I will divide the test into four acts (or movements), to be coherent with the cover headline, trying to be the most judicious, both in the description and history of the company, as well as in the auditory observations in the subjective evaluation of the product.
In fact, while I was preparing the outline of what I would write, I often had the desire to change the cover headline to “When Music Is Made in the Present”, but I just left it as it was, intuiting that it would be the way I imagined the most. ‘free’ for the personal interpretation of each reader.
However, for me, as the days went by, my impressions of this speaker would be more in line with ‘in the present’ – and I’ll explain why later.
It is unusual for a company with only a decade of existence to gain such notoriety, especially in a market full of excellent speakers, some of which have been in the market for over a quarter of a century.
But, as in any highly competitive market, there are always exceptions – and Estelon did it with enormous competence and mastery. The man behind this beautiful story is Alfred Vassilkov, an electro-acoustic engineer who graduated from the University of St. Petersburg, who decided to set up his own company with his two daughters. But before this decision, Vassilkov had worked for 25 years designing loudspeakers and crossovers for numerous companies, both in Russia and in the former satellite countries of the former Soviet Union.
Alfred had been maturing the idea, since the beginning of the new century, of building speakers that combined innovative design and performance, and his biggest inspiration was the lush forests still intact in his native Estonia. For over a decade he studied shapes, combinations of materials, that could revolutionize the way to build loudspeakers. For him, form and performance cannot walk separately.
In several interviews, he always states that each Estelon project is conceived in an integral way, so that the result is the most harmonious and precise.
As I always write: theory is one thing and practice is another – because often what we conceive looks incredible on paper or in preliminary measurements, yet the result often doesn’t convince us. But, apparently, Alfred was more than right in his convictions, because with just a decade Estelon is already considered one of the most brilliant references of superlative level speakers in the market, with excellent reviews and important awards, like twice the Prize Consumer Electronic Show (CES) Innovation Awards, and a Red Dot Design Award.
But, for an attentive reviewer, what most caught my attention were the criticisms received in tests carried out on all continents, often leading the reviewer to adopt the model under test as their new reference in terms of loudspeakers. This is a detail that catches my attention, especially when it comes to a product outside the ‘axis’ of the big hi-end audio manufacturers
And even more impressive is having achieved this standard of quality in a country that, until then, had no history of hi-end products!
Now let’s go to the concepts of engineer Alfred and how his 35 years of engineering experience were applied in the development of his products. All Estelon products are built from the inside out, with the aim of achieving the best conditions for music reproduction, bypassing unwanted cabinet resonances and making an Estelon speaker suitable for rooms with or without acoustic treatment.
To achieve such a high purpose, Alfred decided to develop his own cabinets, which are built with a patented marble composite material, in the proper shape to avoid resonances and diffractions, so that the sound is as detailed and realistic as possible, free from any cabinet coloring.
The speakers used in the X series are drivers from the German company Thiel & Partner, very high quality speakers, made of rigid and light materials such as ceramic, CVD diamond, and aluminum, under the Accuton brand, since 1994.
For the test, German Audio sent us the XB Diamond MkII model which, according to the manufacturer, is the closest alternative to the top-of-the-line model in this series, the X Diamond MkII. It was designed for smaller rooms (between 20 and 40 square meters), with design and performance similar to the larger model.
The XB Diamond MkII has a 1-inch diamond tweeter, along with new cabling and a crossover that provides extended high frequencies, for an airy feel and greater detail than the previous version. The midrange driver is a 6.25-inch ceramic membrane Accuton, as is the 8.7-inch woofer. The internal wiring is all pure copper by Kubala Sosna.
According to the manufacturer, its response is 22 Hz to 60 kHz, power of 150 Watts, nominal impedance of 6 Ohms with a minimum of 3.5 Ohms at 50 Hz, sensitivity of 87 dB/2.83 V, and it is indicated for a minimum power of 30 Watts. This model has the following dimensions: height of 1260 mm, width of 420 mm, depth of 590 mm, and weights 69 kg.
The manufacturer offers approximately 10 finishes, all in automotive paint, with numerous superimposed layers, which gives it a high luxury finish. I have never had a speaker in our Reference Room with such an eye-catching and well-made finish.
As for its design, people will never be indifferent, and some who had the pleasure of getting to know the speaker found it too ‘futuristic’. For the female eye, however the veredict was unanimous, and filled with sighs of admiration!
For me, the interest was to know how much that differentiated design could or could not benefit the performance, as I’ve had all kinds of speakers in my room – and the shape of the cabinets is not the most important thing for me!
As the speaker sent for testing has already been sold, so nothing more important than inviting the ‘happy one’ to accompany the un boxing and placement in our room, so he could have an idea of what he had acquired. Together with my dear nephew Viner, we opened the huge case and had a pleasant surprise: the speaker already comes with wheels, and just place the case upright and a platform enables the speaker to slide out effortlessly.
The speaker comes wrapped in a delicate white fabric, and with fixed screens (grildle) that cannot be removed to ensure permanent protection to the three drivers. As I knew that the break-in would be long, we decided to make an initial placement (very similar to our Wilson Audio) and did the first audition.
I don’t have any information if the Estelon speakers are submmited to a break in period before leaving the factory,
but from what she immediately showed, I suppose so due to the performance XB Diamond granted us, coming right out of the box. I don’t remember hearing brand new speakers playing with such degree of refinement and information.
The speaker owner was overjoyed at what he heard, and sure he had safely upgraded his beautiful system!
After the impact of the first impressions, it was time to accelerate the break in, as we had exactly 30 days to do the test. As I was also breaking in the Hegel V10 phono preamp (read Test 2 in this issue), I tried to put dozens of LPs to speed up mainly the woofer’s break in, and loosening the cone (there’s no better break in than with analog to loosen woofers).
As I didn’t know who was who in the break in process, every 20 hours I would reconnect the XB Diamond to our system to see its evolution. Although the tonal balance was very good from the moment we heard the speaker for the first time, over the days the mid-highs opened up, as did the high end. And the bass didn’t keep up with this evolution, which made some records annoying to listen to. That’s when I went “radical’, playing only pipe organ recordings for 50 hours.
If my room hadn’t been soundproofed, I would have received several notifications from the condo neighbors for sure. I’ve never heard so much Toccata & Fugue by Bach in my life!
But the “shock treatment” paid off, as within 100 hours the bass lined up with the rest of the audible spectrum and it all started to make a lot of sense, and the desire to stay in the room and listen to countless recordings began.
And even though my desire was to put the spikes on soon, I restrained myself, as I knew that the speaker could yield much more after the break-in ended.
What was remarkable with 100 hours of break-in was the degree of realism and definition that everything was presented. I went back to torturing the speakers with over 100 hours of symphonic works with two pianos and orchestra, Japanese percussion, big band brass, interspersed with small groups and quartets, and then sat down to listen to how the XB Diamond behaved in the evolution of break in and other aspects such as: texture, organicity, harmonic body, dynamics and transients.
After 200 hours, I had the help of Juan and Ulisses, who came over to bring me the Sunrise Lab Quintessence Anniversary cables (with the project’s finished version), and they helped me to place the spikes, and they got to know the speaker.
This is an old discussion that, as relevant as it is for the audiophile to choose the path they want to follow, very few understand the importance of understanding what it means to follow one path or another.
When we are talking about superlative systems, two schools until the turn of the century were very clear: that of total transparency, which sought to reveal in detail everything that was captured, mixed and mastered, leading the listener to observe the microdynamics (with all the pros and cons), and the other aspect, which does not have this degree of transparency, but placed total emphasis on presenting the music in a coherent and natural way.
This dichotomy was very intense until the first decade of this new century, however – and fortunately – new equipments have been appearing that achieved a very interesting balance point between these two ‘schools’. These are the products that have an excellent transparency, having in the same proportion a realism and naturalness.
And Estelon XB Diamond is a worthy advocate of this new trend. I’ll go even further: it urges other big speakers to take this path (if they are able to).
I will die defending that, in order to have the best of these two worlds, it is only necessary to achieve the most correct tonal balance possible, since everything else is a direct consequence of this objective. The Estelon speaker is here to prove that is the path to be taken by all manufacturers who wish to make history in this market.
But Estelon went much further with this goal, making it possible, with an extremely ingenious design, to make several ‘paradigms’ fall to the ground. I start with the ‘sweetspot’ paradigm, which for many speakers is rigorous but, in the case of Estelon model tested, it hardly changes whether the listener is in the position of one of the vertices of the equilateral triangle or not.
Another paradigm refers to the bass, in terms of definition and extension. The response that this speaker gets with a single 8-inch woofer is something impressive, and should be studied hard by competitors!
And finally, the quality of the three-dimensional image of this speaker, which allows us to hear – when the room allows (and specially our own room) – to hear the correct points and plans of each instrument in the symphony orchestra!
And what are the benefits of these three differentials in terms of hearing? Realism, my dear reader. More than detailing the brushing of your feet on the floor of the recording room, and the turning of music sheets: the whole behaves in such a realistic way, that our brains instantly surrender to what they’re listening to.
People used to watching not amplified live performances will certainly laugh if asked whether they can hear the keys to a bassoon on the ground or the turning of the music sheet. What really reaches them will be the whole sonic experience, not parts of it. Systems that travel this way will only present the details that have reached the final process and are printed on the physical media – but what will always prevail will be the whole, never the parts.
Your brain will not fail to follow the melodic line, for a triangle that has gained the same emphasis as the bass suit, or will lose concentration due to the inevitable coughing in the audience during live recordings. The secondary event will be heard, but without interfering with the main one. This degree of attention and delivery of the listener only occurs when conditions of naturalness, realism, precision and three-dimensionality occur. And these are the conditions that Estelon makes available to the listener – it is just an instrument at the service of music, it does not want to reinvent the wheel or be more important than the musical event.
And as you recognize and understand its attributes, music becomes present. I’m not talking about the materialization of the musical event – this ‘trick’ is already old, and countless systems give us this pleasure. I speak of music sounding as if it were happening in the present, and we were witnesses of this phenomenon, in which, as in a live performance, we interact, because our vision enriches and gives us details that our hearing could not detect, such as facial expressions for example.
And now we’ll adress the background, what these speakers express so forcefully and movingly: intentionality! I’ve never heard another speaker that had the power to present to us what we heard, with so much detail, with such precision and emotion!
And there we have the biggest paradox, because at the same time that they refrains from showing us the noise of shoes on stage or the squeak of musicians’ chairs, they offer us the vocal inflections and techniques of the singers, with the subtlety of typing, with the simplicity of a C major chord played by a virtuoso and, the most divine: it makes us forget the time and space around us!
The difficult thing when listening to Estelon is keeping our mind chattering, or keeping our hearing in the background while we worry about different matters. As an expert illusionist, who leaves his audience in a trance, Estelon uses the same ‘artifice’ to leave listeners perplexed with the sound that comes out of that ‘totem’, which was thought out in detail to express the electronically reproduced music in a way different from all the other great speaker designers.
What I can assure you, dear reader – now that I’m listening to the YB model, whose test I will publish in the January/February edition – is that the same music will not sound in any other speaker as in an Estelon.
And I’m not talking about being better or not, as there will always be the question of taste, which has a great deal of subjectivity – but I’m talking about the way the music expresses itself through an Estelon. For both this XB Diamond MkII and the YB MkII of the entry series, the sonic signature is the same – even though in the Diamond series the cabinets are bass reflex, and the YB are sealed! In both, the degree of realism is inherent to Estelon’s concept.
Regardless of whether the speakers are so distinct (at YB the drivers are Scanspeak), or the crossovers, which determine this very impressive sound ‘DNA’, it is certainly found in the design and construction of the cabinets, which allow for this degree of extreme refinement.
The music flows so naturally that evaluating the requirements of our Methodology becomes an unnecessary effort, but it is vital for the reader to understand the degree of quality we are describing.
It’s tonal balance is so correct, that it was interesting to put it to the test with recordings that are on the border between error and correctness, and see how it even became aware of this tenuous limit. And I’m talking about complicated instruments, such as: muted trumpet, harmonica, soprano sax, violin and piano in the last octave of the right hand.
In this package of perfect tonal balance joins the presentation of textures, which have proven to be the most correct in any speaker that I’ve heard, tested or referenced.
Transients are more than okay! They are, as my father would say, “effective”, as they make the tempo, rhythm and timing so precise that we follow the course without missing the point. Every time I listen to a song that has a lot of tempo variation, in the more complex passages, I find myself hearing the tempo change leaving the song in the background, I do it over and over again, and when I catch myself I’ve lost it all. At Estelon, it was the first time that this phenomenon did not occur. And I only realized that I hadn’t lost the whole thing, when that passage ended!
To make sure that was it, I listened to other examples, cavernous, to make sure it was really that. For those who love tempo changes in works with a lot of percussion, they will delight in this speake’s transient response capability.
You see that I didn’t even mention the soundstage item – and I didn’t, because I think I was forceful when describing the quality of Estelon’s planes and clippings. The only addendum that I think it’s convenient to describe is how much depth and width we have, as they go beyond any other speaker we’ve tested in this Reference Room. You have to listen to understand how they disappear in the audition room!
Macrodynamics, for an 8-inch woofer, is something that I still haven’t been able to fully assimilate, as in addition to weight, it has an impressive range.
What it loses compared to our reference speaker, is how much air and energy is displaced between the speakers (but our Wilson Sasha DAW has two 8-inch woofers and a cabinet with triple cubic space). But if we’re talking in terms of precision and tonal richness, the Estelon XB Diamond MkII is an absolute reference!
The harmonic body is as good as it was captured in the recording. And in some digital recordings, I was surprised how much bigger they were than I usually hear in boxes even bigger than Estelon. And on analogue recordings, the body is simply magnificent, in size and realism (look here again).
Talking about Organicity for this box is like asking someone dying of thirst if they want water. What I can say in relation to this question is that, never, any box materialized the musical event in front of us as Estelon did! It would be redundant to specify or lengthen more than that.
Whoever had the opportunity to listen, the first thing they exclaimed was: “what realism!” or “how natural!”.
There were 30 days of enormous learning, and we are sure, at the end of this test, that we had the privilege of testing a product that lives up to all the praise and awards that it may receive in the future.
It is an acoustic speaker that completely escapes the ‘common place’, and clearly exposes that thinking outside the comfort zone sometimes changes the level of reference we had in relation to a given segment.
I’ve heard and tested excellent speakers in my 30 years as a critical audio reviewer, and some have touched me so deeply that I want to have them as a reference. Others, completely out of my financial reality, I enjoyed and suffered when I had to return them. But I hadn’t yet experienced the feeling of listening to something that would completely change my way of listening to music.
And even less did I know that this speaker existed (as much as all the tests from this manufacturer are very blunt and positive), as we tend to ‘anesthetize’ ourselves after hearing daily that ‘new product x is unbelievable’!
As always, I remind my readers, I’m worse than Saint Thomas: I need to listen and live with a product long enough to reach my conclusions. And if there’s one thing I got out of this test, it’s that this manufacturer is treading a new, audacious and very promising path.
And that the two products I’m listening to confirm what Alfred Vassilkov told his two daughters when he decided, in 2010, to set up his own company: “I’ve long been ambitious to create the best column in the world”, and began his brilliant journey .
Whether he will achieve such an ambitious goal I don’t know, but that for the first ten years of his company’s life he is doing very well, there is no doubt!
I know they are expensive, and with this dollar still hitting six reais, everything becomes even more difficult. But if you want a superlative box in every detail, and your most intimate desire is to make music present in your life, this is the way to go!
When design and performance get together in a great project, it is hard for others to compete with.
The price, of course.
|Frequency Response||22 Hz – 50 kHz|
|Nominal Impedance||6 Ohm (min 3.5 Ohm at 50 Hz)|
|Drivers||Woofer and mid-woofer – Accuton and ceramic membrane. Tweeter – Accuton, diamond inverted dome.|
|Power Rating||150 W|
|Dimensions (L x A x P)||420 x 1260 x 590 mm|
|Weight||69 Kg (per piece)|
|ESTELON XB DIAMOND MKII SPEAKER|