Buchardt S400: review

The Buchardt S400 in action

No speaker is perfect, but I’ll tell you what I love about a speaker that can go up against the wall: placement versatility. We don’t all have the option of placing our speakers one or two meters into the room. Often the optimal placement for a speaker is suboptimal for how the rest of our room is laid out. Some of us just want a good-looking speaker that we can place discretely, and that will still sound great.

Enter the Buchardt S400 (€1950): my go-to speakers since I started this journey with Green Audio Review. One of my criteria was that they should work in different rooms and close to wall boundaries. Precisely like my Guru Q60. You can back them all the way up and they still sound great. Some Klipsch speakers are the same. Audio Note as well. For me this is important: that a speaker is versatile, not just with the music it excels at reproducing and the amps that can drive it, but also in where I can place it.

I know there are some smart people out there who’ll say that if your speakers are up against the wall the soundstage will suffer. And this is often true. But soundstage isn’t the only measure of great sound. For some people – I count myself among them – domestic harmony and making the speakers less obtrusive by backing them up against the wall is more important than the depth of the soundstage. I know, sacrilege!

The Buchardt S400 are not exactly ported or sealed but instead employ a passive radiator on the back. When you first look at that radiator it seems impossible that it can function anywhere near a wall boundary. But the passive radiator deals with low frequencies and they are omnidirectional. I was amazed when I detected no serious issues 20 centimeters from the front wall…

The Buchardt S400 passive radiator

The Buchardt S400 seem made for modern audiophiles who value placement versatility, a clean (and, in my smoked oak finish, retro) aesthetic, and very impressive sonics. This speaker will work great in basically any room, backed into a corner, laid on its side, and, yes, this is a speaker that will actually! sound good placed on a bookshelf.

This doesn’t mean that it sounds the same regardless of where you place it. It just means that it doesn’t take anywhere near the same hit to sound quality that most other speakers would. The best sound I got from the Buchardt S400 where on decent sand-filled stands and dragged about 30 cm diagonally out from two corners, and about 220 cm apart with a modest toe-in. But the interesting part of that is that when I moved them into the corners with about 5 cm of free space behind and around them, they still sounded crisp and clear and the bass was fast and tight. Amazing.

The Buchardt S400 sideways

Big Room

Our living room is kinda big, 60 m2, and it opens further into our kitchen and hallway. My Guru Q60 handle this with no problem. Ditto the Harbeth SHL5+ Anniversary.

The Buchardt S400 is a standmount speaker. Next to either the Harbeth or the Guru it is petite, just (h, w, d) 365x180x240 mm. I connected it to the formidable pre/power combo from MOON, the 390 and the A330. Review here. This little speaker almost pressurized that living room space. I had it placed almost one meter into the room. I moved it back, close to the wall, and that gave it a better foundation. The S400 was now surer of itself, and I sat in front of those little speakers in disbelief as they bounced along, playing electronica and jazz with equal panache.

The MOONs are the most expensive amplifiers I’ve had in my system. I’m particularly impressed with A330 power amp. Going back and forth between my Guru Q60 and the S400 several things became apparent.

The Q60 are bigger and they sound bigger. Much bigger. The bass is thunderous. The Buchardt S400 are naturally leaner but also more coherent. The S400 have a more balanced frequency response. The midrange and treble are more prominent and clearer. The Q60 are the least fatiguing speaker I know, but the Buchardt S400 are more dynamically vibrant and alive. They are fun speakers to listen to.

But the laws of physics still apply. In my living room the Buchardt S400 ultimately weren’t big enough to really thrill me. The Gurus are.

Smaller Room

My smaller listening room is almost 4×5 meters, but with an annoying L-shape that almost makes me sigh every time I sit down to listen to some music. The layout of the room dictates that most speakers, including the Buchardt S400, must be positioned relatively close to the wall. I can drag speakers out into the room but then I’m forced to rearrange my listening position further back, and if I do that then we can’t open the closets lining the back wall – which 1) is annoying the next morning and 2) the listening room sounds much better with the all those back-wall closets open: reflection vs diffusion/absorption, I suppose…

I started with the S400 and switched to the Guru Q60, going back and forth. In the big room the Q60 were clearly the more fitting speaker. In this smaller room things weren’t so clear-cut. The S400 were the more traditional sounding speaker. Mids and highs prominent and tangible. Central imaging and soundstage were more precise. The Buchardt S400 were also more vibrant and bouncier. Again, these are fun speakers to listen to, and with a gently V-shaped signature.

The Buchardt S400 front

Quad 405-2:

This is not a typical combination; and maybe it says more about the Quad 405-2 than the Buchardt S400. I use the Hugo2go as a streamer/DAC/digital preamp and the Buchardts sound clear and cohesive. More so than when I use the Hugo2go and the Quad 405-2 to drive my Guru Q60.

Via the Quad 405-2 the Buchardt S400 maintain their superb central image. The 405-2 is all about the midrange. The midrange is very – perhaps overly – smooth (and maybe elevated a little compared to other modern amplifiers I use) and the treble is relatively extended and non-fatiguing, which coincides with my view that Quad have always been about music enjoyment rather than music dissection). For me, that non-fatiguing, non-grating treble is super important on anything with a piano in sight, but also on something like Barker’s Utility where the squiggly higher notes and pops and clicks can become straining with a fizzy treble.

Detail retrieval is impressive when you consider the age of the Quad. The midrange and treble sound relatively rich and extended. There is, however, a slight graininess and roll-off in top end, which, combined with a bit of bloomy wool over the midrange, make the 405-2 a very pleasant listen, if not as incisively boisterous as something like the Schiit Vidar, also fed by the Hugo 2go.

But the bass is where the Quad 405-2 can’t quite shake the Buchardt S400. The S400 are anything but soft in the bass and with the Quad they lose some of their bubbly vitality. Hedonic Treadmill becomes less engaging, less punchy. Soft bass – not how deep it goes – is the bane of most electronic music. Depth is nice, but quality is critical. I’d wager that because the Quad 405-2 has such a prominent midrange and lacks extension and attack in both the treble and particularly in the bass, it makes the Buchardt S-400’s V-shaped signature sound more normal, but also somewhat dulled.

Croft Series 7R:

The Croft Series 7R power amplifier (£1400) is rated very conservatively at 55 Wpc. The uptick in fidelity when it replaces the Quad 405-2 is as unsurprising as it is authoritative. The lush midrange warmth is boiled off, detail retrieval is increased, midrange and treble are cleaned up and any softness in the bass evaporates as the volume goes up.

The Buchardt S400 are transparent enough that any upstream-changes are readily apparent. Not just with amps, but with DACs as well.

I’m again using the Hugo2go as streamer/DAC/digital preamp. This time around Utility takes on a new guise. What through the Quad sounded a bit rolled off and woolly is now a vivid tour de force of synths and bass and just-the-right-amount of prickly sound. If you’re into electronic music these speakers are stunning!

The central image is unwavering. It is locked tight. Imaging is one of this speaker’s strengths. Soundstage is wide but not particularly deep – corner-placement, remember. The Buchardt S400 disappear in front of me better than any other speakers I’ve had through here.

The Croft 7R is a hybrid tube amp and maybe there’s some tube-wizardry going on. I can detect no sibilance or overcooked treble as I turn the volume up. Likewise, the bass doesn’t roll-off. The Buchardt S400 keep their composure as kids, cats, and wives flee my listening room.

Lately I’ve been listening to Jacob Young a lot and particularly his albums on ECM. The Buchardt S400 driven by the Croft 7R makes his guitar crisp and smooth at the same time. The same with horns. What could have become too clean, too etched, sibilant, with other amplification becomes instead transparent, very tight and very focused.

Coherence is a central quality of the S400. To this layman’s ears it appears seamless. The midrange is tangibly fat and smooth, if a bit held back, and it eases effortlessly into the treble which in turn is detailed and extended but without strain or eyewatering sizzle. It manages this cohesive composure while playing music with energy and dynamic oomph.

Schiit Ragnarok 2:

I couldn’t believe it when I put the Schiit Ragnarok 2 ($1799) in front of the Buchardt S400. This is a match of supreme quality. Audiophiles talk about finding the best match for this and that component – indeed: for many years that was the audiophile modus operandi: matching speakers and amps and cartridges into a synthesis of superior sound.

Below I’ll repeat my findings from when I reviewed the Schiit Ragnarok 2. Review here:

The Ragnarok 2 makes these speakers sing like no other amp I’ve tried. Remember: the Buchardts are 4 Ohm speakers and the Ragnarok pushes 100 Wpc into 4 Ohms. The Buchardt S400 sound better and more alive with the Ragnarok than with the much more expensive MOON-combo, the 390 preamplifier and the A330 power amp.

A very tight low-end is the first thing I notice – which is exactly what I missed on the Guru Q60. The Ragnarok couldn’t quite wake up the Gurus, not like it wakes up the Buchardts.

The National’s secret weapon is neither Matt Berninger nor the Dessners. The rhythm section of Scott Devendorf on bass and especially Bryan Devendorf on drums is where it’s at. The guys in the spotlight might write the songs, but the drumming in The National is always inventive and commanding – and somehow at odds with the otherwise brooding mood of the songs. Frenetic is how I might describe Devendorf’s drumming.

The Ragnarok 2 and the Buchardt S400 make his drumming on High Violet snap out into the room in a way I can’t seem to replicate with any other amplifier, regardless of price. The kickdrum is dead center and right in my chest. The toms spread out to either side. The believability is tangible. This tangibility is one of the standout qualities of the Ragnarok 2; and now it is transferred to the Buchardt S400. Listen to his drumming on Sorrow: simple and with a great thwack on the snare drum. Simple, yes, but with momentum and invention. I love that song, but his drumming is what elevates it. The next song, Anyone’s Ghost, is the same. And his work on the snare drum is exemplary.

I liked all my speakers with the Ragnarok 2 but the Buchardt S400 are stunning. A rare match. A settle-down and stop fuzzing over what-ifs-match. Because it plays all the music I love with guts and punch and texture and superb imaging. Jazz, techno, folk, rock, metal, the Buchardts play them all.

Caveats:

Are there no caveats, no weaknesses? Yes, if I’m being choosy. The fun-speaker sticker – and the Buchardts are fun – also makes them less delicate than I would have ideally liked. The midrange is drawn back just a bit making the sound signature gently V-shaped – which is what gives them that energetic and engaging sound. However, that signature also, I posit, make them very slightly crude with subtle guitar work for instance and soft voices.

I think, if the midrange was more prominent, more fleshed out, Agnes Obel would be whispering in my ear, rather than singing in front me; and Neil Young’s big Dreadnought would have an even more cavernous and textural brass-wooden timbre.

I’m listening to the song What Floats Beneath from the album Lost River and Eivind Aarset’s guitar doesn’t quite breathe the way I would like. There’s something about the texture and timbre that is missing.

Let me emphasize: I’m being very nitpicky. In every other sense of the word the Buchardt S400 are hugely capable speakers – and while €1800 is a lot of money I think they are a bargain for what they are capable of.

I began by stipulating that no speaker is perfect. That goes for the S400 as well. If we made the midrange a bit more prominent the very thing that makes the S400 such a delight – punch, imaging, smoothness, up-against-the-wall versatility, detail retrieval, etc. – would likely change or even suffer. I prefer the Buchardt S400 the way they are: fantastic, fun, and perfectly – flawed.

P.S.: The New World

Incidentally, that rare match, the Ragnarok 2 and the Buchardt S400, come from two companies that are more alike than different. Both are newish companies, both are companies that seek to disrupt the price-performance barrier, and both companies sell factory-direct.

Maybe it is precisely that business model that allow both companies to compete in the market with such seeming ease. Schiit is 10 years old and have gone from audio mavericks to, well, the standard, the benchmark by which others are judged. If you want to make a DAC or an amplifier today, Schiit is pretty much your first call of competition.

I think the same might be(come) true for Buchardt Audio. They don’t have an entry-level speaker like Fyne Audio, Q Acoustics, or Elac, but they have a very sharp selection of high-performing speakers. The S400 are in the sweet spot. And they are releasing an active version now, the S500 (€3500). As well as an active floorstander, the S700 (€6000), a Hub to control the active speakers, and, for those committed to the S400, a new integrated amplifier is in the pipeline. Buchardt Audio is one of the most interesting brands in audio right now.

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1 Comment

  1. […] The Vidar is a great amp, especially at the ridiculous price of €789, but not the most subtle. Miles Davis’ horn had a coarseness that wasn’t right. Precisely not brassy. Rather: grainy, distorted. The Cayin preamp toned that down a bit, but not enough. The F-302 and the Vidar are not a good match. The Vidar is a forceful amplifier with a serious low end. It will wake you up in the morning and has more than enough power for any of my speakers. I love it with something like my Buchardt S400. […]

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