Speakers

The outer limits: The Estelon XB speakers

Extreme audio is where the everyday compromises of reproducing the sound of music recede, and you start to see and hear why high-end audio is crazy expensive.

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The Estelon XB speakers Estelon

The Estelon XB speakers look the real deal; these deliciously curvy, cast-composite marble towers sport advanced ceramic drivers, and that level of exotica is an essential part of the DNA of ultra-high-end speaker design. They are imposing visual sculptures, but even so, advanced tech and over-the-top build quality don't always produce great-sounding speakers. No, the best ones come from the most talented designers who know how to make great sound. Like great chefs, they select the best possible ingredients, but it's the way they prepare them that elevates the food's taste. So just because the Estelon XB is chock- full of high-priced parts doesn't automatically make it a great-sounding speaker. In fact, I generally don't like the sound of speakers with ceramic drivers; they tend to sound overly detailed and lack soul, so I was relieved that the Estelon XBs' sound had a tremendous sense of warmth at the Park Avenue Audio showroom in New York City.

The Estelon XB has a 1-inch tweeter, a 6.25-inch midrange, and an 8.7-inch woofer; all three ceramic drivers are made in Germany by Accuton. The Estelon XB stands almost 50 inches tall and it weighs 152 pounds.

I listened to the Estelon XBs in a system that also featured a Musical Fidelity M3 CD player, an M6 stereo preamplifier, and a McIntosh MC302 power amp. The Estelon XBs unleashed a huge sound field, with a remarkable sense of depth. Each instrument seemed to have a fully formed three-dimensional presence and body. Bass was deep and beautifully defined, so well-recorded string basses sounded more natural than what I've experienced with most speakers, including a lot of outrageously high-priced ones.

Same with grand piano; the Estelon XBs really nailed Duke Ellington's small and large dynamic shadings, so I could zero in on the Duke's touch, exactly how hard or light he was hitting the keys. The scale of a large piano is impossible to reproduce over a pair of speakers, but the Estelon XBs get closer than most.

While listening to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band CDs, I thought the horns had just the right amount of brassy "bite," and the musicians dynamic leaps were given free reign. Funky Steely Dan tracks, played nice and loud, demonstrated that these speakers can easily kick butt.

Are the Estelon XBs' perfect? Of course not, but if you want to get as close as possible to the live sound of the Grateful Dead, LCD Soundsystem, the White Stripes, or Miles Davis, the Estelon XBs can take you there.

This level of ultimate sound quality never comes cheap; the Estelon XBs retail for $35,900 per pair. Estelon prices start at $24,900 for the XC speakers, and run up to $260,000/pair for the Estelon Extreme in the US. The speakers are also available in the UK and Australia.

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