It’s been a little more than three years since Perlisten Audio sprang into existence, and in that time, it has gone from obscurity to prominence. I’ve written about the company three times before: a profile of its founder and CEO, Dan Roemer; a review of the flagship model of its Reference line, the R7t ($9990 per pair; all prices in USD); and a blog piece on one of its big subwoofers, the D15s ($5995). I wouldn’t say I’m a Perlisten superfan, but I do have much respect for the company’s technical achievements and for their no-nonsense communications. Roemer, with decades of experience in audio engineering and an obvious passion for making high-value, high-performance loudspeakers, is insightful on all things hi-fi and a hoot to talk to.
In my audition of the R7t loudspeaker last year, it performed impressively, but there was something about its sound I never quite warmed to. I mentioned that to Roemer when I saw him at the Florida Audio Expo earlier this year and noted that I’d love to also review a speaker from the Signature range—the mighty S7t, the top model in Perlisten’s S-series line, has earned universal acclaim since its introduction in 2020. Soon after, a pair of Perlisten’s S5t floorstanders, the S7t’s younger and smaller sibling, landed on my doorstep ($13,990 per pair; $15,990 per pair with optional Ebony High Gloss finish, as on my review samples). Game on.
The S5t was released in 2022, two years after the debut of the S7t. Both models sport a 1.1″ beryllium-dome tweeter that is nestled in a unique waveguide of the company’s own design (patent pending). The tweeter in both models is vertically flanked by a pair of 1.1″ midrange domes made of an exceptionally light and stiff thin-ply carbon diaphragm (TPCD), a technology called Textreme. The three drivers combine to form what Perlisten calls a Directivity Pattern Control (DPC) array. This design feature is incorporated in all of Perlisten’s loudspeakers, but the beryllium tweeter and TPCD midrange drivers are unique to the S-series models.
The four-way flagship S7t tower has four 7.1″ TPCD carbon-fiber woofers with different crossover points for the inner and outer pairs. The S5t, by contrast, has only one pair of these 7.1″ woofers in a more traditional three-way design. Like other Perlisten designs, the crossover network is unusual: the beryllium dome tweeter plays full range with no crossover to the TPCD midrange drivers and has a natural extension down to 1.1kHz; the midrange domes hand off to the tweeter at around 4kHz and to the woofers at the same 1.1kHz frequency as the tweeter. Having all three 1.1″ drivers in the DPC array play down to 1.1kHz permits greater control of vertical dispersion. Meanwhile, the woofers’ low-pass filter kicks in at around 1.5kHz. Multiple filters with different slopes are used in the S5t’s network.
Drive units in both the Signature and Reference lines are all designed and manufactured by Perlisten—nothing off the shelf here. Thanks to TPCD’s unique weave and layering, the midrange domes and woofer cones are 30% lighter than diaphragms formed of standard carbon fiber of the same thickness, Perlisten claims. The extremely low moving mass of the midrange domes in the DPC array allows rapid transient response, good sensitivity, and low distortion.
Perlisten’s DPC array is no gimmick. That beryllium tweeter sits in the throat of a flared waveguide lens that controls horizontal dispersion. The combination of the DPC array, woofer positions, and crossover topology restricts vertical dispersion at frequencies between 500Hz and 20kHz. Early reflections from the ceiling and floor are thereby limited, and the speaker’s output is better focused on the listener. Perlisten believes that this approach avoids, or at least lessens, the smearing that occurs in the vocal range when using drivers with uniform, non-focused dispersion characteristics.
There are many loudspeakers out there that cost much more and deliver a lot less. For Perlisten, a relative newcomer to the industry, to offer this level of technological innovation for under 15 grand is very impressive.
Perlisten’s aim, Roemer told me when I interviewed him in 2022, is to keep each of their speakers within the same family of measurement curves. This objective becomes evident when you look at the data sheet for each model. Particularly telling is the enhanced data visualization of vertical directivity. Roemer was careful to note, however, that Perlisten does not simply design for conformance with their “family of curves” and then move on—that’s just the starting point. A great deal of tweaking takes place to voice each model individually, he explained, while remaining within the envelope of the target curve.
Stepping up from Perlisten’s Reference line to the Signature line gets you a speaker that is tested to within 1dB of the golden sample for the model and then pair-matched with another to within 0.5dB (for stereo models like the S5t). Due to their different driver and DPC implementation, Signature loudspeakers boast lower distortion, greater transparency, and better power handling than their Reference counterparts. The Signature line’s DPC array also extends lower in frequency than the version used in the Reference line, which consists of a soft-dome tweeter and HPF (hybrid pulp formulation) midrange drivers.
The S5t is specified to have a sensitivity of 89.5dB/2.83V/1m and a 4-ohm nominal impedance (3-ohm minimum impedance). Solid-state amplification isn’t mandatory, but the driving amp should have ample current capacity. Perlisten recommends partnering the S5t with an amp that can deliver at least 100Wpc. The S5t is a THX Certified Dominus speaker, a performance-class distinction awarded to speakers capable of cinematic output levels in large spaces. It should be reassuring to know that you can play the S5ts to obscene levels without fear of disintegrating expensive carbon. Indeed, Perlisten lists peak SPL capability (100Hz–20kHz/1m) as 114.3dB. Hell yeah.
Each S5t floorstander measures 44.1″H × 9.5″W × 15.8″D and weighs 95.1 pounds. The two speakers arrived well protected in double cardboard boxes complete with a variety of accessories: white gloves for unboxing and setup, a weighty aluminum bottom plate, brass accent rings for the feet, screw-in floor spikes and rubber feet, port plugs, and magnetic grilles.
The attractive cabinet looked high-tech but unassuming. While the standard version of the S5t comes in two glossy finishes, piano black and piano white, an additional $2000 outlay entitles you to one of the Special Edition finishes: Cherry Natural, Black Cherry Natural, Ebony Natural, and Ebony High Gloss. You can also specify a custom finish so long as it’s in the Pantone color catalog. The Ebony High Gloss finish of my review pair gleamed rich undertones through a thick crystalline clearcoat—it looked great.
Inside each enclosure are two vertically aligned bass-reflex ports that are vented on the bottom sides of the cabinet. Perlisten designed the speaker to operate in either bass-reflex mode, with the ports wide open, or in acoustic suspension mode, with the ports plugged, to accommodate different listening rooms and preferences. Frequency response is 24Hz–32kHz (–10dB) in bass-reflex mode, 38Hz–32kHz (–10dB) in acoustic suspension. The S5t, as I was about to discover, is staid and still in both modes. This is due in part to its significant weight but also to the multiple bracing points inside the cabinet and contoured HDF of the baffle.
With this flexibility and the speaker’s manageable size, given careful positioning, a pair of S5ts could work in many smaller rooms.
Putting the Perlistens together was straightforward, but finding the optimal position for them was a challenge. Many loudspeakers that I review quickly wind up within a few inches of where my reference speakers, KEF’s Reference 3, stand—around 20″ from the front wall, 3′ from each side wall, and roughly 10′ apart. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find the sweet spot for the Perlistens. At the KEFs’ position, they sounded a little distant and a touch light in the mid- and upper bass. My listening area is a 16.5′ × 14′ section of an L-shaped basement that is 29′ long and 37′ wide (at its widest point), so room gain was not of much help.
Dan Roemer advised that I may be having cancellation or suckout issues and suggested that I keep experimenting. After hours of tweaking their position, the S5ts ended up swapping sides and not far from where they started: about 9.5′ apart, 2′ from the front wall, and 11′ from my listening position. There the S5ts seemed to be in lockstep with my room in both bass output and soundstaging. This is something I run into every once in a while, the Magico A3 (which I reviewed in August 2019) being the most recent example. Different speakers load a room differently, and only exhaustive experimentation can reveal a speaker’s optimal position. Reserve judgment till then. I’m glad Roemer reminded me of that.
I drove the Perlistens first with Hegel Music Systems’ H590 integrated amplifier (reviewed in October 2018) and standalone HD30 DAC (reviewed in December 2015) and then with Devialet’s Expert 140 Pro integrated amplifier-DAC (whose predecessor, the Expert 130 Pro, I reviewed in May 2017). My source was an Intel NUC running Roon and Tidal HiFi. Everything was wired together with a loom of Siltech Classic Legend.
One feature of the S5t that I was eager to hear is its beryllium tweeter. I’ve loved every beryllium dome I’ve heard. Their clarity and effortlessness are rarely matched by aluminum and textile alternatives. There seems to be an intrinsic brilliance to the material that lends spaciousness and contrast to the sound of any loudspeaker that makes use of it. When I auditioned the Kharma Elegance dB7-S, Focal Diablo Utopia Colour Evo, or Magico S1 Mk.II, for instance, that beryllium brilliance immediately jumped out at me. Listening to Perlisten’s S5t, however, I heard no such outstanding tonality. If you’ve been put off by the brightness or forwardness of beryllium-armed loudspeakers in the past, keep reading.
On went the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey,” from their debut album Licensed to Ill (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Def Jam / Tidal), and up, up, up went the volume on the Devialet Expert 140 Pro. The Boys are known more for their clever lyrics and addictive melodies than for their production quality, and this 1986 recording isn’t the most natural or dynamic. But from the moment the track’s bleating intro synth started to hit my consciousness, I knew the Perlistens were special. Such broad soundstage and focused imaging I’d heard from only a few other loudspeakers, all far more expensive. The synth had terrific edge definition but no beryllium-induced untoward brilliance. When the thumping bass line hit, the S5ts demonstrated none of the mid-bass hump that manufacturers often dial into their loudspeakers to imbue them with dynamic punch. Rather, they were tonally linear, fast, articulate, unembellished. And when Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock then began issuing rhymes from left, center, and right, the S5ts conjured up such a cohesive stereo image that I was able to pick them out on the soundstage with ease. But most remarkably, the S5ts never called attention to themselves. No one aspect of the Beasties’ single stood out. The S5t is one of the most neutral-sounding loudspeakers—if not the most neutral—I’ve ever heard.
Some listeners find straight, unadulterated musical truth uninvolving and unmoving. They want to be lied to. They want to get kicked in the balls by overripe bass and have their hair swept by an overcharged tweeter. The S5t may disappoint such listeners. It doesn’t thrill by artifice and showmanship but rather by fidelity and competence. This was patently evident when I turned to “We’re All We Need,” from Above & Beyond’s We are All We Need (16/44.1 FLAC, Anjunabeats / Tidal). Zoë Johnston’s opening vocal is a gorgeous, delicate thing, and the Perlisten’s DPC just nailed it. Perlisten could easily have voiced that beryllium tweeter as many other manufacturers do, with an extra decibel or two across the presence region and lower treble for sibilant zest and a greater sense of spaciousness. But I heard none of that. Johnston’s breathy voice was clean and supple and utterly natural.
The Perlistens’ tonal balance was matched by their spatial presentation. Some loudspeakers produce an inherently open sonic profile, casting a deep soundstage larger than life and projecting the music well into a room. My KEF Reference 3 speakers are a prime example of this as are some of Focal’s higher-end offerings. The S5t is more reserved, keeping to the Goldilocks zone in soundstage and projection.
Whenever I thought I heard a touch of midrange reticence. I’d put on a tetchy recording from the ’80s and could easily hear that hollow metallic sheen typical of that decade’s mastering process, dispelling that notion. And when I craved dynamics, I’d just up the volume a little bit and the Perlistens would begin filling my room with bass. But what endeared the S5ts to me more than anything was their resolving power.
In “Kyrie,” the opening track to Trio Mediæval’s An Old Hall Ladymass (16/44.1 FLAC, 2L / Tidal), I reveled in the Perlistens’ ability to reproduce the light tapping sound of Catalina Vicens’s fingers on the organetto’s keys at the top of the track. Equally delightful was the muted sound of the instrument’s bellow action, a little later. To the casual listener, such details may detract from the playback, but to the audiophile, these sonic minutiae are precisely what makes hi-fi so exciting. After the brief instrumental introduction, the Oslo-based trio enters, sounding incredibly pure and organic. The S5ts recreated but didn’t accentuate the acoustic space of the recording venue, Oslo’s Uranienborg Church, letting the talent take center stage instead. They were a perfectly transparent window through which music in this excellent recording shone effortlessly and authentically.
Massive Attack’s Mezzanine (16/44.1 FLAC, Circa / Tidal)—dark, dreamlike, laden with heavy bass lines—is a very different kind of recording. The opening track, “Angel,” is the best of the bunch. It begins with a sampled electric bass that is a challenge even for full-range loudspeakers; as expected, the S5ts weren’t exactly threatening to pressurize my cavernous listening space with it. While the control over the TPCD woofers was superb—control and linearity are clear priorities for Perlisten—and though bass extension most certainly reached below 30Hz, the weight and slam this track deserves when played loudly, as it was here, were absent.
In small- to medium-size listening spaces, a pair of S5ts will doubtless work well; in larger spaces, their performance may vary. In mine, they were flawless except for the lowest octave.
My KEF Reference 3s served well as a reference against which to compare the Perlistens. Like the S5t, the Reference 3 (discontinued; $13,999 per pair when available) is a mid-size three-way design that features a pair of woofers of similar size (slightly smaller at 6.5″ than the 7.1″ S5t’s). The Reference 3 and S5t are both benchmarked against a golden reference for the model and are similarly priced.
I wasn’t surprised, then, to find that the S5t and Reference 3 were very close in sound to one another, the former surpassing the latter in some ways, falling behind it in others. First, although KEF speakers, thanks to their coaxial Uni-Q drivers, are renowned for their stellar stereo imaging, the Reference 3 pair in my comparison were in fact bettered by the S5ts in that respect. On “Brass Monkey,” the Boys were placed with millimetric accuracy within the soundstage through the Perlistens; they sounded a touch bigger and more diffuse through the Reference 3s. Moreover, the Perlistens were more holographic, conjuring up the three vocalists vividly in three-dimensional space. The Reference 3s, on the other hand, delivered a healthier dollop of mid-bass that was every bit as controlled as that of the S5ts but sounded more balanced. The KEFs also sounded slightly more urgent and up on their toes, propelling Zoë Johnston farther forward with greater sheen and sparkle. Detail was equally rich and revealing, but the KEFs’ presentation was more open, more airy. Trio Mediæval’s “Kyrie,” for instance, sounded larger in every direction, though it somewhat masked Catalina Vicens’s fingerwork on the organetto.
A more interesting comparison was with the Kharma’s Elegance dB7-S, which I recently reviewed. The Dutch Elegance dB7-S is a joy to behold and listen to, but at $40,000 per pair, it is more than twice as expensive as the S5t. Like the S5t, the dB7-S uses a beryllium-dome tweeter and two carbon-fiber woofers, but it is a two-way, not a three-way, design. The Elegance dB7-S is a clear step-up over the S5t in its luxurious appearance, a stunning pearlescent finish with automotive-style chrome accents—it looks like it belongs in an Architectural Digest profile.
Voicing is very different, too. Whereas the Perlistens were a model of linearity from top to bottom, the Kharmas were markedly more Technicolor, exhibiting boosted upper-bass and treble output, which made every song super dynamic—at once punchy and spacious. The Perlistens’ sound profile couldn’t be more different, but their transparency was every bit as good as the Kharmas’, and they were more coherent in painting a stereo image. The Perlistens also extended deeper into the bass, though they lacked the Kharmas’ whomp factor.
Perlisten Audio’s S5t loudspeaker manifests the no-nonsense, performance-first approach you’d expect from a decades-old company that is continuing to refine a winning formula. This process of refinement is still fueled by the desire to build something unique, which spurs technical innovation. Marked by its sterling neutrality across the frequency band, the S5t’s most distinctive feature is its DPC array, which produced one of the most convincing and holographic stereo images I’ve heard. While not quite full range in my listening space, the S5t, thanks to its well-controlled, linear bottom end, should be nearly full range in listening rooms of more typical dimensions. The S5t is built to a high standard, and the high-gloss finish of my review samples looked beautiful. It would complement any modern decor. All aboard the hype train: Perlisten’s S5t is the real deal.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers: KEF LS50 and Reference 3.
- Integrated amplifiers: Devialet Expert 140 Pro; Hegel Music Systems H590.
- Digital-to-analog converter: Hegel Music Systems HD30.
- Sources: Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi.
- Speaker cables: Siltech Classic Legend 680L.
- Analog interconnect cables: Siltech Classic Legend 680i (XLR).
- Power cords: Siltech Classic Legend 680P.
- Digital interconnect: Siltech Classic Legend 380 USB.
Perlisten Audio S5t Loudspeaker
Price: $13,990 per pair; $15,990 as reviewed.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor; six years with registration.
807 Liberty Dr.
Verona, WI 53593
Phone: (414) 895-6009