To highlight contrasting concepts, I had omni widebander + directional treble assistant versus omni widebander + omni bass helper. The respective crossovers thus were 3'500Hz for Belgium, around 200Hz for Germany.
For a quality track, I did the Nordic "Wind" from Øystein Sevåg's gorgeous album Caravan. It's well recorded like all his stuff and spans a gamut on bandwidth and textures. On the saxophone's harmonics for a more piercing timbre, the HRS-120 with its +4dB option had the edge. On overall image focus, Vocalis did. Ditto for whipping cracking violence on the track's signature drum hits which flash like reverse lightning from earth to sky. Focusing on the lower registers, the monitor was first. It expressed more power, clarity and transient precision. It dished out more impact with higher startle factor. As recorded reference, I use our Raal Requisite SR1a true-ribbon headphones. Their absence of energy storage and reflections makes them the most resolved fastest transducers in the digs. These breakout Serbian earspeakers which freely float above the ears like an old AKG K-1000 are my best effort at knowing what's on a recording relative to micro detail and what its relative tonal balance really is before our various rooms play doctor with it. No speaker equals their speed and precision but between the two of today, Vocalis in its speed and power of the bass came closer than the German Physik. If that was due to less distortion—how would I really know?—then lower bass distortion sounded cleaner, quicker and more incisive. That indeed seemed like a sensible cause/effect relationship. What this bout confirmed for certain was the dominance of its omnipolar radiation pattern on the general character of Vocalis. On that score, it was a direct stand-in for the HRS-120. Like it and thus unlike the big mbl, there also was no crossover in the critical range of human hearing to make for another unusual match point.
On an inherently reverberant cut like Khalil Chahine's render of the classic "Clair Obscur", an omni's additive enrichment of the midband where standard speakers work more directional can't help but put more emphasis on those lingering languorous aspects. This isn't about dry separation. It's about watercolor transitions, overlapping fades and the half shadows of tone colors which result from them. It's this post-transient bloom of richer tone textures where the German Physik and Ilumnia 2-ways overlapped completely. Although its cabinet was essentially half the size, Vocalis still had superior bass power, broader dynamic contrast and slightly more localization focus. Still, on that latter score it was plainly softer than the recently hosted 'laser-locked' Børresen 02.
Any well-deserved enthusiasm over discovering Ilumnia's radical new driver tech must start by acknowledging that in how it's presently implemented, the dispersion pattern dominates the performance. Omnis are also available from Avantages, Duevel, German Physic, mbl and Muraudio to name a few. Their advantages on tone density, on stable imaging independent of listener position and finally an in-room power response that's closer to live music aren't exclusive to Ilumnia. Neither are the breed's drawbacks or its 'do it different' style on micro resolution from less acute separation and more involvement of the ambient field.
To dig deeper into Concha Buika's signature timbre which can be mysteriously scratchy to surround her great power with a certain cracked/glittering hoarseness, Ilumnia would still want to dial up the presence region. Otherwise these aspects of upper harmonic fire and air remain slightly subdued.
The same held for the voices of Hakan Altun and Cengiz Kurtoglu on their version of the popular "Duyanlara Duymayanlara" from Usta Cirak. The sonorous robust guttural qualities increased like a midrange expander. The wispier airier ones stepped back like an old-fashioned treble control backed off by two clicks. With uncommonly powerful bass part of the same equation, this sound was full-bodied, weighty, dark-ish and massively panoramic.
With 360° dispersion up to where its tweeter blends in and its widebander out, Vocalis is more room interactive than even regular speakers. Locking in the right boundary distances for the ideal dosage of follow-on bloom after the leading edge is key. All the way up into the upper midrange, things are demonstrably fatter and more developed than direct radiators manage. As a function of radiation not harmonic distortion, this requires no valve bloom or dark solid state to cultivate nor will very fast lit-up electronics cancel it. As such it's intrinsic to the concept of how this widebander mounts relative to the listener. I even wager that if you don't play your music loud enough, you don't come close to fully exploiting this driver's technical advantages.
Wrap. No surround, no spider but two voice coils and a novel motor. That's Ilumnia's driver with their Linear Excursion Motor System or LEMS.
In its current implementations, it faces upward to expose its air gap to eventual dust. Should anything enter to rub, the manual explains how inserting a thin sliver of paper will fix it 1-2-3. That's a welcome difference from traditionally rubbing voice coils.
The driver's central metal pole doubles as heat sink so it warms up very slightly in use. When the power switch is 'off', the driver settles into its rest position to retract below the rim of the metal ring. When 'on', it instantly rises to meet the edge. Now Ilumnia recommend 30 minutes of thermal wake-up before their driver is at its best. Of course like with any amp of which the same is said, you can listen right away.
As we read in Ilumnia's genesis story, it's been a lengthy bootstrapping journey for the Nuyts brothers to take their ambitious notion of a floating dynamic driver from simulated concept to commercial reality. But now it's here in the Magister tower and Vocalis monitor models. And, the brothers aren't done yet.
On the commercial side, Kiwi importer Peter Hardie of Aukland's Reference Audio Systems already calls his Magister floor samples personal favorites. Due to proximity and regional shows, the Benelux are now well hip to the presence of these Belgian inventors. Hopefully our follow-up review to Marja & Henk's big first splash will further spread the word.
And that word is?
There's a new sheriff in speaker town. He patrols the dynamic beat with a new rule book. And, he's as cool, unflappable and true of aim as US deputy marshal Raylan Givens was in the TV series Justified. Timothy Olyphant's character thought Miami was a sunny place full of shady people. But like dead owls, he didn't give a hoot; and he shot people he liked more for less. He was all about doing things his own way, then lived to tell the tale in inimitable style very much like Vocalis. Here's to hoping we'll hear lots more on Ilumnia's mission to make playback sound more like live music than recorded fare. In the end, that's what their low-distortion omnipolar concept is all about. And with their widebander's uncommonly clean powerful bass, the Belgians get to stick with a minimalist 2-way approach. That avoids both a three-way's high-pass filter on the midrange and typical compromises with conceptual minimalism.
To repeat the core takeaway, "in my experience of live music rather than recordings—i.e. with my ears in an audience seat not where the usual spot microphones are—tone density rules. Images are XXL sized yet lack all audiophile edge limning. Separation is far below any decent high-end hifi. The noise floor is far higher. Massed orchestral violins sound like one big heaving organism. They don't get unraveled into individual players. If they do, the orchestra is actually second-rate. Unless one sits very close to stage or suffers a poorly dialed PA system in a club, treble is always milder. That makes the live tonal balance bassier and darker than a modern hifi. Live dynamics are in another class altogether."
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