As regular readers know, we do very few equipment reviews on Audiophile Review, but occasionally I come across something that I think deserves my reader's attention, and the Vanatoo Zero Active loudspeaker definitely makes the grade. Priced at only $359 a pair, the Transparent Zero Active can accept inputs from a multiplicity of sources including analog line-level, USB, Toslink optical, and AptX Bluetooth. And, because every speaker system I've known, regardless of size, could use subwoofer augmentation, the Transparent Zero has an analog RCA subwoofer output. If you click the link the Vanatoo page you can look at all the Transparent Zero's specifications.
Since the Transparent Zero has its own built-in DAC, volume control, and even a credit-card-sized remote control, you don't need an external DAC, preamplifier, or power amplifier to fully populate the Vanatoo system, all you need to supply are input sources and the system is complete. If LPs are your thing, you will need to have an external phono preamplifier that has a built-in RIAA and analog line-level outputs which can then go into the analog input on the Vanatoo system. Project and Music Hall both have stand-alone phono preamplifiers that would work nicely with the Transparent Zero.
The Transparent Zero loudspeakers can be set up two ways for nearfield desktop use. They can sit on your desktop and fire upwards or they can be placed on a speaker stand such as the IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R-130 so they are at ear-height. I prefer the stand arrangement for optimal performance, but it does require removing and inverting the removable supports on the back of the loudspeakers. That whole operation took under five minutes.
The Transparent Zero active loudspeaker is a passive-radiator, two-way design with a 4" aluminum cone midrange/woofer, a 1" soft dome tweeter, and an upwards-firing passive 4" radiator port. The crossover scheme employs an 8th-Order DSP derived Butterworth high-pass filter set at 58 Hz and an 8th-Order DSP derived Linkwitz-Riley crossover at 2200 Hz.
If you want a full-range system that extends down to low bass, you will need to add a subwoofer, but given the system's size, it doesn't need to be a big subwoofer. I used the Transparent Zero with a now-discontinued Aperion Subwoofer, but the current equivalent model, the Bravus II 8D, would also work nicely. The Vanatoo's subwoofer output has two built-in cross-over settings, both 4th-order, at 125 Hz (shelf mode) and 80 Hz (flat mode).
And what makes the Vanatoo special sonically? First, when set up in a nearfield arrangement the Transparent Zero lives up to its name by creating an extremely convincing three-dimensional soundstage that preserved locational information and portrayed the entire soundstage with the same level of verisimilitude that I'm used to from my reference systems. Also, when used nearfield, the Vanatoo speakers produced adequate volume so that even on more sonically challenging music the system didn't sound strained during dynamic peaks. Inner detail and the ability to listen into the mix were good enough that you could hear way down into all the sonic nooks and crannies of a recording.
Does the Vanatoo Transparent Zero have limitations? Of course. It is a small loudspeaker that can't be expected to fill up even a medium-sized room with "satisfying" volume levels. It can still supply background playback in a mid-sized room, but for serious listening I found that nearfield was the only way to go.
Obviously, the Vanatoo Transparent Zero system would be ideal for someone who only has room in their lifestyle for a small desktop system. It would also be ideal for any budding on-location recording engineers looking for a high-quality on-location monitoring rig. While I haven't taken the Transparent Zero to any recording sessions yet, it offers a light-weight alternative to the Focal XS Book active loudspeakers that are my usual on-location monitors.
If you're of the opinion that there are no good modestly-priced, well-designed and well-built nearfield active loudspeaker systems available for under $375 you probably shouldn't experience the Vanatoo Transparent Zero system. After all, I don't want to upset your world view...recommended? As J. Gordon Holt used to say, when excited, "yeppers!"