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Joseph Audio Pearl 20/20 Graphene Loudspeaker

Joseph Audio seriously caught my attention a few years ago at AXPONA 2017 when I entered the room with a direct copy of Crazy Joe’s The Doctor Is In! 15ips mastertape (thanks Joe!) and another 15ips tape of songs recorded from my vinyl front end. During this session, I heard the company’s Perspective loudspeakers powered by Jeff Rowland electronics. The analog front-end feeding the system was a Technics RS-1500 tape deck using a Doshi Audio external tape stage. The sound was excellent on tape playback—good enough to earn a Best of Show nod that year. Fast-forwarding to AXPONA 2019, Joseph Audio showed the updated Perspective2 Graphene speaker with Jeff Rowland electronics and Aurender’s new digital front end. Once again the system performed really well and received another Best of Show nod.

During AXPONA 2019, I spoke with Jeff Joseph about his new Perspective2 Graphene, and he provided some additional information. In that conversation, I asked him if he had plans to update his larger Pearl speaker. He said he did, and if those plan worked out as he hoped the new Pearl would be ready for the September 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. This news piqued my interest since my room is on the larger side as a listening space at 18′ (W) x 8′ (H) x 43′ (L). As fate would have it, the stars aligned and the Pearl 20/20 Graphene premiered at 2019 RMAF. Priced at $37,995, the graphene-updated Pearl was supported by a full suite of Doshi Audio electronics, Cardas cables, and an analog front end sourced by a beautiful J. Sikora turntable. The speaker had the characteristics I’d previously noticed with the Perspective2 Graphene in addition to a more robust bottom octave. The resulting presentation produced by the new Pearl seemed like it would be a good fit for evaluation in my listening room. After mentioning this to our Editor-in-Chief, who also heard the speaker at RMAF, the Pearl 20/20 Graphene became a candidate of interest and eventually received the go-ahead for this TAS report.

The Pearl
The Pearl 20/20 Graphene comprises two modular sections. The lower section contains the woofers and the upper section houses the midrange and tweeter. Both enclosures are constructed of MDF, and feature internal bracing and additional side panels to break up and minimize vibration, which is said to make the Pearl acoustically inert and allow the speaker to have clear articulation without blurring from enclosure resonances.

The woofer enclosure houses dual aluminum woofers in a vertical array, and is ported out the bottom. This bottom panel also has mounts for custom metal outrigger brackets with four adjustable-height cone/spikes. The rear panel sports three sets of rhodium-plated-copper Cardas Patented Binding Posts, which are sometimes called Cardas Vise Connectors. The lowest binding post is for connecting the amplifier’s output to the Pearl 20/20 Graphene. The top binding post is for connecting the bass module to the midrange/tweeter module. The center binding post is used as a bass-level adjustment. When jumpered together, this connection engages the Bass Damping circuit, which lowers or linearizes bass output in certain installation situations (e.g. smaller rooms, closer-to-wall placement, speaker/room interactions).

The upper section of the Pearl houses the midrange and tweeter drivers, which are mounted in separate chambers. The baffle is sloped back, and the sides and rear have a similar trapezoidal slope, meaning the top and bottom are the only two parallel planes. The upper section’s rear panel houses two pairs of the same Cardas binding posts—one to connect the midrange and one pair for the tweeter. Both these binding posts are connected to the midrange/tweeter binding post on the lower bass module. This is done by jumpering the midrange and tweeter posts and connecting a single cable from the midrange to the midrange/tweeter binding post of the bass module, or by using a bi-wire cable from the bass module’s midrange/tweeter binding post to connect the tweeter and midrange. The interface cables are not included, which gives the user the option of choosing the preferred style and type of cable. (A Joseph Audio dealer can help with this choice.) The Pearl 20/20 under evaluation was supplied with a Cardas Audio Clear Beyond bi-wire bass-to-midrange/tweeter module cable.

Each Pearl 20/20 Graphene loudspeaker is equipped with four drivers: a 1″ tweeter, a 7″ midrange, and two 8″ woofers. The woofers use aluminum membranes with surround material that damps the cone for smooth performance, a four-layer voice coil, and a double-magnet system with bumped back plate. This is said to allow “heroic” bass output when called for. The 1″ Sonatex dome tweeter covers the frequency range from 2.5kHz to beyond 20kHz. Because of its wide dispersion and accurate phase response it is said to deliver excellent focus and spaciousness. Additionally, the tweeter’s flat frequency response is claimed to make it fatigue-free to listen to, maintaining dynamic detail without brightness. According to Joseph Audio, the new midrange is a 7″ graphene-coated magnesium driver incorporating a copper pole piece and rings. The graphene-laced midrange is the result of the driver developer (SEAS) investing in Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools that allowed the motor/magnet system to be optimized for improved power handling and low distortion. In essence, the new midrange is more than an integration of graphene into the cone of the driver.

The Asymmetrical Infinite Slope crossover technology used in the Pearl is unique to Joseph Audio. It is a patented Joseph Audio technology that incorporates extremely steep 120dB/octave slopes. The Asymmetrical Infinite Slope crossover arrangement is said to reduce audible interactions among drivers that can plague conventional designs, allowing the Pearl to have improved imaging, power handling, and frequency response. The Pearl uses military-grade polypropylene capacitors and resistors to ensure lab-reference performance. The ultra-low-resistance inductors are high-current-saturation designs wound on steel cores for woofers and air cores for the tweeter. The low-pass for both the woofer (120Hz) and midrange (2.5kHz) uses the 120dB/octave Infinite Slope crossover, while the high-pass crossover on the midrange (120Hz) and tweeter (2.5kHz) uses a gentler slope. Together, the asymmetric combination limits driver interactions and appears to eliminate the possibility of out-of-band beaming or breakup in the woofer and midrange.

Delivery and Setup
In the beginning of January of 2020, before the Covid pandemic spread across the county, Jeff Joseph visited to set up the system. The review samples were finished in a beautiful sapele pommele wood veneer on the side panels. Other finishes available are rosewood, piano black, piano white, natural cherry, and natural maple.

We started with the speakers in the vicinity of where most speakers have performed well in my listening room. Over the course of a few hours we made minor position adjustments, and traded music, seats, and comments until we both felt the speakers were performing optimally. Throughout the day and evening we continued to play 15ips/30ips reel-to-reel tapes, spin vinyl, play digital files off my hard drive, and stream Tidal and Qobuz using Roon. At the end of the evening, Jeff approved of the Pearl’s installation and seemed happy with the system’s performance.

The Sound
The Pearl 20/20 Graphene is first and foremost a very pleasant and refined sounding speaker—exceptionally so in the midrange and treble. The sound is airy, detailed, and smooth in the highs with no sense of harshness or brightness. The music just flows out of the speaker with unassuming ease. The clarity in the upper midrange is effervescently free from containment, producing an ambience that—reinforced with bass from the dual 8″ woofers—hangs in the air around the instruments in the recordings. If I were going to quibble, I’d say there was slightly more mouth and throat than chest on some vocals, although midbass was ample and full, and fit nicely with most recordings that use this frequency range to rhythmically drive the music. 

As mentioned, the Pearl is equipped with a Bass Damping system for adjusting the low-frequency performance to your room. When the damping system is not engaged, the Pearl provides very enjoyable, ample, and authoritative bass with a little speaker/room-induced boost around 50Hz–70Hz. I find that if I’m honest with myself about authentic bass in my room and system, I would listen more with the Bass Damping system engaged. Although I must admit when the Bass Damping system is not engaged the speaker is still a lot of fun to hear, and this may be the more typical selection for most listeners.

A month into the evaluation period, I requested a set of Clear Beyond speaker cables from Cardas Audio. I wanted to hear the Pearl with the cables Jeff Joseph personally prefers, since the Pearl 20/20 Graphene is internally wired with Cardas cable and the two modules connected by Cardas Clear Beyond. The Pearl 20/20 Graphene responded to the Cardas cables almost exactly as I expected they would—they gained more fullness in the lower midrange, developed a more balanced sound overall, and gave away a bit of the lowest-level transparency in the upper-mid/treble range as a fair tradeoff. Most of my listening was conducted with the Cardas Clear Beyond cables in place, although alternate cables didn’t take away from the Pearl’s ability to play music with ease.

The Pearl needs an amplifier with enough power to drive them comfortably on music with modest dynamic contrasts at nominal listening levels, as well as on music with larger dynamic contrasts at louder levels. Pay attention to this requirement and give the Pearls the power they deserve. My Vandersteens are specified as 87dB sensitivity and the Pearls are listed as 86dB. I’d say they are in this area slightly lower than my references since I always had to increase the preamp levels a few decibels to get similar output from the Pearl. While I can’t tell you what amplifier will work for your situation, I can say that the amplifier needs to be able to deliver the goods when the Pearl wants the power, or you may hear constricted dynamics. For example, the 60Wpc Accuphase A-70/A75 would sound excellent because of its high headroom, high-current delivery, and power-doubling into low-impedance loads, while the otherwise excellent 70Wpc Berning ZH-270 would struggle and sound highly constricted with the Pearls. If in doubt about an amplifier’s capability, select an amplifier north of 100Wpc, talk to your dealer, or contact Joseph Audio for advice—the Pearl 20/20 Graphene deserves a capable amplifier.

Music
Duke Ellington’s Blues in Orbit [CS 8241, Columbia/Classic Records reissue or Qobuz 16/44.1] contains a host of excellent-sounding tracks. One in particular that allowed the Pearl 20/20 Graphene to show its musical ease is “C Jam Blues.” The tune starts with Duke playing a piano that has excellent tone and is spaciously imaged; then the band joins in with the bass and drums setting a rhythmic underpinning that is infectiously delightful. Ray Nance takes the first solo on violin. His instrument is recorded up close and it shows—the sound is both real and powerful, effortlessly displaying the violin’s complex harmonics. His solo is followed by a number of solos—trombone (Matt Gee Jr. and Booty Wood), tenor sax (Paul Gonzalves), and clarinet (Jimmy Hamilton)—that capture the realistic nature of each instrument’s timbre and dynamics. The entire track is presented with solid imaging, excellent staging, and a liveliness that entices you to move—if not your whole body, at least your foot or head. I heard everything I expected with the Pearls in place.

Choosing to go even bigger, I put on the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 from Stokowski Rhapsodies LP/tape [LSC-2471, RCA/Classic Records reissue or 15ips RRAP 0009 Analogue Productions Ultra Tape]. Liszt begins with a big, rich, full-throttled sound (from strings, horns, percussion, and bass) that immerses the listener in a huge soundscape with a sense of stage depth, size, and grandeur appropriate to this music. The direct sound is reinforced by reflected sound from the orchestra’s hall that is easily heard as a supporting contribution rather than a homogenized facsimile. The Pearls maintained the direct-versus-reflected aural distinction embedded in the recording, while also allowing individual instruments to sound fabulous within the mix.

While the doublebass section commands attention in this rhapsody, the lighter string/percussion tones also flourish with delicacy and purposeful aggression. Dynamic swells with the Pearls were free flowing and crystal clear, while the whole performance sounded refreshing.

Slowing things way down, Eric Bibb’s Friends album [CD-83619, Telarc Blues CD ripped to 16/44.1 WAV file played back via Roon] contains intimately produced tracks from accomplished musicians. One specific cut features Eric Bibb and Ruthie Foster performing “For You.” This track allows you to hear Bibb and Foster’s vocals in a more direct and spare fashion, accompanied by minimal instruments to set the mood. Bibb’s singing voice is clear and booming while Foster’s singing is more delicate but filled with the emotion of the song. I’ve listened to this tune many times since the record was originally released and it still sounds as good as it did the day I first heard it. The Pearl 20/20 Graphene did nothing to change that impression: In fact, the speaker solidified it.

The realistic presentation of the pieces of music I’ve cited confirms my general assessment of the Pearl 20/20 Graphene’s sound. In any music genre of choice (pick your favorite—even electronic, rock, pop, or hip hop), the Pearls simply play well.

Conclusion
We all know that no speaker is perfect—I mentioned some minor quibbles earlier. What the Pearls do well, however, puts them in the upper echelon of today’s loudspeaker offerings. I enjoyed my time with them.

Much like the excellent sound I’ve heard from Joseph Audio’s smaller Perspective2 Graphene, the Pearl 20/20 Graphene matches that speaker while taking the performance up a notch, especially in bass power and extension. The advancements in the graphene midrange and subsequent crossover adjustments have yielded a speaker with solid imaging, great soundstaging, excellent clarity, and a stress-free yet detailed presentation. When you audition the Pearl 20/20 Graphene bring your favorite music on vinyl or streaming and prepare to have some fun. You may end up with a new cornerstone of your music system.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: 8″ aluminum woofer (x2), 7″ graphene-coated magnesium midrange, 1″ dome tweeter
Frequency response: 25Hz–20kHz (±2dB)
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal
Sensitivity: 86dB (2.83v @ 1 meter)
Dimensions: 11″ x 45″ x 18″
Weight: 140 lbs. each
Price: $37,995

JOSEPH AUDIO
89 Cabot Court
Hauppauge, NY 11788 USA
(800) 474-4434
[email protected]
josephaudio.com

Associated Equipment
Analog tape: Otari MTR-10 Studio Mastering (¼” 2-track) tape deck with custom Flux Magnetic Mastering Series repro head and secondary custom tube output stage, Studer A820 Studio Mastering (¼” 2-track) tape deck, ReVox G-36 (¼” 4-track) tape deck.
Analog vinyl: Basis Audio Debut Vacuum, Basis Audio 2800 Vacuum ‘tables; Basis Audio SuperArm 9, Basis Audio Vector IV (x2), Graham Phantom III; Lyra Atlas, Lyra Atlas SL, Lyra Etna, Lyra Etna SL, Lyra Titan-i, van den Hul Colibri XGP, Hana SL.
Phonostage: The Raptor (custom), Lamm LP2 Deluxe, Ayre P-5xe, Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ w/Linear Power Supply.
Preamp: Dual Placette Audio Active Linestage, Lamm L1.1 Signature, Lamm L2 Reference
Amp: Custom/modified solid-state monoblocks
Speaker: Vandersteen Model 3a Signature with dual 2Wq subwoofers and dual SUB THREE subwoofers using M5-HPB high-pass filter, Joseph Audio Pearl 20/20 Graphene
Cables: Assortment of AudioQuest, Shunyata, Tara Labs, Acoustic Research, Cardas, and custom cables. 
Racks/Accessories: Minus-K BM-1, Neuance shelf, Maple wood shelf, Symposium Ultra, Aurios Pro, Pneuance Audio, Walker Audio, Klaudio RCM, Kirmuss RCM, VPI RCM, Clearaudio Double Matrix Pro RCM.
Room: 18′ (W), 8′ (H), 43′ (L)

Tags: JOSEPH AUDIO LOUDSPEAKER

By Andre Jennings

My professional career has spanned 30+ years in electronics engineering. Some of the interesting products I’ve been involved with include Cellular Digital Packet Data modems, automotive ignition-interlock systems, military force protection/communications systems, and thrust-vector controls for space launch vehicles.

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