Speakers are often a conundrum for space-strapped audiophiles. Sure, often larger speakers sound better, but there are often constraints like room size, distance from the walls and other equipment, and plenty of other imaging concerns. If you’re not listening in a dedicated listening room, often these factors are less than ideal. Fortunately, there are some speakers out there that truly make the most of their minuscule footprint, filling the room with great sound without being too picky about placement.
The first time I heard the Vanatoo Transparent Zeros, I was at Capital Audio Fest. I walked into a room full of onlookers (or should they be “onlisteners”?) with sound effortlessly enveloping me. Then confusingly, I looked around for what is usually a tower of equipment flanked by a pair of tall speakers… only to find two minuscule trapezoid-shaped boxes at the front of the room. Right then I knew the Vanatoos were special.
|The Zeros come with some sweet magnetic grills and isolation pads
Granted I have built a couple of small-form-factor full-range speakers in the past that do a nice job filling a small space and work well for near-field monitoring. One of which uses a 3” driver from GR Research, and one uses a 4” driver from Fostex. Both I like to augment with a small subwoofer to fill in the lower-end. The Vanatoos certainly do not need any low-end augmentation. The bass quantity is there in spades. This is thanks to a 4” passive radiator that complements the 4” woofer, moving quite a bit more air than just a single driver. In fact, the bass is actually a bit much for me (someone used to listening to headphones) so I simply turn the bass down on the Vanatoos and all is well.
The bass adjustment is not on the source equipment, the Transparent Zeros actually have a built-in equalizer. That’s not all, they have a built-in integrated 4-channel 48W class D amplifier, USB input with built-in DAC, wireless remote, Bluetooth (with aptX), and a subwoofer out if you’re a true basshead and NEED MOAR BASS. It also comes with a host of wires if you happened to not have any USB or analog cables sitting about. So, for $359 a pair, you get a lot for your money... truly a plug and play system where all you need is a phone or computer to get grooving. These speakers sound quite good in this price-range and fill the room better than anything I’ve heard at this price.
|A look at the variety of features on the back of the unit
Being an audiophile and a relentless tweaker, I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with placement and found the Zeros sound best in a certain configuration. Per the literature, you can place the speakers firing up or stood on their handle, firing forward. I found they sound notably more controlled with firmer bass firing upward, likely because more surface area is planted on whatever surface they are sitting on. I also like them placed on an IsoAcoustics Aperta stand, mounted on a wood plinth with the included foam pad sandwiched between the speaker and the wood. To increase the clarity of the treble, I recommend removing the magnetic speaker grills. These little tweaks may sound silly, but you'll quickly hear a difference.
I haven't tried building any large gauge cables for them yet (or use an audio-grade Ethernet cable to connect the second speaker to the base speaker), but in time I'm sure I'll try it :) Placement, I believe, is far more important.
|A look at the handsome Zeros sans grills
|I don't think the Zeros sound quite as controlled in this configuration,
but I encourage you to try it yourself.
Anything not to like? As mentioned, you’ll probably want to play with the EQ and potentially use a stand to get the sound to your liking. In my small listening space, the bass was a little overwhelming and overpowered the rest of the sound. I believe the standard settings are voiced a little more for the average user vs. the audiophile or enthusiast, which makes sense given the price. Turning down the bass and bumping up the treble results in a nice, balanced sound (to these ears), falling to the warm side thanks to a forgiving soft-dome tweeter. The typical caveat for Bluetooth applies: while it is perfectly implemented on the Zeros, it takes some of the life out of the music, just like every other device I’ve used Bluetooth with. It will be a while before I ditch the wires ;) Connecting is a breeze though and easier than most devices. I was also surprised at the quality of the built-in USB DAC, being quite clear when extracting hi-res music from my phone.
If you are looking for an all-in-one sound solution for a small to medium-sized room and you're looking for good sound quality at a very reasonable cost, the Transparent Zeros are a great choice. Also, if you anticipate needing something portable that can be moved from room to room easily (or taken along for travel), the value gets even better. They are versatile, well made, and have carved themselves a nice niche in the market that was previously vacant.
The Fine Print: DIYAudioBlog was provided the Vanatoo Transparent Zeros as a review sample, however this does not affect the integrity of this review. I actually use them frequently in my work-room while I build new stuff to blog about ;)