10/10 on the R-Series! - PERLISTEN® Audio

“Loudspeaker performance does not get much better than this, at any price”

“Loudspeaker performance does not get much better than this, at any price”

10/10 on the R-Series!

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Perlisten Audio R-Series Home Cinema Speaker Package Review

Since 2020 Perlisten has taken the AV world by storm, becoming synonymous with THX’s relatively new Dominus performance class. Whilst much of the attention has been focused on the company’s flagship Signature series (‘S-series’), its Reference series (‘R-series’) has attracted growing interest. The R-series system tested here returned a stupendous performance during my listening tests and offered extremely similar subjective and objective performance to its S-series stable-mates. Whilst the R-series may lack some of the sophisticated driver materials featured on the company’s S-series, that hasn’t appeared to impede its sound quality to any significant degree. The R-series can be regarded not as less capable versions of the S-series, but as fantastic sounding and technically superb speakers in their own right, that, in average-sized rooms, would arguably be the better choice.

Pros

  • Exceptional sound quality
  • Formidable output capability
  • Technically superb
  • Attractive design
  • Beautiful fit and finish

Cons

  • Gloss finish attracts dust and reflections
  • Similar subjective performance to the R212s could be had for considerably less

What is the Perlisten R-series

Perlisten’s R-series is the junior of the two ranges produced by the audio firm, the S-series being the company’s flagship, which I reviewed in November 2022. The R-series benefits, in trickle-down fashion, from some of the same technology featured in the S-series – including Perlisten’s ground-breaking DPC array, discussed below – and promises to offer similar performance.

The system on test comprised the R7t towers (£8,800 per pair), the R5c centre (£2,800), the R4b standmount speakers used as surrounds (£4,000) and a pair of R212s subwoofers (£5,500 each), resulting in a total price of £26,600. To state the obvious, that is a very significant sum of money, and, whilst not quite as costly as the S-series, it still places this system in what most would regard as the ‘high end’ of the AV market.

The other speakers in the R-series range include the R5t towers, R5m monitors, the R4s on-wall surrounds, three new in-walls (R5i-LR, R5i-C and R4i LCRS) as well as the R210s 10 inch subwoofer. All R-series speakers share the same driver materials and DPC arrays, meaning an R-series system could be pieced together flexibly from a timbre-matched mix of in-room and in-wall/on-wall speakers to suit one’s needs. Later this year, Perlisten plans to introduce in-ceiling speakers for Atmos duties, further extending the system configuration options.

Design: R-series Speakers

All the speakers on test were supplied in a flawless high-gloss black paint finish. High gloss finishes, especially black, wouldn’t be my usual preference due to the continual need for dusting and potential for distracting reflections when placed near one’s screen. But I’ve got to say, the Perlistens do look rather gorgeous dressed in black, with a powerful, no-nonsense appearance befitting their output capability. The overall quality of construction and craftsmanship is excellent, with all cabinets solid and inert.

At the left and right, the R7ts stand at a considerable 1268mm including the solid steel plinth and floor spikes, although they are relatively slight in their other dimensions – measuring just 230mm wide and 350mm deep (420mm deep including plinth). The curved front baffle is finished in satin black, with the copper Perlisten logo at its base contrasting attractively against this. The towers angle back ever so slightly on their plinths, helping aim the acoustic centre of the speaker at the listening position. The R7t is a bass-reflex (ported) design, whilst the R5c and R4b are sealed. The ports fire downwards, and are accessible by unscrewing the plinths, for those who want to make use of the supplied port bungs.

The driver diaphragm materials on the R-series distinguishes it visually and in performance terms from the S-series. The 165mm woofers employ a hybrid-pulp formulation (HPF) of Perlisten’s own design, made from a mix of long-fibre hardwood, bamboo, and wool. The HPF drivers have a dark grey, flecked appearance, unlike the S-series’ chequered, slightly larger (180mm) thin-ply carbon diaphragm (TPCD) woofers.

Similarly, the DPC array (the three-driver array with the tweeter at its centre) on the R-series uses three 26mm silk domed drivers, unlike the combination of 28mm beryllium and two 28mm TPCD domes employed in the S-series’ DPC array.

The more exotic materials on the S-series will control resonances on the driver diaphragm’s surface more effectively than the HPF and silk diaphragms on the R-series drivers. However, looking at the amplitude response of the R-series speakers, there is little sign of problematic resonance. See, for example, the response of the R7t below, which is exceptionally smooth and extended.

In terms of output capability, the LCR are certified as THX Dominus whilst the R4b are THX Ultra. In specification terms, the R7t is 90dB sensitive, handling up to 400W; the R5c is 88.6dB sensitive handling up to 250W and the R4b is 84.6dB, handling up to 200W. This should translate into more than enough SPL capability for most average-sized UK listening rooms, although the centre and surrounds might start to struggle in larger rooms.

 … “there is little sign of problematic resonance”

As discussed more fully in my review of the S-series, the DPC array at the heart of Perlisten speakers relies on the combination of a waveguide and a technique known as beamforming to help shape the directivity of the speaker; that is to say, to help shape the directional propagation of sound energy around the speaker. Perlisten has chosen to shape this directivity so as to constrain vertical dispersion, which mitigates the potentially problematic effects on sound quality of floor and ceiling reflections. Wide horizontal dispersion is preserved, spreading sound evenly around the listening area and ensuring side-wall reflections are tonally similar to the on-axis sound, which has the effect of producing a spacious soundstage.

The extent of this control over vertical dispersion can be seen on the polar heatmap below of the R7t, which shows how it shoots a shaft of sound energy along a relatively narrow vertical axis (the heat corresponds with SPL).

The R5c and R4b do not control directivity quite so well, but they are nevertheless both excellent. For example, the chart below shows various measurements for the R5c.

Note the orange curve which shows the R5c’s listening window. The listening window represents the average of the on-axis response together with measurements taken 15 degrees off-axis vertically and horizontally. Note how closely this average corresponds to the on-axis response. That demonstrates that the R5c sounds similar off-axis and on-axis. This is further illustrated by the smooth directivity index (light blue, at the bottom of the chart) which, in brief, tells one how evenly a speaker disperses different frequencies around it. A smooth directivity index indicates that a speaker controls frequencies evenly off-axis; that is to say, no particular frequencies sound significantly louder or quieter off-axis. This is an important trait for a speaker, particularly when used in ordinarily reflective rooms, because the sound at the listening position is a combination of on-axis and off-axis sound, so the two should be tonally similar.

For good measure, here’s the amplitude response and directivity of the R4b. Note how closely the listening window tracks the incredibly smooth on-axis amplitude response. Objectively, the R4b is an exceptionally well-designed and executed loudspeaker.

Design: R212s Subwoofer

As with the D215s I reviewed previously, the R212s is a push-pull design, but here uses two 12 inch glass-fibre composite drivers, one firing externally and the other firing internally. In designs of this type, the two drivers are wired out of phase. This means that when one driver is moving away from its magnet the other is moving towards its magnet, in the exact opposite position. The internal air pressure this creates helps to control the motion of the drivers and thereby reduce harmonic distortion. Perlisten claims that this approach reduces even-order harmonic distortion by 10-12dB.

The R212s weighs in at a substantial 68kg but is relatively small for a dual 12 inch sub, measuring (H x W x D) 668mm x 420mm x 550mm. There is a large amount of power on tap, with a 1.3kW amplifier, capable of 3kW RMS short term output.

The R212s features a touch screen LCD on the top of the cabinet from which set up controls can easily be accessed. There is, in addition, a useful phone/tablet app that allows users to adjust the full array of settings, including 10-band parametric equalisation. Users can also select from three general EQ settings which will determine low frequency extension: THX EQ, Boost (large room) or Cut (small room). I selected the large room setting for my listening, as this gives the most overall output, and used room correction to address room modes. This setting promised a -6dB point of 15Hz and in my room I measured a roll off starting just below 20Hz. Unfortunately, Perlisten doesn’t publish the CEA-2010 measurements of its subwoofers, but I’d refer the reader to the measurements produced for Audioholics by James Larson, which shows the R212s to have exceptionally low distortion.

Set Up and Operation

I tested the Perlistens powered by Nord power amplifiers, controlled and calibrated by a Trinnov Altitude 16. The R4bs were positioned diagonally behind the listening position at ear height. The R212s were connected to the Altitude via XLR. Music was streamed via a mix of TIDAL and Spotify, whilst movies were lossless MKV rips played through an Nvidia Shield Pro.

Performance

The first thing anyone interested in R-series speakers will want to know is how they compare to the S-series, so I’ll get that out of the way first, with one big caveat. The caveat is that the only comparison I can make is based on memory, having tested the S-series in November last year, and audio memory is inherently unreliable. With that caveat noted, I would say the R-series appeared to lose little, if anything, to the S-series in my room, with the same uncoloured, natural, and powerful sound. The senior sibling might have had the edge in overall midrange refinement – an area in which it is perhaps peerlessly capable – but I wouldn’t feel certain in that opinion without comparing them alongside one another. Indeed, the performance and tonality struck me as so similar to the S-series I suspect the differences would only be apparent under close scrutiny, during side-by-side comparison, or in large rooms where the S-series’ superior SPL capability might reveal itself.

 … “the more prudent buy for all but the most well-heeled of audiophiles or those with very large rooms”

My testing of the R-series system focused almost exclusively on movie content, given it’s a multichannel system on test, but I did spend a good deal of time listening to the R7ts in stereo, uncalibrated by the Trinnov. Once I started listening, I didn’t dwell on the comparison with the S-series for long; the R7ts performed so impeccably in two-channel that I swiftly became engrossed in what they were doing, rather than how they compared to anything else. Starting with the 2002 remaster of Go Insane (live, 1997) on The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham’s acoustic guitar had an in-room presence whilst his vocals were rendered with pristine clarity, revealing each inflection, the slightest of echoes from the stage, and his breath against the microphone. The R7ts located all this within a deep and stable soundstage, which was perhaps a function of the DPC array’s firm grip on directivity, controlling reflections at the listening position that would otherwise colour sound and interfere with imaging.

I moved onto Radiohead’s The Bends on the album of the same title. The song starts with a faint sample of what sounds like a parade in the distance, before Yorke, Greenwood and O’Brien’s guitars and Selway’s drums kick in at full pelt. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this live and never have I heard it at home reproduced with similar scale and impact. It’s received wisdom among AV-enthusiasts that full-range speakers are unnecessary when multiple subwoofers can reproduce bass more accurately below the crossover. Whilst it’s certainly correct that multiple subs are required for smooth in-room bass performance, there is a huge amount to be said for the coherence and bass integration when listening to music on superbly engineered full-range towers, and the R7ts are certainly that.

Switching to multi-channel, I decided to start with the bass torture test to rule them all: the start of Edge of Tomorrow. The two R212s, which I crossed over to at 80Hz, produced deep, clean, room pressurising bass with no hint of distortion. I have perhaps felt the bass in this scene extend deeper into room-shaking, infrasonic territory than the Perlisten subs seemed capable of, but not by much and only on larger – or a larger number of – subs. Raw infrasonic excursion isn’t what the R212s are about though; they are instead engineered with refinement in mind, and the elimination of distortion in the audible spectrum. Later in the film, during the beach landing scene, this clean bass performance was superlative, with powerful tactility. Ships crashed onto the beach with chest-punching authority, whilst rockets tore across my room with believable weight.

 “The Rs are crying out for a black satin finish appropriate for their intended AV use”

I switched to a new favourite demo movie – Top Gun: Maverick – and Maverick’s test run scene. The seamlessness of the system was striking here. The use throughout the system of identically designed, and highly controlled drivers around the listening position, produced a tonally seamless, reference level experience. When Maverick flipped his F-18 and launched into the test run, the whole room erupted in unison with the sound of the F-18’s jet engine, whilst every detail of Maverick’s strained breathing was preserved. The Perlistens have the ability to reveal delicate nuance in a mix whilst simultaneously assaulting the structure of one’s room with clean reference SPLs.

Interestingly, at no point did I feel as though the R5c centre struggled to keep up with the much larger R7t. This is worth noting because, unlike the S-series, the R-series lacks a centre of comparable output to the R7ts (the S-series has the S7c to pair with the S7t). In my 5.5m by 4m listening room, I didn’t get anywhere near the R5c’s limits, and together the LCR produced a formidable front soundstage. The R4bs, too, sounded positively thunderous on surround duties, belying their relative size.

The R4bs were at once a strength and a weak point of the system. They were positioned, corner loaded, approximately 1.5 metres from my listening position, a distance at which they could comfortably hit uncomfortable SPLs. Their free-standing nature also meant I could angle them precisely on axis, which contributed greatly to an expansive rear soundstage. However, at 84.6dB sensitivity with a maximum power handling of 200W, they may struggle to keep up with the rest of the system if positioned significantly further from the listening position. Prospective buyers would be advised to measure distances from the listening position and calculate achievable SPLs before buying. That all said, in most average UK-sized rooms, I suspect the R4bs would be more than capable of hitting reference level cleanly at the listening position, particularly when crossed over to subwoofers, and they certainly sounded exceptional doing just that.

Conclusion

Should I buy it?

Perlisten has, yet again, produced something remarkable with the R-series. The R-series speakers are clearly not simply the S-series lite, but high-performing, beautifully engineered speakers that, in my opinion, are the more prudent buy for all but the most well-heeled of audiophiles or those with very large rooms. Yes, the S-series is the technically more accomplished of the two and may have marginally superior sound quality, but the R-series represents a point beyond which diminishing returns kick in aggressively. The R7ts, in particular, are incredibly capable and, at their £8,800 per pair price point, I’ve yet to hear a better speaker.

 … “put quite simply: loudspeaker performance does not get much better than this, at any price”

There are some criticisms. Whilst I loved the look of the gloss finish, there were points at which, positioned alongside a 77” OLED, I could watch programme content reflected mirror-like in the side of the speaker. The Rs are crying out for a black satin finish appropriate for their intended AV use. I also question the value of the dual R212s subwoofers, which made up around 40% of the system cost. Whilst they are undoubtedly technically superb subwoofers (and, frankly, gorgeous) I suspect similar subjective performance, and greater extension, could be had for considerably less money.

Those criticisms are relatively minor in the context of what the R-series system offers, which can be put quite simply: loudspeaker performance does not get much better than this, at any price. Overall, the exceptional design and outstanding sonic performance of the R-series speakers sets a new benchmark for me at this price point, netting Perlisten yet another richly deserved Best in Class award.

What are my alternatives?

At a total price of £26,600 potential buyers are spoilt for choice and could create a system from the high-end ranges of most manufacturers. When spending this kind of money, buyers would be well advised to conduct multiple demos before parting with their money. However, I’m not aware of any manufacturer outside of Perlisten that produce speakers at this price point, with this output capability, with measurements as smooth as those of the R-series. It should however be noted that, whilst it might be difficult to find a subwoofer at its price that beats the R212s in terms of its combination of output and low distortion, there’s no shortage of choice of subwoofers that would sound, quite probably, just as good.

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