Sometimes the most powerful audio memories are formed when you least expect them to be. I had one such experience about a decade ago, when I visited Tom Unger’s venerable store, Gifted Listener Audio, in Virginia near Dulles airport.
I drove there with my father-in-law who was keen to demo a pair of Magnepan 1.7 loudspeakers, which he ended up purchasing. But before we listened to them we paused at the front room of the store, where a pair of Vienna Acoustic Mahler loudspeakers was playing. A small crowd was listening to the Mahlers. I made bold, as they used to say in the old days, to pop in a CD of jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s extremely dynamic album Root Down. Within a split second, I was riveted by the deep, prodigious bass as well as the control and musicality of the Mahlers. Ever since I’ve had something of a soft spot for Vienna Acoustics, which explains why I jumped at the chance to audition the company’s new loudspeaker in its Imperial Series.
Since the advent of the Mahler, much has changed technologically, and those changes are reflected in chief designer Peter Gansterer’s latest brainchild, the Liszt loudspeaker. The Liszt represents an attempt to trickle-down many of the features from Vienna Acoustics’ top-drawer Klimt line. For a start, the $15,000-per-pair Liszt features the company’s flat-spider-cone coincident system. The cones are all made in Austria and the tweeter is proprietary to Vienna Acoustics. “The shape of a cone has anomalies that we can eliminate by going flat,” says importer Kevin Wolff.
The dual-cavity-vented bass drivers operate below 200Hz and are housed in their own separate cabinet, while the coincident driver housed in the upper module can be angled horizontally— but not vertically—for time alignment and optimal coupling to various rooms. Mathematically the cabinet was designed for seven internal braces, but in listening to the speaker Gansterer manipulated where they were placed for optimal tuning. As Gansterer’s aim is to keep the crossover components to a minimum, he employs a modified first-order crossover with parts tolerance at one-percent or less to help ensure a seamless and uncolored sound.
As anyone who has been to Vienna, or has even a nodding familiarity with classical music, knows, the stakes for a company based in Vienna and laying claim to hallowed names like Mahler and Liszt are very high indeed. Music, you could even say, is encoded in the imperial city’s DNA. It’s not uncommon to see Viennese bring musical scores to concerts. Music also plays a central role in fin de siècle novels such as Arthur Schnitzler’s The Road Into the Open, whose protagonist Georg von Wergenthin is a musician and composer. Even the fine restaurant Beethoven liked to frequent—Zum schwarzen Kameel—remains open for business today. In short, for Vienna Acoustics to fail to measure up would constitute a gross impertinence.
It is thus a pleasure to be able to report that with the Liszt, Vienna Acoustics has more than met the test. The U.S. importer Kevin Wolff installed them, pronounced himself satisfied, and I tweaked them a little bit after he left to further optimize their sound. Though it has a relatively small footprint, the Liszt produces a wide and deep soundstage. The frequency balance is excellent with the transition from bass cabinet to upper module sounding quite seamless. But the hallmark of the loudspeaker is its sonic purity. Lithe, taut, and nimble, it displays great tonal fidelity and dynamic alacrity.