REVIEW: HULGICH AUDIO SERENADE LOUDSPEAKERS
Australian brand, Hulgich Audio's second creation and the second review for Hulgich on StereoNET. At an affordable $3840 depending on finish, how do they stack up against the flagship Astor loudspeakers we reviewed earlier this year? Read on.
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Stand Mount Loudspeakers
I’ve long had an impossible to test theory that a loudspeaker embodies the personality of the designer crafting it for our listening pleasure.
Read all you can about Spencer Hughes of Spendor, Jim Rogers of Rogers Loudspeakers, KEF’s Raymond Cooke and of course Peter Walker of Quad fame after listening to these luminaries’ models, and you may arrive at the same notion.
Without scientific rigour my theory remains a notion but with this proviso: should you meet a speaker designer who is a total pain in the derriere, don’t be surprised when his speakers engender the same reaction.
Meeting Nick Hulgich and an afternoon spent listening to his Serenade speakers recently, has done nothing to assuage me to think differently.
Nick is a consummate speaker designer who is above all a passionate music lover whose musical journey began in Buenos Aires, Argentina when at an early age he was nourished by his parent’s and grandparent’s love of jazz and tango.
For a more comprehensive biography and an in-depth review of Nick’s flagship, Astor speakers, you could do worse than read Marc Rushton’s review here on StereoNET.
But for the record, it should be noted that along his musical trajectory, Nick imbibed the best the British loudspeaker design tradition has to offer.
I always loved the magic midrange of Tannoys, Spendors and Chartwells. I thought at the time how no one bettered the British midrange. They got it right and when you consider that’s where 98 per cent of all reproduced music lives, it was and is quite a design achievement,
And he’s right, of course. When you delve into American speaker history one thing stands out: expensive US loudspeakers have few rivals but gosh, more affordable models with some notable exceptions, emphasise bass, treble and dynamics but hardly reach the same magical midrange qualities of similarly priced English loudspeakers.
After a degree in industrial design from the University of Buenos Aires, Nick’s lifelong passion for music and audio reached an apogee when in 2010 he met Goran Nireus of Audio Excite Loudspeaker design.
Goran is seriously one of the best loudspeaker designers in the world. He’s now our technical engineering consultant and his 30 plus years of experience can be heard in all of our models,
Whilst Hulgich loudspeakers embody Nick Hulgich’s idea of what a loudspeaker should be, he turns to Nireus for advice on measurement and the best combination of components for the best possible sound.
Nick Hulgich is now a proud Australian and values the importance of home grown development and production.
My family loves Australia. Accordingly, we’d like to give something back so our products will always be locally made and will directly support the Australian economy,
Hulgich sells his speakers directly to consumers. This business model has been used successfully by brands such as Osborne Loudspeakers. But it’s not a model that delivers the widest possible audience.
Direct representation does give consumers a much lower price but not the possibility of auditioning the products up close and personally in a variety of locations.
Quite possibly Hulgich could develop a handful of models that could be ranged by hi-fi specialist stores throughout Australia. An idea worth pursuing because brands the calibre of Hulgich Audio deserve to grow and prosper.
Introducing the Serenades
This teamwork produced the Serenades that Nick personally delivered after a long arduous drive from Adelaide to Melbourne.
The Serenade is a classic two-way ported design but with a unique quality. They’ve been crafted to deliver great sound in difficult listening environments.
This model is designed for use in near-boundary locations but you can expect the same dynamic response, soundstage width, depth, height and harmonic expression as you’d get from larger, floorstanders.
Probing a little more revealed Nick designed the Serenades to deliver a high degree of control over a huge frequency range along with a pinpoint soundstage and sophisticated bass performance.
If I had to sum up the Serenades I’d describe them as a speaker that you can effortlessly enjoy for long periods at both high and whisper quiet volume levels,
The design of the Serenades gives them a low sensitivity of 85dB. Not a problem, as in my experience low efficiency doesn’t necessarily equate to a heavy load for an amplifier.
And for the record, some high sensitivity speakers sound as if they’ve been powered by a transistor amplifier with its “loudness’’ button turned on.
Also for the record, the most enjoyable loudspeakers I’ve owned have all been medium to low sensitivity models, chief amongst them the LS35/A. A speaker that sounds divine driven by Quad 15-watt per channel mono amps.
As for speakers presenting amplifiers with difficult loads, how about Quad’s 57 and 63 electrostatics. If I were an amp looking at their load, I’d give up and look elsewhere. But their sound was/is sublime.
Which is a way of saying the Serenade’s low sensitivity didn’t faze me. Nick being the consummate and thoughtful designer that he is, and recalling my designer/personality theory enquired gently about the equipment that would be used to drive his loudspeakers.
The Elektra power amp delivers 250-watts per channel into an 8-ohm load, and 350 into loads of 4ohms. Along with the muscle, it’s an amplifier with loads of refinement, grace and poise. It’s also a low distortion design with neutrality as its hallmark.
Rather than describe the Elektra, I invited Nick to have a quick listen to the system comprising an Audio Research Reference 7 CD player, Elektra pre and power amplifier driving Wilson Audio Sasha speakers.
We played a CD of soprano Felicity Lott performing Gustav Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder and the accompaniment by the Schumann Quartet. The sound pleased Nick and he asked me to send him the disc’s details so he could buy it for personal listening pleasure and to use at Hi-Fi Shows with his speakers.
An eye for detail, passionate about music and audio design, thoughtful, unassuming, modest and soulful. That’s my impression of Nick Hulgich and a neat capsule of how I experienced his Serenade loudspeakers.
The Serenade’s frequency response is 37-23000 Hz, power rating is 100 watts, and impedance is 8 ohms.
The driver compliment is a 1.2-inch ring dome tweeter fitted with a non-resonant diaphragm for minimum high frequency distortion. The tweeter also has an optimised balanced compression dual-chamber for superior dynamics.
The midwoofer is a 6-inch unit with a hard paper cone made of Norex natural fibres. It comes with a soft low damping rubber surround for superior transient responses while the chassis is made of cast aluminium for optimum strength and low compression.
My affection for drivers with paper cones comes from decades long experience. Used well, quality paper coned drivers have a musicality and tonal rightness unmatched by synthetic cones. As for the matching of paper-coned drivers with valve amps, let’s just say that’s what they use in paradise.
The Serenade’s crossover point is 2000 Hz and it must be said is inaudible thanks to a beautifully conceived crossover network, populated by Jantzen and Mundorf coils and capacitors and silver-plated copper cable from the crossover to the drivers.
The Serenade is a large 28-litre stand mount. The cabinet is made from 22mm MDF with a 25mm front baffle. It measures 22cm wide, 54cm high and 41cm deep. Each speaker weighs 16.5 Kgs.
While it’s a large stand mount, the Serenade looks smaller and sleeker than it is thanks to its sloping front baffle and sweeping stands. As for the finish, much like the flagship Astor, it’s clearly world class.
Visitors to my listening room provided unsolicited praise for the Serenade’s impeccable standard of fit and finish. The review pair was finished with Queensland walnut.
Hulgich provides a choice of several finishes and these are: American oak ($3840), American walnut ($4100), Australian Walnut ($4300), Jarrah ($4100), Teak ($4300) and piano black or white ($4500).
As a bonus, house-proud audiophiles can order the Serenades in a colour of choice but at an extra cost.
In a nice touch so typical of Nick Hulgich’s thoughtfulness, an impedance correction circuit is available for those choosing to drive the Serenades with valve amplifiers.
The circuit makes the speaker’s impedance more linear and tube amp friendly. It can be bought as a separate unit for $350 per pair or built into the Serenade’s existing crossover for $150.
The optionally available purpose-built stands were designed to get the Serenade’s tweeters at the right ear height when seated on a standard height chair. Cost is a considerable $1600.
It’s all in the listening
The Serenades were used in a system comprising an SME 20/2 turntable fitted with SME V tonearm and Koestsu Rosewood Signature Cartridge, Audio Research Reference 7 CD player, Elektra pre and power amplifiers and Wilson Sasha Speakers.
A wall mounted Quadraspire shelf held the SME turntable and the rest of the equipment was stored in a Quadraspire 4L bamboo rack. Cables comprised Inakustik LS1603 speaker cable and NF803 RCA and XLR interconnects. The speaker cable was supported by Inakustik risers. Power cables came from Nordost and Analysis Plus.
The Serenades were positioned half a metre from my room’s rear wall and a metre from its sidewalls. The area behind the speakers has been treated with Vicoustic diffusers.
Hulgich says low distortion is one of the hallmarks of all its loudspeakers. This proved to be no idle boast. Quite an achievement for a loudspeaker at this mid-level pricepoint considering the majority of loudspeakers I audition have audible levels of distortion, despite the specs provide by the manufacturers.
Loudspeaker distortion is experienced as a level of unease as the brain responds to what the ears accumulate during the listening process. This type of distortion can evade current methods of measuring.
But none the less it’s present in loads and loads of loudspeakers ranging from budget models, and all the way up to prestige models costing the price of a luxury class car.
Within a minute of slipping Mahler’s Liebst du um Schonheit, one of his Ruckert Leiders sung by Felicity Lott the Serenade’s minimal distortion was confirmed.
In the space between Lott’s voice and the violinist on her left was just pitch-black silence. As the other instruments joined in and during every crescendo, there remained a sense of ease as the performance continued.
This sense of ease of listening extended to every track played during the review sessions. But along with the low levels of distortion, the Serenades delivered scads of transparency, tonal neutrality, smooth extended high frequencies, and a generous working dynamic range.
Compared to my Dynaudio Contour 1.3SE, the Serenades had a tad less treble extension and air but loads more deep, tight informative and tuneful bass.
The Serenade’s midrange was also superior to the Contours and as Lott’s pure voice ascended and descended, the Serenades followed with an enviable neutrality and tonal evenness and smoothness.
Transparency also worked in the Serenade’s favour. The Contours revealing a hint of veiling between the violin, piano and vocals and the listener that wasn’t present via the Hulgich Serenades.
Commendable as well was the Serenade’s ability to generate an expansive soundstage much wider than the Contour could muster. Much deeper and higher as well.
Within this soundstage it was so easy to locate each instrument, each performer and the relative distances from each other. As for preserving the leading edges of the notes, the Contour was marginally superior. But this rounding of leading edges is very slight.
No problem with working dynamic range though as the Serenades powered through Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In the Wall on vinyl without a hint of distress.
The Wall is essentially stage drama with all the attendant imaging emerging from a huge soundstage. Its performance is populated by lots of detail and an earful of violent volume level swings presented via a storm of insistent, menacing bass.
Small speakers struggle to cope with The Wall’s larger than life presence and it came as no surprise to hear my Contour speakers reach their limits. But not so with the Serenades that seemed to cope with the track’s demands so much better, but hardly with the consummate ease my much bigger Sashas provide.
Hulgich has a floorstanding version of the Serenades idling away in its workshop. A speaker that going by what the Serenade compacts delivered should be just the ticket as a gateway for tracks as monstrous as Floyd’s.
Over a couple of weeks of constant use, the Serenade’s performance went up a notch. The sonic gains were almost like inserting a model further up Hulgich’s select range into the system.
This was evident when I played an SACD, the Japanese pressing of the Stone’s Let It Bleed album. I often use the track, You Got The Silver as a test piece to hear if gear treats Ry Cooder’s subtle mandolin accompaniment with the respect this maestro musician deserves.
The Stones are anything but subtle and you’d expect Mick, Keith and the rest of the boys to hammer away at their instruments and vocals almost oblivious to Cooder’s contribution.
The Serenades don’t let them overpower the sweet, detailed sound of this mandolin. A testament to the Serenade’s detail reproduction powers and organic presentation of a complex piece of music.
By the end of the review, I was left with the impression the Serenades are a couple of classes above their pricepoint. Refined, accurate but compellingly musical, the Serenades are a speaker I could buy in haste and enjoy at my leisure.
A towering and thoughtful achievement, the Serenades are most highly recommended.
For more information visit Hulgich Audio.
One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.