Review by David Neice
In the House!
Owner Review of Jean Marie Reynaud’s Bliss Jubilé Speakers
Speakers: MSRP:$2990 Cdn
JMR Magic Stands: MSRP:$890 Cdn
Disclosure: These speakers are not on loan from a distributor; instead, I own them. I purchased them from George Taylor at Entracte Audio, an authorized J.M. Reynaud dealer in Markham Ontario, and they are definitely not being returned.
Verdict: These are superb stereo speakers. Factoring in my listening preferences they are easily the best speakers that have ever graced my listening room. Unusually for any speaker, they are adept at communicating the emotion of a musical performance, a rare feat. I expect many years of delightful service and they are now my new reference for evaluating other stand mount speakers while writing reviews for Wall of Sound.
It’s Sunday morning and I am listening to J.J. Cale and Eric Clapton playing together on my newly acquired Bliss Jubilés. Here is my general reaction. Wow – whatever was I thinking when I robbed myself of over two years of having these beauties in the house!
For the past twelve years I have enjoyed a pair of JMR Twins (Mk III) mounted on an early version of the JMR Magic Stands. JMR products are still largely unknown in North America, although they are well regarded in Europe. My JMR Twins were an early iteration of the Reynaud two-way stand mount legacy, culminating now with the newly released Bliss Jubilé. Over the past decade of listening to the Twins, other speakers have come and gone but the Twins always drew me back in with their seductive ‘all aroundness’.
Do model changes matter?
We are all famiiar with the marketing angle of component upgrades and people mostly love getting the latest model; it is a kind of buyer’s addiction.
A total of eight JMR models have appeared in this position of their lineup – up to and including the Bliss Jubilé, but it all started with the Twin (MK I) in the late 1990’s.
The Twin evolved through four iterations and then the design was completely rethought and became, briefly, the Duet. The Duet was followed by the plain Bliss and then a bit later by the significantly improved Bliss Silver. The model was suddenly dropped by JMR in 2017 and then resucitated two years later with the Bliss Jubilé.
Over the past twenty years two significant design leaps occurred. The first was a complete redesign with the Duet. The cabinet was enlarged a bit and internal cavities were expanded to turn the speaker into a full transmission line design.
A second major redesign involved a special system of internal rod bracing and tensioning on the mid-woofer to help reduce cabinet resonances to vanishing levels. This design change marked the transition from the plain vanilla Bliss model to the Bliss Silvers.
These redesigns made the speaker much better, but also more difficult to craft and inevitably more expensive. However, when the Bliss Silvers arrived, in all their petite glory, the user/owner buzz about this speaker really started to ramp up. Samuel Furon, the Canadian distributor of JMR (Atelier Audio), confided to me at the first Toronto Audio Fest, that the Bliss Silvers were indeed ‘something special’.
When JMR dropped production of the Bliss Silvers in 2017, dismay was immediately noted amongst distributors and potential buyers, Then, quite suddenly, JMR announced that the Bliss Jubilé (essentially the Silvers rebadged) would be the last product released by JMR to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the firm. In my view it was time to grab a pair and so I did. Brief technical information can be found below as well as a link to more technical details. (Footnote 1)
Before purchasing them I reasoned that the Bliss Jubilés would offer me the same general sound field as my JMR Twins, but with more of everything. I got that dead right. While writing this I am sitting two rooms away from where they are playing and song lyrics, even at this distance, are clear as a bell.
The only thing missing, which the Twins (falsely) offer, is a certain boxiness and a touch of chestiness on male vocals which the Twins mix into their sound field, plus the tweeter on the Twins is a shade too hot. After a few minutes you realize that the Twin’s mild chestiness is a regressive colouration likely due to their (Audax-based) PVC mid-woofer cone, rather than the long fibre paper cone of the Jubilé. The more advanced TL design of the Bliss also helps sidestep that subtle colouration.
The Bliss Jubilé tweeter is spot on, offering tremendous energy dispersion with no trace of fatigue, even after very long listening sessions. This tweeter is also used in the JMR Cantabile and is the one big upgrade from the Bliss Silvers. The Jubilé are incredibly neutral and have an electrostatic-like mid-range. The braced rod design also clearly has a significant impact by reducing cabinet resonances and by grabbing the edges of the mid-woofer basket in a vice-like grip.
I had pretty much given up on getting a pair of the Bliss Silvers after JMR cancelled their production. The European demand for them must have forced Jean-Claude Reynaud, now the owner of JMR, into rethinking that decision, and so here are the Bliss Jubilé, like Lazarus, resurrected again. Due to my preference for a certain cabinet finish, the delivery took a few weeks but they now match my other gear.
These speakers, like the Twins and the other previous Bliss models, pretty much require the use of the JMR Magic Stands for optimum performance. These stands are made of wood and are beautifully finished in satin black. They incorporate two Helmholtz resonators within the stands central column, and their net effect is to subtely reinforce the mid-bass and lower mid-range of the speaker and smooth the overall frequency response. Graphs of their performance properties are noted on the JMR web-site. Amazingly, I have found in the past that these stands will help other monitor and bookshelf style speakers perform better and I cannot imagine living without them.
The close synergy of the Bliss Jubilees with my amp, a Unison Research ‘Simply Italy’, which is an EL34 single-ended low feedback design, is highly beneficial. These speakers are a nominal four ohm load, quite efficient, and only need a small crack of the Unison’s volume control to fill the room.
That Glorious Mid-Range
Now we come to the hard part; the kudos and the caveats. Speakers cannot be all things to all listeners and any design has inherent limitations that are the province of basic physics. First and foremost, this is a speaker that is all about the midrange. Their glory is in getting the midrange as right as rain. But are you, as a listener, also so inclined?
Since the mid-range is where I live on the audio spectrum – I much prefer male and female voice, piano, and other instruments in that frequency range, such as soprano saxophone – then, above all, a speaker must be truly excellent in the midrange for me to really like it. My long audio experience tells me that a really transparent midrange in any non-electrostatic design is a rare find.
It is this special quality of the Bliss Jubilee with acoustic instruments and human voices that immediately captures the ear of the listener. Singers, who I have heard live, just sound so natural and right with these speakers that the effect is uncanny. There is a reach out and touch the performer quality that I have only heard before with Quad ESL speakers, and there is a harmonic rightness that transcends the ordinary.
I will use an example. Lester Quitzau and Mae Moore (both Canadian) did a small limited edition album called ‘Oh My’. Lester recorded it on a vintage one inch eight track recorder in a cabin in the B.C. woods. It is a tremendously realistic and natural recording of acoustic guitars, with Lester playing slide guitar and sometimes doubling on his own tracks and with Mae singing along from time to time. Like some of Ry Cooder’s audiophile recordings, the music simply leaps out of the speakers.
I was mesmerized when I played this album through the Bliss Jubilés. The Jubilés both highlight my favourite tracks on that album and also offer such rich detail on the other tracks that the album quickly seemed fresh and new again. I found this effect was happening over and over as I worked through an array of CD’s and vinyl albums. This is the mark of an exceptional speaker.
Those Shiver Moments
These speakers also stimulate in the listener a series of ‘shiver moments’. The rarest quality that a speaker can reveal about a musical performance is the emotion conveyed in a performance. Emotional communication in music is still the open frontier of speaker design. Many speaker designs can reproduce the music, and can wow us with their sonics, but for a speaker to climb up another step on the ladder and actually convey sufficient nuance that we are emotionally captivated by a performance – well, that is quite rare.
In my view, the ability of a speaker to convey emotional communication within a performance is the door that separates hi-end audio from other contenders. Price is certainly a factor, but not as much as many imagine. Many vintage components become preferred vintage because they can communicate musical emotion and this aspect of sound reproduction simply cannot be measured.
When auditioning these speakers I found myself frequently going dead still. Generally, when this happens I know that the speaker is doing something special. When my critical voice switches off and I just want to fall into the music, then I become aware that a speaker is a special case. It has happened before, but not often.
With the Bliss Jubilé it is almost as if it transports you there, to that state of internal quietude, from the very first notes. I found that I could listen to track after track and never bother to assess the speakers. Then, after a while you arrive at a shiver moment where the force of the emotion being conveyed overwhelms your senses. All audiophiles treasure these moments.
Limitations and Comparisons
But, there are limits. In contrast to the above virtues, these are not big rock speakers, they just don’t (and can’t) offer that kind of slam or bass extension. Certainly, bass response is as tuneful and precise as one would expect from a good transmission line design, but if you want slam and in the gut bass response, then another speaker will likely be your preference.
I cannot fault the reproduction in the upper octaves or the ability of the tweeter to supply massive energy and pizzazz to things like drum cymbals. But these speakers do not etch in the performance with X-ray levels of detail, and some listeners do prefer that kind of hyperactive sound field. So, all buyers should be very clear as to their listener preferences before they venture into speaker auditions, and should shop accordingly.
How do they compare with a well-known standmount killer like the ATC SCM 19? I visited Entracte Audio in early November for an open house and asked George Taylor to arrange a shoot out with the Bliss Jubilé and the ATC SCM 19 and he graciously agreed. There is about a $2K difference in price with the ATC being considerably more money. One listener who was sitting next to me owns ATC 19’s and immediately expressed surprise at the price difference. Several other guests were also there intently listening, including Scott Wylde (Arcadia Audio) a JMR distributor representative.
I would have to say unequivocally that while the ATC SCM 19 is a very fine speaker, the JMR (for my listening purposes) had a small advantage and that was pretty much the conclusion of other listeners. If we were listening to pure pop or even big rock, I am sure the extra slam of the ATC would have tipped the balance in its favour, but with the material we selected that day, the intimacy of the Bliss Jubilés pulled the listeners in quite nicely. As noted above, the preferences of each owner for certain musical material should always guide their final choices.
If you like everything from Eva Cassidy to modern pop as well as small scale orchestra and chamber ensembles, classical and modern jazz as well as R & B, then these might well be your last speakers. Certainly I have a few senior correspondents who express to me again and again that these are the final speakers they will own.
The Magic Stands (MK II) are definitely required to get the maximum performance out of the Bliss Jubilee speakers and these stands, albeit quite beautiful, are currently a bit expensive. One way to look at it is to see the stands not just as perches for the speakers, but as an upgrade component offering a real performance boost. However, serious buyers will need to factor in the extra costs as part of a total package. Some dealers may also be able to offer you a discount for the speakers if purchased with the stands.
Bob Neill runs Amherst Audio in Amherst, Massachusetts, and until quite recently was the only source for JMR speakers in North America. Bob has argued for years that if the Spendor BC1 had remained a two way speaker (as the first samples were designed) and if they had been redesigned and improved over the intervening 50 years, they would have evolved to become something very much like the JMR two way stand mounts, such as the Twins and the Bliss. As much as I respect Bob’s views, I have always disagreed with this assessment. In my humble opinion, JMR speakers are JMR speakers and Spendors are Spendors.
But I can tell you this. The Spendor BC1 (I still own a refinished pair) was in its day the mid-range speaker to beat. It has even been rumoured that some marriages were gradually dissolved over the lust that certain audiophiles carried for the quality of its mid-range.
At this moment I have come around sufficiently to concur with at least one aspect of Bob’s viewpoint. The Bliss Jubilés are most certainly not BC1’s (and I am very happy for that), but they are definitely the natural heir to the title of ‘mid-range champion’.
(1) The Bliss Jubilee is a front-ported transmission line design that uses a 17 cm mid-woofer with a long-fibre paper cone, and a 28 mm silk dome impregnated tweeter as well as a complicated cabinet involving internal cavities and baffles and a braced rod system for tensioning the mid-bass driver within the cabinet. Other smaller design flourishes include silver wiring and silver capacitors on the crossover. The speaker presents a 4 ohm load and is sensitivity rated at 88 db. The crossover point is 2800 Hz and the stated frequency range is 45 Hz to 25KHz. More detailed technical information is available (in English) from the JMR web-site found here: (https://jm-reynaud.com/bliss-jubile.html )