The scenario for this test should have been different. Some time ago I agreed with the company Harpia Acoustics the test of the Doberman speakers (their new version of the previous Doberman model, actually a completely different speaker) from a completely fresh line of speakers. Considerably large speakers, with a substantial price tag, should have reached me early enough, to have the test appear in the December issue. Even the December cover was prepared with this event in mind. But when it became apparent, that for half the price a model can be obtained, that resembles the Doberman in many aspects, and offering - at least according to the manufacturer - insignificantly lower quality of sound, I authorized the switch, without many afterthoughts. Finally Harpia and I, we both live in the same city (Krakow), so it was not difficult. Maybe it was only effortless for me (for the time being, but about this in a moment), because the Marcus, although smaller than the Doberman, are hellishly heavy, and two people had to make quite an effort to bring them safely to their destination. Fortunately I counted myself out of this task, so I had it easy here. My struggle started, when I was looking for the optimal positioning of the speakers, and I started to shove them around. Fortunately, they were quite tolerant with regard to the listening room,, and finally they landed in the same spot as the recently tested tube speakers Picco Avantgarde Acoustic (test HERE), meaning 100cm from the back wall to the front of the tweeter. As it became apparent later, a slight correction of the position, 10cm to the front, anchored the speakers in "their" final place.
This is not my first contact with speakers from this Krakow manufacture. The tested models Diana (test HERE) or Nicolo (test HERE) presented a very good, high level. In addition, during my everyday work I used the prototype HA monitors, for quite some time. Every time I received a new model, progress was clearly visible (audible), and one could expect, that sooner or later something like the Marcus will appear. And maybe just the opposite, we could not reckon on such a quick and unambiguous progress? Finally the first speakers from Harpia I listened to - and it was about two years ago - were a very expensive model (I can't remember the name anymore), which shape were inherited by the line Marcus is a part of, and I am convinced that, however two years is too much time to swear, but I am for 90% sure, the Marcus sounds better. Being a few times cheaper than the mastodons I listened to, it is better. And I was impressed by the abilities of those mentioned speakers - there was bass, and treble, and enormous space, although the listening was in a room completely not adapted to that purpose. So there is progress, and a very fast one. One might think, let us wait some time, and probably there will be something better... You can always wait, but I don't know if it is worth it. Probably new models will appear in some time, but the existing line is so good, so well done, and most of all, it has the prices calculated so low, that in the future, you will have to pay much more to jump higher. Oh well, with this line you can leave everything as is for a few years, and the sound will still be outstanding.
I have written out a bit on the extra musical issues, but with products like this, products that appear from time to time and changing the perception of a price segment, and even the understanding of sound, it is not enough to write, that they have MDF enclosure and sound nice. Starting with the shape of the Marcus (as well as the remaining models of the line) a discussion is provoked, and the listeners are polarized (or better said watchers, because those are two different things). The sloped part of the front baffle isn't maybe that strange, as it is applied, in many variants, by companies like Wilson Audio, Aerial Acoustics, Joseph Audio, and from domestic companies for example ESA, but the way it is done by the Harpia it appears most peculiar and uncompromising. What is this sloping of the front baffle all about? In general, it is about phase alignment of the tweeter and midrange speaker (sometimes also the woofer). We lean over the baffle, attach a first order cross-over (that do not require phase compensation) and we have a speaker ready. This is not fully true. I always wondered, why the companies don't care much about the fact, that the tweeter dome is radiating quite directional, and faced upward, it will send the highest frequencies up there, to the ceiling. Even more, we generate lots of reflections that way. As experience of the mentioned companies shows, Wilson and Joseph first of all, it can be handled quite well. But the Harpia show, that you don't have to make compromises. It will cost more to achieve, but - probably - it will be better.
In any case - I don't pose to be an oracle in the field of the construction of loudspeakers, because I am not. My knowledge and intuition are based on examining and screwing apart hundreds of speakers, and mostly on listening to a significantly greater amount of them. One could say I am an organoleptic (as opposed to the theoretician, who defines the theoretical background and the practitioner, that applies those theories in real applications; the organoleptic would use and test those applications - speakers) and only an amateur theoretician. And for the organoleptic contact, the concept behind the Marcus spoke to me immediately, with a strong voice. The speakers have, besides the untypical driver arrangement, also other features, like a large metal plate in the back panel, that serves a mounting foundation for the double wire terminals, and is also an efficient heat sink for the resistor - an element that is mostly omitted (a similar solution is used by Dynaudio in their phenomenal stand mount speakers Special Twenty-Five; test HERE), even in very expensive products. And the resistors in the tweeter circuit (and not only those) get really hot, and with the temperature the resistance changes drastically (the resistance lowers with the temperature raise) and in consequence the parameters of the cross-over change. It would seem, that it does not affect the sound in a noticeable way, but it is just opposite, and such care of the details gives superb effects.
In the first day the Markus stood guard to my equipment, one of my friends visited me. When he saw them, immediately, being curious, he asked to play him something. While I haven't listen to the speakers yet, I even didn't position them right, I couldn't refuse a friend. There is something, that I have the urge, to defend the tested devices against my visitors, show their strengths, in case needed. This, not always realized by me attitude, comes probably from the sympathy I feel for people, that created something interesting enough for me to test it. I try not to express it verbally, but if somebody "tells" something against the, tested at the given time, equipment, internal protest rises in me. Not this time. On the request "play something, anything" I put in the player the recording I had close to my hand, namely the Cassandra Wilson disc Thunderbird (Blue Note/EMI 58 762, Copy Controlled Disc; review HERE). Even standing to the side of the speakers I heard that something is wrong. My guest noticed, that I have probably not positioned the speakers yet, because they "are immensely bashing". Indeed, the Cassandra's disc sounded awful, with a "pestle" bass and a fuzzy, and yet unpleasant and penetrating treble. I got scared - I listened to them shortly and did not notice anything like that. Maybe something got broken? Pulled out from good mood, I ran to get another disc. Something better? I took Novika and her Tricks of Life (Kayax Production/EMI Kayax 013/3792772, CD; review HERE). What a relief...
Because the Marcus are speakers, playing hellishly uncolored (I know, this combination sounds strange, but it describes best what is happening in the sound), absolutely "free" sound. Compared to them, most other, even costly constructions, sound in a compressed way, adding its own character to the emission. The Harpia speakers playing Cassandra's disk showed how horrible the disc is recorded. I knew this earlier, but probably guided by the sympathy to the music, I overrated it. If I would review it now, I would subtract at least one point from the sound grade. The music is still much OK, but the sound is unacceptable. And this is the main advantage and the main disadvantage of the Marcus. Wait, I read this somewhere before... Of course, everything in the world connects somehow: I just finished to read a test in my favorite magazine, the British Hi-Fi +, of the speakers Avalon Isis. I am far from saying that the Marcus sound like the Isis (that cost 59 000L), but the idea is similar. And in the case of the Polish speakers the problem gets even worse, because showing that much, costing exactly what they cost, they will cooperate with so little high level devices. In any case, for long time, the speakers seemed not to have their own character. This is not all. Many speakers, that have no character of their own, sound at least indeterminate. I don't know the reason for this, probably it is caused by filtering out some harmonics, that not existing in nature, not coloring the sound make it feel like a facsimile, a 3D sound (it is not about the sound scene, but about the depth of the separate sounds). The Harpia not only sound very truthful, but also carry the required amount of emotion.
I mentioned Novika - in Polish music there is an unexpected large amount of recordings, that share a high artistic value with a very good realization. The Marcus (similar to the Avantgarde, but about that later) verify even the best recordings, but by a high quality realization it is not a zero-one process, but a show of halftones. That was the case with my favorite Polish rock disk of the group Coma, the Zaprzepaszczone Siły Wielkiej Armii Świętych Znaków (Sony&BMG 52 982, CCD?). The differences in dynamics in the beginning and later in the fifth track were huge, much larger, than the experience with other speakers would show. Evenly unconstrained were the transitions between the different frequency bands, without smearing and homogenization - when the guitar opening number 7 plays a kind of pizzicato, meaning quite high and pointy, it is complemented in a moment by a fading in, warm, quite low tuned voice, the difference in timbre, character, is simply striking. Both events exist on the same stage, are connected with the same (created) acoustic, but there is no effect of averaging their timbres. It is interesting, but only with such "revelation" or revealing speakers (in a similar fashion react also the Reference 203 i 205 from KEF-a) it can be heard, how other constructions converge tonally distant heights, different timbres. Here, on one side the guitar plays high, and suddenly, without any warning, a voice sounds in the middle. It cannot be explained by other means than the lack of compression and precision. And it is not about the so called "clinical precision", whit would seem to be a positive description, as the speakers need to be precise, and clinical should mean highest class precision. In this case "clinical" is a pejorative description, suggesting cold sound, meaning the lack of some harmonic components, that cover the skeleton of the sound, the structure (attack of the sound) with the body (reverb and decay). Anyway, the Marcus are not "clinical", but are hellishly precise - I hope that the difference is clear. Precision appears here in its original meaning, and has nothing to do with clarity. Precise means here "ideally reproducing" the attack and other elements of the sound, differentiating timbres, both in the space (as were talking about it before) and in the spot (instrument). This gives unexpected effects - the sound is rich in detail and also in the body, to what the details function as a finish. The sound is both precise and warm and big. The last characteristic is named so, because I cannot find a word that describes it better, at least at the moment. And it is not about coloration, like in some tube amplifiers, where the lack of upper treble is being perceived as subjective warming, but more about eliminating the "splinters", unpleasant roughness, some kind of "nervousness", that is often regarded as brightening. Here is nothing like that.
It was similar with another heavy disc 10.000 Days of the group Tool (Sony&BMG 19 912, CCD?), where this convergence and internal coherence were led a step further. On both discs you could feel the power and the bass - in the end this is a piece of heavy, hardcore music, with a guitar clatter and bass strikes. The Marcus kept this under control, watching out for the scale to remain big. This comes also handy with recordings that require internal concentration, atmosphere and spatial breadth. And so, I Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd (EMI 290 712, CD; the mini-LP edition, to which a question is related I have no answer for: the disc was pressed in Uden, Europe, what is indicated by "Made in EU" label and the fact that this is an EMI disc, but the disc also bears the Jasrac markings - a Japanese association that controls the issuing of discs in the Land of the Blossoming Cherry, and put on disc pressed only there. So I don't know if this CD is a "Japanese" or a standard European mastering...) sounded wonderful, in an internally concentrated, assorted way. I think, that this is due to the tonal balance and lack of coloration and compression. Especially the last element makes other speakers sound less expressive, more muffled (not in the sense of the frequency range), compared with the Marcus. Incredibly clearly shown was the difference in quality (it is not only about music, but this aspect connected with the sound quality gains twice in meaning) between the I Wish ... disc - and the supposedly better mastered, because surely by the Japanese - the disc A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Sony Music Direct (Japan) Inc., MHCP 685, CD). The recordings without Waters sounded in a quite flat, and in places clattered way. I know, that the recordings on this disc have a tendency of being brightened, as I remember the A Momentary ... from listening sessions with the STAX Omega II (test HERE), but I neglected that a bit, because this is one of my favorite Pink Floyd discs (ah, I don't care - let the followers of Waters call me a heretic). The Marcus showed the same as the STAX, the sound was also of high quality, but in the newer recordings the atmosphere, depth and density momentarily disappeared.
And this way we come back to what I stated in the beginning: the biggest advantage and at the same time disadvantage of the Marcus is their high quality and lack of compromise (I am repeating again after Hi-Fi +, but the source I am quoting is reliable...). The problems start when we try to find an "enclosure" for them, the cooperating equipment, accessories, and similar. It is no secret, that the people responsible for the sound of the Harpia do not like tubes and are devoted supporters of the transistor. Playing with those speakers it is easier to understand why: most tube amplifiers is drastically colored. In most speakers this is translated to a nicer, subjectively better sound. This is a result of the speakers' weaknesses, and not of the tubes advantages. There are constructions of that kind, that will sound phenomenally with the Marcus, but every one will have to sacrifice something, if we want to stay on the given price level. The speakers sounded incredibly with for example the Leben CS-300 (test HERE) - the speed, clarity and expression, elements , that constitute this Japanese device, teamed up perfectly with the Harpia principles. And this is the direction to search for. The speakers will help in those searches with the high efficacy, and though the impedance is nominally 4Ohm, it is very stable, and poses no problem for the amplifiers, even the weakest. But more space for choice will be among the transistors. More and more devices appear lately, that sound just wonderful. The ideal shot, from which I probably should have started the list, will be the M3 amplifier from NAD-a from the Master series, together with the SACD player M5 from the same series. What a combination! Fast, warm and detailed. NAD Master series seems to be the Harpia counterpart among the electronics - it sounds much better than the price suggests. Beautiful, with slightly worse bass control, but cleaner in the midrange and treble sounded the Model 5 Avantgarde Acoustics with the E-Sound CD-E5 player in the new version (test in January; test of the SE version HERE) - this is the cheapest, but brilliant combination. Besides these systems, to get the best out of the Marcus, you will have to climb up the price range, steeply. But it is worth it.
As I have written in the justification for the Award of the Year (Awards of the Year 2006 here), Wilson would ask at least 50-60 000zł for the Marcus. But with a few reservations, which are also my critical remarks. Those remarks are mainly regarding the finish, regarding the price of those speakers. First of all the "feet" - in the cheaper models they maybe look alright, but the appearance of those speakers and the class of the sound make me expect something better finished, just plain good-looking. Maybe, for additional money, a "kit" could be created, with high class plats (the Polish VAP is able to do something like that), with some terrific spikes (Wilson Audio in the Watt/Puppy 8 has some of the best and nicest I have ever seen). It would have to be a kit, because Harpia prices are calculated so low, that I suspect the additional cost would not fit in that. Also the back plate, the heat sink, could have been made even height with the back of the cabinet, and the screws with flat heads even height with the plate. I do not have any remarks about the sound. For that kind of money I cannot find anything wrong with the sound. There are much more costly speakers in the series, I will try to test them (if somebody brings them to my home...), so there is probably a progress. So I will not ask what can I criticize, but what kind of "bettering" I expect in the more costly speakers? I think, that slightly better discipline of the higher bass range could be required, as it sometimes sounds with desinvolture, and only expensive electronics can compensate for that. Maybe I would also like the bass to go down lower. It is perfect now, and I don't have any complaints, but it can be heard, that with such potential it can be even better. This just for the equilibrium. To not to emerge as a scribbler, that picks on the speakers. And one has to take care of his reputation, doesn't he?
Here ended the original review. However, when I reread it, it became apparent, that I did not put enough emphasis on the quality of the treble. Yet, the mounted in a distinctive, metal element, the SEAS dome, is one of the best tweeters I know. It is incredible, how this, inexpensive tweeter, can sound. I got somewhat acquainted with its class, because - as I mentioned before - I play on the prototypes of Harpia stand mount speakers with the same kind of tweeter, for some time, but in the Marcus it sounds significantly better. I don't know for 100% sure why it does: the components are the same, the tweeter is the same, and the stand mount speaker with smaller enclosure and smaller mid-woofer that "activates" it should pay a bonus for the tweeter. And here such a surprise... But this is a well known phenomenon: the bettering of the way the low frequencies are processed influences directly the treble. And here it is most probably the same. The bass is not on the level of the Picco, but is a class of it's own. If the bass from the Marcus would have been looked at in standard context, we would have to say that it is equally resolving and precise as the treble. And with that both the speakers don't sound cold or clinical! One of the distributors, who just brought a gramophone for testing asked, if there is not too much metal in the speakers. He was probably thinking metal=cold. Maybe it was like that some time ago, but now, in good speakers, this is history. "Ringing" of metal speakers two-three years ago, sometimes converted to unpleasant brightened sound, was caused on one hand by a not fully worked out technology, and on the other sub-par applications of it - the designers could not cope well with those speakers (their sharp resonance just outside the working frequency range). In the Marcus metal sounds just like purebred paper, only better... The brass is equally precise and beefy, resonant, and has it's weight. Everything depends on the recording and the sound line before the speakers. Best illusion of the acoustics of another room I found in the phenomenal, breathtaking in that aspect (but not only that aspect) disc Waltz for Debby of Bill Evans Trio (Riverside/Analogue Productions, AJAZ 9399, 45 RPM, 180 g LP, # 0773). The Harpia speakers really projected another world in their window (the constructions do not push the sound to the front, rather show it in a window between them). With a phenomenal presence of people in the pub the recording was made. And when the beautiful, warmly recorded disc Nat "King" Cole - Just One Of Those Things (Capitol /S&P Records, 180 g LP, # 0886) was put on the turntable, the warm timbre of the voice, and golden brass, made me jealous that I can not sing, because if I would murmur like that, no woman could ever resist me... And so I have only the standard tricks up my sleeves. And this resolution... When I changed the gramophone Oracle Delphy MkV to another turntable, the change of character from ultra-precise and absolutely not colored to ultra-neutral and devoted from any mechanization (without the "hi-fi" in the sound), was clearly visible. And with that both presentations offered beautiful music and aesthetic experience of absolutely outstanding hi-end...
Model Marcus of the company Harpia Acoustics is a quite large, floor standing construction, of a rather, or even quite, untypical build. Though having three speakers, including two mid-woofers of different diameter, this is a 2.5 way loudspeaker. Almost always, while trying to make a 2.5 way speaker, two identical drivers are being used for the bass section. We have two here, but with a different diameter. In addition the mounted in the middle SEAS L18RNX/P with a metal cone, has its own separated chamber, ventilated with a bass-reflex in the back plate, and the larger SEAS L22RNX/P, also with a metal cone, has two bass-reflex outlets: one in the back, similar to the middle SEAS, and one in the front, a smaller one. The configuration is completed with a metal dome - of course - SEAS 27TBC/G, placed at an offset, closer to one of the sides (the listening was done with the tweeters more to the center). Completely untypical is the placement of all the speakers. The tweeter dome, although the front baffle is sloped, is mounted vertically in an aluminum cast, which closes its own small chamber from the top, and equalizes the lower part with the front baffle. The whole looks unexpectedly well. The 17cm SEAS is leaning, and the 22cm is screwed in the vertical position. In a different way than usual, the middle speaker is not on a vertical axis with the tweeter, but is shifted to the middle of the box. The cross-over is mounted on a printed circuit board - we have lots of elements, with air coils, Jensen polypropylenes, and in the high frequency section Hovland. Wire terminals, doubled, gold plated, are mounted on a large metal plate, that makes a stiff mount surface for them, as well as serves as a heat sink for the resistor. The high frequency section is wired with an unbraided Kimber 8TC, and the other speakers with the Belden - the same cable was used to make the cramps. Belden is a nice cable, but it is best to attach your speaker cables to the upper terminals (unless you use bi-wiring), connected to the tweeter. The sound cleans itself, and the localization on the scene becomes better. As it is stipulated in the company materials, the speaker is Time Coherent. This is the main assumption of the line of speakers Marcus represents. The finish of the enclosure in the tested exemplar, was not one of its strengths. I know, that this speaker reached me after some presentations, but even then the varnish should have been laid better (the manufacturer announced, that all production speakers will have improved varnish). The veneer is natural and laid very well. The whole stands on two varnished black plats with chrome plated spikes. It does not look bad, but I think, that such fantastic speakers deserve something better.
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