredible patience needed. I have also made clear that such frustration melts away rather rapidly when the speaker is delivered and enjoyed.

    Whether you were told by someone that I almost cancelled four times, or whether you misread the article, at NO time did I ever discuss canceling the project.I never spoke with Vapor about canceling the speakers. In fact, I have spent considerable time in the background encouraging one industry member and a customer to hang in there, as they both have seen longer than 1.5 year wait time for speakers. So, far from canceling, I have been supporting Vapor by encouraging people who have had long wait times. My rationale has been precisely as yours; the value and performance is nearly unbeatable.

    Finally, an observation. You state that Vapor has “impeccable” fit and finish, yet I don’t believe you have seen my speakers, except for pictures. Nor have you taken possession of yours. That does not put you in a position to speak definitively about the build of vapor speakers. On the other hand, I have owned two of them, and know the fit and finish blemishes on each.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  9. Greetings all,
    God’s Peace,

    I would like to continue to reinforce my pleasure at the outcome of the Vapor Joule White 3 project. As the weeks roll on I have opportunity to use the speaker with ever changing combinations of gear. The performance is exceptional, the quality first rate!

    I would like for the community to recognize the long term rewards involved in patiently procuring a Vapor speaker. I have heard a great many speakers with systems from $100K on up, and this speaker would be comfortable in nearly any of them (excepting, perhaps very low power setups demanding extremely high efficiency speakers). The configurability of the build is also difficult to overemphasize. Customizing the speaker leads to growing pleasure over time. I am delighted with the speaker in a way that does not typically occur with a stock speaker.

    I encourage audiophiles not to be put off by wait time, whatever the length. Resisting the temptation to immediate gratification will have large rewards. You will be seeing the Joule White 3 in many systems going forward because of its exceptional qualities.

    I would most definitely do it all over again, and that feeling grows as each change brings even better performance.

  10. As a discriminating audiophile for over 50 years, it amazes me how a high end speaker manufacturer that charges over $20,000.00 for a pair of stereo speaker would first and foremost want a great deal of data and intelligence on the room in which the speakers are going to permanently operate before the speakers are built.

    Colored photographs of distant shots of the floor, ceiling, all wall surfaces, door and window openings, furniture arrangement, wall decor, floor covering (wood, carpet, tile, etc.) fire place (if any) book shelves, location of audio components, the room’s size, in feet and inches (height, width, and depth, angle of ceiling), window opening sizes, open entry ways, description of the room’s wall, floor and ceiling construction and materials, draperies, type furnishings (wood, glass, etc.) and sofa and chair surface materials (leather, cloth, etc.), and other sound effecting data would be fed into a high end manufacturer’s computer program. With that data along with photos, etc. a computer program could recreate the audiophiles listening room and accurately configure that rooms sound characteristics, identify nulls, suck outs and general frequency response issues, reverberation, phasing issues and other distortions of sound generated in that room from 20Hz to 20kHz based on where the audiophile wants the speakers positioned and even where he/she will sit in the room to listen to the speakers.

    The speaker builder would then go about the business of selecting the right type of speaker configuration and build that speaker to perfeclty interface with the room’s computer model (the real room) to assure utmost accuracy in the reproduction of recorded sound by the speakers.

    Cross over net works should be digital, outboarded form the speakers and preset to work perfectly in the computer modeled room. Ditto for the speakers selected. In fact, the type of speaker selected would also be determined by the room’s specifications. It might be an open baffle or an enclosed air suspension unit or ported, perhaps an electrostatic design or a panel or line speaker array.

    The point is, when one shells out over $20,000.00 for a pair of stereo speakers, they must work well within the room they are to be installed and operate within. To prepare a room to work with the speakers charecteristics is far more difficult and expensive (plus it usually turns out to look like a padded recording studio rather than an attractive listening room). It is far easier to select the correct type of speaker that would sound best in the computer modeled room and model that speakers cross over network and internal equalization correction to produce a flat frequency response from 20Hz to 15kHz or 20kHz in the room. The computer program could even be structured to select the right type of driver(s) and its or their configuration, plus the enclosure or frame structure for the driver system or drivers selected.

    With this sort of purchase possible and within a reasonable lead time to produce such a pair of speakers after an order is placed and all the data provided by the customer to the manufacturer, I would be first in line to make that purchase. And, I think it would obsolete all high end speakers currently available. Why order a $100,000.00 pair of stereo speakers and put them in a room that makes them sound like a pair of speakers you would find in a big box discount store.

    Such a manufacturer that offers to build speakers custom designed to work perfectly in the audiophiles listening room (and becomes a permanent part of that home), no doubt would get a lot of business because the speakers delivered to the audiophile that are near perfect for the audiophiles personal listening room are going to sound like “real” music, like you re there at the “live” venue.

    The room represents 50% or more of the sound an audiophile hears. If the speakers work with the room to compensate for room issues that distort the sound in such a manner there so no distortion heard and the speakers are, otherwise, accurate music reproducing instruments, the end result is audio bliss. Think about this.

  11. Jonathan Goldberg says:

    Mr. Dean’s comment having opened the door, I’ll go through it and ask whether you considered using digital signal processing to deal with your tweeter response anomaly. This seems far preferable to buying a pair of cables at a cost comparable to the speakers themselves. It can be done with a variety of hardware or software products currently available.

  12. Jonathan,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I disagree with some observations/suggestions which my colleague, Robert, made above, and I have discussed them with him. As might be expected, there are quite different perspectives on how to do audio best, even among writing colleagues. I do not wish to engage in a lengthy discussion of that here. Suffice to say that I do not consider active systems to be absolutely superior to passive ones, as so much depends upon the implementation and attending components. Please see my review of the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW for a thorough treatment of this topic.

    Regarding the tweeter, I do not consider the unusual characteristics of the RAAL to be inherently an anomaly as in “problem” to be fixed. I merely find an additional benefit by using it in an alternative way. To slap a processor into the chain to attempt a fix imo would be adding more problems than solutions. The crossover of the Joule White 3 is truly extreme, and I would not dream of clogging it up with extraneous gear. In the long run I have not been impressed by add-on processors, correctors, music signal completion devices, etc. It’s relatively easy to achieve similar results with the right combination of gear and cables without the overburden of an added processor.

    Finally, simply because I used the TEO Liquid Cables, which are truly extreme, and yes, extremely expensive – at least the speaker cables, but the interconnects are a bargain! – this in no way means that inexpensive speaker cables could not confer pleasing adjustments to the treble. All things being equal, this being a superb passive design , if I were strapped for cash I would rather search the world over for economical cables offering the right balance for the treble than to insert a processor.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  13. Wes Pruett says:

    Uhh these speakers are now $33K and up. Wish I could have gotten onboard at $21K!

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