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This review first appeared in the December 2007 issue of fairaudio.de and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with fairaudio.de whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio.de - Ed.
Reviewer: Jörg Dames
Source: C.E.C. TL51XR, Fonel Simplicité (variable outputs)
Amplification: pre/power - Myryad MXP2000/MXA2150 , Funk LAP-2.V2, Bel Canto PRe3/M300
Loudspeaker: Thiel CS 2.4, Sehring 703 SE
Cables: low-level - HMS Sestetto Mk3, Straight Wire Virtuoso, WSS KS1 Silverline; high-level HMS Fortissimo, Ortofon SPK 500
Review component retail: € 9,400/pr
Swiss art work?
What's art? Truth be told, that question's a real derailer, especially when wrangled by a HiFi editor pretending at fluency. Hey, folks far more qualified have kept carefully mum on the subject. Pablo Picasso for example quipped that "If I knew what art was, I'd not talk about it."
So much for the short 'n' sweet attempt at avoiding the issue. But then there's exposure. Which, as far as this year's HighEnd show in Munich was concerned, offered a number of visually stunning creations to have me recall my encounter with the Onda and Ella sistahs. These products of Swiss firm Klangwerk spontaneously did invoke the 'a' word with their svelte lines and refusal at me-too-ism as something I'm fully down with.
Without spin, artistic roots are undeniably present here as long as you grant architecture status as art form. Herr Markus Thomann -- maker, designer and developer at small Swiss speaker design house Klangwerk -- is a bona fide architect who specialized in acoustics and electronics during his studies. Needless to say, Herr Thomann perceives practical working parallels between his two disparate disciplines:
|"Both architecture and loudspeaker development rely on solutions to complex, multi-layered challenges which require organization and an eye for the essentials." Never mind that his interdisciplinary
|qualifications come in particularly handy during the assessment and treatment of listening rooms. This benefits the buyer directly. Setup assistance and actual on-site measurements are part of each Klangwerk loudspeaker delivery.
Observing Herr Thomann live during one such installation elicits an immediate sympathetic response. He's no friend of the various voodoo, miniature but claimed vital bits. This gent brooks no excuses. It's supposed to sound good no matter what. When it comes to his speakers, goodness doesn't require expensive cable, exclusive ancillaries or far-out footers. If things occasionally don't come off at first attempt, there's no "blaming" of "others". As I said, very refreshing indeed.
Founded in the Swiss Biel, relocated to Zurich in 2004, Klangwerk commenced production in 1997. As concerns actual manufacture, they focus on speakers exclusively. However, Klangwerk imports as well - Thule, Sonos, Quad and Manger, with the German maker of bending-wave drivers also the OEM supplier for Klangwerk's big Onda (16,800 EUR) whose central attribute is a Manger unit.
Klangwerk's core focus is active drive, said to enable technically superior solutions including better adaptability to acoustic environments; greater setup flexibility including close to the wall; miniaturization of enclosures; overdrive protection; and integration of concepts like CPR (Compensated Phase Response) and AOI (Adaptive Output Impedance), the latter two explained below.
|One result of these electronic solutions is improved time domain performance. 'Perfect'
|time/phase coherence is a fundamental concern of this firm if not the existential design philosophy. A further expression thereof is the exclusive use of two-way circuits whose concomitant integration is said to be far more difficult to realize with more-ways. The fully analog active electronics for all models are custom-designed and built by Relec SA, another Swiss firm based in Yverdon who contribute 30 years of experience in the manufacture of professional recording monitors (ORF as well as a number of Swiss broadcast stations are their customers).
Unlike most makers who condemn their hapless offspring to brandish various combinations of abbreviated lettering and numbering, I prefer 'real' product names. Hey, folks with limited bio hard-drive capacity like yours truly are surprised to call up their own phone number at will. As soon as one exits a store or closes a hifi mag, the techno kind of naming convention goes out the other ear - if it ever went into the first one. Ella; now there's something simple and friendly...
That I dig her shapely exterior -- incidentally available in quite the endless color combinations -- I've fessed up to already. Even others reacted equally inspired. "Like upward receptive hands" claimed one. "Like a songstress with swollen breast." My colleague Ralph naturally expressed his animal instincts when he insisted my living room suddenly hosted penguins.
|Okay, enough already with subjective impressions. Down to hard facts: While part of Ella's enclosure is ubiquitous MDF (albeit internally lined with
|Bitumen damper plates), the front baffle sports a different kind of wood. Actually, it's no wood derivative at all. The material goes by Creanit, said to be twice as dense as MDF and endowed with superior self-damping properties. Creanit is an artificial stone that can be bent under high temperature, making possible Ella's curvaceous leanings.
|Acoustically decoupled from the enclosure, this baffle houses the tweeter as well as one of three mid/woofers. The other two -- one left, one right -- operate in push/push to minimize mechanical vibration by cancellation of equal but opposing forces. This gets further exploited with a horizontal torsion brace between these woofers which forces them into the side walls under torque.
|A further goal for this driver array (remember time coherence) is clustered spacing, something conventional verticalizing one beneath the other along the front baffle's center line would stretch out. Such driver
|clustering approaches the point source ideal more closely. The rear-sloping fascia serves voice coil alignment. It equalizes the path length differential for the tweeter. Again, think impulse response. Considering this minor convolution of drivers, one might naturally question why not employ a single large woofer than find room for three small ones.
|Drivers & drive
Everything else being equal, smaller woofer membranes are more resistant to break-up and beaming. This can improve off-axis response and broaden the listening window. Both the 25mm Titanium dome tweeter (12dB/octave 1.500Hz high-pass) and its coned colleagues are sourced from Audax/France. While the tweeter undergoes a special lacquer treatment to banish resonances, the 14cm mid/woofers are fiber-reinforced paper cones whose mobile equipment weighs all of 7 grams inclusive of voice coil.
|Once these membranes are in motion, the above-cited Adaptive Output Impedance
|system (AOI) kicks in to match the output impedance of the integral amplifier to the frequency-dependent impedance of the drivers. This intelligent damping factor can't be achieved with passive networks but optimizes driver control, group delay and impulse response. The Compensated Phase Response system (CPR) performs
|electronic phase correction with various all-pass filters (the high- and low-pass amplitude response remains untouched). This linearizes phase response above 200Hz to more or less walk the zero line.
Next to the on/off switch for the onboard electronics, one finds the exclusively symmetrical inputs. Those make equivalent XLR outputs on your preamp or variable-output CD player mandatory. Two rather mousy-looking trim pots hint at active-drive flexibility. The level control can trim each speaker separately like a balance control, important for room-induced asymmetries. The roll-off control attenuates below 400Hz which can combat undue boundary gain in the bass when invoked by close-wall placement. No doubt, active drive has its advantages. But never mind the various pros and cons. Whenever loudspeaker development relies on time-domain accuracy, I personally can't resist curiosity.
|In the listening room
Ella swam against the stream from the word go with her setup recommendation. It would have these Swiss gals toed-in keenly to optimize soundstaging and create the widest possible sweet spot. Leaving the central seat by closing in on the left or right speaker, one moves out of the closer speaker's direct radiation while moving into that of the farther one. Since especially mid and high tones attenuate off axis, this roll-off creates partial equalization of the distance-induced loudness changes from off-center listening. This can theoretically enlarge the acceptable listening window.
Practice bore this out. Whether moving left or right from couch central (by now quite flattened out from use), there was less soundstage skewing. Mind you, our Swiss ladies aren't without diva histrionics when it comes to identifying their permanent spots in the listening chamber. After a bit of back 'n' forth, it became obvious that the equilateral triangle wasn't the optimal recipe here. Ella is far happier with a greater distance to her sibling, i.e. wider base spacing. Once things snapped into place, "in the thick of things rather than looking in" became the operative term du jour. I don't mind spoiling the suspense this early: When it comes to staging, these Swiss played a very wicked game indeed.
Equally impressive is the musical output of British author and songwriter Paul Roland. His signature knack is the incorporation of classic and baroque arrangements in typical rock surroundings, an individualistic but fetching skill at least in my book. And did Ella ever cause surprises right out of the gate with his number "Madhouse" from A Cabinet Of Curiosities. Assuming the position my Thiel CS 2.4 had just vacated -- and they certainly are no friends of washed-out, ill-defined sonics -- I flashed on the infamous parting curtain.
|Be it the occasionally nearly screechy violin or the self-involved grumbling cello, the Ellas positioned the instruments so preternaturally present, so clear and focused that I nearly wondered whether some inner ear canal congestion had suddenly vanished. Even Paul Roland's voice, in general already gifted with a very particular sensibility, beckoned me to attention - besides being cast into the room fully open, translucent and neatly outlined, the utter lack of fluff i.e. the sheer immediacy of the sound added a goodly dose of intimacy.
|Clearly, the vocal band was rendered exceptionally natural as well as emotional. In this regard, Ella truly is a bit of an 'emotionally sensitive precision machine'. Hat off already I thought while cueing up Rachel's The Sea and the Bells on Fonels' Simplicité disc spinner. This album weaves a dense polyphonic carpet of acoustic instruments and is a hot tip for classic fans who don't mind a whiff of the avant-garde. Whether strings, woodwinds, piano or the occasionally opulent mélange of all of them, the intelligibility and purity Ella proved capable of was impressive all over again. Likewise for the dimensional organization. Clearly defined, sharply localized is how the Swiss dames conducted all action on stage. Contingent on loudspeaker positioning, the latter was less the distanced-looking-glass, more of the involved-participation-with-the-action type.
|To use convenient categorization, where tonal balance is concerned, Ella is closer to the studio monitor ideal than the wild bunch of voluptuous hedonists. This impression was further cemented by her in principle highly resolved, precise bass that could strike certain listeners as quite lean. Granted, the latter can be readily massaged electronically. For less waist than neutral, just tweak the dial. Presto.
|Why "highly resolved in principle"? While Ella's treble not only on this CD clearly wasn't fig-leafed with shame, aficionados of breathy nuances likewise won't consider it her strongest
|aspect. Personally, I fancy cymbals and hi-hat with a touch more silk than this Titanium tweeter parlayed. Even on Tord Gustavsen's piano runs on Changing Places, I lacked for a bit of melt in the glacial high registers. Over a Sehring 703 Se, the interplay of piano finesse and cymbal work "up there" gains a bit in elegance.
The earlier 'precision machine' quip nicely captures the Klangwerk Ellas. One thing is for certain. Those who favor secretive, softly contoured sonics while expecting opulent bass massages will invest their 9,400 euros elsewhere. However, should you desire -- in the intense and spot-honest meaning of the word -- to actively engage your listening sessions, all the while favoring neutrality and dryness and owning components not in danger of being outed by the Ellas... then you'll be rewarded with such a transparent, immediate and spatially so resolved soundstage to nigh feel breathless when nothing intrudes on your listening peace. This degree of suchness and directness I've rarely encountered in playback. Respect!
Klangwerk's Ella is a loudspeaker dialed for neutrality and timing accuracy. It sports a unique but timeless design and is characterized by:
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