With so many desktop speakers on the market, consumers have ample combinations of sonic performances, visual designs, and price points, to choose from. Usually there are trade offs. Sonic performance normally takes the biggest hit. Rarely does a small desktop speaker capture the trifecta of great looks, reasonable price, and great sonic performance. But the Serene Audio’s Talisman desktop speakers do.
Hand built in Canada, the speakers are the brain child of tinkerer and engineer Siavash Rezaei. Who, after buying, auditioning, testing, so on and so forth, speakers for his home recording studio, couldn’t find any that met his needs of tonal balance, dynamics, and hours of non fatiguing listening. Siavash decided that low non-linear distortion in speakers was the key to hours of listening. Not being able to find this in the speakers he bought and tested, he set out to build his own.
Serene Audio uses none toxic and environmentally friendly materials, when possible, to construct both powered and passive desktop speakers. The focus, or “mission”, of Serene Audio is to create speakers that are tonally balanced (no frequencies outliers), create a wide sonic dispersion (a big sweet spot), low non-linear distortion (clear sound), with the added bonus of aesthetically creative and pleasing looks. We here at AudioReview believe the Serene Audio Talisman live up to these standards.
The Talisman speakers arrived in a well-packed, none descript cardboard box. Taking them out of the box we were surprised by how good they looked. Even though they looked great in the online photos, they are even more stunning in person. Over the review period the Talisman speakers were driven by; the Glow One 5W EL84 tube amplifier, the Mystere ia11 35W EL34 tube amplifier, and the Peachtree Nova 80W hybrid tube amplifier. Each time we used WyWires speaker cables. Sources ranged from an iPhone to an Audio Note DAC One Sig with WyWires digital cable and Hagman USB/S/PDIF converter with a PC or Mac laptop playing everything from streaming Pandora to 24-bit 192Khz audio files.
The Talisman speakers have bamboo fronts and rear panels with MDF side panels that are wrapped in cow leather. This creates a very unique and good-looking speaker. The leather can be ordered in white or black while the bamboo comes in caramel or natural colors. Keeping in line with Serene Audio’s environmental conscience mind set, the leather also complies with new (and I’m assuming Canadian) standards for leather processing and the leather is not from cows raised in the Amazon rainforest. The unique and creative designs of the speakers are not just for visual effects. The asymmetrical and ‘none-square’ shape reduces the effects of standing waves and minimizes the effects of diffraction from the front panel. The 3-inch, long throw, full range driver offers 70 Hz – 20 kHz ±3 dB and harmonic distortion at 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th order (200Hz – 20kHz) < 0.5% and (100Hz – 20kHz) < 1%. The driver itself is a high quality off the shelf driver that is modified by Serene Audio to fit particular sonic needs. The driver uses and under-hung motor structure, which reduces the weight of the driver allowing the speaker to have a very fast transient response. The magnet used in this design has to be very strong to cover the longer magnetic gap. The driver uses a rare, and expensive, earth magnet to achieve this.
Our obvious fear, or assumption, was that the Talisman speakers would be great looking but sound under whelming. Thankfully we were totally wrong. In fact, we were flat out dumb founded by how good these little speakers sounded. The Talisman were beyond many of the other leading desktop speakers in terms of tonal balance, articulation, sound stage size, mid-range openness, over all sonic clarity, and offered hour after hour of none fatiguing listening.
Dick Hyman, Gershwin, classical piano sounded full bodied, detailed, and captivating. Notes were articulated well and held what sounded like a natural sustain and didn’t smear. On the initial rush to hear these beauties the Talisman speakers were not even carefully positioned, but it was impossible to not be in the sweet spot. The wide distribution of the driver is without question. Everyone in the office popped over and asked us to turn them up. Next we moved on to some BB King and Tom Waits. Without fail the Talisman presented clear, but not crystal edged clean distinction, between instruments and singer. Older Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf recordings stayed turn to their recorded sound. The typically slight tin, the lack of umph in the mid-range, and almost no bass, was an obvious sign that the Talisman weren’t imposing very much of their own interpretation on how the music should sound.
After this initial acoustic break-in we moved on to harder rock; Slayer, Metallica Tool, and electronica music from Aphex Twin and Autechre, with a splash of hip hop from The Coup. Here the Talisman continued to sound good, but they did seem a bit out of their comfort zone. Their smaller stature naturally limits their low-end performance, and since Serene Audio chooses not to fake the bass, these styles of music can end up lacking the oomph this music demands.
We hooked the Talisman speakers up to the Peachtree Nova to test out its chops in the A/V department. When streaming Netflix over a Mac laptop we were impressed with how clear and easy to understand the dialog was on episodes of The Guild and Bob’s Burgers. Yes we admit, not the most dynamic of TV audio recordings, but none the less in a 12x16x9ft room, the Talisman did a fantastic job of clearly presenting the dialog and background music/sounds, at hand.
Speaking of room size, the Talisman speakers do sound better in either a smaller room or a near field listening. Our office is huge, but right on my desk the Talisman sounded like headphones at lower to moderate volumes. But walk 10-15ft away, and even at a greater volume, the diminutive size of the Talisman means they just can’t offer the same sound stage and presence that bookshelf or floorstanding speakers do at that distance.
Overall we would absolutely recommend the Talisman to anyone looking for a unique desktop speaker that excels at natural and mid-range acoustics, has stunning good looks and a large sweet spot. Trust me, put these on your desk and people will take notice.
[photos credit to Serene Audio]