AXPONA 2017 is a week behind us now.
Billed as the largest high-end audio show in North America, the halls of the Westin O’Hare were packed with enthusiasts visiting the 140-plus demo rooms that comprise the show. Among demos were numerous products making a debut, including the Markaudio-SOTA Viotti One ($2995/pair) , Cesti B bookshelf ($1895/pair), and Cesti T tower ($3495) loudspeakers that use full-range conical dynamic drivers in a novel implementation.
With its flagship Viotti One, Markaudio-SOTA sought to leave a lasting impression at AXPONA. This gorgeous speaker featuring striking Italian design and British manners, brings an intriguing concept to the table. However, these were not playing when I stopped by. I was treated to the sounds of the Cesti Ts instead.
All three speaker models—including the Cesti T featured in the demo—use the same two full-range drivers, the SOTA 11, a 110mm (4.33″) cone that’s used for mid-bass duty, and the SOTA 5, a 50mm (1.95″) cone handles treble. The smaller driver acts as a wideband tweeter, and the larger driver serves as a mid-woofer.
The drivers come from engineer Mark Fenlon of Markaudio, and are likely recognizable to hobbyists who dabble in DIY speaker building. Both are shallow-profile mixed-alloy metal cones that have matched dispersion and output characteristics. Cabinets and crossovers come from Dr. Scott Lindgren. With styling from Italian designer Andrea Ponti pulling the package together, this team has created intriguing speakers that promise premium performance.
At the show, Markaudio-SOTA played lots of Led Zeppelin.
Check out the video I shot of the Cesti T demo at AXPONA 2017, and stay tuned for the full review of a pair of Viotti Ones. These are not run-of-the-mill 2-ways; Markaudio-SOTA’s speakers and the DIY-birthed drivers they leverage have interesting performance attributes that require further investigation.
The good news is the speakers are rock-and-roll approved. I have a pair of Viotti Ones in for review and have heard them already, and one thing is immediately apparent about the dual full-range driver approach of these models: they can play music loud and clear.
The kickoff track, “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, sounded a bit bright. But, to my ears that track always sounds a bit edgy. I suspect these speakers render sufficient detail to reveal the subtle characteristics of a recording, pleasant or not. The track sounds similar to me ears through other systems. Anyhow, I measured a C-weighted average of 103 dB at my seat, which was about ten feet from the speakers. That’s pretty loud for a show, rock on Markaudio-SOTA!
Given that the mid/bass driver has a 4.33″ diameter, even the dual-woofer Cesti T towers can use the assistance of a subwoofer to flesh out a full-range presentation. On their own, per the specs, these towers deliver a frequency response of 40Hz to 25kHz (but no range specified). Considering their behaviour, these speakers appear to be prime candidates for a serious 2.1 system.
I know “add a sub” is not what the guys from the company want to hear, but in a world where just about every competent speaker I review—and even some soundbars—can offer some sort of action at 40 Hz, the fact remains that deep bass is not the defining characteristic of this line. But that’s no criticism of the Cesti Ts, far from it. From mid-bass on up, they are able to create ferociously listenable music, with a feel I associate with horn-loaded compression-driver tweeter 2-ways.
My primary comment regarding what I heard at AXPONA is that Markaudio-SOTA did not create optimal listening conditions in the demo room. With the speakers lined up against the wall, there was no sweet spot to speak of. It’s no fault of the speakers, if you don’t bother with proper setup you will not get the best sound. That’s OK if you are blasting Led Zep at party levels but won’t cut it for deeper listening sessions.
Since I have the Viotti Ones, and since these speakers are so similar in that they share the same drivers, I have a good idea what the designs are capable of. AXPONA 2017 was not a full and proper demonstration of that capability, and these are speakers worth that effort.
Despite the suboptimal setup, “The Lemon Song” from Led Zeppelin II rocked hard yet sounded great on the Cesti T speakers. I loved the clarity with which the speakers reproduced John Paul Jones’ bass playing, and Jimmy Page’s guitar was unable to flummox the Cesti Ts. Aside from a lack of deep bass response (not the biggest deal in this demo) the Cesti Ts sounded clean, fresh, and powerful for their size.