This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Esoteric UX-1, Yamamoto YDA-01
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), ModWright DM 36.5 (valves)
Amplifier: Yamamoto A-08S & A-09S, FirstWatt F5 & J2
Speakers: Zu Essence, Rethm Saadhana
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters, Advanced Acoustics Orbis Wall & Corner units
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: starting at €3.500/pr [the Calliope.16 Signature includes 3cm more cabinet depth and a different front design with a 60mm
thick anti-vibration panel in optional brown or white leather wrap; a ground terminal; and 2 x 2.5m hard-wired Signature speaker cables which connect directly from the driver voice coils to the amplifier without any terminals - other lengths of speaker cables by request]
• C.16 with internal Signature cables as reviewed is €3.990/pr
• C.16 Signature without external cables adds €1.900 to the base price of €3.500
• C.16 Signature with 2.5m external Signature cables adds €3.200
• C.16 leather front panel option adds €700

My visits to Panjas, Ocellia and then Bernard Salabert of PHY-HP predate this review by over two years. Rather more than planned. But sundry matters conspired. Ocellia's designer Samuel Furon—successfully—had to deal with a malignant health diagnosis. Then a relocation to Canada followed to reunite his expat fiancee with her family. A trusted employee had to be groomed to go solo on all speaker fabrication on the French Furon family estate whilst production of their valve electronics and cables would travel with Samuel to Canada. Furon now flies to the Armagnac region a few times annually to touch base with his master cabinet maker there. In short, Ocellia went bi-continental. This required establishing appropriate infrastructure to properly support such a scheme.

Then the global economy crashed and Samuel wanted a new entry-level model. Being committed to PHY exclusively, this hinged creakily on the appearance of a new, smaller and cheaper Ferrite rather than Alnico-powered drive unit. While Bernard Salabert had already mentioned his plans for such a version during my visit in October 2007, being terminally underfunded—only four small cottage-industry makers worldwide employ his transducers in production loudspeakers—meant that said driver would be a long time coming. But patience routinely rewards. The end result of the latest Ocellia/PHY collaboration is a 96dB single-driver floorstander fitted with a new 16-ohm paper-cone widebander.

Cutting costs naturally couldn't be limited to the more affordable driver alone. Certain aspects of the tone-wood cabinetry—a signature requirement of the Ocellia approach to organic sound—had to get simplified. Yet performance, appearance and build quality couldn't be dumbed down below instant recognition as a fully fledged Ocellia. The Calliope.16 thus presented significant challenges. As I learned during my long ago visit, Samuel Furon has a very clear vision and is quite uncompromising about it. This speaker had to succeed on a lot more than just budgetary measures before it would launch.

As the smallest Ocellia, the Calliope.16 is currently the only one with the new 6.3" driver. The larger models run the 8" or 12" units with or without tweeters. The baby of the range spans a claimed bandwidth of 50Hz to 15kHz—completely full-range according to bygone Western Electric and Altec Lansing standards—weighs in at a very manageable 40lbs or 18kg and takes up air space of 39.4 x 14 x 18.5 inches or 1.000 x 330 x 470mm.

Bernard Salabert of PHY at left.

Bat-eared youngsters weaned on Beryllium tweeters and slam beats will scoff at such bandwidth. However, their kind won't be in the market for anything this exotic. Career 'philes whose hearing has aged nicely while they worked their ways through various modern loudspeakers might have arrived at a place meanwhile where such a speaker could once again become fully legitimate and compelling. As a famous man once said, it all depends.

Take Lowthers, PHYs and Zu's modified Eminence platform. None of them cover the whole audible bandwidth. Various cabinet loading tricks have attempted to assist Lowthers downwards while Rethm finally capitulated after eight long years to add self-powered bass systems instead. Salabert has his own piezo tweeter in a brass housing to augment particularly his bigger drivers—the 12-incher even is available as a dual-concentric— while Zu always used a 'super' tweeter for the last two octaves.

While it all depends again on just how a given speaker designer implements a chosen driver, generalizations might observe that popular Lowthers with their whizzer cones are oriented upward into the treble whilst PHY and Zu/Eminence are weighted downwards into the bass. They require respective assistance at opposite ends as it were. Common to all these widebanders are paper membranes—this includes Feastrex, Fostex and various Lowther offshoots like AER and Voxativ—higher than average voltage sensitivities and a stated preference for Alnico motors whenever price allows.

While most Lowthers with bass ambitions are back-loaded by variations on horns and folded lines, none of the commercial PHY iterations are. Auditorium 23, Musical Affairs and Ocellia in fact overlap in their pursuits of thin-walled cabinets which are neither ported nor sealed but variations on back-folded open baffles to instead become reactive lossy boxes with conceptual relations to stringed instrument bodies.

Like all PHY-based speakers, the Calliope.16 doesn't benefit—or suffer—from a whizzer. Treble is generated by what looks like a conventional mid/woofer cone. Carefully guarded artisanal secrets exploit handcrafting and cellulose fiber orientation to vary the driver's membrane thickness from edge to center. This has the active cone surface gradually shrink with rising frequencies.

It's about material decoupling. The British Jordan driver pursues it likewise but with an aluminum cone whose central dust cap turns into a tweeter via a flex seam. Salabert favors paper which can be built up in unequal cross-fiber layers to create the requisite profiling without a sudden seam. Unlike his discrete dual-concentric driver, the 'integrated' unit only runs a single voice coil. The graduated separation is entirely mechanical.

Without a crossover, this speaker in fact is an altogether mechanical contraption and eschews electrical parts. Any frequency domain linearization must come from the enclosure.

Calliope.30 with back doors and dual-concentric 12"
It is here where the PHY credo according to Samuel Furon, Hans Kortenbach (Musical Affairs) and Keith Aschenbrenner (Auditorium 23) has explored the byways rather than highways of convention.

Instead of the dead cabinet as pursued by the Wilson, Magico and Hansen ideal which relies on dense composite or aluminum inertia, these European makers turned toward luthiers in their shared belief that speaker enclosures should help 'develop' tone whilst releasing unwanted resonances rapidly.

Ingredients for that recipe include so-called tone woods like Spruce which are common in musical instruments manufacture; and thin walls which don't store but constantly shed energy. The creation of tone relies on some form of enclosed resonant body, hence straight open baffles were out. But fully closed boxes too were out since they capture the driver's rear wave to kill off half the total output. The PHY followers view damping and the generation of free tone as mutually exclusive. Hence their solutions—each in their own way but conceptually surprisingly similar—became hybrid enclosures with open backs or bottoms.

Needless to say, the counter-phase rear wave of the driver wants to cancel the front wave in the omni-radiated lower bands. Things then are far from straightforward. What's more, large thin cabinet panels will unduly flex at very specific frequencies. Such panels won't shed broadband resonances. Deliberate bracing must first reduce the amplitude of such reactions and spread out their resonances over the broadest possible window. In essence, this type of cabinet is supposed to act like a tuning fork at all frequencies. Unlike the single tone ringing of a metallic tuning fork, the broad-band reactivity of Ocellia's tone-wood enclosure is supposed to be inaudible. Mostly. It's to constantly release input energy to let go of the notes while contributing a deliberate small amount of - um, tone.

Musical Affairs PHY speakers at the Athens 2009 hifi show

Like pornography, most of us recognize tone when present but fail at defining it. Roundabout we call up intensity, density, fullness and warmth as ingredients and point at speakers which do it better than others. But I've never yet encountered a lucid explanation about what in hifi exactly creates superior tone. Triodes, paper drivers and low or no feedback often get cited as a mandatory supporting cast. Yet by themselves they're neither guarantee nor exclusive. Other types of systems too can exhibit good tone. Is that just passed through from the recording or generated by the transducers?

Samuel Furon at his old home in Panjas during my 2007 visit

What exactly is tone? Instrumentalists and singers all train hard to develop their own uniquely recognizable tone. It instantly distinguishes, say a Michael Brecker from a Jan Garbarek from a Kenny G. Technically, it's the individual finger prints of harmonic distribution that make them all sound different. Now the conceptual hifi crash occurs when we remember how a loudspeaker is supposed to reproduce such disparate sax players simultaneously yet leave their unique timbres intact. This precisely becomes the root cause why, for many, a dead cabinet is the only good cabinet. They argue that musicians are interpreters and poets while a speaker can't be more than a most unimaginative dispatch. He is to relay the message without personal flourishes whatsoever. Any of those would be alterations to the holy writ by definition. Just the facts then.

But, any human messenger still has his or her own voice. A telefax uses a particular font. A computer screen displaying a verbatim e-mail is set to a particular resolution, size, lightness and color balance. These are variables. They do not alter the meaning of the message nor monkey with its words. Yet they certainly affect the presentation of the delivery and humans are famously psychological. They always mix up the what, where and when with the how. Getting sacked with a gentle smile feels a lot different than fiercely being yelled at. A different reaction feeds back into the event and an altogether different experience takes place. One that was triggered by the self-same message. We'll get back to this later.

The fourth PHY player, Tonian Labs at the Athens show

Does today's toneful enclosure concept still seem messily conflicted with the pedantic messenger? It's a discussion well beyond a review. We thus simply acknowledge the existence of opposing concepts and how compelling hifi results often transcend that cleverest of cover quotes which claimed that "if this is right, that must be wrong". I'll preload what's to follow with a few open questions. This is based on the foregone conclusion that having it all is the ideal but that limited funds enforce compromises. They invariably introduce hierarchical concerns over what's most important and what might be diminished or left out.

The Panjas system during the time of my visit

What's more important then, ultimate extension of treble and bass; or tone? Micro dynamics or macro dynamics? Leading-edge articulation or non-clipped decays? At what point does damping compromise vitality? How do flow and control correlate? Is hifi primarily concerned with duplicating an event or triggering a comparable response in the listener? If the latter, what are the emotional hot buttons and are they universal?

Such a list could grow long quickly. The answers determine personal bias and whether an unabashedly different speaker like the Ocellia could cover one's bases better than other products. One final prelim observation. It concerns the 16-ohm nominal impedance and 96dB sensitivity. Enter micro-power amps both triode and transistor as well as OTLs. The Calliope1.6 is tailor-made for all of them. Conversely and despite producing and selling his own 300B amplifiers, Samuel acquired an SMPS-powered transistor Crayon Audio CFA-1 integrated and loves it on his speakers. As I've attempted to do with FirstWatt amps and my Lowther-based Rethm speakers, this busts the "widebanders need tubes" myth.