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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; Raysonic CD-128 and CD-168 [on extended loan]; AMR CD-77 [on review]; Underwood Hifi Shanling CD-3000 Level-2+ [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; ModWright LS-36.5; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual; Melody HiFi I2A3; Eastern Electric M520; Yamamoto HA-02

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; FirstWatt F4 [on review]; Fi 2A3 monos; Trafomatic Audio Experience One [on review]
Headphone systems: Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear, Melody/Onix SP3 with KT77s, AKG K-1000s w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; Raysonic CD128, Yamamoto HA-02, audio-technica W-1000s
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby w. Omni Harmonizer; Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor; DeVore Fidelity Nines; Rethm Saadhana [on review]; WLM Grand Viola Signature MkII Monitor with Sys V and Duo 12

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Acoustic System resonators
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: TBA, will depend on model

"The frogs are way ahead of us. More culture. Greater refinement. A nouveau niveau of nuanced music-making. Merde for us, bollocks to them." Signed, a disgruntled but admiring American patriot.
This would be a rather suitable lead-in for today's tale. That's indeed what, seven years ago, a hot-blooded, Harley-riding, pipe fondling, shotgun-lovin', tweaky-freaky Yank proclaimed. About the "only store-sold loudspeaker" he could happily live with - store-bought meaning not in need of extensive modifications. The object of his affections? The Ocellia Kedros. The opiniator? Harvey Gizmo Rosenberg, ersthwhile audiomaniac, apostle of the Triode Guild and -- in matters of direct-heated triodes, Alnico and high-efficiency coaxial drivers -- way ahead of any other American audio critic of the day when it came to catching zee drift that blew in from Germany and France by way of Japan.

Here's what Le Giz said verbatim: "This speaker deserves an award for righteousness in a world of pretenders. I wish it were designed and produced in America and not by two French savants who I am jealous of... This is an important work of audio art. I wonder of how many of you will have the courage to experience it and discover what you don't know about your DHT SET amps."

In December 99, "more than two years after PHY-HP launched its first model, the acclaimed H21 LB15, a 21cm (8") wideband driver", Haute Fidélité reviewed Ocellila's Tilia. The header read Acoustique et lutherie. "The PHY speakers, like the Ocellia cabinets, remain basically traditional while at the same time achieving levels of musical performance which are, in our opinion, without precedent. They might well have been constructed in the same way three-quarters of a century ago, and therefore do not risk becoming outmoded. The PHY spirit applied to the cabinets produces a result which is in radical opposition to anything else in current production. Yet the basic principles which gave rise to the Ocellia Tilia are an integral part of a tradition which, though somewhat forgotten today, has indeed had its hour of glory: thin-wall cabinets."

Conrete bunkers on one side, flapping tents on the other, the great continental divide insuring that the twain shall never meet.

In terms of warfare, bunkers would be preferable if you find yourself under heavy shelling. In terms of loudspeaker cabinets, survival of the musical essence seems less exclusively guarded and guaranteed by the ultra-rigid, high-mass school which is most famously embodied by Wilson Audio but, as a design concept, is really emulated by the vast majority of speaker builders today. Hear the signal, not the box! The notion of deliberately resonant though tuned enclosures for high fidelity playback purposes strikes most modern audiophiles as ludicrous - not lutherious but luciferous. Yet the American colonies, during the reign of Western Electric and Altec Lansing speakers, had been hip to this notion and helped develop it. Then the pendulum swung, bell bottoms turned stove pipes and Japan was to catch the abandoned ball. They revived direct-heated triodes. With them, they resurrected the high-impedance high-efficiency widebanders necessary to get the best from them.

In Europe, it was the French team of Jean Hiraga's sphere on which the Japanese goings-on rubbed off. In Germany, it was Keith Aschenbrenner at Auditorium 23 who bridged France and Japan by importing Verdier and Shindo to Frankfurt. PHY drivers are central to Aschenbrenner's musical aesthetic. They were the topic of Michael Lavorgna's review of the Auditorium 23 SoloVox. In Samuel Furon's French Ocellia speaker house, we find another keeper of the speaker-as-lute flame. Like Aschenbrenner and PHY, Ocellia fabricates and sells its own cables. These savants all share the same disdain for plastics, complexity and champion solid core silk or cotton-sleeved conductors plus custom connectors.

Like Aschenbrenner -- before his Shindo discovery killed off ambitions to build his own electronics -- Ocellia makes its own valve electronics. Built to order only, with 5 years warranties. Presently, there's one preamp and the Quaero 300B amp as integrated or stereo, parallel single-ended or push/pull mono power amp. Ocellia's speaker lineup is PHY all the way. Three different models utilize a 96dB/15-ohm/6.3-incher, a 98dB/16-ohm/8-incher and a 97dB/16-ohm/12-incher with PHY coax tweeter respectively. The two latter models come in copper or silver flavors, referring to the voice coil and hook-up wiring. The midldle model is available with an optional and offset 1.5" paper tweeter. C'est la vie at Ocellia. More's on the burner.

PHY operates its own anechoic chamber. They perform extensive burn-in, testing and matching on their drivers to extend a life-time guarantee to first owners. In exchange, you pay your pennies prettily. PHY drivers are expensive. The KM30 SAG coax in Ocellia's big boy is 1192 for example. Each. Euros, not weak-knee'd dollar. Them's different leagues than $150 Seas units which go for hi-falutin elsewhere. It's emblematic of this retro approach. It thrives, no demands extensive, unrushed hand labor by artisans. They've experimented endlessly with custom glues, custom varnishes, joinery, panel thickness, wood types and such to optimize their thin-walled speakers and custom drivers across the audible bandwidth.

Should it surprise us to learn that both PHY and Ocellia -- joined at the hip as it were by extensive collaborations -- would be situated in picturesque rural settings, not sterile business parks at the outskirts of a noisy metropolis? Or that rather than perfunctorily dispatching a review loaner over the distance, Samuel Furon suggested that I visit him in person, listen to each model at his factory in Panjas by flying from Milan to Toulouse, there to decide whether I wanted to press forward and if so, with which speaker? It's a different, slower, more considered way of doing things. Artisanal. Old-worldish. Charmed. As such, it's out of the public eye called the mainstream - press and commerce alike. There's few reviews. There's few places to hear these speakers. There's no hype, no pressure, no glitz marketing. If it's what you're interested in, you'll take the trouble to find out about it, then make the necessary arrangements to get exposed. My job today is to render the introduction. Let you find out whether you could be interested.

The same issue of Haute Fidélité recounts how Bernard Salabert of PHY at the time had constructed a personal listening room of the large sort. In total, it employs 144 tons of material (16 tons of sand in the ceiling alone) to be acoustically inert. Yet when he experimented with his 8-inch driver in a 16-ton wall acting as open baffle, the floor vibrated. At regular playback levels. This hexed the notion that high mass was effective at damping. It confirmed the commitment to the deliberately resonant speaker cabinet that would neither deaden, dull, smear nor thicken the sound. "The signal, not the box" gets cornered by "Don't kill the music with the box". This resonated in me as a worthy story waiting to be plucked and told. Again. We're far too late to this party to be third. Even The Absolute Sound has been in on it five years ago when the Ocellia Tilia snagged a 2002 Golden Ear award from Robert E. Greene.

But it's also true that when The Gizzard packed up his bags for the bigger party in the great beyond, he left shoes of rather peculiar size and shape to fill. In the US press, it's been the Listener crew in particular who've explored related matters. Head listener Art Dudley, now at Stereophile, has kept Gizmo's Alnico-impregnated faith. When not busy with more mainstreamish assignments, he still spins out colorful variations on the high-eff single-driver tube-powered chapter that Harvey Rosenberg would have pursued.

Chapter. It's important to preface everything. As with any good story, there's a deliberate focus. Exclude a lot to concentrate on a particular story line. Eliminate distractions. Get close to the characters. If well told, you begin to know and care for them. For a moment, you might think they're the most important people in the world. Same with enthusiast audio reviews. Especially if you're in pursuit of something truly rare and different. Just remember that it's merely one chapter in a very long book. There's many plausible and worthwhile ways to go about audio.

With that handled, let's set our steering wheels for destination Picpoult/Panjas, southern France, close to the Spanish border. It's like sneaking to Paris for a weekend to pick out a ring for your lady. Except, I'm headed for the country to pick out a speaker model to review. You must also do your own research on matters of PHY; open baffles and related hybrids; thin-walled cabinets; Alnico motors; high-impedance drivers; dual-concentrics; high efficiencies; the direct-heated triode renaissance; the pioneering days of HiFi; what's happened since; whether we've progressed, detoured or circled retrograde. For now, the outcome isn't important. The journey is. Fill in missing bits of pieces about where audio has been. This will expand your horizons and where you could be going. Thus, options and choices open up. That's always a good thing.

While still living in Taos/New Mexico, my own speaker journey had deposited me at the feet of Zu, a relative newcomer to the speaker scene. Its young principals are similarly obsessed with retro values of paper cones, wideband operation, high efficiencies and related ingredients of past decades that may not deserve to be forgotten and written off. I've since also reviewed and then acquired Austrian speakers from WLM. Those are Zu-ish in concept but distinct in execution. I'm presently also investigating the new Lowther-based Rethm Saadhana. There's a particular magic to widebanders. It has cast its spell over me to become the favored means to sip the musical mother's milk.

That doesn't mean such speakers are all the same. Hardly. From Zu to Eminence, Fostex to Lowther, PHY to Supravox, there are many different flavors and implementations. In fact, the thin-walled resonet rather than brick-walled lead-lined cabinet is still an unknown quantity to me - safe for a prior and stunning appointment with the tiny Micropure Kotaro . If widebanders are somewhat esoteric, widebanders in highly resonant cabinets are off-the-charts underground. Deep vintage but once again available in modern production. Time to return to the class room and sharpen the pencil. There's many more lessons to be learned before pushing up HiFi daisies.

Before I let Samuel Furon explain it personally, let's briefly consider the speaker as musical instrument concept from a - um, conceptual angle. Any reasonable person would find the argument quite compelling that as the final transducer in a signal
chain optimized for the least possible distortion, the loudspeaker should continue the endeavor and not introudce anything extraneous to the signal. It's the straight-wire-with-gain amplifier concept translated to the speaker. Call it neutrality. As audiophiles with experience in resonance control undoubtedly know already, stiffness and mass transmit vibration very effectively. Think railroad track that transmits morse code; bedrock and soil that announce a gallopping cavalrie; and high-rise steel girders that conduct subway traffic to apartments 15 stories high. Think bass pulses through the soles of your feet, with full-range speakers at high amplitudes coupled to solid concrete floors.

To truly kill the backwave, one would need the equivalent of an anechoic chamber inside the speaker box. Think 100% absorptive like the ideal tapered and stuffed transmission line. The trouble is, music played back in an overdamped room sounds dead. And an anechoic chamber is the ultimate overdamped room. It's an environment for testing, not music making. It's so unnatural, the swooshing of cellular activity becomes grotesquely, even sickenly audible if you stay inside one too long and just listen to your own heartbeat.

If a loudspeaker cabinet of reasonable size and cost is always bound to be active rather than completely inert, why not exploit this tendency willingly? Have gain in mind rather than tolerate it as the dreaded reminders of what you didn't manage to kill off completely. What's called for then is a cabinet that lets go very fast. It has to act like a superior dielectric with minimal energy storage. Otherwise there'll be blurring and thickening to pay. It's plain that this can't be modeled predictively with computer programs. It requires endless prototyping and plenty of throwaway firewood. It borrows from musical instrument manufacture, specifically the luthier's art. To be inaudible as distortion, the voice of the cabinet has to be linear. It can't be chesty in one place, hollow in the next. It must be like a good perfum; subtle but such that you'd dearly miss it if absent. It must enhance the subject it's applied to, not distract from it. That's a pretty tall order.

Bösendorfer is on this path. Their loudspeakers employ applied resonating panel technology which is lifted straight from their famous piano manufacturer. The Shun Mook monks dabbled in this field. There might be others. But it's fair to proclaim this as a mostly lost (or perhaps never fully developed) art. In an age where automation with CNC machining in MDF is key to mass manufacture, the crafting of cured tone-wood speaker cabinets by hand is definitely a throwback.

Who would even bother with the time it takes to hone the winning recipe? Musicians with a penchant for the woodshop perhaps? It could be the same type of person who would have turned luthier because he played the guitar, just not well enough to go places. Or perhaps he detested life on the road or dealing with concert promoters and record companies. Or perhaps he didn't fancy the late hours of playing in clubs. If such a person had a handiman's talents, he could fluidly transition to building loudspeakers as musical instruments. We'll find out whether something of that sort was actually true for Samuel Furon. Regardless, the notion of the resonant speaker cabinet isn't as outlandish as it may seem. Plenty of speaker makers already admit that often, less or no stuffing in their boxes sounds better than bags of Polyfil. What would happen if one committed wholly to letting the speaker box do what it wants to do naturally rather than fight it; if one directed its reaction to driver motion in a carefully planned cultivated manner? Harvey Rosenberg believed that Ocellia had something unique and convincing to say on the subject - without having heard their newest Calliope Grandis models. Let's follow in his footsteps and get up to date in the fall of 2007.