Good Enough to Kill the Upgrade Bug? A Review of a Diva by Swans Speaker Package

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jeffrey Forner, Apr 3, 2002.

  1. Jeffrey Forner

    Jeffrey Forner Screenwriter

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    The Divas by Swans have gained an increasingly devoted following from home theater enthusiasts around the net. AVS Forum has even become a sort of unofficial meeting ground for owners and prospective owners to share their knowledge and experiences with the product. But what is all the excitement about? Do these speaker really offer sound that you would have to spend 3 to 4 times as much with other brands to obtain? Individual perceptions make it impossible for me to say, but after living with the 4.1s, 2.1s and C3 center channel for over two months now, I can certainly tell you a lot about them.
    THE FACTS
    The Diva 4.1s
    • 2-way, 3-driver system, 4th-Order Vented Alignment
    • Frequency Response: 38Hz-20kHz
    • Efficiency: 88 dB
    • Nominal Impedance: 6 ohm
    • Power Handling: 20-150 watts
    • Rosewood Veneer Finish
    • Dimensions (W x D x H): 9 x 13 x 37.5 in (230 x 330 x 954mm)
    • Weight: 44 lbs (20kg) each
    The Diva 2.1s
    • 2-way, 2-driver system,4th-Order Vented Alignment
    • Frequency Response: 48Hz-20kHz
    • Efficiency Rating: 87 dB
    • Nominal Impedance: 8 ohm
    • Power Handling: 20-100 watts
    • Rosewood Veneer Finish
    • Dimensions (W x D x H): 10 x 13 x 15.5 in (252 x 330 x 394mm)
    • Weight: 26.4 lbs (12kg) each
    The Diva C3 (Center Channel)
    • 3 way, 4 driver center channel loudspeaker (shielded)
    • Driver complement: 6½" metal cone woofer (x 2) 2" soft dome midrange (x 1) 1" soft dome tweeter (x 1)
    • Enclosure Type: Acoustic suspension
    • Frequency Response: 68 Hz - 20 KHz
    • nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
    • Sensitivity: 89 dB
    • Piano Black Top and Bottom, Rosewood Sides and Back
    • Dimensions: 22.8" w x 10" d x 8.5" h
    • Weight: 33 lbs.
    The equipment used during my evaluation of these speakers included a Panasonic RP91 DVD player, an Onkyo TX-DS575X receiver, an Outlaw ICBM, and an SVS 16-46PC subwoofer (with a newly enhanced driver). Finally, for the sake of comparison, I did do A/B switches between the 4.1s an a pair of my old Home Theater Direct Level THREE bookshelf speakers.
    LOOK AND FEEL
    JPEGS don't do these speakers justice. You need to see them in the flesh to truly appreciate their beauty. The craftsmanship that went into the design and look of these speakers is enough to make all the other gear I own as self-conscious as a 13 year-old girl. Hell, even I felt inadequate the day the 4.1s arrived. I equated it with dating a woman who was just way too sexy to even be seen with a bozo like me.
    What makes them look so good? First off, there’s the real rosewood finish of the cabinets, painted a classy cherry stained color. This isn’t MDF made to look like rosewood; it’s the real thing. Next, there are the black piano end caps on the top and bottom, setting them apart from the traditional box design of so many other speakers. In addition, the sides curve outward, giving them a shapeliness that I quite enjoy. And let us not forget about the sporty yellow mid-range cones that can be concealed with a black grille, which fits snugly over the entire front side of each speaker. Finally, there is the displaced silk dome tweeter sitting atop the speaker, which one person I know mistook for microphones.
    The back of each speaker reveals very large gold-plated binding posts . (The 4.1s and 2.1s can also be bi-wired.) In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen posts the size of these on any other speaker. The ones on the 4.1s are roughly the size of a nickel in circumference. The 4.1s also sport gold-plated feet with soft pads to lift them off the floor.
    It’s obvious that AV123 wants to deliver a speaker that looks very nice and it shows. Best of all, they even go the extra mile to ensure that they look like a million bucks when they arrive at your house. Before shipping, each speaker is wrapped in a white cloth bag to protect the finish on its journey. I found removing these bags akin to unwrapping a giant candy bar with the exception that I wasn’t eat these treats.
    MUSIC PERFORMANCE
    My previous speakers—a set of Home Theater Direct (HTD) Level THREE bookshelves and center channel—produced a very mellow, warm sound, which I liked because it meant that I could listen to them for hours at a time without suffering much in the way of listener fatigue. Unfortunately, they were a little too mellow for music, and sounded quite rolled off in the high end. Vocals in particular sounded bad, as if the singers had cupped their hands around their mouths. While I have heard many speakers that performed better on the high end, none of them offered the same warmth of the HTDs. The Divas give you both in one package.
    The quality of the high end is what these speakers have improved the most in my system. The music I listen to has, in general, gained a new liveliness and vitality. For instance, when I listen to the horns on a song like “Rosanna” by Toto, they sing. Before they simply played their part, like an average high school band. Now they sing and the emotion of their melody emerges. Vocals have also improved with the cupped hands syndrome eliminated, indicating not only an improved high end, but also a better mid-range. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it sounds like the musicians are playing in my room, but the Divas have certainly brought me a little bit closer to that ultimate goal.
    Their imaging capabilities are quite good. They have certainly improved upon the already fine imaging I got out of the HTDs, thanks to the displaced tweeter on top. Lead vocals fall dead in the center of the sound stage (when appropriate) and accompanying instruments spread out nicely and in most cases can easily be located. Actually, when you consider the space limitations my room imposes upon me, the abilities of the Divas are all the more impressive. I sit a mere 7 feet away from the 4.1s in the sweet spot and a very large RPTV sits between both speakers (which, I hasten to add, are pulled out in front of it). As a result, I can often hear instruments coming out of the speakers themselves, especially from the mid-range cones, and my sound stage does not boast much depth. Everything sounds like it’s coming from about the same distance from me while sitting in the sweet spot. For the best results, these speakers must be given more room to breathe!
    The 4.1s and 2.1s also produce a good amount of bass for speakers their size, with the 4.1s obviously offering a slightly deeper extension than the 2.1s. Using the frequency sweeps on Avia, the 4.1s dive all the way down to 33 Hz before rolling off completely. The 2.1s die out at 40 Hz. For someone with an SVS, it’s hard for me to listen to music without a subwoofer and not think that everything sounds meek in comparison. That said if you can’t have a good sub, the 4.1s (or better yet the larger 5.1s or 6.1s) should be able to fill out the bottom octaves nicely. Just don’t expect chest-thumping, ass-rattling bass. Incidentally I have found that a crossover point of 80 Hz on my Outlaw ICBM produces the nicest sound.
    MOVIE PERFORMANCE
    If the HTDs didn’t shine with music, they certainly did with movies. I can’t put my finger on why this was the case, but for some reason, I always thought they sounded better when listening to DVD soundtracks. For that reason, the improvements the Divas have delivered in this area are harder to hear and more difficult to articulate into words.
    Listening to the pink noise audio tests on Avia, I found that the five speakers matched each other fairly well in spite of the different mid-range drivers in the 4.1s when compared to the 2.1s and C3. It’s not perfect, but it is enough close enough to be a good pairing. You certainly won’t notice anything watching a movie or listening to 5-channel music. Although I believe that the HTDs matched better with their own center channel, the Divas work better as home theater speakers because of the C3. It produces a much more natural sound for dialog that grounds. Incidentally, the strengths of the 4.1s and 2.1s carry over to home theater use. If you prefer the non-directionality of a bi-polar speaker in the rear, then the 2.1s will not suit your tastes. These speakers are very directional when handling surround effects. If you prefer that type of sound, the 2.1s will suit your 5.1 needs nicely.
    FINAL THOUGHTS
    I’m not going to make any outrageous claims about the Divas offering the best bang for your buck. I won’t even tell you that they will produce a sound that equals speakers costing 3 or 4 times their price. I will say this however: The money you spend on the Divas is well invested. I bought these speakers on a whim when I saw that they were on sale, but now I’m glad that I did. I don’t regret spending one dime on these suckers (or saving $399 on the 2.1s for that matter).
    In a post as wordy as this, the most flattering thing I can say about the Divas by Swans is that they have utterly crushed any desire I may have to upgrade my speakers. I simply don’t want to. I’m totally happy with them. This is a great product and worthy of consideration in any home theater or music system. Highly recommended, and not just because I own them.
     
  2. Cam S

    Cam S Screenwriter

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    Wow great review on the Diva's Jeffrey. Do you have any pics of them installed?
     
  3. Juan_R

    Juan_R Supporting Actor

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    Very nice review, I thought I was reading a magazine review for a moment. I went from sattelite speakers (cheap Sony's) to the 6.1 package so my difference was a lot more noticeable. I have not received the 2.1's yet but my 6.1's and C3 are unbeleaveable.
     
  4. Cam S

    Cam S Screenwriter

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    I would love to have the 6.1's, they are incredibly sexy!!
     
  5. Brian Harnish

    Brian Harnish Screenwriter

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    What is Swans' web site addy?
     
  6. Jeffrey Forner

    Jeffrey Forner Screenwriter

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  7. Barry Barnes

    Barry Barnes Stunt Coordinator

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    I have to say that I was a bit skeptical with all the buzz these things are making around the Internet. I am a Kef man and have been for more than 15 years. I have a pretty darn nice set of them in my Home Theater right now. I do understand your meaning when you say you don't feel the need to upgrade. I have always felt that "hey, I already have the what I feel is the best in the price range that I'm willing to go up to. So why upgrade if I'm not going to get something that is a better sound?"
    Anyway, my Center speaker is a Kef "reference series" vs. my Kef "Q series" mains. They match up very well Timbre wise and I've been very pleased with them. However... I've always felt that one day I would get some Kef Reference Series to match my center. I found the perfect match to my Center Speaker on Audiogon for $2500.00. It's last years model but it's voiced perfectly for my center channel. Even says so in the Kef pamphlet! Anyway, I'm all set to buy it. Even sent some emails back and forth to the guy...
    Then, I start to see the all these Diva threads. I checked out some pix and they ARE gorgeous looking and there WAS a guy who lived about 20 minutes away who was willing to let me hear them... So I decided to check them out and I even brought my Kefs with me to compare.
    They really are amazing sounding speakers. They have what I would characterize as an "English" sound to them, yet with a bit more detail. In fact, I have characterized the sound of them as being a sort of cross between Kef and Theil (another one of my favorites). Well. I'm already obviously a big fan of English speakers, having owned Kef and B&W for most of my Adult life, so that was a plus in their favor. English speakers are known for being somewhat laid back, and smooth as silk. Kefs are VERY smooth, but I always craved just a bit more detail than they delivered for Movies. Still, I wasn't willing to sacrifice detail for harshness. I occasionally like to listen to my music loud and I hate a set of speakers that begs to be turned down!
    The Divas really have a wondeful high end. They are every bit as smooth as my Kefs, threw a similarly excellent soundfield with deep and wide imaging AND had the detail I craved without being too harsh. In a nutshell, they sound really good. There is absolutely nothing to complain about. Except maybe from the guy I was going to buy the Kefs from...
    These speakers did the one thing that is hardest to put into words. They created an emotional response between me and the music. That's when I know I've hit a winner. When I go beyond just hearing the music being "played back" and become "involved" in it.
    It's that "lump in the throat and chills down the arms" that I live for in music. When you hear it you know it and very few speakers can do it. All my favorite "test tunes" were getting nailed to perfection and the speakers were only being drivin' by "receiver power". Things can only improve with a nice outboard Amp behind them...
    Anyway, long story longer, I have decided to give them the ultimate try and ordered some to have shipped to my house. It's going to cost me a bundle if I have to send them back, but if they work out as well as I think they will then I will have gotten an entire system (two pairs of 6.1's and a C3 Center Channel) for less than it would have cost me to buy just the one pair of used Kefs. It seemed like a risk worth taking. Especially since they seem to have addressed exactly what I was looking for. Smooth detailed highs, great imaging and stunningly good looks. All at a price that's almost embarrassing to admit. Really makes me wonder just how much profit mainstream companies are building into their products...
    I was willing to spend more but why do that if you don't have to? These new Internet Direct companies are making it possible for "the average non millionaire" to have an Audiophile grade system. Heck, throw in a couple of SVS Subwoofers and you can have one of the nicest home theaters on your block for under $3k. Not too shabby considering just a few years ago you had to drop that much just for a decent pair of mains. [​IMG]
     
  8. Steve Zimmerman

    Steve Zimmerman Second Unit

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    Be sure to check out the Unofficial Diva FAQ or go to this site to see if anyone in your area owns the Divas and would be willing to let you audition them in his or her home.
    --Steve
     
  9. Alex Bischoff

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    Barry,

    When you Divas arrive, please post your thoughts on them as well -- I certainly look forward to seeing how they integrate with the rest of your system.

    -- Alex
     
  10. Russell _T

    Russell _T Supporting Actor

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    WOW,

    Those are really well thought out reviews. You guys should be writing for "Sound and Vision." Barry especially said it for me that the Divas hit an emotional chord that you won't find too many other places. It's a synergy of the sound, build quality and especially the attention to detail you get from the folks at AV123. The legion of loyal fans don't hurt any either.

    Thanks,
     
  11. Alex Bischoff

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  12. matthew_rm

    matthew_rm Second Unit

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    So can you only get these direct off the web?
     
  13. Alex Bischoff

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  14. SkiingNinja

    SkiingNinja Second Unit

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    Great review Jeff. The Diva's really are gorgeous. Amazingly, they sound as good as they look. Super sexy baby! Yeah! [​IMG] If any of your are looking for some more Diva pics, click the link in my sig. The pics on the AV123 site are...um...crap hehe.
    Barry, what you said about an emotional connection was spot on. Mark S and co knew exactly what they were doing when they chose the drivers and created the XO for these speakers. Female vocalists and piano, a tough thing, is amazing. Tori amos is sitting in your living room playing for you. Anyone with Diva's...get a copy of Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes and play track 7...China. Her voice...no words...simply beautiful. If I were able to let raw emotion flow for just a moment...I would cry listening to that. Seriously.
    S
     
  15. Chris Tsutsui

    Chris Tsutsui Screenwriter

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    I would consider divas if they came in different colors.

    Do they come in a maple, stained white oak, or even a black ash finish? The rosewood would look awful in the room I'd put them in.
     
  16. Jeffrey Forner

    Jeffrey Forner Screenwriter

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    Chris Tsutsui wrote:
     

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