With the Mandala, I could become completely engrossed in seemingly endless dynamic shadings. Most speakers and amplifiers obscure these microdynamic twists and turns. One record that demonstrated this as well as any was Miles Davis' Miles in the Sky [Columbia CS 9628]. Every minute variation in embouchure on his Martin Committee mouthpiece could easily be heard on "Stuff". I played this for my girlfriend Michele and her comment was "wow, you can hear everything!" Quite. Meanwhile, the Ultimate woofers plumbed the depths of Ron Carter's sophisticated bass lines clearly and allowed me to enjoy his playing more than ever. Each instrument came across with a verve that kept me captivated in a way that listening to any hifi should always aspire to but rarely matches. With small Jazz ensembles or large orchestral, one can clearly see into the performance space and focus on whichever musician one finds most interesting at that moment. Each separates from the others with outlines that are distinct and do not blur or overlap. I found this latter quality to be more related to the performance of the Tron since other amplifiers I had on the Mandala were not able to exhibit quite this level of imaging.

The Mandala could easily reproduce the scale of a full orchestra such as the wonderful London blue-back recording of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major [London CS 6178]. The tonal balance of this recording is remarkable. String tone is perfectly natural, with neither edge nor false sweetness. The solo clarinet enters exquisitely with a lilting quality that contrasts beautifully with the orcherstra's exuberance. As with the Jazz solos I praised before, the most subtle changes in the soloist's expressions were laid bare. I was drawn into the performance in a way that I can only compare to my regular attendance at the Yale Philharmonia concerts in nearby Woolsey Hall, New Haven/CT. The pursuit of highly revealing high-efficiency speakers often involves tradeoffs. For example, Lowther fans have to deal with the notorious shout, a forward harshness and raggedness in the upper midrange on certain music. With Bastanis speakers, some complain that the Gemini tweeter can be too hot or prominent at times. In my system, they sounded just fine. Here again, careful component and cable matching are a must. One relatively new Bastanis Matterhorn owner used his Wyetech Sapphire 300B amp and found the tweeters too bright. Switching to a Tube Guru 6C33C solved the problem immediately. This owner also reports that the Sophia Prodigy 6V6GT is a great match, albeit without the prodigious bass.

On the other hand, the Gemini tweeter has tremendous dynamics and detail and can add greatly to listening excitement. Roy Haynes' cymbal work at the intro to "Moon Ray" by the Roy Haynes Quartet on Out of the Afternoon [Impulse AS-23] is a perfect example. With the Gemini tweeter, the cymbals lept out of the speaker and startled all listeners I played them for. They sounded very realistic and not edgy or irritating at all. While I already pointed out several times that the Mandala and all Bastanis speakers I heard require greater-than-average care in partnering electronics and cables to maintain good tonal balance and extract their full performance, I came to believe that in many ways, these speakers are like a blank canvas waiting for the owner to paint his own sonic picture on. If you are inclined to just unpack a speaker and expect it to work with whatever you have on hand, Bastanis are not for you. The flip side is that these are a tweaker's dream. Toward the end of the review, I read about the Audio Horizons fuse on Audio Asylum's Tweak group. I'd been using Isoclean fuses for years now and was getting tired of their need for frequent changing. The manufacturer recommends changing them every six months.

So I sprang for the Audio Horizons fuse. When I installed it, the change was not subtle. There may have been a very slight loss of transparency but instrumental body and overall tonal balance improved. Paying attention to every detail will get you to the point as Robert Bastanis is wont to say. When you get there, the results can be quite intoxicating. My only other caveat is to make sure that you have a large enough room that will allow you to pull the speakers out enough from the front wall. My own room is 23 x 17 feet and I would not want to go much smaller than that. Personally, I would also avoid having large glass or other hard reflective surfaces behind these dipoles. A few years ago, I tried my Prometheus MkII in my downstairs room with large windows behind them and it was no good.

Ten years ago, the Prometheus MkII garnered a Blue Moon award. At the time, the retail cost for a dealer-assembled pair with upgraded Gemini tweeters and older Classic widebanders was $6'200. Today the tag on a dealer-assembled pair of Mandala with Gemini tweeters, four much improved Chrystal widebanders and superior 18-inch open-baffle woofers is $16'500. This puts the speakers into a very competitive sector of the marketplace. On sound quality alone, they definitely belong there. In fact, I can't think of another ultra-efficiency speaker I'd prefer at this price. The aesthetics however might be more of a challenge. Open baffles, by definition, require that their owner accepts driver magnets and possibly all connecting wires in plain view. Other OB manufacturers like Hawthorne Audio (now merged with Core Audio Technology) have done a respectable job of making the backs of their speakers somewhat more pleasing. Another approach is to place a framed grill cloth across the back as soundkaos do for their new Libération. The current importers might be well advised to make this an option.

Personally, I have my Mandala in a dedicated music room. What their backs look like is of minor concern. When you hear what open baffles can do for the sensation of live music coming from the added energy of the rear wave and a complete absence of distracting box colorations, you might be hard pressed to say no. After spending hundreds of hours with the Bastanis Mandala, I can honestly say that they do many things better than any speakers I have ever heard. Foremost among these qualities is that they are highly expressive and produce a very involving nuanced sound. They project a large soundstage with great depth and bloom at even moderate levels. When called upon, they will startle you with dynamic impact. They will do justice to all kinds of music as one would expect from a truly full-range speaker - and do all of it with a mere 10 watts of pure triode power per channel admittedly (not counting the separate woofer amps!). It all adds up to another award.

Bastanis website