“Compact monitors are for people who can't have large floorstanders.” Not enough room, can't turn the volume up, need expensive amplifiers to match, other members of the household won't tolerate them, and on and on. Some twenty years ago, I switched to a three-way floorstander as soon as I had a large enough room and could get away with the elevated bass and sound pressure levels in my living situation. I have since learned that many mini-monitors simply meet some people's needs better even if they can readily accommodate a larger floorstander. Aside from the presumed small loudspeaker advantages such as driver integration, image precision, placement ease, and reduced bass overhang, there is also the sheer pleasure of getting great sound—even a fairly big sound—from loudspeakers that do not look as though they should deliver the goods.
When I reviewed the Dynaudio Confidence C1 mini-monitor for Sound Stage! in late 2007, I was hooked. That little speaker had bass extension and power that embarrassed some larger three-way speakers and retained all the advantages of an articulate, fast, coherent compact speaker in a musically compelling package. My former condescension toward compact speakers evaporated, and the C1 ($7500 with stands) remains my reference. When you consider the Magico Mini II, Wilson Audio WATT, Rogers/BBC LS3/5a, Advent, and Acoustic Research AR3a all made the “The 12 Most Significant Loudspeakers of All Time” list in the TAS Speaker Issue (#205), it is clear that small speakers play a major roll in specialty audio.
The Vento 820 is a small, stand-mounted, two-way, rear-ported mini-monitor made by Canton, a German company that was founded in 1972. The 820 is made in Germany; the brand name has nothing to do with China—in case anyone was wondering. Canton's philosophy from the beginning, according to its Web site, was to build speakers that would appeal to both the audio-obsessed (through good sound) and their spouses (through good looks). After all, an audiophile's purchasing decision could easily be overridden by a spouse who will not allow ugly or unwieldy speakers into the home.
The Vento line was introduced in 2004, and the 820 model joined the lineup in 2007. The 820 is an aesthetically pleasing speaker with well-proportioned dimensions, gracefully curved side panels—which presumably also mitigate internal standing waves by reducing parallel internal cabinet surfaces—and two metal drivers: a 1” aluminum/manganese dome tweeter with a gentle waveguide flange and a single 7” aluminum mid/bass driver. The crossover uses 12dB per octave slopes at 3kHz. The Vento brochure lists the frequency range of the 820 as -3dB at 53Hz and at 24.4kHz, its impedance as 4 to 8 ohms, and its sensitivity as 87dB. Those bandwidth figures (different in the Canton Web site and manual) seem to be realistic based on my experience with the 820 when paired with four different amplifiers and in two different systems. Connections are made via a single pair of easily accessible multiway binding posts. High marks for fit ’n’ finish, packing material, and an informative manual.
The matching LS850 stand was more than the usual hassle to assemble, but it looked quite good with its two different diameter aluminum pillars, a glass base whose shape forms a larger “shadow” outline of the speaker's footprint, and silver-colored spike receptacles that you can see through the glass base. The “spikes” are not really what we typically think of as such; they are smooth, rounded metal nubs that will not dig into a wood floor. No proper carpet-piercing spikes were provided. The stand forms a perfect aesthetic match to the 820 speaker, which comes in four high-gloss finishes at $2400 per pair: silver, white, black, and cherry. The matching stand runs $600 per pair. I usually don't get all that excited by the appearance of audio gear, but Canton really has the visual equation down with the Vento 820 and LS850 stand.
The sound of the 820 improved considerably when I did not use the Canton stand, though. I had quite a difficult time determining optimal speaker placement with the Canton LS850 stand in the mix. The speaker exhibited either a forward and diffuse soundstage or various levels of bass bloat seemingly no matter what I tried. After more break-in time and switching to the Dynaudio Stand4 ($450), a more substantial stand that includes carpet-piercing spikes, I was able to dial in the 820 with more positive results. I settled on a placement of 29” from the side walls and 51” from the back wall, measured from the tweeters. Even though Canton recommends a mild toe-in of 15 degrees off-axis, I found that a more aggressive toe-in worked best in my setup and ended up with the tweeters firing just beyond my shoulders. The user manual recommends an equilateral triangle between the speakers and the listener, but I achieved better results by listening a bit farther back. I also found that a couple of small bags of loose steel shot, wrapped in cloth, placed on top of each cabinet helped to bring out midrange tonal colors. I listened with the grilles off.
The Vento 820 required about 400 hours of break-in before it came into its own. Once setup and break-in were taken care of, I have to say the Vento 820 pretty much nailed tonal balance. It was neither dark nor obviously bright—as long as it was not pushed beyond its limits. When some music ratcheted up the upper-frequency content, such as cymbal crashes or the upper register of female voices going full-tilt, the 820 would become hard and glassy. As long as the volume level was adjusted to accommodate for this, the 820 would keep its composure. The 820 balances a sense of body with detail quite nicely. Even though it does not have much usable bass extension below about 45Hz, it still manages to convey enough of most music's foundation and dynamic life to be enjoyable. My rather small 12.5' x 17' room is made of very solid materials and has only one small window and, as a result, tends to be bass friendly, so the 820’s lower end may not be as generous in a larger or more typical room made of primarily studs and drywall. The 820 has respectable detail retrieval and those details always seemed to be in keeping with the music's whole, never calling undue attention to themselves and thus the speaker. Just to offer some perspective, the Dynaudio Excite X32 ($2800)—a small floor-stander that I reviewed in Issue 205—is a more revealing speaker overall, but the Canton Vento 820 still offers respectable clarity, particularly in the midrange.
The dynamic quickness of the 820, while more limited than the Dynaudio X32, is still quite good. Microdynamic shadings are also bettered by the X32, but the 820 has very good medium-range dynamic performance. Almost akin to good rolling-speed response in cars, the 820 comes across as agile and this serves music with an obvious beat well. One gets a fairly good idea of the punch behind kick drum and tom-tom whacks, for example. As a result, I gravitated towards pop and rock music more than usual. Various selections from Tool's most recent studio releases Lateralus and 10,000 Days [Sony] had enjoyable drive and momentum, for example. A component of the 820's dynamic performance could be related to the relatively easy load it presents to an amplifier. It was noticeably easier to drive than my C1 and a tad easier than the X32. I did not need to turn the volume up as much to get the same music to sound roughly the same level. This is clearly an advantage when it comes to amplifier mating. The 820 does not require high-powered amplification.
The standout aspect of the 820's performance is its seamlessness, its coherence, its sounding as a single entity rather than two separate drivers crossed over in a cabinet. Perhaps the metal drivers' similar materials are the key to this. The 820 really does sound the same from top to bottom and betters the X32 in this regard. This seamlessness, together with the speaker’s small size, may contribute to an added benefit: The 820 readily disappears as a sound source. The soundstage was fairly wide but not as deep as I am used to with the either the Dynaudio C1 or X32. Individual images had respectable heft and presence, but they were not really fleshed out as 3-D entities. Image boundaries were thankfully not exaggerated but always blended into the whole picture.
Despite all of the 820's positive attributes, at the end of the day I never did become truly immersed in the musical performances. The 820 covered some hi-fi bases reasonably well, but it also tended to blunt the contrasts among the unique moods of different music. The 820 could carry a tune and keep the beat at a basic level, but a pervasive underlying dryness prevented it from expressing the ineffable human qualities that I know other speakers at its price level can deliver.
The whole business of value is a tricky one. The 820 offers an aesthetically attractive package with some commendable performance qualities. The combined speaker and stand price of $3000 falls in a zone with some compelling competition. In my direct experience, the Dynaudio Excite X32 offers a more musically rewarding set of qualities, including greater detail retrieval, dynamic range, and bass extension. I remain a fan of small, stand-mounted speakers, but based primarily on sonic performance; readers should audition the Canton 820 carefully before making a decision.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way, bass-reflex design
Drivers: One 7” aluminum mid/bass, one 1” manganese and aluminum tweeter with wave guide
Frequency Response: 53Hz to 24.4kHz (-3dB)
Sensitivity: 87dB (unspecified)
Impedance: 4–8 ohms
Power handling: 140W (continuous music)
Recommended Amplifier power: Not stated
Dimensions: 8.7” x 14.2” x 12.4”
Weight: 19 lbs.
Warranty (parts and labor): Five years
Price: $2400 (pair) high gloss silver, white, black, and cherry; LS850 stand, $600 (pair)
CANTON ELECTRONICS CORP.
504 Malcolm Avenue SE, Suite 400
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Analog Source: Basis Debut V turntable with Vector 4 tonearm, Benz-Micro LP-S cartridge
Digital Source: Ayre C-5xeMP universal player
Phono stage preamp: Ayre P-5xe
Line stage preamp: Ayre K-1xe
Integrated amplifiers: Stello Ai500, Hegel H200
Power amplifier: Gamut M-200 monos
Speaker: Dynaudio Confidence C1, Dynaudio X32
Cables: Shunyata Antares interconnects and Orion speaker wire, Wegrzyn power cords
A/C Power: Two 20-amp dedicated lines, FIM receptacles
Room Treatments: PrimeAcoustic Z-foam panels