Germany might not be the first nation audiophiles would turn to when looking for fine European loudspeakers, but over the past decade several German speaker manufacturers have really started to make their "marks," so to speak, with firms such as Audio Physic, Avantgarde, Burmester, and MBL gradually winning converts among discerning American listeners. Will Canton, Germany's largest speaker manufacturer, also become a major force in the U.S.? Judging by my recent experience with the firm's $3500/pair Vento 807 DC loudspeakers, and provided the Euro doesn't drift further out of sight, I believe the answer is "Yes."
The Vento 807 DC is a 3-way, bass-reflex floorstander, and like several of its German brethren, it treads that fine line between excessive detail and listenability. The Ventos take some work to get right, but the final results are well worth the effort. Before hearing the Vento 807 DCs, I thought only some electrostatics, ribbons, and very costly dynamic speakers offered this kind of transparent window onto the soundstage. Canton is a totally vertically integrated manufacturer, and its engineers have focused on reducing driver, crossover, cabinet, and bass distortions. The result is the Vento—a mid-priced speaker with remarkable sonic purity and transparency. To these virtues you could also add pinpoint imaging, transient speed, extended highs, multi-driver coherence and tonal neutrality. No wonder, then, that Canton has gained such a large following across the pond. Those in the PRAT (Pace, Rhythm, and Tempo) camp will be thrilled by the Ventos' sonic attributes.
The Ventos grew on me during the course of my listening tests, and I ended up liking them much more than I initially thought I would. Out of the box, these Teutonic babies were too brash for my tastes. I thought, "Here's another German speaker that fits the stereotype: a forward-sounding, metal dome-based system with highs that can take your ears off." However, after running them hard for a couple of weeks, they really began to relax. While the 807s never moved to the Yin, or dark side, they eventually achieved remarkable neutrality throughout their range. The Ventos' ultra-extended treble can make them sound slightly tilted up, but this may be more a matter of lack of compensatory deep bass than of excess highs. Indeed, I believe the Cantons' high frequency transducer is better than the one used in my reference Hyperion HPS-938s, offering treble performance rivaling that of the Genesis and Magnepan ribbon drivers for extension, speed, and naturalness. Though perhaps not the equal of some of the new diamond drivers, Canton's tweeter is among the best out there, and it infuses the music with life and air.
As with any other reference-quality speakers, you will need to dial-in the rest of your system in order to hear what the Ventos can really do. The speakers' sonic purity lets you hear even minute tuning changes in other system elements (such as small adjustments in anti-skating force on a tonearm!). Build quality is first rate throughout, and top-shelf, audiophilegrade parts are in evidence everywhere you look. Thanks to their curved low-resonance cabinets, light and stiff drive units, and proprietary Displacement Control (DC) technology that reduces bass distortion, the Ventos are notably resonance free and therefore easy to place in listening rooms or home theaters. Some of the Ventos' driver and crossover technology is derived from Canton's top-of-theline Karat Reference series speakers, and it shows.
Are you somebody who can sit and listen to a full CD of percussion recordings in one sitting? I didn't think I was until I put on an exciting recording by Babatunde Olatunji, Circle of Drums [Chesky]. I found myself enthralled by the lightning quick attacks, the natural texture and timbre of the different drumheads, and the shimmering cymbals. Each seemed to have just the right level of attack and decay. Two weeks removed from a knee operation, I looked down and found my foot tapping as I hit the "Replay" button on the remote. The Ventos' wonderful transient speed and control made me seek out recordings featuring great drummers, from Buddy Rich to Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Mitch Mitchell, and Peter Erskine. With the Ventos, the rhythm becomes a part of you.
Like Rock and Techno? Unless you need to feel the deepest bass in the pit of your stomach, the Ventos may be for you. Through the 807 DCs, the entire rhythm section hurls the music forward, allowing the overtones of guitars and voices to soar to the stratosphere. I pulled out an old Lee Ritenour recording, Banded Together [Electra], and the music sounded as if it had just been re-mixed to contemporary standards, tilted up ever so slightly in the upper mids and highs to give the music extra excitement. (The most highly sought after "mixers" in the business today, add this slight emphasis on all kinds of popular music and film soundtracks). I couldn't help myself and spun a bunch of Hendrix, Doors, and Beatles, listening to them with new excitement.
Those of you who put a premium on clarity and resolution are in for a treat. The Vento 807s offer better, more refined performance than any speaker I've heard that costs less, save in the deep bass. For example, on Sibelius' "Valse Triste" on the Classic Records 45 RPM reissue [Finlandia, Classic/RCA], you not only hear the leading edge of bows being drawn across the strings of the violins, but feel as if you can tell the amount of rosin on the bows, too. The sound is remarkably neutral, has bite, but avoids stridency.
Besides listening to a lot of contemporary recordings on the 807 DCs, I found myself drawn to classical recordings by Franz Schubert (maybe it's a German thing— I don't know). The Vento 807 DCs do string ensembles, piano trios, and voices exceptionally well. The bass is articulate, undistorted, and void of boom. On the hauntingly beautiful "Adagio" of the Quinteto En Do Mayor [Philips], the Ventos reproduced the sustained string tones with amazing clarity, inner detail and "reach out and touch it" transparency. While my personal preference is for lush-sounding strings, think "pre-restored" Carnegie Hall, I didn't miss them here at all. The pizzicato of Pau Casals' cello, underneath the melody, has a transient quickness and tonal rightness reminiscent of a live performance. This kind of realism is tough to achieve, but with the Ventos the results were breathtaking.
Despite its numerous positive sonic attributes, I have to admit that I missed the rich mid-bass and explosiveness that have proven so thrilling in my admittedly more expensive Hyperion HPS-938s. Unfortunately, music on the Ventos lacked the solid bass foundation necessary for power piano music, large-scale orchestral works, and electronic music. But the 807 DCs do go far lower than any monitor speaker I've heard, so that—depending on your musical tastes—you could perhaps get away without adding a subwoofer. However, I just had to try them with one.
Unlike so many monitor-type speakers that have a 60 to 70 Hz midbass hump to give the illusion of deep bass, the Ventos extend flatly and cleanly into the 40Hz range. This means that for some kinds of music you may forego a sub, but you can also add one without thickening up the mid-bass. I tried the Ventos with both the Quad L-series subwoofer and the Wharfedale SW250 and the results were very satisfying. Not only did the music have a more solid foundation, but the added bass also meant that the Ventos sounded more balanced in the highs. If you plan to have the Ventos do double duty in a home theater system, adding a sub is a no-brainer.
The Canton Vento 807 DC is one well-engineered speaker and a strong contender at the $3500 price point. Certainly there are speakers in this price range that offer more and deeper bass, but few have the Ventos' midbass definition and overall lack of distortion. Others may prefer speakers with a sweeter sonic balance, but the Ventos' sonic purity, transient speed, precise imaging, coherence and ability to bring out fine detail won me over, reminding me of the sound of my reference Quad electrostats. Adding a subwoofer makes this loudspeaker an even more formidable contender.
With the introduction of the Vento series, I predict that Canton will join the elite core of German loudspeaker manufacturers winning the hearts and ears of demanding U.S. audiophiles. In so many respects, it's a hard speaker to beat.