Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core w. 16GB RAM running OWS 10.8.2, PureMusic 2.02, Audirvana 1.5.10, Aqua Hifi La Scala II, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt S1, F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier V2; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, GigaWatt PF-2 on amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail: starting at €28'000/pr

Zugspitz. That's train + point. Make that nose of the train. With a bullet train, that could be fetching. But as the name of a bespoke hifi company? Germans of course know the real meaning. At 2'962m, the Zugspitze is the country's highest peak, located southwest of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria and north of Austria's Tirol region. Now it makes sense. Zugspitz Klang is the Teutonic equivalent of an Indian audio company calling themselves Gourishankar Audio for Mount Everest. Top of the mountain. Nothing higher. Unlimited views across a vast panorama. And perhaps, also looking down on the competition which didn't make it up as far.

I first learnt of Andreas Paul there at the very front of his train from Robert Bastani who had a review with our Steve Marsh pending and looked for further opportunities. To present his ideas of Klang in Vollendung not as isolated products—sound to perfection but actually, in completion if translated verbatim—Andreas has a setup in a fully renovated stone barn in Bad Laer shown above. Vinyl. Open-reel tape. An 833 triode amp to the very right. From there to wideband speakers would seem to be a quite natural progression. It's where Robert Bastani comes in. The speakers Andreas builds are based on Bastanis designs. In the US, Bastanis importer Mark Loewen has contracted with a local woodworker to reduce cross-Atlantic ship costs for fully assembled goods. But Andreas isn't an importer. He runs a bespoke enterprise. His components and entire systems are built to order. Inspiration for their approach dates back to the German Klangfilm company which outfitted early Odeon movie theatres with sound.

The Zugspitz catalogue includes a properly vintage rim-drive turntable with an air-bearing tangential tonearm; an 833 stereo amp; a statement valved pre/power combination also with 833 glass but now silver transformer volume control and silver output transformers; interconnect and speaker cables combining ribbon and round conductors; and five different speaker systems based on augmented wideband drivers culminating in the 3-way Seligkeit under review. That name is properly translated as soulfulness but Andreas simply calls it Bliss. It's an open-baffle design centred on a 30cm AlNiCo widebander with dipole tweeter and actively driven 46cm Neodymium-powered dipole woofer with 27mm of linear excursion. System efficiency for the two passive drivers is 103dB, impedance 16 ohms. Available finishes include various real-wood veneers, slate and linoleum coatings.
This Gloria model was trimmed out in gnarly barn Oak to suit Andreas' own décor with its Piepstein detailing.

It's surely no coincidence that high-efficiency widebander houses like Ocellia, Rethm and Voxativ make their own amplifiers too. Nor is it accidental that those nearly invariably are of the valve persuasion (Rethm's Jacob George has one hybrid). Where they diverge is on bandwidth sufficiency for their shared widebander concept. Of these three, only Voxativ has kept faith with the single-driver religion. Ocellia's better models add one or two of their own piezo tweeters. All of Rethm's current models add active bass systems. Andreas Paul adds tweeters, woofers or both. Another point of differentiation in the pursuit of high efficiencies—which produce high output with little input signal and allow the use of low-power amps—is whether such drivers require unusual loading. Hornloading front or rear is one option. Rethm pursue folded rear horns, Avantgarde Acoustic popularized colourful front horns. Open baffles of various configurations are another. By not capturing 50% of the acoustic product inside a box, one adds about 3dB of output though some of it will cancel in antiphase. Ocellia adapt a quasi-boxed variation on this theme with open bottoms. Still related to the general topic of higher-efficiency speakers are John DeVore's two Orangutan models. They revisit classic 10-inch 2-way boxes with 93/96dB sensitivities respectively. Aside from loading schemes, speaker efficiencies rely on low moving mass for their drivers (the cone, voice coil and suspension components of surround and spider) plus ultra-powerful motors (the driver magnet and its concentration of magnetic flux in the voice coil).

Andreas loads his passive models with rear horns firing into their plinths. For the semi-active models, he exploits open baffles to eliminate cavity resonances aka box talk whilst their powered bass systems work against the cancellation of long wavelengths which are endemic to open baffles. As Trenner & Friedl in Austria and others in this sector do, Zugspitz widebanders are treated with a variety of special oils and violin lacquers. Now here's an interesting factoid. What is common to all of these brands? They all embrace a paper-cone driver for the majority of their bandwidth (and they all seem to dislike the MDF building block). Despite conceptual disagreements or diverging preferences elsewhere—how many drivers, with/without filters, what type of loading—all of them overlap in their choice of paper as the ideal material for an extended midrange transducer. In short, Magnesium, carbonfibre, ceramic-coated aluminium or other alloys seem total verboten for the vocal band. That's not to say that such widebanders don't exist. They do. It's simply that this particular group of manufacturers dismisses them. Finally, if Andreas had a long-lost uncle somewhere in the Americas, it would have to be Jonathan Weiss of Oswald's Mill Audio. Swap antique barn for antique mill, throw front horns into the mix, stick to vinyl and tubes and presto, a brother from another mother. Actually, OMA has since relocated to a historical building on NYC's Brooklyn waterfront. But there's still Croatia's Ring Audio below whose widebander path relies on far smaller drivers. With others in this particular sub genre, one can now find metal drivers from Ted Jordan or Mark Audio which most often get mated to folded rear horns. Either way, if you thought mainstream speakers had the last word, the hifi underground would rather disagree.

It appears that nearly every country hosts members of this informal hifi counter movement who very often overlap in an appreciation for what the photos of this page are on about. Without getting all radicalized or self-righteous about it, let's call it a quiet rebellion against the status quo. This is borne out of dissatisfaction with the prevailing sound aesthetic. Disenchanters look to the past as an era that had gotten certain basics right which contemporary executions have turned away from. In some quarters such folks are called anachrophiles. They have a fondness for the past. Before one writes them off as Corey Greenberg's infamous old goats, it's better etiquette to first familiarize oneself with the alternatives they pursue. At the very least, it would round out one's earducation. And that's what this assignment is about. Of course not owning any vinyl nor a single valve amp, you could wonder why me. Not only didn't it bother Mr. Zugspitz who solicited this review and also suggested the speaker model, it made for a far more interesting situation. Is preaching to the converted really that cracking? Having owned Avantgarde Duos early on in my reviewing career and later models from Rethm, Zu and Voxativ, I was no stranger to hi-eff speakers. Having owned numerous valve amps from Art Audio, Audiopax, Melody, Octave, Trafomatic and Yamamoto, I'd also lived with 2A3, 300B, 45, KT88, EL84 and 6550. I'd subsequently simply gone low-power solid-state—blame FirstWatt and Nelson Pass—but to this day retain and adore a pair of 93dB tonewood widebanders from Switzerland's soundkaos which mate a paper bi-cone 8-incher to a Raal ribbon.

I leave it to you to determine where that puts me in this picture. One thing is for certain. I'd never yet gone openly baffled. Would such a tryst ruin me for cones and domes stuffed into boxes? I sure hoped not. I had far too much invested in them. Hey, they say curiosity killed the cat. But they also say cats have seven lives. Which is it? I'll go with option two and stick to being curious.