Estelon's Major Statement: The Extreme Loudspeaker

Extreme, perhaps, in size—6'10" when fully extended (see the linked video below)—and certainly in price ($260,000/pair US price), the Estelon Extreme loudspeaker has arrived at its exclusive US dealer, Audio High in Mountain View and Los Angeles, CA. The brainchild of Estonian designer Alfred Vassilkov, 56, who describes it as the culmination of 30 years of research, each loudspeaker, pictured above with Audio High's Michael Silver, weighs 551.16 lbs (250kg), and measures 31.1" (790mm) wide by 32.28" (820mm) deep.

The speaker's frequency range is claimed to be 20Hz—45kHz, power rating 500W, nominal impedance 4 ohms, and sensitivity 91dB/2.83V/m. Designed for large rooms, its remote-controlled height adjustability, which ranges from 70" (1770mm) to 82" (2083mm), is complemented by a manually adjustable 1.5" diamond inverted-dome tweeter that has three positions. Other drivers, all custom-sourced from Accuton in Germany, include two 10" aluminum-cone woofers, housed in their own compartment; one 10" aluminum-cone mid-woofer; and one 7" ceramic inverted-dome midrange. All wiring is Kubala-Sosna, and the body of the speaker is extremely inert crushed marble. Even the footers are special: Stillpoints black powder-coated Ultra 5s, which cost $6000 total all by themselves, come standard.

Size is one thing; performance is another. To get the real skinny on a speaker that is anything but slim, I joined Bay Area Audiophile Society member Jeremiah Horn for a three-hour private demo in Mountain View, hosted by Audio High's Michael Silver and Eugene Konnikov. A few days later came a Skype interview with designer Alfred and his daughter, Chief of Marketing Alissa Vassilkova.

Although the speakers can be bi-wired and bi-amped, I auditioned them in swing-one-way configuration. Heard with Chord's SPM 14000 monoblocks and CPA 8000 preamp, a Meridian 818.5 media server, and a PS Audio P10 power plant, all arrayed on Grand Prix Monaco racks, the system was wired with Kubala-Sosna Elation cabling. In order to maintain equilibrium, I did not ask the system's total price.

Instead, I listened long, but not hard. That's because, from the very first piece of music, a Red Book file of violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov playing Beethoven sonatas, the detail and clarity of the presentation were astounding. During one passage, I felt I could not only hear every dynamic shift and change of tonal coloration, but also feel the intention and inspiration that governed Faust's playing and defined her as a major artist.

A recording of Melnikov playing Scriabin's colorful Piano Sonata No.2 further led me to believe that the speaker was effortlessly transmitting everything that the audio engineers were able to capture, including undertones, overtones, and the smallest dynamic shifts. But that, of course, was on relatively "simple" music. Turning to Iván Fischer's Budapest Festival Orchestra recording of Mahler Symphony No.2, auditioned in 16/44.1 file format rather than the native-DSD resolution I hear on my dCS gear at home, I was impressed with how clearly the speaker delivered the different pitches and timbres of a full Mahler orchestra. Equally impressive was the superb definition of the bass drum, and the manner in which the strongest thwaps never detracted from the clarity of the instruments around them.

Audio High's very large, beautifully appointed main listening room is saddled with several sonic challenges, not the least of which is acoustic paneling on the ceiling and a huge airspace above that. Repositioning myself 10" closer and 2" to the left, I discovered the sound far richer. Listening to Melody Gardot, recorded in redbook quality, I was gripped by her absolute focus and attention to every sound she was making. If the art of Rachelle Ferrell was equally impressive, Pink Floyd's classic "Wish you Were Here" from 1975 blew me away with its very forward sound, size, and sheer visceral impact.

At this point, Jeremiah could no longer contain himself. "I'm not used to hearing so much detail," he said. After the Peabody-trained bass player requested Led Zeppelin's "Your Time is Gonna Come," the really huge, coherent soundstage defined by the band's organ, and the clarity of the cymbals impelled him to exclaim, "I never heard it like that before!"

Sensing the way to floor us, Eugene then summoned forth Deutsche Grammophon's first stereo recording, of organist Helmut Walcha playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. "The bass control is pretty damn sensational," I wrote of a speaker whose bass solidity reminded me of what I heard from the mighty Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF, paired with the dCS Vivaldi stack, VTL Siegfried II amplification and Transparent cabling in a very different and even larger environment. Kudos and mental health treatment to anyone who would attempt to arrange a back-to back demo of those two loudspeakers in identical acoustic environments with identical components. That's the only way you could actually begin to compare them, given that positioning them side by side would impact both speakers' performance, and not necessarily equally, and attempting to rapidly move them back and forth into position is as inconceivable as it is untenable.

Finally, we moved to the higher resolution of 24/96. Yes, we've all heard Ella & Louis' "April in Paris" 1000 times over, but rarely, I would contend, with so much realistic yet natural sounding detail.

Bay Area Audiophile Society member and Peabody-trained bass player Jeremiah Horn had a great time auditioning the Estelon Extremes.

In my discussion with father and daughter Vassilkov, Alfred explained that "both woofers are absolutely symmetrically loaded, both inside and outside the lower module," and separated from the midrange and tweeter in order to protect those other drivers from bass vibrations. It wasn't even necessary for him to say, "This makes the bass more accurate and controlled," because I was already convinced of same.

"The idea was to create a loudspeaker that would be easy to use in different large rooms, because the end customer could adjust the speaker to his room," said Alyssa. "Speakers play differently in different rooms, and they need to be adjustable. You also need to find points in your room where you have fewer reflections. You can try the five different heights and find where the sound is most natural and true. The shape is meant to create ideal conditions for the drivers. There are no parallel walls and no distortions, which helps achieve natural sounds without colorations. And all the components were chosen after long periods of tests."

Thus I learned that the Extreme's Teflon hybrid capacitors are specially manufactured in the US to Estelon's specifications. What, I asked, not by Mundorf or Dueland? "We wanted to use the best we could find," replied Alyssa. "We tested so many of them, and became convinced that these are the best on the market."

The bottom line, said Alfred (with the help of Alyssa's translation), is harmony. "All the details, everything has to be like one. I want to achieve a sound as natural as possible. Neutral and natural are the key words."

To ensure the manner in which the Estelon Extreme is presented, Alyssa and Alfred have chosen Audio High as their sole US dealer. "We want to be able to trust the people who market them," they said. "It is an exclusive speaker, with an exclusive way of demonstration."

Exclusive it is. Rarely have I left a demo so aware that, if I hadn't needed to run home and let the dogs out, I would have lingered to listen for hours more. Forget the 3-minute track approach to power blogging; the Estelon Extreme is the real deal. Through it, listening is an unmitigated pleasure, and unfailingly enlightening.

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COMMENTS
ditchburnlistens's picture

It is peculiar how some people hear differently than others. With the very first note I found these to have the same problem as so many other conventional speakers in that you hear the individual drivers.
That being said it may be to general to say "you hear" instead of "I heard". I also thought the tweeter really sounded totally out of sinc with the rest of the system. Just what "I heard".

gundam91's picture

I had to chuckle when I read this article. I went to listen to these at the same event. They sounded incoherent and disconnected. The $70k pair in the next room sounded more transparent and coherent to me and friends. And I love the speech the US rep made. Something about they chose the heart of Silicon Valley to debut these speakers in N.A. because only people within these zip codes can afford it. (Or be dumb enough to throw that kind of money away, I guess.) That may not be what he said exactly, but that's what my brain was hearing...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I was writing T.H.E. Show Newport Beach blogs when the event was held. Instead, my listening was done privately, days later.

I believe the reason the $70,000 pair in the next room sounded more transparent was due to the challenging room acoustics in the main listening room. The sound is far more transparent and colorful, and the treble more illumined in Audio High's home theater room, which is one room over from the main room.

In this report, I mention the acoustic challenges that produce such dark sound in Audio High's main listening room. It's essential to take these into account before drawing conclusions on the speaker's sound. I, of course had the luxury of moving around until we found the optimal seating position.

If the sound seemed incoherent and disconnected to you, my guess is that was because you were positioned in places for which the tweeter position and speaker height were not optimal. May i assume you were seated? Where? Were you able to move around?

gundam91's picture

Yes, we've tried different seats on every row, including standing at different positions around the room/store, waited for them to move the upper drivers up and down, tweeters forward and back.

I'm also aware of room effects on the speakers and so forth, and so forth. That's why I don't take impressions from attending shows too seriously and draw any conclusions. But these events are like job interviews. You only have one chance to impress your potential employer (buyer). So you show up with your A game. If you flopped in the interview, you don't go make excuses that the tie you wear that day was the wrong color, you ate the wrong breakfast that morning, etc. Especially in this case, where the retailer has a good amount of control on most variables. (This is at a show room, not a hotel room.) It should be the responsibility of the manufacturer and the retailer to ensure they sounded best if this is such an important event (US debut) and are asking people to shell out 1/4 million dollars. You don't just make up excuses that the room is imperfect. If the HT room at Audio High is the best sounding room, they should have made the presentation in that room instead. Audio High has been around for a while, it's not like they've just moved in and are unfamiliar with their space.

Et Quelle's picture

Look at the speaker, guests! Would save a lot of time and money on entertaining.

corrective_unconscious's picture

You mean because the speakers' presence would suffice on their own as entertainment for guests or because no one would want to visit?

dalethorn's picture

The speakers are flexible for setup according to the article, but apparently some customers are not getting the optimal experience in dealer showrooms. For the price you'd think they'd do better.

corrective_unconscious's picture

It might not be the dealers. It might be just the speakers....

(And "dealers" is pushing it. There can't be that many more in Germany, even if it's more than the one in the US. This speaker should amusingly call into play "Stereophile"'s stated review policy of having a minimum of five dealers or a thirty day money back guarantee or whatever the requirements are.)

dalethorn's picture

I'm a big fan of entrepreneurship, and this guy gets my vote for his accomplishment. All I see here are suggestions that he should either stick to socialism or get a job in a factory turning out speaker cones.

Naimdude's picture

Bravo for the Mitt Romney "screw the working class" republican post of the day.
An entrepreneur designs and puts into production something that provides great value and performance for its price point. Something that most people think is very good or better, and worth the price it sells for (or more). It also has to be priced so that a good percentage of the middle class can buy it (now or after saving for it).

There are numerous examples of this in audio.

There are also, unfortunately too many UNREALISTIC dreamers (it's ok to dream) who build a few copies of their wet dream thingy. The thingy costs way too mucj=h to put into production (if every copy costs as much as the prototype, your business model will fail...). If the thingy is also too pricey to sell but all of the richest 1%, you cannot have any economies of scale. You will also be competing against well established companies who have been catering to the richest 1% for a long time...

GOOD LUCK...

King Ghidora's picture

The vast majority of the super rich are extreme liberals so spare us your political overtones in a discussion of music equipment. And no working class person could dream of owning these speakers or 90% of the rest of the stuff that appears in this publication. You can either buy a house or a set of speakers I guess but you won't be able to afford the equipment to drive them. $260,000 is almost exactly 10 times what I spent to build my house actually. I did it myself and it's extremely nice. I could never afford those speakers and I am in the top 5 percentile of all wage earners. It doesn't matter whether I liked those speakers or not. Short of becoming a drug kingpin I have no chance of affording that equipment. But it has nothing to do with my politics. Let's talk about the super rich and who they are. Bill Gates - liberal. Warren Buffett - liberal. Bloomberg - extreme liberal. Yes you have the Koch brothers and the Walton family on the other end of the spectrum but let's not pretend that conservatives have a monopoly on wealth. They don't.

Naimdude's picture

Funny how you invent something that was not mentioned in my post. I accused Dale of thinking like a conservative. I then gave an example: Mit Romney. Good ole Mit would agree with Dale.

Even funnier is that you seem to agree with me on the fact that only the super rich can afford these speakers; but yet you have an argumentative tone as if you disagreed with me...

True, some of the super rich are liberals. But, every liberal you mentioned is also a philanthropist! They have or will donate most of their wealth to charity and humane causes.

The Kochs and Waltons would do anything and everything to accumulate even more wealth. They would not hesitate taking every last penny from the bottom 99% so they could have more.

See the difference?

John Atkinson's picture
corrective_unco... wrote:
This speaker should amusingly call into play "Stereophile"'s stated review policy of having a minimum of five dealers or a thirty day money back guarantee or whatever the requirements are.)

That policy concerns products being selected for full review, not news or show report coverage like this. See www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html.

With just one US dealer, this Estelon speaker doesn't qualify for a review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

corrective_unconscious's picture

Whether you would apply your stated review policy since this is a statement sort of product, already of interest and apparent controversy. But you're going to.

Doubting Thomas's picture

Interesting. . .
I have read full reviews in Stereophile of products without the stated 5 dealer minimum.
If I recall correctly, there was an acknowledgement of the exception (at least in one of the reviews), but do not remember the details.
Personally, I would like to see measured test results on this speaker.
I do not agree with the "rule" on speakers unable to sound better than they measure, for the simple reason measurement systems are not sentient.
On the other hand, in the event (speculative this may be) the speaker measures well, but does not sound particularly good (as some have noted under show conditions); should this be so under more controlled conditions (e.g., a reviewers listening room), then my interest would be further piqued to hear an explanation.
But now I am rambling. . .

John Atkinson's picture
Doubting Thomas wrote:
I have read full reviews in Stereophile of products without the stated 5 dealer minimum.

The "5 Dealer Rule" applies to products that are sold through regular retailers. With products that are sold direct, that does not disqualify them from review coverage, but the decision depends on other factors.

Doubting Thomas wrote:
If I recall correctly, there was an acknowledgement of the exception (at least in one of the reviews), but do not remember the details.

My policy was outlined in the article linked to earlier in this thread. See www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/307awsi/index.html, where I wrote “It is the editor's decision whether a product distributed by mail-order or via the Web qualifies for review."

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

DougM's picture

Just what the world needs, another speaker that costs more than a Ferrari. I guess a couple of Apple execs in Cupertino could afford them, but certainly no one in Mt. View I've ever known. Ho Hum. The Audio world is like the Republican party, always saying they should be more inclusive, and then doing the opposite.

dalethorn's picture

The goal of the audio community should be best sound, not 'inclusiveness'. What does inclusiveness mean - water everything down to the common denominator? I don't agree with rich cars and houses *if* it means fewer jobs or lower pay for the masses, but other than that I have no objections. But when it comes to audio there's only one main goal, and maybe what comes out of it (new technology?) will trickle down, and maybe it won't. But letting the breakthrough guys break through is still the only option.

Bluebird Music's picture

Estelon is a new line distributed by Bluebird Music and we are actively working to build up a network of dealers qualified to represent this fantastic speaker line.

Yes, Audio High is the only US dealer for the Extremes, however we do have other Estelon dealers. Estelon offers four other models priced between $24,900 and $69,900.

It is grossly unfair to say "just what the world needs, another speaker that costs more than..." Bluebird Music offers, and works hard to market, excellent speakers starting at $1,595 and so does every one of our dealers. So, please leave the sour grapes on the grocer's shelf.

Jay Rein, President
Bluebird Music Limited

remlab's picture

..by the Whise HA-1500..

Bluebird Music's picture

I think the shape was inspired by the X Diamond.

remlab's picture

.

remlab's picture

..works of art and science.

Naimdude's picture

Maybe they are works of art and science. Put them in the Smithsonian... Don't try to sell them for home use.

remlab's picture

Naim trying to pass off BMR technology as "high end"? C'mon..

Naimdude's picture

You're right. Those Naim Ovators are dreadful! Shame on Naim for even making them... NOT!!!!!!!!!!

franklind9's picture

News to me! I think 818.2 is latest version, probably a typo in article
Or do you mean 808.5

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