Living Voice R80 Review: Vocal prowess

Famed for its Vox Olympian model, Living Voice’s new R80 is built to give you a taste of the pleasures provided by the flagship. Read our Living Voice R80 Review.

Living Voice R80 Review
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DETAILS

ProductLiving Voice R80
OriginUK
Type2-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Weight45 kg each
Dimensions (WxHxD)310 x 1,090 x 423 mm
Features– 34mm elliptical dome tweeter
– 210mm elliptical mid/bass driver
Quoted Sensitivity91dB/1W/1m
DistributorDefinitive Audio
WebsiteLiving Voice Definitive Audio

You know you’re in the true realms of high-end exotica when a product that will set you back anywhere from £ to £ grand (depending on finish) isn’t even close to being the most expensive that the company offers. Drop in on Derbyshire-based speaker company Living Voice at any hi-fi show, and it’s hard not to be mesmerised by its Vox Olympian flagships. With styling somewhere between the brass section of an orchestra of several centuries ago, and a steam-powered Victorian imagination of a Dalek from Doctor Who, these £k models – up to £k with the optional Vox Elysian subwoofers – are a riot of horns, tubes and ‘trumpets’. Of course, the price tag is eye-wateringly hefty, but once experienced, they are never forgotten.

There’s exceptional refinement and no indication of the R80 working at all hard

By contrast, the R25A, launched in 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of the company’s Auditorium model, seems not only traditional but also modestly priced (at least in the grand scheme of things) at £-£, depending on the finish. Now, into the gap between these two varied extremes, slots the glamorous R80. This is a more conventional-looking floorstander built in handed pairs and some 110cm tall, sporting a pair of mid/bass drivers straddling a dome tweeter (the brand’s favoured MTM configuration), and is available with either internal or external crossovers in a choice of high-quality finishes.

As previously mentioned, the entry-point is £ for the internal 2.8kHz crossover (IBX) version in either Pippy Oak or Santos, rising to £ for (extremely) Glossy Santos or Ebony finishes and £ for special order custom colours. These same finishes are offered for the R80 OBX models, which house their crossover electronics in separate enclosures that match the speaker cabinets, for £, £ and £ respectively. The review pair, pictured here, is the Glossy Santos IBX version – a snip at £.

First unveiled to an expectant public at the Munich High End show three years ago, the R80 has been refined in the intervening period. Kevin Scott, Living Voice’s designer explains: “We have literally hundreds of components of different technologies in our R&D library, which we can refer to when we are voicing our designs. In our process, the subjective management of these unmeasurable, unquantifiable characteristics is as important as the strict science of precision crossover filter design”.

As if to illustrate the point, all the internal cabling – including that used in the crossover’s air-core inductors and wire-wound resistors – is subject to a deep cryogenic treatment, as are the gold-plated WBT binding posts. WBT 0845 silver solder is employed throughout while the crossover capacitors are a mix of polypropylene and paper-in-oil types. The result is an imposing-looking speaker, its height extended by the hefty plinth on which it sits. That said, it’s much more traditional in styling than the phenomenal-looking Vox Olympian.

International flavour Designed and built in Britain, the R80 nevertheless draws on components from overseas. The ‘elliptical’ drivers are sourced from Scan-Speak, based in Denmark. The substantial cabinets, which combine 36mm-thick wood and epoxy composite panels with three frame braces, come from a specialist producer in Estonia.

As already mentioned, the speakers are ‘handed’, with the tweeters offset from the larger drivers, and designed to be used inwards – ie, with the tweeters closer together than the mid/bass units. A single bass reflex port vents to the rear, midway up the cabinet and surrounded by a lavish trim-ring, and below this is the set of those bi-wire WBT terminals, able to be connected with wire links for single-cable operation.

The R80s’ matt-black plinths, made from Delignit compressed beech ply and epoxy, are tapered from front to back. The way they attach to the main cabinet is unusual – an array of small disc-shaped magnets runs around the edges of the aperture into which the speaker sits, but these are only designed to correctly locate the speaker in the plinth. The bond between the two is achieved with thin slivers of Blu Tack in each corner of the plinth aperture, the sticky stuff being supplied in the R80 accessory pack along with spikes and locknuts for the plinths, high-quality metal shoes to protect floors where required, and – a vital accessory for the speaker’s fingerprint-magnet gloss finish – a comprehensive cleaning kit.

It’s not exactly clear why the R80 uses this somewhat over-complex connection between plinth and cabinet, although siting and adjusting the plinth first before ‘loading’ the loudspeaker atop does help with setup. Living Voice explains that within a few days the Blu Tack will work its magic, securely bonding plinth and enclosure together.

Positioning? Living Voice says proximity to room boundaries is a key issue, but beyond keeping both speakers the same distance from the wall behind them, offers no firm details on how they should be placed. After some experimentation, having the speakers well clear of rear and side walls, tweeters ‘in’ and with a slight toe-in, seems to give the best stereo image. We wouldn’t advise backing them up any further, as the bass output is already powerful.

Sound quality

This is a design with an obvious but compelling sonic signature, and one which is more suited to certain kinds of music than others. The R80’s clean, easy-going and at times almost polite nature is a superb fit for finely detailed classical and jazz music of impeccable recorded quality, but less sympathetic towards anything rough and aggressive. Think LSO rather than EDM (Electronic Dance Music)!

With a claimed 91dB sensitivity – almost met in practice and high for a non-horn-loaded speaker – the R80 lends itself to use with a wide range of amplification, from lower-powered valve designs to something like the mighty Constellation Inspiration monoblocks. And when the speaker is in its sweet spot, requiring not very much of the amps’ power, it can sound remarkably easy on the ear, with exceptional refinement and no indication of working at all hard.

IN SIGHT

Living Voice R80 Review

1 Scan-Speak 210mm elliptical mid/bass drivers

2 Scan-Speak 34mm dome tweeter

3 36mm-thick wood and epoxy composite panels

4 Rear-firing bass reflex port

5 4mm bi-wireable WBT terminals (bi-amping not supported)

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ELLIPTICAL DRIVERS

Look closely at the R80 and while the mid/ bass unit’s dust cap and two-layer voice coil are clearly elliptical in shape, the pulp cone is very traditionally circular. Ironically, the true elliptical drivers of the past combined oval cones with traditional circular/cylindrical caps, formers and coils. Scan-Speak admits that the idea of using an elliptical driver coil to moderate break-up modes in a speaker cone was advanced almost as a throw-away remark by the late engineer Birger Jorgensen.

Nevertheless, on closer examination, Scan-Speak’s design team saw technical advantages not only in a mid/bass application, but also for a tweeter where a larger dome could be employed for improved low-frequency extension, dispersion and sensitivity while avoiding the standing waves that occur in a symmetrical (circular) dome.

Realising these advantages presents very specific technical challenges, not least in the design of the ‘motor’ that is required to bathe the elliptical voice coil in a uniform magnetic field. For this Scan-Speak leveraged the ‘AirCirc’ magnet system from its Illuminator series, modified here into an array of ten cylindrical neodymium magnets surrounding the 28x39mm voice coil of the tweeter. For the 210mm ‘midwoofer’ employed in the R80, Scan-Speak uses six larger cylindrical magnets around the two-layer 35x45mm voice coil.

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Given the vintage jazz of Andre Previn And His Pals’ 1959 take on West Side Story, the R80 captures the warm balance that’s one of its hallmarks. Yet its performance is clear and fast too, delivering Previn’s piano, the bass of Red Mitchell and Shelly Manne’s drums with a sense of total effortlessness.

That warmth doesn’t prevent the R80 from making a fine fist of the Balo Istvan Projekt’s Led Zeppelin-inspired Black Dog album, which challenges with the sheer density of the recording. This is total-attack rock masquerading as avant garde jazz -but the sound is exciting with rhythms driven hard. There’s fine character to the lead guitar parts not to mention Istvan’s pounding drums.

It’s not all plain sailing, though, as is clearly illustrated by organist Anna Lapwood’s arrangement of Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, played on the much restored and rebuilt organ of Ely Cathedral. As well as being a superbly atmospheric recording, it’s blessed with massive tonal and dynamic ranges that will shine a spotlight on the characteristics of any system being used.

The sense of the great space around the listener is palpable in this ‘hours of darkness’ recording, and is evoked well by the R80, along with the way the sound of the organ pressurises the contained air. However, when Lapwood unleashes the Storm interlude, the lower notes threaten to overpower everything else, those deep pedals blending into a massive rumble. The R80 is much more at home with Yet To Be from Rhiannon Giddens, where the clean nature of this duet with Jason Isbell ensures it doesn’t over excite the balance.

Furthermore, the R80 excels when it comes to presence, notable on pianist David Helbock’s Playing John Williams. What the headlong rush of Duel Of The Fates lacks when compared with the spine-tingling choral soundtrack version is more than compensated for by the sense of a very large instrument – the ‘Alfred Brendel’ Steinway owned by label founder Siggi Loch – placed before the listener in a credible acoustic. Every single note from this instrument, stopped or otherwise, is crystal clear despite the music’s pace.

Conclusion

The R80’s revealing clarity means Robin Holloway’s orchestration of Variations On A Theme By Schumann, from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has both scale and good definition with no shortage of dynamics. And again, there’s that feeling of supreme lack of effort on the part of the system, a quality that helps conjure the almost mystical ambience of Paul Simon’s Seven Psalms album, thanks to the excellent levels of detail that are in evidence.

In conclusion, the Living Voice R80 is a truly beautiful floorstander, fit to grace any listening room and if you choose your recordings with precision and care for their quality, this is a loudspeaker which will surely provide hours of aural delight •

HOW IT COMPARES

Glorious though it is, the Living Voice R80 faces competition from some high-tech floorstanders, not least the 801 D4 from Bowers & Wilkins at £ and now also available in Signature guise at £. The latter brings extra bass control, openness and presence to speaker that already sets an enviable standard. Hard on the heels of the 801 D4 is KEF’s £k Blade One Meta, a speaker that looks like no other while getting closer than ever before to the ideal of a full-range ‘point source’. It achieves the focus, imaging and definition you’d expect of the finest miniature, but written here into a big sonic picture without any obvious compromise. PS Audio’s similarly priced aspen FR30 (HFC 490) offers an exquisite blend of planar-magnetic mid and treble with alloy-coned dynamic bass drivers and ABRs. The planar drivers bring a lightness of touch to both bold and also the most fragile of mid/treble detail, delivering standards of focus, openness, weight and control that are up with the very best at this price.

OUR VERDICT

10 Total Score
Living Voice R80 Review

A handsome option for audiophiles -time to start saving your pocket money

TODAY'S BEST DEALS
PROS
  • Detailed, refined and effortless presentation
CONS
  • Demure around rock 'n' roll
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  • 7Review

    Founded in July 2014, 7Review is a free audio resource for beginners, and we're dedicated to helping you create the ultimate movie-watching experience right at home. We pull insights from top audio magazines and trusted industry sources to bring you well-researched, reliable reviews and tips. Whether you're a home cinema pro or just starting out, we aim to give you the info you need to make the best choices for your setup.

LIVING VOICE New R80 Loudspeakers at Munich High End 2023

Living Voice's Kevin speaks to HiFi PiG's Stuart about the new R80 from the legendary English company.

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