The Serene Audio Talisman
Vancouver-based Serene Audio has settled in to an interesting pocket of personal audio. The desktop/bookshelf scene has a wider arena to play in than some more traditional audiophile products, sharing a similar space with computer audio (and those that just want some better sound out of their computer). Their current offering is called the Talisman ($395) and includes an amplifier and loudspeaker in a compact cabinet with a single ended analog 3.5mm connection serving as the input. The feature set of this product falls neatly in line with the needs of the many, without pushing up costs by including too many over-the-top extraneous audiophile “wants”.
The Talisman is based around a single pair of “3 inch, full-range, long-throw super light and fast” drivers that can realistically fit around a computer screen on a desk. But their compact and reasonable size will not be the first thing you notice about them. Where the Serene Audio Talisman really step out is their artistic and out-of-box (literally) shape. The aesthetics are creative but also functional as the design provides a free set of feet to rest upon as well as additional height and line of sight for the drivers. This value add makes for well rounded package and negates the need for external stands which are often required for optimal near field listening. The external look is very upscale for the price range. The casing is covered in real bamboo and wrapped in “eco-friendly leather alternative”. The final product provides only a slight bit of heft in the hand and feel very sturdy and well crafted. As with all things unique, some may find the shape of the Talisman less appealing than the rows of boxes that make up this hobby. I find it exceptionally refreshing, and I think that most people would agree with me. Its not so extreme that it could classified as a gaudy talk piece, but rather a tasteful expression that looks right at home in any modern apartment or well-collected living quarters.
This bookshelf speaker appears to be optimized for near field listening for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost, it sounds really good up close. Both the imaging and to even more of an extent, the resolution felt very sharp with placement just a few feet from driver to ear. The 3” cones produced surprising focus and transparency for the >$500 price category. Vocals appeared to hang in the air with a ghostly-unseen location right over the top of my monitor. Overall the sound quality is a very articulate presentation with plenty of top-end air and mid range follow through. Compared to other similar-sized amp-and-speaker combos I had on hand the pairing seemed less boxy and shouty and miles above any device I could find in my burgeoning collection of Bluetooth devices in for review. The speakers are rated down to 65 Hz, but expectations should always be tempered when dealing with the low end and small speakers. Bass tonal sweeps down the frequency range provided even more light to the situation. The falloff proved to be very even and clean as you move away from the mids from these 3” loudspeakers. In tight quarters scenarios with small drivers, very often manufacturers will artificially inflate certain bass frequencies in order to get more boom to shake the room. The bass sweep’s presence falls off as it drops down, but then rises irregularly in volume again around pre manufactured frequency points. Not so with the Talismans. The push off from start to finish was much cleaner and the drop off felt a bit more natural and truthful, just as the overall appeal of the presentation eludes to. That being said, these 3” inch drivers will never shake the fillings out of your teeth, that is what the subwoofer output is for. Those looking for a little more in the low end can add a separate sub via the auto-detect RCA output located on the back panel (crossed over at 120Hz). In terms of balance, the drivers still favor detail and imaging over low end thrust and brute force and feature a little less bass presence as a result. Even though the bass isn’t exaggerated at any point, the mids and treble never feel thin or dried out. The product as a whole feels supremely balanced given the relative size and doesn’t compromise in order to deliver on the task it was intended for, better sound. I found myself fully immersed in the moment while listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s Title And Registration, even though I have heard the track hundreds of times. The lead singers voice felt well separated from the rest of the electronic sounds and guitar. Even during intense passages the crisp fuzz of the digital percussion could still be made out clearly from the rest of the keyboards and guitars that filled the stereo field in proper progression.
The Talisman is very successful at achieving its near field aspirations while never pretending to be something its not. The 20w amplifier provided plenty of dynamic shove at close range with nary a mention of distortion or strain, but was able to reach top volume without making my ears bleed. It will likely be more than you need while at the desktop but is not intended to replace your full size rig at parties. It handles bookshelves and living areas with grace, but succinctly hits its marks when properly placed, toed in and fired up at close range.
The finishing touches on the loudspeaker are readily apparent and bountiful in nature. The Talisman’s decisive efforts to fully abandon the “audio box” mentality are further reflected in its classy and subtle matte wood finish, complemented by the faux leather wrapping. The back panel of each enclosure features a small porthole with the right speaker housing the remaining features. The digital attenuator also serves as push for on/off switch and rests in a well-polished metal plate. Also included on the plate is a 3.5mm headphone output should the need arise. A custom-connection and cable leashes the left speaker to the amplifier in the right so no additional speaker wire is needed to get up and running. The included cable feels beefy and worked well in application.
The Talisman fits perfectly into its place in the world. The construct is a highlight as much as its excellent sound is. Expect highly defined mids and highs that can stand up properly with a solid source with room to spare. These compact speakers emphasize proficient detail retrieval against a top-flight near field experience that is perfectly tuned for desktop and computer audio listening. While bass-lovers may want to add a subwoofer for more low-end rumble, the package still excels in a two-channel tabletop environment. The abstract design and attention to detail of the casing makes it look like high-end piece worthy of the classiest bookshelves out there.
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