Well…I can think of several reasons. First, true full-range electrostats are giant monoliths that require a whole lot of space around them to strut their stuff. (Even smaller ’stats tend to have considerable width and height.) For all their sonic similarities, the svelte, four-foot-tall Zellaton Reference MkIIs are relatively demure in size and far more stylish-looking than most ’stats, and will slot with far greater ease into a lot more listening rooms, from small to relatively big. Second, while some large electrostatic panels can do low bass, most can’t (and the sheer square footage of those that can tends to excite room modes like nobody’s business, making them a challenge to set up). The Zellaton Reference MkIIs have excellent low-end extension (down into the 20Hz range), neutral color, and superb bottom-octave definition (with none of the room-induced ballooning of certain lower-octave notes that you can so often get with ’stats). Plus—thanks to their unique Podszus drivers and open cabinet design—they have the free-flowing three-dimensional bass of actual fiddles, pianos, and low-pitched brasses and winds. Third, they not only have more three-dimensional body in the bass than a typical ’stat; they also have that three-dimensionality in the midrange and lower treble. This is partly just a property of cones, which tend to sound more “rooted,” less “evanescent” than electrostats. But it is also a distinctive virtue of the Podszus drivers, which have a dimensionality and naturalness of timbre that is rare even among ultra-high-end speakers.
So, you’re probably asking, why did I call speakers capable of such a fabulous magic trick “limited in appeal?” Well, almost by design (dipole radiation pattern, cones that are almost as light as membrane drivers and that aren’t gaining any backwave leverage from their enclosure), Zellatons don’t pack all the dynamic punch of ported or sealed-enclosure loudspeakers. (This is another way in which they resemble electrostats.) While big timp or kickdrum strikes will shake the room with the Zellatons, they won’t shake it the way, oh, Magicos or Raidhos do. Ditto for rock drumkit-and-Fender-bass lines, which are superbly defined in timbre and duration, but are subdued (in comparison to the best dynamic speakers) when it comes to clout.
Nor do the Zellatons have all the energy on hard upper-midrange and treble transients that speakers with metal-dome tweeters or ribbons often have. Indeed, the Reference MkII’s true cone tweeter sounds considerably softer and less extended than beryllium or diamond tweeters. (It also sounds more of a piece with the midrange and bass, which is precisely the trade-off that Manuel Podszus was willing to make when he designed this remarkable driver.) For acoustic music, this softness is generally a plus. The complaint, often raised in this magazine, that metal/diamond-dome tweeters produce too much sonic “edge enhancement,” exaggerating transient detail in a way that one never hears in a concert or recital hall or a large studio (where treble-range notes are typically softened by frictional losses), will never be raised about the Zellaton Reference MkIIs. In the treble, they make music sound like it’s being played in a hall. That said, the speakers do reduce the shimmer and impact of struck instruments, like bells and cymbals, and slightly soften the attacks of brass, wind, and percussion.
So, what is the bottom line here? Clearly, the Zellatons will not be the right speakers for “as you like it” listeners—or for any listeners looking primarily for visceral thrills and chills (and, let’s face it, a lot of you quite reasonably are looking for these very things). They will be far more satisfactory to “fidelity to source” listeners (or at least to those who are willing to give up some upper-midrange/treble energy and extension), and will be nearly ideal for (wealthy) absolute sound fans, who will find in them a unique combination of the speed, resolution, and single-driver coherence of a great electrostat and the color, weight, body, and bass extension of a great dynamic speaker.
I’ll tell you this: On well-recorded voice (such as Sarah Vaughan’s fabulous contralto on Sarah Vaughan & The Jimmy Reeves Quartet [Mainstream] or Ol’ Blue Eyes’ whiskey-colored baritone on Live at the Sands [MoFi/Universal]), small ensemble classical (such as the Tashi rendition of Ingolf Dahl’s delightful Concerto a Tre [RCA], or violinist Paul Zukofsky and pianist Gilbert Kalish’s thrilling performances of George Crumb’s bravura Four Nocturnes for Violin and Piano [Mainstream]), large-scale classical (such as the explosively dynamic Johanos/Dallas recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances [Analogue Productions/Turnabout] or the famous Reiner/CSO performance of Russian orchestral showpieces, Festival [RCA]), or folk, blues, and pop (such as the great Son House LP Father of Folk Blues [Analogue Productions/Columbia], Taj Mahal’s gruff and tender Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff [Analogue Productions/Columbia], and Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane, Eric Clapton, John Entwistle, and Charlie Watts’ still delightful, mostly acoustic romp Rough Mix [Polydor]), the Zellaton Reference MkIIs regularly disappear, making singers, instruments, entire ensembles sound as if they’d somehow magically popped up in the room with you from some kink or curvature in time. It’s a helluva feat—one that our founder, Mr. Pearson, would’ve admired (as I most certainly do).
If you love acoustic music—classical, jazz, or pop—and have the shekels, auditioning the Zellaton Reference MkIIs would be a wise and rewarding move.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Three-way dynamic loudspeaker
Drivers: One 2" cone tweeter, one 7" mid/woofer, three 9" woofers
Frequency response: 22Hz–40kHz
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Recommended power: 50W–600W
Dimensions: 17.7" x 51.57" x 27.95"
Weight: 275.5 lbs. per side
Price: $150,000 per pair
AUDIOARTS (U.S. Importer)
210 Fifth Avenue.
New York, NY 10010
JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: Magico M Project, Magico M3, Raidho D-1, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan .7, Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 30.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps: Soulution 725, Constellation Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps: Soulution 755, Constellation Perseus, Audio Consulting Silver Rock Toroidal, Innovative Cohesion Engineering Raptor
Power amplifiers: Soulution 711, Constellation Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos
Analog sources: Acoustic Signature Invictus/T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian with Viper tonearm, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 1 OPS
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital sources: Berkeley Alpha DAC 2, MSB The Reference DAC
Cables and interconnects: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioners: Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Technical Brain
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer System, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses