Extreme Audio Leonardo Speakers second listening impressions

05.09.2012..

Mordor Weather

June 2012. Po Valley, sizzling hot. Just the apt weather to make us boiling by two KR Audio Kronzilla mono amplifiers mounting four homonymous T-1610 tubes. Each one with a size of thirty centimetres! There are also two Mark Levinson 20.5 mono amps with six tower-shaped heat sinks apiece…

Sweat as if you were playing at noon of August 15th, on the stage of a concert in Mordor.

The air is hot moist. Nevertheless, the music is fresh and sparkling. It heartens more than a fan. These Leonardo Speakers are great performers indeed. They can move the air for real, forgetful of doing it only through the ribbons.

 

Ribbons? I take time…

 

The front end is no less. Extreme Audio Tourbillon turntable, Clearaudio Unify Satiné tonearm and Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge, historic triptych made of CD transport, converter and preamp labelled Mark Levinson N° 30, 31 and 28, Grandinote Proemio preamp, North Star Design phono amp and, needless to say, White Gold cables.

 

Let us get back to where we were.

 

The main Extreme Audio’s listening room is located in a corner of the shed hosting the production of the loudspeakers. Do not think of anything of bungled or improvised. It is a big space with lots of air between the speakers, where the first reflections of the back walls are present but not particularly studied or artefact, in the sense of made on purpose, and they give to the room an open sound stamp, ready for the live event, not compressed. If these loudspeakers are able to give back the bass range, the respective waves will have all the space to stop themselves.

 

Despite all of this, we are off to a bad start. The last customer visiting Aldo Zaninello – Extreme Audio’s owner and designer, as well as Leonardo Speakers’ co-creator, together with Eng. Daniele Coen – is rich and eccentric. He has asked to position the loudspeakers at the two vertexes of a very narrow equilateral triangle, with his very respectful ears at the third angle. For one second I have thought: here we go again with the Americans always making something up… Now, am I forced to listen to pure ribbons, as they were a pair of headphones? Why not buying a Quad system…? What kind of sound am I expecting to hear…? What… kind of sound am I listening to? Not bad indeed, fantastic I would say… Also in this boundary condition!

 

I pinpoint. Aldo is a smiling guy. Always. And with this kind of guy you can also argue, but then you have to foresee beer and food till late at night. Sly, he moves the speakers to a more suitable triangulation in order to obtain a wide scene. From the Rubik’s cube that was playing before, compact and unpredictable in its polychromies, although small and compressed, the scene explodes in a jubilation of Woodstock, Central Park or Verona Arena, depending on the track on the platter or CD.

 

Listening impressions

To make a long story short, since the appetite comes with eating, during two full immersion days, we made the tests, as usual, with different supports and musical genres. I do not want to get you bored doing the ritual descriptions of initiation nuances between bows and strings, snare drums and drumsticks, screaming and belches. But one thing above all has really struck me – and how could it be differently? I am sure you will agree.

 

Rogers Waters, Amused to Death, Columbia. Mixed in QSound, it has been one of the first successful attempts to get a wider and natural sound field by using some sonic elaborations that are normally pernicious. Originally based on an algorithm capable of giving back a juicy 3D audio effect, it is the first time that in Waters’ record I can catch the quality of the signal elaboration in such a distinct way. A scene and a holophonic realism that make you gasp. Voices, sounds and noises are perfectly perceptible in the listening room. Incredibly in focus and distant light years from the loudspeakers.

 

Back home again and being fresh of sound memories still impressed in my mind, I have immediately replayed the same track, among the others but in particular, to have immediately some confirmations and some benchmarks. The difference was abyssal: the Leonardo’s ability in recreating a precise, powerful, vibrant soundstage was totally winning on my home reference. Sigh e sob…

 

Main technical specifications

After all this flying, let us go down to earth. Only thanks to a great phase linearity is possible to achieve this integrity and stability of emission. Here the Leonardo have a big advantage both initial and of design. The bass panel and the ribbon on the high range apply an innovative and patented ribbon-planar solution: the RTC, Real Total Coherence, which is accredited of prominent technical and sound characteristics. Entirely handmade at Extreme Audio’s facility, they employ a crossover featuring the best Mundorf components with the cross-over at 6 dB/octave, a frequency response of 20-100.000 Hz, White Gold Reference internal cables and a sensitivity of 93 dB effective in room. The applicable power, from 5 to 250 W, ensures the possibility for the loudspeakers to be driven by several amplifications, as pointed out at the beginning of the article.

That is just it. The 93 dB of efficiency and a phase that is definitely constant and without rotations at the changing of the frequency, are an excellent solution to this sensation of “everything at the right place” that I have immediately felt. I love coherence in a loudspeaker. My predilection for a two-way or even the one-way is due to the overall coherence of tone and rise time that this kind of design can reach from time to time, with the simplicity or the total absence of the crossovers playing their part. As told before, the Leonardo are speakers that aim to the whole coherence, ribbon from begging to end, but capable of a thrilling undistorted extension and pressure.

 

You cannot just say that a loudspeaker is “the best one in the world”, you have to motivate. You need to be overcome by its qualities, without any prejudice. You have to sniff and guess its limits because, sooner or later, they will come out. Anyway, since now I can state that the Leonardo system performs in a great way for loudspeakers of such manufacturing typology. They perform far beyond many current absolute references, of every cost and dimension.

 

Manufacturing technique and acoustic output

The ribbon, as told before, is a patent pending proprietary technology. The Leonardo Speakers are the outcome of the collaboration between Extreme Audio and Eng. Daniele Coen. We are talking about a unique technical and sound realization totally Made in Italy. Behind, twenty five years of research and experiences in the field of the audio reproduction.

Leonardo RibbonThe ribbon folding is original, the Mylar-type film is the result of an exclusive research, and the selected ceramic magnets have specific grounds, which I refer to this interview to Aldo and Daniele for. I have tried to monkey around with the single ceramic magnets in use: they can get out of your hands, crack and cut you, if you do not handle them with strength, determination and care.

Each panel employs about fifty kilos, for a density of magnetic flux of thousands gauss…

The tweeter is an aluminium ribbon clamped at the two ends and jointed by two magnets, quasi traditional. Conversely, in the midwoofer, the aluminium is placed on a thin plastic diaphragm which is firmly fixed and tensioned over the four sides, “surrounded” before and behind by magnets which create the ideal conditions for a real magnetoplanar push-pull design.

 

In the loudspeakers that are based more on components emitting the same frequencies at the same time, the reciprocal interferences lead, unavoidably, to reinforce some and to erase others, since some of them will arrive to the listening point adding up, because in phase, other cancelling out, because out of phase. On the Leonardo, the poly-methacrylate glossy black piano panel has some bevels whose dimensions reduce the destructive or constructive interferences on the highest frequencies. In this way, it is possible to limit the “comb-filter” effect on certain frequencies or their displacement in the acoustic scene.

The tested specimens had the “classic” poly-methacrylate glossy black piano panel, a standard, a communicative stereotype of the hi-fi gears that strive for the so called “no compromise” performances by imitating the Grand Piano glossy finish of the piano, which offers great effect and extravaganza. This is not meant as a criticism, it is simply a market statement of fact. By my side, this finish has also the advantage of making disappear the components, and reflecting the surroundings properly. And it is known that the sound coming out from a black surface has also the benefit, according to psychoacoustic science, of suggesting, in an illusionary way, more depth to the scene.

Another advantage is the controlled directivity of the panel: a light but important “waveguide” that has a smaller interaction, with respect to other designs, with the surrounding walls.

 

Bit of trivia. The decorative-functional panel – now we are aware – is available in different colours and transparent. With the remote you can change the colour of the led positioned left below that indicates the switching on of the speakers. Chic or flashy? It is up to you, but I think it is even useful for the room setting.

Two pairs of Mundorf connectors in electrolytic gold-coated copper – the speakers are suitable of bi-amplifying – and adjustable acetal rezin feet connect the loudspeakers, electrically and mechanically, to the rest of the world.

 

Physical and sound dimensions

Like true dipoles, the Leonardo add up to the back emission the front one, and give unavoidably a subjective sensation of a bigger sound volume and wide soundstage.

With a weight of 140 kg each and dimensions of 168 cm (height), 65 cm (width), and only 7 cm (depth), they are big but not huge speakers. The base dimension is truly modest if compared with the capacity of emission.

In sum, they have the authoritativeness of the speakers – and related boxes – with big internal volumes. If you love heavy metal, you can listen to it, but do not expect any distortion.

 

Amplification

With an effective sound surface of about one square meter per pair, the Leonardo are a kind of speaker with a power-handling and a sound pressure capacity that is typical of the traditional loudspeakers, but with the transparency, coherence and velocity of the ribbons. The facility of driving is granted, the quality of the watts is more decisive than the relative quantity. At the beginning, I spoke about Levinson and KR Audio, as to say one of the champions of the vintage solid-state amplification and one of the champions of the modern tube amplification. Mouth-watering stuff. But the Leonardo promise dynamics and microdynamics, sense of realism and frequency extension, tonal style and listening pleasure also with amps more or less definitive.

 

Hobbyhorses, criticality and potential faults

As I have cohabited with several planar models, I have immediately pattered the panel to see if it would bend. Yes, it bents a bit, although with the most ear-splitting and energetic music it is flawless. The panel mass has such an inertia that not a hair will move, not even during a solo of more drums sets and without the need to take into account tie bars or bracings of the panel: it is a physical law.

This paradoxical performance is in front of your eyes and reaches your ears clearly: the image is always stable, granitic, impressive indeed. Mine was an audiophile’s hobbyhorse, like all those people that, in the exhibitions, are used to platter the tonearms in the belief of having wormed out the resonance, the good or bad manufacture… Well, everyone has his own weaknesses.

 

Do not let impress yourselves negatively by the dimensions. They can appear relatively limited for a speaker that strives for the title of complete, definitive, no-compromise one. Do not divert your mind, it is just about appearance. The Leonardo perform big, in a big way and can perform great. Zaninello has told us that in the Russian market, for example, the Leonardo are “too small” to inspire the luxury and the prestige to whom, actually, they belong. They must have these dimensions, as for the quality of the design. Do not ask a bigger size.

 

As far as the sound is concerned, the only remark I can make, at the present state of my understanding of the Leonardo, is that feeling of “sparkling” that I have perceived distinctly, although sporadically, with certain recordings. I am not saying there is some “electricity in the air”, as happened with the Apogee Scintilla, big and historical ribbon speakers that acted as involuntary environmental ozonators. No, I am rather speaking of an imaginary white aura around the instruments, as the Leonardo would underline them with a brighter border if compared to other loudspeakers. Not at all annoying, but characteristic and to be deepened.

 

The future we wish

We have committed ourselves in a certain measure, because we believe in dreams and, most of all, in our ears. Being free, independent, not liable to be blackmailed, allows us to focus our attention where we really want. Where an audiophile in searching of the great sound will fall head over heels for it. We need to react to the prose of certain audiophile reviewing that is only capable of criticizing on principle, because posing as a censor increases the readers. Overcome the snobbism of who finds everything banal, useless, trite: it is just laziness, close to the self-destructive behaviour. The Leonardo, on the contrary, are exceptional indeed.

 

The models we have tested are already exemplars in production. I mean, the model is ripe for the market and will not change, unless future updating. Will the Leonardo be able to face the challenge of the mass production? They will, I have no doubt. With this actual and listening premises, there is no other possibility. First because we are dealing with objects completely and rigorously handmade, panel after panel, magnet after magnet, one by one. Secondly, because we have seen with our eyes the tests to stick the magnets, we have touched the concreteness of the loudspeaker, we have felt the sound and the real weight, we have appreciated the research for the most suitable package made by Aldo himself in those days. For years, he has made loudspeakers lines very appreciated and reliable in the course of time. This experience enables him to offer a five years warranty on the Leonardo. You cannot promise that with superficiality.

 

Final compliments

The Leonardo perform in a disarming way. Many times, you will have heard and seen me using this kind of metaphor: it is a clue of the fact that the speaker or the system in general make themselves forgive or forget for their few limits and make you concentrate on the music they handle.

The lightness of the ribbon and the high capacity of the magnets make them extremely rapid and controlled. The good efficiency contributes to the more than decent driving easiness. The capability of producing the same sound pressure and the great emission balance in all the frequencies entails naturalness and absence of tiredness. Extension and power in the low range are unthinkable for the planars I know: I have seen and made the room measurements, mike “in hand”, 20 Hz flat, incredible...

Everything has to be understood. First, we do not claim of having comprehend all the qualities and the limits of such an ambitious project. Albeit this is the second article we write - first among everyone – about a reality so revolutionary, we want to deepen what we have heard. And we are not among who continuously cries “wolf! wolf!”. For this reason, after the next Top Audio in Milan, we will have in exclusive a pair of Leonardo in one of our listening rooms.

 

I can hardly wait. It is one of the best pure ribbon loudspeaker I have ever heard. It will surely enter in my all-time top ten.

 

 

Official technical specifications

Frequency range: from 20Hz to 100KHz

Low frequencies: ribbon-planar woofer, 0.45m² (surface),1.42m (height)

High frequencies: ribbon mid-tweeter, 15mm (width), 1.42m (height)

Crossover: 6+6dB/oct at 900Hz Mundorf components

Internal cables: White Gold Reference

Weight: 140kg each

Size: 1.68m (height), 0.65m (width), 0.07m (depth of baffle), 0.44m (base depth)

Sensitivity: 93dB effective in room

Recommended power: 5-250W

Nominal impedance: 4ohm

Official Italian dealer: to Extreme Audio website

For further info: Aldo Zaninello, tel. +39.0426.320318

We are boiling hot but Aldo knows what to do with a vacuum tube…
previous slide next slide
We are boiling hot but Aldo knows what to do with a vacuum tube…
We are boiling hot but Aldo knows what to do with a vacuum tube…
Black methacrylate has a real “mirrored” finish.
Black methacrylate has a real “mirrored” finish.
I have to loose weight, Aldo couldn’t get up. For certain, Rocchi’s picture doesn’t help both of us…
I have to loose weight, Aldo couldn’t get up. For certain, Rocchi’s picture doesn’t help both of us…
Well, yes, Roberto and Aldo were devouring with their eyes, sorry, they were flip over some hi-fi catalogues.
Well, yes, Roberto and Aldo were devouring with their eyes, sorry, they were flip over some hi-fi catalogues.
Detail of the ribbons, where it is possible to glimpse the big ceramic magnets.
Detail of the ribbons, where it is possible to glimpse the big ceramic magnets.
Again the ceramic magnets, to get an idea of their proportions.
Again the ceramic magnets, to get an idea of their proportions.
A panel under construction, with the stainless longitudinal “side profile” aloft.
A panel under construction, with the stainless longitudinal “side profile” aloft.
A detail of the metallic panel cut with the laser, really worthy.
A detail of the metallic panel cut with the laser, really worthy.
A corner of the methacrylate base, the quality of the finish is evident.
A corner of the methacrylate base, the quality of the finish is evident.
Aldo clearly pretends to be working.
Aldo clearly pretends to be working.
by Giuseppe Castelli
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