Driven by Function: Vanatoo Transparent Zero Wireless Powered Speakers

May 5 2017, 04:00
Recently introduced at AXPONA 2017, the new Vanatoo Transparent Zero active speakers ($299.00 /pair) have caused quite a stir at the Chicago show. Not only for the extremely affordable price but for its "convincing punch, far out of its weight class," as audioXpress author Stuart Yaniger noted. Assuming a daring approach to their designs, the Vanatoo Transparent Zero active speakers feature built-in analog and digital inputs, Bluetooth wireless with aptX and USB, providing a convincing all-in-one solution.

Vanatoo is a relatively new company in the market and they already caused a positive impression with their compact powered speakers, the Vanatoo Transparent One (introduced in 2012), and now the even more compact Transparent Zero. The company aims to "design affordable, versatile quality speakers for today’s digital music enthusiasts with a focus on impeccable sound clarity and transparency, and with the flexibility to connect to the myriad of audio devices and networks currently available," as they state in their website.
Vanatoo was founded by Gary Gesellchen and Rick Kernen, two engineers with a love for audio and technology, with expertise in acoustics and digital electronics, and experience in all aspects of product development and manufacturing. Gary has been building custom speakers since the mid-80’s, and has over 25 years in the high-tech industry, in both engineering and management positions. Rick has over 35 years of experience in microprocessor-based electronics and software design, with executive management experience in R&D and manufacturing.
Vanatoo's Transparent Zero active speakers are made using the same quality materials and workmanship that was previously used in the Vanatoo Transparent One, which the company doesn't make it a secret, are manufactured in China. By selling direct, Vanatoo manages to reduce costs, allowing to offer features and sound quality typically found in higher priced speakers. And to prove their point, they don't hesitate to demonstrate what they have achieved in high-end shows, where normally a single AC cable costs much more than a pair of Vanatoo's speakers.
The Transparent Zero is a 2-way stereo powered speaker system, featuring an integrated bi-amped (4-channel) 48 watt/channel amplifier to ensure ample volume for desktop use or small to medium sized rooms. The built-in USB, Toslink Optical, and Analog inputs allow users to directly connect to any music source, and the built-in Bluetooth interface provides a seamless wireless connection to any phone or laptop computer. Using Qualcomm's aptX, this connection can provide the best existing sound quality on a wireless source with compatible systems. They also ship with a full-featured dedicated remote control. 

All the speaker's connections feature auto input switching with Digital Silence Detection, which makes the setup even easier and allows the speakers to enter a low power sleep mode (<0.5 W) when not in use for a certain time. Digital Silence Detection is one of Vanatoo's technologies and grew out of the company's experience with the Transparent One, and basically, it's a clever way to really know if music is being played on a digital connection. Using the USB input, users can connect standard 16 bit/48kHz sources, while the Toslink optical input supports 24-bit up to 96kHz. The 3.5mm (1/8") analog input is ADC sampled for 24-bit at 48kHz, since the internal Class D amplifier works in combination with the built-in DSP and all processing is done at that resolution.
But what truly makes the Transparent Zeros stand-out is the driver combination of a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, 4-inch aluminum cone woofer with 1-inch underhung voice coil, supplemented with a 4-inch long-throw passive radiator on the top for assisted bass reflex. This two way design is optimized with an 8th-order DSP derived Butterworth high-pass at 58 Hz and 8th-order DSP derived Linkwitz-Riley crossover at 2200 Hz. This allows the Transparent Zeros to respond to extended lower frequencies, still supporting an external subwoofer with a direct connection provided by a variable crossover output (4th-Order Linkwitz-Riley at 125 Hz, or 80 Hz).
For such an extended low frequency response to be possible from such small speakers, Vanatoo applies it's ClearBass design. According to Gary Gesellchen, ClearBass was based on the now-old ideas of Thiele and Small on 6th order systems. "You tune a bass reflex system lower than normal, which causes a specific sag in its output. You add the sag back with a filter. If you match things perfectly, you get a textbook response. In the T0 we have designed an 8th Order Butterworth high-pass response at 58Hz.  This puts big demands on the woofer and PR for displacement, which leads to high levels on nonlinearity in most small woofers. Part of ClearBass is knowing what displacements are required, and knowing that the driver motor and suspension maintain linear behavior thru the expected range. This is especially important in a 2-way design, where the woofer is putting out the midrange. We license an XBL design for the motor in the Transparent One, and I designed our own 1-inch underhung motor for the Transparent Zero. They behave really well. This is part of the magic of putting out realistic levels of bass in such small systems, while still holding things together across the spectrum until to you get to the physical limits of the system."

The cabinet itself - made with 9mm wood with a satin black finish - is another distinct aspect, featuring a reversible design for desktop or in-room use, with reversible magnetically attached grills. The speakers also feature built-in isolation pads, even though Vanatoon recommends and sells the IsoAcoustics Aperta Stands with its (slightly larger) Transparent One models. Configurations such as LED brightness, bass response, subwoofer crossover, amp limiters, mono mode, sleep settings, etc, are all customizable.
The Vanatoo Transparent Zeros are designed to work ideally on a desktop positions, but can be configured also to work as bedroom speakers, or connected to the TV. As for the sound quality, audioXpress will be reviewing these units, and will let you know soon. We certainly liked what we heard at AXPONA 2017, enough to request a pair for review.

According to Gary Gesellchen, the reaction to the Transparent Zero introduction at AXPONA 2017 couldn't be better. "We had a really great show. Releasing a new product is always tricky, and we kind of broke a bunch of rules with the Transparent Zero. We went into the show confident in the design and execution, but not yet knowing the customer's response. The response was great!  People "got" the new T0 and could easily see how it would fit in their lives. The flippable/reversible design was also a hit, which sure made me feel good since it's partly my design. We teamed-up with Stratos, Seattle's top Industrial Design firm, on the basic look of the speaker, which was driven by function. So we truly have a "form-follows-function" design. And then of course the little guys actually sound pretty good. Maybe not high-end greatness, but they'll get you a ways up the performance ladder for less than 1% of the price of many systems. So I think the combination was definitely a hit!"
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