In between the goliaths and one-man band hi-fi industry operations is an area inhabited by an interesting new entrant. This newcomer is Markaudio-Sota, who is big enough to have resources to build to top-notch standards and small enough to be highly innovative, both in terms of product and processes. The Markaudio-Sota brand is a combination of the new company Sota Acoustics and the established company Markaudio-Loudspeakers, which designs and makes the well-known Alpair series of audio drivers. The Sota Acoustics founder is Hong Kong based Steve Cheng. Steve is a qualified electronics engineer who's passionate about audio; he is also CEO of a significant corporate electronics manufacturing enterprise. Markaudio-Loudspeakers is Mark Fenlon's baby which has now grown up to be an 11 year old. Mark is a mechanical design engineer and is one of the few people around today developing truly innovative loudspeaker drivers. Mark is British with Irish roots and is currently based in Hong Kong. Mark's philosophy is to design and build loudspeaker drivers with are full-range or at least wide-band. These drivers are lightweight, use innovative materials and are novel in their design.
The team assembled by Steve Cheng includes Italian designer Andrea Ponti who has been previously based in Japan and is now in Hong Kong. Andrea is responsible for the styling of the first model of Markaudio-Sota loudspeakers. Crossover design and final tuning is taken care of Dr. Scott Lindgren of Woden Design. Scott whilst being British has Norwegian roots if you go back far enough; he is based in Yorkshire, England. There are a number of other important people on the team Markaudio-Sota supporting the management and design team, so you can tell this is not a small operation.
With Markaudio-Sota you could not get further away from the concept of loudspeakers designed by accountants using spreadsheets by sourcing the lowest cost components. Markaudio-Sota, manufacture and assemble their own drivers and cabinets in their own manufacturing facility. Of course some parts are contracted out for manufacture, yet the point is Markaudio-Sota have all the control required to ensure their products meet their exacting design philosophy and product quality criteria. Building on Mark Fenlon's driver design philosophy Markaudio-Sota not only go with wide-band driver technology, where the main driver handles the majority of the audio frequencies, they also eschew power sapping, amplifier demanding crossovers. Instead Markaudio-Sota employ low component count, shallow slope crossovers which allow real-world and not necessarily expensive amplifiers to be used. The idea is to design the drivers to be optimal in the first place and to not need to fix problems by using a complex crossover. In terms of the physical design of their loudspeakers you will see them as things of beauty but this beauty not just skin deep. A lot of thought has gone into the structural design of the loudspeaker cabinets.
Markaudio-Sota are going straight in with a classy and decidedly non-budget product called the Viotti One, this will kick-off their range of loudspeakers. This gorgeous loudspeaker is being finalized for the market with a lot of regional testing and input. The speakers are being trialed in Europe, the US, China and Japan. It's possible there may be voicing subtleties implemented for specific markets. I am fortunate to have been asked to be part of the European feedback process. This is an interesting approach and is one which takes time and requires investment in several pre-production builds. These guys are nothing if not thorough! You might wonder how I became involved in this process; this was via Mark Fenlon; over a year ago I assembled an open baffle speaker using his MarkaudioAlpair 12P driver.
I ended up in conversations with Mark about how the wide-dispersion driver coupled with my problematic room. The culprit Mark identified was my low beamed ceiling. Mark was incredibly helpful in coming up with ideas on how to treat the room. Between us we solved the issue; usefully I was able to measure before and after results with the XTZ Room Analyzer. I can be a touch obsessive when I have a problem to solve, maybe Mark felt this was a desirable trait when looking for feedback on the pre-production Viotti One speakers.
I hear you starting to ask; ok Markaudio-Sota sound interesting but tell me more about their products. There is a range of speakers planned with the Viotti One occupying the higher end of the range. There is also a diminutive desktop / satellite single-driver speaker called Tozzi One, they are aluminum cased with a rear firing reflex port, the driver used is a full range version of the Sota 5. I've heard the Tozzi One and was astonished by what such small speaker could deliver, I very much hope to get my hands on a pair for a serious play.
Back to the Viotti One; once any tweaks are implemented to pre-production fabrications these new speakers will be launched. I have two pairs of subtly different specification speakers to audition; they are also in differing wood finishes. The differences between the pairs of speakers are the tweeter voicecoil and a soon to be installed alternative crossover. The tweeter voicecoils differ in that one is made with pure Copper Wire whereas the other is Copper-Clad Aluminum Wire (CCAW). The two sets of speakers measure similarly but there are differences in voicing. The crossovers I will audition use different component types though the component values currently do not differ. I don't want to say too much about what I'm hearing yet as I should hold off until the full production version is available, I will then formally review the version of the speaker which you, the customer will be able to purchase. I will also be in a position to describe some of the choices Markaudio-Sota made and how decisions were arrived at. The photographs in this article show late prototype versions of the Viotti One speakers, their final tweaks are in the works stay tuned for the full review of the production version.
To whet your appetite here's what I can say based on the late prototypes. The stand-mount design is very Italianate, there's a curved rear to the cabinet so as to discourage those pesky internal resonances from building up. The cabinet itself is a laminated structure which is said to significantly increase stiffness versus a traditional cabinet. The drivers are Sota 11 and Sota 5. The Sota 11 being the mid-bass wide-band driver which can be run as a single-driver in other applications. The Sota 5 is a wide-band design too which is capable of covering from upper bass to the high end of treble.
Using these two drivers in concert with an easy to drive second order crossover is said to ensure the transition between the drivers is seamless; these drivers being wide-dispersion by design helps further. Yet more attention to detail results in the placement of the crossover in its own compartment in the base of the speaker such that it's properly acoustically isolated. The stands are equally well crafted and specifically designed to complement the Viotti One. The stands are finished in beautiful Piano Black, Viotti Ones will be available in Piano Black and some choices of stunning high gloss wood. The finish on the pre-production examples is tremendous and ready for production.
When my long suffering wife saw the Viotti One she went so far as to volunteer, "those speakers look really good, I like them". You need to know my wife to fully appreciate the significance of this comment, believe you me it's a really major compliment!
I will save comments about the sound of the Viotti One the full review but rest assured that providing the production versions sound similar then I'm sure to like them.