Piega C8 LTD loudspeaker

John Atkinson's track-by-track written evaluation in the July 2003 issue of his new Editor's Choice: Sampler & Test CD (Stereophile STPH016-2) drew me like a magnet. Here was a reviewer-editor putting into words his musical perceptions, gathered while he served as the engineer for the various recordings sampled on this compilation. JA's dual roles of writer and engineer merge complementary perspectives, yielding what should be useful descriptions of the sonic values of some of my favorite reference CDs. As I was about to start my review of Piega's new hybrid loudspeaker when I read this article, it was only natural to test whether this Swiss full-range speaker could deliver "what you should hear."

Piega's C8 LTD is clad in brushed aluminum: The cabinet, 40" tall, is constructed from nine layers of wood, over which is laid the aluminum veneer. A silver-colored aluminum screen serves as a grille. The sculpted look of this thin, compact, floorstanding loudspeaker is enhanced by its curved back, which gives the speaker a C footprint. Piega claims the curved back increases cabinet stability and optimizes sound dispersion while reducing standing waves, and resonances.

The Piega C8 LTD's defining design element is its ribbon driver—a 4" by 8" coaxial planar design, which covers the midrange and treble frequencies above 650Hz. The central tweeter section o the ribbon takes over above 3.5kHz, while three 7" aluminum bass-reflex woofer cones, made by VIFA, lay the bass foundation. The crossover features Linkwitz-Riley, fourth-order (24dB/octave) slopes.

Setup and Test Signals
I set the moderately sized Piega C8 LTDs up 5' from the back wall and 5' from the side walls in my lightly damped, rectangular, 5400-cubic-foot living room. This placed the speakers about 8' away from my listening chair. All listening was done with the grilles in place.

I began by checking the C8's in-room low-frequency response with the 1/3-octave warble tones, from Stereophile's first Test CD (Stereophile STPH002-2). From my listening chair, I set my RadioShack sound-level meter to its C-weighted, slow ballistics mode. To average any pesky room modes, I took and averaged several readings in a window 4' wide by 3' high, centered on my listening position and ear height. When I set the volume so that the Piega's 1kHz output registered 0dB on the meter, the bass response peaked at +6dB at 100Hz (a room mode effect), but was within ±3dB from 80Hz down to 40Hz, and down by -10dB at 30Hz. This rolloff in my room was steeper than the design's specified -3dB point of 36Hz.

Pink noise from the Test CD varied smoothly and gradually as I moved back and forth and from side to side in my listening chair, and dulled slightly when I stood, or when I moved 16' back to sit on a couch at the other end of the room. Listened to in the nearfield, the C8 LTD's highs in the pink noise were less prominent compared, for example, with those of the InnerSound Eros Mk.III, which I reviewed last April and which uses a flat electrostatic panel.

Sitting in the Piegas' nearfield, I was impressed with the drivers' seamless blend. The ribbons sounded transparent and fast, rendering ambience cues as well as any speaker I've heard recently. The soundstage had good lateral extension, making it easy for me, in most instances, to resolve groups of instruments or voices in a chorus. There were no colorations that I could detect. Vocalists and instruments were reproduced with their timbres balanced and natural, free of speaker-introduced tonalities. In addition, when I listened to JA's Editor's Choice while following along with his article in the July issue, the placement on the soundstage of the individual instruments and voices on the various tracks was dead-on.

At the beginning of "The Mooche," excerpted from from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous CD (Stereophile STPH013-2), the sound of Billy Drummond's Zildjian ride cymbals covered the full width of the soundstage with the "sound of shimmering bronze" rather than the anonymous hiss I've heard through other loudspeakers. Bass guitar and kick drum were placed directly in the center, the trombone right of center, the alto sax far right—in perfect agreement with JA's description. The Piegas also correctly reproduced the trombone's "brassy blattiness" and the crackle of the air in the mouthpiece.

The C8 LTDs conveyed the vivid sound of a large Bösendorfer 290SE reproducing piano in a small room when playing Robert Silverman's performance of the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata 24, from 32 Piano Sonatas (CD, OrpheumMasters KSP830). As Silverman states, the "exuberant, kaleidoscopic second movement" is played with speed and energy. The piano's treble notes emanated from just right of center, just as expected from the microphone placement—see the session photograph.

On other tracks from Editor's Choice, the Piegas' soundstage did not always match JA's written descriptions. Antony Michaelson's clarinet remained center or right of center during the Larghetto from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581, from Mosaic (CD, Stereophile STPH015-2). However, the other instruments were positioned as written, with the cello center, the first violin to the far left, and the viola between the cello and the clarinet. Even so, the Piegas produced a smooth, transparent clarinet sound better than I've heard from other loudspeakers, and complemented the quintet's "contemplative and haunting melody."

In summary, the tracks from Editor's Choice displayed in my listening room the Piega's superbly transparent midrange, lovely extended highs, and ambience retrieval. Other than the solid midbass sound of the kick drum on "The Mooche," JA's selections did not offer samples of the deepest bass. The Piega's steep rolloff below 40Hz in my listening room did exact a toll on my handful of discs that extend lower than that. The final organ chords from Part 1 of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, from Stereophile's Test CD 2 (STPH004-2), were only faintly registered. I couldn't hear the ponderous thuds and ominous rumblings in "The End of Our Island," from the soundtrack of Dinosaur (CD, Walt Disney 50086 06727), or pick out the 32Hz double-bass-and-organ note that opens Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, from Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106). Also missing were the subterranean synthesizer rumblings of "Assault on Ryan's House," from the Patriot Games soundtrack (CD, RCA 66051-2). The reverberating chimes and bassoon solo that open Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Fiesta (CD, Reference RR-38CD), were transparent, effortless, and extended, but the explosive bass-drum beats were softer and more diffuse than heard through the Revel Salon speakers.

That said, the Piega delivered satisfyingly taut, well-defined bass from most recordings. I clearly heard the thudding synthesizer notes that open "No Sign of Ghosts," from the Casper soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-11240), and the soft but dense bass-drum beat on "Cosmos Old Friend," from the Sneakers soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 53146). When pipe-organ bass was overly abundant, the C8 LTD woke up, registering both the air and the thunder of that king of instruments. Shuddering bass notes "locked" my room when I played Gnomus, from Jean Guillou's transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117).

I lived with the Piega C8 LTD loudspeakers for several months, and that time was well spent—their quality only grew with exposure. The C8 features a seamless blend of drivers, a beautiful appearance, user-friendly portability, superb ambience retrieval, pinpoint imaging and soundstaging, and transparency. Moreover, the pair of them did a near-perfect job of reproducing the instrument placements and inner detail found on John Atkinson's Editor's Choice sampler. I enjoyed their clean, nonfatiguing sound, their exact positioning of individual images on the soundstage, and the transparent, extended music produced by their coaxial ribbon midrange-tweeters. Add to that the speakers' high build quality, modern aluminum exterior, and error-free performance, and their value is all too evident.

At $14,799/pair, this Swiss loudspeaker is a fine investment. Putting to one side its low-frequency restrictions, the Piega C8 LTD gets my strongest recommendation.

US distributor: Sanibel Sound
PO Box 663
Hardy, VA 24101
(800) 531-6886