El sonido. Having secured the better scenario whilst watching our usual sound fade in the rear-view mirror, I tried to remember Kii's Three for extra context. That too had been a fully active speaker with DSP and class D, albeit with far more advanced facilities via optional controller which becomes digital hub, attenuator, remote control and comprehensive multi-band EQ. Certainly common ground was that drier more rigid damped behavior though Sotto Voce's struck me as rather more pronounced. This in particular suited electronic music with its steeply rising crisp sounds. Likewise for modern studio recordings of rhythmically taut tunes. On classical music however, the minimized suppleness of bel canto and the reduced development of tone colors would instantly telegraph to the cognoscenti. Purely on memory, the Kii color palette had been more expansive. Also, there'd been far less bleaching of saturation and vividness at lower playback levels. That was the Stereo 3's greatest weakness. Hifi whisperers and background Benjamins alike won't be served to best effect.

A very direct signal path. If the Stereo 3 had USB, one could eliminate even the intermediary D/D converter which presently must generate the required AES/EBU output.

It's those who frolic mainly at the other end of the loudness pool who will enjoy uncommon headroom and unwavering control which low-Ω active drive exercises over its drivers. Bass heads who are into ultimate infrasonics and ports will miss a bit of bloom and extension but listeners more keyed into control and textural evenness should really groove to this force-cancelling sealed alignment. Letting the Stereo 3's strong suits be my musical guide, I quickly drifted into more complex rhythmically perspicacious fare with plenty of strong low bass. Wherever I can understand words, I mostly don't listen to Western Pop. Lyrics tend to be far too trite and mundane. It's one reason why I prefer non-English Pop. That this misses occasionally deeper meaning as it likely does in this glorious Khadja Nin number is the price to pay. Like a cinematic hymn, "Sambolera" wants to be played at stout levels where the Stereo 3 gave of its best.

Still in Africa but now on male vocals with a funkier groove and studio brasses that all want to be unleashed at club levels, Sotto Voce's angular Krion boxes jammed hard and unwaveringly robust.

Using Michael Brook's endless guitar as crossing point…

… we'd easily end up in Pakistan with the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Instead we head for Bollywood heroics to combine rousing vocals with rollicking beats in a big production which again played to the Stereo 3's strengths; except for drying out some of the recorded reverb.

That and related effects of overdamping would most obviously apply to material like this duet between Dulce Pontes and Andreas Bocelli.

Beside obvious modern cosmetics and active drive, the takeaway from Sotto Voce's Stereo 3 is that entering digital not only lightens the pile-on of associated kit but has a high chance of sounding better. For reasons unknown, designer Jorge Mata omitted USB and volume control. Now we must look for an AES/EBU source or add a USB bridge to a PC; and find a superior digital volume control. Here the purportedly lossless Leedh algorithm as already implemented by Soulution and Lumin could be the ultimate. After all, you will also listen to minus 30 decibels or lower. Minimizing/eliminating resolution losses will be key. Power delivery makes a difference so I used a Vibex DC filter and top Allnic Audio power cords. Warm-up factors so running the speakers for a few hours sounds better than stone cold upon power up. Given negligible standby draw, critical listener might just leave them on unless away on vacation or business.

Competition? The probably toughest since it's priced at exactly half should be Buchardt's new A700, a fully active 5-driver sealed 3.5-way particularly with the Danes' optional €700 hub which adds flexibility very far beyond the Spaniards.

In a nutshell. If you meet the Stereo 3 from the 'analog' side of the fence and especially if you cherish valved subtlety for its impact on the texture/timing and color gestalt, you'll have to recalibrate your expectations. This design goes lighter on color intensity and pliability. Its key focus is phase-coherent precision from which stems staging accuracy albeit of narrower width; and rigorous control over its drivers for very taut damping. That tends to shorten decays higher up in frequency. I expect that the Stereo 3 could have special appeal with people whose listening contains a high percentage of ambient, electronica and high-energy 'big' stuff. All that will play to Sotto Voce's strengths – which include enhancing especially minimalist modern décors with clean lines, hard long-wearing skins and sharp angles.

The Stereo 3 from Valencia seems very much a product that's been custom-tailored to the expectations of the iGeneration. And that makes it a product of and for its time.