July 1, 2009
Lafleuraudio X1 Loudspeakers
The art of the minimonitor loudspeaker is a Zen pursuit
that has much in common with the making of a fine Japanese sword: What looks simple on the
surface can be accomplished via a number of different methods that end up at the same
goal. With the sword, the goals are strength, edge retention, maximum hardness without
brittleness, and overall elegance and beauty. The goals to be met by a minimonitor are: a
dead cabinet, an emulation of a point source in space, high-quality drive-units, and
intelligent crossover design.
It seems there are as many different minimonitor designs
out there as there are leaves on a tree. One leaf on that tree has been added by
Lafleuraudio, a relatively new company based in Cháteauguay, Québec, Canada, and headed
up by founder-designer Emanuel Lafleur. The company has approached its new speaker, the
X1, with the intent of assaulting the absolute state of the art of minimonitor design. It
is a fascinating product that incorporates a number of interesting and innovative ideas.
The X1 ($14,000 USD per pair) is small and dense. Slightly
larger than the average minimonitor at 14"H x 11"W x 17"D, and weighing
just about 42 pounds, it feels like a solid chunk of wood. A fair bit of engineering has
gone into its heavy, dead cabinet. First, the cabinet comprises many horizontal layers of
high-grade, Russian-cherry plywood. The center of each slice is cut out by a CNC machine,
the slices then stacked atop each other to the desired height. Part of the CNC process
involves cutting small holes in each slice around the perimeter of the cabinet. When the
slices are stacked, a threaded, stainless-steel rod is then inserted through each vertical
series of holes. These rods are then torqued down tight to clamp all the slices solidly
All internal edges are radiused -- there are no sharp
surfaces. The front panel, a single slab of steel, is affixed to the cabinet not by screws
or bolts, but by two more steel rods that extend horizontally through the speaker to join
in the middle in a Y configuration, and secured with a bolt at the back of the speaker.
This cabinet design has been exceptionally well thought out -- I would assume that this
cabinet construction is responsible for a substantial portion of the speakers
$14,000 price. Lafleuraudio claims that each pair of X1s takes a full month to build and
finish. Once youve seen one with its top panel removed, its easy to believe.
The X1s front baffle is covered with padded leather.
The horizontal striations of the plywood laminae stand out beautifully in the lighter
finishes, and contrast nicely with the leather front. If I were ordering this speaker,
Id choose a lighter color; with the darker finishes, its hard to see the
different layers. After all, its this construction that sets the X1 apart -- why not
show it off?
At the rear is one pair of really nice binding
posts. At first I thought the X1 was a sealed design, but while talking to Emanuel
Lafleur, I discovered a port hidden underneath the rear end of the speaker, right where
its you-know-what would reside. Lafleur informed me that he aimed the port to fire
downward, as it would then be more likely to be a consistent 24" from the nearest
surface (the floor) -- a distance calculated into the design of the speaker and its
dedicated, massive, beautifully designed stands, which are included in the purchase price.
(My review samples came with a set of very heavy, four-post metal stands.)
Top-notch, seriously high-end drive-units are used in the
X1: a Scan-Speak Revelator 5" woofer and a Scan-Speak 1.5" tweeter. For the
price, they should be. The X1s crossover is wired point to point in what Lafleur
claims is a unique, proprietary design. The crossover components are potted in bitumen in
order to control resonances. The company specifies that the X1s sensitivity is
87dB/2.83V/m and that it presents the amplifier with an impedance of 8 ohms. The frequency
response is claimed to be 45Hz-20kHz.
International mail, direct via the Canadian Royal Post,
recently delivered into my welcoming arms a rebuilt Roksan Shiraz phono cartridge. Man,
had I missed this baby. Still holding down preamp duties despite being somewhat long in
the tooth, my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 worked in tandem with the overachieving Aqvox Phono 2
CI phono stage. The Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable still squats, troll-like, atop my equipment
Amplification was handled solely by my Audio Research VT100
tube amp, connected to the SFL-2 via Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval balanced
interconnects. The same cables joined the Aqvox phono stage to the SFL-2. Power cords were
all Shunyata Research Taipans, and a Shunyata Hydra Model-6 filtered the power. Speaker
cables were Acoustic Zen Satori.
My own likes and dislikes arent supposed to be
factors in any review I write. If I like or dislike a speaker, that tells you, the reader,
nothing of value. What Im supposed to do is tell you how the thing sounds.
That way, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it might appeal to you.
Obviously, if Im enamored of a component, that feeling will shine through what I
write. Conversely, if I dont like what Im hearing, that, too, will probably be
noticeable, though I hope not so much. This way, I can be fair to you and to the
But even if I now must turn in my Reviewers Guild
wallet card and wall plaque, I have to tell you: I really liked the Lafleuraudio
X1. I like a lot of speakers, and am generally easy to please, but if I didnt know
better, Id think that Lafleuraudio had ransacked my brain while I was sleeping,
extracted my speaker wish list, then built the X1 to those specifications.
First, the X1 had impressive bass, given the fact that,
other than its tweeter, it has only a single 5" woofer. My room isnt small, and
opens up to another large floor. Generally, its a fairly difficult room to load, but
even though placed well out into the room, the X1s produced satisfying bass waaaay
beyond my expectations. Cat Powers Jukebox (LP, Matador OLE 793-1) is a
thick, juicy album rich in overproduced, studio-enhanced bass -- a larger-than-life
kickdrum, and a halo of reverb around every instrument detach the music from any semblance
of reality. Still, its really enjoyable music, a sincere guilty pleasure. The
X1s single low-end driver pumped out significantly more bass than Id expected,
staying tight and well defined throughout its entire range. Lafleuraudio specifies a
low-end extension of 45Hz (without any reference to rolloff), and this seems reasonable to
me, given what I heard. I imagine that most listeners with reasonably sized rooms
wont feel the need for a subwoofer.
Furthermore, the X1s low end sounded incredibly
articulate, with superb pitch definition, absolutely no overhang, and a nice, rich tone.
That richness got me all excited -- Im always willing to trade off a tiny leetle bit
of steel-trap tightness in the low end for some of the warmth that, in my opinion, makes
recorded music sound just that much more real and human.
Jukebox was the first album I played after roughly
setting up the X1s, and it proved instructive in a number of ways. The fake yet incredibly
billowy soundstage had me pulling the speakers farther and farther apart, each adjustment
increasing the overall size and scale of the soundstage without cutting a hole in the
center. I ended up with the speakers farther apart than usual, yet didnt feel the
need to back them up to the front wall to take advantage of boundary reinforcement. In my
books, this points to repeatable ease of setup; in other words, theres a good chance
youll get similar performance in your room. Once sited correctly -- 34" from
their rear panels to the front wall and 10 apart -- the X1s threw an exceptionally
well-formed, almost concrete soundstage.
To help pay for the rebuilding of my Roksan Shiraz, I
recently went through my collection of sealed Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab LPs and endured
the bittersweet experience of selling a bunch of them (for pretty good coin). Although I
have a mint open copy, for years now Ive been hoarding, with Gollum-like greed, a
sealed LP of Muddy Waters Folk Singer (Chess/MFSL 1-201). The night before I
mailed the duplicate to its new owner, I sat and listened to the entire album, holding the
sealed copy tight to my chest for the last time. It was an emotional moment for me, and
the X1s brought me closer to the music and the musicians intent. Although the
backing instruments -- all acoustic -- are panned fairly hard left and right, Folk
Singer was recorded with astounding resolution. Through some speakers the instruments
can cluster quite tightly around the cabinets, but not through the X1s. On "My Home
Is in the Delta," Waters guitar remained at hard right, but free of the right
speaker, hovering just slightly above and behind the cabinet. Waters voice floated
clearly in the center, and surrounding it was a delicious, eerily audible halo of the
ambience of the studio in which it was recorded.
Im not a fan of pop music -- its rare for me to
fall for a plain old pop or rock record. So I can tell you that its safe to delve
into Beth Ortons Central Reservation (LP, Arista/Classic RTH 2011) -- four
vinyl sides of intelligent, lyrical music that combines delicate innocence with a core of
tough wisdom. How about lines such as "What are regrets? / Theyre just lessons
we havent learned yet" or "I can still smell you on my fingers and taste
you on my breath"? I like that. Via the X1s, the music on this studio album spread
from wall to wall, running way back past the speakers rear panels. Id expected
crisp, pinpoint imaging from the X1s, no doubt due to their small frontal area and the two
tightly clustered drive-units -- on first glimpse, the X1s are easily pigeonholed as
minimonitors, which are generally accepted as soundstaging champs. But while they did
image superbly, the X1s took the concept one step further, throwing up realistic, fully
formed images, with none of the thinness I sometimes hear from smaller speakers. The title
track of Ortons album is quite dense, with an orchestral arrangement, but the X1s
kept all instruments distinct and beautifully delineated, while rendering their sizes
realistically and maintaining a holistic, adult-sized presentation. Very nice
The X1s imaging and soundstaging prowess were likely
due, at least in part, to their sounding clear and uncongested through the midrange -- no
surprise, given the pedigree of the Scan-Speak drive-units. Lafleuraudio went to heroic
lengths to ensure that the X1s cabinet is dead, optimally shaped, and entirely free
of resonances that might otherwise interfere with the soundwaves actually emanating from
its drivers. If the X1s midrange performance is any indication, theyve
Eleni Mandells voice on her Country for True
Lovers (Heart of a Champion HoC-011) exemplified the X1s nifty way with voices.
In the minimally recorded "Another Lonely Heart," Mandells voice is front
and center, and the X1s perfectly portrayed the rich creaminess of her clear tone,
floating right there between them what sounded like an actual human head -- a singing one.
Higher in the audioband, the X1s seem to recess the upper
midrange right through the presence, or sibilance, region. That Im not averse to
such a sound wont surprise regular readers of my reviews (hello? anyone out there?).
I much prefer a slightly reticent upper midrange and lower treble to one thats
elevated, or even flat. I like to listen at slightly louder volumes than might be
considered perfectly realistic, and Ive found over the years that speakers that
measure flat tend to bother my ears at elevated levels, especially at the crossover
frequencies used in typical two-way speakers.
The X1s Scan-Speak tweeter is an outstanding model
that Ive heard used in several other speakers. It has a silky richness, almost as if
its adding its own slightly euphonic overlay to the signal. I dont think
thats actually what this tweeter is doing, but I do feel that the resultant sound is
different from that of any other high-frequency driver Ive yet heard, and I love it.
The X1s highest highs did seem to be down somewhat in level, but a quick goosing of
the volume control quickly elevated the highs to close to their correct proportions.
Sticking with Eleni Mandell, I then found myself transfixed by the ride cymbal on
"Its Raining." The X1 perfectly nailed this delicately played instrument
with a silky shimmer utterly lacking in harshness, edge, or grit.
It must be plain by now that I was totally on board with
the Lafleuraudios presentation of high frequencies. However, Im fully aware
that there will be a significant number of listeners who will find this type of sound
somewhat polite, perhaps even dull. Those of the Flat Is Right school would most likely
not be happy with the X1. If that describes you, be warned and stay home; but if it
doesnt, you should know that the X1s conferred on me the ability to listen at loud
levels for long periods of time without experiencing the slightest listening fatigue or
ear strain. In my books, thats worth a lot of coin.
But is it worth
The Lafleuraudio X1 is a great loudspeaker that can deliver
large amounts of musical satisfaction. However, its still a two-way monitor that
retails for $14,000/pair. That this speaker has value is not in question; the cabinets
alone are works of industrial art, and Lafleuraudio has sunk a ton of resources into
designing and manufacturing what may be a perfect home base for its drivers.
There are other, cheaper ways of constructing a dense, dead
speaker cabinet. Id be remiss in my duty to you, the reader, were I not to inform
you that you can get sound quality this good -- albeit slightly different in many ways --
for significantly less money. You could even get a damn fine floorstanding speaker with
serious low bass for significantly less money.
But if youve read this far, youre probably
still interested in the X1, and are perhaps thinking of buying a pair. If you do,
youll be paying a large sum for an intensely satisfying musical transducer -- a
uniquely designed loudspeaker from a company that has put significant resources into
creating truly heroic cabinet construction. Theres no doubt about it: Youll be
getting a fantastic speaker.
. . . Jason Thorpe
Lafleuraudio X1 Loudspeakers
Price: $14,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
125 Boul. Industriel
Cháteauguay, Québec J6J 4Z2
Phone: (450) 616-0525
Fax: (905) 415-0456