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Penaudio Sara S floorstanding loudspeaker

Penaudio Sara S floorstanding loudspeaker

The last speaker I remember with the name Sara was made by Linn in the 1980s, and you don’t come across them very often any more. But it seems that Finnish speaker maker Sami Penttilä  of Penaudio has been using the name for a while and has two Sara’s in the his company’s range; the Sara S and the slightly bigger Sara Signature. Sami likes Italian food and Italian cars (the faster examples, rather than Fiats), but he prefers his speakers to be made of laminated wood with a more Nordic styling angle.

The laminated construction has long been a signature of Penaudio’s designs, and it allows the loudspeakers to stand out in the sea of very similar models on the market. Sami says that he chose the material not simply for its looks, but because by laminating different materials, you end up with a cabinet that has a more even, less spiky resonant character. The Penaudio cabinets are built with differing thicknesses of birch plywood as well as MDF and real wood veneer to achieve this end.

If what I hear about sourcing plywood is anything to go by, it must be difficult to find material that has a good enough internal consistency for this approach. Any variations in laminate quality, gaps, or knots tend to show up when when you cut through the sheet, but I guess if you made a list of countries that can produce high-quality timber products, Finland would be at the top of the, er, tree. Penaudio uses Finnish ply, but builds the speakers in Latvia where labour costs are presumably more affordable.

The Sara S is a metre high, two-and-a-half-way design, which sits on a plinth that Penaudio builds into the cabinet, so there’s no need to bolt it on yourself as is often the case. The plinth leaves an attractive shadow gap under the speaker cabinet itself, and gives what is a fairly narrow structure a wider base for stability. The Sara S sports a pair of SEAS magnesium cone drivers with a 300Hz crossover point, the lower unit being dedicated to bass and the upper one covering bass and midrange. These drivers have copper rings above and below a T‑shaped pole piece, in order to reduce non linear and modulation distortion, and they sport a distinctive copper phase plug, too. The tweeter is larger than usual at 30mm and is made by Wavecor. It covers the range from 4kHz up to 28kHz, but cannot be directly driven as Penaudio has elected to use a single pair of high-grade WBT cable terminals.

 

The specs suggest a more challenging load than average; sensitivity is a relatively normal 87dB, but impedance is low at four Ohms. In the real world, the Sara S will most likely flourish with a powerful amplifier, a fact confirmed by both distributor and manufacturer.

Build and finish are to a high standard; not luxurious, but professional that’s for sure. You do not need to stick with bare plywood baffles, as there are also high gloss paint finishes and alternative veneers, with and without visible ply on front and back. What you will see on the rear is an aluminium reflex port in the business: a nice aesthetic and mechanical touch.

The Sara S proved to be something of a challenge to set‑up. My room is three and a half metres wide but quite long; it’s the ground floor of a late Victorian house with the walls knocked through. Usually, I have no problem with bass and the use of damping has ironed out issues further up the band. The Penaudio, however, proved that there will always be exceptions, because no matter how far from the walls I put them the bass was overblown on certain tracks, essentially those with a lot of low frequency energy. I asked Sami about this and he was also perplexed, stating that, “Usually Sara S’s bass response is pretty flat and in my opinion more less than too much bass overall”.

The bass was only an issue with certain pieces, however; notably Patricia Barber’s ‘A Touch of Trash’ [Modern Cool, Premonition), which has a double bass on it that really kicks off with this speaker. It is probably an unfortunate clash of natural resonances between reflex port (39Hz) and room. The majority of the music I played worked well, very well in fact, and the only hint of the issue was a slight warmth to the mids and lows that worked well with the music, making other speakers seem a bit lean. The first piece to prove as much was Gregory Porter’s ‘No Love Dying’ [Liquid Spirit, Blue Note], where the piano had real body and tonal depth, while the voice was simply superb – the overall effect being truly tactile. It inspired me to play more of the album, which offered up saxophone tone that was equally inspiring. This showed that the amount of space these speakers manage to reveal is quite remarkable.

John Campbell’s ‘Down in the Hole’ [Howlin Mercy, Elektra] is a pretty bass heavy track, yet it didn’t set off the issues encountered above. Instead, it revealed the velvet texture of voice and bass line heard with Gregory Porter with clarity and depth. Further listening also revealed a sparkling treble that did wonders for small bells and other high notes.

Haydn’s piano sonatas as interpreted by Jean‑Efflam Bavouzet [Piano Sonatas Vol 1, Chandos] revealed the almost imperceptible sound of his fingers hitting the surfaces of the keys to an extent that is very rare. It also exposed how fluent a player Bavouzet is in this musical presentation. This recording can sound mean with many speakers, but the Sara S brought it to life and revealed why the CD had appealed so much when I bought it. It’s unusual for a fast speaker to have a warm balance, but that is what Sami has achieved with Sara S.

With a bit more listening it became clear that this is a highly resolute loudspeaker with a relaxed and effortless delivery. It is also rhythmically coherent; not perhaps as fast as the best, but easily the match of rhythmically subtle pieces such as The Legendary Marvin Pontiac’s ‘Small Car’ [Greatest Hits, Strange & Beautiful Music]. This is a piece I’m familiar with, yet one that offered up the contrapuntal nature of its backing in full effect on this occasion. It combines marimba, brass, drums, and bass that don’t usually offer up the tonal colours that they should do, but here all are revealed and played with considerable skill by some great musicians. It’s a fine arrangement, rather better than I had formally appreciated, in truth. Moving on to orchestral material, the Sara S continued to reveal its strengths, this time by revealing the space around the musicians and allowing the music to breath. The Allegretto from the 7th Symphony in John Eliot Gardiner’s Beethoven The Symphonies box set (Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Archiv) was delivered with all the suppressed energy and restraint that gives it its power – the tempo being perfectly revealed and the plucked notes of the double basses standing proud. A baroque chamber piece produced pinpoint, but not etched, imaging; notes are rounded but precise, which means that even the highest have body to them. It’s a great balance and one that clearly suits acoustic recordings well.

 

The above results were achieved with Valvet A3.5 Class A monoblocks (50 watt), which have a great midband but limited low end grunt. In an attempt to offset the bass issues mentioned, I swapped in an ATC P1 150 watt lump with a MOSFET output stage – the most powerful amplifier in my armoury. But this did little to control the low end issues, which makes me think that resonance clash is the likely source. I also contrasted the Sara S with PMC fact.8 floorstanders (£5,995). These made the Finns sound a little box-bound and fulsome, but with richer tone; pace in the Penaudio is likewise is a bit more relaxed. But not a bad result given the popularity of the British brand and one that suggests Penaudio warrants a wider audience.

The Penaudio Sara S clearly has charm; personal room matching issues aside, this is a very revealing speaker for its price, and one that serves good source and amplification very well. Combine these properties with the styling and the variety of finishes, and you should put it on the shortlist if you are considering spending serious money on a loudspeaker. The Sara S doesn’t need a huge power amp as the Valvet proves; what it needs and deserves is quality – the speaker itself is clearly a class act, after all.

Technical Specifications

  • Type: 2.5‑way, three‑driver floorstanding speaker with rear‑ported bass reflex enclosure.
  • Driver complement: 30mm textile dome tweeter, two 145mm magnesium mid‑bass drivers.
  • Frequency response: 45Hz – 28kHz
  • Crossover frequency: 300Hz, 4000Hz
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 1005 × 165 × 317mm (without plinth)
  • Weight: 20kg/each
  • Finishes: Birch, Black Ash, Black Piano, Oak, White Piano, Zebrano, Teak
  • Price: £5,000/pair

Manufacturer: Penaudio Ltd

Tel: +358 50 525 4807

URL: www.penaudio.fi

Distributor: NuNu Distribution

Tel: +44(0)203 544 2338

URL: www.nunudistribution.co.uk

Tags: FEATURED

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