Chario Audio Constellation Mk2 Cygnus Loudspeaker Review
Mark Gusew ends up most beguiled by this affordable Italian floorstander…
Constellation Mk2 Cygnus Floorstanding Loudspeaker
AUD $4,499 RRP
Hailing from Milan in northern Italy – Europe's fashion and design capital, many say – Chario Loudspeakers has a long and proud heritage that spans back to 1975. Italian hi-fi is usually well made, attractive and extremely musical to listen to, so the Chario Constellation 2 Cygnus floorstander has much to live up to. It may only be an entry-level range product but still reflects what the brand is capable of.
Chario Director Alessandro Migliorini told me that the focus of the company has always been to produce loudspeakers without any interpretation, to provide a performance as close as possible to a live event. “We firmly believe the fact that a speaker is not a musical instrument, and want to provide transparent performances as much as possible”, he explained. “It is perfect for someone looking for detailed performances with warm tones. It's for all music lovers, for people that like high quality reproduction, clean from any artificial additives to the sound that was originally recorded…”
The Cygnus is a compact three-way floorstander measuring 955x200x270mm and weighing 17kg that has been optimised – according to the manufacturer – for listening rooms between six and eighteen square metres. Reasonably easy to drive, it has a quoted 4-ohm nominal impedance and a claimed sensitivity of 87dB (1m/2.83Vrms); this isn't great, but neither is it poor for a box of this size. Suggested amplifier power is up to 80W RMS per channel, although it should be useable with pretty much any modern budget or mid-price design.
One oddity – although not in a bad way – is its unusually large 38mm soft-dome high frequency driver which runs right down to 1.5kHz, like a midrange unit. This crosses over to a 130mm woofer with a cone made from a mixture of paper and thin polymeric fibres of different lengths. These are said to create tiny cavities in a completely random way, strengthening the cone and dissipating resonances of the cone, as well as energy trapped behind the driver. Below this, the down-firing subwoofer steals the show from 170Hz to way down low.
The latter has several advantages; firstly it reduces the workload on the front-firing woofer, and secondly, it can be carefully tuned because the distance between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor is the only one that can be calculated accurately. Using the 'near reflective surface' principle, it is tuned to assist bass extension to a claimed 50Hz. It also provides an omnidirectional 360° spread of low-frequency content around the room, which is why having carpet or some sort of floor covering under the loudspeaker is important. The driver is ported, and this is also down-firing so cannot be heard independently when moving air, unlike some front or rear-firing ports. I found that I did need a large carpet mat underneath the loudspeaker; without it, I got a boomy and overblown bass
Every Chario loudspeaker, since the company's very first in 1975, has always been produced by hand in Italy – not just the enclosure but all of the parts, including the crossovers and drivers and even the screws. The wood used on the sides of the Cygnus is fine Italian walnut timber, which takes at least six months to treat, before passing through six different production departments to ensure its quality. You get the sense that they have crafted something with care. The Cygnus is an attractive looking design, slender and discreet with its rearward tilt.
For this review, I used another handmade Italian product with the Cygnus – the Norma Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier. It was fed by a Melco N1A network player, a modified Bluesound Node 2i with a Burson Conductor 3X Performance DAC. For vinyl playback, I ran a modded vintage Victor QL-Y7 direct-drive turntable with an Origin Live Silver arm and Hana SL cartridge.
Right from the start, I was very pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail and transparency that this speaker displays. It extracts an awful lot from any given piece of music, presenting it in a very palatable way with a subtly rich tonal balance, fine timing and impressive spatiality. I also found that the midrange complemented the bass nicely, with a smooth crossover.
For example, Mark Lanagan's Strange Religion has a prominent bass line that goes quite deep, and the Cygnus had no difficulty in making this sound just right. It delivered a very obvious distinction between the bass guitar and kick drum, with differences of tone, dynamics and texture clear to hear. The latter had clean thumps, without overhang, bloat or congestion, this speaker giving bass only when it was in the recording. There wasn't the deep extension that a true subwoofer would deliver, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Treble also proved smooth and detailed, with a well lit upper presence region that assists in detail retrieval in an enjoyable way. Brahms Symphony No.3 in F Major, Op.90: III. Poco allegretto with David Zinman conducting the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich is a well recorded, tonally vibrant production. Its string section was portrayed smoothly by the Cygnus, without ever sounding bright or overly etched. The balance proved very good with great coherence from top to bottom. All moving parts of the orchestra were there to hear thanks to the innate transparency of this loudspeaker – which had an open window-like quality to the performance. Minor detail, subtle instrumentation in the background and recording room ambience were delivered unfiltered. The better the recording and reproduction equipment, the more you will hear.
Considering that both larger drivers are only 130mm in diameter, the speaker delivered excellent dynamics for its size. Lanagan's deep but scratchy baritone voice was accurately reproduced, with all the tone and emotion intact. The male backing vocals subtly mixed with Mark's voice throughout the track were cleanly resolved by the Cygnus, more so than expected at this price. I also listened to Johann Strauss's Marcha Radetzky, Op.228 by the female Spanish conductor Inma Shara. The opening snare and drums were delivered with the knife-like precision of a military marching band, then with the horns, strings and percussion adding to the immense scale and weight of the orchestra. It won't make the floor vibrate with bass energy, yet the small Chario had no problem delivering aural punches to the guts when the volume went up. There are large level swings in this track, but they didn't feel compressed at all, tracking instead without any strain or distress. The result was a vivid, exciting and realistic sound, rather than an artificially flat and/or bloated one.
When it comes to creating a large and realistic soundstage, the Cygnus excels. Listening to Bennie And The Jets by Elton John from the evergreen Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, the loudspeakers became a doorway to a three-dimensional panorama of a live concert. It was as if I was watching it on a widescreen TV with the speakers disappearing and the audience spread directly in front of me – with Elton's piano slightly in front of his microphone. The Chario demonstrated just how convincingly a stereo signal can produce an image that goes well beyond speaker boundaries, to show the front-to-back positions of each instrument or performer.
Even compared to my reference Revel Performa F228Be floorstanders, the Cygnus really impressed – it had much less congestion and a generally more organic feel. The sizeable American loudspeaker is a powerhouse with heavy music and can really excite the senses, but the slender Italian plays with precision and is a revealer of everything hidden in a recording. The result was a charming rendition of the music, especially when you consider this speaker's price.
Set against the less costly VAF DC-7 mk3 floorstander, the Chario showed great tonal cohesion across the frequency range with far more transparency and less listener fatigue. Closer in performance, I found, is the recently released Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature, which gave a high definition sound with an equally large soundstage. Yet this little floorstander still extracted more subtle, low-level detail and soundstaging cues, while also serving up greater bass weight.
With the Cygnus, Chario has produced a stylish floor-standing loudspeaker that is sure to blend with your room aesthetics and receive spousal approval. It's something of a quiet achiever, with a subtle and beguiling character that's more likeable than many big brand designs at this price – indeed it really deserves a larger audience. Easy to drive, set up and live with, what's not to like at this price?
Music lovers who crave detail, dynamics and expansive soundstaging should put this at the top of their mid-price speaker shortlist. Suddenly good recordings come to life and are delivered with real alacrity. If you prefer an overly warm and pleasant sound that glosses over detail and transparency, then it may not be your cup of tea, but I can't think of another floorstander at this price that I prefer.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.