Listening to one of the most iconic and controversial singers of all-time, Maria Callas, was another peak experience through the Zells. On Maria Meneghini Callas sings Operatic Arias by Puccini [EMI], the Stage let me feel like I was able to bond with Callas and experience her emotional swings without being distracted by any extraneous colorations or discontinuities. Her palpable presence made it seem like it was just the two of us! It’s wonderful to delve so deeply into the performance, enriching the listening experience.
The Stage doesn’t just sound palpable and grain-free on female vocals, it also excels on male vocals. These can be somewhat difficult to reproduce naturally in typical multi-driver speaker systems as the male voice’s range traverses both the midrange and woofer drivers. On lesser speakers, even those costing several times more, one can often hear some midbass bloat or chestiness in the crossover region, but not with the Zells. On Schubert’s Winterreise [Proprius] Erik Saedén’s voice was pure and uncolored throughout his range, avoiding added sibilance or midbass bloat. The Zells made this wonderful recording transcendent and absolutely breathtaking.
The Stage is equally adept on male vocals in all genres of music and is not limited to classical. Sam Cooke’s velvety smooth voice soared on Nightbeat [Analogue Productions/RCA] and was rich in timbre and highly engaging. Here, too, the Stage put him in my listening room. Two MoFi Ultradisc One-Step LPs, with their very low surface noise, were also models of clarity, immediacy, fine detail retrieval, and smoothness. Listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Trouble Water and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On I marveled at the artists’ outstanding performances while also appreciating their uncolored presentation through the Stage.
Although the Stage excels in the reproduction of acoustic instruments and voices, it can also kick butt with rock music. I have never heard one of my all-time favorite performers, Jimi Hendrix, sound better. On a Hendrix compilation of some of his best works, Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix [Legacy], I heard more fine details via the Stage than I’ve ever heard on highly familiar tracks. Mitch Mitchell’s drums were blazingly fast with ultra-clear transients supported by solid, articulate and extended bass from Noel Redding on “Manic Depression.” Better still, Hendrix’s voice was reproduced without any grain or added sibilance, and his guitar playing was not only articulate but also hypnotic. It made me feel like I was at the recording session and helped make up a bit for missing him at the Fillmore East prior to his tragic, and untimely, death.
While this is a remarkable full-range speaker with bass extension to a reported 24Hz, it does not plumb the subterranean depths. If you’re looking for concussive bass with a lot of air moved in the lowest octave you may need to look elsewhere. Although the pipe organ in Virgil Fox: The Fox Touch [Crystal Clear Records] was nicely extended, the Stage didn’t move as much air down low as my REL G1 subwoofer does. However, I never felt the need to use the REL, which would likely impinge on the Stage’s stunning purity and clarity. Actually, it took me a little time to adjust to the Zell’s bass since it was so articulate. Without the bloat, overhang, and lack of coherence of so many other speakers, it was that much more like the real thing.
The Zellaton Stage will reward you as you improve the quality and purity of your associated system elements. No, it is not ruthlessly revealing like some speakers, but you’ll immediately notice if its stunning transparency or absolute sonic purity have been diminished or enhanced. To get the most out of the Stage, you’ll want to use electronics, sources, and cabling as uncolored and as transparent as it is. After switching to the latest generation of Conrad-Johnson electronics, the Stage’s sonic purity and transparency increased still further. This appears to be a match made in heaven, and it’s no wonder CJ’s new CEO, Jeff Fischel, owns Zellatons. (I plan to review the amazing CJ ART 150 amplifier in an upcoming issue.) Using Cardas Clear cables and power cords also enhanced the performance of the Stage, letting more fine details emerge and broadening the soundstage while improving focus. Lastly, I used Schnerzinger’s highly effective Giga Protectors throughout the review period, as well as its amazing cables, albeit briefly (see sidebar).
The price of the hand-made Zellaton Stage is out of reach for most of us and that’s a shame. However, it’s far less than the price of a handmade Stradivarius or Guarneri del Gesu violin—other masterpieces of the acoustic arts. A few weeks ago, I bought a Mega-Millions lottery ticket when the jackpot was very large. Riding home in the car, I let myself dream about what I’d do with the winnings if I lucked out. Besides helping other family members and paying off my mortgage, one of the first things I thought about was snagging the Zellaton Stage—it’s the stuff of dreams.
In conclusion, I’ve never experienced the illusion of live performers in my listening room more often than I have with the Zellaton Stage. If you get the chance, go hear it. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, definitely put it on your short list. The Zellaton Stage is a remarkable achievement and helps move the audio arts several steps closer to the absolute sound.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Three-way floorstanding speaker system
Driver complement: One 1.6" full-cone tweeter, one full-cone 7" mid/woofer, one full-cone 9" woofer
Frequency response: 24Hz–40kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 18" x 46" x 25"
Weight: 220 lbs. each
United Home Audio UHA-Phase 12 tape deck; Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L.101 turntable with Tri-planer U-II and Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge; Conrad-Johnson TEA1-S3 and Audio Alchemy PPA-1 phono preamplifiers; ModWright-Oppo BDP-105 digital player; Mytek Brooklyn DAC; Conrad-Johnson GAT, MFA Venusian (Frankland modified) and BAT VK-33SE preamplifiers; Hegel HD80 integrated amplifier; Conrad-Johnson ART 150 amplifier, and BAT VK76SE and PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP monoblock amplifiers; Magnepan 3.7i and Quad ESL-57 (PK modified) loudspeakers; Silver Circle Audio TCHAIK6 power conditioner; Shunyata Research Alpha Digital power cable; Cardas Clear interconnects, power chords, and speaker cables, Nordost Tyr2 cables and power cords; AudioQuest Niagara interconnects and Metro speaker cables; Critical Mass Systems amplifier stands
If you’ve ever heard Zellaton speakers demonstrated at high-end audio shows, you’ve probably noticed several small boxes with antennae sitting in the room alongside thick off-white cables. Both boxes and cables are from a German company called Schnerzinger. Along with other system elements, these unique products have contributed to the system’s multiple accolades, including “Best Sound—Cost No Object” awards from me and several of my TAS colleagues.
For more than three decades, the Schnerzinger team has scientifically worked on new methods of transmitting energy and of eliminating the harmful effects of RFI, EMI, and other sources of electrical interference. Throughout the review period, I used a set of Schnerzinger Giga Protectors to great effect. A set consists of two pieces: one small transmitter box with an antenna and one small receiver box with an antenna. Derived from military technology, the system protects the audio signal from “high-frequency interfering fields.” The Giga Protectors are designed to cover a frequency range of up to 5GHz, and their nine channels are easily adjusted, via switches, to allow the user to dial-in the right tuning.
When turned on and optimized for my room, high-frequency grain was eliminated, the noise floor dropped, and there was an increase in clarity and fine detail retrieval. The performers became more palpable and the soundstage broader and deeper. Fortunately, there were no deleterious side effects on high-frequency extension. Indeed, the timbre of instruments improved as the overtones were reproduced with greater purity.
One of my “go-to” recordings of female voice is Mirella Freni: French & Italian Opera Arias [EMI]. After I switched the Giga Protectors on, the timbre of her voice sounded somewhat richer and more ethereal, and more fine details and ambient cues emerged. These are somewhat subtle changes, but important if you want to get the most out of your system. For example, one day I inadvertently forgot to turn on the Giga Protectors. While listening, I thought that something was missing from the system, as its stunning performance had been somewhat diminished. It was then that I noticed the Giga Protectors had not been activated. By flipping one switch on each box, the system’s magic was restored.
Towards the end of the review period, I received some Schnerzinger interconnects and speaker cables. These, too, yielded an increase in clarity, transparency, and fine detail retrieval, but also improved dynamic range and soundstage width and depth. Schnerzinger uses a proprietary cable technology it calls Atomic Bonding to minimize audio signal transmission losses and sound-damaging dropouts, while increasing audio signal density. As I understand it, the cable conductors are specially formatted for several months to create an extremely stable structure for true and accurate signal transmission. In short, more of the subtle audio information gets through.
Does the Zellaton Stage sound glorious without the Schnerzinger Giga Protectors and cables? Yes, it definitely does, but that reference-quality performance can be further improved by the addition of these highly effective Schnerzinger products. They help make a great system sound even better.