CAF 2014: ( The Clue ) on Clones


It wasn’t all that long ago that I was treated to a few months with a pair of marvelous little speakers from Sjöfn HiFi called, curiously enough, ( the clue ). Any number of half-baked name-based jokes ensued, but the thing I couldn’t laugh off was the performance. But appreciating that took a bit of patience. Not much. A bit.

Because the speakers were nothing special to look at. They’re just rectangular boxes. No curving sides or shaped faceplates, the cabinets and even the drivers themselves, all appear to be rather generic in form and provenance. Plugging them into the system, and setting them up “appropriately”, and pretty much everything changed.

The speakers are $999/pair, which places them on the early part of the crazy-curve of high-end pricing. Generally speaking, I think that’s a really good place to land. But where things started to get really different with ( the clue ) wasn’t the look, it was their look-in-the-room. That is, wow, I suddenly have a whole lot more room to look at!

Most modern loudspeakers require absurd amounts of floor space in order to sound their best, while ( the clue ) actually lets you reclaim much of that. It asks to be shoved almost up against the wall — the recommended install is 2.5″ off the front wall, 22″ off the floor, and toed in 22.5°. I’ve placed them directly in front of a 2″ thick 4′ x 2′ acoustic panel and been absolutely thrilled.

Here’s some specs:

  • One 5.5″ wide-range driver of paper substrate with constrained-polymer damping
  • One ⅞” dispersion silk dome “super tweeter” in a controlled directivity waveguide
  • Crossover: 2.3kHz to 11.4kHz “axis transitional – phase coherent”, with a 3 to 8.4dB/octave (√2 x First Order) slope
  • Frequency response: -3dB at 28-33Hz (room dependent) to 42kHz
  • Efficiency: 87dB
  • Nominal/Minimum Impedance: 6Ω / 4.2Ω
  • 1″ thick low-diffraction front panel; sides are a heavily braced/bituminous damping, ¾” MDF
  • Low Frequencies are assisted by an internal Helmholtz resonator

New-to-me at this show were the bass modules. These tweeter-less cabinets ($999/pair) are designed to sit on top of your pair of ( the clue ) speakers. Speaker cables come in to this set, bind to one pair of posts, and jumpers lock in the attached set of ( the clue ). A small mini-stand comes with to ensure proper placement between the speakers. Adding these guys in makes the whole system much more efficient — think “big rooms”. They weren’t in use here — too powerful!

Also new-to-me were the associated electronics, starting with the 25pm mono block amplifiers from Clones Audio ($1,155/pair) hiding in the bottom of the audio rack. These little “chip amps” (think: 47 Labs’ gainclone designs) are good for 25wpc into 8Ω. Input impedance is 22kΩ, with a SNR of >95dB. Total weight? Just under 12lbs each. I’ve been reading about gainclone amps for years, but haven’t really seen many hit the demo room — very cool, and looking forward to hearing more!

A $2,500 Sheva DAC from Clones handled the offload from a $2,500 SOtM music server. That DAC has all manner of sweet little bells and whistles, including an I²S input in addition to AES/EBU, S/PDIF, BNC, and Toslink. Encoding support includes up to DSD512 (!), and up to 384kHz PCM. Coolest widget? An ultra-low phase noise Femto Master Clock. The power supply houses separate torroidal transformers for Analog and Digital section.

The preamp in use was the $500 Luminous Audio Axiom II. I’ve talked about this remarkable passive at some length, so I’ll just note that it’s an excellent pot.

Supra Sword EFF–ISL cables were used throughout.

So, a few notes about the room. One, they were serving shots of Bulleit bourbon. Which means evaluating the sound in this room was a little … interesting. Two, the room was packed the entire weekend. Score! Three, the sweet spot was relatively wide for speakers in the high-end, which is welcome. Four, you are simply not going to believe how good these little guys sound. Five, that was some good bourbon [burp].

This is one of those systems that, for around $8k, would pretty much laugh in the face of spending more. Bass, dimensionality, speed — check it all off the list. It’s unbelievable that this quality of sound can be had for this outlay — this is one of two systems at CAF that the attendees had a fine time debating over the merits of “real-world pricing”. Five,

Very well done!


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