Ophidian P1 Evolution Loudspeaker Review
Jay Garrett lends his ears to this intriguing mid-price British standmount loudspeaker…
There's nowhere to hide if you're a £2,200 standmount speaker – the market is saturated, not just in the UK but in pretty much every affluent country now. So to sell, you have to be unique in some way. Also, the manufacturer has to put its money where its mouth is in terms of development and product support.
Ophidian is the brainchild of Wirral-based designer Gareth James. StereoNET has previously been impressed by the compact and bijou Mojo, so it was always going to be fun finding out how his more expensive products stack up. The secret weapon – if you can call it that – is the special Aeroflex port, a unique contrivance that runs along the cabinet's back panel in a 'u' shape, and then into the main chamber. Gareth says it's like a cross between a bass reflex and a transmission line, and that's good enough for me.
This design is said to dramatically lower port air velocity, which in turn is said to better control the drive unit. Interestingly, the port has to work for a living; it doesn't just carry out air-moving duties but also acts as a brace to strengthen the cabinet's wooden walls. I initially thought that the port was 'handed' and so allowed you to have them either on the outer or inner edges of the set-up, but that's not the case. If you are looking to change the sound of the speakers, moving them closer to a wall does give you more mid-bass effect from the woofer, as with a conventional reflex-loaded loudspeaker. The carefully optimised crossover is said to use Mundorf components.
Another treat is the driver complement. The rather beautiful 180mm SEAS mid/bass unit is a Norwegian-made design that sports an aluminium cone, a large magnet, copper-clad aluminium voice coil and low-loss rubber surround. It partners a 27mm Sonolex-coated fabric dome tweeter. Both drivers are fitted to a 25mm thick floating baffle mounted to the chassis via a flexible gasket. This design aims to prevent much of the vibrational force generated by the drivers from transferring directly to the cabinet walls.
The Sheffield-made cabinet is small at 349x192x310mm (HxWxD) but weighs a hefty 9kg apiece. Plywood was chosen over MDF for this particular job, as per the famed BBC LS3/5a, as it's stronger and has better internal damping. As well as the previously mentioned Aeroflex port, the rear of the cabinet is home to a set of sturdy terminal posts.
The P1 EVO is a nice bit of furniture alright but hardly stands out in a crowd. It's got a classic look, almost something of the late nineteen seventies. There's an air of solidity and respectability which extends to its claimed measured performance. The manufacturer quotes a frequency response of 45Hz to 30kHz but, curiously, doesn't say how many dB the speaker is down at these points. Sensitivity is claimed to be 86dB (2.83v) which isn't half bad for a speaker of this size, and nominal impedance is put at an amplifier-friendly 8 ohms.
Ophidian's P1 Evolution is all about being clean and transparent – and it does the job very well. Indeed the aluminium coned mid/bass driver and Solonex-coated tweeter make quite the team where detail and precision are concerned. And where those qualities might be the opening siren song for the listener, it isn't long before the lower frequencies start to make you sit up and take notice too.
Connected to my reference Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier, the P1 Evo's presentation of strings, in particular, had such a crisp leading edge it was akin to being sat on the front row of a slasher movie. I enjoyed the speed and clarity of the Dover Quartet's rendition of Dvořák's String Quartet No 12, Op 96, 'American', with the Aeroflex performing an excellent supporting role. The lower registers gave this piece of music body and depth. At the same time, the detail was most apparent as the bows rasped across strings and I heard the occasional percussive slap brought about by enthusiastic playing of the cello.
I am of course aware that the M6si integrated can be a little keen with its handling of treble, especially with sparkier speakers. Indeed, for the past couple of months, I have been babysitting a Naim Nait XS 3 integrated, which proved a perfect match for the Ophidian both in speed and temperament. Dropping the needle on Dido's Hurricanes, her delicately frayed vocal style is accompanied by a lone guitar until her brother Rollo's choice of nineties-style beats joins in to lift the track slightly.
Here the Ophidian played to its strength, as the muted, distorted guitar caught my attention and pulled my focus. I often listen to this album on the commute, but this is the clearest I've heard the guitar part and doubt that I'll ever be able to unhear it – along with the dirty staccato synth playing alongside. The realism of the vocal is fully revealed before the outro when Dido sings unaccompanied, and the listener can hear every nuance of Ms Armstrong's voice as if she was in the room – hardly an unpleasant thought in my book. The P1 Evolution really does shine a light on individual elements.
Switching front ends to a combination of YBA IA350 integrated amplifier and CD430 silver disc spinner, and the story remained the same. The P1 Evolution was unremitting – forensic, even – in its desire to capture the enthralling detail. Just Cruzin' from Stanley Clarke has a laid-back groove, and the P1 Evo showed its knack for tight timekeeping. The metronomic high-hat clicks were hyper-realistic, and it didn't take any ear-strain at all to pick out the room reverb that follows every snare hit. However, listen to the group, and suddenly everything snaps back from the macro lens to give you the full picture, with the instrumentation perfectly placed in a reasonably ample space.
What better ensemble piece to test the P1 Evolution's ability than The Eagles classic, Hotel California? As my reference VPI Prime turntable did its stuff, the unmistakable quasi-Caribbean groove kicked in, and I could almost smell the colitas rising up through the air (that's 'jazz cigarettes' to you and I, kids). I found myself picking away at the instrumental threads, following each respective musician. However, once I sat back and took a break from my musical vivisection, I was able to enjoy how the band moved as one, perfectly in step, with only moments of spotlight flashed on guitar licks before returning to the vocals. The panned drum fill was so tight, visceral and enjoyable through the P1 Evo that I almost got up to move the cartridge back to play it again with only the iconic guitar solos keeping me in my seat. The Telecaster and Les Paul tones were perfectly weighted, as the crystal-clear hi-hats clicked away in the right speaker, ringing brightly without any hint of harshness.
As well as its incredible definition in the upper registers, this standmount is capable of chest-thumping lows. Half Past Dub from the triple vinyl reissue of Leftfield's Leftism is a firm case in point. The nod-inducing thick dub bassline creates a treacle-like river to cruise down as the recessed vocals chant away. In stark contrast, the samples ping off left, right, and centre with almost unnerving clarity. Even pushing the volume up on the Anthem STR integrated I was using – into unneighbourly territory – didn't make the P1 Evolution break up or lose its composure.
Designer Gareth James acknowledges that the Ophidian P1 Evolution is not “soft”. Yet, although it refuses to mollycoddle your music, it delivers incredible insight. The modestly-sized mid-bass driver partners very well with the extremely capable tweeter to dig deep into whatever music you play. It also highlights the regularly overlooked 'micro-detail' that is so often missed out. This means you could actually use this speaker in a professional studio as monitors.
That's not to say that they don't necessarily work well in domestic situations. I enjoyed the fact that records with exceptional production values are rightfully rewarded and put on a spotlit dais. I understand that the P1 Evolution may be too stringent for some listeners, but it's great to have diversity in the marketplace. In conclusion, then, there's a strong market for the kind of buttoned-up focus and sober clarity that these speakers provide – and as such, they deserve every success.
For more information, head on over to Ophidian Audio.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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