Review by Noam Bronstein
Some gear comes in and out of our lives casually. It’s different with speakers sometimes. When a speaker gets under your skin, it triggers a more emotional attachment. Some call it “speaker fixation” – the notion that you build your entire system around the speakers you love. And if done right, I think this can be a 100% valid approach: mate the right speakers to the right room, and you’ve nailed the biggest system interaction, or variable. From there, the right amp to drive those speakers, and so on.
I had no preconceptions about Xavian’s Perla monitor, because I really didn’t know anything about the company or their speakers, before they reached out to me back in the summer. They’ve become well known in Europe, but not (yet) on this side of the ocean. From even a cursory look at these speakers’ finish, their selling price, and some reviews, I expected they’d be good. And I thought they might work well in my system – particularly because my rather small family room is appropriately sized for a small speaker like this. (Remember the days when we were music lovers, and bought BBC Monitors by the millions? Okay, me neither.)
Xavian assured me that my 40-watt push-pull tube amplifier would drive the Perla with no issue. They suggest, for example that customers have found good synergy with the modestly powered (and endlessly popular) Yamaha integrated amps. Not a fancy recommendation – but I know those amps can be quite capable in the right setting. I was really just fishing to make sure these weren’t power hogs, like some of the B&W’s and KEF’s I’ve crossed paths with occasionally over the years. I needn’t have worried – the 8 Ohm taps of my Yaqin MS-20L proved to be a wonderful match.
Xavian speakers are built in the Czech Republic, and sold direct via their eshop. Their chief and designer is Roberto Barletta, an Italian who also founded AudioBarletta – the firm in Italy which produces all the transducers used in Xavian’s speakers. Yes, the drivers are made in house, or at least, ‘within the family’. The Perla Esclusiva is part of the company’s Natura series. The emphasis is on natural sound reproduction – these are made for music listening.
So, the Perla has been around for a few years, and has racked up some awards, and some very favourable press. But over this past summer, as the pair that I was to receive was being prepared, Xavian decided to upgrade the speaker significantly, and rename it the Perla Esclusiva. It’s not a redesign; the box dimensions and drivers are unchanged. But the box construction has gone from using walnut to aged oak – the wood is cured for three weeks before starting the build – and, like the Perla, using a pattern of laminated sections called Mosaik to create superbly machined, beautifully finished cabinets. Yes, these are built with solid wood: no MDF is used. They’re hefty, and, well, very solid. They feel inert, while Xavian acknowledges that their wood is a contributor to their sound, just as with a musical instrument. The other significant change is a major upgrade in crossover componentry, to premium Mundorf capacitors. Xavian tells me this has improved sonics across the board, including better frequency extension, over the old Perla. Lastly, the Esclusiva sports better binding posts (engraved Xavian Prague), and a nice-if-cosmetic pride of ownership touch – a pearl embedded on the back panel of each speaker.
The speakers arrived in an excellent carton, not massively oversized, but well designed with ample foam protection. The quality of the packing materials and even the accessories that I saw upon opening the box let me know that this company is highly professional. You can see this in their photos, and seeing and feeling the speakers for the first time gave the same impression. The speakers I received were finished in Dark Oak.
This is a fairly conventional looking monitor. It’s a two-way system, crossed at 3000Hz, in series to preserve perfect phase response. It’s a small box (31.5cm x 19cm x 23.6cm), and utilizes a slot loaded bass reflex port. They are meant to be stand-mounted, and I found them not to be overly sensitive about positioning. There’s a spot for speakers in my room that usually works best, and the Perlas were happy there. Small changes in positioning and toe-in didn’t affect things a whole lot for me. Perlas can be ordered with Xavian’s beautiful matching stands, which are about 31 inches tall. I have a pair of DIY stands that are about the same height, and at my listening position, this height placed the Perlas at the manufacturer recommended level – the center point between the woofer and tweeter should be at about the same altitude as your ears. Having said that, I initially tried the Perlas at a much lower height, about 24 inches, and also at about 27 inches. And they sounded just as good to me at the lower heights. Score a point for the Perla, as I find myself getting nervous when valuable speakers are sitting higher than about 25-26 inches. I just don’t like it, unless the stands are extremely stable. (Xavian’s stands allow you to bolt the speakers down)
How about we get on to some listening then?
Oh, my. If you like a speaker that ‘disappears’, you’ve come to the right place. If you want a small speaker that sounds big, open, and coherent, with all kinds of music, this is it. If you crave a dynamic speaker that can also show you the brilliant attributes of horns and planars when called upon (speed, transparency), buckle yourself in.
What can I say about the Perlas’ sonic character? In summary, this speaker is engaging, and downright fun. Music pours out of it, with verve, and soul. Imaging is absolutely first rate, and detail retrieval is excellent. I’m almost embarrassed when I think about how much synergy I achieved here.
Besides being tiny and sounding big, the really crazy balancing act these speakers manage is that they’re simultaneously refined, and fun.
Is it the phase coherence? The well designed crossover, set well above the critical midband range where the ear is so sensitive to anomalies? Is it the quality of the drivers, the cabinet design and construction? It surely must be the combination of everything working together.
Jazz is a delight with the Perla. Blue Note classics like Ike Quebec’s Blue & Sentimental were superbly enjoyable. Rythmic jazz like Dave Brubeck was off the charts – whatever the quartet did with time signatures, the Perlas gladly obliged and followed beat for beat. On Waltz For Debby, I can scarcely remember the trio ever sounding better, not just as a whole, but each individual part was clearer and more distinct than I ever recall hearing before. The Perlas shine a light on the performers in a way I’ve seldom heard.
The Perla actually demonstrated an uncanny competence with all piano recordings. Piano sounded rich and resonant and woody, like the percussion instrument that it is. Bill Evans’ piano parts with his trio, and on Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue, sounded clearer and more distinct than I’d heard them in a long time. Nor was it limited to tinkling – I spun Beethoven pounders like Sviatoslav Richter and Zoltan Kocsis to great effect as well. These speakers really portray the piano remarkably well.
But then, basically every type of music I ever listen to (really just about everything) came across well. I listened to classical symphonies and African worldbeat. I listened to Indian slide sitar and was mesmerized. Sometimes sound quality isn’t the thing; if the music is mesmerizing, the speaker did its job. Vocalists, singer songwriters, bring them on. Even modern pop and hip-hop was convincing! (in its low-fi way)
The Perla’s middle and upper frequency rendering was very coherent, and often sounded magical. I keep wanting to say balanced, and competent. But the Perla is also lively and engaging, like a speaker that doesn’t give a damn. In my space the sound leans a bit to the forward side of neutral, which suits me well. And it does that with not much power. I could imagine that with (some) larger amps, you might want to sit a few feet further back.
I can’t count the number of times I looked up at the Perlas and thought “no way” am I listening to a small pair of bookshelf speakers…
Let’s Talk About Bass
The elephant in the room in any monitor review is bass. How much is there? Is it any good? Do I need a subwoofer? Well, this is one of the areas where the Perla Esclusiva completely blew me away. It has bass capability far in excess of what you’d (in your wildest dreams!) expect to pull from its box dimensions, or really from any 5.5″ mid woofer. This speaker can boogie and party. I’m serious – it shows up and represents. I threw some real deep bass tests at the Perla, lots of them, both acoustic and electric bass, kettle drums, and more, for example:
Bruce Cockburn’s Rise And Fall
Bela Fleck’s Flight Of The Cosmic Hippo
Enya’s The Longhsips
Nils Lofgren’s Bass & Drum Intro
Christian McBride’s Night Train
Ennio Morricone’s The Mission
Run The Jewels’ Talk To Me
Lorde’s 400 Lux
Major Lazer’s Roll The Bass
The Rolling Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?
The Perla does not need a subwoofer, in my opinion. You heard that right. No sub needed. For me. This little monitor does a pretty convincing full-range presentation. The bass here is very good – tight, fast, and plentiful. I’m not saying you couldn’t pair them with a sub. But if that’s your mindset, you’re probably not even reading this review.
Seat of the pants meter? I ran some test tone bass samples informally into the Perlas, and the 90Hz, 80Hz, 70Hz, 60Hz, and 50Hz tones all sounded equally strong (very slightly down at 50Hz). I thought I heard a very slight rise at 90Hz, but it may have been my imagination. These speakers aren’t “jacked” like so many monitors. Now the 40Hz tone was down several dB (at least 6-8dB), but still sounded impressive. 30Hz was way down, maybe 12-15dB or even more, but still quite audible. This little speaker can move some air. The Perla’s response is spec’d to 53Hz at -3dB. That’s fairly deep bass, and indeed, 50Hz comes across very well through the Perla. If there’s stuff below that, you will at least get a nice taste of it. Amazing. Given the modest cabinet size and 15cm driver, Xavian really knows how to pull the most from them.
To validate this, I played an old chestnut of sorts, Psalms Of Consolation And Hope, a 1978 Argo LP of choral music, accompanied only by John Scott on the pipe organ. This recording has plenty of bottom octave information; notes, chords and overtones. It’s not overblown, but you hear plenty in this 31-62Hz range. The Perla delivered this performance quite nicely. Certainly not the best I’ve ever heard, but it was in no way embarrassed.
Of course, if you really want to rattle walls, get a sub, a THX receiver and a big pair of Polks. With my tube amp and a pair of Perlas in my room, I got very satisfying bass.
The Perla Esclusiva is priced at 1,990 Euros, inclusive of VAT (they’re 1645 Euros without VAT, if you can manage to swing that). This is not a small amount of money, but when compared against natural competitors like Harbeth, Reference 3A, B&W, KEF, etc., I think Xavian is pricing aggressively. There is nothing cheap about this speaker or the way it is built. Selling direct to the public offers a competitive advantage; the downside is that auditioning the speakers will be a challenge.
I had wanted to try other amplifiers with the Perlas, but fate conspired against me. I did briefly use an 80wpc Pioneer AVR (VSX-1020), but this 7.1-channel receiver is apparently not configured to run full range as a 2-channel amp, even in Direct mode. It sounded good but something was obviously missing, especially down low. I wouldn’t normally refer the reader to another website’s review, but Christiaan Punter has just completed his review of the Perla Esclusiva over at hifi-choice.com, and his observations so closely reflect my own that, if you want to discover more on amplifier synergy, I’d recommend reading his experiences. He used both tube and solid state amps, and I think his observations are very well placed.
This has been a somewhat difficult review to write – only because my enthusiasm for the Perla Esclusiva is such that, I feel like some of what I say about it will sound “over the top”. A reviewer’s job is to be objective and unbiased. But we’re human, and sometimes our references or expectations are so thoroughly flattened by what we’re trying to review, that we have to step back and do a reset.
That’s what the Perla has done here – it won me over so convincingly that I actually felt compelled to tone down my effusive praise, and try to look at the situation in context, in order to write about it rationally. If nothing else, I’d like to remain credible. =)
I’d estimate that over the last 40 years, I’ve owned, lived with, borrowed/reviewed around 150 different speaker systems. Some stayed for weeks, some for years. This number includes a few speakers that belonged to parents and roommates, and a few close friends whose rooms I was very familiar with. But mostly they resided with me, and my music. Speakers that I’ve spent some quality time with. They’ve ranged from dynamic to hybrid, horns of various descriptions, coaxials, full range (widebanders), open baffles, planar magnetics (a bunch), and a couple of electrostatics. Obviously, there are thousands more that I’m not intimately familiar with; but I do know what ‘decent’, ‘pretty good’, ‘great’, and superb sounds like. And I have a good handle on what compromise looks and sounds like, in a domestic setting. Xavian’s Perla Esclusiva isn’t the single best speaker I’ve ever heard. But in my current room, with my relatively modest gear, and my music, they are downright scary good. These speakers defied my notions of how a very small monitor should perform. You could fit these things on a large desktop, but they badly want you to sit ten feet back so they can perform for you. They want you to put on your best music, and put the rest of your life on hold while you do. I did plenty of that…and the Perlas made me smile every time I listened.
So I’ll say it this way: if, like me, you find yourself with a decent 40-50 watt amp, and – as I suspect many of us do – a room with somewhere around 1200-1500 cubic feet of space, and an open mind, the Xavian Perla is a speaker most worthy of your consideration. It fits well in modest/average rooms, it looks great (my wife adores the Perla), it sounds outstanding, and by any measure, it represents an enormous value. I’m happy to award the Perla Esclusiva our Gold Star, and very enthusiastically recommend it.
Xavian Perla Esclusiva
Price: 1,990 Euro per pair, plus shipping cost
Product web page: https://www.xavian.cz/product/perla-esclusiva/?lang=en
Source of review sample: Xavian, Czech Republic