Here’s the thing about the ceramic-driver loudspeakers I’ve reviewed in the past. At low-to-moderate SPLs or on music performed pianissimo-to-mezzoforte, they have always been marvelous at reproducing the fine detail that tells you which instruments are playing, how they are being played, what hall or venue they are playing in (and where the musicians are seated in that hall), and how well or how poorly they have been recorded. In other words ceramiques are capable of electrostatic-like resolution precisely where electrostats themselves shine: at low-to-moderate volumes.
At low-to-moderate SPLs, ceramic-driver loudspeakers have another important virtue. They are extremely neutral and linear. Once again like some (not all) electrostats, they add less significant “color” of their own to instruments and the space they are playing in than other cone speakers, making for a soundfield that can approach the colorlessness and transparency of glass (or air).
Now here’s the rub, music isn’t just played pianissimo to mezzoforte or meant to be played at such relatively low levels. Turn up the volume sufficiently (i.e., 85–90+dB average SPLs) and the virtues of ceramic-driver loudspeakers become considerably less virtuous. Their neutrality, which I just praised, can turn into a leanness and brightness that rob instruments of natural weight, power, and tone color. They can also compresss dynamics.
But what if I was to tell you that, just lately, I’ve heard a ceramic-driver loudspeaker that solves or greatly ameliorates the high-SLP/large-scale-dynamics problem that—only a few years ago—was an inevitable part and parcel of the ceramique experience?
Well, meet the Estelon X Diamond—a gorgeous, four-and-a-half-foot tall, three-way, quasi-hour-glass-shaped, ceramic-driver floorstander from that hotbed of loudspeaker technology and manufacture, Tallinn, Estonia.
To be honest, prior to the arrival of the Estelon X Diamonds, world-class loudspeakers were not the first things that came to mind when I thought of Tallinn, Estonia. This is largely due to the fact that, prior to the arrival of the Estelons, there was no first thing that came to mind when I thought of Tallinn, Estonia. But surprise, surprise! Turns out brilliant audio engineering isn’t confined to the usual suspects in Great Britain, Western Europe, the Pacific Rim, or the good old U.S. of A. Tallinn-based engineer Alfred Vassilkov, the author of the X Diamond and the guiding force behind Estelon, is a highly educated (he graduated from the same university as Vladimir Lamm and other celebrated audiophile émigrés from the Soviet Union), multiple-award-winning designer, who is dead serious about creating the highest-fidelity products possible and is intellectually, experientially, and artistically equipped to do so.
How Vassilkov solved the ceramique conundrum is an interesting tale. To begin with, it occurred to him that cabinets that “play along” with their drivers are bad things. Vassilkov spent five years developing his solution: a gorgeous quasi-hour-glass-shaped enclosure sculpted to present the drivers with no parallel internal or external surfaces, while also supplying a narrow, rounded baffle for the tweeter (located in the middle of the speaker, at the “waist” of the hourglass) to achieve zero phase distortion at the listening position, and progressively larger radiuses for the midrange (located above the tweeter) and the woofer (located below) to provide the same ideal dispersion of each driver and the same uniform phase response at the listening seat.
Vassilkov is perfectly aware of the “downsides” of ceramic cones, but believes that their upsides (at least in their recent, improved versions from Accuton) outweigh their demerits because of their high linearity throughout their passbands. By using only the latest and best Accuton cones—and very select and exceptionally closely matched pairs of each—putting them in an enclosure scientifically designed not to exacerbate their problems by “singing along” or introducing phase/dispersion/diffraction issues, ventilating their moving elements to assure “resonance-free” response, and using elegant, electrically simple second-order crossovers (with Teflon-hybrid capacitors and air-core inductors encased in separate constrained-layer-damped carbon-fiber chambers) he has sought to eliminate the ringing/compression problem.
How well has he succeeded?
Let me just say this outright: The Estelon X Diamond is the most perfectly phase-coherent, large, all-cone loudspeaker I’ve heard in my home. Outside of a Maggie or a mini like the Raidho C 1.1, I’ve rarely heard its like (and one of those is a line source and the other a stand-mounted two-way). Not only does the X Diamond defy expectations by sounding like one seamless thing from bottom bass (and its bass goes very, very deep—into the 20–30Hz range—and does so with superb definition, grip, color, and clarity) to top treble, but it is the first multiway cone speaker I’ve heard in my home which not only completely disappears as a sound source but manages to replace its presence with the presence of the room or venue in which the recording was made. Like Maggies or mbls, the Estelon X Diamond simply carves out a different ambient space within the ambience of your listening room and disappears within it. The only other time I’ve had this experience with a large cone speaker (well, cone and ribbon) was with the Scaena 3.4 at CES a couple of years ago. The X Diamonds are that free-standing and that “not there.”
Now, I know I’ve made this claim about a “disappearing act” before—about the Magico Q5, for instance. But, as our Mr. Pearson was wont to say, you don’t know that something is better until you hear something better. In its “disappearing act,” at least as a relatively large physical object, the Estelon X Diamond sets a new standard, chez Valin, for big, multiway dynamic speakers.
In Issue 228, I will have several thousand more words to say about the X Diamonds. But for the time being let this blog serve as a heads-up: If a sense of being there—of being transported to a real place and a real performance—is what you’re after in a full-range cone loudspeaker then these Estelons should be at the top of your must-hear list.