Before we go sonic, brief setup tips. In my digs speakers usually end up about 3m from my seat lightly toed in. That snaps in image precision and staging. Today's compression tweeters were a touch hot when angled thus. I quickly realized that these Ichos don't want to be heard on-axis but nearly parallel. Some freedom from front and side walls doesn't hurt either. From 80-150cm are a good idea. Then ensure plumb levelling when fixing the bronze spikes. If you have isolator bases à la Acapella, Symposium & Co, experiment. Whilst sitting on typical carpet isn't a problem, a smooth hard surface will add precision and energy. Once everything is dialed, these transducers should disappear to elude being apparent sound sources. At a claimed 92dB/W/m, less broad-shouldered amps may apply. For civilized SPL even a 300B SET could be a go. For levels beyond standard you'll want 20-30wpc like SoReal's Melissa puts out in triode mode as included here. But don't mistake these mentions with any non-tube clause. Doors are wide open to quality transistors. Brilliant options were my 100wpc darTZell NHB-108 and Riviera's 30wpc Levante hybrid integrated. The latter glows two ECC-83 triodes and Hifi-Welt which also handle today's speakers provided my loaner.

With 2020 the Year of Beethoven, breaking the ice with Eroica felt fitting. €17'000 rich, Levante really was a congenial mate for the N°Four. Only a few bars in it was crystal that this wouldn't be a cheap amorphous construct pawned off as a symphonic orchestra. These were real musicians dialoguing on real instruments. Of particular note was how believably Ichos drew the interrelationships between sections. Scale and levels just fit. The big drum had gravitas and power, the strings were present but not dominant, the flutes modulated between ethereally floating to incisive peaks. This Austrian MkII SE was so even and balanced that finding head-on comparators would look at Wilson's Sasha DAW or Intonation's small Terzian. Acapella's Cellini we recently awarded belongs to the same exclusive club. Dropping legendary names really is legit to set today's Ichos scene. Experienced listeners would agree that regardless of price and size, these backloaded horns are very special. Of course we need more before crossing that line. Let's apply method then and break things down starting with the €7'000 SoReal Melissa tube integrated for a real-life combo.

A CD with narrowly spaced test tones confirmed that below 50Hz, N°Four in my room had little to say. With real music alas, the subjective impression rather differed. The acoustic upright of Steve Swallows, bassist of the Carla Bley trio, exhibited the sonority on Live goes that I'm used to with my Acapella La Campanella. I certainly heard no lack of extension and in fact felt the air which Ichos set in motion. Putting the loupe on the low registers next asked for These New Puritans. Those Brits are known for an irreverant mix of club, folklore, symphonic aspects, big drums and deep synths. Rather than run out of gas, already the bass transients of Hidden hammered surprisingly solid and pressurized.

That Physics won't be denied came clear once Karl Saglem's Nordic Balm referenced the bigger Acapella in the subsonic reaches. The opening synth pedals of "Solhaug" lacked some fill. But extreme depths are musically rare and the special domain of bigger boxes with heavier artillery. That's not the 25kg Ichos though it's clearly not bass lean or weak. Despite the test-tone verdict, its acoustic coupling of rear horn to room made for a wholly impressive experience.

That this didn't equate to any last words on dryness or hard-grip definition probably was the resonant rear horn and low-mass box. Where those LF aspects are dear, one keeps looking. In this price range one might then consider the sealed-box Equilibrium Idea S8 which does slap bass cleanly and powerfully. Whilst Ichos bass won't snap alike, don't discount pace or precision. Core speed was ably in place to satisfy my rather demanding ears. In fact, N°Four managed what I mostly miss in this price range: the illumination of more subliminal bass textures and attendant timbre modulations. Such finesse is found on Bromberg plays Hendrix which bass hero Brian Bromberg remastered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hendrix's passing. When his 300-year old double bass intones "The wind cries Mary", Ichos brilliantly teased out the old wood's lyrical timbre into resonant tone wood, enclosure effects and stringed decays so a far cry from primitive monochrome bass blubber. Here even the Equilibrium would play second bass fiddle on differentiation.