The Serene Audio Talisman Computer Speaker Page 2

The Setup
The Talismans ship with everything needed to get started---the speakers themselves, an external power supply, a decent quality speaker cable with banana plugs to connect the right and left speakers, and a 1/8" to RCA cable for connecting a portable audio player. I tried using my iPad as source, and the results were fine, but a speaker like this really should be paired with something of higher quality. After trying a variety of sources I settled on two favorites: the Audinst HUD-mx1 ($179) on the lower end, and the Anedio D1 ($1270) on the higher end. The Talisman is resolving enough to highlight the differences between these two units, though I admit the Anedio is overkill for this application. I tried an HRT Music Streamer II and it also did a fine job, but its fixed output level forced me to reach behind the Talismans to use their own volume control. That's just not as convenient.

The Sound
There's a reason why some people are really drawn to single driver designs. When done right (and I believe the Talisman is an example of that) they offer some key advantages over multi-way speakers. Without having to worry about the crossover blend being done properly, single driver designs are often very smooth and coherent in the critical midrange area, while still offering good articulation and detail. This comes at the expense of some extension at both frequency extremes. The Talismans fit perfectly into that description.

Not long ago Tyll reviewed the UFI UCube compact USB speakers. I've got a pair of those and have been using them on computer duty. They sound pretty good for such little things and I love how they throw up a wall of sound, not really caring much if you are in the "sweet spot" or not. The Talismans have many of the same strengths as the UCubes with few of the weaknesses. They have a much smoother top end and avoid that "tizzy" or "splashy" feeling. Yet they manage to articulate a sense of air pretty well. Serene Audio gives the specs as 70 Hz - 20 kHz +/- 3 dB, and I believe it. There's enough "thump" in the lows to drive the music, and it stays nice and tight. A subwoofer would round out the last bit of performance but I'm easily able to go without for most music.

In a near-field situation the Talisman has all the volume I could ever need and then some. It nails the genres where single driver speakers traditionally excel: small group jazz, a cappella, folk, and classical that isn't massively dynamic. With those types of music in a near-field, I don't believe I've heard anything this side of $1,000 that can touch the Talisman. The tonal accuracy is spot on; the sound stage has realistic depth; and the details are plentiful without being fatiguing. Low level detail retrieval is particularly good. The overall presentation is fairly neutral, perhaps just very slightly on the smooth and forgiving side compared to some of the studio monitors I've experienced. Serene Audio makes it a point to discuss harmonic distortion and the negative effects it has on the listening experience. They present it as being just as important as the overall frequency response of a design. This is a refreshing viewpoint---so often it seems like all we care about is how low or how high a speaker can play, without really considering the accuracy of that playback.

Having said that, the downside here is just what you'd expect---really low frequency bass is just not going to happen from a box this small, especially with a single driver, and they aren't the most dynamic speakers you'll ever hear. There are some designs out there using small full-range drivers that can dig deeper than these. From the Cain & Cain Abby ($1500) all the way up to the Teresonic Ingenium ($10,000), very tall enclosures with complex internal arrangements achieve sound that approaches true full range performance from a single smallish driver. Good luck getting either of those to fit on your desktop though.

That being the case, the Talismans won't be the best choice for getting concert-level volume levels with bass heavy music like dubstep or reggae. They do quite well with classic rock though, and better than I would have expected with funk and blues. The mids are so engaging and well presented that I find myself not missing those bottom octaves in most cases. But if your main diet of music consists of death metal played at very high volume levels, this may not be the speaker for you.

The good news here is that the Talismans are not particularly fussy in terms of placement. It didn't matter if I used toe-in or just pointed them straight forward. Distance between them could vary from 2 feet to 4 feet and the center image remained solid. Like the UCubes, these have a small enough radiating area that they maintain wide dispersion throughout most of the frequency range.

Serene Audio says the Talismans require at least 1 inch of clearance for the rear ports. I found that I preferred having them at least 4-5 inches out from the wall in order to maintain their excellent tonal balance. Anything closer and the added bass reinforcement becomes a bit much for my tastes. It doesn't sound like a big difference between 1 inch and 5, but consider the scale we are working with here. That could be the equivalent of moving a big tower speaker several feet further away from the back wall.

The major players in this segment seem to be the Audioengine models, as well as the new airmotiv offerings from Emotiva. I'm working on getting the airmotiv4 in for comparison, but I do have experience with the Audioengine models. The Talisman is just a tad larger than the Audioengine A2 but significantly more advanced in performance---as it should be for the price. I would also compare the Talisman favorably to the larger A5 model in most respects, exceptions being low frequency extension and overall dynamics. I have yet to hear the revised A5+ model but it seems like it should be a worthy competitor---though somewhat larger in size. Outfitted in bamboo for $469, it may appeal to the same crowd as the Serene models. All three of these companies offer risk free 30-day in home trial periods, so it wouldn't be much trouble to play with several of them and decide for yourself.

stuffwelike100Expectations have to be realistic with this sort of thing. The Serene Audio Talisman speakers are simply too small to fill up a big room with full range sound. They work best in a near-field listening situations, but can fill a small to medium sized room surprisingly well. Aesthetics are always subjective but I personally think the Talisman is the best looking choice in the segment, by a considerable margin. For stunning looks, for placing value on tonal accuracy, and for taking a quality-over-quantity approach, the Serene Audio Talisman earns a very strong recommendation.

Discussion on advantages of Near-field listening.
Interesting article on the history of single driver designs.
Serene Audio design theory.
General single driver design theory.

Serene Audio Inc.
362-901 West 3rd Street
North Vancouver, BC V7P 3P9
(888) 697-8592

philipjohnwright's picture

Thanks for the review of the Talisman's, they look fantastic (and I dislike the look of most kit, which generally only appeals to the geek / big kid in us all).

On the question of what Innerfidelity should cover, I think personal audio is a good definition. Another one, to use in conjunction with personal audio, might be 'anything not covered by Stereophile or AudioStream'. I suspect I'm not the only one that uses all 3 sites to get my daily audio fix. The lack of significant overlap is presumably deliberate (and good), if anything falls between the cracks then one of you should cover it. As you have done with this review, so keep up the good work.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I think there is bound to be some overlap. Computer speakers and DACs are a good example. I think I'm going to try to stay more in the low cost area, but it won't completely deliver total separation. Nor do I think complete separation is needed. At some level, I have to remain true to the InnerFidelity brand, as do the other editors in their respective property. But that's not a bad thing: should the same product be reviewed in more than one place, it simply offers a second perspective.

Thanks for your comment.

ultrabike's picture

These are very nice... and single full range driver is also very impressive for coherence. For their passives, a center channel like enclosure wouldn't hurt, and their sensitivity is a bit on the low side. Other than that, I can see myself selling the active ones to my wife for our bedroom :) ... I'm still justifying my headphone purchase though...

John Grandberg's picture
That's a good point about sensitivity - i was a bit worried with the powered version having only 15w x 2 on tap. They totally surprised me though, by seeming more than powerful enough. I do wonder if throwing a nice external amp on the passive models would gain anything.
Tyll Hertsens's picture
Kinda doubt it. I've been constantly amazed at how good class-D amps are for everything up to the middle ground of Audiophiledom. Just seems an appropriate mix of tech, and trying to hot rod it will have you wanting new speakers to quickly.
Bob's picture

Nice review John. I had to replace my monitor in December and in doing so I HAD to purchase new computer speakers. I could have purchased some cheap crappy sounding speakers, but being the person I am, I ended up spending more so that I could actually enjoy using my computer set up to listen to music. There are very few reviews of these types of speakers and the audiophile journalists have been reluctant to embrace the smaller less expensive alternatives. Other than the Audioengine reviews, which were embraced by the community (imho they're bloated and lack detail) there's not that much out there. I enjoy coming to innerfidelity to read these types of reviews and hope you will expand to include audiophile portable amps and daps.

ultrabike's picture

Somewhere in here (Innerfidelity) there is a recommendation for Emotiva Pro airmotiv4 (I think in the Steve Guttenberg's Audioengine A5+ review he praised them quite a bit). I did not know about the Emotiva monitor offering before, but if I was on the market for it I probably would buy those. They have quite a bit of cool technology... Though the styling and full range driver of the ones reviewed here seem astonishing at least on paper and pictures.

I highly regard Steve. I got my Mirage Nanosats partly through his observations at CNET some time ago. My wife and I frankly love them quite a bit (there might be better out there but we do not regret our purchase one bit).

John Grandberg's picture
I've got the Emotiva Pro airmotive5 coming in soon for review, as well as a few other compact speaker models. I do think these sorts of speakers are relevant to be covered since they check a lot of the same boxes that headphones do: reasonably priced, don't need lots of space, won't blast your neighbors, etc.