This review first appeared in Audio Esoterica magazine. The full text is below, but the PDF version looks far prettier, and includes a significant interview with the B1 Decade’s designer Laurence Dickie. We encourage you to press the button on the right and enjoy the full style of this publication. To buy complete digital editions of Audio Esoterica, click here.
Vivid Audio B1 Decade
Some say that the finest artistic creations, the purest objets d’ art, are those that reflect nature’s paradox of chaos and order in combination. Vivid Audio’s Laurence Dickie might concur – he has expressed aspects of this philosophy in his speaker designs for Vivid Audio which aim to harness organic form to serve sonic function. In part inspired byDickie’s own iconic ‘snail’ Nautilus loudspeaker from his days at Bowers & Wilkins, Vivid’s GIYA speakers seem almost alive, organism-like in form, while the smaller OVAL series speakers retain the curves, the inspiration from nature, but in somewhat more conventional form.
Some years back this writer was impressed by the original OVAL B1, and the team on our sister publication Sound+Image bestowed upon it a Highly Commended award in a field hot with outstanding designs. Since then I have also spent enjoyable time in the process of formally reviewing the GIYA G3 (Judge’s Choice Sound+Image Award in 2014) and more recently the G4. Now, ten years on since the original B1
design, Vivid Audio has released a ‘Limited Edition’ B1 featuring the ‘Decade’ designation, in a genuinely limited production run of just 200 units globally, four of which will be available here in Australia, two each in gloss red and black.
The B1 and the Decade (B1D) version look very similar. Place them side-by-side and the differences are subtle — tweeter and midrange driver protective mesh grilles replaces the B1’s cross bars, while the redesigned front baffle is now in a shallow recess aimed, presumably, at improving dispersion characteristics. Under the surface, however, there are improvements in the driver magnet systems, and refinements in the crossover implementation, as Laurence Dickie explains in our interview (see the PDF version of this article).
The 3.5-way B1D is quoted as having a frequency range spanning from 34Hz to 36kHz at -6dB points, which seems more than respectable for what is effectively a medium sized standmount speaker (even if its stand is inseparable as part of the structure). The impedance specification reads a nominal 4 ohms while 89dB offers good efficiency.
The driver configuration is a standard TMW with the company’s own D26 26mm aluminium-dome tweeter and D50 50mm aluminium-dome midrange, both loaded by Dickie’s signature tapered tube strategy. The new C125 driver with its massive reengineered motor system sits below. But the B1D is tricked out; it features an added 125mm aluminium cone placed on the rear baffle which should provide further bass heft while retaining the mid-sized form factor. This is not a new idea – we have fond memories of hearing Sonus faber’s Extrema with its somewhat similar arrangement – but it’s not used as much as it might be… perhaps due to the added crossover and cabinet construction complexity, all adding costs for something which is visually hidden.
Vivid Audio goes to great length to construct non-resonant high strength cabinets, and the company has been using a vacuum-induced ‘Balsa-cored quadraxial glass composite sandwich’ and other composite formula enclosures in all its designs. Here in the B1D, we have a new enclosure derived from the flagship GIYA series, while the integral stand consists of a ‘fibre-loaded polymer complex’ composite. The cabinet is finished in a high-quality gloss automotive paint (available in the aforementioned red and black) with our resplendent gloss red review sample looking splendiferous. Vivid persists with an inconvenient binding post location, within a bottom indent in the pedestal’s base which makes it very difficult to use spade connectors even at the spikes’ highest settings. If you’d like to keep a full head of hair – should you have one to start with – use banana connectors at the speaker end of your cables.
The B1Ds are delivered in large timber crates (one per speaker) which provide excellent protection against the clumsiest of couriers. Even the accessories box is timber; this contains the high-quality spiking system and the short bi-wiring connector jumpers. Setting up the B1D is a breeze, so after having placed them just over two metres apart and in a proven position away from the front wall, I was ready to audition. By the way, experimenting with positioning reaped some gains, to a point, but overall this is a non-fussy, very easy to place speaker (at least it was so in my room).
Now in my fourth Vivid Audio speaker review, traits that I have found to be shared within the family are reinforced here but with added gusto.
The consistent diaphragm material common across the entire driver configuration brings an astounding timbral evenness, a tonal coherence, throughout the bandwidth. It’s a thoroughly seamless driver-to-driver transition which not only allows consistent tonal qualities but, in the case of the B1D, enhanced detailing with gains in musicality and smoothness across its entire frequency envelope. Micro-dynamic cues were effortlessly apparent via the B1D – it’s the finger-on-steel-string or rosin-on-bow kind of thing. It’s a balanced and refined sound that does not blunt transient attack in the slightest. In fact, the speed of attack is a strength of the B1D, surpassing its already highly competent B1 stablemate.
The baffle redesign has also brought further gains in terms of imaging and soundstaging. The Vivid Audio trademark disappearing act is taken to a point where instrument placement is extremely focused even when totally outside the speakers’ positions within a large and deep stage. This last, the soundstage scale, is akin to the capabilities of larger speaker systems.
Of course, one of the concerns with speakers that aren’t floorstanding is the limitation in the bass department commanded by the undisputable laws of physics. While there’s no law breaking here, the B1D nevertheless packs a satisfying punch in the bass above the last octave.
And what it lacks in terms of ultimate depth and dynamic expression in comparison to larger designs, it makes up for in stunning detail, tonal correctness and tightness.
Talking overall dynamic contrast capabilities, torture tests such as Joe Morello’s “Take Five” from Morello Standard Time and Nils Lofgren Band’s “Bass & Drum Intro” from 2003’s live album did not phase the B1D, with the speaker communicating a large slice of the devastating power of these superb recordings. And productions of that nature served to confirm the fact that not only can the speakers happily accommodate demanding material but they also like to be played loud.
Another appealing aspect is the B1D’s handling of the lower midrange response. The speaker communicates a sense of heft that endows instruments with corporeal presence. There’s weight and gravitas to certain instruments – especially the acoustic guitar – and to male vocals. Team the B1D with a good solid state amplifier with high current capabilities – or a powerful push-pull valve one – and you have a superb music playing system. Should you want the lowest octaves, introduce a suitable subwoofer – though it would need to be a damned fine one to match the speed and transparency of the B1D. Such a combo would challenge many an upper echelon design in terms of performance.
The B1 Decade speaker forms a pivotal point in Vivid Audio’s speaker stable. It marks both important chronological and engineering milestones for the company, placing it in a position where a consumer’s substantial product investment now also comes with the safety of corporate security.
What’s more, the considerable speaker-designing skills of Laurence Dickie assures extensive engineering aptitude in addition to the promise of outstanding performance.
Of course at $32,000 crisp ones, the B1D swings towards the top rung of the standmount ladder. Fortuitously, when it comes to its superb sound quality, it rises to just such an auspicious elevation.