Estelon Forza loudspeaker

You've got your 2001: A Space Odyssey speaker, which of course is a tall, black, featureless monolith. Then there's your wooden "Who's buried inside?" speaker, your "R-I-C-O-L-A" speaker, your enema bag or double-inverted enema bag speaker, your menacing hooded-Klansman speaker, your "looks like a robot, praying mantis, or Transformer" speaker (mine), and your "Does it leave a slime trail?" speaker (looks like a snail). You've got your "Is that a room divider?" speaker, your "looks like you stepped on a duck's head" speaker, and your "whipped cream dollop suspended in time" speaker.

That's just a few of the many loudspeaker "looks" on display at your typical large hi-fi show. Some are imaginative, some are farfetched, some are just weird, and some are deadly boring. Brand names available upon request.

Some speaker designs—the drivers-in-a-rectangular box configuration, for example, especially the ones made of wood or MDF—choose not to take advantage of many design and construction innovations developed over the past few decades, happy to defiantly shout "retro!" Some combine interesting new tech with whimsical industrial design.

And then there are the unusually graceful, sculpted designs from Estonia-based Estelon, which for me were not make-funnable until my local Stop & Shop supermarket began tailing me with a creepy, green-light–blinking security robot, which looked to me like a much-less-graceful Estelon (footnote 1).

That grocery store robot contains a camera that allows someone in the security office to monitor comings and goings as it moves up and down the aisles. The store says its purpose is to check stock, but everyone knows its real purpose is catching shoplifters. I love walking up to it and whispering menacingly, "I hate you."

And that—I might as well give it away at the outset—is precisely the opposite of my reaction to Estelon's Forza loudspeaker, although, to be clear, I have never walked up to one of them and whispered anything to it. When I first saw an Estelon, years ago at a show, I was certain the look was designed to draw attention rather than to serve any performance-related purpose: It was too pretty. I was entirely wrong. The shapely designs found throughout much of the Estelon line are 100% about function. The form follows.

The curvaceous shape's obvious value is that because there are no parallel surfaces, standing waves in the cabinet are much less of a problem. Notice that the speaker's top and bottom are also not parallel.

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The Forza
The Forza is the latest speaker in the company's "flagship" line, priced below the Extreme. Prices for the Forza, depending upon finish, start at $149,000/pair and go up to $163,000/pair for "Ocean Mystery" blue. As delivered, in Dark Silver Liquid Gloss, the cost is $150,300/pair.

According to the Forza manual, electroacoustics engineer Alfred Vassilkov founded Estelon in 2010, having spent the previous 25 years or so designing loudspeakers, during which time he is said to have received numerous unspecified patents and awards. He began research for the Estelon brand four years before its founding, analyzing materials and technologies to be used to produce streamlined cabinetry that would produce superior sonic performance and assimilate well into home interiors, esthetically and sonically.

The manual describes Estelon's parent company, Alfred & Partners, which is based in Estonia's picturesque capital city Tallinn, as a "design studio, think-tank"; various corporate profiles place it in the "Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing Industry." The company was co-founded by Mr. Vassilkov with his daughters, Alissa and Kristiina.

To form the cast enclosures, Vassilkov developed a proprietary crushed-marble composite that he claims has "excellent stiffness and anti-resonant attributes" while allowing the creation of molded cabinets. Other cabinet features include "extensive use of sub-structural stiffening spars that break up resonance nodes," drivers mounted in separate internal enclosures, "state of the art" resonance control, and an unspecified "top quality" damping material.

The two 11" woofers mount into a single, sealed chamber in which most of the walls are curved and none are parallel. The midwoofer is housed in its own similarly constructed chamber, as is the tweeter. All are separated to reduce the transmission of vibrations from driver to driver via the cabinet and the airspace. The tapered shape eliminates corner-baffle reflections, and Vassilkov avers that the narrow top, from which the high frequencies emanate, produces "0 degrees phase [shift] at the listening position, while the cabinet's larger radiuses create controlled directivity of the propagating soundwaves." In other words, the lack of sharp edges and the cabinet's soft curves eliminate cabinet diffraction. Estelon claims this results in wide directivity and uniform frequency response even as you move off-axis, as well as essentially true time-domain behavior, all of which expands the ideal listening position beyond a central "sweet spot."

The cabinet widens at the bottom, both so it won't tip over (good thing!) and to allow effective low-frequency reproduction. Every Estelon speaker throughout the line is hand-built. The cabinet surface is hand-sanded then sealed in a multilayer process followed by multiple coats of lacquer and a final polishing. Estelon offers the Forza in various colors, in liquid gloss, matte, and optional premium finishes. Each speaker is tuned, tested, and auditioned before being shipped out to the dealer or customer.

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Forza particulars
66" tall, 24" wide, 27" deep, and weighing 330lb, the Forza is a large speaker that looks smaller than it is partly because of how little lateral real estate it consumes as it tapers to the top. It's a four-way, sealed box design that uses "top-shelf" Accuton drivers manufactured to Estelon's specifications, including a pair of 11", long-excursion, stiff membrane CELL (footnote 2) aluminum sandwich woofers with voice-coils nearly the same diameter as the membrane, mounted close to the baffle bottom and angled approximately 45° to one another.

The 8" aluminum sandwich midwoofer (also from Accuton's "CELL" line) employs neodymium magnets, as does the 7" CELL ceramic-membrane midrange driver. The tweeter is Accuton's 1", chemical-vapor–deposited inverted-diamond membrane tweeter. These three drivers are placed in a tight, vertical array with the lowest frequency driver near the baffle top and the tweeter in the lowest position, at ear height. The three upper drivers are positioned on the slightly concave baffle surface to produce distances from the listening position that are nearly identical. (One characteristic of the CELL series of drivers is that they all have the same acoustical center.)

Audiophiles critical of companies that don't manufacture their own drivers might as well disparage automobile companies that don't produce their own tires, which is all of them. It's a silly distinction. You can argue for or against a company producing its own drivers or having a specialist like Accuton (parent company: Thiel & Partner) or Scan-Speak, for instance, manufacture them to its specifications, but overall, I think it's a fatuous distinction (footnote 3).

Estelon does not provide the four-way design's crossover frequencies, nor does it divulge the components used; what they do say is that the woofer networks are third-order while second-order networks are used for the midwoofer, midrange, and tweeter.

Crossover components, the instructions say, "have been chosen from among the absolute best available" then premeasured and sorted to tight tolerances, after which they are connected together point-to-point and hand-soldered. Kubala-Sosna provides the internal wire. The crossover networks reside in their own isolated chambers to reduce microphonic effects.

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Sensitivity is specified as 88dB/2.83V/m, the nominal impedance 3 ohms with 2-ohm minima at 42 and 110Hz: A powerful, high-current solid state amplifier will drive the Forzas best. The rated frequency range is 25Hz–60kHz, which makes it a full-range speaker with a top end that "ought to please any passing bat" as the Flanders and Swann "Song of Reproduction" says.

Unpacking and setup
The Forzas ship in large, rolling flight cases. Unboxing is a two-person job, but it isn't difficult. The speakers are also on wheels, and they easily roll out of the cases once they are flipped upright.

I moved the Forzas around using the instruction suggestions and listened to pink noise, other test tones, and familiar music. I settled on locations close to where every speaker sounds best in this room. I had a friend tilt and support the speakers as I removed the casters and inserted the four isolation feet, two per side, into which spikes were placed. For use on hard surfaces, Estelon provides metal bases that go into the isolation feet.

Whether because of the woofers' near-floor placement, the 45°/45° woofer-array alignment, or something else, the Forza's bottom octaves seemed less affected by room placement than most of the speakers I've reviewed in this space.


Footnote 1: Much—much—less graceful. Apparently there are more than 200 such robots, and they're all named Marty. Everyone hates Marty.—Jim Austin

Footnote 2: "CELL concept" is a "new generation" of Accuton drivers. See here.

Footnote 3: Having a driver specialist manufacture drivers to your specifications has one huge advantage over manufacturing drivers in-house: If a company buys the expensive equipment necessary to manufacture its own drivers, then they are limited to that particular tooling. Companies that have their drivers manufactured for them get to shop around—so effectively they're more likely to be able to find suppliers that can meet their changing needs.—Jim Austin

COMPANY INFO
Alfred & Partners
OU Kukermiidi 6
Tallinn, 11216, Estonia
US sales agent: Aldo Filippelli
(630) 484-7577
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Beautiful.

Anton's picture

They are strongly reminiscent of the KEF Muon.

rocky rqccoon's picture

One does not simply 'eliminate' diffraction. You simply eliminate it's deleterious effects by rounding off the edges of cabinets near the HF/mid-range drivers. John Crabbe wrote about this in 'Sidelines' in HFNRR in about 1986 - publishing lab findings using a single wide-band HF driver in three types of cabinet. A cube, a cube with rounded off edges at the front, and a sphere. Guess which had the best frequency response ? What was interesting was how close the cube with rounded edges was compared to the sphere. But the main thrust of the article was - you can't eliminate diffraction. His colleagues were using such phrases as 'eliminating diffraction effects' and he was keen to point out what was actually happening and encourage journalistic accuracy. What you are doing is smoothing the forward response by helping the diffraction. So curves on the sides of loudspeakers don't eliminate diffraction. They help it. But the make it smoother and so you don't get the sharp effects with sharp corners. They reduce it's effects. But you can't eliminate it - except if you put the drivers in the walls perhaps.................

georgehifi's picture

No, sorry not to me, also why in the second pic down (the black/white shot) is the top left of the speaker slightly higher than the left, where the bottom is dead square. Or is it my $$$$ monitor

And the first color shot too, now that I look???

"The EPDR (footnote 1) drops to 1 ohm at 53Hz, to 0.8 ohm between 144Hz and 166Hz, and to 1.38 ohms at 2.8kHz. The Forza must be used with amplifiers that don't have problems driving 1 ohm loads."

Luv a speaker that needs a brute amp to drive it, sorts the men out from the boys.

Cheers George

Charles E Flynn's picture

My monitor is at least one or two $ below yours, and yet it provides corroborating evidence for both of your observations.

otaku's picture

Sorry Mikey, I could not hear the first track of (Icemusic) above the sound of the paintings falling off my walls from the low bass.
But seriously, does someone on the list want to chime in on what the enema bag speaker, slime trail speaker and whipped cream speaker are?
I have some good guesses, having owned some of them, but would like to see what others think.

Anton's picture

Slime Trail: B & W Nautilus. I am pretty confident about this one.

Enema Bag: MBL 101e?

Whipped Cream: I am still thinking.

SimplySpeaking's picture

What are "hen" premeasured crossover components?
Are they better than "rooster" premeasured?

Just curious.

John Atkinson's picture
SimplySpeaking wrote:
What are "hen" premeasured crossover components? Are they better than "rooster" premeasured?

A typo, now corrected. Thanks for the eagle eyes.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Outsourcing critical componants means letting go of 'piece to piece' quality control which is especially critical if you are attempting to maintain peak performances.

Top Level Manufacturers have taken to building their own critical parts, which is exactly what the buyer is paying top dollar for. example : have a look at Abyss in Buffalo NY ( or Ferrari Auto in Italy )

Outfits that outsource critical parts are Second Tier, which is acceptable but it's nothing to brag about.

Tony in Florida

MatthewT's picture

Like GM and airbags?

tonykaz's picture

Exactly, You are Spot on, you get the concept.

GM is turning to S#$T in most things and its sad to see.

MatthewT's picture

Outsources tubes, are they second tier now?

tonykaz's picture

Yes, of course !

Jason & Mike are designers , their outfits assemble ( California & Texas ).

They have costs reflective of ultra efficient manufacturing designing. It's what they specialize in: maximise performance vs. cost.

Tubes are getting super high priced from the new manufacturers now. I'm hearing $1,800 for a pair of NEW 300B.

Jump over to Tesla and have a look at how they are building everything including the Batteries. They report that the OEMs can't supply consistent quality needed by Tesla.

Thank for writing, I've always admired your thinking.

Tony in Florida

ps. This loudspeaker outfit is taking me thru set-up training -- Right Now as I write this ! ---

Michael Fremer's picture

Loudspeakers are not cars, last time I checked, but both often have crappy drivers.

tonykaz's picture

Why the personal attacks ?

This is a rather Scientific, anyalytical type discussion, isn't it ?

Your : "Last time I checked" reads like angry sarcasm.

Accuton makes pretty darn nice transducers, as far as I can see. Some Auto outfits use them in their cars.

Resale of these Loudspeakers is gonna be a problem, perhaps.:

Warranty doesn't transfer

Factory packaging is intricate, specific and have to be stored which will take up considerable space. Set-up seems to need a factory specialist , the Factory suggests the need for two powerful men that also understand all that is required and needed for a proper installation.

I'm curious about blown Driver replacements, how is this accomplished and by whom???

There is a lot going on with this product range, the Dealers are gonna have to be better technicians than any Audio Dealer I've encountered. These products make Wilsons seem simple.

Tony in Florida

ps. how does the Dealer repair a Scratch ??

Michael Fremer's picture

Companies build in house crap all the time. The issue is not where it's built but rather whether or not attention is paid to QC either in-house or "take out".

tonykaz's picture

Are you now a housing design specialist ? , an architectural engineer ? a Standards specifier ?

I am aware of High End Luxury Custom guys that build one of a kind places that have Inspection Issues.

Todays building Standards are enforced because of Insurance Industry underwriting.

Older building tracts that were allowed Aluminium wiring are probably the Crap problem you are referring to.

There are an abundance of rumours about NJ building inspectors bribery, your case kinda supports that anger.

Tony in Florida

MatthewT's picture

Has set in for these. BRB, going to go see if Best Buy has a pair. A number of dealers in SoCal, I might have to find an excuse to go there.

MatthewT's picture

What the speakers are you described in the first paragraph. Dying to know!

tonykaz's picture

Most people have the feeling that Mecerdes make the finest Cars in the World ( I think Tesla does ).

Still, Mercerdes S Class cars are Outstanding Engineering Examples, always at the forefront ( except now because of Tesla ).

My Local Mercedes Dealer presents an entry level S Class for $109,000 with a total 5 Cars ranging in MSRP to $143,000.

I ask any knowledgable person to explain how this interesting loudspeaker is an equivalent to a Mercedes S Class and how it's phenomenal price is justified.

Is this like buying a pricy painting from the son of a famous person? seem like it !

Tony in Florida

MatthewT's picture

Of MB as well? If not, why not? Why is an MB five times the price of a Toyota transportation appliance? What makes an MB worth that five times the cost? Why would those reasons an MB is worth the cost not apply to something else?

tonykaz's picture

The Toyota Corolla has been the Industry Value Leader since 1990, til KIA presented the SOUL around 2011ish. Koreans deliver German Level Engineering, Japanese Build Quality with Chinese Pricing. KIA make our Cars in Alabama ( I think ).

However, the S Class is Gold Standard in the Automotive Industry. Gold Standard for price setting , Gold Standard in Status / Ego and Gold Standard for ICE performance.

The Tesla Engineered Cars have relegated all the ICE cars ( including the S Class ) into Buggy Whip stodginess.

Tony in Florida

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