North America Premiere Review!
I was first introduced to the seductive voice of these remarkable Spanish planar dynamic loudspeakers at the 2017 "apostate" HiFiDeluxe audio show held at the Marriott München. Just a ten-minute drive south, and slightly west, of the Munich Order Center, home to the annual "High-End Munich", the largest annual audio show on earth, this "overflow" audio event runs coincident with the larger, more established event every year.
Now, I should make it clear that I have never been a blind devotee of planar dynamic loudspeaker designs such as those from manufacturers like Eminent Technology, Magnepan, or Wisdom. I have always felt that their inherent disadvantages, their typically low sensitivity and impedance, often just fractions of an Ohm, along with their comparatively muted dynamic and scaling capabilities, especially from the mid-bass region down, tended to outweigh their benefits, that of the enormous sense of space, air, and front soundstage depth that their native dipolar radiation pattern gifts them, and their lack of "boxy" colorations.
But from the moment I walked into that Munich demonstration, with all electronics and cabling from Italy's Omega Audio Concepts, I was captivated. The sound was liquid, with a bold, rich tone, generating a spacious and accurately sized soundstage. Their presentation was finely layered, with vivid dimensionality, a scary-natural presence, and they pulled a complete vanishing act. And I found myself doing a double take when I heard their remarkable bass extension and their blistering transient attack and dynamic prowess, especially with percussion and other low-frequency information. If you are familiar with the sonics of other planar dynamic loudspeakers, you will appreciate that last sentence.
Daniele Coen, Alsyvox owner and designer, was on hand in Munich back in 2017 to witness my awe, and to discuss some of the technology when I expressed my interest in reviewing the Botticelli. I soon came to learn that as much as he'd love to have me review this amazing loudspeaker, at that time we were thwarted, as he had no USA importers or dealers.
The following year I was treated to the splendor of the full Italian Alsyvox Botticelli/Omega Audio Concepts system experience once again, this time, here in the US, at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. It was one of the most captivating systems I heard at that event and earned a spot among the "Best" systems covered in my resultant show report.
In the spring of 2018, the Alsyvox product line consisted of three models. As well as the superb Botticelli, there was one lessor model, the Tintoretto, and one larger model, a four-panel, five-way dipole ribbon loudspeaker, employing two panels and two external passive crossovers per channel, the Caravaggio. While I've still never heard the Tintoretto, I did hear the prodigious Caravaggio the following year, at the 2019 HiFiDeluxe.
My most recent experience with them, the one that catalyzed this audition, occurred at the inaugural Pacific Audio Fest, held over the end of July and the first of August last year. Room 2203 of the Seattle Airport Doubletree by Hilton featured the Botticelli X, highlighting its optional eXternal crossover, a collaboration with Italy's Omega Audio Concepts. Robert Visintainer, the founder of Rhapsody Audio, and the current US Alsyvox importer had reached out to me before the show to extend an invitation to visit, one I was damn sure looking forward to, and one that proved to be every bit as exciting and engaging as all those previous.
The amazing sonic perspective that Bob was able to accomplish in this room simply reaffirmed my long-established belief that the Alsyvox products, and the Botticelli in particular, may be one of the most overlooked and exceptional performing loudspeakers on the market today.
Following up with Bob after the Pacific Audio Fest led to a discussion with both him and Daniele. The earlier obstacle had been removed; there was now an established dealer/importer for the US with Bob's Rhapsody Audio's five locations, including Dallas, Texas, Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Illinois, West Palm Beach, Florida, and the headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. However, both gentlemen had expressed reasonable concerns that my room was likely just not wide enough to permit the Botticelli to reveal their fullest potential. Naturally disappointed, my melancholy was abruptly relieved when an invitation arrived to spend time at Brooklyn's Rhapsody for an extended audition. Wasting no time accepting, I found myself headed to Brooklyn the morning after Labor Day this past September.
While he was in school, he read an article discussing the science of sound reproduction that suggested that the more common loudspeaker system designs, those based on the point source concept, were innately incapable of reproducing music the way it sounds at the concert hall, where the sound is essentially coming from every direction. This article expressed an argument as to why a point source loudspeaker does not have the native ability to recreate music with that level of complexity, and he soon found himself looking into other designs, including dipoles and line sources. He even researched the old Bose 901 system, a product that relied heavily on reflected sound, and one that some felt better approximated the complexity of expression described in his reading.
He had also begun to pursue a DIY approach to a dipole line source, a concept that made a great deal of sense to him, and such endeavors soon began to consume the bulk of his disposable income. By 1984 he had begun working on the diffusion of sound in a room using cone loudspeakers mounted on a flat baffle. The results led him to study the technology of ribbon drivers, specifically those used as midrange-tweeters. This work eventually led to his designing a ribbon loudspeaker for a product from RES Audio in 1994, the Sky 1. In 2005, while designing their Sky 2 ribbon loudspeaker, he was inspired to implement neodymium magnets, a modification that led to an order of magnitude of improvement in the driver's sensitivity.
By 2009, his first ribbon panel woofers had appeared, and the ongoing march of technological progress soon allowed these ribbon panel woofers to achieve sensitivity comparable to that of the ribbon and neodymium magnet mid-tweeters. The ongoing developments of new ribbon loudspeakers from Daniele's workshop since 2016 have gradually made it possible to create a loudspeaker that reproduces the entire audio spectrum using only ribbon drivers, without any dynamic transducers!
Alsyvox Audio Design Speaker Lineup
All models feature robust heavy-gauge steel frames and employ a variety of other materials like acrylic plastic, PVC, and precious solid teak wood, all chosen for their vibration-damping behavior. The entire completed panel rests on custom damping feet, also manufactured by Alsyvox. And while the standard finish is black glossy acrylic with natural teak profile inserts, other colors and finishes are available upon request.
There are currently four models offered, all of which feature acoustic panels that work entirely with dipolar ribbon speakers, the Tintoretto, the Botticelli, the Caravaggio, and the Raffaello.
The Botticelli's beautifully finished and appointed enclosure is twenty-five inches wide, seventy inches tall, and just over two inches deep. At a remarkable two-hundred fifty-five pounds each, their remarkably high sensitivity of 94dB opens choices for driving them with a remarkably wide variety of amplification options, and they have a listed frequency response of 22Hz to 40kHz!
Its unique Mid-Super-Tweeter driver is a single unit that, as its name implies, incorporates both the mid-tweeter and super tweeter drivers, allowing an upper-frequency extension of 40kH! The woofer ribbons have an exceptionally long stroke (around 20mm), and their combined ten square feet of woofer surface (between both enclosures) make for some incredibly powerful low-frequency response, synergizing the speed and micro-dynamic benefits of planar speakers with the impact and scaling of dynamic drivers.
All internal wiring is the NANO Extra series from Italy's Omega Audio Concepts and the crossover itself is as simple as possible, employing first-order slopes combined with the use of very high-quality parts from companies like Mundorf, Jantzen, and Duelund, and each Alsyvox speaker comes with a five-year limited warranty!
The benefits derived by adopting the optional advanced external patent-pending first-order crossover include more effective electronic sequestration of crossover component interaction and the use of additional potting to further eliminate the effects of mechanical vibration. Further, the additional space makes room for the use of both physically larger and electrically superior crossover components, and their more complex topology. They also have the added benefit of offering an exceptionally fine degree of level adjustability of both the midrange and tweeter to better accommodate any room considerations.
The beautiful Botticelli's were situated in the inviting main ground floor listening room, with windows overlooking both Portland and DeKalb Avenues. And though I had brought along a stack of my reference LPs, as well as a flash drive full of high-resolution digital files, our analog session was soon cut short. The rather pricey moving coil cartridge that was normally fitted on the beautiful V.Y.G.E.R. Atlantis turntable had recently been inadvertently damaged by his cleaner and was off to the factory for retipping! The only cartridge he had on hand to substitute, one at about one-tenth the price of the preferred unit, was simply not up to the task.
While this was a disappointing circumstance, the digital front end proved to be among the most stellar digital listening experiences I've had! In fact, this entire system was exceptional. Files were served using the Dutch-made Taiko SGM Audio Extreme server ($32,000), fed to the Japanese Esoteric SACD/DAC ($15,000). Amplification varied, as we listened to either the Valve Amplification Company of Sarasota, Florida's Master line stage ($30,000) with their venerate Signature 200iQ monoblocks ($32,000 per pair), or the flat-out stunning Pilium products of Greece, including their dual-chassis flagship Alexander line stage ($50,000), and their Achilles stereo amplifier ($50,000). All cabling was the Orion line from VYDA Laboratories of Rome, speaker cables ($16,000), interconnects ($12,000), and power cords ($7,000).
Our digital listening took several tacks, using both the near-ubiquitous Roon, as well as the Taiko native server software, TAS (Taiko Audio Server). While I'm admittedly not the biggest fan of the Roon interface, of all the stand-alone media serving and management systems I've experienced, its clearly superior sonic signature has won me over. That said, Taiko's TAS software sounds markedly better, offering a quieter, clearer, cleaner view into instrumental relationships, constructing a distinctly more organic and natural presentation. While its user interface is somewhat more clunky by comparison, what I heard when using TAS more closely replicated the presentation, body, bloom, and more natural dimensional spatial relationships associated with the finest of LP transcription. Damn this was exceptional.
We listened for the entire day; valves first, followed by silicon. As remarkable as the resultant sonic envelope produced with the engaging and highly accomplished tubed gear from VAC, it was the unflinching, utter control exhibited by the Pilium electronics that drove the Botticelli's to their utmost best performance, and it is those results that form the basis for these observations.
Given their dipolar radiation pattern, as you would expect, the system's dimensionality was exquisite, rendering layering, space, and image location and size, extremely well. One of my decisive tests can be found on Harp Attack [Alligator]. "Down Home Blues," the opening cut, portrays the four voices and harps (harmonicas) of blues legends Carey Bell, Billy Branch, James Cotton, and Junior Wells lined up, left to right. While my reference Von Schweikert Audio ULTRA 9s render slightly more realistic sizing of their human and instrumental voices on this cut, the Botticelli's ability to reproduce each artist's location within the soundstage was still nothing less than outstanding.
One of the more significant attributes of the Botticelli is its relatively elevated level of transparency, and by extension, its distinctive resolution of musical detail. I found the X iteration to be even more revealing of detail and nuance than the stock model, with no aggressive glare or any level of fatigue over extended listening. Their knack for shining an elevated degree of illumination on staging and spatial cues, as well as their noteworthy accuracy of tone color and texture, give them an exceptional degree of focus, quite readily apparent with tracks as varied as "Letters From The 9th Ward/Walk Away Rene" from Rickie Lee Jones' Girl At Her Volcano to "Nihavent," from JoëlGrare's Paris - Istanbul – Shanghai. Imaging was remarkably finely layered, with very well-specified placement, size, and shape!
Yet most impressive to me was their macrodynamic prowess, with more than merely credible weight from double bass and lower piano registers that were tonally dense and vibrant. The impact from the explosive "P" sound sung in a lyric from "Fade To Black," from the final Dire Straits studio album, On Every Street, was captured with just the right amount of power and resolution, exploding into the room, briefly compressing the air with its nuanced concussive impact, yet maintaining its extraordinary accuracy of articulation. I simply have never heard any other planar dynamic loudspeaker present with anywhere near such explosive dynamic ability, resulting in unsurpassed low-frequency reproduction for a planar design. While this particular attribute has seen notable improvement with the "point seven" series of the Magnepan product lineup, to my ears, it still represents one of their biggest limitations in comparison.
Over our entire day of listening, the resultant degree of coherence the Botticelli effortlessly delivered, its ability to convincingly speak with one continuous voice, was simply extraordinary. That voice is full-bodied, replete with the complex harmonic structures of individual instrumental accents that it presents with an overall tonal balance that is as faultless as I've ever experienced from any ribbon driver-based loudspeaker. As such, the piano was superbly represented time and time again, and the Botticelli's ability to convey micro-dynamic shadings, combined with its truthful depiction of timbre, was simply and convincingly real sounding. Tone color is richly vibrant and texturally complete. Instrumental decay is portrayed exceptionally faithfully, with a sense of unrestricted speed that allowed for a very natural interpretation of its natural linger and air, all attributes of their remarkable coherence and astonishing speed.
To my ears and sensibilities, Daniele Coen's Alsyvox Botticelli X not only clearly represents the state of the art as currently applied to the category of planar dynamic loudspeakers, but they are so easy to listen to, so engrossingly musical, and so emotionally engaging, that they would be my first choice in their price point, a rather ambitious range that includes such "fan" favorites as the Børresen Acoustics 05 or the Wilson Audio Alexx V.
Appreciation And Thanks
For now, I am still reveling in the exceptional performance achieved by this beautifully executed, technologically advanced, unique loudspeaker. The Botticelli sets the bar for what may be accomplished from a full-range ribbon loudspeaker. I hope you will take the time to seek this speaker out and give it a listen. It is well worth the effort, and it is most highly recommended.
Voice: (212) 229-1842