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Once you outgrow the notion of an absolute sound as something you must conform to, you're finally free to admit a simple fact and act on it. Room size, average playback levels and the type of music we play most determine our personal sonic reality. That leads to the speakers and system most conducive to our needs. Why is the absolute sound a mere abstract with little practical relevance? Consider Montreux's Stravinsky Auditorium below. A few weeks ago I sat in the marked chair to hear Charles Dutoit conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra London with Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain followed by Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto N°.2 with Kirill Gerstein capped off by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Unless your listening room at home were this big and could contain an actual symphony orchestra (cough), you couldn't replicate this sound's true scale, never mind that your precise seat within this hall—it extends well towards the viewer with a full balcony section—has things to say about your SPL, general perspective and relative mix of direct and reflected sound. How about a recording you have for playback of this material? Where was it done? How many microphones were used? Of what type were they and how placed (guaranteed to have been nowhere close to your ears)? Was the venue filled with an audience or empty? What if we instead used Geneva's gorgeous Victoria Hall? There we've got tickets for next month's Remember Shakti performance in the front row of the right lower balcony close to stage.

Should we not imagine that very different Baroque-styled acoustics and elevated seating will affect the sound, never mind whether John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain & Co. will use amplification to fill this venue?

When we attended Istanbul's Taksim Trio earlier this year filling Cully's temple to packing—we secured the very first row by waiting an hour in line—all three performers were amplified. Tunçbilek's pickup for his baglama sat on the bridge, that for Şenlendirici's clarinet was drilled into its barrel, that for Doğan's qanun clipped to its wooden body - all places our ears would never be. Do you think this perspective changed the sound over what it would have been unamplified? Do you even for one moment believe that the church's untreated acoustics and long reverb times didn't have a massive impact particularly in the rows farther back than ours?

Hearing Dhafer Youssef in Lausanne's Casino Montbenon versus Vevey's far more intimate Rocking Chair made for two different experiences. Lila Down's concert in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices diverged from Vollenweider's in Montreux's Miles Davis hall. Rakesh Chaurasia in Pully's Docks for the Divali Festival differed from Natasha Atlas in a Paleo Festival tent as our annual Swiss version of Woodstock or Omar Sosa playing piano in another tent by the lake. What was absolute about any of that? What's absolute when sound pressure levels, venue dimensions, RT60 times and seat positions within it are all moving targets? Without getting precious about it, concerts and playback diverge on so many levels that it would seem best to regard them as two different species which can't interbreed. Treat each on its own merit, wild beast and lap pet. Now you needn't invoke the silly claim of realistic. You're free to design your playback as you hear fit. Determine what's most compelling and entertaining. It's about a very personal highly subjective illusion, not realism. There's nothing whatsoever realistic about reproducing one or 20 or 100 musicians over a pair of speakers!

Because I live in a townhouse on a historical street in a small village, neighbors on either side of thick but adjoining walls, I tend to not play very loud. I also don't pursue symphonic music. I played in orchestras during my clarinet years. I don't find playback of such big music very satisfying. I'm psychologically incapacitated to transform the oceanic symphonic experience to a comparable hifi trickle and think it worthwhile. It's too far removed. It's gotta be live. With my room 5.5 meters wide, the Taksim Trio at its physical spacing could still fit though it would park Aytac Doğan and Hüsnü Şenlendirici quite close to the side walls. They could play for me but wouldn't bring their amplifiers. This would completely change the sound over what we heard in that Cully church. Bass would be wirier and leaner, on-string harmonics stronger, separation and natural tone and microdynamic emphasis far superior. The artists also would adjust their playing to not overload my room by getting too loud. Unless I ran pure omni speakers like my German Physiks HRS-120 working upstairs, playback over conventional speakers would be harmonically far drier. On tonal scale and color saturation it would quite pale to the real thing.

The pair of the original review was finished with Maple sides.

Having played clarinet for 15+ years, it won't surprise you that I'm imprinted accordingly. I wasn't a singer or drummer. Hence I'm conditioned by tone and how good performers modulate it. I don't attempt to simulate live SPL. Nor do I believe that the majority of recorded music represents true dynamic range to begin with. I am perfectly fine about the virtual stage being scaled down to my room's dimensions. I can even enjoy headphone listening's between-the-ears diminution and adapt without hesitation. For my main hifi, tone mass and the keenness of tone modulations are far bigger personal hot buttons. Most music I fancy is purely acoustical. It's also more instrumental than vocal. I despise the sound of e-guitars in deep overdrive. It's ugly noise to me. It's only natural then that I'd voice around all that whilst a fan of hard rock or massive orchestral would approach things very differently to likely be completely unmoved by my rig.

For my personal pair I opted for Walnut sides and a bit of two-tone contrast as first seen at Munich High-End 2013.

Now we get at what for my current space and biases are absolute dream speakers: Martin Gateley's soundkaos Wave 40. I call them my Swiss eggs on sticks for obvious visual reasons. They're partially crafted from Alpine spruce tone wood just like a quality stringed instrument. That endows them with a very peculiar carrying power just like a guitar or violin. Relative to their physical size those instruments sound surprisingly big. And that's the quality I want because it remains active and effective even at my often lower levels. Here overdamped high-mass speakers play a very different tune. They attempt to kill off their drivers' rear wave inside an inert box vault. The Wave 40 deliberately harnesses its driver's back emissions. It not only vents them through a big mouth at the end of a very short line so the driver breathes. It turns its front and rear baffles into finely oscillating surfaces like resonant sound boards. That has a noticeable impact on the relative scale/size of individual tones. They sound bigger, fuller and endowed with more projection power. It's exactly like the difference between strings attached to a plank of raw MDF versus the same strings allowed to activate a sound board.

The late Bernard Salabert of PHY-HP once demonstrated this to me with a crank-driven music-box mechanism quite similar to the one at left. He played it in free air first where it sounded terribly lean. He then placed it on a piece of MDF (better), finally on some Spruce tone wood. How the latter enhanced tone was a complete shocker. This primitive demonstration felt like a cheap parlor trick because of it but was plainly repeatable and no trick. Though various PHY-fitted speakers differ in how they do it, nearly all of them adopt Salabert's insight to champion thin-walled deliberately active enclosures neither sealed nor ported. soundkaos does too, albeit to a more extreme i.e. complete extent.

By mating a widebander to what is my favorite tweeter—a Serbian Raal ribbon—yet filtering both drivers, the range in which the main driver would otherwise get ragged has been eliminated but there's top-end refinement which its whizzer could never approach. The two-way's lone xover point at 6.600Hz hovers well outside the critical range. The very useful bass reach of the 8-inch Enviee running wide open to 55Hz meanwhile makes it ideal for my mono sealed and true infrasonic Zu Submission subwoofer. It integrates seamlessly and makes for utterly non-ringy bass. That serves my penchant for certain types of ambient music where very low synth bass is far drier and damped than acoustic bass but has to coexist with well-recorded acoustic instruments

The Wave 40's 92.5dB sensitivity spec is low for a widebander but avoids the transient sharpness and associated speed-induced leanness of 100dB variants which are only properly compensated with valve amps. I prefer low-power transistor amps like my 10-watt SIT1. On the Rethm Saadhana those weren't fully ideal. On the Wave 40 they're perfect. To be able to use an ultra-simple single-stage amplifier sans feedback is a special side benefit. That's particularly useful for fleshing out lower playback volumes with compelling microdynamic reflexes and better tone. Granted, it wouldn't be the ideal speaker for bombastic orchestral or arena-style Rock at peak volumes. But then neither would these amps. It's all about catering to your needs and desires. Amplified music sounds different from unplugged. Electric bass differs much from acoustic bass. Playing predominantly loud or quietly, mostly big or small works has rather different requirements. Being triggered foremost by tone density and color saturation differs from responding strongest to extreme dynamics, holographic soundstaging or any other quality which audiophiles treat as discrete. That entire discussion and how to pursue individual flavors opens up once the notion of the absolute sound based on purely acoustic music goes away. Which it has to. 90% of contemporary music includes amplified instruments like electric bass. What good is a theoretical ideal that excludes 9 out of 10 of our CDs or files? A Re!ative Sound has a far more honest and relevant ring. It prompts us to figure out what it ought to mean. For us.

AudioSolution's Rhapsody 200 5-driver twin-ported three-way is a very different proposition.

I'm a reviewer with endlessly revolving equipment doors and numerous homes across my 11-year career. I've had more opportunity than most to sample various sonic flavors. This helped me hone in on what I find most important versus what's nice to have but not essential if other qualities get dropped. Based on that exposure I cannot believe in one ultimate or absolute approach. That's another myth, another useless abstraction. The loudspeaker is the most colored and nonlinear personality-imprinted element of the hifi chain. It's also the sole device which interacts acoustically with the room (disregarding environmental vibrational behavior which is real but sonically of a far lower order).

Albedo's 2-way Aptica is conceptually closer but differs in projection power and its handling of tone mass.

Thus the choice of speaker is most critical followed by the amp driving its specific load. In my view a non-ported two-way merely shy of the lowest octave or so but assisted by an adjustable active subwoofer gives better and more affordable and attractive results than equivalent passive 3-ways when the room fits somewhere into the ~18 x 30' or smaller blueprint many of us call our living room. A two-way with a widebander—which is nothing more than an unusually broad bandwidth midrange driver—can now become an ideal choice. Because I favor active low bass in a dedicated enclosure, my perfect two-way augments its broadband mid/woofer with a tweeter and filters its widebander with a low-pass to cut out its shouty uppermost range as Tune Audio too does for its Prime.

Half an egg with aramid honeycomb panel liner, felt wall liner and Absolué Cable wire harness

Voilà, the Wave 40. When augmented by a true infrasonic subwoofer and run in my current 5.5 x 12m space where I sit as you would in a short-wall 5.5 x 7m layout (the second half is a slightly narrower transitional area venting into an open kitchen), it's a dream speaker. It's my dream speaker because it sounds very big and fleshy on both scale and tone intensity even at lower apartment-friendly volumes without obscuring fine detail. It's my dream speaker because it can be driven by ultra simple low-power purist transistor amps. And I happen to love its organic looks, instrument-quality build and artisanal concept. Kudos to Martin Gateley for not going with commercially safer cosmetics. Kudos for embracing such a quite nightmarish build, high reject rates with his very specialized woodworkers and what for the traditional high-end market can't be an easy proposition. After all, who ever heard of Swiss eggs on sticks before?