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I’ve heard my fair share of speakers over the years, from the exotic to the mass produced, and experiencing each one is always exciting – particularly if it’s something unconventional. Unique is definitely cool, but finding something truly unique in the audio world is a tough proposition, especially when considering gear that falls into the realm of affordability.

My first encounter with North Carolina’s Fyssion Audio happened last fall at the Capital Audio Fest. Having not recognized the name on the company’s door placard, I peeked into their room and was intrigued by a smattering of funky looking speakers sitting on the floor and perched on tripods along the far wall. A few steps into the room revealed an audio desk with speakers embedded in the cabinetry and a richly textured multichannel audio chair adorned by leather and wood.

Yup, I had definitely found something unique.

It didn’t take long to learn that Fyssion is looking to attack the audio world from a different angle, with speaker designs that certainly buck convention. If you take a minute to look at Fyssion’s website (along with its sister company: Artisan Audio), you’ll see what I mean. The name of game is off-axis design, and Fyssion/Artisan is chips-all-in with five of its six speaker models featuring drivers pointing in atypical directions.

Since Capital Audio Fest, I’ve found time to talk with the president and co-founder of Fyssion, Joe Crosswell. It turns out the company's decidedly unique speaker models are born from conceptual approaches that some might consider to be unusual. Crosswell (who’s an avid musician and veteran of the electronics retail world) and his co-founder, Bill Godwin, have taken a liking to going about design through simple trial and error.

They think it. They try it. And then they listen.

Wash, rinse, and repeat that process and you’ll have a rough idea of how they’ve built their products to date. In fact, the heart and soul of their preferred sound is something they call the “Trinity Engine.” It’s a patent pending (top secret) design born from trials of sonic tweaking they applied to their audio chair during its development phase. They’ve since taken the resulting engine and have rigged it into their roster of speakers, including the subject of today’s review.

The Dignity 4
It wasn’t hard for Crosswell to convince me to review Fyssion’s Dignity 4 speakers. No strings attached, just listen and be honest, he said. That I can certainly do, I told him…and here we are.

The Dignity 4 ($1,495/pair) is a relatively small (15-inch max height, 7.5-in wide, 7.5-in deep, 13.1-pounds) bookshelf sized speaker that I hesitate to call “bookshelf.” As you’ll see, I believe it’s more apt to fit the description of “small near-field floorstander.” The standard Dignity 4 model is handcrafted from select 1-inch thick MDF (solid cherry, walnut, and maple are available for added cost) right in the mountains of North Carolina. The exterior of the speaker has all the ear markings of true handmade craftsmanship, including very minor variations in the rounded edges of the cabinet and visible brush-stroke subtleties in the matte black finish. For me, these human touches add warmth and character to an object that typically feels born from an assembly line.

I like it.

The rear of the speaker features two knurled gold binding posts, an access panel, and a 1-inch port. The side has one visible 3.5-inch passive radiator, and the top angled portion of the cabinet houses a 4-inch Alpair 7 Generation 3 full-range driver hidden under a magnetically attached speaker grill.

Yes, you read that correctly: a 4-inch full-range driver. That means absolutely no crossover is present.

Housed inside the speaker is the mysterious “Trinity Engine,” which I discussed with Crosswell but have been asked to keep confidential while patents are obtained. What I can say is the Engine has three primary components that ultimately result in the speaker surviving as a lover of a 4-ohm load. Manufacturer specs for the 4-inch driver say it’s specified to operate from 40Hz to 32,000Hz with an off-axis response described as “best in class.”

The Setup
Upon initial inspection of the Dignity 4s, I literally had no idea what to do with them. Based on size and shape alone, the speaker is a complete contradiction of convention. Its bookshelf-sized appearance just begs for a heightened perch (on speaker stands, perhaps) a few feet from room boundaries. But I couldn’t help but think the small off-axis driver looked primed to strive and survive down low to the ground and near a wall. I asked Fyssion for advice and they indicated that placement was a matter of preference and that experimentation was necessary.

So, I decided to experiment. And experiment I did.

Using a variety of equipment, including an Oppo 93 BD player, an Oppo 103 BD player, an Elite VSX-23THX receiver, a Yamaha RX-3050 receiver, an Emotiva XPA-5 amplifier, and a variety of stands and stacks of books, I began to systematically position the Dignity 4s in a range of placements within two completely different rooms. With my receivers set to Pure or Direct playing modes, I let my ears become the ultimate judge. One testing area was my 12x17x8 dedicated (and treated) home theater room. Here the Dignity 4s tapped into the RX-A3050 sourcing music from the Oppo 103. The other room was an open-ended 15x12x10 space that’s about as lively as they come. The VSX-23 THX and the Oppo 93 fed the Dignity 4s in the second room.

I’ll spare the gory details of my methodical listening sessions and cut to the chase: the Dignity 4’s sounded best in my dedicated room perched 4-inches off the floor, roughly 10-feet apart, 8-inches away from the side walls, and 2-feet from the front wall (passive radiators aimed outward). This placement, to my ear, led to more audible depth and warmth in the lower frequencies. You can see the measured response to this placement (central listening position, 10-feet away) in the graph below. The green line represents the response with the speakers close to the walls, while the red line represents the response when the speakers were moved 24-inches from the walls.

Using the RX-A3050’s YPAO room correction suite, I was able to attain just a tad more evenness to the sound. The graph below shows the measured response with (blue) and without (green) YPAO engaged.

I found the sound to be more pleasing with YPAO “on” and left it that way for the duration of my review. I also opted to power the show with an XPA-5 external amplifier, although it’s hard to say if the XPA changed the sonic character of the Dignity 4s.

Finally, I took measurements with my dual Power Sound Audio XS30 subwoofers engaged. The graph below shows measured responses for crossover settings of 100Hz (purple), 80Hz (green), and 60Hz (gold). I did engage the subs at different times throughout my listening sessions (for reasons I’ll detail later) and ultimately opted for a crossover setting of 100Hz.

It’s worthy to note that listening sessions used to gauge the best speaker positioning involved sitting in a traditional seated position about 10-feet away from a center point between the speakers. Keep that in the back of your mind as we proceed further into the review.

The Sound
Fyssion’s mission with the Dignity 4 isn’t to offer yet another vehicle for delivering what most all of us consider to be stereo sound. According to Crosswell, the speaker’s design is meant to deliver an experience akin to “sitting in a live setting…natural and realistic, with as little coloring as possible.” He went as far as to intimate that traditional stereo presentations sound “fabricated.” I mention that, because listening to the Dignity 4s truly requires a “check your traditional ears at the door” approach.

Now, that last sentence might be a stopping point for some and I will admit there were times I had difficulty finding my own comfort level with the speakers. They truly are “different” in every sense of the word. The beauty, however, is breaking free from traditional expectations and discovering how intriguing a different kind of sonic presentation can be.

As you might imagine, the Dignity 4 as standalone speaker is slightly thin in the depths of the lower end. This is both a positive and negative, as its drop-off around 100Hz does result in an extremely tight and punchy bass presentation. Crosswell says they were striving to stay away from “boomy” with the 4s, and I can confirm they succeeded. Otherwise, the sound can best be described as neutral. From a typical listening position the resulting soundstage is high and wide with loose (not tight) imaging characteristics. This isn’t to say that music doesn’t live primarily between the speakers, but it certainly isn’t as focused as a typical stereo set-up.

The Dignity 4s aren’t power hungry in the slightest and I consistently found they were happiest at moderate volume levels. Here, the 4s played to their strength, which was to throw a wide soundstage loaded with sonic character. At times I felt they begged to play just a bit louder, but additional volume was never the right answer. They definitely have a point at which they balk at high levels of power. In those situations, introducing the subwoofers greatly helped to inject added energy to the equation.

Jumping into specific tracks, I kicked things off with Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2. It was all about the midrange during Piano Man, with a particular emphasis on the depth of Joel’s vocals. Without subs, the bass presentation had a true tight punch that nearly felt too chopped for my liking. I found a similar experience with The Entertainer, noting that the Alpair diver protested my attempt to pour on the volume. The soundstage for both songs stretched from wall to wall with Joel’s voice appearing high and airy, and I found the tracks to be much more exacting with the external subwoofers engaged. Next, I reached for Queen’s Greatest Hits and the classic Bowie collaboration of Under Pressure. Similar to my experience with Joel, I just didn’t feel like I could push the D4s to volume levels that could add meaningful weight to the low end. They did, however, present an exceptionally pleasing rendering of Freddy Mercury’s incredible pipes.

Image: Valley Entertainment

Moving away from the rock genre, I opted for Bob Marley & the Wailers’ Africa United: The Singles Collection just to give the Dignity 4s a slightly warmer base to work from. Starting with Waiting in Vain, the D4's hit their stride by delivering a tightly controlled sound, with Marley's voice occupying a wide space on the right side of the room and the rhythmic keyboards pushing outward on either side. The presentation was incredibly organized and the bass was truly tight. With subs, the song carried more weight, but I can't say I felt the presentation was markedly improved. Marley's second track, Jamming, also lived quite well without a subwoofer crutch. Symbols were crisp and small nuances within the song were nicely portrayed. Not every track on this album survived without additional subwoofer help, as some were just a tad too aggressive for the D4's - bass wise.

Moving to an entirely different genre of tunes, I pulled-out George Winston’s December album and promptly played Thanksgiving. Okay, I thought, here’s where the Dignity 4s want to be. The song felt more than at home with its laid-back and unaggressive presentation. It even felt comfortable and composed as I pushed the 4s with more power. With a lively and complexly layer sound stage, Thanksgiving truly blossomed. The addition of subs didn't seem to radically impact or alter the sound of the song, and I found this to be true across the entire album. The Holly and the Ivy ended-up being my favorite track on the album as Winston’s keystrokes dripped with echoes and ripples from wall to wall. Again, completely composed and relaxed. With the success of Winston's December fresh on my mind, I reached for a Jazz collaboration compilation called Jazz au Lait. It was at this time that I made a rather interesting discovery about the Dignity 4s and the listener’s optimal positioning.

The Discovery
As I’ve referenced, I spent considerable time listening to various placements of the Dignity 4s from a traditional listening position that (in hindsight) was entirely foolish. As I began to listen to New York Blues (Jazz au Lait), I found myself gravitating toward a near-field standing position about 6 feet from dead center. It’s at that point that the Dignity 4s completely sprang to life and the track's laid back jazz guitar solo really hit a high note with a hauntingly airy appearance. The song had a boosted warmth and tonal character, too. I proceeded to listen to the rest of the album in this position and found only a few instances where the speakers’ drivers protested high volumes. In response, I reintroduced the subs with at a 60Hz crossover and found they blended seamlessly.

I recalibrated the speakers and proceeded to re-listen to previous songs standing in my newfound near-field position, and even introduced new material with songs from Squeeze’s Play. The speakers definitively sounded much more rounded and pleasurable, comfortable, and much – much – larger. They were instantly projecting a huge soundstage and I could hear that “live” and “realistic” character that Joe Crosswell so glowingly had referenced during our conversations. I also noted that the sweet spot for listening wasn’t shackled to one centralized location (shifting positioning from side to side didn’t seem to have a detrimental effect to the experience). I eventually setup my UMIK-1 microphone in this forward standing position to take a non-sub response measurement. As you can see, the low-end definitely benefitted from a roll-off that was smoother than anything I was able to previously capture.

Finding this near-field listening spot was a key to my enjoyment of the Dignity 4s, akin to lifting a veil had that shrouded something attractive and previously partially visible. It certainly injected a boost of energy that I sensed had been missing.

The Wrap
The Dignity 4 is a speaker that’s an outright curiosity in a world of small speakers that strive to replicate a sound that audiophiles think they should chase. I certainly enjoyed my time with them.

So, where does that leave them, you may ask?

They’re aimed squarely at listeners looking to ignore convention and embrace a world where breadth of sound is a featured focus. Not everyone will appreciate this speaker’s take, but that’s one of the beauties of something that isn’t a copycat of all the others. Perhaps I’ve overused the word “unique” in this write-up, but that’s exactly what the Dignity 4 is: a unique and atypical answer to traditional expectations. Just taking into consideration the design of the speaker, it’s fairly incredible what Fyssion has done with a 4-inch full-range driver and a compact cabinet.

Once I found the Dignity 4’s sweet spot, I had a great time letting the speakers bathe my ears with a wall-of-sound listening experience. It actually led me to believe that they’d perform quite well in rooms where speakers need to be tucked away in corners and out of sight. As I found, they can accomplish their “real world” delivery quite comfortably in that kind of position. Music choice also seems to be tightly tied to the Dignity 4’s happiness as a standalone speaker; most will find the speaker is a better all around performer with an external subwoofer added to the mix.

The Dignity 4 is available internet direct from Fyssion.com. If you’re game for a new experience, definitely take them for a test drive to see if they sing to your ears. Also, check-out Fyssion’s sister company site (Artisan Audio) for an extended selection of models that include the Dignity 4‘s larger siblings.

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