Living Voice R80 Loudspeaker Page 2

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, seemed to give the best stereo image. I really wouldn't back them up any further, as their bass output is already plenty powerful…

sqnote Signature Sounds
Living Voice founder and designer Kevin Scott says the R80 'has its own values', which perfectly describes the intimate voicing of this boutique floorstander. So 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 the loudspeaker is 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 the mighty Constellation Inspiration monoblocks [HFN Oct '19] deployed in PM's listening room. And when the speakers are in their sweet spot, requiring not very much of the amps' power, they can sound remarkably easy on the ear, with exceptional refinement and no signs of working at all hard.


The R80s locate onto a spiked, satin-black finished plinth fashioned from 'Delignit' – a compressed beech ply and epoxy resin laminate. Magnets in the base of the speaker and top of the plinth 'snap' the R80 into position

Given the vintage jazz of André Previn And His Pals' 1959 take on West Side Story [Contemporary Records CDCOP 046], 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. True, the recording reveals its age with drums that are slightly splashier than would be ideal, and the soundstaging is unimpressive in what is basically a 'left and right' mix, but the conviction with which the music is conveyed is unarguable.

Character Building
That warmth doesn't prevent the R80 from making a fine fist of the Balo Istvan Projekt's Led Zeppelin-inspired Black Dog album [Hunnia Records HRCD2002], which challenges with the sheer density of the recording. I'm not sure this is what Living Voice had in mind for these speakers – at times Black Dog is total-attack rock masquerading as avantgarde jazz – but the sound is exciting with rhythms driven hard. There's fine character to the lead guitar parts on 'Zeppelin', not to mention Istvan's pounding drums.

It's not all plain sailing, though, as is illustrated by organist Anna Lapwood's arrangement of Britten's Sea Interludes from 'Peter Grimes' [Images; Signum SIGCD688], played on the much restored and rebuilt organ of Ely Cathedral. As well as being a superbly atmospheric recording, this is one of my current 'torture pieces', as it's blessed with massive tonal and dynamic ranges that shine a spotlight on the characteristics of the 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 speakers, 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. Similarly, on Public Image Ltd's 'Car Chase' [End Of World; PiL Official PiL009CD], the vocals are clear and characterful, yet the heavy bass-driven backing sounds looser.

The R80 proved much more comfortable with 'Yet To Be', from Rhiannon Giddens' You're The One [Nonesuch 075597903881], where the clean nature of this duet with Jason Isbell ensured it didn't over-excite the Living Voice balance. And Sting's 'Shape Of My Heart', from the expanded edition of Ten Summoner's Tales [A&M Records download], saw the speakers revealing the carefully recorded vocals, acoustic guitar and crisp percussion to fine effect.


All sides of the R80 cabinet are finished in the same matched, high-gloss veneer, including the rear with its large reflex port and heavy, brass-coloured trim. The split 4mm cable terminals support bi-wiring but not bi-amping

Furthermore, the R80s excel when it comes to presence, notable on pianist David Helbock's Playing John Williams [ACT 9764-2]. 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 note from this instrument, stopped or otherwise, is crystal-clear despite the music's pace.

Conjuring Trick
The R80's revealing clarity means Robin Holloway's orchestration of 'Variations On A Theme By Schumann', from the BBC Symphony Orchestra's second volume of Brahms By Arrangement [Toccata TOCC0450], has both scale and good definition, and 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 [Owl Records/Sony Music 19658779112] thanks to the excellent levels of detail in evidence. Choose your recordings well and the R80s will surely delight.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
While more conventional than Living Voice's grand Vox Olympia horns, the R80s still might make you fussy about the music you choose to play through them – those with rock 'n' roll tastes may find them too demure. Yet when you get it right they can sound magical, with a performance that's detailed, refined and effortless, and not demanding of amplification. Give them plenty of room to 'breathe' and enjoy.

Living Voice
Derbyshire, UK
Supplied by: Definitive Audio, Derbyshire, UK
0115 9733222