I first met Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio (website) back in 1992 at the first Stereophile show in Los Angeles. We were both still in our twenties at the time, as I later learned that we were both born in the same year. I shared an elevator with Jeff, noticed his name tag, and mentioned to him that I had recently heard his small Joseph Audio RM7 monitors at Soundworks in Maryland. I really enjoyed them and put them at the top of whatever audiophile wish list I had going at the time.
“Those were great little speakers,” I told him. He offered a genuine thank you and a gracious nod of the head, the same gesture I still see him expressing to fans of his designs at high-end shows today. It’s a Zen nod.
I wouldn’t expect Jeff to remember that encounter. I was just another geeky audiophile journeyman at the time, hoping for a good audiophile “I met Jeff Joseph in an elevator” story. (Heck, even Colleen doesn’t remember the first time we met at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.) But in the last few years, I’ve gotten to know Jeff, and I’ve listened to almost every model of Joseph Audio speaker. I know how good they are. I always make it a point to sit in his rooms at high-end audio shows because I know I’m going to hear a sound that affects me deeply, an amazingly full sound that seems disconnected to the modest proportions of his loudspeakers.
Take the Joseph Audio Pulsar two-way monitor, in its original version. I first listened to it when Jeff did a room share with Colleen Cardas Imports a few years ago. We supplied the Unison Research Unico 50 integrated amplifier in that exhibit room, and the system sounded extraordinary—especially in terms of soundstage size and the unexpected thrills captured within the low frequencies. I was proud of our product and its contribution to the whole, but it was the Joseph Audio Pulsar that truly made a lasting impression. I’ve been intrigued by that speaker ever since, a two-way stand-mounted monitor that sounded so big, so full and so refined.
I’ve already mentioned the story about Scot Hull’s ordination last February when Shayne Tenace of Tenacious Sound met me back at the hotel for a cigar. The subject came around to Jeff’s speakers. Shayne was wondering why I’d never reviewed a Joseph Audio speaker considering the fact that I know Jeff, Colleen and I have stayed at his home, and we’ve visited the Joseph Audio headquarters. I’ve stood in the corner where he assembles his designs. Maybe I moved some stuff around on his desk, maybe I didn’t.
When I returned home from the ordination ceremony in Maryland, Shayne’s comment stayed with me. I immediately asked Jeff if I could finally review one of his speakers. He agreed quickly, so much so that I had the impression he’d been waiting for me to ask. I, of course, was waiting for him to offer. Ah, the life of an introvert.
The situation is now remedied. I have a pair of his Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene loudspeakers in my reference system right now, as I type this sentence. The first time I listened to them, right out of the box, I sent Colleen a text that said “your friend makes great speakers.” She replied, “I know.”
The Graphene Connection
The Part-Time Audiophile staff has loved the Joseph Audio Pulsars for quite some time. Scot Hull had a pair for many years, and he gave them a rave review. So why revisit them now?
As you might have noticed, Joseph Audio has introduced an update to their premium line of loudspeakers that include the Pulsar, the Perspective, and the flagship Pearl. (They’re now known as the Pulsar2 Graphene, the Perspective2 Graphene, and the Pearl 20/20 Graphene.) This update obviously revolves around the new SEAS graphene driver. The first time I heard the Perspective2 Graphenes, at the Munich Show last year, I reported:
“The use of graphene on the magnesium cones required a revamping of the design of the entire driver by SEAS, which led to a “re-engineering” of all of Jeff’s filters as well as the crossovers. The result, as Jeff explained, is a Perspective that is more resolving than its predecessor, yet more laid-back and relaxed.”
I’ve heard the new graphene drivers on the Perspective2 as well as the Pearl3, which is probably why I asked for the Pulsar2 Graphene for review—it’s the only Joseph Audio design I hadn’t heard up to that point.
Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene
At first glance, the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene looks a lot like the previous Pulsar, with the exception of the greyish tone to the woofer cone. It’s a speaker of fairly modest dimensions— 15” by 9” by 13”—but it’s quite heavy at 36 pounds per side. The finish is gorgeous with its glossy black surfaces on the front and top appearing in sharp relief to the wooden sides. (My pair came in an engineered rosewood which Jeff says is a non-endangered, environmentally friendly finish.)
It’s a gorgeous loudspeaker enclosure, yes, but in a classic way. I’d even go as far as to say they’re somewhat conventional in appearance, albeit leaning toward the opulent—these monitors don’t hint at the extraordinary or the unique at first view. So what makes Joseph Audio speakers stand out from the crowd?
First of all, he’s been using the Infinite Slope Crossover technology as a starting point for a long time. Jeff described this approach as “dividing the sound between drivers so they can sing with a single voice.” He uses only the finest drivers from SEAS—in addition to the new graphene woofer, he uses the same tweeter that’s found in the Pearl3. The cabinet is designed to “hold the drivers in a firm grip without adding colorations of their own.”
After that it’s all Jeff, constantly listening, always looking for a way to extract even more performance from his designs.
The new Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphenes utilize dual sets of the latest Cardas Audio binding posts, which prompted me to evaluate them almost exclusively with Cardas Audio Clear speaker cable. If you’ve ever visited a Joseph Audio room at a high-end audio show, he’s using Cardas. (That’s why Colleen has known him for so long.) That might sound a little persnickety, but every time I use Cardas cables with Cardas binding posts (usually with Trenner & Freidl), they almost connect themselves—no futzing with the spade lugs trying to get make the connections ultra-secure. It just seems to fit effortlessly. Plus, it’s usually a great sonic match.
The Pulsar2s have a nominal 8-ohm impedance and are easy to drive. While I tried a few different amps on them during the review period, I settled on my Pureaudio Duo2 power amplifier in pure Class A mode (25wpc). This combination was rich and seamless from top to bottom.
When the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene loudspeakers first arrived, I sent a message to Jeff asking him if they preferred 24” or 28” stands. (I have both on hand.) Jeff specified the 24” stands, saying the “bass loses weight and the speaker can be too bright with taller stands.” My dilemma, of course, was that my 24” Quadraspire stands are a bit banged up these days after many years of exhibiting, and I had photographs to take.
In these photos you’ll notice the Pulsar2s are sitting on the solid and attractive 28” stands for the Stenheim Alumine 2 loudspeakers I just reviewed. As the Pulsar2s warmed up, I left them on the taller stands. I’ve already mentioned the Pulsar2s sounded fantastic right out of the box, so the Stenheim stands weren’t a deal-breaker. But once I switched to the battle-worn 24” Quadraspires, the quality of the bass increased to the point where I’ll never doubt Jeff again.
Oh, you need me to elaborate? Okay. Scot Hull and I once had a discussion about “sane” speakers, the ones purchased by grounded, practical audiophiles who want fantastic performance while avoiding capricious choices that might result in the alienation of friends, loved ones, and accountants. Our vote for this speaker was the $15,000 Joseph Audio Perspective2 Graphene. You listen to it, and you immediately connect. You hear more expensive and ambitious designs and you think okay, this is wonderful, but will they make me happier than the Perspectives? In most cases, the answer is no.
But over here you have the Pulsar2 Graphenes at $8999/pair, and they prompt the same exact response. I’m sure that the Perspective2s can energize a much larger room and go even deeper in the bass, but in my listening room, the Pulsar2s performed minor miracles with almost every recording. What stands out about the Pulsar2’s bass performance is that it’s both warm and incredibly clear, like hot springs in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. There’s an overall smoothness to the sound that’s distinctive—I feel like this is a speaker I could identify blindfolded in a room full of other speakers. The balance is mesmerizing.
The Pulsar2s are rated down to 42 Hz (plus or minus 2 dB), but that seems very conservative once you achieve proper placement in the room. I trotted out some of my “big bass” recordings just to see if I could trip ‘em up, and they kept producing tight, tuneful bass that I could feel in my chest. (Jeff told me that was one of the reasons why he switched to the graphene drivers, because the improvement in the low frequencies was hard to ignore.)
I’m not the biggest fan of Paula Cole, but I love to play “Tiger” from This Fire because of Tony Levin’s monster Chapman Stick sound. It’s a true bass test for me—either it’s reproduced as crazy, woolly mammoth over-the-top or it’s anemic or even non-existent. It’s hard to get it just right. (Someone in the studio was a deep-bass freak, or at least won some sort of bet.) Through the Pulsar2s, those low-low-low notes were again clear, with each pluck of the fingers producing notes with a distinct beginning, middle and ending. In fact, I wondered if this was the sound Levin heard, or at least wanted, when he was in the studio that day.
Audiophiles, of course, cannot live by deep bass alone—at least the experienced ones. Those frequencies should provide a foundation for everything else that happens. I’ve mentioned this before, but Bob Clarke of Profundo loves to evaluate high-end audio systems with recordings of grand pianos—as opposed to female voice. That prompted a listen to Australian pianist/composer Alister Spence’s album, Whirlpool, a two-disc set that’s his first solo album in three decades.
Spence is a pianist who spends a lot of time on the left half of the keyboard, so to speak, and most of these improvisations focus on deep water—its power, its persistence, its expansiveness. The Joseph Audio Pulsar2 loudspeakers were so adept at drawing out that aquatic vastness that I could easily hear the inspiration from Debussy’s La Mer, that sublime and humbling rise and fall of ocean waves, without any hint from the liner notes.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that I would enjoy the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene loudspeakers. I hate saying it like that, like there’s going to be a bias in this review that cannot be overcome. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s just that I’ve spent so much time listening to Joseph Audio speakers, usually with Jeff in the room, and I’ve never been disappointed. Not once have I listened to a new design and thought “Oh, Jeff’s going in a different direction here.” Nope, I believe there’s a trademark Joseph Audio sound—full, warm, seductive, and detailed—and Jeff has stayed true to it since the beginning.
Back in Munich, Jeff explained the improvements that the graphene drivers delivered. He hinted at what was confirmed during the review process—that the new series of Joseph Audio speakers retain all of the things you love about the sound while adding just a bit more spice in terms of ultimate low-frequency extension and that mesmerizing openness.
Okay, I can basically summarize that if you liked the Pulsar, you’re going to love the Pulsar2. That’s what I meant by “foregone conclusion.” And that’s far from a surprise ending, I know. It’s a bad way to end a review. I wouldn’t do that to you.
Here’s the thing. The last time I listened to the older Pulsar, it sold for $7700/pair. When I asked Jeff the MSRP on the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene, I expected $10K at least maybe more. I wouldn’t have blinked. Of course, Jeff? $11K? 12? Sure, they’re worth it.
But at $8995/pair, the Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene becomes something more than that now-ubiquitous two-way monitor that will convince you it’s a bigger speaker when you close your eyes. Heck, that phrase was practically invented by audio reviewers for the original Pulsar. The Pulsar becomes almost troubling in the way it makes you question your priorities as an audiophile, and what you think you need. I must have big speakers that can recreate a full-sized symphony orchestra. I must have 20Hz. I must have a lot of speaker.
Are ya sure about that?
The Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene, quite frankly, is a lot of speaker in a small package. A lot. Highly recommended.