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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, PureMusic 1.89g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM and AIFF files up to 24/192; Audirvana 1.4.6 in Integer mode 1, Metrum Hex, AURALic Vega, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2, RWA-modified Astell & Kern AK100, Apple iPod 160GB Classic with Pure i20 and Cambridge Audio iD100 digital docks
Preamp/Integrated: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, Crayon Audio CFA-1.2, Bakoon AMP-12R, Gato Audio DIA-250 [on loan]
: First Watt SIT1, SIT2, F5 & M2, Goldmund/Job 225, AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Speakers: soundkaos Wave 40, Boenicke B10, German Physiks HRS-120, AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, Zu Submission
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Audio Event,
KingRex uCraft USB cable, Zu split USB cable, Van den Hul AES/EBU cable, Tombo Trøn S/PDIF cable, AudioQuest Diamond Toslink
Artesania Audio Exotyeric for front end, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF2
and PC3 SE Evo
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
eview component retail: €13.800/pr [with 19% VAT]

Good hifi is the art of getting some on a daily basis.
Crass but true. Those with no dedicated man cave relate. If your dream speakers upset décor and domestic live-with-ability, good luck getting them installed in the first place, much less played often enough to call yourself a proper audiophile. Or perhaps not. About that last bit. But if you consider music as important as food and a social joy to be shared that takes place in the living room... it's time to go shopping for high-performance lifestyle kit. Think those terms mutually exclusive? You're likely a fossil earmarked for extinction. For a happier ending, today your maître'fi proposes compact active speakers. They're from a small Swiss firm called Klangwerk. Soundworks in proper German.

Let's not mince words to have a photo do the telling instead. Here are starter, main course and desert rolled into one. Or as one as we allow ourselves. This is the exact setup Klangwerk's formally trained architect Markus Thomann (this background mirrors Rethm's Jacob George) used at the 3rd Salon Sons & Sens in Montreux's poshest hotel. This minimalist marriage of Weiss & Klangwerk has become routine at many an audio show because some messages take repetition to sink in should the intended audience be as reluctant to sensible change as us hardcore 'philes are as a bunch. The below rig consisted of a Weiss music server controlled by an iPad; a pair of active Klangwerk Ella speakers; and a sub disguised as console. C'est ça. Be happy don't worry? The interior decorator takes admiring note of the sloping Creanit® baffle and timelessly chic agreeably compact form factor. Think 8" wide, 43" tall. The hardboiled audiophile bemoans the lack of manly woofage. Grumble, groan.

Then our 'phile has the good manners to notice certain basic facts. About that frontal 5" Aerogel mid/woofer* above the waveguide-inset Magnesium-dome Audax tweeter* crossed in at 1.7kHz and electronically delayed for time alignment? It's partnered by another mid/woofer on each cheek. That makes for an effective 8.5" 2-way speaker of admittedly unusual configuration. Its 180° point-source approximation cluster predicts spaciousness and a wider sweet spot.

* These membranes are Aerogel, "a paper-based composite with a high percentage of stabilizer fibers, 30% less mass than a pure cellulose equivalent and with a surface treatment which aligns polymer chains along a shared axis for high self damping." The metal-dome tweeter is free of ferrofluid, its suspension polymer-based.

Clearly there's minimized excursion from shared cone surface driven by three discrete motors over a single bigger driver powered by a lone magnet. This should go lots louder and cleaner than it looks. Not half bad? There's more. The active concept with dedicated amps direct-drives the four transducers with all analog compensation/equalization and filtering pre rather than post current outputs. This means higher headroom, greater linearity and more bass reach than a comparable passive would achieve. The concealed downfire port suggests closer than usual front-wall happiness. The interior MDF walls are lined with bitumen mats and finished in textured Nextel. The Corian baffle decouples from the corpus for added isolation. Hmm. Could this really have the makings of a livable compromise: good-looking unobtrusive truly integrated hifi for the golden-eared one and his don't-dominate-my-home better half?

As Stereophile mused about a visit to a very similar setup at RMAF 2013, "I went into the SimpliFi room expecting to see the excellent Weiss MAN301 media player and effective DSPeaker room correction and D/A devices. Yes they were there at RMAF but SimpliFi's Tim Ryan wanted to talk about the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active speaker ($15,000/pair)... This modest-looking floorstander uses DSP** to make it work as a time-aligned virtual point source. A constrained-layer damped Corian front baffle supports an advanced Aerogel dome tweeter from Audax and a 5.5" woofer. Two more 5.5" woofers covering the same passband are placed on the speaker's sides. All three are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. The advantage of this design is that it has a wide listening window on both vertical and horizontal planes, explained Tim. And indeed, on Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms," I found that I could move up and down and from side to side without any significant change in the perceived balance."

** Here they got it wrong. These active electronics do not operate in the digital domain. They are purely analog.

The class G electronics from 30-year old Swiss Yverdon firm Relec SA who supplied Studer with active speakers back when and still build their own PSI Audio branded pro boxes operate fully balanced and are optimized for phase-correct behavior. Relec's proprietary solution of compensated phase response system or CPR—be still my beating heart—uses all-pass filters for each driver to nail down constant group delay. Their adaptive output impedance system linearizes damping factor across each driver's bandwidth. This is said to measurably improve the impulse response and make for better square-wave replication.

It also allows for half the cubic volume over an equivalent passive bass-reflex alignment, hence a smaller box. Built-in amplification seriously shortens speaker cables whilst putting the onus on longer interconnects. Hence one goes balanced just as one does in recording studios where noise-free no-loss 100-meter runs are common. Time for our audiophile to ponder these implications. No separate amp boxes. Just a DAC with volume control, preferably analog. iMac. Or that Weiss server. Nothing else needed. Hmm. Scratch. Harrhumph.

[At right a conceptual precursor which technically mirrored the original active Ella. Called Louis this model has since been discontinued.]