Lately, just about every audiophile I know has three systems: a reference system, an all-around house system, and a desktop computer system.
The Vanatoo Transparent One Encore Plus is a “high-end solution for your desktop” system.
Lately high-end audio enthusiasts seem to be traveling in two distinct paths.
Path one consists of ever more elaborate (and expensive) separates meant to maximize every possible aspect of the technological reproduction chain. This obsession not only involves the latest hardware but gets into such specificity as going all the way down into the materials used in the design and manufacture of not just the regular items such as preamps, power amps and various playback sources, but add to that exotic external power supplies; exorbitant speaker, interconnect, HDMI, Ethernet and digital cables; power conditioners, isolation platforms, record stabilizers, AC plug and outlet metallurgy, and so on.
I doubt any long-time audiophile could have predicted the level of possible refinement in the audio chain that has it has reached today.
On path two we have gear consolidation, due to the desire to shrink down the space that all of these boxes take up.
Maybe it’s because of the so-called WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), the expense of high-end separates and accessories, or just the plain old desire to make our lives less complicated (read: uncluttered).
This of course doesn't mean that integrated amps and integrated preamp/streamer/D/A converters are a bargain.
Well. yes, some are, but at the extremes, all of this can be very expensive.
So, what are the alternatives?
Sonos does a great job in the “I need background music with super-easy access” category. Yes, I have a Sonos system and it serves a very useful service, but is not high-end in any sense of the word.
Can one get high quality (read: high-end) sound from a very compact and very affordable computer-based alternative?
The answer is: absolutely!
As more and more of us sit in front of our computers most days, the solution to my audio desires centers around my desktop.
Powered speakers can be used anywhere, of course, not just as part of a desktop computer audio setup. Just hook up a source and, given the level of technology, (which seems to change daily) it makes life very uncomplicated. The question, however, seems to be price/performance expectations. I have had very expensive powered speakers for studio use. They were also very large, didn't have all the latest input options, and were not practical for being placed on a desk.
About four years ago I was attending an audio show and walked into a showroom with several speakers, including full-range floorstanding ones and a number of small speakers on stands. The presenter then played music and asked us which speaker was playing. This was a trick question because the speakers playing were the smallest: a Vanatoo Transparent Zero Plus. I was so blown away I ordered a pair and they became my desktop computer speakers from then on.
The price was $399.00 and the sound was very good.
During the last year I added Qobuz, a subwoofer, and a mini AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt high-res USB D/A converter to my computer audio setup. The Cobalt takes the output directly from my Mac Book and connects to an input of the Vanatoo speaker system.
Now I was getting some serious high-end audio.
Recently I was made aware of the latest addition to the Vanatoo line, a larger powered speaker: the Transparent One Encore Plus.
I ordered a pair.
Compared to the Zero Plus, the larger box (10 inches high by 6-1/2 inches wide by 7 inches deep) contains larger drivers (the diameters are not specified and the speaker includes a rear-firing passive radiator) powered by (in each box), 100-watt amplifiers for the woofers and 20-watt amplifiers for the tweeters, running in Class D. The Encore Plus includes separate bass and treble tone controls, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 3.5mm analog input (a 3.5 to RCA adapter cable is provided) plus optical and coax digital inputs, and a USB input for direct computer connection. The Encore Plus also offers a subwoofer out.
The connection options cover just about any kind of source you might have, and the system also comes with a very good remote control.
The setup took about five minutes!
While I expected that the sound now would be much bigger, deeper and with greater resolution than the smaller model I had previously, I wasn't prepared for the huge difference.
The system now can fill a room!
I have always had a fascination with speakers and their designers. No other product in the audio chain can have as much of an influence on the sound of a system than speakers. Size, room acoustics, and theory all come into play, and having owned dozens of them as well as selling them while working at Lyric HiFi in New York City, I always built a system from the speakers backward. Get the room right and the speakers right and you can create audio magic.
Better speakers can always show the differences with using different associated gear in the chain, and over the years the quality of the speaker enclosures, drivers, and crossovers has improved immensely. Powered speakers bring in yet another design element, but they also make having to match speakers and amplifiers a non-issue.
Using speakers as near-field monitors near-field plays into the quality of the reproduction, and I don't want to minimize this consideration, but the Transparent One Encore Plus speakers have the ability to reach past this and become a true hi-fi reproducer. They’re not just for desktop near-field use.
My studio room has all three systems: My $150,000 reference, a Sonos for the TV, and my computer system. As I have frequent visitors, I am often asked to demonstrate both my reference system and my computer system.
While the excellence and extraordinary ability to bring reality into my room through my reference system is undeniable, my computer system with my new Vanatoo Transparent Encore Plus speakers more than holds its own, and I listen to it much more frequently than my reference system. The clarity and overall design allow the Vanatoo speakers to just plain disappear and let you get lost in the music just like the big boys can.
The center fill is excellent.
I have friends with Wilson TuneTot speakers on their desktop, outboard D-to-A units, and high-quality integrated amps. Hey, if you have the room (and the cash) and want to spend 20K on your computer desktop system, be my guest.
Me? I like my computer system, thank you. (See below.)
While playing Spotify-quality audio sounds fine, when fed real hi-res streaming like Qobuz or TIDAL, the speakers deliver the goods and are of high-enough quality to show off the better source material.
Going from Spotify to hi-res streaming through the Vanatoo Transparent Encore Plus system is like a goldfish turning into Jaws!
If this was the only system I could own, I would be quite happy with it and I would have saved about $148,000 as well!
The Vanatoo Transparent Encore Plus Speakers are available from $579 – $699 (depending on finish), direct from Vanatoo (see note below).
The system comes with a USB-A to USB-B cord, power cord, 3.5mm-to-RCA “Y” and 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cables, plus a speaker-to-speaker connector.
My desktop system also includes an REL T/5x subwoofer ($699.00), AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB D/A converter ($239), and IsoAcoustics desktop speaker stands ($99.00).
Vanatoo products are sold only online on Amazon, and on the Vanatoo website: www.vanatoo.com. The speakers have a 30-day audition period and come with a three-year warranty.
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Federal Way, WA 98023