HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Wave Crest Audio HVL-1
The subject of this review is the Wave Crest Audio HVL-1 speakers. Don't be taken aback if you've never heard of Wave Crest Audio, very few people have it seems, but don't be shocked if you start hearing about them more often. You'll have to read on to find out why I say that.
The HVL-1's -- which stands for High Value Line, Model 1 -- are a fairly average sized bass reflex bookshelf speaker which utilize a 5.25" midrange and 1" soft dome tweeter. They measure 12"x7"x9.8" (HWD), with the grill on, and weigh 11lbs. The frequency response is a respectable 63Hz-20kHz +/- 3dB, but the sensitivity is on the low side at 86dB. There is a 5 year transferable warranty included. The HVL-1 is the only product Wave Crest Audio currently sells.
Wave Crest Audio sells directly from their own website, with no dealer network. A pair of HVL-1 speakers are a very reasonable $230, so they certainly won't break the bank. There is a 30 day in-home trial offered. This is a relatively new company, first selling speakers beginning in 2013.
Wave Crest Audio sent me three speakers to evaluate (a 3.0 configuration), so the packaging may not be typical because one box contained a pair of speakers and the other had just a single unit. The pair was double boxed while the single speaker was not. The cartons were of average thickness so doubling them might be necessary to ensure full protection. Each speaker was wrapped in a plastic bag to protect its finish, and then held in place by soft foam blocks in all 8 corners.
The only accessory included were 4 small rubber feet with adhesive backing. They also contain a hole in the center if you want to make them more permanent (screws are included). You'll need to grab your drill if you go that route though because there are no pilot holes in the cabinet.
What happens when an audio expert and a 'computer guy' decide to design a speaker together? Taken at face value that statement probably sounds like the punch line of a joke. But what if that audio expert happens to be none other than David Fabrikant, the man behind Ascend Acoustics? All of the sudden there's cachet, and decades worth of experience to draw from. Few will argue this mans ability to design speakers, so the potential is immediately evident. (BTW; I'm actually a 'computer guy' myself, and I helped design a line of subwoofers with an 'audio guy' approximately 2 years ago, so for me this is not an unprecedented pairing). The 'computer guy' that worked with David is named Curtis Chang, and together they created the Wave Crest Audio HVL-1. They tell their story this way...
Born in 2010 as a project between an information technology professional and an audio industry veteran, Wave Crest Audio aims to set new price vs. performance standards for the fast growing Internet Direct audio industry.
After evaluating nearly all popular loudspeakers in the $200/pr price range, we found a common theme. Some loudspeakers offered impressive bass, others crisp and detailed highs – a few even offered both characteristics. However, none offered a lush and accurate midrange response, which is arguably the most critical aspect of loudspeaker performance. With this goal in mind, we contacted an industry veteran bringing 30 years of well-proven loudspeaker design experience, but also with the resources and manufacturing contacts to, at a minimum, determine if it were possible to offer the desired performance at our price point goal.
3 years later... We are proud to offer our very first product, the HVL-1, a loudspeaker that sounds great, doesn't neglect the midrange, and is easy on the wallet.
I stumbled upon Wave Crest Audio while looking over a forum thread one day. This is precisely the kind of find I'm passionate about; I absolutely love to review products from a company few have heard of, use less than standard designs or are simply ignored by the press. These companies often toil in obscurity, passed over by the mainstream outlets. I have benefitted greatly by exposing people to these hidden gems, and have had the singular pleasure to hear some wonderful products in the process. Wave Crest Audio is a perfect example, and I can't wait to see the comments people have after hearing these speakers. I suspect there are a bunch of folks in for a very big surprise.
Let me start off with the bad news first though, so I can get that part out of the way. I'm a huge fan of soft dome tweeters -- silk in specific -- because I love a smooth upper end. Metallics and horns tend to grate on me rather quickly, so my preference has always been to shy away from them. The HVL-1's do have a very nice tweeter, but I thought the highs lacked just a touch of sparkle. They weren't flat or lifeless mind you, just not quite crisp enough for me on occasion. Consider them overly polite, if you will. Voices didn't always have sufficient weight to produce rich lifelike proportions either, but they were always crystal clear at least. I found the grill to be a little rickety, and it could use some type of emblem on the front to break up the monotony. The somewhat bland appearance is further highlighted by the generic matte black PVC wrap and unimaginatively shaped cabinet, which does sound a bit hollow when you rap on it. And there you go, I got nothing else - the rest of this review is pretty much all good.
As Wave Crest Audio's mission statement above clearly asserts midrange was an over-riding concern, and evidently received the bulk of their engineering emphasis because the outcome is spectacular; the midrange produced by the HVL-1 is some of the best I have heard from a bookshelf speaker. Detailed, precise and simply luscious these speakers almost dare you to find something that they can't make sound good. Vocals take on a whole new dimension, almost irrespective of the source material (I had one speaker laying horizontal and being used as my center). That may have been my favorite part of this review; whether it was watching TV and movies or listening to music, there was zero fatigue. I could go for hours on end and not experience any strain whatsoever.
Another strength was soundstage, which jumped out with incredible size and imagery. Minute details each held their own unique space, giving the sound multiple layers and obvious depth. This was with them in my living room and setup for HT, but that's not all they do well. I was equally impressed with how the HVL-1's sounded when used near-field, losing almost nothing in the process. A bit of the overall depth seemed to fade when you were right on top of them, but frankly it was subtle enough as to be almost undetectable. You could easily use them on your desktop and be completely satisfied.
OK, so we've established that these speakers have phenomenal midrange and can successfully be used near-field, so I guess that means they won't handle much volume. After all a budget speaker can't sound good and play loud, could they? Believe it or not they actually excel there as well! Crank the volume up and they simply get louder. No compression, no breakup, no histrionics of any type. They remain composed and sure-footed until you get ridiculously out of hand with the remote control. Up until then everything is just wonderful.
Initially I used these speakers with a Dayton Audio SUB-1200. The thought process was why not use a budget subwoofer with budget speakers? Appearance wise they're almost identical, even using a vinyl wrap that seems to be from the exact same supplier, so the logic was there. Low cost speakers and a low cost subwoofer, perfect together right? Visually that was certainly the case, sonically perhaps not so much. They did blend seamlessly, but they weren't exactly a match. It's true that I feel the SUB-1200 is worth far more than its selling price -- similar to my sentiments regarding the HVL-1 speakers -- but this was a case of the speakers having more detail than the subwoofer was able to muster. Ultimately I swapped out the SUB-1200 for something quite a bit more capable, a Paradigm Monitor SUB 12 that I also had for review.
Wave Crest Audio proclaims the 1" soft dome tweeter and 5.25" polypropylene midrange they use to be custom pieces, an extraordinary feat for such inexpensive speakers. The midrange driver is shielded, so there should be no chance of the HVL-1's interfering with any electronic devices. The front-firing port is flared at both ends and measures 2" wide by 4" deep. A thin sheet of damping material extends from one side of the cabinet to other, wrapping around the back in the process. Wave Crest Audio even includes a pretty nice set of 5 way binding posts. I was unable to verify their claim that the cabinet is made from 5/8" MDF though; the material used to seal the midrange to the front panel was pretty strong. Couple that with an extremely tight tolerance between the drivers frame and the panel cutout and I feared some damage might occur if I kept trying to pry it out, so I opted for discretion instead (due to that, there are also none of my customary driver and inside cabinet pictures for this review).
By now you have probably come to the realization I like these speakers; for $230 a pair they're amazing. The sound these things produce could probably compete with speakers costing twice as much. The detail and resolution I heard ended up causing my review notes to be littered with glowing adjectives. I defy anyone to do a blind test of the HVL-1's and tell me they sound like speakers selling for a paltry $115 each. If you're the type of person who values dynamics and transient response as much as I do then these speakers should be on your short list. If you also happen to be on a strict budget then all the more so. The HVL-1's aren't lookers, but boy do they sound nice.
This film is alleged to be based upon the Hasbro game of the same name, so right off the bat I'm suspicious of what I'm about to see. Movies derived from comic books have become rather prevalent, but now they're using board games for inspiration? What's next, Parcheesi? Battleship the movie is nothing like the game I remember as a kid either, which in this case is both good and bad I suppose. As it turns out, the plot revolves around an invasion of aliens that just so happens to occur right in the middle of an armada of international warships as they're practicing maneuvers. If memory serves the tag line for the board game was "hey, you sunk my battleship!" and not "hey, some alien zapped my battleship with his raygun!". Chalk it up to poetic license.
Unlike most films in this genre Battleship tries to establish plot lines and characters before the inevitable mayhem ensues. That gave me the opportunity to evaluate the HVL-1's when they were asked to produce more subdued fare. With all the dialog and subtle background noises dominating the soundtrack for the first 20 or so minutes I did have ample opportunity to find flaws, but I really didn't detect any. Everything was in order and sounded proportional. When the action begins to heat up the HVL-1's got more of a workout, with a multitude of sound effects, shouting voices and all manner of artillery. Even when things got really frenetic these speakers remained calm and poised, never putting a foot wrong.
Bucket List (blu-ray)
The Bucket List is an atypical movie for me. I tend towards action and drama for the most part, with special emphasis on the genre that consists of stuff getting blown up. Hey, I'm a guy after all, so it's inherent. Unavoidable even. Every so often a very unique movie comes along though and I'm compelled to check the bohemian tendencies at the door and expand my horizons. The Bucket List is just such a movie.
Starring two of the finest actors of their generation -- Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman -- this movie chronicles the last few months of two people diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Nicholson plays Edward Cole, a multi-millionaire loner with a very sour personality. Morgan Freeman is Carter Chambers, a sweetheart of a man who is the stereotypical middle class blue-collar worker. It's a variation of the 'buddy movie' that has so dominated storylines in the past few decades, but the brilliance of this incarnation is due to the immense talents of the two actors themselves. It works so convincingly because of that, but I chose it primarily for one reason; the sheer amount of dialog. The HVL-1's are masterful in that regard, so a movie which revolves almost exclusively around the spoken word seemed ideal. The fact that each of the main characters has a very unique voice was merely icing on the cake.
The vocal quality of both Jack Nicholson's and Morgan Freeman's contrasting range was exemplary, highlighting the brilliant interplay between the main two characters. Moments such as the conversation regarding their ecumenical differences that takes place on Edwards private jet as they fly over the polar cap was magnificent. The occasional musical interludes perfectly complimented the dialog. Background sounds were very distinct as well -- be they the crackling of a fire, traffic, wind, footsteps, etc. -- but it was those voices that kept drawing me in deeper and deeper.
At this point I have a confession to make... I became so captivated by the sound of these two illustrious actors that I almost forgot to take notes. Normally I have my laptop at the ready, and as thoughts spring to mind I jot them down. So enthralled was I that it was only after the movie had ended when I came to the realization I hadn't taken very many notes. To an extent, I suppose that really says it all.
This one wasn't included on my original list to use for testing the HVL-1 speakers -- it was supposed to be the Michael Douglas/Andy Garcia flick Black Rain -- but while thumbing through my collection looking for it Ironman caught my eye for some reason. As I pondered further it dawned on me that this movie does have quite a bit of dialog, which is precisely why I had initially wanted to watch Black Rain, so I went with the detour. Turns out fate handed me a good choice because not only is there a significant amount of material to test vocal quality with, there's also a lot of minute sound effects in the background. Double bonus.
Case in point, the gun battle that rages in the cave as Ironman is ascending to the surface. I normally use that scene to test how a subwoofer handles deep bass -- because his footsteps are very prominent -- but in this instance I focused on the little things, like the sound of the spent shell casings hitting the ground. The slight metallic 'ting' they make was particularly clear and distinct. The echoes were another area that the HVL-1's excelled at, with just enough definition to bring them to life.
Of course, there's the many and varied voices from the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Shaun Toub. Talk about an eclectic group! Each came across with their own unique sound signature, with proper weight and clarity, making the vocal interplay fantastic.
While evaluating the Wave Crest Audio HVL-1 speakers I really stretched myself and listened to music way outside of my comfort zone. Some of that was on purpose, some by accident, but one thing I consistently found was these speakers were adroitly capable of handling diversity. The HVL-1's comported themselves with grace and were nearly unflappable, regardless of what I threw at them.
Just A Girl - No Doubt (Streaming)
My exposure to the band No Doubt consists of having heard their name in passing from my youngest daughter, a person who just so happens to be very much an individual similar to the bands lead singer Gwen Stefani. Beyond that I knew zilch about the group until Just A Girl came on a 'rock hits' streaming music channel that's part of my cable TV package (I had that station playing in the background while I was typing up this review). After listening to this particular song I can say No Doubt won't be a part of my regular play list any time soon -- OK, make that never -- but since I was evaluating a set of speakers with exquisite midrange detail I thought it might be worthwhile to expand my horizons somewhat and see how the HVL-1's handled pop music.
Stefani's voice, at least in this song, sounds a little weird to me. It's as though she's trying to come off like a 5 year old or something, but I have to say the HVL-1's went about reproducing it brilliantly nonetheless. With fabulous detail it took what might otherwise have been annoying to my ears and smoothed it right over. But let's not concentrate so much on Gwen's voice that we forget about the instruments here. Adrian Young handles the drum duties, and I found the 'snap' from his snare to be sharp and crisp. Tom Dumont's guitar had a very clean sound with a lot of presence. There's also a synthesizer in the rhythm section which had nice definition, but curiously the performance appears to be largely uncredited. It seems Gwen's older brother Eric played the synthesizer in No Doubt for a while, but he left a year before this song was released so I'm not certain if it was him. Either way, the various nuances made this one a treat.
Pink Floyd - Sheep (CD)
Its been a while -- too long actually -- since I've used a Pink Floyd song in one of my reviews, so it was high time I returned to my roots and one of my all time favorite bands. Most people have heard of the Animals album, which spawned the song Sheep, but few sight it as one of Floyd's better works. Not me, I absolutely love Animals and what it represents; a not-too-veiled jab at the failings of mankind and the political scene of the 1970's. Rumor has it that Animals was loosely based upon a George Orwell tome titled "Animal Farm" which depicted society in three different classes, represented by various animals; dogs (aggressive and dictatorial), pigs (self-absorbed and narcissistic) and sheep (mindless and lacking any ability to think for themselves). It was essentially an unabashed critique of capitalism and moral turpitude which resonated with the disaffected, myself included at the time. In the pantheon of Floyd albums Animals is perhaps my second favorite; Dark Side of the Moon is at the top of the list, followed in close succession by either Animals or Wish You Were Here (depending upon my mood). As was Pink Floyd's wont, Animals is a concept album.
I always crank this CD and will often sing the lyrics out loud like a blithering idiot, and this time was no exception. Roger Waters voice sounded just like... well, Roger Waters. Pitch and tone were spot on, virtually identical to what the man sounds like in person (and yes, I have seen him live once or twice). I say 'virtually' because let's face it, a speaker with a single 5.25" midrange driver isn't really capable of duplicating the human voice perfectly. But with that said, the HVL-1 came awfully close. David Gilmour's guitar had great detail and Nick Mason's drum had a decided "thwack" to it, even when I cranked the volume all the way up to 0dB. At the very end of this song there are bird and sheep sounds that pushed there way to the front, announcing their presence with alacrity.
Fiona Apple - Fast As You Can (CD)
Regular readers of my reviews will instantly spot this one as anomalous to my historic preference for aggressive music. So where did it come from then? Fiona's When The Pawn CD was a gift from someone on the forum, and the story goes like this...
In 2012 "Super Storm" Sandy obliterated the NE section of the country, where it just so happens I hail from. I lost power for 8 days and suffered mightily as I froze day and night in a dark house. My property damage was minimal in comparison to some others though, including a regular contributor I know on another forum who lives in NY. In his case the situation was far worse; his apartment flooded completely and was destroyed, forcing to him move because of it. He lost everything. After finding someplace else to live he essentially had to start over from scratch. To aid his recovery I sent him some audio equipment -- free of charge, even paying for the shipping -- and a friendship was born.
For the longest time he had an avatar which was a captivating picture of some women I always assumed was either his wife or girlfriend. Turns out it was a singer named Fiona Apple, who I wasn't even familiar with, but someone whose music he absolutely loves. To make a long story short, a few months back he surreptitiously mailed me this CD as a thank you for the kindness I had shown him. Since Ms. Apple is known for her vocal prowess what better choice is there to use on a set of speakers quickly becoming known to me for the same thing?
When you read the lyrics in the CD booklet, and listen to the underlying sound in Fiona's voice, it seems like she's awfully angry or in a lot of pain. Even in most of the booklets photo's she appears to have a look of anguish on her face. Curious I did a little internet search and found out my impression may indeed be correct, she probably does have a lot of despair (you'll have to look that one up yourself though, but it more than likely stems from something that happened when she was pretty young). I jumped around the CD trying to find a good demo song because I had never heard any of them before. Ultimately I chose Fast As You Can because it's a rather unique tune, one which changes tempo and time signatures frequently.
There's all manner of things going on in the rhythm section here; piano, organ (a Wurlitzer, no less), bongos and woodwinds. That doesn't even include the bass guitar and drums, so as you probably already surmised this is one busy song. Other than the vocals seemingly a bit forward, nothing was out of place. The HVL-1 speakers had no problem handling any part of this somewhat complex number. Regardless of the pace, or what instruments came in and out of the rhythm, they simply breezed right through it.
There seems to be a renascence of value in the speaker market; I know of three different sets currently sold that are inexpensive, yet not cheap when it comes to sound quality. I've been fortunate enough to review two of those three, and I couldn't be happier about it. The Wave Crest Audio HVL-1 are the newest to catch my attention, and don't be at all surprised if they become very popular. They're pretty generic looks wise, but man do these things sound amazing. Were I blindfolded and forced to guess their price I would have speculated they cost about twice what they do. Smooth, balanced and poised the HVL-1's should be prized by every audiophile on a budget. Virtually impervious to volume, and capable of producing incredible nuances, these speakers are a true bargain.
Please use the Wave Crest Audio HVL-1 Discussion Thread for questions and comments