Designer Alfred Vassilkov, Estelon’s Marketing Chief Alissa Vassilkov, and Bluebird Music’s Jay Rein (Estelon’s North American Distributor) were on-hand for the North American premier of Estelon’s flagship loudspeaker—the Extreme—at an event at Audio High in Mountain View, California, on June 5th hosted by Michael Silver. The Estelon Extreme ($260k in North America) is an ambitious four-way, five-driver floorstander with a 1.5" inverted-dome diamond tweeter, 7" inverted-dome ceramic midrange, 10" aluminum-dome mid/woofer, and two 10" aluminum-dome woofers.
While I reported that the ingenious Estelon Extreme was one of the few products I couldn’t get out of my mind when I first heard it at the Munich High-End Show, they sounded far better at the Audio High event (This illustrates the pitfalls of making sonic judgments at audio shows, where the rooms are difficult, there’s a lot of noise from adjacent rooms, the seating is crowded, and the drivers and associated electronics haven’t had sufficient time to break-in or settle). The sound that I heard during an extended demo at Audio High suggests that these speakers are among the best, and demand serious consideration for anyone in the market for a reference-quality speaker system.
In Audio High’s main showroom, a large expanse with high ceilings, the Extreme was a model of transparency, naturalness, and clarity. The speakers were driven by Chord’s top-of-the-line electronics: the SPM 14000 monoblocks, the CPA 8000 preamplifier, and the Reference CD player. A Meridian 818 streamer and Kubala Sosna Elation cables rounded out the system. (The Extreme is internally wired with Kubala Sosna.)
Prior to the arrival of the crowd for the launch event, I was able to spend time with Alfred, Alissa, and Jay and learn more about the Extreme. Alfred has been designing and building loudspeakers for more than twenty-five years, and to top the performance of the formidable Estelon X Diamonds—a speaker that wowed TAS Executive Editor Jonathan Valin (and that I also found captivating in another room at Audio High, driven by Chord SPM 5000 monoblocks and CPA 5000 preamplifier with a Meridian MS600 streamer and wired with Kubala Sosna cables)—he decided on a completely new design.
Alfred started with the shape of the cabinet because it is so crucial for the best in-room sound reproduction, and it also can create ideal conditions for the drivers. The Extreme has two separate modules that are integrated in one large column. This keeps the vibrations from the two 10" aluminum bass drivers from interfering with the other drivers.
However, what’s most ingenious about the design of the Extreme is that the height of its upper module, housing the treble, midrange, and mid/bass drivers, is adjustable by the user from the listening position via a motorized remote-control system. This helps to minimize or account for reflections from the sidewalls, floor, and ceiling at the listening position and solves a key problem posed by most large loudspeaker systems—ensuring that the speaker sounds its best in your room, particularly where you’re seated. Additionally, the tweeter driver can be moved separately front-to-back horizontally, but not via the remote.
Alfred seems to know how to get the most out of the Extreme’s carefully selected ceramic and aluminum drivers. The woofers, which utilize a sandwich construction, are lightweight and stiff and are only asked to cover a relatively narrow range. While they may lack the concussive impact of some reference speakers, they are designed for control and they deliver it admirably, along with deep extension, transient quickness, and coherence with the other drivers. One can also feel the full weight and power of a pipe organ, but it’s not overblown, and sounds more like the real thing. On string bass, there was a seamless transition between the drivers across the wide range of that instrument on the Adagio in G minor performed by Gary Karr (not my choice of material). However, this speaker moves a lot of air and can excite some room resonances, so some room treatment may be in order.
The Extreme can replicate the full soundstage of the orchestra with excellent focus and layered depth, yet does not exaggerate the size of smaller ensembles, like a jazz quartet, as many large speaker systems do. However, what was most startling about the performance of the Extreme was its wonderful transparency and naturalness. It provided a very clear window onto the soundstage, and while it was quite detailed, there was no hint of brightness on an array of fine-sounding Reference Recordings.
The Extreme has an uncanny ability to portray voices and instruments with the natural timbre one hears in a live performance. Ella singing “April in Paris” was just lovely and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet sounded about as “live” as I’ve heard from any speaker system. On Exotic Dances from the Opera [Reference Recordings] the sound of the woodwinds was full-bodied with a lot of inner detail and no smearing or brightness.
While one must regard these findings as “preliminary,” I would strongly suggest you try to hear these reference-quality speakers for yourself, as well as the remarkable Estelon X-Diamonds. Audio High is the exclusive US dealer for the Extremes, and the Bay Area is incredibly nice this time of year. Take the wife (or significant other) on a vacation to San Francisco and make an appointment to check the Estelons out in Mountain View at Audio High.
Admittedly, after hearing them again, I’m having even more trouble getting the Estelon Extremes out of my mind. While the Extremes may be beyond your budget (and mine!), hopefully, some of their design innovations will migrate down to other more affordable Estelon models. For those looking for a statement loudspeaker, the Estelon Extremes may well be the answer.