Hulgich Duke Speakers from Australia

[Editor’s note: With this review I’d like to introduce Davidé Jabbour to the site. A fellow Australian, he has been writing private reviews of local speakers. As Australia has something of a cottage industry of very capable hi-fi manufacturers, including the legendary Duntech speakers, I’m happy to see reviews of products from back home.]

Introduction

Hulgich Audio is a new speaker company based in Adelaide Australia, headed by Nick Hulgich (pronounced Eu-Lich), in partnership with Göran Niréus of Audio Excite. The two teamed up five years ago to pursue their shared passion for music and philosophy of high-fidelity sound reproduction.

Both Nick and Göran have the experience and skill to build world-class speakers. Nick has spent more than 20 years in both Australia and his native Argentina building speakers with a variety of designs. Göran has been building speakers as a hobby since he was 15 years old, and has been consulting in loudspeaker design for over 20 years to customers worldwide. In 2011 Göran started AudioExcite.com to share his knowledge with the community. Since then, hundreds of people have successfully built speakers from his designs.

As many of today’s high-end or statement speakers are more focused on aesthetics and fancy materials, rather than high-end engineering and crossover design, Nick and Göran saw a gap in the market. Together, they obsessed to create a speaker based on solid engineering principles.

Hulgich Duke speaker

They debuted with their Astor speaker in 2016, which surprised a lot of people. Then, in the following year their Ella took the Best Sound award at the International HiFi Show. In 2018 they came out with a prototype version of the Duke that was runner up in the Australian speaker category. With each new speaker model they have managed to significantly improve on their previous designs. Speaking to Nick, the Duke is their ultimate expression in music and will remain their flagship for the foreseeable future.

Design

The Hulgich Duke has a dual enclosure design. The upper enclosure houses a 1.2in dimple dome tweeter, and a 6in midrange made of papyrus fibres. Papyrus fibres are a trademarked material, a replacement for paper cones and offer better linearity in frequency and phase response.

The box is completely sealed, compared to similar ported designs (i.e. Wilson), has lower distortion and improved inertia, which emphasises vibration isolation, rather than requiring stiff coupling, to maximise sound quality.

The lower bass enclosure houses a single 9.5in Satori woofer also made with Egyptian papyrus fibres, and with a single front bass port offering easy placement.

Hulgich Duke Speaker Enclosure

The two enclosures are separated by an MDF sandwich lined with heavy felt on each side, and rubber feet on the upper enclosure, together providing effective vibration isolation.

Nick recommends the speakers be placed at least 2.4m apart, at 5 degrees off-axis for the most even frequency response.

Hulgich Duke Speaker rear

The speaker cable connecting the two enclosures is a pair of short Hulgich-brand “Feel-The-Music” (FTM) speaker cable. It is a silver-plated copper cable, factory terminated with rhodium plated plugs. The same wire is used in the speaker internals.

Hulgich had developed two unique technologies, which have been applied to select models, including the Duke.

  • Low Diffraction Baffle Technology (LDBT) that ensures a smooth frequency response whether speakers are on or off axis.
  • Coherent Sound Technology (CST) which provides driver time alignment and phase integration.

Impressions

I’m used to listening to speakers that wow me on first listen but listening to the Hulgich Duke for the very first time, I couldn’t hear anything special about this speaker. I was expecting an expressive treble, a seductive midrange, or a head-turning bass, but it had none of these. As I continued to listen, however, I started to notice things I didn’t before. At first, I thought they had a lack of detail, but upon further listening, I realised that they were only revealing what was actually in the music.

We all get caught up in wanting more resolution and detail, but never do we consider what details are “real”. A similar analogy can be found in tube amps – we can say that tube amps better convey harmonic complexities over transistor amps, however as good as these complexities may sound, they were never present in the original recording.

By having unwanted fake detail removed, the result was a clean and natural sound like I’ve never experienced before. When I finally “discovered” this speaker, song after song, they were the most natural and realistic I’ve heard.

The soundstage produced by the Duke is deep and natural. When I asked Nick about phase measurements, this is what he said:

“First of all, the loudspeaker drivers relative phase tracking must be as close to zero as possible, not only at the cross-over frequency, but also several octaves below and above the cross-over frequency. Equally important are the dispersion characteristics and the in-room power response of the loudspeaker. If you succeed with this, you have a coherent sounding loudspeaker where all the drivers melt together to one point of source sound.”

Phase determines how our ears interpret soundstage, particularly depth. If we have a phase difference in the bass for example, the lower bass notes would sound far away while upper harmonics produced by the bass will be in a different location in the soundstage, leading to soundstage smearing and imaging issues.

Listening to the Duke, imaging is focused and pinpoint, drums are perfectly integrated and instrument separation is simply superb.

What it sounds like is a speaker that went back to the basics and got it down pat, exactly what Nick and Göran set out to do. It is a clean sound that is perfectly balanced across the whole frequency spectrum delivering a completely coherent sound.

Hulgich Duke Speaker

The Duke is very sensitive to small changes in upstream components. I tried two different DACs and three different amplifiers and each time I could clearly discern differences in sound, and this was all within an hour on the first day of my audition. With Nick’s NCore monoblocks the sound was crystal clear. With his hybrid class AB integrated amp, the sound was exciting with great PRaT. You may not prefer a speaker with an uncoloured presentation, but the transparency of these speakers mean you can easily get the sound you want by mixing upstream components.

I haven’t heard any speakers this good for a long time. And to think, the entire audition was done in Nick’s kitchen/dining room, with no room treatment and windows all around. If it sounds this good already, I can’t wait to bring them home and put them into my dedicated listening room.

Comparison

It was difficult trying to find a meaningful comparison since I have not heard many speakers with a similar level of coherency, which has taken on a new meaning since hearing the Hulgich Duke. What I previously thought as best-in-class coherency are no longer, and that includes the likes of Raidho and Focal.

Readers may be familiar with another Australian speaker company SGR Audio, makers of the internationally acclaimed CX4F, which have a similar tonality to the Hulgich Duke. SGR recently showcased their entry-level speakers at Munich High-End, partnering up with MSB California. The CX4F is their – and world’s first – active current transmission speaker, costing A$33,000 or US$26,000 delivered to US customers.

SGR CX4F speaker

The midrange and treble responses are almost identical between the SGR and the Duke, with the SGR having a tad more clarity and instrument separation. However, at times I felt the separation was too good and slightly unnatural, with the SGR’s transition between drivers not as consistent as the Duke. This issue was most obvious in the bass response, where it sounds as if they’re trying to accommodate the steep roll-off of the sealed enclosure by boosting bass. This weakness is easily exposed in EDM, which often contain sweeping tones in and out of the bass region. The Duke doesn’t have this problem, drivers are integrated so well it sounds like a single full range driver playing 25Hz to 23kHz.

Both the CX4F and Duke have a wide and deep soundstage, although they are presented differently. The CX4F portrays the soundstage with what feels like distinctive layers of sound, with a lot of air between each layer. While the Duke have more accurate placement of each instrument that is padded with air, which I find more natural sounding compared to the slightly synthetic feel of the SGR soundstage. The SGR’s sweet spot is puny compared to the Duke, and I believe this is due to the SGR speakers being optimised for on-axis listening rather than firing down the length of the room, which might indicate a narrow dispersion pattern.

Before I end this comparison, I’d just like to point out the SGR CX4F’s are not bad speakers for their price point. The problem with comparisons is it can sometimes come out sounding black and white. It’s important to keep in mind that what I’m comparing is between a great speaker (CX4F) with an exceptional speaker (Duke), the latter of which is presently undervalued. A small, new company like Hulgich needs to undervalue their range of products until they become well known.

Conclusion

Priced at A$18,600 for a pair, it won’t be at this price for long. There is a proportionally high material cost on each speaker, and Nick spends 2 months putting it all together, on minimum wage. Being a new company, his aim in the near future is to gain brand recognition. There are only 12 months in a year and the Duke is not his only model, once demand increases you can expect prices to double.

While I didn’t want this review to sound like a sales piece, I also found very little I could fault during my listening. Perhaps it doesn’t have the best-in-class resolution, or bass extension, or frequency bandwidth, but they are still of a high calibre, even exceptional at their price point. And not everyone may appreciate the rather long 150 to 300-hour burn-in time.

If you’re in the market for an upgrade, but want to try before you commit, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get down to Adelaide, Australia for an audition and enjoy the beach and good food while you’re at it. Nick also offers a free pick up drop off service so you won’t have to worry about transport. And he has a baby seat too!

Associated Gear

Oppo BDP-105 (Oppomod)
Audio-GD R8 Ladder DAC
JungSon JA2 Pre/Power
Nord One SE NC500 mk2
Shengya Hybrid Integrated

Specifications

3-way front ported
Frequency range: 25-23000 Hz
Power rating: 200 W
Sensitivity: 87 dB @ 2.83V/1m
Impedance: 4 ohms
Weight: 64 Kg (141 lbs.) each
RRP: A$18,600

Hulgich Duke speaker
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