Review: Perlisten Audio S7t Loudspeakers

How a loudspeaker releases sound energy into a room can make all of the difference in the world. The last thing I want is a hifi that constantly reminds me how impressive it is, how exceptional it is at this or that area of reproduction.

In my experience, some speakers simply sound like they’re trying too hard. As if near-Herculean amounts of energy and effort are required to eke out even the feeblest of sounds, like air escaping from a balloon’s lip between tightly pressed fingers. Squeak.

It is very tempting to attribute the squeak-effect to large speakers with complex energy-eating crossovers that require lots of power to produce sound, as opposed to simpler and easier to drive designs, like horns and single-drivers, that can whisper or shout with but a few Watts. Words like immediacy, speed, and nuance typically go along with these high(er)-efficiency designs, where the higher and more even the impedance characteristics are, the better. But let’s hold these thoughts.

The Perlisten S7t (Tower) speakers consist of four 7” (128mm) checkerboard patterned TPCD (thin poly carbonate diaphragm) woofers laid out in vertical pairs over and under the mid-treble waveguide, or in Perlisten’s terminology the patent-pending DPC Array (Directivity Pattern Control), which is comprised of a pair of 1.1” (28mm) TPCD midrange drivers set over and under a centered and recessed 28mm Berrylium tweeter. My OCD’s desire for symmetry was overjoyed. If we add in the review pair’s striking upgraded Gloss Ebony finish, you might just think, um no thanks, too high tech for me. I’m a paper and oil kinda guy. But let’s hold these thoughts.

image credit: Perlisten

Perlisten rates the S7t’s sensitivity at 92dB (2.83v/1.0m) with a 4 Ohm nominal (3.2 Ohm minimal) impedance and recommends amplifiers with a minimum of 100 Watts of output power. The S7t’s house two internal 3.5-inch down-firing ports, with sound escaping through side and rear-mounted rectangular mesh grates. Frequency response is rated at 22Hz – 37kHz in bass reflex mode, i.e. with the ports open, and 32Hz – 37kHz with the ports plugged (acoustic suspension). I ran open all the way, baby. The S7t’s back panel offers dual binding posts for bi-wiring/bi-amping mounted to a shiny brass plate.

The cabinet and curvaceous front baffle are made from High Density Fiberboard and each 51” tall speaker sits on a 21lb. steel plinth with four feet protruding from each corner. With each speaker weighing about 122 lbs., you can bet your bottom dollar we’re talking about heavily braced inert containers. The speakers ship with separate grille covers for each woofer and one for the DPC array. I preferred them nude. The S7t are offered in Piano Black or White, Natural Black Cherry Natural, Ebony High Gloss, as well as Custom Editions in any PANTONE color available at additional cost.

Perlisten (shorthand for Perceptual Listening) was founded by industry veterans Daniel Roemer (CEO) and Lars Johansen (CSO) and came onto the hifi scene this year seemingly fully-formed and fully mature. I say fully mature because their S7t speakers are among the most striking sounding speakers I’ve had the pleasure to listen through. More on that in a moment. The company offers a number speakers, from bookshelf to monitor to towers along with four subwoofers, a center channel, and surrounds for multi-channel setups. Prices range from $7990/pair S4b bookshelf speakers to the $20,000/pair S7t (in upgraded finish like the review pair) standing at the top of the line.

I used a number of integrated amplifiers with the S7ts, as detailed below, while the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer (review) remained the DAC throughout. AudioQuest cables and the AQ Niagara 3000 Power Conditioner were also in use.

Making the World Disappear

The Perlisten S7t speakers release music into the room, into the Barn in this case, in a manner that belies their size and complexity yet they do not sound like horns or single driver speakers. Rather they sound like ghosts, shape shifting apparitions that take on the form of the music in play, dissolving into pure energy, free from source and boundary. Poof!

One striking feature of the S7t’s is the sheer amount of musical energy they release into the room, sounding at once full range yet effortless, a mix that is not at all common in my experience. When paired with the overachieving Technics SU-R1000 integrated amplifier and its 150 Watts of GaN (gallium nitride) FET power, there were no limits placed on reproducing even the most complex, layered, and dense music in my library or in the limitless streaming sources in the sky.

One go-to exercise in over-the-top levels of sonic mayhem is contained in Act VII of Alfred Schnittke’s Faust Cantata (BIS-437 CD) , a track I’ve used for decades to test a system’s ability to reproduce its full on carny-tango atmosphere, hair-raising shrieks and screams, and everything plus the kitchen sink orchestration. And I’ve never heard “Es geschah…” so clearly with the presentation so fully and forcefully fleshed out feeling like a thunderstorm overhead with lightning cracking away around me combined with a full spectrum off the hook rendering of the poor Dr.’s decent into madness. Bravo!

The sound image that embodied the Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Choir, and Inger Blom extended well beyond the S7t in every direction and dimension to such a convincing degree that if the lights were turned out and we played pin the tail on the speakers, you wouldn’t have even the slimmest of chance at success. What’s more, every player/instrument(s) and singer were portrayed in perfect scale, in rock solid form, occupying an unwavering and specific location in space. In Barn. That’s amore.

As I mentioned in my review of the Technics SU-R1000 beast of an integrated amplifier, this combo also unraveled the sonic onslaught of two other favorite torture tracks, the Lounge Lizards “Voice of Chunk” and “Midost” from Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog with shocking aplomb. Yes, shocking aplomb.

I also tend to move around the Barn while music like Parliament’s “Flash Light” plays, and the Perlisten S7t remain captivating off-, and even off-off-, axis. Nice.

Enter the Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0 ($16,500) that’s also here for review. The Integrated 1.0 puts out 100 Watts into 8 Ohms, double that into 4 Ohms and is stable down to 2 Ohms according to the manufacturer. The Perlisten’s already hair-raising heights of reproduction with the Technics jumped up a number of notches, something I didn’t exactly expect or anticipate to this degree. Imagine stuffing the sound image coming out the Perlisten / Technics combination into an appropriately-sized box. With the Constellation taking the Technics place, that box grew in every dimension, unfolding and increasing in size to reveal heretofore unheard delicately detailed layers of sound, image, timbre, and space.

Bass response, whether of the double variety like Charlie Haden’s wonderful deep woody sound on “Body and Soul” from Don Cherry’s unusually accessible Art Deco, or rude and electric like Gus Romer’s on Amyl and the Sniffers brash and bold Comfort To Me, or stretched to its emotive limits on “Three Latin Prayers” for solo cello by Giacinto Scelsi from Natura Renovatur, plumped up and out into more natural sounding dimensions while reverb and decay took up residence in a larger sonic space imbuing music with the critical sense of space/time that conveys things like longing and suspense, making music that much more captivating.

As I listened through any number of favorite test tracks and albums, new and old familiars, I had to reign in my excitement at the sheer communicative power smacking me in the ears for fear I’d run out of the Barn shouting “Amazing!” to anyone or anything within earshot. Of course this would have been futile since there’s rarely anyone within earshot of the Barn or its surrounds and the deer, bear, wild turkeys, and snakes typically have more pressing things to tend to. Even the Barn mice could hear the difference (reviewer cliche joke).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Perlisten S7t speakers is they do everything so exceptionally well while sounding as if they’re not doing anything at all. Music emerges from the two towers as effortlessly as I’ve heard from any speaker anywhere. What’s more, they pass the Clap Test with flying colors (not that clap test!). I’ve heard many a system have real trouble reproducing scale and one simple test is a hifi’s ability to render large audience applause. In my experience, many a system will make this sound as if the audience is filled, not with people, but with tiny mice wearing tiny mouse-sized ping pong paddles strapped to their front feet furiously smacking them together. Tiny clack, clack, clack, etc. With the S7ts, claps sounded just like claps formed by human hands slapping together. Fleshy clap, clap, clap, etc. If you’re thinking, what does this have to do with music?, music has scale too and you want that scale reproduced as naturally as possible.

After weeks of listening time, with many days extending into evening listening hours, I reflected on other hifi highs that could offer some relevant comparison to the S7t. And I came up short. Part of the issue was this review came about rather suddenly, so I did not have time to get in other pair(s) of similarly priced speakers. There was an instance where I had another exemplary listening experience in Barn, but the speakers responsible were prototypes and cost a few multiples of the St7’s price. All that to say I cannot speak to the Perlisten speakers relative value as compared to similarly-priced equals in Barn. But I will say, based on my experience as a reviewer, their level of performance suggests they’re going to be a tough act to follow.

Just when I thought I’d hit the peak of enjoyment, my Favorite Amplifier of the Year, the Riviera Labs Levante ($16,500 review), made its way back to the Barn for some comparative listening. I was also very curious to see if its 30 Watts of stunning single-ended Class A output power could manage the S7ts. Within a few minutes of play time, the answer was clearly a resounding Yes! I’m going to save the bulk of my comparisons between the Levante and Constellation integrated amplifiers for the latter’s review, but I can say they each offer a beautiful and captivating view into our music, yet they do not sound the same.

With the Levante driving the Perlisten speakers, music felt even more physically embodied in Barn, with each voice contained in recordings sounding as ripe as an August peach. Listening to Maggie Rogers “Symmetry” from her wonderful collection Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011–2016, had me off-balance, tipped toward the edge of pure emotion by what I can only call an uncanny reproduction of this simple moving song. It wasn’t as if I believed Maggie Rogers was singing in front of me, rather it felt like the music and I were the only two things that existed in that moment and we were intimately connected without distraction or disruption. Bravissimo!

One takeaway offered by the different presentations that came along with the three different integrated amplifiers I used with the Perlisten S7t speakers is they will tell you, in no uncertain terms, how your amplifier(s) is/are voiced. You will hear the sonic character of your associated electronics, for better or worse. To my mind, this is another big fat check in the S7t’s Plus Column. The differences I experienced between the Technics, Constellation Audio, and Riviera Labs integrated amplifiers played out like a perfect lesson in All amplifiers do not sound the same class. If I organized such a class, the title would continue — because they are designed by humans.

Pinnacles and Perlisten

The Perlisten S7t are among the most remarkable speakers I’ve had the pleasure to experience. Their performance reaches dizzying heights of pure musical energy when fed by remarkable integrated amplifiers like the Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0 and Riviera Labs Levante making for musical experiences as rich, rewarding, and captivating as I’ve had the pleasure to experience in my lifetime.

The S7ts jumped to the head of my Favorite Gear of 2021 list and I recommend them without reservation.


Perlisten Audio S7t Tower Speakers
Price: $18,000/pair in standard Piano Black or White | $20,000 in Natural Black Cherry Natural and Ebony High Gloss | Custom Editions in any PANTONE color available at additional cost

Specifications

Enclosure alignment 4-way bass reflex/acoustic suspension
Driver compliment DPC Array:
28mm Beryllium
28mm(2) Textreme TPCD
Woofers:
180mm(4) Textreme TPCD
Sensitivity 92dB/2.83v/1.0m
Impedance 4Ω nominal/3.2 min
Crossover Frequency 500Hz, 1.1kHz, 4.4kHz
Frequency Response (+/-2dB) 80-20kHz
Frequency Response (-10dB) Bass reflex: 22-37kHz
Acoustic suspension: 32-37kHz
Dimensions (HxWxD) 1295 x 240 x 400mm
51.0 x 9.5 x 15.7”
Weight 55.7 kg (122.5 lbs.)
Recommended Amplifier Power 100-600W RMS
SPL capability (100-20kHz) 117dB peak <2%-2nd, 3rd Harmonics
Certification THX Dominus – large LCR
Available finishes Piano black, Gloss white, Cherry (gloss or matte), Mahogany (gloss or matte), Oak (gloss or matte), Ebony (gloss or matte)

Company Website: Perlisten Audio
US Distributor Website: Fidelity Imports