PenAudio Charisma
tand mounted Loudspeakers & 
Charm Active Subwoofer

Review by Mikko Mattila

Published Dec 17, 2002

PenAudio is not a well known speaker name. Neither it was for me few years ago, when PenAudio was "discovered". Some of our readers persistently insisted us to make a review about their first, hitherto unknown stand mounted loudspeaker, the PenAudio 7.6cx. We did that, compared it also agaist most of the "recommended components" of that time. 

My colleagues and I were impressed what we heard from a loudspeaker with such a ridiculous price. PenAudio 7.6cx became soon a local success, which was quite an achievement in our small, but very competitive local market. 

Since this introductory model, PenAudio's designer Sami Penttilä launched several, but more risky designs, all of which we have reviewed in 

Charisma & Charm is their first, ambitious concept for a matched stand mounted loudspeaker and an active subwoofer combination. 


Charisma's habitus is much more tiny than one could imagine from the pictures. It has a slim frontplate and a relatively deep enclosure. As a whole, the design looks very distinct, classy and proportionally very harmonic. Finish is as lavish as one could expect from a loudspeaker of this price. 

Charisma is a two-way, vented speaker. Its crossover capacitors are manufactured by SCR with a polypropylene isolation. Coils and internal wiring is made of Alpha-Gore copper foil. Connectors are WBT's platinum plated signature version. The Charisma ag is a special version with silver foil inductors and internal wires, all of with an extra price. We used the "regular" version with copper wiring for this review. 

Loudspeaker's drivers are manufactured by SEAS. 120 mm custom made mid/bass element is fiber. Center of the coils are fitted with shortcut rings made of copper, in order to minimize distortion. The tweeter, a 20 mm soft dome, is a non-resonating design, its frequency range expands up to ultrasonic frequencies up to 25 kHz range. This provides a very good match with the SACD and DVD-Audio high resolution format players. Charismas are supplied with a speaker stand.

Charm, the active subwoofer, creates a matched combination together with the Charisma. Charm is a sealed compound design with two aluminum, 215 mm woofers in a serial array, progressively suspended, which -- according to manufacturer, improves power handling capability. Phase plugs are designed to cool 39 mm 4-layer voice coils. Woofers are also custom made by SEAS. 

Control panel is placed on the front side of the enclosure. The adjustments consist of a gain, a phase, a low and a high pass setting and an adjustable subsonic filter.

Charm Subwoofer's Control Panel
Photo: PenAudio

Setting Up 

The manufacturer advices to position the speakers at a 2,5 - 3,5 meters distance from the listener in an equidistant triangle. I tried the speakers in various positions, starting from wide. Best result was indeed achieved as recommended. 

During my listening sessions, Charismas were connected directly to the power amplifier, however there was another option, too: In order to gain maximum dynamics of the system, manufacturer recommends using Charm's high pass filter for cutting high energy for upper bass before feeding the Charismas. In such case the Charismas have to be connected into Charm's outputs. 

I tried active crossover's high pass mode briefly, it appeared to improve the dynamics a large deal, but there was slight trade off in transparency. As my listening volumes are quite normal, I preferred to use direct connection from the Power Amplifier to Charismas in order to capture maximum details and precise imaging out of the recordings. 

I placed the subwoofer well behind the speakers by the wall. Finding the best setting with the Charm was an easy task: Low pass setting was at 80 Hz, Gain at 11 o'clock, zero degree phase setting, subsonic filter off.

Charisma's connectors
Photo: PenAudio

Musical Experience

The manufacturer is known of their attempt to pursue "accurate replay" -- the neutral tone without coloration. This is a design philosophy behind Charisma and Charm as well.

I checked challenging large orchestra playback qualities on heavily orchestrated work, March Triumphal on Edward Elgar's opera Charactacus. Brass and timpani were quite convincing, although I might have heard slightly better resolution with some of the recent ring radiator and plasma tweeter designs. Works of this scale demands a lot for dynamics and capability to reproduce visceral impact convincinly. Overall Charm & Charismas did this surprisingly well. Convincing was also the depth of the soundstage. 

Delicate sound of period instruments of early music ensembles sounded impressive. Violin and vocals on masterful recording of Bach/ Morimur (ECM) was a truly uplifting experience through these speakers. 

Niels Henning Oerstedt-Pedersen's magnificent album Friends Forever offers a very good test for the treble. There must be millions of distinct tones of the cymbals and percussions on the album. Charismas reproduced almost all of them, however I might have missed the smallest decays and cymbal vibrations. 

On the same recording there's a well recorded, demanding piano passage. As we all know piano's attack is very revealing for the speaker's phase and time linearity, both being important factors to reproduce fast transients accurately. I noticed a minor side tone on the attack, which I could not recognize with our reference speakers. Unless being very sensitive for this, as myself, the piano aficionado, you hardly notice anything special with this. 

On Diana Krall's Love Scenes both the vocals, guitar and piano played very well, no signs for sibilance. Very nice sound from this great artist from Nanaimo, Canada. 

George Duke's After Hours is a test for speakers' bass and dynamic response. Charm and Charisma produced very clean, warmish, controlled and resolute bass. However, it was not too difficult to push Charismas to the limits of this energy intensive recording. As there's another way to handle the power sensitivity constraint, we strongly recommend to use Charm's high pass filter in order to cut lower frequencies before feeding signal to the Charismas. 

Like other PenAudios I have reviewed, Charisma & Charm were at their best with classical and acoustic music. If we take into account size if these speakers and the subwoofer, I would say designer has achieved the task with almost full scores.


Overall sound: the chorus played admirably well; vocals were full bodied and very natural. Piano had a very slight, bright overtone instead of being completely neutral, guitars and strings were both very natural, the brass played very well - however, not too openly, though. The large orchestra was both resolute and airy.

Balance: Very neutral, smooth and extensive higher end, rich and balanced midrange. Lower register of Charismas, however, is not as extensive, roll-of starts at 80 Hz. 

Transparency was very good and unveiled - presence of the instruments was imminent. 

Resolution - was also very good. The speaker is missing the overall forgiveness -- some call it "musicality", that is associated with so many almost-high-end equipment. 

Treble as I found it, was very smooth and delicate without a sign of sibilance. This is really well balanced with other features of the speakers. I might have heard even more resolute treble with ring radiators or the plasma tweeters in a system with significantly higher price. 

Midrange - very rich, full bodied. Female vocals appeared very naturally without nasality or sibilance. Male vocals were full bodied and powerful as one should expect. Strings had a rich tonal palette.

Bass was dryish, sharp and colorful; the lowest bass in Charismas dies out below 65 Hz. When Charm was added into system, it provided very clean, well controlled lower register down to the lowest octaves. Very impressive. 

Transient response sounded accurate in tone, with a slight overtone in piano attack. I consider it rather being a tone than a color, far from being fatiguing

Dynamics were slightly constrained when Charismas were feeded directly from the poweramp. However, this was very acceptable for a speaker of this size. When active crossover in the Charm was used, dynamic range was extended significantly with a very slight trade off in transparency 

Soundstaging was large, wide and quite deep, however the result is very sensitive with the listening position. Provided placing is correct, the system provides a holographic, focused image. Unfortunately this applies to a small listening area. If moving few inches aside, image gets out of focus. 

Visceral impact was quite good in absolute terms, regardless of speakers physical size. It becomes more impressive when Charismas are connected into Charms and a high pass filter in the crossover is used for cutting high energy of lower notes feed into Charismas. 


I did like this speaker since by getting it out of the box. I was very glad to discover that my visual excitement was in line with the system's sonic performance: Charisma & Charm's sound was admirably well in balance. They produced richly detailed sound with very good soundstaging capability. Speakers were solid all range performers, they were at their best with acoustic music, both classical and jazz.

Small size leads also to the speaker's weakest point: one should not expect too much of the dynamics if Charismas were feeded directly form the power amp without cutting lower frequency energy first. With the Charm subwoofer, there's always an option to do this. 

I would warmly recommend these speakers for true music enthusiasts looking superbly performing stand mounted loudspeaker system appreciating their unique, Nordic design.

Associated Equipment

  • Listening room 40 m2, light acoustic treatment
  • Reference speakers: Audio Physic Brilon
  • Integrated Amplifier: Audio Aero Prima
  • CD player: Audio Aero Prima with 192 kHz/24 bit upsampling
  • Interconnects and speaker wires: Transparent Music Link/Wave Plus

Technical Details

Charisma stand mounted Loudspeakers

  • stand mounted loudspeakers
  • 2 way vented system, 
  • 20 mm soft dome tweeter, ferrofluid cooling 
  • 120 mm custom made treated fiber cone midrange/woofer with copper phase plug
  • Frequency range: 50-25 000 Hz 
  • w x h x d: 140 mm x 240 mm x 285 mm 
  • Weight: 7 kg

Charm Active Subwoofer

  • Active subwoofer system with adjustable bass filter 
  • Sealed compound design
  • Two 215 mm long throw custom made aluminium woofer
  • Two 75 W RMS amplifier, ultra low distortion
  • Frequency range 16-120 Hz
  • w x h x d: 350 mm x 410 mm x 350 mm
  • Weight: 20 kg

Manufacturer: PenAudio Ltd, Jyväskylä, Finland

Price: Charisma €4000/pair, Charm €3000; incl 22% Sales Tax/VAT







All Rights Reserved
© 2000-2006