Combing through the Florida Audio Expo back in February led to some great finds in audio. I listened to various speakers, amplifiers, preamps, cables, and doo-dads of every incarnation. It was there that I met the nice folks from Vanatoo and heard their self-powered speakers, of which there were two different kinds at the time. The room was crowded, but I managed to get a decent listening position to audition their products. The session stuck with me, so much so that I made it point to look them up again at AXPONA in April. They remembered me, as well, which showed me how personable the folks running Vanatoo are.
The concept of a full-range speaker with built-in amplification is certainly nothing new. Musicians, especially, have been using them for years as nearfield monitors. However, the concept has been more foreign to the home audio user until recently. Now, we are seeing more powered speakers coming to market for budding audiophiles looking to put together a small system, without having to use an amplifier. Simply add source material and go. In a world gone mad with a dreadful race to create the world’s greatest mono Bluetooth speaker, I’ve felt that this bridges a very necessary gap between someone who is not ready for the investment of a full stack of separate components, but has elevated themselves above the single-tiny-speaker-on-the-counter solution.
The Vanatoo Transparent One Encores start by giving you a nice pair of two-way speakers in a passive radiator design. A 5” aluminum cone woofer and 1” dome tweeter grace the front, while each speaker has a 5” passive radiator in the rear. One speaker houses the amplifier unit with all of the controls, while the other is a passive unit. Vanatoo also provides a full complement of cables to get you going right out of the box.
There are several options for plugging in your source component. I chose to run my Pioneer Elite DV-45A player digitally into the coax input to hear the onboard DAC right away. Keeping the bass and treble controls flat (12 noon), right away I found the Transparent One Encores to sound better in my listening room than they did in the hotel rooms at the audio shows. They were instantly fun to listen to and I quickly grabbed “Hemispheres” by Rush- and just listened in.
So, the Transparent One Encores are not going to sound like huge speakers (though the option is there to run them with a subwoofer), but they sound very tight, responsive, and crisp. As I dove into “Hemispheres,” Neil Peart’s cymbal work came through like bells, and honestly, all the drums sounded fantastic. Alex Lifeson’s guitar flowed smoothly with decent definition. Geddy Lee’s voice didn’t punch through too hard, which can happen when listening to Rush with smaller speakers.
I spun the entire album, because once you start, you just can’t stop. Actually, if you’re of my generation, is an unspoken law that you can’t stop a Rush album before it’s over. After Rush, I was still in the mood for something fun. That’s just how the Vanatoos make you feel- let’s pull out all the fun stuff and listen. So next it was Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies.” Yes, a somewhat unconventional choice for an audio review, but I wanted to hear what they would do with the special edition release.
Here, the Transparent One Encores showed that they can image very nicely. Once the disc came around to track 3, “Elected,” the soundstage was wider than anything I’d hear from them so far. Voices poured individually from both speakers with a commanding presence that definitely made me take notice.
Then next, in track 4, the title song, the soundstage came right back to center, widening again once voices and guitars kicked in. The Vanatoos were making this album a tremendous amount of fun to listen to.
I’m aware that buyers are probably going to use the Bluetooth function far more than the various other inputs that the Transparent One Encores offer, so I didn’t wait long to try it. To my great pleasure, the speakers paired up with my Samsung Galaxy S8+ instantly and effortlessly. More importantly, the sound was fantastic. I’ll admit, I’m always skeptical when going into one of these tests, because I’ve heard Bluetooth sound terrible before. But, the Vanatoos seem to have gotten the formula right. Playing some B.B. King tracks from my phone, mp3 no less, yielded a very full and rich sound that had nearly the fidelity of the CDs that I had been playing earlier.
At just $599, the Vanatoo Transparent One Encores represent a very nice value for anyone who is putting together a small system. While some might lament a lack of phono input, the sound quality and versatility make these speakers an outstanding option to bring big music into a small room. Again, I really like the option of being able to add a subwoofer, which I would probably do, were I keeping them for myself, but these stereo speakers are a great starting point for the burgeoning audiophile.