Review: Vanatoo Transparent One Encore Powered Speakers

Most people want the same thing from a small speaker—big sound. Amar Bose went to some lengths in his Wave Radios to deliver on this promise but you can only twist the truth so far. The Wave Radio sounded like a big table radio. If you want big stereo sound from a small speaker, you’re going to need more.

The original Vanatoo Transparent One, the company’s first speaker, hit the market hard back in 2012. I reviewed that speaker as Editor of AudioStream and found “…they deliver a complete plug and play desktop package that can boogie your bootie till it shakes like jelly”. The new Transparent One Encore speakers were 6-years in the making according to the company and they come with a number of improvements.

These improvements include a brand new tweeter, more power!, improved DSP, and Bluetooth input. The aluminum cone woofers each get a 100W Class D amp, while the aluminum cone tweeters get their own 20W Class D amps. Filling in the bass response are  a pair of long stroke passive radiators which you can see around back. Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is used to tune the speaker’s output as well as offer a number of user-selectable settings including bass and treble controls and a choice of “Shelved” or “Flat” response. I’ll let Vanatoo explain:

DSP setting—The default “Shelved” DSP setting should be used when you are placing the speakers on a desktop or near a wall or corner of your room. If you connect a subwoofer to the T1E with the Shelved DSP setting selected, the crossover to the subwoofer is set at 125 Hz. A T1E set to the Shelved DSP setting with a subwoofer connected is the configuration which will result in the loudest possible music from the T1E. The optional “Flat” DSP setting should be used when you are placing the speakers on stands at least two feet away from any wall or if you are using the T1E as home mixing monitors. If you connect a subwoofer to the T1E with the Flat DSP setting selected, the crossover to the subwoofer is set at 80 Hz.

The cabinets are made from 3/4″ MDF, think solid, and in addition to the aforementioned Bluetooth input there are USB, Toslink, Coax, and analog inputs. While the digital inputs can handle PCM resolutions up to 24/96, the internal DSP resolution is 24/48. Make of that what you will. The speakers are configured as Master / Slave meaning all of the brains and guts are located in the Master speaker which is why it weighs 12lbs, a full pound more than the Slave. There’s a little switch on the back of the Master that allows you to set it as the left or right speaker depending on where you put it. While you can see there are a number of controls around back, you can control all of them plus input selection much more conveniently with the included remote.

Vanatoo puts everything you need to play in the box including a length of speaker cable with user-friendly idiot-proof modular 4 conductor connectors. The inputs are auto-sensing or you can use the remote. Set up is a matter of connections—sources, master to slave, and power. Total time? A few minutes.

I used the Transparent One Encores on my desktop being fed the digital output of my iMac via a length of AudioQuest Diamond USB cable. Roon controlled playback of my NAS-based music library and streaming from Tidal and Qobuz. Last but certainly in no way least, I sat the speakers on my IsoAcoustics stands which I view as a mandatory part of any desktop speaker. Period. Why? Because the IsoAcoustics stands allow every desktop speaker to perform a lot better than without them. Vanatoo sells them on their site along with their speakers.

Some desktop speakers can only go so far. The recently reviewed AudioEngine A2+ are one such example of a tiny speaker that does a good job of making desktop music but asking them to do much more is like asking a Wave Radio to reproduce a stereo image—physics intrude. Not so the Vanatoo Transparent One. While they do a very fine job as kick-ass desktop speakers, they can energize a small room. Claimed in-room frequency response is 48Hz to 20KHz +/-3dB which is fairly full range regardless of size. Think full-tilt desktop boogie.

I’ve been listening to and loving Olivier Latry’s Bach to The Future which I learned about from the excellent collection of recommendations from dCS’ Charlotte Gardner. Latry performs on the organ in Notre Dame, which miraculously survived the recent horrific fire so there’s an added bitter sweetness to his Bach. To answer your question, the Transparent One Encore can play low and loud. What’s more, they do so without getting shouty or strained while throwing out a large, speaker-defying, sound image. Nice.

I dare you, yea I dare you, to try remain seated after cuing up “Soul Vibrations” from Dorothy Ashby’s Afro-Harping (1968). Dorothy and Co. tear it up, with Dorothy turning her harp into a funk machine. The Encore’s do a very nice job of delivering a range of color and voice from this percussion heavy tune. While I have heard a richer sound, with more saturated tone color and texture, I don’t recall hearing these things from all-in-one speakers costing anything like the Encore’s $599/pair.

The recently released Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit’s April Is The Cruelest Month, recorded in 1975 for ESP but the label folded before its release, is light on Spring and heavy on the cruel and the little Vanatoos embrace it all and deliver up a goodly amount of grit and growl. The Encore’s are also adept at thwacking, offering gut-punching dynamics where called for. When the music calls for it, they can deliver cruel. Nice.

When it’s time for some delicacy, my current go-to includes Aldous Harding’s latest Designer. The Encore’s do a nice job with the larger band which includes strings and things and Aldous’ vocals are very nicely defined and float out from the mix, as they should. There’s something very appealing, to me at least, about desktop listening and that is the ability to feel inside the music. While my everyday ADAM A3X offer a more compelling sense of place, that place comes at a higher price, namely, $350 a piece or $700 smackers a pair.

I can easily see the Transparent One Encore sitting comfortably under a TV in the family room. Optical out from the TV into the Encore, perhaps a turntable in between (I can dream), and that family- and friend-friendly Bluetooth pairing just begging other people to play along. If your smart TV is smart enough to include Tidal, so much the better seeing as you now have a few million albums on tap. To my mind, this is a compelling picture.

If you are one of those people looking for big sound from a small speaker and one replete with amps and inputs, the Vanatoo Transparent One Encore are screaming your name with authority.

Vanatoo Transparent One Encore Powered Speakers
Price: $599.00/pair

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