Zellaton’s unique rigid-foam diaphragm technology was developed by Dr. Emil Podszus, who filed a patent on his sandwich cone driver in 1930. It features a “lightweight, torsionally stiff rigid-foam diaphragm with ideal unit pulse response.” Dr. Podszus’ grandson, Manuel Podszus, continues the family tradition of creating these amazing drivers by hand. A multiple-composite rigid foam is located behind an extremely thin aluminum film. The tweeter’s diaphragm is only 0.006mm thick and weighs a mere 0.18 grams. Unfortunately, these drivers cannot be mass-produced, and the hand-crafted diaphragms alone take weeks to build. The thin, lightweight diaphragms and foam substrate are very difficult to work with and have to meet Zellaton’s demanding standards. The rejection rate is very high and is the primary reason these sonic wonders are so scarce.
The Stage has the most seamless integration of any multi-driver speaker I have heard, rivaled by some full-range electrostatics, such as the large Sound Lab Ultimate loudspeakers. Fortunately, the Stage has a much smaller footprint than the large ’stats and is far easier to drive (although the Zell is at its best with high-current amplifiers), and has greater low-end extension and dynamic range. A key to its remarkable coherence is that its three hand-made (and optimized) sandwich cone drivers, including the tweeter, utilize the same materials and ultra-thin aluminum diaphragms on a foam substrate. The multiple drivers sound “as one.”
The intricate cabinet of the Stage is also unique and executed exquisitely. It is a multi-layered, matrix-braced, open-back design allowing the Stage to breathe with no compression of interior air flow. The enclosure offers many of the benefits of dipoles within a cabinet structure. The Stage includes oversized, silver-coated-copper Mundorf binding posts, which I found to be very effective, ensuring a tight connection with the speaker cable spade or bare wire. The cabinet is virtually silent with wall thicknesses up to 68mm, allowing the phenomenal drivers to do their job without interference from spurious vibrations. Additionally, the Stage is drop-dead gorgeous. The enclosure coating, painting, and polishing process takes months, and the finish is beautiful. Every loudspeaker undergoes a final week of fine-tuning and stress testing.
Throughout the years, Zellaton has continued to improve the design of its drivers and their sonic performance. The latest Stage features improved and more precisely matched Zellaton cones, new Duelund Coherent internal wiring, a revised Duelund Coherent crossover, and cabinet improvements derived from the Zellaton Statement speakers. The stands have also been redesigned for greater support and adjustment flexibility. Lastly, the semi-open baffle has been improved to allow better dispersion and cabinet tuning.
All genres of music I have auditioned on the Stage have been highly engaging and satisfying—as well as riveting. As in Munich, I started with some hard-hitting electronic music from deadmau5 and Aphex Twin, and my jaw almost dropped to the floor. The clarity, immediacy, rhythmic drive, transient quickness, and impact were amazing. I eventually pulled out my Chemical Brothers double-album and played it so loudly that my wife was afraid the neighbors would complain.
More to my tastes, the Zells excel at reproducing classical music (from power orchestral to chamber music to solo instrumental), jazz, acoustic instruments, electric guitars, and voices of all stripes.
Listening to chamber music through the Stage can really make one think that the performers are in the room. The second movement of a Harmonia Mundi recording of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat, op. 100 (it’s the haunting music used to such good effect by Kubrick in the movie Barry Lyndon) arrays three performers around the stage, and via the Stage you’d think you could touch them. The cello sounds rich, full-bodied, and coherent across its range, the piano’s melody sails beautifully over the accompaniment, and the violin’s sound is breathtaking. Micro- and macro-dynamics are handled so well that you not only hear all the fine details in the quiet moments, but the dynamic peaks are also negotiated without any stress or strain.