Doing the math. With Martin Gateley's direct sales, the obvious artisanal nature of his small Swiss sound|kaos atelier became more price competitive with mainstream brands a few years ago. Unlike many of those however, with sound|kaos one never drives MDF and very rarely off-the-shelf drivers. For today's Vox 3f, there's just that stock TangBand. Even so, it remains a rare sight. Tomorrow's AlNiCo version Vox 3a will sport a fully custom Enviée. Already the Raal ribbon is custom as are the high-performance Armin Galm woofers. Rather than hard-couple the stand, it links up to the integral table T mount which itself decouples via rubber grommets and a squishy half sphere to isolate the wooden cab. The bronze ribbon mount, terminal plate and woofer grills all are a few cuts above and the potted filter PCB too go the extra mile. But all of that is just materialistic stuff; technical bits and bobs. Where the equation transcends 1+1=2 is on performance.

Woofer sans bronze mesh. CD/SACD hybrids by new Croatian label Lumaudis.

That—hello dinosaurs—includes cosmetics. If a product looks ugly or even just same-old same-old, its engineering department overlooked an entire discipline. Now the product simply doesn't perform, cosmetically. Regardless of sound, it will never hit 100. Particularly speakers are furniture. We see them more than we ever listen to them. Now looks can eat up 10-50 points on our scale depending on shopper. But I'd still argue that anyone who lets poor industrial design off the hook by according it just 10 points does neither the industry at large nor that brand's lazy engineers any favors. Whilst looks are always in the eye of the beholder, the Vox 3f particularly in the less figured cherry should sit pretty with a broad audience. Perhaps more importantly, its sheer compactness and ease of being walked about—it doesn't weigh much, securely attaches to its stand and the flat disc footers beneath the base will never mar any flooring—go places where sarcophagi do not. With its integral brace, it's tailor-made also for the desktop, a credenza or a lowboy. And it doesn't need much power to belt it out. 25 watts per side are plenty sufficient even in a large room.

Which still left the best for last.

The stainless steel T brace comes fitted with thin black foam to protect your furniture.

Sonically, the passive Vox 3f from Switzerland joins the active Fram Midi 150 from Poland as my most impressive compact speaker discovery in recent memory. It manages to combine intrinsically big tone with the type vocal expressivity and emotional intelligibility one often chases with single-driver widebanders but without their built-in presence rise to require no taming with bandwidth-limited phase-shifty SET amps. Au contraire, this notch-filtered smaller version adores 1MHz DC-coupled transistor circuits. In tandem with Bakoon's AMP-13 to harvest the breed's speed and resolution, it suffered no tonal bleaching or sacrificed any substance. Its Joachim Gerhard style bass array for force canceling is loaded by rear-aiming slot port tuned to 35Hz. Top-quality carbon-fibre woofers with 4-layer voice coils breach the 40Hz barrier. This requires no subwoofer assist for proper overall fleshiness and fully tracks e-bass descents and kick drums beats.

The combination of 4" 'tweeter' which at 10kHz blends out whilst the upfiring premium Raal ribbon comes in on a single cap's 1st-order slope makes for a very dynamic and open treble without any bite or added sheen in the brilliance region. Good off-axis response of the 200-10'000Hz main driver and very compact overall enclosure dimensions mean that like a rock dropped into a pond, the speaker sinks below the audible surface to leave behind only the ripples and waves.

Sure, most all small speakers tend to stage enormously. The Vox 3f's driver orientation and single-driverness across the majority bandwidth simply add some cream on top of that cake. For very many listeners, it will mean that they get to have and eat their cake without causing marital discord, without having to trade up to a kilowatt amp, without victimizing their living space cosmetically or, sonically, by overloading it with raw bass displacement. Looking back over three prior sound|kaos models I reviewed already, to my eyes and ears as well as Ivette's, Martin Gateley's Vox 3f is his most universal thus most accomplished and attractive creation yet.

Which, sorry, still can't be the final word. First the AlNiCo version must arrive for some sporting sibling rivalry [here shown in cherry and with an upscale bronze basket for the Enviée widebander]. Until then, here's a monster Carpatian swing track from Romanian accordion maestro Roberto de Brasov who also—wait for it at 3:00—belts out and wails some outrageously chromatic scatting addressed at… mon dieu. Really. That's the meaning of "Multzumesc doamne".

Is it Count Dracula's Blues? You have twenty minutes to decide. If you get bit, welcome to the club.