Neat, petite and very, very sweet.
arly 2012 saw me braving the wintry elements to drive down to visit Roy Gregory deep in the New Forest some 100 miles west of London. The purpose was primarily to pick up the Lindemann BL-10 speakers, but it also gave me the unique opportunity to listen to both the Crystal Arabesque Mini and the Raidho C1.1 that Roy has already reviewed for The Audio Beat. Roys purpose-built listening room is large by UK standards, and I have seen and heard it develop since he first moved in -- and, in fact, since its initial conception, before a single brick was laid. I always thought it to be a place for large speakers, but as he has better understood the space, adding specifically located acoustic treatments, it seems as if it is now just as successful with closer-field listening through smaller speakers like these.
Several hours of musical enjoyment took place, helped in no small measure by the size of the speakers, a factor that made it very easy to shift them in and out of the room. Dont underestimate that huge advantage. Removing the threat of permanent back injury makes it a lot easier to relax and enjoy the proceedings.
What became crystal clear after the initial round of listening was that here we had three extremely good two-way designs -- and also three very different ones. Each was certainly interesting enough to stand on its own merits, such that I was not automatically measuring the performance of one against the strengths and weaknesses of the others. There were three voices, each telling the same story, but with a different personal slant and accent. The lack of hard comparisons made for a relaxing day too, with a gentle, rolling discussion of the characteristics of each speaker. The main thing I took away as I began the drive home through the dark early evening was how good they all were. My initial feelings were that I could easily live with any of them. However, it was the Lindemann, sitting in the back of the car, that would be my companion for the coming months, and I had high hopes.
Lindemann is a German company with a low profile in the UK. Despite enjoying a solid reputation for their SACD players some years ago, they currently have no distribution in the UK, so when I researched the company, I was quite surprised to discover the number and range of products they produce. I had heard of the digital players but little else, so I knew nothing of their speakers, DACs, amplification systems or cables.
The BL-10 is one of the Birdland series of loudspeakers that also includes the BL-25 and the BL-30, both of which are floorstanding models. The BL-10 is a small two-way design that comes with its own stand. I have, on many occasions, liked the effect that low-mass, low-profile stands have had on speakers not originally designed to sit upon them. The original Focal Mini Utopia, for instance, was supplied with a horrible support system that compromised so much of the speakers energy and bandwidth I could hardly believe that it was a serious proposition. I searched for and eventually found a very lightweight stand, intended for quite another speaker that freed the Mini Utopia from its dynamic, energy-sapping straightjacket. This was also the case when I tried the Focal Micro Utopias away from their supplied supports and on a pair of lightweight acrylic stands. The high-mass, sand-filled-pillar approach may offer the feeling that the speaker is solidly planted atop a relatively immovable object, but I have never been convinced that this is always such a good idea -- sometimes perhaps, but not always.
At 25 pounds (11.5 kg), the BL-10 is not a weighty speaker by any means, and while the stand is certainly extremely low mass, it also has the advantage of being virtually acoustically transparent, with no large surface areas for reflection. You can certainly hear this in the speakers presentation. The stand design is rather like an ironing board. The two stainless-steel rod sections are bolted together in the middle and swing open. The top sections are then fixed with a couple of pairs of stainless-steel Allen bolts to small plates at the front and rear of the speaker cabinet. Footings comprise four circular hardwood blocks that are decoupled from the fixed feet by small countersunk ceramic ball bearings. There is no facility for height adjustment or leveling, although, on my wooden floor, I never found this to be a problem.
Mounted on these stands, the Lindemann speakers are quite free to move back and forth when gently prodded. This is no immovable, mass-damped fixing. Instead, designer Norbert Lindemanns view is that the speakers energy should not be stored within the stand and then drained into the floor through the more conventionally employed spikes, but that the interface between the speakers and the stand should be hard-coupled metal to metal, hence the steel fixing brackets on both the front and rear bottom lips of the cabinet. These allow the energy to pass from the cabinet into the stand and then to be dissipated in the lightweight structure.
In comparison to the contoured cabinets of both the Raidho and the Crystal Cable speakers, the BL-10 appears outwardly conventional. It's a two-way, rear-ported design with the tweeter mounted below the bass/midrange driver. But, as I discovered with Lindemann products, if you look deeper you will understand that each element of the design has been very carefully considered and the magic lies in this attention to detail. Take that woofer-over-tweeter driver arrangement. The BL-10 uses an odd-order crossover (starting at 6dB/octave and ending at 30dB/octave), which causes nonsymmetric lobing. Therefore, at the listening position, with the woofer on axis, there is much better blending of the drivers if the tweeter is below the woofer.
The cabinet itself is (not surprisingly) designed to be low mass and extremely stiff, with inch-thick walls. This is achieved by employing a multi-layer, dual construction where two 3/8" layers of Finnish birch plywood sandwich 1/8" of cork. Again Norberts philosophy is straightforward. The lighter and stiffer the cabinet is, the less energy will be stored within its structure. To quote the man, "The power of the amplifier is supposed to arrive at the listener 1:1 and should not be stored in the cabinets walls, creating a time delay." To achieve this, the outer layer of the cabinet "floats" on the cork, effectively giving no fixed connection between the two birch sections. Lindemann claims that, in comparison to a more conventional MDF cabinet, this construction stores less than a third of the energy.
The inside is almost empty, though lined with a twin layer of Twaron. This is a new material to me, but one that is apparently used for bullet-proof vests. There is also about 15 grams of Angelhair, a Kapton wadding used in airplanes, to absorb some higher frequencies. The plain exterior is actually a 1/16"-thick furniture-grade linoleum from Switzerland that is unspectacular in appearance in that it doesnt feature the classic wood-grain finish, but it is extremely functional, durable and easy to keep clean. It is also available in a wide range of colors. The neutral-finished review samples matched the plain color of my listening-room walls almost exactly and that made the BL-10 even more visually transparent and unobtrusive.
Both of the drivers are, as you might expect, slightly unusual for such a small speaker. The German-built tweeter from Eton has a ceramic-coated magnesium dome, while the 6" grille-protected midrange driver co-designed by Norbert and Accuton is a full-ceramic design with 30% more cone mass and a larger magnet and voice coil than the equivalent Accuton model. The design target was to achieve a 45-50Hz bass response using a tiny eight-liter cabinet. To get anywhere near this, Lindemann had to resort to a fairly massive 4 3/4" ferrite-magnet system, which is physically almost as wide as the cone itself. Auditions then suggested that they would need to increase the mass of the cone too, after which they achieved the 48Hz (-3dB) bass response they were looking for, which, from such a small enclosure, is pretty impressive. Norbert also claims that the thicker cone gives the unit extremely powerful lower-midrange performance while allowing him to extend its range up to 4kHz.
This is a speaker with a finely balanced performance and that is never an accident, so it came as no surprise to hear just how much attention is paid to each of the design elements. All critical, signal-carrying parts are cryogenically treated. This includes the high-quality crossover components, the OFC copper cabling and the WBT Nextgen binding posts. The interior cabling is manufactured in Germany from New Zealand-sourced copper and is also available in the Lindemann Kind of Blue cable range. Birdland? Kind of Blue? Anyone notice a trend here?
One of the more suggestive numbers appearing in a speakers technical specifications is its sensitivity. I didnt look at the BL-10s figures until the speakers had been up and running for a month, at which point I was seriously surprised that Lindemann rate the efficiency at a lowly 83dB/watt. I was under the distinct impression that the BL-10s were a good few dBs more efficient than that, and they definitely lack that power-sponge effect so characteristic of lower-efficiency designs -- speakers that soak up the watts as you continually crank the volume, searching for the right listening level.
Yes, the BL-10 needs power, but it craves quality. It is no different from any other high-quality stand-mount in this respect, so if you really want to really push it to the limits of its resolution and musical expression, you cant afford to skimp on the rest of the system. These speakers are capable of really involving performance when sitting at the end of the right system -- though I must add that to enjoy them at their absolute best in terms of body, scale and texture, you do need to sit square in the middle of the listening window. Off-axis, the sound, though still good, can be a little bleached and less substantial. Thankfully, setting them up and making micro adjustments to dial them in is very easy because of their low weight. I used them a meter away from the wall behind them and with a small amount of toe-in. Most stand-mount speakers that end up in my small room find themselves in approximately the same place. Occasionally I can get away with siting them further apart than seems to make sense. This was a trend started by the curiously addictive little Kiso speakers, a design that got me fascinated by the musical perspectives offered by this positioning. The Lindemanns, though, were better suited to a more classic approach.
t was clear, even from the earliest listening sessions, that this might just be the most integrated and naturally expressive speaker I have ever heard -- and that includes the stellar company in which I first encountered it. There is no sense whatsoever that the sound is stratified or jointed between bass, midrange and treble. There is an unhindered clarity and uncolored freedom to the way the BL-10s go about their business that is tonally, totally impartial.
For years now I have been aware that a speakers character can lead you to listen in different ways. The detail, extension, air and insistent transient power of the Focal Utopia range speaks through that Beryllium tweeter with such prominence that I found these speakers conditioned me to listen in a more forensic way, forever dissecting the elements within the music and marveling at the texture and transparency of that tweeter. I say that what you think about any audio product can be influenced by what you have been listening to before, which is perhaps why I always seem to want more time with equipment than other reviewers. Never was this brought home with such impact as when, after several months of living day to day with the superb Focal Diablos, I installed the Lindemann BL-10s. I was immediately struck by the evolving lyrical beauty that they bought to the music, but because of my familiarity with the Diablos, they also sounded a little subdued in the high frequencies, at least for a couple of days or so until I adjusted to them. They were very uncolored and dynamically free, with a feeling of instrumental separation that allowed me to access and understand the music and the playing without ever slipping into dissection mode. There is something immediately right about their balance -- something unforced, pleasing to the ear and free-flowing -- that is ultra responsive to flavor and mood.
I mentioned the BL-10's lyrical beauty a few sentences ago, and this enormously appealing aspect of the performance has kept me fascinated through many, many weeks of listening. With the Lindemann 825 CD player, I found the speakers slightly better suited to the solid-state Vitus SIA-025 integrated amp than the OTL tubes of the Berning setup, whereas with the dCS digital rig, my preferences were reversed. Theres a strong sense of musical continuity between the 825 and the unforced, expressive flow of the BL-10, but either way I think this is the nicest and certainly the most integrated stand-mount speaker I have ever had at home -- and I have had quite a few. Quite frankly, for sheer listening enjoyment, this particular group of components, with proper system infrastructure in place (i.e., properly sited on Stillpoints and suitably cabled back to front) makes a musical mockery of most very high-end systems I have heard lately.
As we know, any speaker can only express what is happening further upstream, but here I stumbled upon a truly winning combination. Most reviews of stand-mount speakers carry a "for a small speaker" caveat, and obviously some of the same qualifications apply here. But I have heard very, very few speakers of this size that need that sort of limiting comment. The BL-10's bass is quite amazing, not only in the terms of its remarkable extension, accuracy, pitch and lovely textures, but also in its lack of compressive intrusion when being pushed. There is no sense that Lindemann has felt the need to squeeze every last Hertz out of that cabinet in an attempt to broaden the speakers appeal or impress in the demonstration room. The bass just sings and flows and will continue to surprise with its qualities long, long after you have installed the speakers. Up through the midband the BL-10 is sweet, dynamic and full of body, yet tonally rich, delicate and amazingly spacious. The top end is as embedded -- the sense that the tweeter's contribution exists as separate from that of the mid/bass driver -- as I have heard, and while it certainly doesnt have the air and separation that has become one of the hallmarks of high-end audio, it possesses great subtlety and dynamic integrity. And almost as an added bonus, the speaker is marvelous at low levels too, as the sound doesnt shrink or collapse into the cabinet.
Herbie Hancocks The Imagine Project CD [Hancock Records HR0001], while perhaps not as intimate and self-contained as his previous release, River: The Joni Letters [Verve 1744826], has some of the best playing and arrangements I have heard for a while -- and I am a sucker for those things. John Lennons "Imagine," which is technically the title track, and Peter Gabriels "Dont Give Up" will certainly wind up being the standout cuts, but my favorite is "A Change Is Gonna Come," the Sam Cooke soul classic given a truly magical reworking. On the right system it's simply stunning -- and on the wrong system simply confusing. Built around what seems at first listen, to be a straight cymbal figure, the singing is rather conventional, while Tal Wilkenfelds incredible bass playing shows you that more harmonic complexity is lurking just beneath the surface. Hancock highlights the chord direction and progression, and for a while the whole thing is slightly uncomfortable for the listener. On most systems I begin to lose my bearings after a short while. The metronomic cymbal is ill at ease with the vocal, bass and piano. This is the audio system as a lens, looking into the music. The margins are quite fine here, with only an imbalance in perspectives or some false emphasis causing the misunderstanding of what is happening.
The Lindemanns excel in this chaotic environment. Unlocking complexity through the resolution of subtle and nuanced musical detail brings this song into a perspective where the straight-cymbal marker seems perfectly natural after a very short while. Hancock continues to play the conventional chords but hangs small note embellishments on to the structure in a suggestion of what could happen. Sure enough, it does. When the vocal stops, the whole thing moves into another realm as Hancock shows you what playing "outside" really means. Its not as if it takes a lot. The BL-10 is resolute and has such marvelous scaling that you understand just how close soul and jazz really are. Its almost just a change of emphasis, with the occasional hanging note or chord inversion. For a short while the musicians operate almost as soloists before that slight readjustment brings them back to where they started -- and that metronomic cymbal figure feels like the return of an old friend. This is a delicate and beautifully timed piece that will simply pass you by on lesser speakers, even though those very speakers will likely be more expensive than these.
Playing the "Piu Jesu" from the Reference Recordings Rutter Requiem CD [Reference Recordings RR-57CD] reinforces why the BL-10 is such an exceptional speaker. The delicacy of the solo female voice is plaintive but beautiful. The BL-10 excels at portraying musical contrasts and dynamic shifts so, as you strain slightly to hear that single and slightly frail element, the surge of the choirs male voices enter and you feel your whole spirit lift as that gorgeous harmony comes together. But the real challenge comes when the big organ pipes swell. Many speakers and especially smaller stand-mount designs lose shape, focus and certainly scale and perspective at this point, but the BL-10 remains calm and relatively unflustered. Once again I must mention the lyrical nature of the speaker and the extremely impressive balance with which Norbert Lindemann has endowed the BL-10. Those classic audio-system failings where the balance between power and delicacy becomes tilted are entirely absent. This is a speaker for all tastes and all musical flavors.
o the Lindemann BL-10 is a great speaker -- of that I have no doubt. For those who really listen deeply into their music and absolutely and ultimately value quality above quantity, as I do, it is a tremendous musical asset -- the more so when you consider its price alongside the competition. The only danger I can see is that, because of its size, it might find itself sitting on the end of systems that are not asking it enough questions. Other limitations are the obvious ones, where size of room or very low-powered amplifier are concerned, but it is interesting to note that Lindemann make larger floorstanding models, too, that Roy Gregory and I are looking forward to hearing. Personally, I would use the BL-10 with the highest-quality source and amplification I could find -- and that doesnt necessarily mean the most expensive. Lindemanns own 825 CD player is a very strong contender, at a price approximately equivalent to the speakers. I would directly couple those components to the best stands I could afford and connect them all with a matched set of cables, wall socket to speaker terminals. The Vitus Audio SIA-025 made such a strong case for itself that it demands a strong recommendation where amplification is concerned, while youve just got to be curious about Lindemanns own electronics.
In the near future, after I have had both the Raidho C1.1 and the Crystal Cable Arabesque Mini at home, Roy and I will put together a piece on what is unique about each speaker, and why and how they do what they do. As to the BL-10 as an addition to an existing system, I cant recommend it highly enough -- as long as the system is up to the job and its owned by someone who wants musical involvement as much as hi-fi.
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