World Premiere Review!
Back in June 2016 I reviewed the MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti One, this was the launch speaker produced by the company. Mark Fenlon – the chief designer – has been creating loudspeaker drivers for years and is now a big part of the MarkAudio-SOTA which is a collaboration between Steve Chen's SOTA Acoustics and MarkAudio Loudspeakers. I was most impressed with the Viotti One, the initial flagship product. A great deal of expertise went into the drivers, crossover concepts and bass alignment. Considerable investment allied to smart ideas also went to in the advanced cabinet design featuring laminated materials and high quality finishes. The MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti Tower scales up the Viotti One concept and then some! The stand mount Viotti One now has a Big Daddy of a speaker in the form of the Viotti Tower.
The Viotti Tower carries over design concepts
from the Viotti One:
As with the One the Tower is a two-way speaker but unlike the twin-driver Viotti One the Viotti Tower speakers each comprise three Sota 11 bass/mid drivers and a pair of Sota 5 tweeters. In place of the stands used by the Viotti One you get a large and most elegant floor standing loudspeaker designed along similar lines and with the same eye for beauty. The smaller Viotti One is priced at $1995; the much larger statement Viotti Towers come in at $5995. Both Viottis are visually easy to place in rooms and are the most domestically acceptable speakers I've had the pleasure to accommodate. At 45.4" tall but only 11.8" wide these 65 lbs speakers are impressive and complement rooms rather than dominate them. When I say I've had no domestic issues with the speakers I think most readers will understand this is quite a plus point. My wife quite reasonably dislikes incongruous speakers; the Viotti Towers are speakers she actively likes the look of in our media room setting.
Drivers designed by Mark Fenlon are unusual in that they are what I call "Wideband" and Mark designates as "All-Range". The Viotti Tower drivers are pretty much capable of full-range audio reproduction even though they are configured as two-way speakers, albeit with five drivers. The crossover maintains the MarkAudio-SOTA preference for low-order, easy to drive characteristics. The crossover point of the second order network is 1.1kHz; polypropylene capacitors and high quality copper inductors are used. Being second order plays its part in ensuring the drivers blend well; this is further aided by the drivers sharing the same design philosophy and materials. The tweeter and mid/bass are both cone designs where the cones are very light aluminum supported by super freely moving and lightweight suspension. The designs are inherently wide-dispersion to get away from the "single audiophile hot seat" situation. These are speakers which intended to be enjoyed by groups of people – not only by a single hot-seat-jockey at a time.
The Towers are specified as reaching down to 36Hz and up to 30kHz with an impedance of 6 Ohms and a sensitivity of 88dB/W/m. There is a front firing bass port allowing relatively close rear wall placement. Cabinet finish can be ordered as either black or light oak with gold/bronze colored cones though the pair I had for review was a special in white with silver colored cones. The grill cover is secured magnetically which is easy to remove and replace. As is typical with MarkAudio-SOTA the finish is superb.
Certain speakers are renowned for sounding great in a demo but are hard to live with as what at first seems to be incisive detail turns out to be due to ropey drivers or a hyped-up frequency response. The Towers in a demo are quite the reverse of the impressive demo / hard to live characterization I've just made. The Towers in a quick demo might even slightly under whelmed, yet I assure you that living with the speakers is a very different proposition indeed. My experience is that with serious use you'll absolutely love the Towers. I will try to describe what they do so very well.
First of all the Viotti Towers are classy to look at and they sound classy too; there's nothing remotely uncouth about the looks or sound. Their sound is coherent and cohesive; at no point are you made aware of any change in character through the frequency bands, the five drivers per side operate as one, and they blend magically in glorious unison. I'd describe the Tower sound as sonorous rather than trying to play a nervous balancing act on a knife edge seeking to pierce your ears; this is crucial when several sources are in use all with their own sonic foibles. As for bass they are supremely capable. Some speakers are tilted towards the bass making everything sound bass heavy, the Towers are not like this. The Towers can produce thunderous bass, far more than I'd expected given the available cone area. Such bass is only reproduced when the source material demands it, though as you'd hope with speakers of this size the sound is rich with excellent body and realism.
Now we come to scale and authority. I'm tempted to use the term wall-of-sound; certainly presence and scale is very impressive. The sound from the speakers is room-filling and capable of driving large rooms. Substitute another speaker into the system and you really notice how puny many speakers can be. The Towers are most certainly suitable for a solitary audiophile but for me, first and foremost they are speakers for family and friends, for living with and deeply enjoying without any fuss.
I've mentioned my stereo experience though I often ran the Towers in the context of a 2.1 system as on many occasions I add a subwoofer for movies for that "soundtrack" sound. The subwoofer wasn't totally necessary but for films it adds that extra bass which is typically unwanted with pure music. This got me to thinking about the Towers in the context of a full AV system. Where such an AV system would also be used for two-channel music the Towers would make a lot a sense; I'd be tempted to use a MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti MB for the center channel as this uses the same SOTA 11 driver as is found in the Towers, this would give fabulous integration.
For the rear channels you could use either a couple more Cesti MBs or perhaps the smaller Tozzi TWO; the Tozzi TWO uses the SOTA 5 (specifically a 5A variant) so again the drivers are common creating great synergy whichever way you go. For the barely need subwoofer you'd need to look to a different manufacturer as MarkAudio-SOTA don't currently offer one in the range. Whilst I'm more of an old fashioned stereo guy I must say that such an AV system comprising two Towers, three Cesti MBs with a subwoofer would probably convert me.
I should say a little about room and amplification requirements for the Towers. The short summary is that they are a really easy drive and almost any quality amplifier is likely to be a good match in most rooms. It is though fairly unlikely that a small room would be a good match for the floorstanding multi-driver Towers. The two rooms I used are both 18ft x 15ft; it would be viable to go a little smaller but not by much in my opinion. The Towers would certainly easily drive a significantly larger open plan room. Most of my listening was done via two amplifiers:
1) Temple Audio Monoblocks – Class D 70W with Temple Audio SuperCap linear power supplies.
2) Quad 306 50W with Dada Electronics upgrades to bring key components up to date.
As expected the Temples and Quad drove the Towers with ease with neither breaking sweat. My curiosity got the better of me so I also tried my 8 Watt 300B single-ended amplifier; this too was fine and in the context of my 18 foot x 15 foot room there was enough power. I would not suggest however that an 8 Watt SE amplifier is a natural pairing as the amplifier will be running into quite a high distortion zone, such amplifiers really do sound better when reined into the first watt or two. Any decent amplifier with enough power to drive your room size will be fine; the Towers are an easy drive with no sonic quirks requiring electronic compensation.
The MarkAudio-SOTA Tower speakers are to my mind completely at home within the modern environment of a mixed music and AV entertainment setup. This works so well allowing family and friends to enjoy a very high quality sound in medium to large sized rooms. The styling of the speakers makes them very easy to place within multiple types of interior settings. The Viotti Towers are thoroughly well conceived, designed and executed loudspeakers.