Let’s cut to the chase. These are the best pair of speakers I have ever owned or heard in a real world environment. Now for the review.
1984 – I was 17, and it was the year I caught the audiophile fever. I innocently walked into a high-end store in Beverly Hills, CA not realizing what it was. I saw these tall flat panels with cream-colored cloth grill and wood side trim. I thought to myself, “What kinda decorative furniture is this?” Then the music started to play. Wall to wall sound, alive, engrossing. Wow. These are actually speakers! They were the Maggie IIIs in its third incarnation.
But the most memorable speakers I’ve ever come across, until recently, were the original Martin Logan CLS and the Apogee Duetta. It was 1985 at the Stereophile show in Santa Monica, CA where I first heard them. They were the most involving and transparent speakers I’ve ever heard until now. The Duettas were set up by the late Jason Bloom, who was the only one IMHO who knew how to set these speakers up properly. I forget who set up the CLS. They took 2nd and 1st place, respectively, as Best Sound of the Show. The sound was as real as it gets, except for the limited macrodynamics and one note CLS bass that was somewhat ameliorated by Vandersteen Subs.
Over the years, I’ve owned Maggies, Apogees, Mirage M1s, and had various affairs with stats. See a trend here sans M1? I’m a planar guy. I value the best in midrange purity, transparency, coherency, imaging, and staging. But planars always had one major drawback – no chest thumping macrodynamics. In addition, as most of you know, planars are hard to set up. I was never able to set these speakers up properly in my home to their full potential although I enjoyed their sound immensely.
2004 – I am 37 now, and this is the year I caught the music lover fever. I was at the NY Hifi show in April. I had been out of high-end for the past 8 years because of medical school and all, but thought, “What the hell go and have fun at the show.” Never intended on getting into high-end again. No time and limited funds. Then I walked buy the Hyperion room and saw these attractive piano black speakers that looked like Watt Puppies. Never heard the company before. But the music. I was transfixed. The music just flowed, and I couldn’t get myself to leave the room. There was so much else to see at the show, but I was in the room for over an hour. I finally pried myself from the room to listen to other speakers costing up to $50,000. Well, I found myself back in the Hyperion room again listening to the music. Hell, I wasn’t thinking about the usual audiophile crap like imaging, staging, transparency, frequency extension, etc. They were all there with aplomb, but I was just enjoying the incredible music emerging from these speakers. I returned to the Hyperion room five times during the day.
Came home. I WANT THESE SPEAKERS! But my room is small, 15 x 11.5 x 8 feet. I don’t have $4k, let alone money for the electronics and cables. Don’t have the time.
October, 2004 – The Hyperions are in my room. They have been with me for nearly three months. Oh well. Thank the Almighty for credit cards. I’m sure I’ll be cursing myself later.
I was lucky enough to find very high quality affordable electronics from Tube Audio Design TA-30 integrated tube amp (www.2baudio.com), Shengya S10 tube CD player (www.NYSound.com), silver cables and interconnects from Crystal Clear (www.PKMaudio.com). Additional tweaks include cryoed 6522 tube replacement for the stock tube in the Shengya CDP, Magnetic Floater isolation feet for my CDP, acoustic foam treatment for my room, Signal Cable Magic power cords for the integrated amp and CDP, Walker Audio SST silver treatment, Hal-O tube dampeners, and Herbies CD dampening mat.
I’ve had this system for almost 3 months now with about 400 hours of burn-in. I feel it’s about 95% burned in because the sound is still improving but at a much slower rate. I finally feel confident enough to give this speaker a fair review. But be aware these speakers will sound grainy and harsh in the beginning not only due to the speakers themselves but also due to the break-in of all the new electronics and cables upstream. It took well over 250 hours before my system started to integrate and sound right.
I can only come up with superlatives in describing these speakers. Online and magazine reviews of the 938s are finally trickling in, and they are in agreement with my assessment.
Now for the audiophile stuff:
High frequency: The horn loaded silk dome tweeter is smooth, dynamic, and crystal clear. Cymbals have that zing and shimmer I hear in live unamplied jazz music. Bells, well, sound like bells. Hand clapping has that initial slap and trailing cuffing sound I hear in real life. Steel string guitars have that initial sharp, steely attack followed by slow decay. It doesn’t have the extra air found Maggie ribbon tweeters, but I always thought the extra air was in some ways artificial.
Midrange: Oh the beautiful midrange, the stuff that stats are made of. The clarity and transparency of the midrange are on par with the best electrostats out there. Reminds me of the original CLS midrange without the upper midrange glare and brightness. I have heard the new Quad and Innersound electrostats, and they have nothing over the 938s. The bulk of my music is comprised of female vocalists (Norah Jones, Rickie Lee Jones, Eva Cassidy, Natalie Merchant, Sade, etc), and through the 938s these artists come alive in my room. Orchestral strings have that woody resin sound I hear at the Boston Symphony. Sax has that reedy quality I am familiar with – used to play the sax, albeit poorly. Classical guitar, an instrument I still play, has that mellow plucked sound. You get the idea.
Bass: This region is a little difficult to evaluate because of the 60-80 Hz boom in my room and slight bass fullness in my tube integrated amp. I’m still trying to flatten out the room resonance, but I don’t have the finance to purchase additional room treatment. My tube integrated amp has very tight bass for a tube amp, but not as tight as a good solid-state amp. The upper bass above 80 Hz and lower bass 40-60 Hz is fast and tight. Stand up bass is tuneful and has the requisite body I hear in real life, but in some recordings it can get out of hand due to room resonance. One important bass quality of the 938s is “air” in the bass that allows you can get a sense of the volume of the hall the music was recorded in. I don’t know how to better describe this phenomenon. The Apogee Duettas had this quality. The speakers are rated to 30 Hz, but my small room can support that kind of bass. Reviews online and in audiophile mags indicate the 938s are capable of great slam, speed, and near subterranean extension in the bass provided you have enough juice and preferably a solid state amp. Sadly, I can not comment on this. You can’t expect a 30 watt tube integrated to plumb the depths of Mariana Trenches. But I can say at the NY Hifi show, I heard startling dynamics in the bass.
Imaging/Staging: The 938s really shine in this area. Properly set up – about 7 to 8 feet apart, slight toe-in, 3-4 feet from the rear wall – these speakers are capable of astonishing holographic imaging and staging on par with the best planars. Actually, the imaging is better in most cases because of 938s point source dispersion. In my room, I can get wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, and front to way beyond the rear wall sound if the recording permits. With bad recordings, the soundstage collapses. The 938s appears to be true to the source, unlike some planars that sound big no matter the recording.
Transparency: On par with electrostats. Enough said.
I can go on further deconstructing the sound of the 938s but that’s not the point. The most important sound quality of the 938s, in my opinion, is not its parts but its sum. This speaker has the uncanny ability to integrate the all the sound qualities described above into one coherent whole – music. The speaker just makes utterly enjoyable music, the music that grabbed me and had me coming back for more when I first heard them at the show. Who would have thunk it – a speaker so convincing and captivating that converted a die hard planar guy like me. I can’t afford these speakers even at the real world price of $4k, but I bought them anyway. If I were Bill Gates, I would still buy the 938s over the towering, stratospherically priced $20k+ that I only come alive in a dedicated audio room costing tens of thousands of dollars. Yes, the 938s are that good.
The Company: Hyperion. Who is that? They’re a new company. I was leery about the stability of this new company given how companies come and go in high end. But this company treats its customers like a Lexus dealer. When I received the 938s, I carefully removed the speakers from their elaborately packaged boxes only to find scratches and chips on the fine piano black finished. Shipping damage? Don’t know. But I contacted Hyperions, the East and West coast representatives of the company, respectively. I sent them photographs of the damage and received prompt apologies and replies telling me they will replace the speakers as soon as the new shipment arrives in the US, shipping to my home included. My new pairs should be arriving in November. In addition, They sent me a set of their Magnetic Floater dampening feet ($100) for my troubles. They are great isolation devices and reside under my CDP. These guys are professional, cordial, and very interested in customer feedback on their products. A high end manufacturer like Hyperion is rare.