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Ophidian Incanto

Ophidian Incanto

We might assume that the size and quality of the cabinet and the number and type of drivers are the two primary factors that determine the retail price of a speaker. But there is a third and highly significant element in pricing: standing costs. For most audio companies these include product development, materials, manufacturing space and equipment, staff salaries and pension contributions, marketing, distribution and after-sales support.

It’s one reason why the audio industry occasionally throws up boutique, small-volume manufacturers. By avoiding most of the standing costs that drag on the major brands they are able to carve out a niche with products that punch way above their price point.

 So it is with Ophidian Audio based on the Wirral. Company founder Gareth James is Ophidian. He’s the sole full-time employee and all speakers are designed by him, assembled by him, shipped by him, and supported by him. Ophidian launched the first commercial Ophidian speaker in 2011 and today offers a range of five models from the appropriately named Minimo 2 micro-monitor at a retail price of £1,100 to the hefty Voodoos, 1.3m tall 60kg carpet-crushers that cost £16,000 a pair. Ophidian speakers are available through 12 dealers in the UK and 12 more internationally.

Ophidian Incanto

Currently one model down from the Voodoo, the £6,000 Incanto is a narrow-fronted three-way design, just over a metre high, with three woofers, a mid-range fabric dome that hides behind a dispersion grille, and a soft-dome tweeter. The internal crossover is a second order design using Mundorf components, with hand-over points at around 500Hz from woofers to midrange and 3kHz from mid to tweeter. The tweeter is from Norwegian manufacturer SEAS, but the 50mm mid-range dome and the 175mm woofers are designed in America-made in China units by Dayton Audio. The Incanto has a claimed -3dB frequency response of 36Hz to 25kHz, sensitivity of 89dB and a nominal impedance of 4Ohms.


The cabinet is made for Ophidian in Sheffield, has an MDF integral spiked plinth and stands 1032mm high, 210mm wide, 300mm deep with a weight of 24kg. It is a square-edged rectangular box, with no sexy curves. The review pair in light oak (walnut is also available) exhibited crisp corners, matched grain in the veneer, and a flawless fit of the drivers in the baffle. If it wasn’t for the Ophidian badge they could easily pass as the product of a major brand.

Ophidian uses the term ‘Aeroflex’ a lot. This is the name Gareth James has given to his own method of loading the speaker drivers. He describes it as a hybrid of ported and transmission line whose aim is to achieve a low port velocity, a free-breathing dynamic response and well-timed bass. He stresses that Aeroflex is more of a design philosophy than a rigid blueprint since every Ophidian model looks different inside. He claims that Aeroflex allows better bass timing and more consistent dynamics than a port, and is easier and less costly to implement than transmission line.

Ophidian Incanto

It certainly gives Ophidian a different story to tell buyers, but there are plenty of ported designs that do bass, timing and dynamics very well, and while vendors using transmission line will agree that it is not an easy technology to work with, they too can show plenty of examples of highly-performing commercial designs.

The Incanto Aeroflex loading is tuned to around 36Hz to give reinforcement between 30Hz and 50Hz. The speaker’s specifications show that despite its three-woofer driver array and the sizeable cabinet dimensions the Incanto doesn’t quite have the bass extension that might be expected of a true transmission line. However, there are compensations, and we will come to them shortly.

The Incanto dips close to two ohms through parts of the mid-bass, so James does not recommend that it is teamed with low-output tube amps, but most solid-state power from 50 Watts per channel upwards should do just fine. During the evaluation the review pair were driven by Quiescent T100MPA 130 Watts per channel monoblocks, fed by a Jay’s Audio CDT3 MK3 and a Grimm MU1 streamer/network player via a Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC and an icOn 4PRO Balanced passive line stage.

Addictive energy

Gareth James very clearly understands that of the four musical pillars of dynamic agility, tonal detail, timing and dynamic expression, it is primarily the latter that tells our brain that we are in the presence of live music. He has designed the Incanto to move a lot of air, even at low to medium volumes, and deliver dynamic expression right across the audioband to a degree that is arresting and highly addictive. Only a few tracks into the first listening session I was left pondering how the Incanto had suddenly made some alternatives at up to twice the price sound in comparison rather restrained, more buttoned-up, smaller and, well, just less engaging, less believable.

Ophidian Incanto

Of course, the Incanto gets its energy levels in major part from those three woofers which have an effective pistonic surface area nearly as great as that of a single 300mm (12-inch) unit. In a comparatively sized conventionally ported speaker that might be a recipe for intrusive port chuffing and non-linearity, but Aeroflex results in a low air velocity through the port and no offensive noises-off, while providing sufficient loading to control the woofer cones. Subjective (rather than measured) distortion levels at sub-300Hz are low, and this results in a midrange performance that is substantially unobscured by unwanted harmonics from below, and that sounds open and vital. The 500Hz crossover point is notably higher up the audio band than many alternatives, and it enables the Incanto to maintain a high level of energy transfer right up through the region inhabited by the human voice and beyond.

Once they had been positioned well away from the side walls of the listening room and a little over one and half metres from the front wall, the Incantos threw a deep and well-defined sound stage that had pleasing solidity from different listening positions, testament to subjectively good dispersion characteristics. It has to be said though that with a baffle just over 200mm wide James would have to have done something particularly daft for them not to image well.

Acoustic response

I began the first listening session with Le Nozze Di Figaro, the Decca/LPO version under Sir Georg Solti, recorded in Kingsway Hall in 1981. The Incantos delivered the overture with a suitable sense of suspense-full energy, and then introduced the bass voice of Samuel Ramey as Figaro with a satisfying weight in his lower registers and a tantalising glimpse of the bel canto skills he goes on to deploy as the opera unfolds. The Incantos showed that Decca’s recording engineers did a fine job in capturing the acoustic response of the hall.

Particularly striking here was the level of energy the Incantos transferred to the air in the room. The speaker has an ability, not exceptional, but certainly uncommon enough to be notable, to deliver voices with a from-the-diaphragm power that enables them to sound more fully-fleshed, more organically believable. No surprises then that they handle cello in a similarly arresting way. Saxophone too. Like him or loathe him, Swiss tenor player Philippe Chrétien has an easy-listening style so laid-back it’s almost horizontal at times. The Incantos transcribed the louche track Bingi on the 2006 album Say What (Qobuz), bringing the delicious, sleezy, late-night vibe of the recording to the fore with the warmth and weight of Chrétien’s breathy tone.

Ophidian Incanto

James has clearly put a lot of effort into integrating the Incanto drivers, using the domed mid-range unit well within its comfort zone and achieving a subjectively seamless result through and either side of the presence region. As noted, the surface area of those three woofers has real benefits for the playback of other genres, but it’s inevitable that even on their visual impact alone at the price point they make the Incantos an obvious go-to speaker for bass-heads and rock fans. Most such buyers I think, will be well-satisfied with the result.

Four by six

In the four by six metre listening room, I played Hans Zimmer Live In Prague and felt the square-wave bass on many of the tracks palpating my chest in a way not many visiting speakers – some larger than the Incantos – have been able to do. With material that called for a more subtle, textured approach, for example Brian Bromberg’s 2002 album Wood (Qobuz) and the track ‘Dolphin Dance’ The Incantos did a very fair job of transcribing the strings, fingers and wood texture of Bromberg’s upright bass along with its power. No, they’re not the absolute last word in subtlety and sophistication, but come on. Let’s not be unreasonable.

Some people might struggle to get past the fact that the Incanto don’t have the stamp of a major brand. However, if we set aside whatever comfort might or might not attend the presence of a different badge, at £6,000 the Incanto represents extremely strong value. So much so, that from a sonic perspective I cannot think of another floorstander at or near the price that I’d rather own.

Technical specifications

  • Frequency response 36hz to 25khz (-3dB)
  • Sensitivity 89dB (2.83v)
  • Recommended power 50 to 250 watts
  • Impedance 4 ohms
  • Cabinet dimensions 1032mm H × 210mm W × 300mm D (inc. grilles)
  • Plinth footprint 270mm W × 342mm D
  • Weight 24kg
  • Price £6,000, $7,500 per pair


Ophidian Audio Limited


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