If you haven't heard of the Sjofn (pronounced: "shoe-fen") Guru system yet, be prepared for reviews coming your way from every magazine. In fact, SonicFlare's own Robert Learner has the Guru system in home. So what's the big deal? Big bass, little box. Believe me, you've never heard deeper bass from a smaller cabinet (or driver) before. The best part is the Guru is designed as a system. Combine huge bass, small size and great sound for $3000 and you have yourself a Show Superstar.
First of all, Sjofn Hi-Fi is the Swedish parent company putting together the pieces: the Guru QM10 speakers ($1995), Xindak integrated and CD player ($400 each), and Supra cables for a package price of $3000. At RMAF, they also showed their $9,995 QM40 speakers with Xindak equipment for their $14k system. Speakers shown were either matte or gloss black, though other colors will be available in the future. Additionally, I was told by Sjofn's finance man that a number of retail stores are in the works with the first in the Denver and the next in Vegas. Single-brand hi-fi stores are a rarity, but if anyone can do it, it'll be the Sjofn.
When I came into the room, the Guru guys were probably thinking I, like everyone else, had an audiophile demo disc to play. But when my bass heavy tracks came on, their eyes lit up. They were pretty confident about putting out big bass, so I said, "We'll see about that -- crank the suckers up!" After a moment, however, the volume was so high, one of the Guru crew told me I was getting close to "blowing up the speakers." He then said something in Swedish to his coworker who turned the volume down to normal human levels. But before they got a chance to tame the system, I snuck up to the little 5" driver and found it bouncing back and forth more than any 5" driver I've seen before.
In terms of sound, the system falls into the Intense camp (with a slight lean towards the Refined group). The system was cool instead of warm, but not so cool as to turn people off. There's obvious system synergy going on between the Guru speakers and Xindak gear. The differences between the $3k and $14k systems were, clearly, bass output, but also definition in notes and overall clarity. As for how each of the components sound, we'll just have to wait and see.
So how does Guru work its magic? As you can see from the pictures, the speakers are pushed back against the front wall. Play with any speaker for a few minutes and you know the closer to the front wall, the bigger the bass. Also, the closer you sit to the back wall, the bigger the bass.
Now, positively utilizing room gain is nothing new -- Linn did it back in the day, as well as a few other manufacturers at RMAF. But the Guru speakers are the smallest, most powerful I've ever heard. Looking at the speaker the first thought that came to mind was "transmission line." No, I was told, speakers are, in fact, bass reflex with a special design rather than the hole-in-box approach.
Of course, if everyone could get monster bass from pushing their speakers against the wall, they would. So what are the trade offs? The reason the majority of manufacturers design their speakers for mid-room placement is to tame room reflections and increase sound stage. Guru deals with the room reflection issues in a couple of ways. As you can see from the picture below, the front wall is covered with sound-sucking foam. Guru designer Ingvar Ohman explained that high frequency reflections are the major issue with close-wall placement and taking the reflections out of the game is the only way to go.
As for sound stage, while it's hard to tell from the picture, the speakers are slightly farther apart than typical speaker setups and, most importantly, toed in so the tweeter axis converge a few feet in front of the listener. Again, this is nothing new (Audio Kinesis does this) but the effect is really obvious: awesome sound stage with depth, width and, interestingly, stable imaging for any position in the room. Ingvar explained that when you sit, say, to the left of center, the right speaker, now pointing directly at you, sends out a higher, faster frequency that compensates for the delay from the other speaker. While I've never heard it explained like that before, the results speak for themselves.
There is only one trade off that may be a sticking point. The $2000 Guru QM10 doesn't have the clarity and definition as other speakers in this class. My guess is that since the woofers are forced to work extra hard to get the bass, the midrange frequencies lose definition relative to other speakers with less excursion. Ideally, a speaker would have all frequencies coming from the same plane. But when you have a driver with, say, an inch of excursion, the mid frequencies from one moment to the next may be offset by as much as an inch. It's not as if you're experiencing Doppler effect, it's just that the Gurus aren't as defined as other speakers in the same class.
Overall, the Gurus are brilliantly engineered and sound fantastic. While the black cabinets don't scream luxury hi-fi, the Gurus are the ticket for people wanting killer sound without big boxes and huge bass without subwoofers.