January
2020

Country of Origin

Switzerland

Liber|8

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Denafrips Terminator+ clock-synced to Soundaware D300Ref SD transport/USB reclocker; Preamp: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE VT52/300B or Elrog 50/300B; Power amps: LinnenberG Liszt monos; Headamps: Questyle CMA-800r monos; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Aurai Audio M1 [on loan]; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, LessLoss C-MARC Entropic cords between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía 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 so no wall behind the listening chairs
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport; DAC/pre: Denafrips Terminator or COS Engineering D1; Amplifier: Bakoon AMP-13R or Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model 1 w. Franck Tchang magnesium super tweeters, Zu Submission subwoofer, LessLoss Firewall for Loudspeakers; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Room: ~4x6m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: Kinki Studio Vision THR-1; Phones: Audeze LCD-XC on Forza Audio Lab cable; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 120
Upstairs headfi system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim R or Bakoon AMP-13R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a, Audeze LCD-2, Final Sonorous X & D8000, HifiMan HE-1000
2-channel video system: 
Source: Oppo BDP-105; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp: Wyred4Sound STP-SE II; Power amp: Pass Labs XA-30.8; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: TBA

The British Dartmouth Brands Group owns eight smaller watch brands. Styled wildly different, they are called Ballast, Deutsche Uhrenfabrik Türingen, Duxot, Earnshaw, Fjord, McCabe, Spinnaker and AVI-8. That last one revolves around vintage aviation themes. That's represented at right with their Hawker Harrier II automatic model.

What if time became sound? What if you were a speaker gestating on the drawing board of a British/Swiss designer? What if you put eight cone drivers on an open baffle yet already shared that general concept with the Libération for freedom from box talk?

What would you call yourself? Unless you were gaudy, not Liberace.

Given this opening, the inescapable name just had to be Liber|8.

The designer in question is Martin Gateley. His brand is sound|kaos. That's a cheeky wink at his kaos|events company which designs, assembles and takes down enormous exhibition displays for big clients of Samsung size. Anyone who's ever done a trade show knows. Time is of the essence but vital things can and do go wrong. They require on-the-spot ingenuity and very serious work ethics to sort. For regular showgoers, such events are over after 3-5 days. It remains blissfully ignorant of any chaos being managed beforehand, behind the scenes or afterwards. Martin on the other hand knows all about it. 'kaos' being his middle name, it just had to figure in his labor-of-love speaker projects.

At Munich's alternate Hifi Deluxe show in the Marriott Hotel of 2019, our master over sonic chaos teased a raw driver cluster on a still conventionally rectangular baffle. He wanted feedback on sound and size. Whenever one says o-bee not "oy veh" to call out OB or open baffles, one anticipates domestic war over undue width and height.

After all, clients who fancy big room dividers tend to go for luxuriously carved and lacquered antique Chinese jobs, not modern panel speakers.

Having returned with encouraging feedback to his home of Feutersoey in the Swiss Alps just outside the filmic ski resort of Gstaad, Martin put pen to paper. Next wood went to Simon Oehrli, his local master craftsman and wheel wright who has fabricated all solid-wood sound|kaos speakers from day one. The right angles of Munich went oval, green American Walnut in 40x90mm sections hit a steam press followed by gentle drying to acquire then hold the desired shape. By early 2020, the visual concept had netted a first harvest of wood pieces awaiting finishing and joinery. We spot some raw spline sections in the overlay on Martin's 2018 exhibition.

As to what already was beneath those rectangular bronze mesh covers in Munich to transition to the new oval form factor?

Count six Enviée 8-inch paper-pulp woofers topped by two 8-inch Enviée widebanders—one with, one without whizzer cone—themselves bracketing Martin's signature Raal ribbon. Paralleling six papery moons, Liber|8 tops Libération's solitary 18-inch woofer. This lot arrives at a compound 19.6" diameter. Spreading the work load over six motors and supensions, stroke per driver shrinks drastically. That ups speed and downs distortion. Here it's a 10 x gain in lower moving mass, from 210 grams for a 46cm Beyma to 20 grams for a 21cm Enviée. On the concept drawing, the oval baffle shows no wider than 56cm, no taller than 113cm. These are surprisingly friendly dimensions considering the combined fire power of costly custom drivers from Germany's Armin Galm.

By getting into this story early, we'll follow its evolution until final production locks in. If the gods of timing and benevolence smiled upon the Liber|8, would we see a finished ovoid at Hifi Deluxe 2020? The global pandemic of Covid-19 cancelled that event and 2021's usual May date.