Scratching that itch. Mine was knowing how Spark's spiderless midrange might outshine the spidery version of our original Codex. So I had an unauthorized plan: knee-cap Spark and Codex side by side with the same 4th-order/80Hz active analog hi/lo-pass filter and cross them both seamlessly over to our dual 15-inch sound|kaos sub. I call it 'unauthorized' because doing this shouldn't be on the menu of most shoppers. Whoever wants still more bandwidth than sailing Spark solo secures will likely reach for a bigger Audio Physic. So I'd not focus on the Ripol sub inclusion. But running it as a footnote session would equalize Spark and Codex on bandwidth and eliminate all advantages of Codex's invisible 10" woofer. Any audible offset would hone in strongly on the dissimilar midrange drivers. I'd get to scratch my need-to-know itch over however many instant A/B it might take. Yet I'd not un/re-solder anything unlike installing the new midrange and filter board in Codex would require. Voilà, a lazy but excellent plan to wrap my listening impressions. When my Elite contact dispatched the sparkling tracking #, "our pair of Sherpa stands just sold out from under me". With 62cm height floor to speaker, I was sure one of our resident options would slip in just fine. And so it did. With Track Audio's rather too short, EnigmAcoustics' too tall, the stands of Cees Ruijtenberg's Acelec Model One sized properly right down to the perfectionist Germanic centimeter.

After a few spritzes of Mr. Muscle and a quick wipe-down, the loaners' black glass lost its transit dust and my subsequent finger prints. Leashed up upstairs was a Goldmund Job 225 preceded by a passive-magnetic icOn 4Pro SE linestage. That got XLR signal from a Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC which clock-slaved a Soundaware D100Pro SD transport that sent digits over I²S via RJ45. I set a playlist on endless repeat, hit 'play' and closed the door. Let these Irish travelers warm up with some bare-knuckle brawls before I'd return for more civilized action.

This SD card transport next to the chair provides 1000s of tunes without any moving parts, WiFi or the Internet. The remote navigates through the library. 

What Spark displaced were sound|kaos Vox3a solid-wood monitors with built-in LessLoss passive inline noise filters. That makes them another 3-way though rather smaller, with dual laterally opposed woofers, a custom 4" AlNiCo-powered widebander, upfiring ribbon tweeter, rear port and 93dB sensitivity.

My first critical assessment of Spark? Though less efficient, Manfred Diestertich's spiderless midrange seemed to split the difference between a standard dynamic driver and a classic xover-less widebander like our Cube Nenuphar v2; or Zu Soul VI. However linear or not such widebanders behave in the frequency domain, they invariably are dynamically aspirated, immediate and twitchy like caught fish wiggling to free itself. It's a particular blood-thinning tell that living with widebanders helps one recognize. Though Spark looked entirely poker-faced on the subject, it held some of those quicker more lucid aces. It was my first indicator that in its own way, a classic spider must act like a mechanical sponge. It soaks up reactive energies which damps dynamic micro reflexes. The result is curtailed related contrast and expressivity. Crossover parts are said to have similar effects. Avoiding them is one rationale for widebanders; or 2-ways which run their mid/woofer wide open then add a simply high-passed tweeter like a Tash Goka Reference 3A or a Sean Casey Zu. Whilst Spark runs electrical filters, it avoids the apparently similar filter of a traditional midrange spider. That's my rationale for calling the effect 'splitting the difference'. Real confirmation would come in the downstairs Codex shootout. But already I felt quite certain that I had identified a key enabler of the Spark recipe.

On taller stands to more closely approximate the equivalent driver array of Codex.

Juxtaposing Codex turned the same key. It opened the door to open-throatedness, presence and intensity. Whatever we call it, Spark had sufficiently more of it than the previous generation with the traditionally hung midrange. It telegraphed alike on the 24/96 vocals of Mahsa Vadhat and the 16/44.1 kemanche of Mark Eliyahu. Over Spark, the bandwidth of the vocal cords and viola-type strings had more emphatic range, more in-room presence. The acoustic occupancy of virtual performers was more insistent. As a quick A/B/A, it was a very interesting exercise. It stripped off the usual distractions of disparate tonal balance, dispersion or material attributes when comparing speakers. This was about just one quality; the home turf of good widebanders. Though not as pronounced as Cube Audio's Nenuphar, it had elements of the same quickening whereby the vocal range feels more intimate, elastic and vigorous. Because the big sound|kaos sub equalized all differences below the waist, my verdict of this atypical comparison was easy. Spark took home the prize. I'd have to pack up Codex and return them to Elite Audio instead. Too bad the cartons wouldn't fit. All jesting aside, by eliminating the secondary suspension of a classic pleated-cloth spider, Manfred Diesterich's new midrange really does mirror what lowering its moving mass and/or raising the flux in its voice coil might do. Both are standard enablers for higher sensitivity. That can have similar sonic benefits. In a three-way it would obviously rely on equally aspirated mates to not suffer resistive padding to match a woofer's lower efficiency. We'll leave all such concerns to the engineers. In the listening seat, our upshot is simply this: if we're sufficiently open minded to consider a threesome of mains and subwoofer with proper integrator tools, a Spark + 1 combo will sail past the original Codex in the all-important midband, add full 20Hz power and could well come in for less. With that settled, did Spark have enough smack to play this bigger room solo?