Another piece of this pi.
With synchronicity meddling in my affairs, I had enjoyed H-frame style open baffle subs twice before and quite recently. One had been a 2 x 15-incher disguised as a 'side table' to accompany the German Cygnus Audio monitors. The other was the 18-incher integrated into the bass cab of the Bastanis-developed German Zugspitz Klang open-baffle Seligkeit widebander. Where the lower or lesser Pi goes farther than the Seligkeit is with its isobaric loading. Two woofers face each other in close proximity. This nets a quad of 12-inchers for a 2-channel system. Basic isobaric lore tells us that such loading regardless of orientation (back to back, face to face, back to face) develops twice the output over a single unit in the same enclosure. With Voxativ, we have a quasi enclosure with open sides, hence no clearly defined volume. I'm not clever enough to figure how standard math applies under these conditions. But I appreciate two items. 1/ two 12" woofers add up to the cone surface of a single 17" woofer but apply two motors to the same task. Sharing air motion lowers individual excursions. That drives distortion down and speed up. 2/ two drivers facing each other act as powerful brakes on the other. This will control overshoot and optimize mechanical self damping. It's perhaps no coincidence that soundkaos too have developed companion subs for their two widebanders to exploit isobaric loading, albeit in small sealed enclosures.

This preamble points at a prior positive bias. Cygnus and Zugspitz subs both had cashed in on claims that dipole bass in a strategically folded baffle is less guilty of riding room modes than conventional sealed or ported versions; that it excels at better articulated textures; and that it is audibly bereft of stuffy boxiness. I anticipated performance that might dominate our usual tall Zu Submission sub not just as high-efficiency companions. At this point in our narrative, T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach had come and gone two weeks after Munich. Reader Tony Esporma checked in. "Salutations. My son and I went to the audio show in Irvine yesterday. Thanks to your website, we made a point of going into the Voxativ and Rethm rooms. The former had what was likely the best sound, with tubes and high efficiency playing some really fun music. They had the 9.87 setup. It sounded great and when I mentioned your recent preview, we immediately connected, listened and talked. Fun people. Great sound and talk about a timely review. At Rethm they were displaying their prototype amp/DAC as well and the speakers had a subtle honkiness to the upper bass, likely due to the positioning in the room. Other than that it was very good imaging and spot-on vocals. Over there I was sitting next to Jacob George and he was cueing up lots of music. Some of it was like mid 60's Sinatra type stuff which was great. I told him: "I know you, you don't know me". And then I told him I had been following his stuff via 6moons. It was quite a pleasant five minutes (or more) of enjoying his music.

"The great thing is, both told me that they have secured distribution in the US and would have sales channels in Southern California. Both of us were amazed at the smoothness of the widebanders and how they achieved bottom end with active woofers. Time to start saving. Hopefully the prices won't go through the roof once they import them to the US. Thanks for your efforts at bringing stuff like this to my attention. Oh, it's good to see the High End finally coming along with technology. There were almost no CD players, mostly digital file servers, streamers and LPs. Someone told my son that it was 'new' technology. He chuckled because at 22, he grew up with my home-designed servers since he was a kid. Trust me, a Windows 95 server was a hard thing to do. Naturally, they had some really really good stuff but I can't afford it. But it was great listening." After hearing it in Irvine, mastering engineer Steve Hoffman had accepted a 9.87 setup as his third personal system. Would any attending press follow these examples of singling out the Voxativ exhibit? [30cm short widely flared rear horn of the Pi at left.]

The Audio Traveler commented: "The sound was very linear and cohesive with the single drivers giving pinpoint imaging and 3D-sound staging and the spruce cone and Japanese-paper whizzer lending a life-like timbre to strings and voices with tight, authoritative bass that never gave a hint of boominess or disconnect from the midrange. For those looking for full range speakers without a crossover that can do mid-20Hz bottom end thanks to the dipole bass drivers, I think your journey ends here." Finishing up on-line recon prior to dispatch—Holger had a delivery within a 1-hour drive from us so offered to drop off the review loaners—I remembered Tony Esporma. I checked out US importer HighEnd Electronics who had priced the 9.87 system at $27'000. This was despite the dollar then being just 10% under the euro. After parity adjustments to $22'000, $5'000 for shipping and US customs seemed excessive. But perhaps this was anticipating further dollar weakening against the euro?* This becomes as good as any juncture to say that Voxativ's market positioning focuses unapologetically on the high in hifi or the high end. Putting it mildly, bystanders seeing an €88'000/pr tag attached to a single-driver speaker as it is to Holger's Ampeggio Dué are bound to react strongly. That makes today's €20'000 system of 3 drivers per channel—two of them self-powered—more attractive though it remains a very long roll of green. Yet hifi reviewers aren't obligated to sort these matters out. Pricing can relate to build cost (pragmatic), to what performance competes against (idealist) or consider itself a work of art (abstract and irrational). It can appeal to value or exclusivity, perception, cachet and everything in-between. The market has room for it all. Ongoing sales of the Dué show that high price needn't be a stumbling block.

* A few days prior to delivery, Holger emailed from the RMAF 2015 show in Denver [system at left]. He had seen fit to increase the original €20'000 pricing with the standard Ampeggio driver by a whopping 50% and to €29'900. That was a most serious raise which now made the 9.87 system more expensive than the Ampeggio.

Rather than rewrite the intro accordingly, I decided on this footnote instead. Those with basic math skills note the timing of Voxativ being in the US, their domestic importer's earlier mentioned pricing and this subsequent global adjustment.
Ouch! This did rather reset any relative value mentions I'd made based on the old price.

For the rest of the show system and its performance, I refer you to Jason Serinus of Stereophile and his blog mention of this room:

"Voxativ may be one of the only companies in the high-end whose equipment list is designed as a flow chart. The visual presentation seems entirely apt, given how beautifully music flowed through the eye-catching and soul-pleasing Voxativ 9.87 system loudspeakers with its AC-4d wideband driver and bass extension ($34'900/pair). This truly superior system excelled in communicating the life and beating heart behind the notes. Listening to Agnes Obel via Tidal, I heard beautiful sonorities distinguished by open highs, a superb midrange and deep bass. Nor did the voice of Cassandra Wilson on "Strange Fruit" possess anything other than a special and wondrous beauty. Switching to analog, a fabulous recording of the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio's Live at the Misty excelled in its percussive impact. I wouldn't call this system totally neutral—it had a special shine to it, as would a jewel that had been buffed and polished to perfection—but it was supremely musical and drop-dead seductive. Doing the rest of the honors: the world premieres of Voxativ's 845 tube monoblocks ($17'500/pair) and PA-01 preamp with MC phono ($9'900); totaldac's D1 music server ($5'000) and D1 tube DAC ($10'000); and, for the analog front end, the dps-2 turntable ($4'400) with ViV Lab Rigid Float 7/CB tonearm ($6'400) and Shun Mook Reference 2 cartridge ($6'000)."

Hardware context. Traditionally, owners and makers of this speaker type alike prefer valves, mostly single-ended triodes. You might even say that such speakers—and some of their front-hornloaded kin—are the only real demonstrators for amps whose aficionados revel in flea power's anti machismo mystique. With 100dB sensitivity, 2 watts raise most roofs. Then it's no surprise that Voxativ's own electronics would use tubes exclusively; that competitor Rethm's integrated amps would be full or hybrid tube; that Hørning Hybrid who use Lowthers as dedicated midranges build their own valve gear. Just so, today's market has transistor alternatives. One** of those is FirstWatt, Nelson Pass' experimental special ops amps. I own his 10-watt SIT1 mono (8W/4Ω). Its zero NFB single-stage single transistor without output transformer but bias control is simpler/purer than even the most minimalist triode amp; exhibits bona fide triode curves; and is quieter than most valves. As less traditional alternatives, I had Nelson's 25wpc F5 and F6; Vinnie Rossi's off-the-grid 25wpc Lio with autoformer volume, Mosfets and ultra-cap power supply; and Funjoe's 25wpc 25iR gainclone integrated from Hong Kong. If tubes were required or desired to mellow out or 'fluidize' the 9.87 math, I could introduce them in the preamp via my Nagra Jazz; and/or in the DAC with Fore Audio's DAISy 1. I expected the SITs to carry the day but knowing means to experiment and to experience. For reference, of all the tube amps I've owned, most cherished in hindsight is Shigeki Yamamoto's 45 called A-08s. Its two watts simply made it useless for anything but this type speaker which I'd divested myself of for space reasons in our Villeneuve residence. Now the stage is set. It's time for our actors to emerge from behind their introductory curtains and earn their bread by giving us a compelling show.

** Other obvious contenders would be the German Avantgarde Acoustics amplifiers optimized for their 109dB hornspeakers; Serge Schmidlin's passive transformer-gain integrated under the Swiss Audio Consulting brand; and the German Cessaro electronics jointly developed with Greece's Ypsilon Electronics. High-efficiency hurdles are circuit noise and first-watt ability where, to use automotive lingo, full musical torque must kick in at very high RPM in first gear. Most transistor amps are optimized for low-impedance low-efficiency loudspeakers. Now self noise becomes less critical and an amp will drive in 3rd or 4th gear, i.e. under normal not abnormal conditions. If you listen to a 100dB speaker at 85-90dB peaks where much music operates around 70dB, you listen to a few milliwatts. That's what the first-watt doctrine points at. With such speakers, if the first watt and below don't sing, the other 99 watts which eventually might are completely immaterial. Where a 2-watt 45 triode amp would be in its optimal operating range, a 200-watt transistor amp might never get going. Such are the special demands of this type loudspeaker. Finally, high damping factors from very low output impedance could be counterproductive. That's because the ultra-potent magnetic flux in the gap plus ultra-light moving mass of high-efficiency drivers already apply significant self damping. They often don't want extra excursion limiting from excessive amp damping. Hence what may be desirable amp qualities for low-efficiency speakers could become a no-no on 100dB versions.

The shiny black review pair had been scheduled for a brief demo at Dan's, a friend and very big Voxativ customer. Afterwards Holger would drop it off at our place. That at least was the plan. As it happened, Dan spontaneously elected to acquire that very pair on the spot. Outfitted with a brand-new and as yet unnamed and priceless 104dB extreme Voxativ driver—the Pi cabinet is deliberately proportioned to accommodate all of their drivers from most affordable to costliest—it produced bass beyond Dan's big Dué and Rethm Saadhana 3. Performance and size simply proved too compelling for our Voxativ admirer.

Having been invited to participate in this demo provided me with a useful preview. I got to hear the 9.87 system in a room larger than ours and powered by valve gear, be it Thomas Mayer's 10Y preamp with Elrog 300B monos outfitted with silver/Finemet output transformers and mercury-vapour rectifier power supplies; or with Yamamoto's 3-watt AD1 stereo amplifier. It's a popular myth regurgitated by single-driver disbelievers but also poor demos and lesser examples. Such speakers fall apart at room-filling volumes or on complex music. Once one gets into this league however, reality and myth do part. They go on their separate ways. Whilst one previously could criticize bass extension and power and deliberately select music whose LF content would stress out such designs or very obviously leave things under the table, the 9.87 puts an end to that. Pounding orchestral kettle drums, Lou Ehrlich of Hadouk Trio fame hajouj bass exploits, Mercan Dede style synths and exaggerated club beats not only are fair game now, they demonstrate speed and boxless articulation which put Dan's prior enormous JL Audio subs to shame. At 99dB backed by 250 watts, output potential is truly prodigious. In Dan's context he had the bass attenuators sit below 9:00, being obviously a compound function of preceding gain and main amp input sensitivity.

Without requiring typically large straight or folded rear horns to augment a widebander's low end (or an ill-fated affair with low-efficiency box subwoofers), the seamless 9.87 system integration really does present this esoteric speaker genre with a different wrinkle. For the full bandwidth it delivers, the unusually compact form factor should be acceptable for all environments which someone with sufficient funds for this speaker would actually use. What's more, prior restrictions on applicable music selections have been lifted. Be it big bombastic orchestral soundtracks or sinful bass orgies, LF extension and headroom have been exorcised as limiting factors. Anything goes is the new motto.