The Interlude by Osborn, $2,700.
Osborn North America,
1001 Greenbay Rd. Ste 183, Winnetka IL60093;
I don't do this often, but the beauty of the hardwood finish on the Interlude compelled me to get out the furniture polish and put a little gloss down on them, I also had to go back to the manufacturer's web site and check out the USA retail price once again, I honestly thought that the price conveyed to me might be wrong. I've seen many speakers in my day, and everything that I could see out of the box convinced me that these speakers should cost more than they did. I'm glad that they don't.
The speaker is only 34" tall (on spikes), but it is the closest thing to a high-end brick-bat I've seen since the introduction of the Audio Concepts Sapphire 11 some years back. Whereas most of the industry is content to use cabinet walls of 3/4" MDF, the Interlude is 1 ½" thick along all sides. A rap of the knuckles along the top or sides will confirm this; a clean, clear, clack basically defines the resonant qualities of this box. This is one of the better built boxes in the industry, and as I said above, the finish is a sight for the eyes, And the finish is on all visible sides of the box. That way, When you take the grill cloth off the beautiful Bubinga finish is even more alluring as it wraps around the Focal drivers,
I don't like speaker grill cloths. A grill cloth makes a measurable and audible difference in the way a speaker sounds, They depress natural high-frequency response, and imaging goes away with the cloth on. This speaker is a first as far as I know in the grill cloth department. Osborn uses an ultra sheer material from which to make his screens; you can see right through it with only some shadowing to the drivers behind it. It works. Sonicaly, I couldn't detect any attenuation to the highs, and for the most part, the stage remained intact though some minor blurring did result.
The Interludeis a 2-way design employing Focal tweeter and woofer, The tweeter is the famous, but finicky, 1" inverted Kevlar dome. This tweeter can be easily identified by its brilliant yellow colour, and odd inverted shape. More than one designer has complained to me that this tweeter is impossible to tame, and not suitable for high-end designs. Baloney! The Focal tweeter is high-energy and very unforgiving of the sloppy designer, or the designer who simply doesn't know what he is doing. But, in the hands of the artist/scientist, this Kevlar tweeter brings more moxie, verve and excitement to the table than a bucketful of metal domes and exotic soft domes. But you have to know how to use it.
The woofer is what I believe Focal refers to as a fibreglass compound, or something like that. It's 7 1/2 in diameter, and has a grey exterior. A responsive driver of medium efficiency, its strength lies in it's rendition of the midrange rather than the bass. The bass ain't bad, but the beauty is in the mids.
Degree of Absolute Transparency.
Two superb drivers in a super strong cabinet with first order crossovers, an excellent recipe for a simple but extremely competent loudspeaker.
A first order crossover with its gentle roll off rates does less to contaminate an audio signal than any other. In the Floorstander, things couldn't get much simpler. I didn't open up the cabinet because I didn't want to breach the seal on one of the drivers. But I think this is what I heard. The tweeter sounds like it has a capacitor on it, and that's it. My suspicion is that Osborn has left the efficiency on the tweeter up by not throwing a resistor on it, and if he did throw a resistor in the tweeter circuit, it's a baby one. By doing so, he's left the purity in. The inductor on the woofer-midrange driver is hand wound and matched precisely to the needs of the driver, the box and the circuit. By winding his own inductors Osborn has the ability to dial in the crossover to the exact point where he wants it - no compromises by using off the shelf inductors with plus or minus specifications.
Listening to this speaker is a visual experience. The beauty of the super minimalist design is in the unsullied way the music comes to the listener. A couple of crossover parts, and a couple of drivers just don't have the opportunity to screw things up - it's the closest thing to a phase coherent listening event that the industry has to offer. Drawbacks are there to be sure, and they include a cap on loudness levels. Slow roll off rates mean blown drivers, or so I've always been told. Never having had a tweeter blow in a speaker with a first order crossover, I can't personally say, but physics tell me it's true. What I generally hear in a speaker with a crossover such as this is a definite and recognizable harshness that sets in long before the tweeter sets sail for fried voice coil land. But I have found, that due to the additional clarity and power of persuasion that speakers with low order crossovers have, I tend not to turn them up so high. In other words, you can hear everything at lower levels.
Okay, out into the room where the incredible imaging characteristics of this speaker can be heard best and be most appreciated, the bass does a swan dive into oblivion - but it's supposed to. The speaker is designed to be placed next to near field boundaries for the purpose of bass augmentation. If you read last month's review of the GR Research loudspeaker you'll know why there are serious drawbacks to using await to help in the bass. But there's a need for a speaker that can be placed near walls. Many listeners simply do not have the luxury of placing speakers six feet from a back wall. Many living spaces won't accommodate the chaos, nor will many spouses. So, there's a place in the world for the Interlude. But it seems a pity. For you see, placing a speaker in a corner, or next to a back wall will ruin its ability to throw an image. Now my friends, If this speaker does anything at all, anything at all, it's make your ears see pictures. Not huge pictures mind you, not enough drivers for that, but moving visages playing instruments and singing songs. The focus that this speaker brings to a system allows one to hear relationships, and around images in ways you didn't know a microphone could catch. To a certain extent the GR in the last issue did the same, but there is an aspect of life presented here that the GR, another first order design, barely missed. Quite frankly, this picturesque portrayal of a musical event has been missing from the Big Rig ever since I sold the Amrita Jovian Pillars to one lucky judge in northern Illinois. But imaging bliss only happens in its total majesty when the speakers are away from the rear wall - what's a poor boy to do?
First of all, the speaker isn't as bad in the bass as I may have made it sound. I was able to audition it out in the room for weeks so breathtaking is the way this little speaker projects, and protects phase relationships between various sounds. It's a closer look at what was intended by the recording engineer.* Even better is coupling this speaker with a decent subwoofer, or extended range woofer. I didn't do a whole lot in this regard, though I can tell you that an afternoon with an M&K sub convinced me that a little imagination can make for great things,
I don't want to get gooey all over this speaker when we've got some excellent units yet to come. But I'll tell you this, there were a few moments when I thought about buying these speakers so seductive were its abilities to make one believe, if only on a limited scale. Its clean window on events is confined in some notable ways, ways that we've already talked about, but where this speaker opens up the window the picture is clean, crisp and convincing to the ear and eye.
*Some reviewers, and notable they are, believe that the "laser-like" imaging capabilities of some speakers are akin to a distortion, and indeed they would be correct if recordings weren't made that way. By that I mean, many recordings are made in such a way as to have "laser-like" imaging qualities embedded in their pits and grooves. In other words, many(most) recordings are made to sound like they have that type of imaging. Since that is the case, shouldn't one hear that type of image placement through the speaker when it's there? Of course they should. It has been my experience, that when one listens to a "laser-like" speaker even diffuse recordings sound better. There's a logic to that statement that some may miss, but it's there and it's true. And this has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with di-poles, bi-poles, direct radiators or may-poles. They too can get it right
Bound for Sound