Like many longtime TAS readers I have been on a multi-decade quest to achieve the absolute sound—the illusion of hearing actual acoustic instruments playing in a wonderful concert hall—through my stereo system. After years of trying, I made a giant step forward towards that goal at the end of 2018 with the addition of the remarkable Zellaton Stage loudspeakers to my reference system. As I indicated in my online preview at the time, the floorstanding, mid-sized, three-way Stage is a revelation, and in a couple of important sonic dimensions better than any loudspeaker I have heard in all my years. After living with the Stage for several more months, my appreciation of it has only grown. Upgrading other system elements in the meantime has also significantly increased its dramatic sonic strengths and diminished its minor shortcomings.
Over time, I’ve come to think of the Zellaton Stage as the Stradivarius of loudspeakers. Each Stage is exquisitely and painstakingly hand-crafted, is one-of-a-kind, benefits from multi-generational know-how, and reproduces sound gloriously—arguably better in some respects than any other loudspeaker.
My first experience with the three-way, floorstanding Zellaton Stage was at the 2017 Munich High End Show, where my colleague and friend, Jonathan Valin, encouraged me to listen to them. The Zells were mated with powerful YS Sound electronics and the remarkable Schnerzinger cables and Giga Protectors (see sidebar). When I entered the room, some hard-driving, dynamic electronica tracks were playing. I was immediately impressed by the reproduction of percussion instruments, particularly when they were playing fast transients. These transients came across so cleanly, clearly, and with such rhythmic drive that I almost wanted to get out of my seat and start to dance! I asked the Zellaton folks if they were using subwoofers—such was the low-end extension—but they said they were not. The noise floor was also astonishingly low, letting the finest of fine details emerge. On a wide variety of material, from rock to jazz to classical, this extraordinarily natural, uncolored, and transparent system simply drew me into the performance—to such an extent that I thought to myself, “I’d love to try these speakers in my own listening room.”
The Zellaton Stage breaks new ground in bringing one closer to the absolute sound. If you are looking for a reference loudspeaker that captures the incredible midrange purity of the original Quad ESL but extends that reach-out-and-touch-you transparency and remarkable timbral realism through music’s entire range, the Stage should be of special interest. Fortunately, it avoids other limitations of the original Quad in the frequency extremes, macro-dynamics, and overall sonic impact. There’s just more meat on the bone with the Stage, as instruments and voices are more fully fleshed out. The Stage can also play a lot louder than both the original and current Quads, is less colored top to bottom (and in between), and does a better job at putting all the performers in the listening room. Admittedly, the Stage (at $90k/pair) costs many times more than any of the Quads, but it is the only speaker that has had me seriously considering selling my Grotrian Steinweg Concert Grand piano to be able to snag it.
What originally drew me to the Quads and has kept me coming back to them (I’ve owned at least five pairs) is their remarkable transparency, retrieval of fine details, wonderful coherence, and sonic purity— particularly in the critical midrange where they sound more like the real thing, at moderate levels, than just about any other loudspeaker in my experience. I’ve been willing to live with their limitations because of what they do so amazingly well. . . until now.
HP spoke about the importance of transparency as a key element in attaining the absolute sound. He often referred to the window on the soundstage, as well as the veils between the listener and performers. Transparent components and speakers have a cleaner window, as if one used Windex on the glass prior to listening, thereby enhancing the illusion of listening to a live performance in one’s room. The Zellaton Stage is the most transparent, uncolored full-range loudspeaker I have heard. Indeed, it doesn’t just clean the window looking onto the soundstage; it seems to remove the glass itself, banishing the veils between listener and performer.
The secrets to the Zellaton’s breathtaking transparency and coherence, as well as its ability to replicate the natural timbre of instruments and voices with lifelike realism are its hand-made, proprietary drivers, as well as its open-back cabinet design and superb (and costly) electrical parts.