Spatial X5 - Customer Review Part 1

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Spatial Audio

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Spatial X5 - Customer Review Part 1
« on: 20 Dec 2020, 07:19 pm »
Hey guys - this customer review was so smart and well written that I decided to post it here:


X5 Review PART I

“Your speakers are weird, but from the back they look like a rocket.”

Both true statements. That was the extent of a review from my nine-year-old son about my new Spatial Audio X5 speakers fresh out their shipping boxes.

Not sure I need to add anything to his assessment, but I will.

What I can’t add much of at this point is a description of the sound they’re supposed to produce because there’s quite a lot of break-in needed, Clayton told me, particularly mechanical break-in on the woofer cones. “Play them loud when your family is out at the mall,” he said. “The biggest improvement will take place in the first 50 hours of use but they’ll keep getting better for another 200.”

Yeah, out of the box they sound a little weird in some ways. I ask myself if I’m hearing the full extent of what open baffle bass is all about. Probably not. Also: Is that the extent of driver integration and high end extension and air? Probably not. I also find myself asking, How much of what I’m hearing is the speaker and how much my amp (Pass Aleph 30), my pre-amp (NuForce MCP-18), wire (Kimber and Anti-cables), and other components?

Fact is, it’s just too early to tell. Patience, advised the wise man.

So I’ll need to deliver this review in two parts, this one providing initial material impressions and another, later entry, once the speakers have settled in and I can appropriately evaluate their sonic performance.

But I will say this. What’s immediately apparent is the diminished influence of a speaker box and the impact of my room. I say diminished rather than absent because the baffle still necessarily resonates to some degree (not that I can hear it) and sound still necessarily propagates in the room, but the usual complexity of those influences is reduced, and I can hear that. It’s about what isn’t there; a sense of the box resonance and constriction or compression that I’ve probably gotten used to from box speakers over the years, the sound resulting from containing and managing the back wave within the cabinet. There is just less of that … contained pressure. Plus, my room has its problems: large glass window on one side, the other side open to a larger room. With the X5s, I feel as if I’m hearing more of the music—more direct access—and less of the imbalances and interferences imposed by the flawed environment I’m playing them in.

As I said, more to come.

What I can talk about here and now is these speakers as objects.

The X5 isn’t just well finished, it’s finished in a wabi-sabi manner that transcends quality manufacturing because it isn’t really manufactured; it’s crafted by caring and skilled hands.

Wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature.

Materially, the X5s don’t aim to be perfect in the conventional sense yet come closer to an ideal than many speakers that do and land instead on artificial refinement, datedness or bloodlessness. Most “refined” manufacturing is about making seams and joints undetectable. It’s about keeping secrets and hiding processes.

Inscrutability is, apparently, in some circles, the height of sophistication. Also a potential opportunity to obscure reasons why it costs a gazillion dollars.

The X5s take the opposite approach. They show what is normally hidden and thereby instantly turn convention and expectations inside out. They celebrate the nexus of materials and surfaces and everywhere reveal what they are made of and how they are put together. The screws are not hidden or even recessed, but they are the only “manual” you would ever need to take these things apart and put them back together again (not recommended). The driver magnets and baskets are fully exposed in back and you can see how robustly these pro units are constructed. Spatial Audio makes no attempt to white label these components, and in so doing communicates refreshing honesty and authenticity; you can see who makes the conventional drivers (Eminence) and the digital amp (Hypex Ncore®). I’ve also heard there’s a way to peek in to see the crossover’s capacitors, but I haven’t found that yet, and I don’t know who manufacturers that amazingly wide-band AMT tweeter, but it looks and feels like it was designed and constructed to a NASA-level spec.

Looks like a rocket, indeed.

The X5s are put together in a way that is transparent to their purpose and philosophy. With their single square and dual circular openings, they are also beautiful, balanced, unique and refreshing, simply magnificent architectural objects, simultaneously refined and rustic, modern and timeless machines.

The “UltraLam” baffle appears in pictures as if it might be rough textured but it’s not at all rough; it’s milky smooth and silken to the touch, finished as only an expert wood worker and finisher would know how to do. It’s not the actual wood you’re touching, of course, but the urethane coating over it, yet it doesn’t feel artificial. Instead, it’s a considered tactile experience of its own.

There’s a contradiction between the way the baffle looks and the way it feels so you keep running your hand over its surface in an unconscious search for the tactility of wood that never reveals itself to the touch, except in rare places where small areas with natural variations are present, such as a knot in the larger piece from which a lamination layer was cut. These “flaws” appear as darker areas in the striped lattice of the UltraLam and are beautiful in their irregularity and imperfection, characteristics of nearly all beauty in nature. There’s also delight to the eye in tracing the lines of lamination which, in their organic origins, are mostly but not uniformly parallel and sometimes seem to flow like contributories in a river delta into each other. 

Spatial Audio recently introduced painted finishes in red, black and white with other custom colors also available. I have no doubt those finishes are fine but would never presume to improve upon nature. For me, natural is the only finish to get.

The component materials of the X5s are varied, honest, elemental, and harmonious. Wood. Metal. Paper. These elements are heavier, more robust and substantial than typical or expected, seemingly better and stronger than they strictly have to be.

Discovering these virtues of the X5s reminds me of a business pitch I was in a few years ago to Lucid Motors, an emerging future mobility competitor to Tesla. Their advertising agency guy asked me if I had any experience with ultraluxury products and if so, how would I define them.

“Love that question!” I said.

I told him that Dassault Falcon was also a client and here’s what I’ve learned from them about, for example, buying a private jet: You want to be assured that the people who designed and built it care more about its quality, performance and safety than even you do as the buyer and owner.

This quality is easily discovered: How good is the object where no one except those who designed and built it will ever see? Want to understand how good a piece of furniture is? Look behind it at the part that faces the wall. If it’s beautiful there, you’ve got a quality piece.

In the automotive world, a good example is the first Lexus LS. When competitors bought and dismantled this new car that threatened their luxury business, they were startled to find the floor pan was made of a complex, multi-layer laminate. Why startling? Because every noise and vibration expert and structural engineer knows that this type of laminate construction is the platinum standard for how that part should be made, but no other manufacturer did it that way because it was too difficult, too heavy, too expensive and besides, no customer would ever see it so why bother?

But Lexus did it anyway because it mattered to them; they cared that much about creating something great.

You can see where I’m going with this.

See you again after 250 accumulated hours.