Please see the accompanying profile on Perlisten Audio founder Dan Roemer.
Perlisten Audio debuted in 2020—seemingly out of nowhere—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The S Series, rolling five models deep, was less of a first draft than a polished finished article. It features the flagship four-way S7t floorstander ($17,990 per pair; all prices in USD), the four-way S7c center speaker ($8495), the three-way S5m standmount ($12,990 per pair), the three-way S4b bookshelf speaker ($7990 per pair), and the S4s surround speaker ($7590 per pair). As this review was being written, Perlisten added a sixth model, the smaller three-way S5t floorstander ($13,990 per pair), to the S-Series lineup. Each model comes in standard Piano Black and Piano White finishes, with wood veneers available for a surcharge. The company’s loudspeakers boast cutting-edge technology, including bespoke, hand-built drivers—none of that off-the-shelf nonsense that many other ultra-high-end companies use—and a unique DPC array that differentiates itself from most everything else on the market (more on the DPC array below). Perlisten has also released four sealed subwoofers that leverage its own driver and amplifier designs. I jumped at the opportunity to hear for myself what this upstart hi-fi firm has to offer.
The R Series apes the approach of the upmarket S Series, with six models that correlate to their more expensive siblings. The first five include the four-way R7t ($9990 per pair) and three-way R5t ($6990 per pair) floorstanding models, the three-way R5c center speaker ($2995), the R4b bookshelf model ($4990 per pair), and the R5s surround speaker ($3990 per pair). No fancy wood veneer finishes are available on the more price-sensitive R Series, so buyers are limited to Piano Black or Piano White. I requested a pair of R7ts so that I could get the full-fat Perlisten experience, and two weeks later, I had a pair in my possession.
Now, it’s not often that I’m impressed by a review product’s packaging and presentation, but the R7t demonstrates the kind of attention to detail I ordinarily only see from seasoned companies that are decades old. The R-Series flagship is not a small loudspeaker; it weighs 105.6 pounds and measures 49.9″H × 9.0″W × 13.7″D. Each speaker was double boxed and came with a large aluminum bottom plate, as well as a pair of laminated accessory containers that held each tower’s multi-component footers. The footers are aluminum, with rubber bottoms for hardwood floors like mine or spikes for carpet. More impressive to me were the dual layers of brass inlay that afford the R7t a dash of style. These are subtle and classy, and ordinarily the type of thing that gets axed in the name of cost cutting. Not here.
The cabinet is fashioned from high-density fiberboard (HDF) of varying thicknesses, with four planks of internal bracing (three placed horizontally across the cabinet and one oriented vertically from top to bottom). The curved front baffle is CNC-milled out of 1.65″-thick HDF that’s rabbeted to the rest of the cabinet. While the baffle of a Piano Black R7t has a matte-black finish, the rest of the speaker is finished in glossy black paint. The finish is of high quality, although you’re not getting a mirror-like finish here; upon closer inspection you’ll probably see a slight orange-peel effect. I’m picking nits here, however; this is effectively an automotive-grade finish. Out back is a brushed-aluminum backplate that houses two pairs of polished binding posts for biwiring, and jumpers are included for listeners like me who prefer single runs of cable. Build quality and tolerances are seemingly excellent.
It’s worth mentioning up front that Perlisten’s entire product stack is manufactured in their partner facility in China. During my chat with company founder and CEO Dan Roemer, he sounded a mite exasperated about the negative response some audiophiles have to gear that’s manufactured in the Far East. From a quality perspective, it’s worth noting that Chinese manufacturing is generally as good, if not far better, than anything that can be produced stateside. This is fact, not mere lip service. Marry that to more affordable labor and, well, it should be no surprise that almost every piece of electronics in our homes is manufactured overseas. I’m of the belief that every product—Perlisten’s R7t included—should be evaluated on its merits alone, and not on its country of origin. And my, there’s a lot of merit to cover.
Ten grand is a lot of money, to be sure. But Perlisten manufactures everything across its product stack. The R7t is a four-way design that starts with Perlisten’s calling card, the DPC array. DPC stands for Directivity Pattern Control (for which a patent is pending). In the R7t’s application, three 1″ silk-dome tweeters are tightly arranged at the heart of the loudspeaker, with the central driver—nestled in a deep waveguide—operating as a traditional tweeter with extension down to 1.4kHz. The flanking silk-dome units operate in a more limited bandwidth, from 1.4kHz up to 5kHz or so, as upper midrange drivers. The inner pair of 5.9″ paper cones are midrange-woofers that are full range up to 1.4kHz, while the outer pair of 5.9″ paper cones are woofers that operate from 200Hz down. It’s an unusual driver complement, in an unusual arrangement, using unconventional slopes and filters. There are numerous benefits to the DPC, according to Perlisten, including ameliorated thermal compression achieved through the use of multiple, smaller drive units for the midrange; increased sensitivity; and distortion levels that are “in the basement,” according to Roemer. Using Comsol Multiphysics software, Roemer and his team took the resulting “mess” from their initial prototypes—his description was a bit more colorful—and continued honing it, ultimately wrangling it through the use of a high-precision, albeit unorthodox, crossover network. Perlisten’s flagship S7t uses a similar DPC array, though in that application, the drivers are 1.1″ in diameter with a beryllium-dome tweeter and a pair of proprietary 1.1″ TeXtreme carbon-fiber upper-midrange domes—Perlisten calls these thin-ply carbon diaphragms, abbreviated TPCD—which they say is 30% lighter than standard carbon fiber of the same thickness. Allegedly, the DPC array should result in both outstanding midrange clarity and dispersion characteristics, irrespective of the application.
Another feather in Perlisten’s cap is their formidable THX Dominus certification, which isn’t something you’ll normally find in niche hi-fi products. But Roemer explained that, as a new entrant to the market, posting frequency-response plots for each SKU would only get Perlisten so far. They needed more substantial credibility, and the THX Dominus standard—the company’s most demanding—was a neat fit. Roemer had prior experience with THX certification, and he knew his speakers were up to snuff. An additional benefit was that his offerings would become the first THX Dominus-certified products in the world. The Dominus stamp guarantees that each model in Perlisten’s line boasts above-average sensitivity and can play extraordinarily loudly without distortion or, more importantly, without blowing up.
Spec-wise, there’s a lot to like. While the R7t is nominally a bottom-ported bass-reflex design, the included port bungs also allow the speaker to be used as a sealed-box design. In ported guise, the R7t boasts a frequency response of 27Hz–32kHz, while the sealed configuration adjusts that figure upwards, to 38Hz–32kHz. Now, Roemer prefers -10dB windows in lieu of the more common ±3dB or ±6dB windows, so this four-way, quad-woofer design isn’t specced to dig quite as low as you might hope or expect, but as ever, the truth is in the listening. Sensitivity is slightly above average at 90dB/2.83V/1m, while the impedance is nominally 4 ohms with a 3.1-ohm minimum. So you shouldn’t need hundreds upon hundreds of watts to get the R7t singing, but an amp with a healthy amount of current on offer is recommended—Perlisten suggests 100W–400W of amplifier power. Shockingly, the R7t is specified to have a max output of 116dB with less than 3% distortion from 100Hz to 20kHz when measured at 1m. If you like to play your music loud, well, welcome home.
Setting up the R7t’s was a new experience for me, as I recently moved into a new house with a significantly larger listening space than I’ve previously enjoyed. In my open floor plan, the finished basement is L-shaped, measuring over 29′ long and over 37′ at its widest point, with my listening area semi-cordoned off via a 3′-high stone dividing wall, yielding a space that’s 16.5′W × 14′L × 9′H. The 9′ height is due to a tray ceiling covering most of the square footage. I placed the Perlistens 18″ from the front wall of my space, 8′ apart from one another, and 9′ from my listening position, for a slightly far-field listening experience. I toed the speakers in so I could just see their inner baffles and wired them up to Siltech Classic Legend 680L speaker cables that snaked to my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC. Power was supplied through a Siltech Classic Legend 680P power cord, and the matching 380 USB digital cable was wired to my practically antique Intel NUC Roon music server. My reference loudspeakers, KEF Reference 3 towers, stood silently on either side of the R7t’s during the review period.
I had to spend a few days recalibrating my ears to my new listening space with my KEF Reference 3s playing before I could start listening to the Perlistens in earnest. Having a larger room is both a godsend and a challenge. The former is due to the ability to enjoy a significantly larger soundstage than my old inner-city home could accommodate, and the latter is due to my new space’s orientation and reflectivity. Once I had my ears sorted, I rewired the R7t’s and sat back. A couple of things quickly stood out to me about the Perlistens’ sound.
The first feature that I observed in relation to the R7t’s’ sound, and the defining one, was their disappearing act. I’ve only heard a few high-end tower speakers that could better it—the Magico A3 and Vivid Audio Giya G4 come to mind—and each of these speakers is far more expensive than the R7t. This suggests both that the Perlisten’s cabinet is superbly damped and that its drivers are supremely well integrated with one another. There was a coherence to their sound, from the highest highs straight down through the lower midrange, that was immediately apparent to me.
During Overture to “The School for Scandal” by Samuel Barber, as performed by the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester under the direction of James Gaffigan (16-bit/44.1kHz, Harmonia Mundi / Tidal), I sat slack-jawed in response to the Perlistens’ measure of the recording’s scale. The soundstage was cavernous in depth and exceptionally well defined. The extension reached out to the speakers’ outer baffles, so the sense of lateral spaciousness on offer couldn’t rival cost-is-no-object designs, but it was nonetheless impressive. Stereo imaging within the stage was excellent, with precise, though not laser-guided, placement of instruments in the KKL Luzern concert hall in Switzerland. Tonally speaking, I found the Perlisten R7t’s to offer excellent linearity, with no troughs or peaks that I could discern in the all-important midrange. I did hear a mild treble roll off—unsurprising given the use of a textile tweeter—but the Perlistens never sounded dark, merely relaxed, pushing me back a few rows in the audience.
Married to this was a slight smoothness and ease to the Perlistens’ overall presentation. Ordinarily, that’s not my proverbial cup of tea, but I found myself so enchanted by the soundscape before me—and the seeming absence of cabinet colorations—that I was grinning stupidly as the orchestra swelled during the finale. Strings sweeping, brass belching, percussion twinkling near the back left of the stage—it was satisfying. I know the massive drum thwacks in the finale to be on the robust side of the aisle, and yet, the R7t’s came up a touch short, both in terms of ultimate extension and on the slam scale. There’s clear power on tap below 40Hz, though it sounded as if it was on its descent by that juncture, and the midbass was linear, without the decibel or three bump that some manufacturers like to dial in to their frequency-response curves. I could claw some of that back by nudging the R7t’s closer to my front wall, encouraging more room gain, but this would mean collapsing that intoxicating soundstage in the process. No, thank you.
Turning to the friendly skies of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and directed by James Levine (16/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon / Tidal), I marveled once more at how well the Perlisten R7t’s vanished before my ears. The glissando of the signature clarinet opening was delightfully articulate in the center of the soundstage, pregnant with tonal color, and as effortless as you like. That last bit I chalk up to the DPC array. So little moving mass in the upper midrange—a few dozen silk fibers in lieu of a comparatively obese paper cone—reaps massive benefits to the end listener. The complexity of the mix was easy to dissect in the opening minutes, and I reveled in hearing the creaking of music stands and performers’ chairs right alongside the velvety piano chords that mark the American composer’s most famous work. The aforementioned smoothness was most apparent in Levine’s piano work—the famed conductor apparently pulled double duty on this recording—with greater focus on the resounding textures rather than the initial impacts of hammers on strings. I should note that the Perlistens weren’t as extended in the treble as, say, Focal Sopras or Utopias, which use beryllium-dome tweeters, but the sound wasn’t exactly polite, either. It was just balanced. Neutral. Easygoing. I can’t imagine listener fatigue setting in with the R7t’s, whose stereo sound practically envelops you. The spatial experience is simply sublime at this price point, and this was what I kept coming back to as I played through the Gershwin piece several times in succession.
How about vocals? Well, Marcus Mumford’s emotive opening lines on “Ghosts That We Knew,” from Mumford & Sons’ The Road to Red Rocks (16/44.1 ALAC, Universal), sounded phenomenal right from the outset. Emerging from the crowd’s quiet background chatter at the iconic Colorado venue, the edge definition of Mumford’s vocal was merely quite good, but it was the seeming total detachment from the two gloss-black towers on either side of it that produced a holographic magic that was impossible not to fall for. Whistles and shouts from the otherwise silent crowd in the distance punctuated the backdrop of his deliberate and sorrowful delivery. As the tempo lifts, Ted Dwayne’s bass and Winston Marshall’s banjo come into focus behind Mumford, and I found it a cinch to shift my attention from one band member to the next, always returning to the macro view of the venue and its occupants, breathing as one in the distance. I cannot overemphasize how impressed I was with the Perlistens’ handling of big recordings, which I unconsciously found myself turning to time and time again.
Bass-wise, I turned to the opening track of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s original soundtrack for The Dark Knight (16/44.1 ALAC, Warner Bros.), “Why So Serious?,” with its subterranean synth solo around the 3:25 mark. If you saw the film in the theater, you might remember this cut from the opening scene, where the raw, dissonant strings suddenly drop out of the mix, leaving only a throb of sub-50Hz energy, some of it infrasonic. It was—and through the right loudspeakers is—a passage you feel more than hear. The R7t’s delivered a healthy helping of that energy in my new listening room, rattling the hell out of my gas fireplace and a couple overhead fixtures, so the output was most definitely meaningful. Extension was flat and very well controlled down to 35Hz or so, though I would hesitate to call this a full-range loudspeaker; you might have to spring for Perlisten’s more exotic S7t flagship for that. Moreover, the sense of impact and concussion of the violent synths is genuinely a torture test for woofer surrounds, and yet the R7t’s handled it in stride, delivering a slightly reserved interpretation of the track. But—and this is a dramatic but—I hammered the R7t’s, and even with their woofers flying, their output was absurdly composed. A set of R7t’s would be an excellent choice in a high-end, hybrid stereo and home-theater system.
Panic! at the Disco’s smash hit “High Hopes,” from the duo’s Pray for the Wicked (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic / Tidal), is a hot-sounding recording. Between the mix itself, and the wall of brass that propels the melody from the first second to the last, it can be unlistenable through loudspeakers that veer hard toward the analytical end of the spectrum. That certainly was not the case with the Perlistens. What I heard on the normally aggressive opening, for instance, was a hint of smoothness that seemingly blunted the leading edge of the trumpets. It wasn’t a tonal coloration, but rather an inherent quality of the speakers’ DPC arrays that proved overly kind to suboptimal recordings. No loudspeaker is perfect, and this editorializing is as innocuous as any I’ve encountered. Lover of upper-midrange sparkle and top-end crystallinity that I am, I admit that the Perlistens lacked the urgency and excitement that I crave from a set of high-end loudspeakers. On the other hand, the R7t’s were otherwise so coherent and balanced-sounding on “High Hopes” that even I could see myself loving—maybe even owning?—this speaker for the long haul. There’s so much to like and so little with which to take issue.
KEF’s Reference 3 ($13,999.98/pair, when available) has served as my—ahem—reference loudspeaker for the past couple years, and conceptually, the KEF is somewhat similar to the Perlisten. The Ref 3 is a mid-sized tower that’s about two inches shorter, but five inches deeper than the R7t, and like the Perlisten it features a clever approach to midrange and high-frequency reproduction in the form of KEF’s Uni-Q coaxial driver. It features a 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter with a “tangerine” waveguide that’s nestled in the throat of a 5″ aluminum-cone midrange. KEF’s promise with the Uni-Q is in line with Perlisten’s regarding their DPC array: wide dispersion, well-controlled directivity, and maximum coherence between treble and midrange drive units. Above and below the Uni-Q are 6.5″ aluminum-cone woofers. While the Ref 3 boasts only two woofers to the R7t’s four slightly smaller woofers, the Ref 3’s greater cabinet volume should yield similar, if not deeper, bass extension. Overall, it is a little heavier, a touch more inert, and when available, was 40% more expensive than the Perlisten.
Having manhandled the KEFs back into place, I replayed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and quickly heard several differences. First, the scale of the sound had improved, with the soundstage now extending a bit past the outside baffle of each speaker cabinet, as well as a mite deeper. Crucially, however, the KEF towers couldn’t match the Perlistens’ disappearing act. Despite their more expansive overall sound, the Ref 3s’ cabinets were more audible. I couldn’t hear behind and around the speakers with the ease that I had through the Perlistens. Score one for the DPC array and what is apparently a heroically damped cabinet; the KEF is no slouch. The Ref 3s pushed the solo clarinet more forward into my room, and I heard more air and spatial detail around and between instruments. Yet stereo imaging—a KEF strong suit—was no better through my Ref 3s than the far less expensive R7t’s. Most impressive.
On “Ghosts That We Knew,” I heard incrementally more fine detail from Mumford’s guitar through my Ref 3s, and the crowd’s whistles, hoots, and hollers sounded faster and more urgent. The purposefully inflected, hard “k” as Mumford sang, “But I will hold on as long as you like,” was particularly apparent. The KEFs’ take on the track ultimately proved airier and more brilliant than the easier-going Perlistens. Yet the differences were subtle, the margins fine. The Ref 3s were not, to my ears, anywhere near 40% better than the R7t’s on sonic grounds. And while the KEFs were the more resolving of the two high-priced sets of towers, I dare say that with their spatial tricks, the Perlistens cast the more convincing musical illusion.
At high volume and beyond on The School for Scandal, the Reference 3s’ dynamics were on full display. The nervously taut passages of the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester’s string section were more delicate and ethereal through the Ref 3s, carved out of space with subtly more finesse, while the finale’s massive drum strikes sounded out deeper, tighter, and with greater weight than the Perlistens could muster. Performance in the midbass and below was the only sonic parameter where the KEFs clearly separated themselves from the Perlistens. And that is a mighty compliment seeing as KEF is over 50 years old and the Perlisten is a first-generation product.
Perlisten Audio’s R7t is an impressively complete loudspeaker for $9990/pair. Its cabinet is well damped and built to a high standard. The company’s homegrown drivers and unique crossover topology combine flawlessly to yield an utterly coherent and respectably linear sound profile. Most impressive was the R7t’s’ uncanny ability to disappear from my listening room. In my experience, that trick tends to cost audiophiles who invest in other speakers many times more than Perlisten charges for this floorstander, and it’s a genuine differentiator when you’re comparing the R7t to competing products from some of the industry’s bigger names that run around the five-figure mark. The R7t is clearly born from solid engineering principles, and to my thinking, this instantly ranks Perlisten among the most impressive audio debutants of the last decade. Well done.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers: KEF LS50 and Reference 3.
- Integrated amplifier: Hegel Music Systems H590.
- Sources: Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi.
- Speaker cables: Siltech Classic Legend 680L.
- Analog interconnect cables: Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Siltech Classic Legend 680i (XLR).
- Power cords: Siltech Classic Legend 680P.
- Digital interconnect: Siltech Classic Legend 380 USB.
Perlisten Audio R7t Loudspeaker
Price: $9990 per pair.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor; six years with registration.
807 Liberty Dr.
Verona, WI 53593
Phone: (414) 895-6009