This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

It made double basses very natural and interesting by fully loading the room. It was the first time I encountered this instrument in that fashion in my space. The best speakers as these simply disappear to leave one with only the presence of a performer. To achieve that I usually have to set speakers up such that they cross just in front of my listening seat. Not all speakers fully cohere with such an orientation to slightly undermine the illusion but still it tends to be good. Serblin's speakers were aiming directly at me but this probably wasn't the most important factor. I think that the designer actually achieved something that seems quite impossible. He did turn his speakers into musical instruments.

No, that’s not really about their very unconventional geometry. When I listened to Jazz and any well-recorded double bass entered like it does with Paul Chambers on Cool Struttin’ by Sonny Clark or Ben Tucker from The way it was! by Art Pepper, I saw a double-bass instead of a speaker. The upright wasn't presented somewhere behind it, at the side, in front of it or anywhere relative to it (all the usual concerns with recordings where the double bass appears in only one channel) but simply in place of the speaker. It had lots of air, great venue acoustics and fantastic intelligibility of the performers’ technique. All this was thanks to fabulous resolution of midrange and treble but unachievable without superior continuous rock-solid vibrant and energetic bass. I couldn't hear the drivers or any cabinet talk, just an almost real instrument. This became a very specific experience for me.

My impressions were quite similar when I listening to electronica or electric bass guitar This time it wasn't about replacing one speaker with a bass guitar since that’s usually recorded in both channels. Here it was more about a very powerful rich quality regardless of which recording I played. Even with less ‘heavy’ recordings like Nirvana's Nevermind—technically far from perfect—or the similarly compromised Playing The Angel by Depeche Mode, I didn't lack anything which happens far too often with other speakers. That's one of the Ktêma’s key features. It somehow realizes the music even if it means doing so with certain concessions to neutrality.

Even so the speaker will precisely administer whether an instrument played very subdued or whether the mastering engineer mixed it lower instead. Again the bass is very extended and powerful yet not in any way exaggerated. It’s too well differentiated to sound the same at all times. Proof thereof came from Bud Powell's Jazz Giant which includes takes from 1949 and 1950. These are quite uncomplicated cuts. It’s easy to appreciate that for the recording engineer the piano was most important. The bass existed only to support it. Clearly these two instruments were not treated equally and the bass played a subservient role on both sides (Ray Brown played bass on side A, Curly Russell on B). Serblin's speakers delivered it exactly according to these intentions.

In my characterization so far I’ve focused mostly on the bass range. In conjunction with terrific overall resolution it makes the Ktêma into what it is. The sound is big, rich in the midband (perhaps overly so) and pretty distinctive in the treble. In matters of tonal balance, this presentation reminded me more of the Harpia and German Physics than Hansen and Avalon. Both the latter are creamier and perhaps slightly rolled off. Likely their resolution is not as advanced and their differentiation/separation inferior.

The Ktêma’s soundstaging was spectacular if different from the omnipolar bending wave driver of the German Physiks which are unquestioned champs when it comes to sheer soundstage size. The Hansen and Avalon stage creamier where the Italian is more raw – like equivalent steak over well done. The instruments are presented quite close to the listener but their placement on the stage is very precise. It's easy to discern the sound engineers’ interventions or decisions in the studio. For many people it might come as a surprise to realize just how quietly the voices are mixed into most pop and rock pressings. Take for example Depeche Mode's Violator or Alison Moyet's debut solo effort. It is very difficult to present such recordings in a way that leaves clear how this was a premeditated sound engineer's choice rather than flaw of the recording or our system. On some albums like Suzanne Vegas’ Close-up, Vol. 1 or Moyet's Hoodoo it clearly becomes a flaw but it doubtlessly is one the mastering engineer made, not our system or the pressing itself.