Vivid Audio’s chief designer-engineer is Laurence Dickie. You’ve probably heard of him -- many reviews of Vivid speakers mention Dickie in the context of the work he did at Bowers & Wilkins years ago. Remember the B&W Nautilus? That was Dickie’s project. Since 2004, Dickie has been designing the loudspeakers manufactured by Vivid Audio, which he co-owns with CEO Philip Guttentag. Vivid speakers are designed in the UK, where Dickie lives, and are made in South Africa, where Guttentag oversees the factory.
Although the Giya G1 Spirit is the first Vivid speaker I’ve reviewed, it’s by no means the first contact I’ve had with the brand, or with Dickie. Over the past few years, there are only two audio shows I’ve attended: the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada; and High End, in Munich, Germany. At some point during most of those shows, Doug Schneider and I will share a breakfast or dinner with Guttentag, Dickie, and Philip O’Hanlon, of Vivid’s US distributor, On a Higher Note. It’s been primarily at these meetings that I’ve formed my opinion of Dickie.
Being a reviewer often gives me direct access to the designers behind the products, and most of the conversations I’ve had with these folks have left me impressed. Not only do audio designers give me inside looks at their products, they’re typically happy to translate into plain English the engineering concepts that make their products tick, and Dickie is no exception -- after all, his primary job at an audio show is to promote his own products. What sets him apart is his openness to discuss design concepts that have nothing to do with his speakers -- and acknowledge their value where deserved. He’ll field questions about any aspect of loudspeaker design, and I always try to hit him with at least one question about some technical aspect of speaker engineering touted or championed by one of his competitors.
You’d expect that Dickie would defend the design principles espoused by Vivid Audio to the exclusion of all others, but that’s not what happens. I’ve often been surprised to see Dickie bring his fingers to his beard, look up toward the sky, and ponder my question. More than a few times, I’ve heard him say something to the effect that “there is some merit” in what another designer is doing, even if the concept isn’t part of how Dickie himself designs speakers. Most high-end audio engineers see only one solution to a given design problem: their own. I can’t help but think that Dickie’s open-mindedness is responsible for the out-of-the-box thinking Vivid speakers embody. They’re not me-too designs.
The plan for kicking off this review was for the Vivid Giya G1 Spirits to land at my place about a week before Philip O’Hanlon was scheduled to fly into Wilmington, North Carolina, to dial in their setup in my listening room, the Music Vault. As so often happens with such plans, that’s not how it went. I didn’t get the speakers into my room until the night before O’Hanlon arrived, which left me only a few hours to do a rough setup. This allowed me to ascertain that the Spirits were working -- no shipping damage -- but little more.
My first real listening session with the G1 Spirits was the following morning, with O’Hanlon playing DJ, as he so often does at shows. It was during this session that my opinion of the G1 Spirits began to form, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
“I’m going to play this loud, because that’s how it was meant to be played.”
“OK,” I said. “No problem.”
Also in the room was Randall Smith, an ex-reviewer and friend who’s been invaluable to me over the years in helping set up pairs of some of the biggest speakers available: Wilson’s X-2, Rockport’s Arrakis, and Magico’s Q7, to name but three. I gave Randall a quick glance as O’Hanlon began to raise the volume level, raising an eyebrow à la The Rock (which I can’t really do). Didn’t O’Hanlon know about all the monster speakers that had already graced my listening room? Surely these lightweight G1 Spirits couldn’t play louder than those heavyweights.
From his laptop (I’m not sure of the provenance of the file) O’Hanlon cued up “Whole Lotta Love,” from Led Zeppelin’s II. At the 32-second mark, when the late John Bonham’s drums enter, I had one of those transformative moments that happen only rarely in any audiophile’s life: never, and I mean never, had I heard such unfettered dynamic range from a loudspeaker. It was the closest approximation of live drums in my room that I’d ever heard. O’Hanlon was indeed playing this track louder than I’ve ever played anything. In and of itself, that might not be news -- after all, maybe I just don’t listen all that loud. But never had I had in my room a pair of speakers that I dared to play that loud. I think they’d have broken. Every one of them.
Backing up a bit: What is the Giya G1 Spirit?
Basically, the Giya G1 Spirit ($93,000 USD per pair) is an updated version of the original Giya G1. You’re probably familiar with that loudspeaker: It was the first in the Giya range, and has been demonstrated at dealers and shows around the world for about a decade. The basics remain the same: Both are four-way, five-driver designs with drive units designed by Laurence Dickie, all housed in a glass-reinforced, balsa-cored, sandwich-composite enclosure. The new model retains the iconic Giya shape -- the molded Tapered Tube loading of the three front-facing drivers evident by the back-of-cabinet mounting hardware visible from the rear. The shiny painted finish, available in any color you like, is also the same.
But a lot is different, too. Although you might not notice it unless you had the original G1 and the G1 Spirit side by side, the Spirit, at 63"H x 17.3"W x 32.25"D, is shorter by 4" but fatter at the bottom -- the latter necessitated by the deeper C225-100 woofers mounted in a side-firing, reaction-canceling arrangement in the cabinet’s lower section. The shorter height better optimizes the tweeter’s position. The new woofer, which has a 225mm alloy diaphragm powered by a 4” voice coil (3” in the G1), is specified as having a 30% longer throw than the original, resulting in increased power handling (1600W) and deeper, more authoritative bass, with the ability to generate greater sound-pressure levels (SPLs). All this bass is vented to the outside world via longer, wider ports -- the G1 Spirit breathes easy in the lows. The new C125-75 lower-midrange driver has also been beefed up, with a more substantial motor system for lower distortion and greater dynamic range. The alloy cone-and-dome diaphragm of this driver is now stiffened with carbon-fiber rings, resulting in a first-breakup point of 10.5kHz -- about twice the frequency of the G1’s first-breakup point. The 2” (50mm) D50 upper-midrange driver and 1” (26mm) D26 tweeter remain largely the same, but are now protected by permanent mesh grilles.
Although the interior of the G1 Spirit’s cabinet is invisible to the end user, its construction, too, has been beefed up: two more carbon-skinned composite braces have been added. This was made possible by perhaps the most obvious outward change: the removal of the G1’s built-in crossover. A separate box measuring 16”W x 4”H x 11”D contains the G1 Spirit’s crossover, to isolate its passive components from the virtual hurricane of soundwaves inside the speaker cabinet, and to permit the possibility of active drive in the future. On the crossover box’s rear panel are two sets of binding posts for biwiring; the crossover is linked to the G1 Spirit proper via a single large twist-and-lock connector. Using the supplied jumpers, I single-wired the Spirits.
Suffice it to say that I’ve always leaned toward bigger, heavier, manlier speaker cabinets. This preference was probably best satisfied by Magico’s Q7 Mk.II, a 750-pound, military-grade juggernaut made entirely of aluminum, steel, and copper. The 176-pound G1 Spirit was a huge departure chez Fritz. My two kids, aged 10 and 12, actually helped me carry these up to my listening room. (I think they could have done it by themselves -- they’re strong kids.) There are consequences to the lack of mass, but whether they’re audible is up for debate. Rapping the side of a G1 Spirit, I didn’t get the same satisfactory thunk I got with a Magico Q7, though if you’re going to own these speakers, it’s something you’ll just have to get over, I guess -- when it comes to cabinets, Laurence Dickie believes in light and stiff, to push resonant modes ever higher in frequency, where they’re less audible. In terms of build quality, the Pearl White that my review samples were finished in was attractive and flawless to the eye -- even my wife loved them. The bottom of the G1 Spirit’s cabinet is made of carbon fiber, but this was not finished to the same standard as the paint -- nor was the crossover box, which I think should be color-matched to the speakers (the boxes for my review samples were black). The Giya G1 Spirit isn’t the audio jewelry that some high-end gear is -- it’s more like a painting than a Rolex.
Other specs of the Giya G1 Spirit: a frequency range of 25Hz-36kHz, -6dB; impedances of 6 ohms nominal, 3 ohms minimum; distortion of less than 0.3% across the audioband; and a sensitivity of 92dB/2.83V RMS/1m on axis.
Back to my day with Philip O’Hanlon. He shuffled the Giyas around my room in fine increments, and listened for nearly three hours before he was satisfied with their final resting places. The baffle fronts ended up 11’ 5” apart, 13’ from my listening position, 6’ 5” from the front wall, and 5’ 10” from the sidewalls, slightly toed in so that the tweeter axes crossed several feet behind my head. The review system consisted of a Gryphon Audio Designs Antileon Evo stereo power amp driven by a Soulution 560 DAC-preamplifier. Cabling was original Nordost Valhalla, and the source that first day was O’Hanlon’s laptop; after that, I used my Apple MacBook Pro, a combination of files stored on an external hard drive, and CD-quality streaming via Tidal and Roon.
Most speakers stop short of being able to reproduce the full dynamic impact of well-recorded music -- but early and often, the Vivid Giya G1 Spirits reminded me of how different they were from any of them. Their sound was visceral in every sense: music’s more concussive aspects were punched through the air to pierce right through the listening position. Until you hear the Spirits, you might not fully appreciate how dynamically constricted are the sounds of most speakers, because in this limitation most speakers are so similar to each other. I think part of the reason is that many high-end speakers use the same drivers. So is it any surprise that many competing speakers share the same problem? The Spirit’s drivers are different by design, and that lent itself to a sound that was altogether more physical than I’m used to hearing. Going back to “Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin’s II (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Atlantic/Tidal): at 3:02 into the track, John Bonham gets elemental; in my room, peaks of 100dB resulted in a visceral pounding that sounded and felt fully released from the shackles of dynamic compression, leaving the drums to anchor the music with an authority I hadn’t known was present to this degree on this track. Bonham’s muscular playing had punch a-plenty, and soared into its crashes and impacts with vim and vigor.
But lest you think the Spirit’s bass and midbass outpaced the rest of the audioband, I can tell you definitively that this speaker’s other drivers were equally up to the task of reproducing great dynamic range and tremendous impact with no hint of distortion. Robert Plant’s iconic vocal soared and slashed, the Spirits fully reproducing his wide range and powerful delivery. I’ve described other speakers’ sounds as effortless, but the word doesn’t seem strong enough for the Spirit. This was on another level entirely. This was different. The Spirits unleashed sound in ways not unlike the sound system at a large-scale rock concert. The difference was that the fidelity was also always there -- low distortion and tonal neutrality. To know what’s possible from Led Zep with a home audio system, you’ve got to hear their music through the Vivid Giya G1 Spirits. It will be like hearing the band for the first time -- unless you heard them in concert back in the day.
Next up was Willie Nelson’s latest, God’s Problem Child (16/44.1kHz FLAC, Columbia/Legacy/Tidal). The warm string tone in “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” highlights this tribute to the late Merle Haggard, and the Vivids delivered it with easy-to-digest sound that eschewed harshness or grit or haze or . . . or anything, really. Nelson’s voice sounded tonally neutral and fully expressive. I could detect no colorations and no distortions. It was a clear example of what goes in coming out the other end. The Spirits got the most from well-recorded music like God’s Problem Child, but also laid bare the compression and harshness that are, unfortunately, audible in much of Sheryl Crow’s Be Myself (16/44.1 FLAC, Warner Bros./Tidal). As much as I like the music, this album’s sound quality is typical pop: little nuance, lots of compression. The Spirits exposed these problems easily.
Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley (16/44.1 FLAC, Blix Street) was smooth and utterly beautiful. The Spirits precisely reproduced the reverberations that define the acoustic space this recording was made in -- a small jazz club. The instruments were tonally spot-on, while the space around the performers made the soundstage sound big but not unnaturally huge. The upper frequencies on this album can sound a bit hot and harsh through the wrong speakers, but not through the Giya G1 Spirits -- no listening fatigue, just hours of enjoyable listening. The Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (16/44.1 AIFF, RCA) sounded absolutely live. The light percussion at the beginning of “Sweet Jane” was crisp, clean, perfectly delineated in space. Again, the reverb was reproduced such that the soundstage expanded out past the speakers’ outer edges and right into the Vault’s sidewalls. And yet the cymbal work captured 30 years ago in Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity was distinctly rendered: always defined yet delicate, never a mere wash of high frequencies.
Listening to the very best loudspeakers in isolation, it’s hard to get a handle on their sound -- for that, you need direct comparisons. That’s why reviews that contain no comparisons can be worthless. In general terms, I can tell you that the Giya G1 Spirit had no peer in terms of the visceral aspect of its sound, and its ability to reproduce the full dynamic range of any music I played. And when it came to rock, no other speaker came even close.
For the past six years, my frame of reference has been defined by the original and Mk.II versions of Magico’s Q7 loudspeaker ($229,000/pair for Mk.II). I’ve had a bunch of speakers in-house during that time, but each time I’ve returned to the Q7s, which remind me why I invested so much in them -- money, and the time and effort required to move them in and out of position whenever a new set of review speakers arrives. The differences between the Magico Q7 Mk.II and the Vivid Giya G1 Spirit were striking. In terms of build quality, the Magico wins hands down, and I don’t mean only for its heavy-duty construction -- the Magico’s mechanical tolerances look much tighter, and the finish work has no peer.
Then there’s the sound: As I said earlier, the Vivids could play louder and freer than anything I’ve ever heard in my room. In this regard, they eclipsed even the Magico Q7 Mk.IIs -- I’ve never heard a speaker fly like the Spirits do. Although in this regard the Magicos are better than any other speaker I’ve ever heard other than the Vivids, the Spirits were able to go places no other speaker would dare go. Specifically, the Q7s rounded off the very tippy top of dynamic peaks; the Vivids left the jagged edges at the pinnacles intact. This was true across the audioband, and was noticeable above 95dB SPL.
Conversely, where the Magicos beat the Vivids was in articulation -- again, across the audioband. From the bass up through the highs, the Q7 Mk.IIs simply revealed more nuanced detail, seeming to decipher even the tiniest audio cues that, by comparison, the Vivids glossed over. For instance, in Crown Imperial: Festive Music for Organ, Winds, Brass & Percussion, with organist Mary Preston and Jerry Junkin leading the Dallas Wind Symphony (24/176.4 WAV, Reference HR-112), the bells and cymbals in William Walton’s Coronation March sounded more subtle and refined, which made the sound seem more lifelike. For me, this makes the Magico the ultimate speaker for high-resolution audio; in this regard, the Vivid is merely very good.
As good as the G1 Spirit’s bass was -- and from 30Hz up, it was punchier and more physical than anything I’ve heard -- I’ve heard deeper bass from other speakers. The Q7 is definitely one of those, but another is the original version of the Rockport Technologies Arrakis ($165,000/pair, discontinued). Playing my longtime reference for low-frequency authority, Bruno Coulais’s music for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 ALAC, Virgin), the Spirits couldn’t come close to achieving the Rockports’ seismic room lock. Maybe there’s room for a Giya model above the G1 Spirit after all. And remember that the Spirit costs $93,000/pair -- much less than the Rockport or Magico.
Vivid Audio’s Giya G1 Spirit is, in general, one of the finest speakers I’ve heard -- and for rock, it’s the best I’ve heard. It can play insanely loud -- by comparison, other speakers sound tame with rock. The G1 Spirit’s tonal neutrality and super-low levels of audible distortion check the boxes that qualify it as a true high-fidelity performer. Its sound is hard to fault, even by someone who, over the years, has listened to a great cross-section of the world’s best speakers in his room.
You may or may not like the G1 Spirit’s looks -- the Giyas have always been controversial in that regard -- but there’s no denying that the Giya models are Laurence Dickie’s masterpieces. The G1 Spirit reigns atop that fine line, a worthy flagship for a man and a company with histories as rich as Dickie’s and Vivid’s. And if Led Zep and other heavy-metal bands are your thing, there’s no better transducer -- John Bonham can play live in your listening room anytime you choose. I know of no other way to get him there.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- Magico Q7 Mk.II
- Amplifier -- Gryphon Audio Designs Antileon Evo, Soulution 711
- DAC-preamplifier -- Soulution 560
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running Sierra 10.12.1, Roon, and Tidal HiFi streaming service; Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player
- Cables -- Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirit Loudspeakers
Price: $93,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Vivid Audio UK Ltd.
Unit 6, Star Road
Partridge Green, West Sussex RH13 8RA
England, United Kingdom
Phone: +44 1403-713125
North American distributor:
On a Higher Note
PO Box 698
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
Phone: (949) 488-3004
Fax: (949) 488-3284