It was well over a year ago when friend and ex-Soundstage! teammate Jim Saxon hipped me to a brand new loudspeaker he had just brought into his shop, in the paradise he calls Costa Rica. Those speakers looked unlike any I'd ever seen. More importantly still, Jimbo thought they sounded wonderful. He highly recommended that I go after a pair for review. At the time, they unfortunately had no US distribution so that wasn't to be.

Meet Markus Duevel

In 1987, Markus Duevel graduated with an electrical engineering degree from the University of Osnabrück and one year later founded "Duevel Lautsprecherbau" where he set about the development of programming software that would simulate the operating conditions of loudspeakers and then develop loudspeakers for other firms. He specialized in hornspeakers with laminated and lathed plywood horns of his own design. 1995 marked the beginning of project "Jupiter", with the goal of constructing a horn that did not spot-beam as Duevel puts it. In 1998, after two years in development, the Bella Luna was brought to market.

Markus Duevel told me that "in earlier years", he favored horn-loaded loud-speakers for their dynamics, high resolution and efficiency. However, he was disturbed by a small sweet spot and the classic cupped-hands colorations ascribed to many horns of the time. Eventually, Duevel overcame colorations by making his speakers omni-directional and adding his own crossover design which he claims incurs minimal acoustical phase error - something of paramount importance to successful omni-directional designs, according to Markus.

Duevel Loudspeakers come from Northern Germany near Osnabrück. Car aficionados may recognize Osnabrück as the home of the Karmann automobile factory which these days produces the Mercedes CLK, VW Beetle Cabrio and Chrysler Crossfire. Today Duevel exports his speakers to 14 different countries and his non-feedback solid state integrated amplifier, the Shuttle, is sold to 16. Next month, the 2004 CES will play host to Duevel loudspeakers for the first time ever as these speakers are finally available in the US.

Meet The Bella Luna Diamante

If us audiophiles are predominantly men, then we are also, almost by rueful definition, a very visually oriented bunch of admirers. This bodes extremely well for the Duevel Bella Luna Diamante. It's one beautiful pair of speakers. Not that their beauty is lost on the female persuasion - my wife has favorably and repeatedly commented on their aesthetic sensibilities. The level of fit and finish is very high and the speakers evince excellent attention to detail.

Standing a modest 42 inches tall, the German-born and university-bred Bella Luna cabinet, on each of its four identical faces, measures a svelte 11 inches wide and weighs in at a sturdy yet manageable 71 lbs. Not only is the geometry unique and attractive, so are the numerous available finishes. The review pair came in Padouk which was gorgeous. I'm told that somewhere around 70 finish options are available. You can, for example, special-order the speakers in combinations of brushed aluminum, acrylic, piano lacquer and sundry painted finishes - most at varying additional cost, naturally.

Duevel specifies a 6-ohm load, 91dB sensitivity and frequency response of 40Hz-20kHz +/- 3dB. Those claims seem perfectly reasonable to me. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photographs here are going to save my fingers considerable toil as these speakers do operate in rather unorthodox ways. The very apex of the speaker is actually the backside and magnet structure of the substantial tweeter assembly. Crossed in at a relatively low 1,000 Hz, this 2-inch carbon fiber dome produces a significant amount of midrange signal as well. Additionally, it is loaded by the uppermost laminated wooden horn which should, theoretically, enhance its efficiency and dynamics. It fires down into a similarly constructed lens. Picture a tweeter firing down onto the point of a Hershey's chocolate kiss. The carefully chosen geometry of this lens spreads the tweeter's dispersion 360 degrees in the lateral plane for an omni-directional radiation pattern while greatly minimizing diffractive distortions that would otherwise color the sound.

Likewise, the Diamante's 8-inch carbon fiber woofer faces upward from the top of the speaker enclosure into a similarly configured though differently shaped acoustic dispersion lens. Its output is equally spread in an omni-directional pattern and thus forces the entire frequency range of the speaker to be reproduced in circular waves whose stacked centers coincide with the speaker's vertical axis [below].

As if all this wasn't novel enough, close inspection shows that the Diamante's woofer is vented at the bottom of the speaker at all four corners. Thus truly omni-directional, the only objects that make the rear of the speaker, well, the rear of the speaker is a single pair of very nice and easy-to-use winged binding posts, plus the cable connecting the tweeter which is otherwise obscured while looking at the speaker from its front. Except for these two items, the speaker appears exactly the same regardless of your angle of approach.

The Bella Luna Diamantes under review carry an MSRP of $7495/pair. That's not minor bling/bling but considering how they were priced at $8,000 when this review process commenced, that's an attractive savings. Because of the brutal beating that the American dollar has taken from the Euro since 2002, US distributor Ted Lindblad of HighEndAudio decided against adjusting the retail by the 40% the usual math would have forced and now sells Duevel distributor-direct - no more middle men. There is also a non-Diamante version available that sells for $500 less. The only difference? Purely cosmetic. The Diamantes offer greater options of finer finishes and sport a slightly adjusted cosmetic trim around the woofer and the base of the speakers are slightly different. That's it.

Ted delivered the speakers with about 300 hours of music clocked in so I can't comment on how they would have sounded raw out of their wooden shipping crate. However, I can tell you that Ted and I had a dreadfully difficult time of getting them to sound right. To Ted's credit, he sat back politely as I tried and tried. I'm sure he assumed that I knew my room (I do) as he watched me place them where I thought they'd work best. Eventually, he did ask for his turn at batting practice. Well, it may by my room, but Ted knows his speakers and his first swing was a home run. I swear that I'd placed them exactly where he did but what Ted knew and I didn't was that the Duevels' four bass ports can and should be used to tune the bass to the room. Where I was using no toe-in at all, Ted turned the speakers about 45 degrees. This directed the outer-most bass ports away from the rear corners of the room. Prior to that, the speakers didn't sound boomy per se but their tonal balance decidedly favored the bass.

Ted's reorientation effectively redressed this balance. Suddenly the Bella Lunas had treble, life and air where there was none before. They now sounded much better. Truth be told though, Ted still wasn't thrilled with what he heard. Oddly enough, during the later review period, I did have occasion to move the speakers several times. I never again found them difficult to place nor did I suffer the initial muffled constipation which Ted and I experienced. In fact, in the end and fully acclimated, I found the Bella Luna Diamantes fairly unfussy about placement. There's no question too that despite their accumulated 300 hours, the speakers had more breaking in to do. I also think that Ted would have been much happier with what I was hearing when it came time to put pen to paper.

The only other real user issue surfaced when I needed to match the Diamantes with proper amplification.

Bella Luna And The Tale Of The Three Amplifiers

These Duevels promised to be an easy load so my first choice of amplifier was my 16-watt SET Art Audio Carissa. Sure enough and without breaking a sweat, the Carissa was more than capable of achieving the kind of levels that I enjoy in my room. Bass was visceral and clean; treble clear, extended and airy - but for one problem. In my review of the Carissa, I had already observed that it isn't exactly ruler-flat through the upper-midrange. It exhibits a gentle rise throughout the presence region. As it turns out, the same can be said of the Belle Luna. Together, the two proved to be too much of an otherwise good thing - the combo was a touch bright and edgy.

Next up were my Herron M150 150-watt solid-state monoblocks. Well known -- and sometimes even criticized -- for their neutrality, I was sure that they'd sound great with the Duevels. Not really. The M150s certainly ameliorated the edge which the Carissa/Belle Luna combo exhibited - but they went too far in the opposite direction. Where previously the speakers sounded bright and forward, they now sounded overly laid back. The amazing transparency I had previously enjoyed now seemed somewhat obscured. The speakers also lacked the stratospheric treble extension earlier noted and had lost a tad of transparency through this region. They didn't sound bad, mind you; but I remained convinced that more was to be had.

Surprisingly, the Bryston 7B ST monos turned out to be the best match in the house. While the Bella Luna Diamantes could have cared less about the Canadians' 500-plus available watts, the Brystons produced proper tonal balance and 95% each of the treble purity and transparency I'd heard with the Art Audio Carissa. And, the Brystons made the most of the Bellas' bass. While the resultant combo did sound very good, I'm left with the suspicion that I haven't yet tapped the full potential of these speakers. With a more neutral SET amplifier such as Art Audio's own Jota or PX-25, I can only imagine the possible magic.

Combine the midrange linearity of the Bryston with the increased transparency and treble integrity of Art Audio's 845-powered sweetheart and their music could only be blissful heaven on earth. The Audiopax Stereo 88 should make an equally amazing match as well [which might well be a future review - I have already discussed the possibilities of reviewing the top-line Duevels on my Model 88s - Ed.]. The Bella Luna Diamantes are amazingly responsive and transparent to the whims and idiosyncrasies of upstream electronics.