Speakers

These room-friendly 'micro' tower speakers bowled over the Audiophiliac

Kvart & Bolge's Sound Sommelier takes a decidedly fresh approach to high-end speaker design, at a price anyone can afford.

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Kvart & Bolge's Sound Sommeliers Kvart & Bolge

I have to admit it was the look of the tiny Kvart & Bolge Sound Sommelier tower speakers that first piqued my interest. My samples were finished in a textured "Fender Tweed Amp" covering, a refreshing contrast to the usual boring black. Measuring a scant 4 inches wide and 32.5 inches tall (10.1 x 82.5 cm), these curved-sided beauties cut a decidedly svelte figure. They lack tweeters or woofers and use just a single 3-inch (7.6 cm) Tymphany neodymium full-range driver for bass, midrange and treble frequencies.

The Sound Sommeliers aren't lacking for detail or bass oomph. I got 55Hz bass out of the Sommeliers; that's remarkably deep for a speaker with just a single 3-inch driver. Kvart & Bolge credits its Quarter Wave technology (similar to transmission line loading) for the exceptional bass output. The extruded-aluminum cabinet is fitted to a cast iron base.

The sound is nothing short of astonishing: the Sommeliers disappear as sources of sound and project a stereo image that extends well beyond the actual locations of the speakers. As I continued to listen long after the period required to write a review, there was something about the sound that made me come back again and again. I was falling in love with these speakers, and that's rare for a guy who writes more than 100 reviews a year!

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The Audiophiliac with the Sound Sommeliers Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Radiohead's densely textured "Amnesiac" is chock-full of spatial effects, and the Sound Sommeliers revealed far more subtleties in the mix than any other similarly priced speaker. Beck's "Morning Phase" album's sumptuous string arrangements were drop-dead gorgeous, and well-recorded vocals sound natural and full.

The Sommeliers' sound more like the Magnepan MMG flat-panel speaker than a conventional tower speaker. One caution, a 13.2-pound speaker with a 4-inch-wide base can't be all that sure-footed, so if you have small children or large pets, these speakers can easily be tipped over, but since they're so light they probably won't hurt anybody.

I auditioned these speakers with a few amps, starting with the little 100-watt-per-channel Lepai LP7498E, the 40-watt-per-channel NAD C 316BEE was much better, but the one that clinched the deal for me was the 5-watt-per-channel Almarro A205A tube amp. So there's no need to fret over having enough juice, just the quality of the amp. Tube amps seem to have an affinity for these micro towers, but I was perfectly happy with the sound with the solid-state NAD. Any decent receiver will do the job.

The Sound Sommelier is the smallest tower speaker I've ever tested. It's ideal for small to moderate-sized rooms where sound quality and a small footprint are priorities, but Pioneer's superb SP-FS52 towers are less expensive, make a lot more bass and play louder. They're also a lot bigger and bulkier, the SP-FS52 measures 10.6 x 8.9 x 35.2 inches (26.9 x 22.6 x 89.4 cm). A pair of Sound Sommeliers can generate a bigger, more open and spacious soundstage than the SP-FS52s. The smaller towers' bass definition is better, and the custom finish options might make the Sound Sommelier better fit with your decor than the plain black PS-FS52 towers.

Arved Deecke and Bjoern Johannesen designed the Sound Sommeliers; Kvart & Bolge is based in Mexico and Denmark. The speakers are available in the US through Amazon for $140 each, or direct from the Kvart & Bolge Web site; UK and Australia customers can order from the website. A matching Bluetooth amp, and various wood and custom-finished speakers are available from the company's website.