No loudspeaker is perfect, but I’ll tell you what I love about a loudspeaker that can go up against the wall; placement versatility. We don’t all have the option of placing our loudspeakers one or two meters into the room. Often the optimal placement for a speaker is suboptimal for how the rest of our room is laid out. Some of us just want a good-looking speaker that we can place discretely and will still sound great.
Enter the Buchardt S400 (€1950); my go-to loudspeakers since I started this journey with Green Audio Review. One of my criteria was that they should work in different rooms and in close proximity to wall boundaries. Precisely like my Guru Q60. You can back them all the way up and they still sound great. Specific Klipsch loudspeakers can work this way as well. Audio Note loudspeakers are designed for corner placement and they sound better than 95% of the loudspeakers out there.
For me this is important; that a speaker is versatile, not just with the music it excels at reproducing and the amps that can drive it, but also in its placement flexibility.
I know there are some smart people out there who’ll say that if your speakers are up against the wall, the soundstage will suffer. And very often this is true. But soundstage isn’t the only measure of great sound. For some people – I count myself among them – domestic harmony and making the speakers less obtrusive by backing them up against the wall is more important than the depth of the soundstage.
The Buchardt S400 are not exactly ported or sealed, but instead employ a passive radiator on the rear of the cabinet. When you first look at that radiator, it seems impossible that it can function anywhere near a wall boundary. But a passive radiator deals with low frequency information that is omnidirectional quite differently. I was amazed when I detected no serious issues 20 centimeters (7.8”) from the front wall.
How can this be?
The Buchardt S400 seem ideal for modern audiophiles who value placement versatility, a clean retro aesthetic, and very impressive sonics. This speaker will work great in basically any room; backed into a corner, placed on its side, or even positioned on a bookshelf.
The term “bookshelf” loudspeaker gets tossed around a lot but is that really true? Most loudspeakers don’t sound that great placed on a bookshelf; the Buchardt S400 actually do.
That doesn’t mean, however, that it sounds the same regardless of where you place it. It just means that it doesn’t take anywhere near the same hit to its sound quality that most other speakers would.
The best sound I achieved with the Buchardt S400 was on a pair of solid sand-filled stands and dragged about 30 cm (12”) diagonally out from the two corners, and about 220 cm (7 feet) apart with a modest degree of toe-in.
But the interesting part was when I moved them into the corners with about 5 cm of free space behind and around them. They still sounded crisp and clear, with bass that was quite taut and agile sounding. It did not overload the room with an excess of bass energy.
I’m not sure too many modern high-end loudspeakers offer that level of set-up flexibility
Our living room is on the larger side and it opens further into our kitchen and hallway. My Guru Q60 handle this with no issues. Ditto the Harbeth SHL5+ Anniversary loudspeakers.
The Buchardt S400 is a stand mount loudspeaker. Next to either the Harbeth or the Guru, it looks quite petite, measuring 14.3” H x 7” W x 9.5” D.
Looks can be quite deceiving.
I connected the Buchardt S400 to a formidable pre-amp/power amplifier combination from Moon by SimAudio; the 390 and A330. My thoughts on both of those exceptional products can be found here.
This little speaker almost pressurized that living room space. I had it placed almost one meter into the room. I moved it back, close to the wall, and that gave it a better foundation. The S400 was now in its element and properly set-up.
I sat in front of these little speakers in disbelief as they bounced along, playing electronica and jazz with an equal serving of attitude and finesse.
The Moon separates are the most expensive amplifiers I’ve had in my system. I’m particularly impressed with A330 power amp. Going back and forth between my Guru Q60 and the Buchardt S400, several things became apparent.
The Q60 are bigger, and they sound bigger. Much bigger. The bass is thunderous. The Buchardt S400 are naturally leaner but also more coherent. The S400 have a more balanced frequency response. The midrange and treble are more prominent and cleaner sounding. The Q60 are the least fatiguing speaker I know, but the Buchardt S400 are more dynamically vibrant and alive.
They are fun speakers to listen to. Almost always and without exception.
But the laws of physics still apply. In my living room, the Buchardt S400 ultimately weren’t big enough to really thrill me. The Gurus are.
Our smaller listening room is almost 4 x 5 meters, but with an annoying L-shape that almost makes me sigh every time I sit down to listen to some music. The layout of the room dictates that most speakers, including the Buchardt S400, must be positioned relatively close to the wall. I can drag speakers out into the room but then I’m forced to rearrange my listening position further back, and if I do that — then we can’t open the closets lining the back wall which is annoying the next morning, and the room sounds much better with the all those back-wall closets open; reflection vs diffusion/absorption in this situation.
I started with the S400 and switched to the Guru Q60, going back and forth. In the big room, the Q60 were clearly the more appropriate speaker. In the smaller room, things weren’t so clear-cut. The S400 were the more traditional sounding speaker. The midrange and treble were more prominent and tangible. I also found them to be more vibrant and superior at imaging in this particular space.
This is not a typical combination; and maybe it says more about the Quad 405-2 power amplifier than the Buchardt S400. I use the Chord Hugo2go as a streamer/DAC/digital preamp and the Buchardt S400’s sounded clear and cohesive. More so than when I use the Hugo2go and the Quad 405-2 to drive my Guru Q60.
Via the Quad 405-2, the Buchardt S400 maintained their superb central image. The 405-2 is all about the midrange. The midrange is very smooth sounding – perhaps too smooth (and maybe elevated a little in comparison to other modern amplifiers that I use), and the treble is relatively extended and non-fatiguing, which coincides with my view that Quad have always been about musical enjoyment rather than music dissection.
For me, that non-fatiguing, non-grating treble is super important on anything with a piano on the recording, but also on something like Barker’s Utility where the squiggly higher notes and pops and clicks can become straining with a strident sounding treble.
Detail retrieval is impressive when you consider the age of the Quad power amplifier. The midrange and treble sound relatively rich and extended. There is a slight graininess and roll-off in the top end and combined with a bit of bloomy wool over the midrange, makes the 405-2 a very pleasant listen.
But the bass is where the Quad 405-2 can’t quite shake the Buchardt S400. The S400 are anything but soft in the bass and with the Quad they lose some of their intensity and articulation.
Hedonic Treadmill becomes less engaging, less punchy. Soft bass – not how deep it goes – is the bane of most electronic music. Depth is nice, but quality is critical. I’d wager that because the Quad 405-2 has such a prominent midrange and lacks extension and attack in both the treble and in the bass, it makes the Buchardt S-400’s V-shaped signature sound more normal, but also somewhat dulled. Just not a very exciting combination.
Croft Series 7R
The Croft Series 7R power amplifier (£1400) is rated very conservatively at 55 watts/channel. The uptick in fidelity when it replaced the Quad 405-2 was not very surprising.
The excess midrange warmth disappeared, and detail retrieval improved dramatically. All of the resolution that the Croft power amplifier is capable of was present through the S400’s. The midrange and treble were more transparent sounding and the bass firmed up significantly.
The Buchardt S400 are transparent enough that any upstream changes become audible almost immediately.
Using the Hugo2go as streamer/DAC/digital preamp, Utility took on a new guise. What through the Quad sounded a bit rolled off and woolly is now a vivid tour de force of synth and bass, and the right amount of verve? If you’re into electronic music these speakers are almost perfect.
Imaging is one of this speaker’s strengths. Soundstage is wide but not particularly deep – corner-placement, remember. The Buchardt S400 disappeared in front of me better than any other speakers I’ve had through here.
Lately I’ve been listening to Jacob Young a lot and particularly his albums on ECM. The Buchardt S400 driven by the Croft 7R makes his guitar crisp and smooth at the same time. The same with horns. What could have become too clean, too etched, sibilant with other amplification, became transparent, very tight and extremely focused.
Coherency is a major strength of the Buchardt S400 loudspeakers.
Schiit Ragnarok 2
I couldn’t believe it when I put the Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2 integrated amplifier ($1,799) in front of the Buchardt S400. This was a match of the utmost quality.
The Ragnarok 2 made these speakers sing like no other amp I’ve tried. The integrated amplifier can put out 100 watts/channel into a 4 ohm load; which is exactly what the S400 needed apparently.
The bottom end tightened up significantly with the Ragnarok 2 driving the Danish loudspeakers.
The National’s secret weapon is neither Matt Berninger nor the Dessners. The rhythm section of Scott Devendorf on bass, and especially Bryan Devendorf on drums is where the magic resides. The guys in the spotlight might write the songs, but the drumming in The National is always inventive and commanding – and somehow at odds with the otherwise brooding mood of the songs. Frenetic is how I might describe Devendorf’s drumming.
The Ragnarok 2 and the Buchardt S400 made his drumming on “High Violet” snap out into the room in a way I can’t seem to replicate with any other amplifier, regardless of price. The kickdrum was dead center and right in my chest. The toms spread out to either side. The believability was tangible. Almost every track possessed this degree of impact.
This amplifier/loudspeaker combination was perfect with techno, electronica, jazz, and even pop music. I’ve enjoyed the Ragnarok 2 with a lot of loudspeakers – but this combination wins the trophy.
Are there no caveats, no weaknesses?
The Buchardt S400 are a lot of fun to listen to; but they are also less delicate than I would have ideally liked. The midrange is drawn back just a bit making the sound signature gently V-shaped – which is what gives them that energetic and engaging sound. However, that sonic signature also, I posit, make them very slightly crude with subtle guitar work and soft voices.
I think, if the midrange was more prominent, more fleshed out, Agnes Obel would be whispering in my ear, rather than singing in front me; and Neil Young’s big Dreadnought would have an even more cavernous and textural brass-wooden timbre.
I’m listening to the song “What Floats Beneath” from the album Lost River and Eivind Aarset’s guitar doesn’t quite breathe the way I would like. There’s something about the texture and timbre that is missing.
I began by stipulating that no speaker is perfect. That goes for the S400 as well. If we made the midrange a bit more prominent, the very things that makes the S400 such a delight — punch, imaging, smoothness, up-against-the-wall versatility, and detail retrieval would likely change or even suffer. I prefer the Buchardt S400 the way they are: fantastic, fun, and perfectly – flawed.
It probably should not be a surprise that the Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2 and Buchardt S400 were such a great combination. Two relatively new companies that sell direct to consumers and who have their finger on the pulse of a new generation of listeners who don’t necessarily subscribe to the traditional audiophile way of doing things.
Schiit has the marketing angle figured out. They produce excellent sounding equipment that is affordable and it’s easy to build a system around their products. After 10 years, they understand what consumers are looking for; both in terms of performance and features.
I think the same might be(come) true for Buchardt Audio. They don’t have an entry-level affordable loudspeaker like Fyne Audio, Q Acoustics, or Elac, but they have an excellent selection of high-performance loudspeakers.
The S400 are in the sweet spot. They have released an active loudspeaker called the S500 (€3500). Another active floor stander, the S700 (€6000), a hub to control the active speakers, and a new integrated amplifier designed for the S400 are all in the pre-order stage on their website.
Buchardt Audio represent the new wave of high-end audio manufacturers who understand that the game has changed. The S400 are a loudspeaker that will appeal to a sizable percentage of that new audience who don’t have white hair.
For more information: buchardtaudio.com/shop
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