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May 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premier!
Peak Consult Zoltan Loudspeaker

The Zoltan Of Swing
Review By Jules Coleman
Click here to e-mail reviewer.


Peak Consult Zoltan Speaker  Danish loudspeaker company Peak Consult was founded in 1996 by Per Kristoffersen. Like many speaker designers, Kristofferen began by responding to requests from his friends who were disappointed in the products that were available to them on the market. In the short time since Peak Consult formed as a going concern, it has garnered an international reputation; its speakers are much sought after and extremely well reviewed. The company first came to my attention upon reading a glowing review of the stand mounted Incognito.

Even with such strong praise and international standing, Peak has only recently secured quality representation in the States. The Peak line is imported by Signals SuperFi LLC headed by Chris Somovigo of Stereovox Cable fame. My experience with Chris suggests that the wait for first-rate representation has been well worth it. The Peak line-up includes a Reference Line (headed up by the El Diablo, followed by the Emporer); the Zoltan heads up the remaining offerings which include the Empress, the Princess System, Incognito and the basic Princess. The El Diablo is Peak's entry in the cost no object state of the art category. I listened to El Diablo at last year's H.E.S and at Sound by Singer in New York City. My general impression is that the Zoltan gives little away to its big brother, and at exactly half of El Diablo's hefty price tag, this alone makes the Zoltan not only an outstanding loudspeaker, but a genuine value as well.

A three way design of modest proportions, but substantial heft (146 pounds/speaker), the Zoltan is an extraordinarily well-balanced, refined and sophisticated speaker that will grace any listening room. As if that weren't good enough, the speaker sounds even better than it looks.

 

Inside And Out
Like other speakers in the Peak Consult line-up, the Zoltan follows a now familiar approach to loudspeaker design. The basic idea is build a cabinet that is as resonance free as possible; one that in addition eliminates internal standing waves and minimizes diffraction effects. Each cabinet houses carefully chosen drivers configured for use in each loudspeaker. The key to the speaker's success is the distinctive crossover designs and the use of Stereovox internal wiring.

To achieve a resonance free cabinet, Peak Consult relies on a specially glued together sandwich of high-density fiberboard (HDF) of thicknesses varying from 1.5 to 3 inches. That is extremely thick even by today's standards. As if this weren't enough, the HDF is then covered with 1-inch thick hardwood. The side panels are made of what the manufacturer describes as ‘finger-tapped' wood. You can not only tap the speaker with your knuckles and hear and feel no vibrations. You can blast with dynamite in an adjacent room and the speaker will be unmoved and unfazed.

To eliminate internal standing waves, Peak follows the conventional wisdom and designs the enclosure without parallel panels. To minimize diffraction effects, the front baffle is curved at the edges, which is said to improve off-axis response as well. The front baffle is sloped in the now familiar manner of Thiel loudspeaker. The slope is said to align driver phase and timing. Each loudspeaker is finished to a furniture grade worthy of Danish craftsmanship, though the look is by no means ‘Danish modern.' Like the other speakers in the line, the Zoltan is not designed to make an aesthetic statement. If anything, it is designed to express a quiet and somewhat understated confidence: a confidence, it so happens, that is altogether warranted. All told, the speaker is rather handsome and unassuming. I rather like its looks, and admire Kristoffersen's unwillingness to compromise his sonic vision in favor of a flash design.

The three-way, four driver Zoltan features all Danish drivers: the ubiquitous (hometown grown) Scan-Speak 1 inchsoft dome tweeter customized for the Zoltan; a hand built 5 inch midrange driver from Audiotechnology and twin 7 inch Audiotechnology drivers for the bass designed for speed and extension. There is nothing about the Zoltan that is revolutionary in either aesthetic or approach. That is, unless you consider its way with music. The quality and character of the speaker is a matter of its executing its vision well; it does not aim to win you over with white papers, and certainly not with a white hot boom and sizzle presentation that will wear down even the most avid audiophile. In fact, the key to the Zoltan is not how it strikes you at first, but how easy it is to live with long term. No flash. No showiness. Just simple excellence and elegance: as it ought to be.

 

Set Up
In my relatively large listening room (18 x 30 x 9 feet) I have the option of setting up speakers along the short or long wall. For example, I set up my original 1953 JBL Hartsfield (top loaders) along the short wall firing into the length of the room; and I set up the SoloVox full range PHY driver open baffle speaker along the long wall. I sit anywhere from 10 to 15 feet away when speakers are set up along the short wall and 6 to 8 feet away when they are set up along the long wall. If it seems appropriate, I will try speakers in both locations. In the case of the Zoltans, I set the speakers up along the short wall ten feet from one another (measured from the tweeters) and roughly two feet off the back wall. This is almost the same location where my DeVore Silverback Reference performed best and where speakers as diverse as the Horning Agathon Ultimates, Duevel Jupiters and the Wilson Sophias (and a handful of others) seemed to shine as well. This location provided the best overall tonal balance as well as a good, deep and convincing soundstage. In my room at least I can increase soundstage depth by moving the speakers out a bit further. Placed further into the room speakers more easily charge the room as well, but the tonal balance is shifted up a bit which provides a false sense of upper frequency detail. Some visitors to my home prefer this kind of presentation (but none of them are musicians). I find the net effect artificial and the tonal balance less musically persuasive.

My usual reference system consists of the Shindo Garrard 301 turntable fitted with Shindo Mersault arm and modified SPU classic cartridge, Shindo Catherine preamplifier with Arome Step Up transformer; Shindo 300B Ltd amplifiers, Stealth Indra interconnects and Auditorium 23 speaker cable. My digital front end has been in constant flux, but I seem to have settled on a computer-based system feeding various DACs. During most of the review period I used the Wavelength Brick DAC, but I listened mostly to LPs as is my wont. All components are housed in two HRS equipment racks. Though the Zoltans are bi-wirable, I used a Stereovox jumper cable and fed the speakers through one pair of Auditorium 23 speaker cables.

The Zoltans are rated at 92dB/W/m and are said to present a stable and flat 4 Ohm resistive load to an amplifier. The folks at Peak suggest that the speaker will work well with modest powered amplifiers and given that I had a state of the art low powered amp on hand I took them up on their suggestion – but without as much success as I had hoped for. Powered by the 300B Ltd, music played back through the Zoltan was satisfying, reasonably resolute and well balanced. The presentation lacked dynamic realism and wasn't as nimble as I knew it should be.

The speaker obviously was hungrier for more food than I had on hand. So I turned to Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, the importer of Shindo Laboratory components, who loaned me a pair of Richbourg amplifiers. A push pull design featuring the 6L6 pentode, the Richbourg delivers 25 watts and is especially adept at controlling difficult loads. The pair I borrowed had recently finished service driving a pair of Wilson MAXX -2 when other more powerful amplifiers proved inadequate to the task at hand. After listening non-critically to the Richbourg/Zoltan combination for a few days, I decided that the two were a good match and settled into two months of the most enjoyable listening I can recall.

 

The Sound
With rare exceptions, if a speaker or audio system gets your immediate attention, there's something wrong with it. More often than not such a system is out of balance. In the case of loudspeakers, the culprits are usually downstairs or upstairs, and even occasionally in the middle. Often what grabs the attention of the non experienced audiophile is something in the bass region – usually a midbass hump or a big thunderous (and often ponderous) lower octave; audiophiles tend to focus more on the upper frequencies – extension, extension, extension, and just as often they are mislead by a somewhat tipped up presence region which conveys a false sense of detail and spaciousness. And since (for reasons that continue to escape me, most audiophiles and reviewers are convinced that ‘it's all about the midrange, some speakers that squeezes everything to the middle frequently, but just as annoying long term is what I call the midrange effect wherein the entire musical presentation is pushed down and up from the opposite ends of the frequency extremes to give the sense that everything is happening ‘in the middle' which then blossoms into the room, the net effect of which is usually to portray singers with heads as big as the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. All of these features of playback are attention getting and amazing in their own way. But these aren't features of real music; they are artifacts that help sell gear.

It's a matter of psychology not musicality. The same thing happens at Circuit City in the TV section. The TVs that sell most are those that are calibrated to display certain colors in especially vivid, but ultimately artificial ways, and to convey unnaturally precise contrasts.

High frequency boom and sizzle is the moral equivalent of T&A television fare: it's Charlie's Angels and Baywatch. Catchy, sexy: you might even tune in every week, but you never think about any episode in the intervening weeks, and you sure as hell don't find yourself pondering whether the writers are developing coherent story lines or whether the shows exhibit a consistent development of character or whether the characters are sensitive to the complexity of the human experience. Though their silicon-like enhancements are somewhat subtler, the high end (and not just the midfi) has its share of Baywatch loudspeakers. The Peak Consult Zoltan are most assuredly not among them.

Don't expect to be blown away when you first listen to the Zoltan, and this is actually excellent news. Why? Because the Zoltan is the most well balanced, neutral yet revealing loudspeaker you will are likely ever to hear; and that is something you don't hear at first, but something you come to appreciate in due course. This is not a speaker that will excite you about it, but one that will permit you to be excited about music. What could be better than that? This is the speaker you want to live with for the long term – the very long term in fact.

 

There's More
The Zoltan plumbs reasonably deep regions and does so with weight, authority and agility. Bass is well defined and pitch accurate. One of the features that often lets down even many of the best loudspeaker designs is a striking difference between the quality of resolution in the midrange on the one hand and in either or both frequency extremes on the other. In the bass, the notes are not as distinct from one another, they seem sluggish and a bit heavier; on top, the notes come across as having less body. I view this resolution discontinuity as a dead give-away that one is listening to music reproduction not music.

Some speakers achieve a sense of resolution in the bottom end by reducing apparent weight in favor of punch and dynamics. The Zoltan is punchy and dynamic, but it does not achieve these virtues by truncating the harmonics of the lower octaves. Not at all. By the same token, many loudspeakers produce an artificial sense of upper frequency detail by emphasizing the leading edge of notes. Not so the Zoltan. In fact, this consistency of resolution from top to bottom is what sets the Zoltan apart from virtually every other multi-driver loudspeaker with which I am familiar.

This consistency of resolution separates the Zoltan from various Wilson and Kharma loudspeakers. To my ears, Wilsons are bumped up in the midbass and sacrifice resolution for punch and weight. Kharmas are less well developed in the upper regions. No doubt, Wilsons and Kharmas are wonderful speakers and they have many loyal owners, but they do not strike me as being as musically honest as the Zoltans are: more exciting to be sure, but less honest – at least to my ears. The keys to the Zoltan are its balance, integration and consistency. It is tonally consistent from top to bottom. This tonal consistency matches its resolution consistency. Beyond that, the drivers integrate extremely well, and there are absolutely no ‘holes' in the musical presentation: no recessed midrange or midbass. It's all there – and in nearly perfect balance. For all of these reasons, the Zoltan may come off as unexciting. But that is just to say that it imparts very little of its own character on the music. And that is precisely as it should be.

The Zoltan is not inexpensive, but it is an exceptional loudspeaker. It deserves to be mated with the very best electronics. To my ears it sounds best with full-bodied tube electronics of modest power: any excellent push/pull design of between 25 to 75 watts will do just fine. Personally I would stay away from amplifiers using the 6550 output tube which may be a bit too cool for the Zoltans. The output from an 845 tube in single ended configuration may suffice, but I have always found that tube to display a bit of a boom and sizzle character. In contrast, the Richbourg's 25 watts were ample and its 6L6 tubes were also a good match for the Zoltans. An EL34 tube amplifier would likely have the right kind of harmonic character for the Zoltan, but with rare exceptions, amps based on this tube are not resolving enough to show off what the Zoltan is capable of. I am less knowledgeable about solid-state designs, but you want to be careful to avoid dark or cold solid-state amps, and anything that may be a bit lightweight. I say this in part because the Zoltan's are so honest that they will show you everything about your electronics – and some of it may be news you could do without.

There is a sales pitch that some reviewers have bought into which, as far as I can tell, originated with the excellent marketing folks at Wilson. According to this wisdom, you should spend most of your money on your speakers and drive them with any reasonably good electronics. I once read that one should consider mating the Wilson Sophia or perhaps even the Watt/Puppy 7 with a Naim integrated. The Naim integrated is a fine amp and a great value; still, the only way it would make sense to hook up any speaker with pretensions of being high end with something like the Naim is if the speaker has such a dominant character that it would blunt the subtle differences that various electronics can make. To my ears, the Sophia may in fact be such a speaker. I am less sure about the System 7. But don't try anything so foolish with a truly resolute and honest loudspeaker like the Zoltans. The Zoltan knows the difference between Naim and Audio Note, between Rega and Shindo – and it won't hesitate to let you know either. Great loudspeakers demand great downstream component and cable matching. Listen to the Zoltan with excellent electronics and a first rate source before you try to take their measure. You won't be disappointed.

 

Conclusion
There is no denying that the Wilson line of loudspeakers – especially the System 7 – represents the state of the art in midsize dynamic loudspeakers. There is also no denying that it is experiencing pressure from ‘below' and now from above. The DeVore Silverback Reference at two-thirds its price is a better balanced speaker than the System 7. The Zoltan, at a somewhat greater price is a much more revealing, nuanced and sophisticated speaker overall. In fact, if you are considering purchasing Kharma mini Exquisites, Wilson MAXX-2, or Sonus Faber Stradaveri, I urge you to listen to the Zoltan. All represent much more difficult loads to drive, and are less neutral if more exciting and excitable choices. If the question you are facing is not just ‘who looks great tonight who I might take home for an evening spin?' but is instead ‘who can I see myself having a meaningful relationship with?' (and at the cost of entry it should be), you may very well find your soul mate in a pair of Peak Consult Zoltans. This is a speaker you will definitely want to listen to – long term. The Peak Consult Zoltan is one of the few dynamic loudspeakers that might well get you off the audio roller coaster once and for all. This is the sort of modern loudspeaker that I could live with long term – until, as they say, death do us part.

 

Specifications
Type: Floorstanding full range loudspeaker

Design: 3-way, 4 driver ported loudspeaker

Drivers: two 7-inch woofers, a 5-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter

Frequency Response: 20Hz to 30kHz ( -3dB )

Impedance: 4 Ohms nominal

Crossover Points: 250Hz and 4800Hz

Dimensions: 42.5 x 11.5 x 15 (HxWxD in inches)

Weight: 146 Lbs.

Price: $35,000 in ash, oak, rosewood. For Italian walnut there is an upcharge of $2,000.

 

Company Information
Peak Consult International
Langelandsvej 12
Middelfart, DK 5500

Voice: (+45) 64 400 580
Fax: (+45) 64 400 680 
E-mail: mail@peak-consult.dk
Website: www.peak-consult.dk

 

United States Distributor
Signals-SuperFi, LLC
828 Ralph McGill Blvd.
Studio W3
Atlanta, GA 30306

Voice: (678) 528-8077
Fax: (678) 884-1167
E-mail: info@signals-superfi.com
Website: www.signals-superfi.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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