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One cannot mention Ocellia without invoking PHY-HP and its maverick creator, Bernard Salabert. He's a quintessentially French character. Think homebrewn pastis, hand-rolled black cigarettes, potent Roquefort and conspiracy theories involving the planned extinction of the high-efficiency driver by an audio cartel intent on taking over the MidFi market with its need for physically small speakers. Whether concerted plan or normal devolution, the outcome is undeniable. Salabert ran a hifi shop in Montpellier going 30 years back. He was on the scene of the crime when Hiraga, Piel, Mahul and company kicked off French high-end audio and afterwards, when things changed. He was prepared to purchase Supravox when its second owner retired. He lost the opportunity to a crew who tanked the company two years later. Knowing which firm had designed the voice coils for the original Supravox founder (its second owner no longer knew); seeing how Supravox and Lowther had lost traction; Salabert went on a mission to resurrect the high-efficiency wideband driver. Its surviving proponents had forgotten vital details he still remembered or could hunt down through personal connections. [For more on PHY and Salabert, see our PHY factory tour.]

His cones are made by the same old-timers who supplied the original Audax, Supravox, Triangle and other legendary French drivers in the general Altec mold. His surrounds are bona fide talc-impregnated latex rubber. His 16-ohm motors use center-set Alnico 5 exclusively. He winds his own voice coils on his own machine - 0.125mm silver sleeved in 15 micron silk. He matches his drivers to within 1Hz of resonant frequency; 0.1g of moving mass; and for impedance.

He has built an anechoic chamber on the premises that's useful down to 40Hz to perform research on his transducers.

He has built the infamous wall, a slightly concave infinite baffle employing 18 tons of inert materials to which he bolts his drivers with a massive brass plate. This allows him to hear his raw transducers without cabinet colorations.

Demonstrating the uselessness of extreme mass for damping, he played a French singer's track where the recording engineer hadn't compressed the bass. The walls of this large sand-filled concrete cave were vibrating. Merde!

When Supravox eventually dug up one of their spider-webbed vintage drivers from the very beginnings to compare to their current production, they rang Salabert begging to wind their voice coils. For the right price, he'd do theirs in copper, he offered - but not in silver. Silver voice coils are a PHY exclusive. And they're wound on Vellum, not Kapton.

"I didn't invent anything. I just didn't forget. I went back to the roots. I resurrected an art which was in danger of being lost forever to present-day hifi generations who are reared on modern loudspeaker drivers." Living exceptionally humble, Salabert is presently supported by an embarrassingly meager cadre of just four small commercial loudspeaker makers: Auditorium 23 in Germany, Musical Affairs in Holland, Ocellia in France and Tonian Labs in the US.

Salabert calls the discovery of MDI or Micro Discharge Interface distortion the only real advance hifi has seen over the last 40 years. And that discovery didn't even occur in hifi but government-funded major French research. Simplified, MDI deals with extremely steep high amplitude ultrasonic spikes which, in audio, become modified to resemble the sine wave component of the signal sufficiently to cause audible distortion by intermodulation. Additionally, MDI creates positive Langevin ions which change the air to less effectively support sound propagation. "Whether they knew why or not, the old Japanese who had water fountains in their listening rooms neutralized certain MDI side effects instinctively." Today, a negative ion generator could do the same. [Below, a PHY motor assembly with the Alnico core to the extreme right.]

Salabert points at synthetic materials as the major MDI-generating culprits. He has gone to great lengths to minimize MDI by relying on natural materials exclusively. His stripped-down modified electronics for personal use are encased in wood, capacitors are denuded wherever possible and his PHY cabling champions silver, cotton and his very own 40 micron silver-plated connectors which, matter of factly, he calls the best in the world that nobody knows about.

Because of this background, it's very peculiar that Ocellia is the only PHY-based speaker company to fully acknowledge Salabert's MDI concept. Wherever electrons conduct electricity, MDI occurs. Hence Ocellia produces its own anti MDI electronics and cables (and as of next year, a universal tube-based player). You can't merely address MDI in the speakers and then forget about the rest of the chain.

I'm told that to eliminate MDI distortion requires a wholesale refusal to employ synthetics. That's why PHY connectors are also used by Ocellia [above]. They employ paper dielectrics rather than Teflon. It's why Ocellia's cables are wrapped in paper. Why Ocellia's loose outer jackets are mineral-based custom hoses into which each solid-core silver conductor is inserted by hand at the factory. Why Ocellia had its own screw-type amplifier terminals fabricated in the Toulouse area to allow use of the bare wire connections it favors. [PHY factory building below.]

It's as though other PHY-ists accept the raw drivers but then reject half the design concept which underlies them. That's where Ocellia is unique to arguably make the only PHY speakers fully anchored in Salabert's philosophy - by offering a complete MDI system approach. [Scenery as seen from Salabert's place against a surrounding hill side below.]

Ocellia's are also the only PHY speakers which have been tested against Salabert's wall, to extricate their cabinet contributions from the raw drivers' performance during endless prototyping. Releasing the driver rear wave into the room makes such speakers naturally about 2 to 2.5dB louder for the same input voltage than sealed equivalents where rear emissions are eliminated or absorbed. As Salabert put it, "once Samuel perfected his speakers, going back to my wall for pleasure listening -- I designed it as a tool of course -- became impossible".