Country of Origin
This review first appeared in January 2019 on HifiKnights.com. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated to reach a broader audience. All images contained in this piece are the property of Dawid Grzyb or soundkaos – Ed.
Reviewer: Dawid Grzyb
Sources: LampizatOr Pacific (KR Audio T-100 + KR Audio 5U4G Ltd. Ed.), Asus UX305LA
Preamplifiers: iFi audio Pro iCAN
Amplifiers: Bakoon AMP-13R, Kinki Audio EX-M1, Trilogy 925, FirstWatt F7
Speakers: Boenicke Audio W8
Speaker cables: Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept, Audiomica Laboratory Celes Excellence
Interconnects: Audiomica Laboratory Erys Excellence
Power components: Gigawatt PF-2 + Gigawatt LC-2 MK2 + Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept/Audiomica Laboratory Ness Excellence/LessLoss C-MARC
Rack: Franc Audio Accesories Wood Block Rack
Retail price of reviewed component in EU: €16'000/pr (incl. VAT)
Martin Gateley's soundkaos brand has stirred and shaken up the market well. On several occasions, I had the pleasure to witness how. Hence his speakers were on my radar for a while and shortly after our domestic Audio Video Show this autumn, two of them came my way. Logistics couldn't have been simpler; quite the opposite of chaos as a state of disorder and confusion that's so unlikely to be desirable in our hobby. Given his brand name, Martin either had a great sense of humour or a warped mind when nothing about his audio-related work appears to be chaotic. He established his audio business as first a hobby more than a decade ago by which time he'd already exploited the 'kaos' tag for twice as long. His main operation kaosevents is into the full implementation of worldwide trade show exhibits from rough concept to design, assembly and final setup all custom-tailored to his corporate clients' needs. He's worked with several high-profile names like the BMW/Sauber and Renault Formula One racing teams, Böhringer Ingelheim, Accenture and O2 to name a few. This line of work requires creativity, resourcefulness, top-tier management skills to assemble the necessary subcontractors, then incredible organizational chops to meet one deadline after another. Perhaps Martin thrives on kaos?
As interviewed by Srajan here, he revealed that the decision to craft his own loudspeakers came from three things: early contact with such items, lots of great music which his father introduced him to and the creative process itself. Here it probably matters less whether he designs exhibits or speakers since both involve forging a rough concept into something very real though the speakers won't be the temporary accomplishments which trade-show displays are by nature. I first met Martin at the Munich 2016 show. There his Libération were backed by SOtM hardware showcased in a small room which sounded promising to say the least. My next opportunity to hear them simply didn't come around until the same event repeated a year later. Now Martin and his wife Ursula exhibited along with Nagra and Vovox in a gorgeously domesticated peacefully wood-trimmed room which attracted visitor interest.
This homely shack looked very labour intensive. After wondering who might have designed and assembled it to differ so from the usual bland sound cubicles on the M.O.C.'s ground floor, the answer was clear – Mr. trade-show expert Gateley himself. Now forward our time line to November 2018 and Warsaw's Audio Video Show. In one of the rooms of the 7th floor in the Radisson Blu Sobieski hotel, Martin premiered his latest high performance Vox 3 monitors and the familiar Libération, each set driven separately by its own petite Bakoon AMP-13R on its own wooden stand in-between [above]. The goal was to presumably have both machines ready and able, exclude mood-killing cable swaps and double as backup just in case. In any event, Martin's Polish debut was successful. Many visitors left his room very impressed and to my ears it was among the very best of the entire event. On its last day he kindly loaned me one of his Bakoon amps to play with. The Libération arrived two days later and this game was afoot.
Liberated. Martin's soundkaos operation stands out for several reasons. His goods are handmade, costly and built to very high standards just as any other luxo Swiss audio affairs would be. All models are based on quality components, real wood for acoustic and aesthetic reasons, Swiss manufacture and far more complexity inside their cabinets than looks might imply. His pleasantly rippled oval Wave 42 or monolithic SK16 models are examples of artisanal work dressed in appealingly minimalist clothes whereas today's hero indicates a different wrinkle altogether. When it comes to out-of-the-box thinking beyond the mainstream, our man likes to push things to another level and his Wave 40 two-way released so many years back proved that point well. It takes good audio knowledge and awareness to fully understand what it is; where its limitations are, what ancillary hardware and software repertoire it fancies to fully flourish and display its greatest virtues.
When skillfully implemented and married to appropriate hardware, quality widebanders are known to do many things admirably well and beautiful but realistically aren't capable of portraying enormous dynamic contrasts and grand orchestral schemes. Those require different measures and Martin knew just what had to be done. Although his current line-up doesn't show it, in his hobbyist days there was one open baffle which didn't make it commercially. But when the desire for orchestral grandeur resurfaced, the enclosure-free agenda got dusted off and the Libération came to life one step at a time. Here it's worth noting two of Martin's long-standing collaborators who were deeply involved with this project: Christien Ellins of CE Electro-Acoustics and Simon Oehrli of Wagnerei Oehrli. Since the OB topology is inherently liberated from the box, the model name itself is self-explanatory and very accurate.
The speakers arrived in two separate large flight cases. Carrying these proved to be a task for two, unpacking I managed on my own. Each case housed one speaker firmly bolted to its bottom and extraction was straightforward. The packaging was clever, secure, made to last and impressed. One case also stored six spring-loaded wooden decoupling feet. Each speaker takes three: two on its bass module, one on a supportive leg at the rear. Libération's nominal impedance is conservatively rated as 4Ω and I was told that it doesn't drop below 3Ω whereas sensitivity at 96dB (2.83V/RMS) is unusually high. Dimensions of 60x32x98cm WxDxH and a healthy 42 kilograms per don't make it a breeze to carry around but remain manageable.