This is the final entry borne from that magical In Living Stereo room at last year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I started with the precious, jewel-like Mactone MH-120 power amplifier and XX-7000 preamplifier, continued with the mighty yet affordable Hana ML phono cartridge and now I’m finishing up with the very product that lured me into that room in the first place—the Trenner and Friedl Osiris loudspeakers.
As I’ve mentioned in those other reviews, I chose to cover the In Living Stereo room because my friend Bob Clarke, who heads Profundo Audio in Texas, brought a pair of the Osiris to the show and asked me to stop by. I was eager to do so because the Osiris, the smallest model among Trenner and Friedl’s floorstanders, was perhaps the only model I hadn’t heard up to that point. (While researching this review, I was shocked to discover that two new models, the Phi and the Taleisin, have also been introduced over the last couple of years.)
As many of you already know, I’ve owned the first generation of the Trenner and Friedl ART monitors for almost a decade now, and I last year I reviewed the new generation of the ART in The Occasional. I’ve spent time with each T&F model from the tiny Suns, which are so small you can pick them up with one hand, to the extraordinary flagship Dukes, which retailed for $175,000/pair when I last heard them at CES a few years ago. I declared those behemoths to be the finest transducers I’d heard up to that point, and I still feel confident about their world-class status.
Trenner and Friedl Osiris
The Trenner and Friedl Osiris, however, always felt like a speaker that I could easily love. It’s a slim, svelte and tilted-back monolith that offers more bass than the 2-way ART (38 Hz versus 50 Hz) and manages to sound quite big despite those modest proportions. It’s designed to be placed close to the rear wall, so it’s a very easy-going housemate. Plus, it’s beautiful enough to enhance any room— with those beautiful veneers it can both blend in and command your attention, depending upon how you position it.
The Osiris is the smallest entry in a type of visual design that first made its appearance a few years ago with the original RA Box, a large high-efficiency stand-mounted box with a single circular grill that suggested a coaxial or single-driver design. That minimalist yet stunning look was carried on in models such as the Pharaoh, Isis and the new Phi. Sometimes that grill hides a coaxial driver and sometimes, like with the Pharaoh, it’s a more conventional woofer-tweeter array. The Osiris features a coaxial driver that combines a 6.5” woofer with a 1” horn-loaded coaxial compression driver with a titanium diaphragm.
The Osiris isn’t a high-efficiency design in the same way that the 95 dB RA Box is. It has an efficiency of just 88.7 dB, but with its 8-ohm impedance it’s relatively easy to drive—it was a perfect match with the 65wpc Mactone MH-120, of course, but it also had a brief but memorable affair with my Pureaudio Duo 2 power amp running 25wpc in pure Class A.
While the outward design of the Trenner and Friedl Osiris is an exercise in elegant simplicity, a deeper look into the design reveals an incredible amount of thought by Andreas Friedl, its designer. As with all Trenner and Friedl designs, the Golden Ratio is used in deciding the dimensions. (This approach, of course, is reinforced by the use of Cardas Audio wiring and binding posts.) The cabinet itself is made from birch ply of “different densities,” and finished with several coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. Standard finishes include natural walnut, amaranth walnut and blazed walnut, with custom veneers available at extra cost.
T&F’s cabinet maker, who is rumored to live as a hermit deep in a forest in Austria, is often attracted to unusual figuring in the grain patterns, and my pair certainly told an interesting tale of its life. As with my ARTs and every other Trenner and Friedl speaker I’ve seen, you’re always visually rewarded when you get up close to these enclosures.
The Trenner and Friedl Osiris, quite frankly, didn’t meet an amplifier it didn’t like, and I had a lot of them wandering around the house during the review period. In addition to the Mactone and the Pureaudio, the Osiris was hooked up to the Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40, the Vinnie Rossi L2i and the Bryston B135³ integrated. The purpose of the review, however, was to recreate the magic of the In Living Stereo room with the Mactones and the Hana cartridge, the latter which was fitted on the Palmer 2.5i turntable and Audio Origami PU7 tonearm I just reviewed.
I spent the first month with the Osiris and the Mactone pairing, and I readily admit that it was just as bewitching as it was on that glorious day in Denver last October. Not everyone would consider the synergy between a $9000 pair of speakers with $35,000 worth of amplification (not including the Mactone phono preamplifier that I wasn’t able to evaluate at home), but In Living Stereo’s Steven Mishoe and Bob Clarke are clearly the kind of hi-fi guys who don’t care about price tags—they care about magic. This combo delivered.
Other than the magnificent pairing with Mactone, I also found the Osiris to sound utterly exquisite with both the aforementioned Pureaudio and the Vinnie Rossi integrated. Both of these amps are priced closer to the Osiris and might make more sense to some—but it’s hard to shake off the mesmerizing sound of those Japanese amplifiers.
Finally, I hooked up the system with Cardas Audio Clear cabling from top to bottom. Whenever I use my Trenner and Friedl ARTs, I always use Cardas Audio—since the T&Fs all use Cardas for the internal wiring, it just sort of makes sense for the external wiring.
Right out of the gate, I noticed two distinct characteristics of the Trenner and Friedl Osiris. First, the bass was much stronger and deeper than I expected from such a petite speaker. The sound of kick drums had plenty of impact, high up in the chest. These diminutive little beauties did an excellent job of pressurizing the room with low frequencies while keeping everything under tight control.
Second, the Osiris was incredibly coherent. That can be a nebulous term in high-end audio, this idea that everything blends into a seamless whole from top to bottom so that there’s a sense of logic and ease to the presentation. It’s all about sounding natural, but after my experiences with the Osiris I feel I have a better grip on what we mean by this term.
I felt as if the Osiris took this sense of wholeness to a different level. (The left side of my brain tells me that the coaxial driver, approximating a single point source, is responsible for much of this.) I’m bringing this up because I can’t think of the last time I had this strong of a first impression of pure, unadulterated balance. I suppose I’m always looking for other things, imaging and soundstaging, midrange purity, impressive range—coherence is something I usually notice down the road, after I’ve spent at least a little time listening. Nope, for the first time in my life I plugged in a pair of loudspeakers and the first thought that came to mind was “Boy, are these coherent!”
I know it sounds a little dorky, but my months with the Trenner and Friedl Osiris were saturated with that Goldilocks’ “just right” feeling, that these speakers were the perfect size for my room, that I was hearing just the right amount of bass from my favorite recordings, that the midrange was so natural that voices hung in mid-air. I checked off all the boxes, one by one.
When it came to imaging and soundstaging, well, I was equally impressed. On jazz sax player Troy Roberts’ new album, Stuff I Heard, drummer Jimmy MacBride is a wild man on the cymbals and hi-hat. He’s not sloppy or out of control—his kit sounds just a bit bigger than usual for a jazz drummer and he’s very generous when it comes to the variety of sounds he creates. The Osiris did an excellent job of fleshing out the individual tones of each cymbal, where it was located in the context of the kit and how the room reacted differently to each of those tones. The effect became panoramic, with lots of energy bouncing off the walls from different directions. It was exhilarating.
That was a stand-out moment for a pair of loudspeakers that up until now I’ve described as even-keeled and dependable. For me, this suggests hidden talents in the Osiris, revelations that are awaiting fruition once the right recording comes along. What I’m talking about is a speaker that will force you to pull out recording after recording just to see what you’ll learn.
Knowing my long history with Trenner and Friedl, and my continued love of the original ART monitors that I still own, there might be a question about how the Osiris compares to that now-legendary 2-way bookshelf loudspeaker. At first I was interested in the answer, but over time that became less important. The ART monitors are surprising because they sound so satisfying for such a small enclosure. (That goes double for the teeny-weeny Suns, which knock everyone for a loop when they hear ‘em.) The ART exceeds your expectation for a two-way monitor. The newer version of the ART takes that surprise to a different level.
The Trenner and Friedl Osiris is still small and easy to live with, but also large enough so that there isn’t that sublime sense of surprise when you can hear what they do. It becomes more about digging deep and spending time and getting to know those lovely little towers. They’re like that friend you’ve known for years and years, and one day your longtime pal does something you never knew they could do. (Many years ago I watched one of my best friends build a spiral staircase out of wood, to code, and all I could think was “Dude, when did you learn to do THAT?”)
The Trenner and Friedl Osiris will immediately win you over and instantly become your good friend. You’ll become completely comfortable with the sound, and after a while you’ll think you know everything there is to know about your friend. And then, one day, you’ll be staring at a spiral staircase and wondering how it got there. Then, you’ll think to yourself that this one is a keeper.