AudioSolutions loudspeakers have been on my radar for a while because of their distinct looks. But being from Lithuania, and without North American distribution (until very recently), it was impossible for me to experience them in person. As luck would have it, an opportunity soon presented itself. Gediminas Gaidelis, the chief designer and founder of AudioSolutions, contacted me through this blog to ask me if I were attending Munich High End 2018. Sadly, I could not go, but my good friend Jonathan of Sonic Artistry was going. I quickly put them in touch with each other and the rest was history. Jonathan absolutely loved the sound of the Figaro line of speakers in Munich.
Soon after, three Figaro models arrived in Toronto - M in Marine Blue finish, L in Burgundy Rain and the massive XL in Gold Linen. A few days later Figaro M were in my living room and ready to spill their secrets.
Design and construction
Figaro M loudspeakers are a 3-way design with one 2.5 cm Mini-Horn loaded silk dome tweeter and waveguide ER (Extra Rigid) paper cone drivers (2 x 18.3 cm woofers, 1 x 15.2 midrange). The rest of specifications are:
Dimensions (HxWxD) : 1120 mm x 272 mm x 470 mm; 44.1 x 10.7 x 18.5 in
Weight : 41 kg/90 lbs each
Sensitivity : 91.5 dB @ 2.83V 1 m
Nominal power handling : 140 W RMS
Maximum unclipped power handling : 280 W;
Impedance : nominal 4,0 Ohms
Crossover frequency : 400 Hz; 4000 Hz
Frequency response (in-room environment) : 32-25000 Hz
Figaro M cabinets use back ported Self-Locking design developed in-house for improved sound quality. The cabinet joints trickled down from AudioSolutions' top of the line Vantage 5th Anniversary series. The key in eliminating unwanted vibrations is to combine materials with different resonance properties so that they damp each other. The simplest way to do this is to use materials of different thickness or make a sandwich of different materials. AudioSolutions did both. The thickness of the Figaro cabinet varies from 18mm up to 50mm in different areas, and starting from the middle of the speaker the whole back part is made from sandwich materials. They went one step further than that. They modelled every surface of the speaker and made vibration analysis. The Self-Locking joints design is the result of the analysis. The key concept here is that all surfaces act as one big sandwich dampening each other out. This results in bass that is not boomy, but fast and tight. Mini-horn tweeter, which is used in all AudioSolutions speakers, was introduced to reduce tweeter sharpness at higher volumes. A slightly smaller than usual tweeter size was chosen to provide faster response and lower distortion.
Figaro towers come with height adjustable feet. Minimalistic design comes in 17 different finishes. You can view them in my earlier blog entry. Build quality as well as quality of the materials and finishes is superb!
The entire Figaro line (B, C, S, M, L and XL) was in development for 6 years to replace the older and more expensive Rhapsody line, which was in production since the company's inception in 2011. All speakers are hand made and assembled in-house in Vilnius, Lithuania with special attention to strict quality control.
As Jonathan and I unpacked the speakers and installed them, I was very much intrigued by another unique feature of the Figaro line - the "Stealth" grille system. It's a unique technical solution where each speaker has two detachable front baffles which are different in looks (one with protective cloth and the other without) but share the same geometry. The manufacturer claims that the same geometry of front baffle means exactly the same power response. According to them, cloth rarely interacts with sound waves because wavelengths even at high frequencies are much longer than thickness of cloth fibre. Yet, I did hear a bit of difference between the grilles and ultimately preferred using cloth-less grilles.
Sound and performance
Over the course of 3 months, I have used Figaro M to listen to all kinds of music with 3 different amplifiers;
Each provided its own distinct signature, yet the speakers had common characteristics with all 3 - very natural and uncoloured midrange and highs), plenty of details, great imaging and well defined sound stage. Bass performance varied, obviously, my favourite being provided by Luxman pairing. Luxman gave ample bass that was tight and focused, while with Marantz it was more relaxed.
Bass with the THÖRESS depended on music. With very challenging musical pieces, like Shostakovich symphonies, it was not up to par. But as I quickly learned, THÖRESS is absolutely superb for jazz and acoustical music with or without vocals. Due to Figaro M's high sensitivity, THÖRESS had no problem driving them. Playing jazz, provided absolutely superb holographic imaging, which is the signature of all THÖRESS amplifiers. You have to hear it to believe it, but trust me, it is amazing!
Playing acoustic guitar performances, specifically Nils Lofgren's "Acoustic Live" or Mark Lanegan's "Imitations", was pure joy. In both instances, I could hear every single pick of a string, fingers moving up and down the strings, with plenty of notes decay. Vocals were natural and warm, pronunciation of each word was heard clearly and without any distortion or sibilance.
Actually the very first album I played after connecting the speakers was Vanessa Fernandez "Use Me". Even with my Marantz I immediately noticed how natural and involving the sound was. I was completely unprepared for it and sat quietly for a while, lost in the music and the moment of revelation. But the best was yet to come!
Next I played Norwegian folk/jazz album "Quiet Winter Night" by Hoff Ensemble and the speakers just disappeared! Playing their latest album "Polarity" provided the same result.
In my conversation with Gediminas about my first impressions, he said that was the exact intention with combination of the wavelength drivers and mini-horn tweeters.
A few weeks later, after giving the speakers plenty of hours to burn in, first with Marantz and then with the THÖRESS, I held a demo session for members of the Greater Toronto Area Audiophile club, as well as other local audiophiles. We played all kinds of music (jazz, classical, opera, blues, world, hard rock and heavy metal) in various formats (vinyl, CD, CD quality and HiRes FLAC, as well as streaming from TIDAL). Everyone enjoyed the sound and the performance of the Figaro M, remarking how natural and balanced they sounded, how pleasant they were to listen to. It was never harsh and never fatiguing. We listened to them for hours without any issues.
Of course, not everyone prefers this kind of European speaker sound. Some like the absolutely precise sound of speakers like Magico. Those people may not enjoy the Figaros. It's all about personal preference. Personally, this is my kind of speaker.
When I told people the price ($7500 USD, $8500 CAD), they could not believe it, Some said they thought it was $30,000. Now if that's not excellent value for the money, I don't know what is.
Yet, the biggest surprise and even more enjoyable listening were still ahead, when I paired the speakers with the Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier, courtesy of Audio by Mark Jones.
Due to the ample power (220 wpc) and refined Japanese sound, everything I played with this combination was absolutely amazing. Especially the explosive dynamics, which were revealed when I subjected the system to the ultimate test by playing various movements from some Shostakovich symphonies. Allow me to quote from that review:
"But my absolute favourite is Symphony No. 10 performed by Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons (Deutsche Grammophon – 479 5059).
While playing all these, I really cranked it up to push the system to the limits. And I must say it performed wonderfully. The sound was fast and very dynamic without a single negative issue. Previously, when I played Symphony No. 10 using my Marantz AVR and the same AudioSolutiions Figaro M, the sound was severely lacking, with lacklustre dynamics and the whole performance felt lifeless in the entire frequency range. But with the Luxman it truly came to life and just exploded in my living room. There was no distortion nor any kind of clipping even at very high volumes. It did sound like I had an entire orchestra right in front of me. Plenty of frequency extension on both ends of the spectrum, with excellent bass control. It did not sound boomy or loose, but instead it was tight and very well textured. All instruments were clearly defined within the sound stage, which was deep and wide and provided plenty of ambience of the Boston Symphony Hall, where this performance was recorded."
This excellent performance was possible not only due to the Luxman, but to Figaro M themselves and the overall combination of these components. It speaks volumes to the capabilities of these excellent speakers and their value for the money.
Of course my review would not be complete with some notes on the performance of the speakers playing hard rock and metal. It is always challenging playing this kind of music due to its nature and often less than stellar recording quality. So for my listening tests, I carefully chose the albums to play.
My first choice was "Rock & Roll Machine" by the legendary Canadian power trio Triumph (Attic – LAT 1036). Properly recorded, it sounded fantastic in all aspects - plenty of deep punchy bass, clear and detailed midrange and extended highs. The songs themselves are excellent too, of course. It's too bad the band was often overlooked and overshadowed by the other Canadian trio - Rush.
My next selection was Ayreon's latest album "The Source" on double vinyl (Music Theories Recordings – MTR 7515 1, Mascot Label Group – MTR 7515 1). Arjen Anthony Lucassen has always paid attention to the production quality of his albums and "The Source" is no exception. Powerful rhythm section, sweeping keyboard and guitar solos and soaring vocals combined with excellent melodies were reproduced exceptionally well by the Figaro M. By its nature, this type of music seems compressed, with so many instruments playing at the same time. But the speakers managed to eliminate this problem and every instrument was detailed and distinct.
The most challenging metal release I played was Dragonlord's new album "Dominion" (Spinefarm Records – spine712762). It's a symphonic black metal project by the legendary guitarist and founder of the thrash titans Testament, Eric Peterson. The music here is even more complex and compressed, with multiple tracks overlaid on top of each other. But it is recorded well and the Figaros were up to the challenge and provided plenty of enjoyment.
Conclusion and final thoughts
Having spent almost 3 months with the Figaro M speakers, I was very sad to part with them. Their excellent design and construction, their natural and balanced sound brought me hours of enjoyment of music. They allowed me to rediscover albums and performances I thought I knew well.
Loudspeaker market is overcrowded, but I can honestly say that in terms of performance and value for the money they are very tough to beat. Sure you could find better sounding speakers, but they will cost a lot more, yet will not have some of the unique features that Figaro speakers offer, such as choice of 17 beautiful finishes as well as "Stealth" grille. So if you are looking to upgrade your speakers and considering models in under $10K price category, Figaro M are highly recommended. You will be getting a lot for your money with performance that rivals speakers in much higher price categories.
If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you will have an excellent opportunity to experience Figaro M sound for yourself. They will be featured in Sonic Artistry room 442 at the Toronto Audio Fest, scheduled to take place at the Westin Toronto Airport Hotel, 950 Dixon Road on October 19-21. Do not miss this chance!
As the last note, I must mention that I also experienced Figaro XL at Sonic Artistry Aurora. They were driven by soulution 311 stereo amp, brand new 525 preamp, with Dohmann Helix 2 turntable and the amazing DS Audio DS 002 optical cartridge as analog source. As much as I loved Figaro M, Figaro XL simply blew me away! Very detailed sound with precise imaging, excellent instrument separation, deep and wide sound stage and lots of ambience. When Ed played for me Black Sabbath's debut album, it's like I was hearing it for the first time. If you wish to audition the XL, do not hesitate to contact Ed or Jonathan at Sonic Artistry. I'd like to thank them both for providing me Figaro M speakers for this review.
Marantz NR-1402 AVR
THÖRESS F2A11 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable
Ortofon 2M Red cartridge
Gold Note PH-10 phono stage
Gold Note DS-1000 DAC and streamer
Denon DVD-3800 DVD player
Sony TC-WE635 double cassette deck
Bluesound Node 2 streamer
PSB Stratus Bronze speakers
KirmussAudio speaker cables
Transparent and EnKlein interconnects
BIS Audio power cables and power bar/surge protector