Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Soundaware D300Ref
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Wyred4Sound STP-SE MkII, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1, Nagra Classic Preamp [on review loan]
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Bakoon AMP-12R; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE Up NC500MB monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL 3000
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, Titan Audio Eros cords between wall and conditioners and on the amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: €18'000/pr [incl. 20% VAT]

Ensis Too? Remember the Blue Moon award for the Dutch firm's maiden speaker? How about Wojciech Pacula's Best Product 2016 for Poland's Or the 5 stars Marek Dyba of HifiChoice bestowed? And Outstanding Product from HifiPig; plus a major thumbs up from our Polish contributor Dawid Grzyb of HifiKnights?

Not since Anthony Gallo's original Reference 3 had a speaker cleaned up the polls like Æquo Audio's Ensis [left] did across Europe in just 15 months since she bowed in the summer of 2016. She could do no wrong no matter the writer, room or gear. To anyone thinking, it was quite the testament to her designers' engineering choices. After all, those pursue exactly such universal—as in, repeatable—behaviour. At Munich HighEnd 2017, I'd interviewed the principals Ivo Sparidaens & Paul Rassin. The new model Stilla was waiting in the wings. I learnt that this wouldn't be a downsized or dumbed-down Ensis Two. It'd be a speaker of very similar performance, albeit for a smaller investment in a less radical form factor [see above].

The range-topping four-way 6-driver Diluvium was then already in the concept phase as well [right]. That would go all out again on industrial design and features. Shy of subsequent R&D changes, it was expected to include a remote-controlled motorized head array to, like Estelon's $260K Extreme, optimize the radiation angle for the sitting position. If so, it could demand a cool €80'000/pr by the time it bowed.

May 2017: "Stilla will be 90dB sensitive and a 107cm tall three-way with twin internal 7" Nomex-clad paper woofers behind a 14cm baffle which transitions into an elliptical back whose continuously diminishing radius prevents shell resonances and reflections. Like with Ensis, our 'boat hull' shell is artificial stone, again produced in-house with high-pressure thermo forming. The woofers are oriented diagonally inside the cab, with one 90° crosswise atop the other to exploit force-cancelling benefits. Activated by two 250-watt nCore amps, the bass drivers communicate with the outside world via a vertical pipe that's as long as the enclosure is deep, then curves up its spine. Tuned to 20Hz, it operates well below where normal-sized rooms respond; and therefore works in the pressure not phase/time domain."

"This pipe flares like a short horn at the bottom to increase gain. Its rectangular mouth is about the size of a vintage jewel case and aims forward. Damping material applied to it makes for complete mechanical silence, i.e. zero traditional port chuff. Implemented ARPEC™ and EHDL™ technology as well as the avoidance of rear ports allow problem-free placement in virtually any room.

Æquo Audio at Munich Highend 2017 with Sound Galleries SMG server, Nagra DAC, Audiopax amps and Tellurium Q cabling.

"Our pure analog-domain ARPEC™ system simulates the bottom octave of a closed-box speaker. Like with Ensis, it can be adjusted for room size and placement near walls and corners to deliver taut bass without any boom.

"The EHDL™ high-frequency waveguide system redistributes some vertical into horizontal energy so that soundstaging won't suffer from floor and ceiling reflections. Optimized directivity delivers great results even in acoustically non-perfect environments. The midrange driver and front baffle colour options are the same as for Ensis. So really is the bass performance."

Hence my spelling of Ensis Too not Two. Stilla claims very similar performance for less. As in the Munich photo of an Ensis system, your amp will only drive the 5" 2-way head to see an easy load. The heavy bass lifting is handled by onboard class D amps. If you opt for the fully active version, another 100-watt nCore module drives the two-way head to eliminate all external amplification.

And that was the exciting buzz around Stilla at 2017's Munich show. Afterwards a great quiet descended over the project like a blanket of thick snow.

Then in February 2018, it thawed. "We are finally on the verge of the official launch. We actually sold out the complete first production batch and already have orders for the second. That is gratifying since nobody has heard one yet or seen an actual not rendered picture. A demo pair will be ready soon so I think it’s time to plan a trip to Ireland!"

For very extensive background coverage on relevant R&D goals, decisions and measured performance by chief architect Ivo, click here. I've only reproduced the page at right to cover key architectural elements.

The Stilla story is an important reminder. Unless one were content to launch yet another veneered rectangular MDF box with off-the-shelf drivers, true R&D means often multiple rounds of funding, here for the development of in-house manufacturing processes, the acquisition of cutting-edge industrial equipment, the creation of tooling, moulds and more.

For Stilla, development also included an ongoing collaboration with ace driver designer Per Skaaning of ScanSpeak to achieve a perfect custom fit of efficiency, dispersion pattern and harmonic distortion between the drivers used in the compact 20kg Stilla structure. Even the mechanical support beneath the enclosure is novel. Just as it was with Ensis, Stilla is as far from a me-too speaker as it gets. That's what's required to really push boundaries.