Alta Audio Hestia Titanium loudspeaker Page 2

In the end, I moved my chair back a couple of feet—the Hestias sounded best from a distance of 10' or more. In my room, this was a compromise: one or more of those ca-65Hz room modes was made more severe but the overall balance was better. Measurements taken with my handy Bosch laser measurer told me that with my chair in this position and the speakers tilted forward as far as they would go, the difference in the distances from my ears to the top and bottom midrange drivers was only about 1½". That's just a few degrees of phase in the middle of the midrange, so there shouldn't be much cancellation. My ears told me the same thing.

After the Hestias were dialed in, I invited Levy over to make sure I was getting the sound he was after. He wasn't just satisfied—he seemed positively thrilled, especially after I'd installed the Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblock amplifiers, which I reviewed in the December 2017 issue.

Listening
The Hestias' most notable virtue was their ability to carve out space—to re-create a recording venue in my listening room. That space began just past the plane described by the Hestias' baffles and extended far beyond the room's front wall, and with certain recordings it could be cavernous. In large-scale works, such as Linn Records' high-resolution recording of Mahler's Symphony 2 ("Resurrection"), with Benjamin Zander conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus (24-bit/192kHz ALAC, Linn CKD 452), deep bass from the orchestra seemed to roll around the hall, defining the space from the bottom up.

Critics of dipole speakers say that they produce soundstages that are larger than life. Maybe so—but have you ever heard a symphony orchestra reproduced larger than life in your listening room? Orchestras, symphonies, symphonic rock—Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother, from 1970 (8-track [kidding!] CD, Capitol CDP 7 46381 2)—all sounded fabulous through the Hestia Titaniums, with real rumble and serious scale.

But it wasn't with large-scale music alone that the Hestias' mastery of space mattered. I never realized how big that room is where Johnny Cash recorded At Folsom Prison (16/44.1 FLAC from CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65955). When that prison crowd gets noisy, I could hear the high ceilings.

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I can recall only one speaker that does a better job of reproducing soundstages with large-scale music: Wilson's 600-lb, $219,000/pair Alexandria XLF, which I heard in a room at Manhattan's Innovative Audio that was, I've heard, designed and built to host those very speakers (or, perhaps, one of their antecedents). It was during that session with the XLFs that I was introduced to Mstislav Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra's recording of Shostakovich's Symphony 5 (24/96 FLAC, LSO Live LSO0550). As detailed in the liner notes, Rostropovich despised this symphony, which he considered a sellout to Stalin—yet he made a great recording.

That was the first time I'd heard an orchestra reproduced in stereo at close to life size. I remember it well: the LSO seemed to be on risers, extending dozens of feet back behind the plane of the speakers. Through the Hestia Titaniums in my less-well-treated room, the sound was a touch darker overall, and the orchestra didn't extend back quite as far. Front-to-back separation was not quite as good. But the orchestra's sections were arrayed generously in space, uncrowded. The scale inspired awe as the deep bass rumbled.

Levy's analysis of the science of imaging would seem to imply that imaging precision is a consequence of the high frequencies—say, 2kHz and above. Yet I sit here now, listening to the bassoon that enters 13 minutes into the first movement of the Shostakovich: it's positioned in space with far greater precision than the wavelength of the fundamental tone would allow. A few minutes later, near the beginning of the second movement, the unison basses have tremendous texture and weight. Unless you've got great seats, orchestras playing in large halls rarely have this much impact; certainly, Geffen Hall has never sounded this good from any seat I've ever sat in there. And if Black Sabbath's Master of Reality (24/96 MQA, Warner Bros./Tidal Masters) sounds a touch darker than it usually does—who the hell cares? Just turn it up!

One thing that impressed me about the Wilson XLFs when I heard them at Innovative Audio was their way with solo piano—how could so many drivers meld into such a lovely, delicate sound, with such a realistic balance of attack, body, and decay?

I ran through several piano tracks with the Hestia Titaniums: Prokofiev's Piano Sonata 2 with Yefim Bronfman (16/44.1 FLAC from CD, Sony Classical 53273); Schubert's Piano Sonata 17 in D, D.850, with Alfred Brendel (16/44.1, Decca 478 262 2/Tidal); and Brahms's Rhapsody in E-flat, Op.79, performed by Murray Perahia (16/44.1 rip from CD, Sony Classical SK 47181). Through the Hestias, these pianos lacked the special delicacy in the high notes I heard with the XLFs; the Altas' slightly darker sound emphasized the instruments' resonant structures, not the attacks. This sound absolutely worked—as if I were sitting in a seat or hall that was different from what I heard with the Wilsons.

With mid-hall solo-piano recordings—eg, Martha Argerich's Début Recital (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 447 430), or Marc-André Hamelin's Live at Wigmore Hall (CD, Hyperion CDA66765), both of which I highly recommend—the Hestias' ability to convey the character of the venue was a huge plus, a total win.

The Hestias made smaller-scale works sound bigger. I couldn't resist listening to Califone's Roomsound (FLAC ripped from CD, Perishable PER015), because the title seemed apropos. It sounded great, with rich, resonant acoustic guitars, the emphasis on their wooden bodies, in a deep, wide soundstage with lots of space between instruments. With chamber music, this effect tended to emphasize pianos' rich harmonies and, especially, the rich buzz and body of the lower strings.

When I listened to a live version of "Corcovado," from disc 3 of Stan Getz's The Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years (4 CDs, Verve 823 611-2), singer Astrud Gilberto stood on a stage, a few feet up from where I sat in the fourth or fifth row. Getz and his tenor sax were on the same level, farther back and slightly to the right. João Gilberto was on Astrud's right, just inside the left speaker, obviously seated, his guitar in his hands. He was human-sized, and his voice emerged from a spot maybe 18" above the sound of his guitar—as it would in an unamplified live performance. Astounding.

The Lowdown
On a day when Michael Levy had stopped by to drop off some footers for me to try with the Hestia Titaniums, as we walked along Broadway in pursuit of lunch, he took out his phone and called a friend—Phil Schaap, renowned DJ, jazz expert, educator, and recording engineer, whose work in restoring seminal jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and others has won several Grammys. Schaap owns a pair of smaller Alta Audio speakers, Levy said, and wanted to hear the Hestia Titaniums.

After lunch, with Schaap now in tow, we walked through Riverside Church, which is just up the street from my apartment. "The Last Time I was here," Schaap announced, "I was officiating at Ornette Coleman's funeral."

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Perhaps you're thinking what I was thinking: I was being set up. Levy's famous friend, who's heard more live jazz than perhaps anyone living, and has restored jazz recordings of incalculable value, would plop down in my listening chair, listen for a moment, and proclaim the Hestia Titaniums the best thing ever, better than Coltrane. Awed, I would echo his comments in my spectacular review, or at least be influenced by them.

I was too cynical by half, or maybe two-thirds. Schaap entered my apartment, looked through my modest record collection, saw my worn first issue of Duke Ellington's A Drum Is a Woman (LP, Columbia CL 951)—an album he's quite familiar with—and asked me to put it on. As he plopped down in my listening chair, I cued it up on my Thorens. Schaap listened for a few minutes before declaring (I paraphrase), "These speakers have too much bass."

Early on, even before I'd realized how completely the Hestia Titaniums mastered space, I'd thought, Wow, these speakers have a lot of bass. Are they too big for my room? After some setup work, though, I'd been very happy with the sound I was getting, as I hope I've made clear. The bass issue had faded, but it never completely disappeared.

Despite the excessive bass, Schaap seemed taken with the Hestias' sound. "I wish all music sounded this good," he said.

While bass instruments had great impact through the Hestias, sometimes they didn't sound precisely as a conscientious sound engineer might want them to sound. Double basses often had too much tone relative to texture—and too much tone overall. But it depended on the recording. The bass in Cécile McLorin Salvant's WomanChild sounded quite neutral (16/44.1, Mack Avenue/Tidal)—a very well-recorded album. Because albums are recorded and mastered differently, no speaker will work perfectly with all of them. But I feel comfortable saying that the Hestia Titanium's sound was well south of neutral.

I've spent enough time around Mike Levy, and watched him enough as he listened, that I'm comfortable suggesting that what I was hearing was exactly the sound he'd aimed for. Earlier on the day of Phil Schaap's visit, Levy expressed a certain disdain for designers who routinely avoid the challenges posed by serious low bass. Sure, it makes life easier, not only on the designer but also on the customer. But in doing so you omit a key part of the music. It's clear to me that Levy is after a particular sound—rich, full, powerful, with lifelike, corporeal images precisely located in a big space. I think he's achieved that personal vision. I suspect that many audiophiles share his taste.

Gods and Steely Dan
It's a Saturday, after midnight, and I'm listening to Steely Dan's Aja, remembering Walter Becker, who died a few weeks ago. These extraordinary musicians—Steve Gadd, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter, plus the core Steely Dan crew—are arrayed across my living room and beyond its walls, their instruments like orchestra sections. I've never heard this recording with such depth, weight, and relaxed separation.

I never asked Michael Levy why he named these speakers Hestia, but after reading up on the mythology, I have a feeling about it. Hestia is a sort of earth goddess—centered, grounded, rooted, connected to the core of things. She's the keeper of the sacred flame, a master of the space she carved out for herself. The Hestia Titanium shares these characteristics.

But in another way, the name doesn't fit. Hestia was laid-back, mild-mannered, and Alta Audio's Hestia Titanium is anything but: it's bold, daring, a little brazen—no hausfrau, but a sexy Greek lady who'll keep you on your toes, dancing.

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ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

"....the bassoon that enters 13 minutes into the first movement of the Shostakovich: it's positioned in space with far greater precision than the wavelength of the fundamental tone would allow."

There are a few things where I find it useful to focus on a fundamental or a harmonic, but the whole tone and how it interacts with the room is the final arbiter for so many things.

spacehound's picture

I'm not at all sceptical about his 'titanium' stuff, but these speakers have far too many drivers to ever sound coherent.

It's the inevitable consequence of putting enough stuff in to make it appear to people with more money that sense that they are worth 32,000 dollars.

(And it always amuses me that so many go on about 'space' around the speakers yet so many buy big and expensive floorstanders where there is no 'space' at all above what is often the most reflective and resonant part of the room.)

Michael Levy's picture

While I agree that melding multiple drivers is not an easy task, the reviewers agree that the Hestia Titanium does just that, or to quote Jim Austin from this review: "When I listened to a live version of "Corcovado," from disc 3 of Stan Getz's The Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years (4 CDs, Verve 823 611-2), singer Astrud Gilberto stood on a stage, a few feet up from where I sat in the fourth or fifth row. Getz and his tenor sax were on the same level, farther back and slightly to the right. João Gilberto was on Astrud's right, just inside the left speaker, obviously seated, his guitar in his hands. He was human-sized, and his voice emerged from a spot maybe 18" above the sound of his guitar—as it would in an unamplified live performance. Astounding.
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/alta-audio-hestia-titanium-loudspeaker-page-2#4PYKvtcdgtxsUB7d.99

otaku's picture

I heard the Alta Audio FRM-2 bookshelf speakers at the Brooklyn show in 2014 and was very impressed. Maybe bigger is not always better.

Michael Levy's picture

Our speakers are designed to match the room in which they are played. The Celesta FRM-2s are designed for moderate sized rooms, such as those that would be found in a Manhattan apartment, the Hestia Titaniums favor larger rooms. they both create an accurate representation of the space where the original recording was recorded, with the Hestias more able to portray the full grandeur of that space.

mtrot's picture

What speaker terminal jumpers appear in the picture? Thanks.

Michael Levy's picture

We provide AntiCables jumpers with the Hestia Titanium Speakers

eriks's picture

What a funny review of a funny speaker. Let me touch on one of many things stated which made me giggle:

"Levy told me that the crossover between the midrange and the tweeter is asymmetric, the tweeter coming in much faster than the midrange fades out. That asymmetry adds complexity."

Asymmetrical in this sense means that the poles, or order of the crossover is not the same on the low pass as the high pass section. This is quite typical in flat-baffle designs. This doesn't add any complexity at all and is often necessary for proper phase and amplitude matching between drivers. The designer in this case seems to have only had partial success.

The "dipolito" is a sad riff indeed. This is no such thing. While D'Appolito designs may have asymmetrical (2nd and 3rd order for example) crossovers the good doctor is very much aware that higher order filters minimize lobing and interference. Using a first order low pass filter on the mids is why you have the big dip when vertically off-axis at 1 kHz.

On the positive side, cutting off 6-7" mid-woofers at 1 kHz will prevent the comb filtering / interference effect you were concerned about. They should play as a single surface, or rather, they should _if_ they were the same make and model of driver, but they aren't. This speaker really is an endless garden of delight when it comes to curiosities.

Best,

Erik

Michael Levy's picture

Do you consider this only partially successful? Quote Jim Austin: When I listened to a live version of "Corcovado," from disc 3 of Stan Getz's The Girl from Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years (4 CDs, Verve 823 611-2), singer Astrud Gilberto stood on a stage, a few feet up from where I sat in the fourth or fifth row. Getz and his tenor sax were on the same level, farther back and slightly to the right. João Gilberto was on Astrud's right, just inside the left speaker, obviously seated, his guitar in his hands. He was human-sized, and his voice emerged from a spot maybe 18" above the sound of his guitar—as it would in an unamplified live performance. Astounding. or It's a Saturday, after midnight, and I'm listening to Steely Dan's Aja, remembering Walter Becker, who died a few weeks ago. These extraordinary musicians—Steve Gadd, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter, plus the core Steely Dan crew—are arrayed across my living room and beyond its walls, their instruments like orchestra sections. I've never heard this recording with such depth, weight, and relaxed separation.
Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/alta-audio-hestia-titanium-loudspeaker-page-2#PVAtScO97mLPcdUJ.99estia-titanium-loudspeaker-page-2#PVAtScO97mLPcdUJ.99 , or Steve Guttenberg on U tube, I heard one of the best systems of my life last night

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8otW-hzmMhc

eriks's picture

I think you misunderstand.

Only in a very narrow context did I consider this speaker design any sort of success. I said: "is often necessary for proper phase and amplitude matching between drivers. The designer in this case seems to have only had partial success."

As for the rest, to paraphrase Tim Gunn, "If that's what you like, you should buy more of it."

Erik

Michael Levy's picture

No, I think you misunderstand. The measure of a speaker is in the listening. Anyone who has ever constructed a technically perfect speaker knows this. They sound like crap. The only way to properly design a speaker is through a beta test group as we did. The members of the group included a Grammy awarded recording engineer, a symphony conductor, several reviewers, and a few fellow audio design engineers. They were tasked to compare the sound to live natural music. The process took over two years. That is what resulted in the comments I quoted from Jim Austin in this review, but as Steve Guttenberg's post shows, his was not the only one. It is a naive designer who thinks that the proof of his design is in the measurements. They are at best a guide.

ksigman's picture

My reference speakers are Alta Audio FRM2 Celesta; a 2-driver model that works beautifully with my space which is a (small) 100+ year-old apartment in NYC. Would I jump up without hesitation to these extraordinary larger (Titanium), meant for a larger space--but with the same essential qualities that I adore in the FRM2--if I had a larger space? Absolutely. I have heard them in various venues (spaces), many times, and with various supporting equipment, including my own amplifiers, and with my own personal supply of music. I have heard them in Levy's house, others' houses, at shows and (the best so far), at the Rhapsody Audio show room in NYC. Give them a listen. The soundstage and imaging is truly extraordinary--to my ears. There are no perfect speakers sound-wise (Holy Grail?) and we all have our own personal preferences as to what that might be, and it can't be based only on measurements or preconceived ideas about what a proper design should be.

Timbo in Oz's picture

Q. If QUAD's successors in China can give us essentially perfect speakers for 1/2 to 1/3rd this one's price?

Why does this one cost so much?

A. Greed! and BBB aka 'bullshit baffles brains'.

Since the late 1970s I've owned a pair of 2-way spheres which are almost as good as 57s or 63s and the cost me less than $900 to buy and a bit more to position correctly.

They go lower and play louder than 57s.

Money and display?!

98, 99, 100, ... change hands 101, 102.

Are ANY of you interested in music at all?!!!

Sigh!

TIA folks.

Timbo in Oz

JimboJumbo's picture

You were very kind to this by saying “there’s a lot to admire”.

For $32K I would expect a lot more precision in the tests.

I have measured/tested so many better speakers/monitors than these; that cost 15% of the asking price for these.

There is hardly any test that it performs really well in.

Horizontal off axis response is pretty good. Step response is appalling. CSD is a mixed bag; take out the ribbon tweeter (they usually perform well in CSD tests) and what have you got. Frequency response is barely acceptable. Impedance and phase plots are concerning. Cabinet design is average.

For $32K I would expect a lot more precision. This price range can buy you some exceptionally good stuff; perhaps some active ATC’s.

This system is basically - hate to say it - an example of an unrefined design approach.

There are $10K kit speakers and $5K active 2 way monitors out there that absolutely annihilate this in terms of design and measured performance. For example, several years ago, I measured these 2 and they performed exceptionally well . .

https://vaf.com.au/collections/signature-speakers/products/signature-i-93mkll

http://mackie.com/products/hrmk2-series

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