November
2019

Country of Origin

Spain

Stereo 3

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref as USB bridge/SD transport
Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with Western Electric 300B or Elrog ER50; Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, COS Engineering D1, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, SIT3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos, Crayon Audio CFA-1.2, Bakoon AMP-13R
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V, VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL 3000 & 5000; Zu Event; KingRex uArt double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: €12'000/pr

The city's Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

Valencia. Even if you haven't a notion where on Spain's map it sits, you've likely had a sun-ripened taste of it with an eponymous orange of the region. For a taste of its favorite non-alcoholic drink called horchata made from tiger nut, you'd obviously have visited the city. Then chances are that you also hopped across the blue to Ibiza or Palma de Mallorca. In December of last year, our readers had a chance for a virtual visit there in my Trending|Mending feature. In it I wrote:

"There are many ways to execute speaker design. Here we look at two which to my mind offer unusually attractive solutions to mend the often contradictory hopes of compact size, mature bass and high undistorted SPL. Should your notions on the ideal house-trained speaker add the narrow-most baffle for the smallest visual impact and about one metre of height to not obscure your views out the window – cast your eyes at Æquo's Stilla from Holland and Sottovoce's Stereo 3 from Spain.

As we'll learn, this original back plate lacks the current selector switch between analog and digital input signal.

"Both concur that to accommodate your wish list relies on a 3-way.

"They further agree that in this case, nothing bigger than a 5-inch driver should perform dedicated midrange duties. From that follows that the baffle needs to be no wider to accommodate just that.

"Both agree on point-source dispersion for the majority bandwidth plus bass close to the floor. For the mid/tweeter it means close proximity. Sottovoce maximize theirs by coaxially mounting a horn-loaded compression tweeter inside the throat of their midrange. Æquo mount their separate tweeter and mid as close together as possible.

"Both agree that undistorted low bass at high volumes from a compact enclosure means cone area plus active drive plus high power plus adaptive signal processing. Hence Stilla and Stereo 3 both use twin woofers in force-canceling arrays powered by class D. The Dutch hides its bass artillery inside the enclosure in a diagonally crossed geometry. The Spaniards horizontally oppose theirs on the cheeks à la Audio Physic of yore; and do so low to ground to exploit gain without floor bounce.

"Where the designs diverge is that for bass, Æquo use a combination of line/port tuned to 20Hz which fires out the front right above their plinth. Sottovoce champion a classic sealed alignment. Either eliminates typical room issues from rear-firing ports. Then Æquo park all of their compensations and user adjustments in the pure analog domain whilst Sottovoce do it digitally and offer no user adjustments. Finally the Dutch limit active drive to just their bass system, leaving full activation to a surcharge option. The Spaniards apply active drive across their entire bandwidth."

"No matter which speaker gets your vote—price and looks will factor as they always do—you'll end up with visually unobtrusive boxes that image like mini monitors but add fully mature low-down reach without placement fits. You'll benefit from the type bass control which only comes from active drive. Either way, Stilla and Stereo 3 play to contemporary design, one which demands that high-performance speakers look good and take up the smallest possible real estate to do the job. That's because to most 21st century denizens, coffins really belong in the cemetery not living room. And refrigerators belong in the kitchen."

Image by or-design.org, showing Sottovoce designer/architect Jorge Mata for size reference.

Add that sotto voce is a classical music notation. It instructs its musician/s to play a certain phrase "under the voice", i.e. very softly like an accompaniment.

It doesn't seem far-fetched that Jorge Mata Falcón, urban architect, named his speaker company as he did because he wants his products to remain an accompaniment to the music thus tread very softly on visual impact. That atittude is directly opposed to the bigger-is-better ethos which is so popular among affluent audiophiles particularly in the Far East.

Jorge's Stereo 3 is a speaker by a millennial for millennials. It exploits contemporary amplifier and DSP tech with clean contemporary styling to be at home in an inner-city flat with a minimum of fuss.

Technically, the 165mm neodymium-powered coax covers seven octaves which then hand over at 110Hz via active 4th-order filter to the two 20cm/7.8" fiberglass woofers. The 40mm compression tweeter inside the horn throat decouples at 3kHz on a passive 4th-order slope. 400 watts of power the lot per side.

Half-space response at -6dB is specified as 33Hz to 20kHz; perfectly sufficient as Rolls-Royce would put it with that very cultivated seemingly bored British understatement.

Standard dress options are 1mm thin but solid skins of black or white Hi-Macs over MDF up to 40mm thick. So the finish is LG's synthetic kitchen-counter stone materia as Korea's answer to America's Corian from DuPont or Spain's Krion from the Porcelanosa Group. Globe-trotting audiophiles might flash on Granada's Kroma Audio. But their Krion cabinets are pure synthetic stone without Sottovoce's thick MDF undergarment. Relative to my repurposed intro frame of Æquo and Sotto Voce, Stilla in its thermo-formed stone curve gets €6'000 more. That makes the Stereo 3 the easier reach relatively speaking. €12'000 is still more than many people spend on a used car. Today's proposition thus requires a considerable commitment to the hobby. It simply includes all necessary amplification. But you could potentially need long power cords depending on where, relative to the final speaker position, your closest wall outlets happen to be.

Matte white body with white horn, matte black body with bronze-colored horn – custom colors and gloss finishes by request.

As to the drivers and electronics, "we don't talk about our parts vendors because we don't want our brand associated with other brands. We always chose components for their quality and performance not name even if all of them come from well-known reliable sources. And while we have used Hypex UcD modules in some custom projects where they did a great job, our Stereo 3 does not use them." If you just must know, unbolt a terminal plate and take a look. I had to promise Jorge I wouldn't. My traveling sampler pair had been on the road for more than a year so was perfectly broken in. Unlike current production's Hi-Macs skins, it still had the original paint finish but otherwise was identical. Or so I was led to believe. When Jorge emailed shipping confirmation, it announced a euro pallet worth 130kg. With 20kg going to the raw pallet, that left 55kg per speaker box.