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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Apple iMac 1TB with OSX 10.6.5, AIFF files up to 24/192 and Pure Music 1.74 in memory playback with pre-allocated RAM, Burson Audio HA160D as DAC, Weiss DAC2, iPod Classic 160GB, Sieben Technology dock, Onkyo ND-S1 digital-direct iPod dock, Pure i20 digital-direct dock, Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold with Voltikus and Red Wine Audio 18VDC Black Lightning [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Esoteric C-03 (transistor), Bent Audio Tap-X (AVC passive), ModWright LS100 (tubes)
Amplifier: ModWright KWA-100 SE, FirstWatt F5, Octave MRE130 with SBB
Speakers: ASI Tango R, Zu Essence, Armonia TWR170SE [on review], Living Voice OBX-RW [on review], Aurelia Graphica [on review], Dayens Tizo+ [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of ASI Liveline, Crystal Cable Ultra, Zu Audio Event, Black Cat Cable Veloce S/PDIF cable [on loan], Entreq USB and Firewire cables
Stands: 2 x ASI HeartSong 3-tier, 2 x ASI HeartSong amp stand
Powerline conditioning: 1 x GigaWatt PF-2, 1 x Furutech RTP-6
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: $13.800/pr

In high-end audio and particularly with loudspeakers, the term has come to equate obscenely expensive. Quite often it's also come to mean grotesquely styled. Nearly unmanagable weight routinely factors in the small print too. In short flagships are massive joy. When Daniel Lee of Mark+Daniel set out to conceptualize his flagship more than two years ago, company credo limited him to a 2-way design. That's all they make. Logically his very best effort wouldn't suddenly invalidate the specific engineering values the stable mates had championed over the years. You immediately spot a problem then. Very few hardcore audiophile ever associate flagships with two-ways. People expect far more drivers and mo bigger drivers once stickers push into buttock-clenching prices.

To compensate hypothetically, just how large a woofer could one grow that was still expected to meet a tweeter head-on, remain spectacularly resolved at the hand-over frequency and offer subterranean high-output bass? 'Loud' and 'low' after all are the two often very silly lynch pins which differentiate bona fide flagships from otherwise equivalent efforts meant to play mere mortals' far smaller venues with their far more civilized SPL which remain respectful of neighbors.
In Mark+Daniel's universe one first leans on that 2-way crossover point. Lower it. Here it becomes 650Hz. That's frightfully ambitious for any tweeter and promptly counts out the usual suspects of 1-Inch Dome & Bros. If you somehow managed to source a suitable off-the-shelf wideband tweeter regardless, you'd certainly expect to filter it sharply with 24dB/octave slopes. M+D apply a far shallower 2nd-order filter.
But it gets more contrarious still. Their mid/woofer is a relatively puny 8-incher. Even so the system's F3 is claimed to be 28Hz capable of sustaining very high levels in reasonably large rooms. To deliver, this driver's max stroke is said to be a monstrous ±18mm/1.4" of linear excursion. Needless to say a large-diameter—here down-firing—port became essential to augment this muscular driver. To withstand the high internal pressurization it was bound to generate, heroic cabinet construction became essential too. Count out MDF & Minions next.

To counterbalance intended bass solidity with upper harmonic sophistication given that their 'tweeter' had to reach 325Hz at minus 12dB without distortion, Daniel Lee added an auxiliary and output-adjustable omni tweeter. This kicks in at 7kHz to place it well beyond any musical fundamentals. Capable of reaching 35kHz it would add spatial fizz and overtone sparkle. Yet this third driver doesn't completely invalidate the core 2-way concept. That's because the omni merely parallels the main mid/tweeter. But it certainly does add a second high-pass filter. Technically the three-driver Fantasia then is a 2.5-way stood on its head because usual 2.5-ways feature paralleled mid/woofers where the lower driver covers the more restricted bandwidth. Here it's twinned tweeters.

Where $80.000/pr flagships routinely employ off-the-shelf albeit premium drivers, the above descriptions predicted that Mark+Daniel's $13.800/pr Fantasia-S had to go all custom. Their wideband mid/tweeter is a large air-motion transformer with the breed's signature pleated diaphragm. This system squeezes the air like an accordeon rather than pushes it like a dome or cone. The usually cited propagation velocity advantage of that original Oscar Heil scheme is 5:1. The upfiring omni with dispersion lens is a much downscaled smaller AMT version.

The 8-inch acrobatic woofer gets the company's proprietary Super Xmas + QMA quantified magnet alignment motor. To endow their wideband DM-5a AMT with the best reflexes the company engineered a super-thin 0.0125mm polyamide diaphragm. This folded film covers a full five octaves without resolution losses. The massively scaled-up surface area of this air-motion driver (85 times the size of a 1-inch dome) also promises significantly superior dynamics to ubiquitous tweeters regardless of the latter's fashionably exotic beryllium, sapphire or diamond diaphragms:

Surrounded by 28 heavy-duty micro NdFeB magnets, our AMT's voice coil is formed into a 15 micron (0.0006") aluminum ribbon that's attached onto the super-thin 0.5mil polyamide diaphragm.

It is then pleated into shape and meticulously fixed onto the acoustic frame. This symmetrical ribbon array pumps out or draws in a high quantity of air driven by the musical current signal to respond to highly dynamic acoustic power. It extends response down to 400Hz while maintaining high transient response to 20kHz.
Vertical dispersion is ±30°. Characteristic impedance is 5.2 ohms ±0.2 and the load is purely resistive. Each DM-5A measures 222 x 90 x 32mm HxWxD and weighs 1.5 Kg (3.3 lb). Efficiency is 87dB over the midband and mechanical roll-off at 400Hz is very steep.
The woofer meanwhile is described as having a 48mm long magnetic field created by a very large amount of NdFeB magnets. The high efficiency copper ribbon voice coil is 18mm in width and wired onto a 250°C 51mm Ø TIL glass-fiber former. Compared to most 8-inch conventional woofers with an Xmax no greater than ±5mm, this can drive 9 times the acoustics power (9.5dB) over the same size woofer. A die-cast aluminum frame, durable Du Pont Metamax damper with ultra-large rubber surround, very tough compound paper cone and dust cap yield outstanding bass control and  86dB/2.83V/1m at 4 ohms with over 150 watts of RMS power handling.  
Due to the significant back pressure of their solitary but potent woofer, enclosure material of choice once again became the company's trademark synthetic marble resin. This puts total cabinet weight at a very considerable 67kg/148lb per side. Naturally the mid/woofer's anticipated workouts wouldn't be allowed to interfere with the critical vocal/treble bands covered by the narrow but tall AMT. Hence a modular enclosure approach was called for. This docks the widebander/filter module atop the bass module, the super tweeter module atop the filter box and thus behind the AMT. This tri-module architecture is reflected in the 'S' for system designator of the complete model name.

Inherent in M+D's generally muscular high-effort approach has always been low voltage efficiency. Here the Fantasia's listed 86dB rating is no exception. Add a minimum impedance of 3 ohms (6-ohm nominal) and a studly amplifier becomes essential to gain and then maintain control over that woofer whilst handling the super tweeter's impact on impedance and phase angles. For all its flagship intentions, the final assembly is surprisingly compact. It measures just 46.9" high.

The foot print is about a square foot or 11.8" x 14.6" wide by deep to be precise. That's 119 x 30 x 37cm in euro currency. Because the compound marble material is synthetic—real marble dust set in resin binder—various colors are possible. Stock finishes for the Fantasia-S are phantom white, starry black or a combination of the two all shown at the beginning. Custom finishes are available by request.

To turn full circle with the opening paragraph, the Fantasia-S from faraway Shanghai is priced far too low to trigger any lights on today's ridiculously inflated hifi board as a flagship. While physical mass is properly respectable according to those sadly skewed standards, the 2.5-way concept with single 8-inch woofer most certainly is not. Nor is the absence of recognizable boutique parts in the crossover. Add Pacific Rim origins and it's easy to appreciate how Daniel Lee's very real ambitions could easily be slighted by popular perception. That's of course precisely what makes the Fantasia-S such a particularly attractive review proposition. Everything wrong with it according to current flagship standards—conceptual simplicity, compact size, sane sticker considering—make it so very right for those 'common' folks who'd even aspire to a $14.000/pr speaker of stout flagship ambitions.

Having to manoeuvre review loaners up two flights of stairs with a narrow turn in the middle, I always contemplate size and weight before I even consider acceptance of any speaker review proposal. At 55kg or 121lb per compact bass module, the Fantasia-S quite exceeded my back's personal recommendations. On the other hand prior familiarity with certain of the firm's models had me curious what an all-out effort which maxed out all their trademark solutions had accomplished. To give resident M+D expert David Kan and his inflamed rotator cuff a well-deserved rest, I decided to take one for the team and breakfast on plenty of oat meal. Faintly somewhere a question stirred. Just how sorry would I be?