Still, size is apt to cause OCD
—ordinary cognitive dissonance—when one first fires up el stumpies whilst expecting rug-rat soundstaging and wimpy bass. For burn-in when the main rig still drove other chores, the 22 loaners replaced our German Physik HRS-120 omnis in the media room. Endowed with unexpectedly good off-axis response plus stage height which coincided perfectly with on-screen action starting above the speakers' physical cutoff—the photo illustrates it—this speaker swap caused no withdrawal pains; only wallet orgasms to a happy tune that was just shy of a €10'000 savings.

Before this rings of hyperbole, no - the paper-dome tweeters were far from the last word in sparkle. When EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1 with Sopranino super tweeters are the in-house yard stick, not even the Ohm Walsh-derivative bending wave drivers of the German Physiks are final treble statements. Nor was the overall presentation tweaked for ultimate resolution and katana-edged separation. However, dialogue was very intelligible. Low-bass support was astonishingly effective and entirely free of bloat, boom or other hands-up room interferences even close to the front wall as shown. With as lit up, illuminated and agile an amp as the Job 225—Esoteric C-03 preamp set to no-gain mode—the presentation still had admirable body combined with tautness and lovely muscle tone. We could very easily have permanently lived with this setup. No kidding.

Once things moved into the big room where a prior hardware mix had wanted tubes in DAC and preamp (Aqua Hifi LaScala MkII and Nagra Jazz) and a FirstWatt F7 stereo amp, I wanted a bit more lighting on top and an overall adrenalin shot into the speed vein. In short order, the Nagra made room for the Vinnie Rossi Lio set up as AVC passive linestage. Then the Aqua DAC became the COS Engineering D1 which duly bumped off the Lio as well. Feeling nearly there but curious whether I could still coax just a bit more energy from it all, the final surgery subtracted two FirstWatt digits to descend from F7 to F5.

For a bit of showoffity, I cued up China from Vangelis, then put foot to gas. This unleashed enormous sound effects with deep bass mortar hits and panned trickery. In truth, it's impossible not to get psyched out when seeing a lot less speaker whilst enjoying a truly cavernous soundstage with widely spaced-out (out-of-phase that is) effects which are projected deep into the room corners. Was Casta's staging really more capacious and liberated than our usual stuff? Or was it simply the result of less mindfuggery that didn't have to overlook visual barriers—speakers taking up the same place where our ears tell us performers are—to feel that the panoramic illusion was even more seamless and unbroken?

Whatever the true mix of reality and imagination, open-eyed listening had less obstacles to contend with. Of that there was no doubt. As a result, the frisson of 'seeing' musical action in what was mostly empty space was peculiarly high. Hard-boiled 'philes might claim immunity to such basic chicanery. I confess to really indulging my OCD with great pleasure. I did notice that when set to max boost during raucous SPL, I could overload the cabinets in this big a room. This sabotaged overall cleanliness. The alert was an onset of stuffiness. It's as though a curtain came down; or someone disturbed clean creek water by stepping in and stirring up floating muck. All I had to do to prevent it was to back off the comp setting. This allowed the same general SPL as before without getting opaque. In our far smaller media room, we'd never triggered this. Of course having the 22 face a 90m² space with tall gabled ceiling overdid big room vs. small speaker sense and sensibility. But as long as I didn't max out the comp setting and set the COS Engineering DAC/preamp beyond happy hour, all was well. Clearly this speaker was not a toy but an honest performer with unexpectedly serious ambitions. It just had to be used within reason.