Trenner & Friedl Pharoah Loudspeaker
Why is number 7 a fox? And Saturday blue? I don't know, and for reasons that are like-wise hidden from me, I've had, as long as I can remember, a weakness for loudspeakers that are two times (or more) wider than they're deep.
Some such wide & flat commercial speakers come to mind (Audio Note, Omega, Devore, Auditorium 23 etc.), as well as a few DIY designs (eg. VTL Jordan JX92S).
Vintage speakers, more often than not, feature a wide front baffle, and although not always precisely flat, those designs too have always pleased my eye (and something that goes deeper than the eye).
This special fondness I've had despite the fact that markets strongly favour the opposite form: narrow and deep. My "belief" in wide front baffles hasn't been undermined even by the fact that many so called experts associate technical disadvantages with it. (For some reason, very rarely anyone speaks about their advantages albeit maximally (infinitely) wide baffle is the theoretical ideal?)
Anyways, Trenner & Friedl's Pharoah is a wide & flat design, not record wide but wide still. Her (Hatshepsut, for example) width is 400 mm (460 mm with wooden feet), depth 240 mm (350 mm with wooden feet), and height is 950 mm (975 mm with wooden feet),
In fixing the cabinet dimensions, T&R's made use of the golden ratio. Two dimensions are in the golden ratio when the ratio of the longer dimension to the smaller dimension is the same as the ratio of the sum of the two dimensions to the longer dimension.
Even the eye can tell that Pharoah's height and width are not in the golden ratio, but the depth/width ratio is, ie. roughly 1:1,6. Sometimes designers go for the golden ratio simply for aesthetic reasons, or "just in case" believing that the golden ratio as a universal ratio cannot be wrong!
Andreas Friedl from T&F does not deny that aesthetics have no role here, but stresses that the golden ratio proportion also guarantees best acoustical results in a loudspeaker eg. by dispersing internal standing waves in a more harmonic manner, just like in concert halls that are drawn according to the golden ratio.
Talking about the visual, the diameter of the round grill is at least as important for Pharoah's sex appeal as anything else. It ought not be a cm longer or cm shorter.
The walnut veneered cabinet (three finishes) is made of birch plywood up to 30mm thickness, and damped with Austrian sheep wool. Lambswool is a material of connoisseurs, and very popular among (eg. French) DIY hobbyists who do not need continuously keep an eye on cost-benefit analysis.
Horn ot not to horn
When I first saw an image of the Pharoah, before knowing anything about its innards, I thought it might carry one of Tannoy's cocentric units, or even better, one of Altec 604's (one of its many versions). Nothing of that sort. I wasn't completely wrong though since, like the 604, Pharoah sports a HF horn.
The horn, mounted on top of a 8 inch woofer, loads a pure 1" titanium dome tweeter, and is machined from a block of aluminum. The horn profile is shaped according to the Tractrix function, which according to Trenner and Friedl is the best compromise between lowest distortion/coloration and efficiency. In their design book if the two goals, low distortion and efficiency, contradict, the low distortion is to be preferred. Despite the HF horn's 100dB SPL 1W/1m efficiency Pharoah's overall efficiency is 92-93 dB.
The horn is also helpful in matching directivity characteristics of the woofer and the tweeter.
A small conceptual interpellation: Will the horn make Pharoah a horn speaker? Naturally the answer depends on the definition of a horn speaker. For my part I'd not consider Pharoah, nor Altec 604 based speakers, a horn speaker especially if parallelled with speakers with 800Hz or 500Hz (down to 150-80Hz) horns.
The horn of the Altec 604 takes over at 1500-2000Hz depending on the version; Pharoah's HF horn comes into operation with full energy around 2000 Hz. That leaves the 8" woofer to cover 6-7 bottom octaves. In music, that's a lot. In "true" horn speakers, the horn starts 2-3 octaves lower.
The woofer is by Seas Norway. The paper cone's been impregnated with six layers of Italian balsamic oil lacquer (to keep it rigid and flexible at the same time). The golden ratio, lambswool, balsamic oil used in violins ... hmmm ... details such as these often come in a package.
Pharoah's crossover is said to feature only finest crossover components by Mundorf. Internal wires come from Cardas, as do the copper terminals. The terminals are for forks but do not preclude the use of bananas.
Trenner & Friedl reportedly run the Pharoah with a variety of amplifers, mainly solid states. I found that music with large dynamics (eg. classic), and music that artistically needs to be played loud, benefit from ample amplifier power. On the other hand, thanks to its sensitivity (sounds louder than 92dB/W in practice) and 8 ohm nominal load Pharoah accepts small power tube amps too, say, from 20W up, much depending on the volume level of the recording.
The amps used for this review ranged from a 2x135W Class D PA power amp (Audac DPA 225) to 10-20W push-pull tube amps. Whenever applicable cables were Graditechs.
Due to its directivity characteristics The HF horn sets certain side-constraints for the speaker placement. The thing is to see to it that roughly the same amount of HF energy hits both ears, and that a desired mix of brightness and musicality is obtained by angling the speaker toward the listener; or alternatively not turning the speakers but using a narrower stereo angle. Fortunately Pharoah doesn't belong to those speakers that loose all high treble as soon as turned away from the ear-line.
As with all speakers, the optimal bass response must be searched together with the room's peculiarities. I could imagine that Pharoah's bottom ports do not worsen the situation in this regard.
Very near the wall (T&F says Pharoah can be placed as close as 10cm from the wall behind) the bass got fuller but not disturbingly so. Actually I quite liked the wall placement in my listening studio, but in the end, ended up with placing the speakers 50-60cm from the wall behind.
When I first heard the Pharoah sing I thought her voice was coherent, internally logical, and lacked major deviations from the golden mean. The measured response may not be ruler flat (I haven't seen any measurements) but the sound is tonally in such a way in balance that the response hardly is totally wild.
The sound made me quickly conclude that people at Trenner&Friedl know what they're doing, and that whatever moments of excitement they might have gone through in designing this speaker, it hasn't blurred their view of what it takes to make a speaker with a solid and healthy sound.
A speaker's tonal balance may not tell much of its "musicality", but it is like a carefully drafted business card or the first hand shake: it provides the first impression, tells what sort of case are we dealing with, and what to expect from it in the future. Besides: musicality is not an independent quality, it's a second-order quality resting on a number of first-order qualities.
I was particularly pleased to find that the transition from the 8" woofer to the 1" tweeer – probably the most challenging task (phase, directivity) in designing the Pharoah – , although not entirely flawless, showed no obvious points of discontinuity or distortion. The fourth-order acoustic Linkwitz/Riley filters do their job as planned. I also liked the way in which the HF roll-off and the LF roll-off were made to be good friends with each other.
As to the midrange, both piano and vocal music came out rather diplomatically avoiding extreme epressiveness at higher and lower registres. Diplomatically in the context does not imply "speaking with a soft voice": Pharoah is not a whisperer or an introvert. It says what it has to say clearly and loudly and energetically, with an open and articulate voice. This a very important characteristic of the Pharoah, and one which can likely be affected by the choice of a suitable amplifier.
There are speakers that are meager over the upper bass/lower midrange, and there are speakers that are more generous in the region. Obviously T&F has striven to strike a compromise here, and it's far from the worst compromise I've heard. With some guitar recordings I felt the Pharoah made too much of the low strings, but then again with some clinical vocal recordings I welcomed Pharoah's way to support the warmth region of the singer's voice.
Music lovers with a more con- and refined taste might want to check that Pharoah's delineation servers their precious record collection in an ideal manner (a dB or two away from the lower mids and the midrange becomes more luminous), but other than that Pharoah offers a decent overall solution. A lot can be done by means of speaker placement too.
The bass is clever: it does not appear to dive deep down (35Hz at -6dB) but when the right time comes, the listener discovers that not not much more is needed. In qualitative terms, the bass sounds, and it doesn't sound, like a BR bass, and that's exactly as it should be given that the woofer is partly vented and partly horn-loaded. The bottom firing ports help too.
(Note: during the listenings Pharoah stood on spikes as recommended by the importer. With the spikes the ports are 3-4cm higher up from the floor than without the spikes, certainly having some effect on the bass. I was told that Pharoah comes with an optional set of spikes.)
Did the paper cone woofer have a sound of its own? This is not a groundless question knowing that the woofer covers crucial octaves eg. for voice reproduction, and main fundamentals of almost all instruments. The presupposition could be that the woofer is responsible for the Pharoah's "not modern" sound, sort of.
I didn't find traces of such "coloration". If anything, what distinguishes the Pharoah from standardly modern speakers, say, those with ribbon tweeters, is its horn-assisted treble performance. The sound over the highest frequencies is not in the same way sharp and fine-grained but the difference stays well within matters of taste.
Having said that, there is a certain sonic similarity between the Pharoah and a couple of widebandwidth speakers. It has to do with the sound's all inclusive nature, its sensitivity, and the way in which the tone color appears dry and matt.
Thanks to its controlled tonal balance Pharoah's image definition is good, very good. There's no ambiquity, no extra liveliness. The sound, although forward-looking, does not jump over to the lap of the listener.
The speaker is able to maintain the focus between the speakers, the focal point being just over the eye-line. Instrument groups are presented separately and airily, respecting the recorded size of individual instruments.
Pharoah's sound may not be horn-like enough for horn enthusiasts, nor sufficiently impassioned and dense for the toughest lovers of widebandwidth speakers, but there's something good and special about the sound that makes Pharoah not sound just another two-way floorstander. It's a different loudspeaker.
Ordinary people often think of their life after the working career. Audiophiles think of the loudspeakers they might choose when the times comes to give up the hard headed hi-fi, when it's time to relax and let visual matters and music rule. Trenner & Friedl Pharoah is an easy-to-live-with quality loudspeaker both visually and sonically, and as such a good candidate for the last loudspeaker. Yes, it is quite an expensive loudspeaker too, but in this case the price is likely to be discounted over a longer period of time.
Trenner & Friedl PHAROAH
- Cabinet built in golden ratio proportions
- Multiplex birch wood of different densities
- Damped with Austrian sheep wool
- High-precision, machined solid Horn for the high frequency driver
- Paper cones impregnated with six layered finish of Italian balsamic oil lacquer
- Finest crossover components by Mundorf; Oil/silver caps, foils coils, high grade MOX resistors
- Cardas internal wire, also constructed in golden ratio
- Cardas terminals in pure copper
- PHAROAH can be placed 10 cm away from the wall
- Drive units 1 x 8" Paper Cone, 1 x 1" Horn Tweeter
- Frequency Response 35 Hz (f-6dB) bis 35 KHz (f-3dB)
- Sensitivity 92 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
- Impedance8 Ohm
- Dimensions Height 950 mm (975 mm with wooden feet), Width 400 mm (460 mm with wooden feet), Depth 240 mm (350 mm with wooden feet)
- Weight 30 kg with card box
- Finishes Front/Body Walnut nature, Walnut mocca, Walnut amaranth, Others on request