Today, I will review the two brands/products that have most impressed me in terms of speaker design and new to me.
Atohm and Waterfall Audio are kind of cousins as Thierry Comte is a partner in Waterfall, and the main driver (sic...) behind Atohm.
Besides, Waterfall Audio uses almost exclusively Atohm speakers.
Both companies have created a range of speakers that have some design criteria in common, but have achieved very different products out of some of the same components.
Atohm drivers are all high efficiency and both bass and midrange drivers have a metal membrane. Their top of the range tweeter however has a silk membrane and a 28mm diameter coil small enough to always stay within the humongous magnetic field of more than 17000 Gauss, resulting in a massive 98db/w/m efficiency.
We were exposed to their top model, the GT 3.0, a so-called 3.5 way freestanding speaker beautifully finished and equipped with 2 7inch bass drivers, 1 6inch medium with a phase plug and the above mentioned supertweeter.
The crossover frequencies are 100, 150 and 2500Hz, hence the 3.5 way name.
All filter slopes are 6db and the tweeter is time aligned.
The midrange driver has its own chamber fitted with an internal conical structure aimed at taming the standing waves and reflections inside that cabinet. This is reminiscent of the structure in the B&W Nautilus, but inverted inside the cabinet.
The bass drivers are installed in a bass reflex enclosure with a laminated vent at the base of the speaker's cabinet (like in our Microphase SWS subwoofer, this arrangement removes most of the potential problems linked with the floor structure and the position within the room).
The very well conducted demo showed the accuracy, speed and time alignment of this speaker, highly respecting the timbres of instruments and at 92db efficiency and 300W power capacity, reproducing the music with a realistic level and a total absence of distortion. Definitely in my top five at the show.
Their cost of 7,900 euros + seems to be the norm at that level of quality (Elipson 4260, Vienna Acoustics, or my favourite Martin Logans are twice the price...)
Waterfall Audio has taken a different approach, using some of the same drivers, in their top model, the Niagara.
First of all, Waterfall has made a name for themselves by introducing glass cabinets for their speakers.
We all know that glass is a very inert material, but being transparent, one cannot hide much inside the cabinet. Besides, it is quite a difficult material to process and assemble, more so once you add the complexity of a horn in front of the tweeter!
But Cedric Aubriot and Thierry Combe are not the types to refuse a challenge, and they came up with a number of innovative ideas to make this speaker a "chef d'oeuvre" in the sense of the Compagnons in the Middle Ages.
The result is a beautiful objet with a very high WAF - they have their Export Manager, Nadine, as their first judge, and she has convinced women (and men, I am sure...) in 30 countries to agree with her and buy this wonderful object!
Having said that, the auditive result is totaly in tune with the aesthetics of the product, proving once more that form should follow function if one wants to achieve the best possible results in any field. Electroacoustics are still full of "black magic" and in this case a transparent one: the filter is hidden in the base of the speaker, and so is the larger passive bass driver. Again, the midrange driver has its own enclosure baptised Acoustic Damping Tube, and the bass is generated mainly by a second 7inch driver. The tweeter is a 21mm diameter with a silk cone behind the proprietary glass horn. All drivers are bespoke versions of Atohm drivers.
The sound is solid, accurate and neutral. At 89db and 200w power handling, the output is realistic with a very nice, precise soundstage.
At 27,000 euros, this is not for the faint hearted, but a tenth of the price of a Focal Utopia and a lot easier to fit in one's living room. And with all due respect to Jacques Mahul, a much more lively proposition, more engaging with the source material, and, after a relatively short audition, certainly not less accurate.
It is to be noted here that Len Wallis (of Len Wallis Audio fame in Sydney) has given me access for a full morning to the Utopia in his showroom with two of his most knowledgeable sales people (and vinyl enthusiasts on top...) as my 60th birthday present...and so, my opinion of the Utopia is based on a much longer listening session on my own material. Although we had probably hal a million dollars of equipment in that room, I cannot say I was totally convinced mainly because it was almost surgical and lack the passion to engage my senses totally.
So, if I had a spare 40,000A$, I would certainly consider the Niagara!
I would like to try them with my Bryston amp and a Michell turntable and Grado Signature cartridge. Maybe the Aussie distributor of Waterfall Audio can organise that for me ( I will BYO my amp!!!)
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.