Before talking results, a step back. Approaching 20 years as reviewer, it'd been a while since I hosted €3'000/pr small towers with drivers that were exclusive to its brand and designed and built in house. Seniority on this beat tends to escalate the pricing of review subjects over time. That's particularly so if one focuses on more obscure boutique brands with lesser economics of scale. An appointment like today's now serves as reality check. For this reviewer at least, Courbet N°5 would make for a terrific feet-on-the-ground keeper. It represents mature transducer engineering, lovely finishing, attractive real-world size and appearance, competitive pricing with EU origins and advanced performance. Against such a winning reference on hand, anything much larger and costlier would have to work that much harder to be considered fair value. Being sufficiently superior to warrant the difference then isn't about ignorance over what's presently possible in the lower reaches; or about belief or imagination that the very expensive stuff is that much better by design. Then it must be earned, in actual A/B combat as it were. End of detour.

In my book, the secret sauce of this speaker has got to be its top two-some of tweeter/midrange with its high 4'000Hz crossing and breathing bore for the mids. I rather doubt that these drivers could embarrass themselves in far costlier speakers with fancier name plates and heavier enclosures.

Take the 2nd movement of André Jolivet's Second Trumpet Concerto in its transcription for piano and double bass, with the Concertgebouw's Peter Masseurs on trumpet. Turtle Records captured it in Belgium's Galaxy Studio which they call "the most quiet acoustic space in the world"; and did so in full surround. The resultant tonality puts to shame this orchestral YouTube version but at least you can enjoy a facsimile of the music which conjures up Miles Davis during his Avant la Lettre period.

With the volume goosed to realistic levels—I grew up with a sister and brother on French horn who both became orchestral players in Wiesbaden and Hamburg respectively—the sensory illusion of a fat-toned trumpet loaded with complex steep upper harmonics was uncanny. Or as the liner notes on the 25th Anniversary compilation CD by Audio Physic put it which this track opens, "to record and play back a trumpet accurately, and mainly a muted trumpet, is regarded as one of the most difficult things to accomplish because it is known that muted trumpets produce an overtone spectrum well beyond 20kHz and that the general structure of the sound which develops in time is extremely complex. Microphones and loudspeakers are stretched to their limits reproducing this instrument."

If Courbet No°5 had to stretch to its limits, it didn't let on. Not only was the blooming presence of a looming moody trumpet undeniable, the speaker with the AIO's backup had no issue rendering a believable impression of thundering descending piano chords energizing a big sound board; or accompanying the double bass down to its lowest reach. Just because this French speaker is 'only' €3'000, don't underestimate its upper two drivers. They're very good. What's more, the rear-firing 'exhaust' which decompresses the midrange is something I'd previously seen in much smaller fashion only with Franck Tchang's Tango speakers. Here too it seems to be most effective at reducing box effects.