My first encounter with MarkAudio-Sota loudspeakers occurred at the LA Audio Show last June. I liked what I heard, even under the less-than-optimal show conditions, and I left with two observations. First, the models on exhibition were identically configured—dual transducer two-ways in reflex-type enclosures. The line shared alloy cone drivers with a unique 50mm cone tweeter. Second, I was darn curious to know more about the company with the mysterious name that had seemingly appeared out of left field.
As it turns out, MarkAudio-Sota (MAS) is a collective formed in 2014—a formidable team of freelance designers with the manufacturing capacity to get the job done. The “MarkAudio” portion is owed to mechanical design engineer Mark Fenlon, who leads the team on product development and technical application. Specialists such as industry pro Dr. Scott Lindgren contribute filter networks, and the custom voice coils are handled by 35-year transducer veteran Matsubara San. The slick, attractive cabinets are attributed to renowned designer Andrea Ponti. On the manufacturing side of the equation is founder Steve Cheng of Sota Acoustics Ltd, who as Executive Director and Chairman of Telefield—a Hong Kong manufacturing group—presides over the production of the MAS line.
The Cesti B is two-way compact in a bass-reflex configuration. Visually, Cesti B is a clean minimalist design, with a superb lacquer finish that’s available in three colors (black, red, and white). Construction quality appears excellent. The cabinets are stout, essentially seamless with no visible screws marring a sleek gloss finish. The enclosures are constructed from high-density fiberboard. The rigidity and mass of the panels have been tailored to eliminate audible resonances.
The drivers include a custom-designed 4.4" wide-range, acoustically isolated mid/bass (Sota 11), and a 2" tweeter (Sota 5). The tweeter is isolated in its own sealed sub-chamber, while the mid/bass operates in the main ported enclosure. Both drivers use a low-mass mixed-alloy cone. The unconventional tweeter combines a central dome, bonded to the end of the voice coil, inset within the main cone, which produces output to higher frequencies than would normally be expected with a stand-alone dome tweeter. The main cone profile is as shallow as possible to avoid waveguide-induced colorations.
The crossover uses shallow second-order electrical and acoustic slopes with a hinge point of 2.4kHz. Most intriguing is the asymmetric “billow” waveguide baffle that the Cesti B deploys. The speakers are designated left/right accordingly. These shallow waveguides are CNC-machined into the front panel and have been designed specifically to maximize positioning flexibility and to permit optimum dispersion.
In my experience, every loudspeaker creates an initial impression, one that generally holds true throughout the listening period. In the case of the Cesti B, what riveted my attention was its clarity and image specificity. The mantra for a two-way compact is that it’s “all about the midrange” and this is never more true than with the Cesti B. Although MAS admits to lightly tamping down upper-midrange energy, it does so with a deft touch that is far more scalpel than machete. Dean Martin’s vocal of “Blue Moon” from Dream with Dean was positively “dreamy” with velvety bloom and intimacy. Yes, it could have used a little more chest resonance and weight, but given the Cesti B’s modest specifications, no apologies were needed. It was obvious that this was one nicely balanced compact with a well-defined midrange, and a full but not overbearing presence region. Cabinet colorations or port noise were kept at a minimum and contributed to the sense of immediacy and speed. The Cesti B’s top end was smooth, reasonably extended, and just a smidge rolled off. The sense of air lifting the notes of a brass ensemble or stirring the energy of a string section didn’t have quite the ease and soaring extension of reference monitors like my ATC, but given that it costs a fraction of that British speaker’s price, the Cesti B needn’t hang its head, either.
If vocals are a staple of your listening diet, take note. This was the Cesti B comfort zone. For example, during Jennifer Warnes’ “If It Be Your Will,” the speaker conveyed highly resolved inner detail and a sense of immediacy that conjured up the live event. Similarly, the relaxed harmonic vocal interplay between Lyle Lovett and Rickie Lee Jones during “North Dakota” struck a note of intimacy between the singers that I’ve rarely observed before. The speaker has an ability to frame central images in such a focused way that they almost seem walled off from the other elements in the mix. Thus solo instrumentalists, male or female singers, a violin or cello have a prominence in the soundspace that may not be strictly accurate but that many listeners will find appealing. The downside is that in some instances the Cesti B can reduce the broader ambient environment around that image. It’s akin to feeling a little less air pressure and weight in the immediate orbit of the musician.