Why should this be the case? To answer that let me return to something I said a paragraph ago about the X Diamonds not seeming to project their soundstage (or any parts of it) from a box or drivers. With large multiway cone speakers—even great ones—you occasionally get the sense that a particular note or pitch (particularly in the treble) is “coming from” a driver or (especially in the bass) a box. Warren Gehl of Audio Research calls this the “aperture effect.” What it amounts to is the downside of a point-source transducer and an enclosure. I don’t know if I can explain this clearly (and I certainly can’t do it scientifically), but the effect is easy enough to hear if you listen closely. In real life, instruments are indeed point sources, but they radiate their sound from that “point” spherically throughout three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. With stereo systems, deep bass frequencies are dispersed more or less spherically, but frequencies higher up are not. They do not behave like “pulsating spheres” but rather like expanding hemispherical or quasi-hemispherical rays. Because they are “raylike” there are times when little irregularities in frequency response or phase response or the effects of distraction, dispersion, reflection, or distortion let you trace them back to their source—to that “point” in space from which they originate (the driver or box).
I’m not just talking about gross persistent distortions like “one-note” bass or piercing treble here. I’m talking about (or trying to) the subtle ways in which a driver or an enclosure on and off reveals itself in playback. Every time your ear traces a note or a group of notes back to the loudspeaker, however briefly, the illusion that the presentation is a “free-standing” one, occurring in a space that is qualitatively different than the space of your listening room, is spoiled. If it happens often enough, you begin to lose concentration on the music (or I do).
Whether because of its highly engineered, sculpted, exceptionally “invisible” enclosure (and enclosure shape is a factor I hadn’t considered crucially important before the X Diamond—I won’t make that mistake again), its ultra-smooth blend of highly neutral and exceptionally linear drivers, or a combination of both, the X Diamond does not break the spell of listening to music seemingly played in a different space and time than the here and now of your room. It is an amazing feat of engineering prowess that makes for wondrous stereo.
The X Diamond wouldn’t be as special as it is if it weren’t also capable of exceptional resolution of inner detail, superb bass (the deepest, flattest, least colored, and best defined I’ve heard from a ported speaker), and excellent dynamic range. Like the Raidho C 1.1, to which it bears a marked sonic resemblance, this is a very high-resolution, very high-transparency transducer. While I’m not sure that it is quite as detailed as the great Raidho, it isn't off by much. Indeed, if you can imagine a giant C 1.1 (which I may not have to do by imagination in the near future), you’ve got the picture (although I’d have to say that the blend of drivers in the Estelon is a little more seamless and phase/dispersion-perfect than the ribbon-cone Raidho).
Obviously, all of these virtues add up to one very realistic-sounding presentation, provided, of course, that the source is first-rate. With great electronics (such as Constellation Performance, Soulution 500, or Technical Brain Zero EX Series amps, preamps, and phonostages or ARC’s Reference 5 SE, Reference 250 monoblocks, and Ref Phono 2 SE), you consistently hear things that you simply cannot hear as clearly or distinctly on other speakers. Of course, I’ve written these same words dozens of times about dozens of components, because the truth is that every new piece of gear reveals new information at the same time it is revealing its own particular dynamic and harmonic emphases. But here the information isn’t a matter of a specific emphasis. In fact, it is so subtle and interesting that it kind of boggles the ear. Consider the Danish reissue of Lou Reed’s Rock ’n’ Roll Animal [RCA]. Recorded live in December 1973 at Howard Stein’s Academy of Music In New York, this is Reed at the height of his glam period (you almost get a contact high from touching the album jacket). The thing that is so amazing is that Reed doesn’t just sound like generic-70s Lou Reed—he sounds like a young Lou Reed, a thirty-year-old Lou Reed (which is what he then was, even though he may have had little idea of how old he was, where he was, or who he was at the time the recording was made). It is positively weird to hear a stereo system make someone sound younger than he does on other stereo systems—to hear speakers somehow capture the more boyish, more limber, less world-weary and more genuinely emotionally engaged (maybe because the band’s so good and the crowd so “into” it) timbre of his voice.
The illusion that you’re listening to a young Reed at his best wouldn’t be so convincing, so realistic, if it weren’t for the dynamic range of this loudspeaker, which, unlike so many previous ceramic-driver speakers, does not seem to be markedly compressing peaks. When Reed shouts (and it is a shout), “No, no, no, oh, Lady Day!” it raises goosebumps because of the way his voice leaps powerfully forward in the mix without the speaker going haywire and losing control, definition, or grip—or breaking the illusion that you’re in Stein’s Academy of Music, one of the crowd. While I’m not sure I could say that the X Diamonds cuts loose at big dynamic moments, like Tina’s bass guitar riff at the start of “Take Me to the River” or Byrne’s wonderfully near-hysterical “Hold me, tease me, love me, squeeze me/’Till I can, ’till I can, I can’t tell” the way the Magico Q5s did (and do), they’re close. The Estelons do give you a sense of grip and control even in extremis, but then so did the Q5s.
I don’t want to leave the impression that the X Diamonds are merely analytical “transparency to source” loudspeakers, although they are this, as well. (If you want to hear the differences between different brands of electronics more distinctly perhaps than you have before, try ’em with the X Diamonds.) These speakers are also ravishingly beautiful-sounding, with the right source. (If you really want beautiful, try ’em with the Carver Black Beauty 305s reviewed elsewhere in this issue.) To hear John Ogdon play the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra [Argo] through the X Diamonds is to hear a performance of consummate wit and beauty within a soundspace so distinctly different than that of your room (although it very nearly consumes your room from wall to wall to wall) that you can’t help feeling transported—as if you were there (as at Howard Stern’s Academy in 1973 or the Pantages Theater in 1983, where Stop Making Sense was recorded).
If a sense of being there—of being transported to a real place and a real performance—isn’t the greatest enticement this hobby can offer, then what is? Of course, the Estelon X Diamonds get my highest and most enthusiastic recommendation.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Drivers: 11" Accuton woofer, 7" Accuton mid/bass, 1.2" Accuton diamond tweeter
Frequency response: 22Hz–45kHz
Nominal impedance: 6 ohms
Power handling: 200W
Recommended amplifier power: 20W or more
Dimensions: 1.5' x 4.5' x 2'
Weight: 190 lbs. (apiece)
Alfred & Partners
JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: Raidho C1.1, MartinLogan CLX , Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 3.7, Magnepan 20.7
Linestage preamps: Constellation Virgo, Audio Research Reference 5SE, Technical Brain TBC -Zero EX
Phonostage preamps: Audio Research Corporation Reference Phono 2SE, Technical Brain TEQ -Zero EX/ TMC-Zero
Power amplifiers: Constellation Centaur, Audio Research Reference 250, Lamm ML2.2, Soulution 501, Carver Black Beauty 305, Technical Brain TBP-Zero EX
Analog source: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk III record player, AMG Viella 12, Da Vinci AAS Gabriel Mk II turntable with DaVinci Master’s Reference Virtu tonearm, Acoustic Signature Ascona with Kuzma 4P tonearm
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Ortofon MC A90, Benz LP S-MR
Digital source: Mac Mini/Wavelength Audio Crimson USB DAC, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
Cable and interconnect: Synergistic Research Galileo, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream
Power Cords: Synergistic Research, Shunyata King Cobra
Power Conditioner: Synergistics Research Galileo
Accessories: Synergistic ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), A/V Room Services Metu panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps, Critical Mass MAXXUM equipment and amp stands, Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix SE record cleaner, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses