I finally made it! I had planned to spend a few days in Paris before heading to the West Coast to meet with my family there and some of that time was going to be dedicated to my HiFi freakiness! It started very well with a lunch with Jean-Paul Guy, just a few hours after landing from Australia and a visit to Presence Audio Conseil, one of the top dealers in the City of Lights. But first thing, first on the Monday morning (after a pit stop at arguably the best boulangerie in town, Du Pain et des Idées, for the the flakiest croissant ever!) I took the metro to the Sentier station and here it was, a few meters away in a magnificent late 19th century building that took part in the 1898 facades' contest, hosting the whole company from showroom on the ground floor to offices and R&D on the other floors.
It is a very big space, very confutable with the highest quality fittings and finishes, thanks to some famous investors money... The main space is dedicated to static displays of the products and a demo space for the Phantoms in stereo together with a very big screen advertising the company's technological breakthroughs and main features.
The demo itself is completely based on Tidal running on an iPad and feeding the Phantoms via Bluetooth. Difficult to be simpler and at about A$7,700 including a free subscription to Tidal for a year, it would be hard to assemble a separate components system to match the sonic result...
I had listened to a single Phantom at Len Wallis Audio a few months back and was suitably impressed! But the stereo experience is ten times better, as you suddenly can appreciate the polar response of what is essentially a compact Cabasse Sphere (at a fraction of the price...)
Tidal had all my favourite test songs in store, so I could fully investigate these revolutionary speakers. For the first time also, I had a chance to look at the guts of the beast and that was another good surprise - although I was not expecting to be disappointed. This product is highly sophisticated inside and outside, using the best electronic and mechanical design tools and manufacturing techniques available today.
Obviously, the bass driver assembly is the talk of the town here, and even if I still not sure I can trust the distortion figures in the very low part of the spectrum, I have to acknowledge here the fabulous work of Philippe Lesage, ex-Audax Technical Director and founder of renowned pro audio drivers manufacturer PHL Audio. The principle is derived from the Bruel & Kjaer vibrating pot but that's about it in terms of inspiration. The rest is pure mechanical and electronic genius!
If I were a 30 something young executive today, I would certainly buy a pair and be content with it. If I were the same hifi freak as I am, then I would also consider moving up to the Expert amplifier and a pair of SAM compliant speakers...and that was the second part of my demo time there...
Out of 5 or 6 pairs of very good loudspeakers, it just happened that these beautiful Sonus Faber columns were wired in, so I decided these would be good enough for our experiment. Now, we are talking 5 to 6 times the price of the Phantoms, as you will need two Expert amplifiersapnd the speakers... And its shows or rather it sounds!
The specifications are astonishing as per below, to be compared to the latest Bryston 4B cubed amplifier (my reference...)
Whether or not, one can hear the difference is a matter for further discussion, but Devialet has another weapon of sonic construction with their SAM software which basically digitally corrects some of the imperfections of your speakers (645 of them at last count, quite a choice by anybody's standard!). The Sonus Faber are already a very fine set of speakers out of the box, but SAM gives them another level of transparency and smoothness.
Another impressive feature of the Expert is in the range of inputs available from turntable (and precise matching of almost any cartridge...), any line source, bluetooth, NAS or streaming services...
Our friend Ken Kessler, of HIFI News fame, who is not famous for being Francophile when it comes to Hifi is a fan. That says a lot!
I had a great time and I was looked after very well by a quite knowledgeable young man. He promised to send me more technical information, but in typical French fashion, I have not heard from him yet... I will keep you posted with an update when I receive his correspondence.
So, if you are in Paris, spare the time to visit: it is well worth your time!
The iconic venue, known originally as the PLM Saint Jacques, was built in 1972 and designed by Pierre Guidicelli. It has been home to numerous Hifi Shows and the last one on November 21st and 22nd. I sent my own reporter in the person of Jean-Paul Guy, owner of GUY H.F. and speaker manufacturer extraordinaire for decades. He was kind enough to take photos of what he thought interesting and added a few notes that I will post here 'en anglais', lucky readers!
And no, Elipson was not there, as they had chosen to exhibit at the the other Hifi Show organised by Jean-Marie Hubert a few weeks before. But you know my passion for Elipson...
The "cloud du Salon" was in fact Deviate with their fabulous amplifiers but mainly for JPG and myself, the Phantom speaker! Jean-Paul has actually revealed to me that our other friend Philippe Lesage, ex Technical Director of Addax when I first met him and now director and owner of PHL Audio was heavily involved in the design of the bass drivers. He was also involved in the design of the drivers for the 4260 Elipson a few years back and in the design of my main driver for Microphase, an enhanced version of the MHD10. Mr Legorgu, Director of Addax at the time said to Jean-Paul: "I have just hired a savant!". Not a small token of appreciation! Philippe actually took over from Jacques Mahul, who didn't do too badly either after leaving Audax...
I have recently posted about my first experience with the Phantom, and interestingly enough Jean-Paul have a similar conclusion saying this might be the end of the Utopias, Wilson Audio and other big contraptions. He is also mentioning the reference to Cabasse with the same comment i-e, this works!
I will continue with other French products like LEEDH, the amazing small speakers designed by Gilles Milot, another ex-Audax engineer, by the way...Jean-Paul, who is an art lover and connoisseur, calls him the "Giacometti" of the speakers. You can find more information about Gilles Milot and his speakers elsewhere on this blog. Since my last encounter, Gilles Milot has developed a matching subwoofer. There are obviously similarities in the design intent with the Deviate phantom, although this one is passive for the satellites, but active via a traditional amplifier for the subwoofer.
.This new subwoofer is based on the isobaric principle popularised by Linn decades ago. Here two 23cm drivers face each other in a 16L enclosure (Atohm LD23CR08) and two Pro Audax 38cm (AAC PR38T0). A two-channel 300w plate amplifier also from Atohm drives the woofers and gives the system the efficiency and the low end of 20 Hz at -1dB (to be compared to the 16Hz of the Phantoms). The main benefit of using this subwoofer with the E2 is to relieve them from trying too hard to move air to reach down to 50Hz, giving the whole system breathing space. If you read French, then I recommend you read the review on EVMAG here
The usual suspects were also there as in Focal presenting the new SOPRA, an avatar of the Utopias driven by Octave Audio amplifiers, PE Leon using YBA amplifiers and Davis Acoustics still pushing the Karla, one of their best design ever.
There was also an interesting contingent from our British friends who crossed the Channel for the occasion... B&W were presenting the famous Nautilus, and the new 802 D3 with amplification from Classé Audio and Devialet, KEF with the Blade 2 and Pass Labs amplifiers (not for the faint hearted...)
I couldn't resist sharing this video with you...It will save you the time to search for it!
This is by no means exhaustive and I have to say a "grand mercy" to Jean-Paul Guy who went to Paris from his sleepy village of Bourbon-Lancy specially for the occasion, at a time where most Parisians were staying indoors after the terrorists attacks. Well done my friend!
I was one of the very first to talk about these speakers that I discovered at the Paris Hifi show in 2010.
Although their designers come with an impeccable pedigree having worked at "cost is no object" Swiss manufacturer Goldmund, I was not totally convinced even though the woofer is made by long time friend and partner in crime Philippe Lesage (ex Technical Director at Audax and now MD of PHL Audio, as well as fostering a VIFA tweeter that I have learned to love in my own design. You can read my first impressions here:
My impressions were further vindicated by the measurements conducted by Stereophile two years later:
Although the listening tests were somewhat more elogious than mine, the measurements show a more rugged picture, as well as confirming my comments on the cabinet vibrations.
I have just received my copy of the April issue of Hifi News and Ken Kessler mention of Stenheim having exhibited at T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas. It caught my (well-trained...) eye, as the company has now unveiled a subwoofer for the Alumine, a configuration I particularly like (in part for historical Microphase related reasons) but also because it makes perfect technical sense.
Ken doesn't say if he liked them or not but Dave Thomas from Stereo Times, that I had the pleasure to meet in Vegas, says:
"The Stenheim speakers are gorgeously built and executed with clean lines and flawless construction. The sound of the system was extremely musical and dynamic, sounding far bigger and more natural than you’d normally hear under show conditions" Humm...
Spencer Holbert from The Absolute Sound says of the Alumine:
"The Alumine 2 Ways were incredibly tight and fast in the mids and highs thanks to its aluminum enclosure (hence the name, Alumine), and would be perfect for smaller room" Ah, ah...
And over last few days, Stenheim has unveiled a new "REFRENCE" system at the HIGH_END SHOW in Munich, so there is certainly something interesting going on there...
The management has changed, and it seems that the original five designers and founders have been sidelined. Jean Pascal Panchard, the new MD, comes from NAGRA, quite a good pedigree as well!
What can be noted is that the most recent incarnation of the Alumine has a more streamlined front baffle, with a more conventional horn piece for the tweeter - a feature I have personally investigated and found quite satisfactory - and a new midrange, or at least a new chassis from this speaker. I cannot find information whether or not it is still made by PHL Audio, but it looks like more of a carbon or kevlar cone as it looks woven rather cellulose. The bass driver in the subwoofer is made of polypropylene, material that I personally wouldn't use for that application, but as I have not had a chance to listen to this new incarnation, I will have to reserve my judgement. (In short, I will have to just shut up!)
The REFERENCE looks mighty enough and sports my favourite WMTMW arrangement, so I am inclined to say it would have a mighty sound indeed. The ribbon super tweeter is mounted off center, so a pair comes as a mirror image and the MTM part of the speaker can be angled remotely to fine tune the image at the listening position!
This is all extremely well fabricated in probably a very limited quantity, so the price of a pair of satellites (Alumine 2) starts at USD 15,000, add the sub and it jumps at USD 35,000 so you can guesstimate the price for the REFERENCe. Maybe I should design new speakers if there is a market at that price point...Just a thought!
Bruno Gest has been at it for over 25 years and I have spent an inordinate amount of time there in the 80s, investigating drivers, buying samples and components or just listening to the wonderful contraptions Bruno and his team created month after month.
At that stage, they were very much into horns and Fostex drivers, but also keen suppliers of drivers and kits from Audax and Siare, then Focal, and now Atohm, PHL Audio and Davis Acoustics.
I had met Herve Breton on the Atohm stand in 2010, but didn't get a chance to visit the Paris store. In October 2011, I was not going to miss out again...Situated in the 11th arrondissement at 138 Avenue Parmentier, you can find here a very large assortment of drivers, primarily of high efficiency or/and full range variety, components like inductances, capacitors and resistors as well as accessories like wires, connectors, vents, and also full kits to build your own speakers.
In one word, this is the Ali Baba cavern of the speaker DIYer, and also a plave where one can discuss designs, tricks of the trade or simply share a good listening session and enjoy the camaraderie and the knowledge of the people which is the trademark of the place.
Luckily enough on the day of my visit, Bruno walked in about 15mns after me, and once we had reconnected, Bruno surprised me with two things: one, a smaller version of our Microphase SATs that we thought we would market years ago, and two, amazingly a very rare prototype of our SATs, as we probably made 10 pairs to test the waters before going full speed. Bruno had bought them back from a client - I thought I had given him a pair at the time, but not...
Note the smaller cabinet, the off the shelf drivers and vent, and the first order crossover. also the cabinet maker could not make the chanfreined cabinet, so you can see the edge of the plywood on each corner.
Although quite elegant, it is nothing compared to the shear beauty and perfection of the final cabinets manufactured for us by Jean-Paul Guy of GUY HF in Bourbon-Lancy, now part of the Focal empire!
Leon (Joseph, bien sur...)
ORTF (Office de Radio & Television Francais)
This is how the new Elipson communication is structured, a good balance of nostalgia and revival.
The new 4260 is certainly a fine example of all these attributes, and I am sure, Joseph Leon would approve of the new design.
Interestingly enough, PHL Audio, and Philippe Lesage, are providing the main drivers of exceptional characteristics, as you would expect from a manufacturer of pro drivers.
So, the midrange is left to a 21cm (8") driver with a phase plug, and the bass to a 38cm (15") unit, both paper based and very high efficiency, as the final product has a 92db efficiency - not a small feast for a speaker that size!
The power capacity is a whopping 250Watts RMS ( real watts...you can read about the different ways of measuring power for loudspeakers on the PHL Audio website).
The tweeter is custom made from Scanspeak, a very well known Danish manufacturer.
Elipson had prepared quite an extensive demo on CD, although a turntable was also on hand for the vynil enthusiasts.
The sound was spectacular on jazz and percussions particularly, thanks to the 38cm and the tweeter.
On the only classical recording played, the orchestra sounded a bit dull and not full-bodied, but I guess, it was that particular recording.
On female voices, the 21cm gives its full delivery, smooth, precise, quick.
After only six pieces of music, overall the result was splendid and very much part of the Elipson heritage.
For a more thorough review, (and the story of another hifi freak...) I recommend you go to www.passion-elipson.com
I had an extensive chat with the mechanical designer of the 4260, a young man called Cedric Leon (sic!, and he is not related...) who was very enthusiastic about the product and clearly very happy to work for Elipson.
It was very refreshing to meet somebody from a much younger generation being as passionate as I was when I first heard the 4040 in the 70s...
Maybe he will have his own blog one day...
Browse through my collection of photos of the stand and the 4260s as well.
Another product that seems to be the next one to be revived is the sphere with the diffuser, using (maybe...) the coaxial driver used in the new Planets.
Can't wait to hear them!
A big distributor of audio and video products in France, DEA International, has revived the Elipson brand with some exciting new products like the 4260, a modern incarnation of the famous 4040. You can visit their site: http://www.elipson.com
The 4260 is equipped with drivers made by PHL Audio, and designed by Philippe Lesage, the man who helped me customise the Audax driver I used in my SAT speakers. That a sure sign of a winner. I can't wait to listen to this new avatar of a classic! Stay tuned for more news...
They will be exhibiting at the Salon Hifi & Home Cinema in Paris in a month time at the Pullman hotel. More details here:http://www.spat.fr/hifi/
DEA also distributes Canton, Ortofon, Perreaux, Shanglin and Thorens entre autres.
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.