Slice & stack? Before my bell chirped, I wondered. Might not some buyers prefer the Z165 if it extended half as deep then made up cubic volume by reaching all the way to the floor? Not only would one not need the stand but the overall appearance could streamline better. Converting the required internal volume to occupy a tower of identical height but 60% less depth could, I imagine, have more people embrace it than a stand mount with a disproportionate derrière.
Certainly the version with the horizontal tapered quarter-wave tube demands a specific depth to work. Simply converting the existing box to a slot port might be more convenient for Antoine? But with his M1 two-way tower, Alain already executed a vertical TQWT. So I'm unsure why all of the Z models insist on being ever bigger monitors.
Of course 2023 celebrates the return of the maxi monitor. It's no longer just Graham, Harbeth and Spendor who do them. DeVore, JBL, Klipsch, PSB and more all promote retro boxes, many of them very broadly shouldered behind old-timey tweed grills even orange egg-crate foam. In that context Alain's Z165 is a far narrower specimen whose full depth won't be apparent if toed in face on.
These then were my early-morning musings on the day that DB Schenker's lorry was set to deliver. No plane fare here but classic overland freight forwarding plus two ferries. After a night of heavy winds and drenching rains, daylight promised uneventful unloading of the pallet from France's Rennes. But it did get down to just one degree above freezing.
Once perched atop the stands which I assembled via convenient spline joints sans bolts or screws, my tape measure showed the stands to be 50.5cm tall just like the speakers were half a meter deep. Meanwhile the frontal profile was a mere 24.5×34.5cm WxH. Point made. This really is an odd distribution of measurements.
But enough of that. Body shaming is lame. Let's see them in situ for a size reference then get into musical gear to discuss sonics. This saw the usual ancillaries which here are a 27" fully loaded iMac with 32GB of RAM and Audirvana. On the RJ45 input sits a LHY Audio SW-8 network switch for occasional cloud-file parity. On the USB output sits a Singxer SU-6 supercap-powered bridge. That feeds a Sonnet Pasithea multi-parallel R2R DAC via AES/EBU. With low 16Ω output impedance, that feeds an icOn Gradient Box smart active crossover. An 80Hz 4th-order high pass sees a pair of Kinki Studio 250w/1MHz lateral Exicon Mosfet monos. An 80Hz 4th-order low pass sees a Goldmund/Job 225 with each channel wired to one of the big sound|kaos Ripol sub's 15-inch woofers. Sonnet's variable reference voltage offers lossless remote-controlled volume. The Gradient Box remote does sub/filter bypass with one button press.
Leave the post, bring the beam? Manufacturing an obscure reference—from The Godfather's "leave the gun, take the cannoli" to post 'n' beam construction—might seem odd but will make a point; and not about these open frame stands. Instead it's about a mental image. That formed during my first two long listening sessions. On an extended playlist of well-recorded and musically gourmet tracks, I routinely noticed an effect I'll call beam forming. Solo vocals or instruments seemed so materialized that I felt physically singed as though by sunlight through a magnifying glass. Hence beam forming. The sensation was that these virtual center images (not the two speakers!) projected radiation so focused that I felt it on my skin. I'd previously and only rarely encountered this extra intensity with large single-driver widebanders. Granted, it took premium recordings to come off again. Nonetheless, my spontaneous reaction was "what a fantastic midrange".
Following hot on its heels was renewed appreciation for Alain's Janus-headed horn tweeter. In my personal pantheon of HF deities, it rules the very top joined by Raidho's famous planarmagnetic. It spans the gamut from airiness and dynamics to incisiveness and sweetness, extension and speed to shimmer and gloss. Which aspect moves into the foreground merely depends on the recording. That serves massed strings and energetic piano uppers as well as it does close-mic'd splashy cymbal crashes, triangles or the top registers of a pan flute or Cuban trumpet. It's all accounted for and one feels that no micro crumbs are left under the table. Obviously horns are directivity controllers so I prefer mine toed-in face on. This next photo illustrated that clearly. Because it takes a wide-angle lens to capture, what in this direction is the right speaker looks too elongated. The left one is more realistic.
Use mouse-over loupe function; or open in new tab for full-size image.
I was also surprised by just how loud and dynamically exuberant the Z165 could play with no audible hints of early stress. Of course just then it saw no bass. Alain's old-timey mid/woofer worked as a broader midrange isolated by an active high pass. Reduced distortion and expanded dynamic range are the whole point of said exercise to begin with. Still it was lovely to hear such impressive evidence at work. What's more, these papery chaps had 250-watt high-current monos on their tails to further drive the dynamic point home. Even with inflation-adjusted pricing, their $3.7K/pr sticker remains outstanding value. It fiscally too made a sane fit. Burning premium racing fuel also showed how Alain's vintage recipe makes for a true high-performance transducer. Those who write it off as passé by chasing hi-tech foam/carbon composites to be properly modern will never know. Premature judgment is simply common in hifi. Pinning a single poor experience on the wrong thing is easily done. Now one shies away from whatever part one put at fault, be it a Sabre DAC chip, ribbon tweeter, class D amplifier – or insufficiently resolved paper driver.