Calix Phoenix Grand Signature loudspeaker

Of all the components to be seen and heard at an audio show or in a dealer's showroom, the most memorable and attention-grabbing are inevitably the super-speakers—bogglingly expensive, filled with cutting-edge engineering and exotic materials, of mammoth size and weight, with full-range reproduction that shakes building foundations and extends far enough up top to disrupt the navigation of bats. Survey the field, and the biggest Wilson, Aln, JMlab-Focal, Burmester, EgglestonWorks, and Nearfield Acoustics models, to name a few, fit that description.

In terms of its cost, complexity, and weight, the Calix Phoenix Grand Signature ("PGS" for short) is a super-speaker—but one with some distinctive differences in terms of looks and philosophy. But is "different" better, or is it just different? Hearing the PGS at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show and Home Entertainment 2002 didn't answer that question, but more than stoked my interest in smoking out the truth.

A Bit of Background
The Phoenix Grand Signature does not look like any other contender in the super-speaker sweepstakes. While "statement" speakers are single or multiple monoliths, the Calix is an elegant exercise in neo-art deco design. Japanese artist Minol Araki conceived the speaker's unique appearance, and the Taiwan-based Calix technical team—headed by principal designer K.E. Lee and president Liu Sun, both audio industry veterans—executed the development and final implementation.

In mid-September, four refrigerator-sized crates arrived via semi truck and were stashed in my garage until Rick and Graham Lundeen of Audio Solutions, Calix's Indianapolis-based distributor, arrived in Minneapolis for the 2002 CEDIA Expo and to assemble and set up the beasts. This was not as difficult as it at first appeared.

The PGS's rather surfboard-shaped front panel, carrying the mid-woofer, tweeters, and horn mounts, is part of a L-shaped steel frame. The subwoofer cabinet slides into the frame, which sits on four heavy-duty casters, and the horn attaches to the brackets atop the front panel. A pillar that runs from the "wing" attached to the horn's rear flange to the subwoofer cabinet anchors the horn assembly. The pillar plugs into a DIN socket on the top of the woofer cabinet and contains the wiring needed to hook up both the horn and the front-panel drivers, the latter using a Neutrik Speakon connector.

Last, the pillar's system of very fine machine-screw adjustments allows the horn to be pitched at exactly the right angle to integrate with the other drivers, regardless of room size and listening position. Although each speaker weighs a hefty 300 lbs fully assembled, the heaviest individual part is the 145-lb subwoofer cabinet. Still, at least two strong men are needed to assemble a PGS.

The handcrafted, limited-production nature of the Phoenix cannot be missed. It doesn't dominate a room as much as a large planar speaker does, and I found its graceful curves and beautiful mahogany finish, which fairly glows from within, a refreshing change from the standard-issue Big Box. Much to my surprise, visitors—at least male, audiophile ones—all agreed that the Phoenix is a beautifully finished and singularly handsome loudspeaker.

The most eye-catching feature of the PGS is the big midrange horn atop the front panel. Appearances to the contrary, the PGS is anything but a conventional horn speaker, as is revealed by its sensitivity specification of 88dB/W/m. Given the Phoenix Grand Signature's average sensitivity, the "horn loading" applied to the PGS's upper-frequency drivers seems designed more for control of dispersion than to maximize efficiency.

At the bottom of that big horn is not a compression driver, but a Morel MSD-56 2" soft-dome midrange unit. The horn itself is, according to Peter Yang, Calix's international manager, the product of years of trial and error to find the perfect material to act as a waveguide for that Morel driver. Wood and brass were initially tried as horn materials and found wanting. After separate trials of 30 different materials, including extensive listening tests to each effort, a mixture of carbon fiber and resin compound was finally settled on. Even then, it was discovered that the density of the material had to be varied over the horn's parabola to get the desired sonic results. The surface of the horn is so microscopically smooth that dust doesn't gather on it. According to Peter Yang and Liu Sun, the PGS is time-coherent.

US distributor: Audio Solutions
6371 N. Guildford Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220
(317) 255-4434