Estelon XB Mk II Floorstanding Loudspeakers Review

Posted on 20th June, 2024

Estelon XB Mk II Floorstanding Loudspeakers Review

Craig Joyce auditions a striking-looking and sounding high-end speaker…

Estelon

XB Mk II Floorstanding Loudspeakers

From USD $49,000

Estelon XB Mk II Review

You are sure to have seen the sexy, singular shape of Estelon loudspeakers before – either at hi-fi shows, on the floor of Estelon dealers or even in an interior design magazine. By not resembling a traditional loudspeaker, the aesthetic is both arresting and contentious – at least in this household. But the proof of the pudding for any speaker is how it sounds…

The shape of the XB Mk II is a remarkable example of how high-end audio equipment can also serve as a compelling piece of interior design. This has no parallel walls, and Estelon claims that almost every surface inside the cabinet is curved. This, combined with a system of interior chambers, is said to make the cabinet completely dead and non-resonant. The smooth, flowing lines and high gloss finish would complement a variety of interior styles, from contemporary to minimalist, making a pair of these loudspeakers a focal point in any sophisticated living space.

Weighing in at 69kg and measuring 1,260mm tall, 420mm wide and 590mm deep, it boasts a striking form that resembles a modernist sculpture more closely than a sound source. Featuring a tall, elegantly curved silhouette that sweeps upward, culminating in a smoothly tapered top, the design exudes a sense of dynamism and movement in its profile. Form follows function because the smooth curves of the cabinet are said to help reduce internal resonances.

When quizzing Estelon's chief designer, Alfred Vassilkov, about the design history of this loudspeaker, he offered the following:

Our design process places significant emphasis on both acoustics and aesthetics, recognising the importance between the speaker's design and its impact within the listening environment. While sound quality remains paramount, we also value the importance of elegant cabinet design. In pursuit of this balance, we've developed a marble-based composite material over years of rigorous testing. This forms the basis of our speaker cabinets, crafted seamlessly into a single piece.

The speaker uses automotive painting technology, where multiple layers of paint are applied, sometimes with up to twelve layers of coating. This finish is flawless and exceptional. My review pair came in a striking cobalt blue, which garnered numerous compliments from visitors.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

 

UP CLOSE

The XB Mk II is a 3-way bass-reflex design, with one 220mm woofer, 158mm mid-woofer, and 25mm ceramic inverted dome tweeter. These drivers are designed and sourced from Accuton and are internally cabled within the composite speaker chassis with Kubala-Sosna cabling. The ceramic sandwich woofer offers an extremely stiff, lightweight membrane and long linear excursion. The bass port is on the rear side of the cabinet. The mid-woofer has a ceramic membrane and was selected for providing a clean impulse response with low total harmonic distortion (THD) and intermodulation distortion (IMD) products. The designer says the 25mm ceramic tweeter's impulse response is outstanding – the distortion is kept very low, and the first break-up modes are pushed out of the audible range.

All drivers are positioned on the curved front baffle in such a way that from the listening position, they are all equidistant from the listener. Combined with finely tuned crossover filters, the company claims that the sound from each driver reaches the listening position at the same time. The speaker is said to suit a room of between 25 and 50 square metres. Vassilkov notes that “placing the woofer towards the lower part of the speaker was a deliberate choice aimed at optimising floor coupling for low frequencies. With a cutoff frequency response of 75 to 80Hz, the woofer effectively assumes a subwoofer role.”

Estelon XB Mk II Review

He adds: “Additionally, positioning the midrange woofer above the tweeter serves to mitigate early reflections from the flooring. By increasing the distance between this driver and the floor, we reduce the incidence of reflections, enhancing overall sound quality. This strategic placement, coupled with meticulous attention to detail, formed the foundation of the speaker's initial design.”

Nominal impedance is said to be 6 ohms, and sensitivity is 87dB; the two lowest points in the impedance curve are both at 3.1 ohms and occur at 21Hz and 53Hz respectively. This means that the speaker isn't an exceptionally tough load, but neither is it an especially easy one. Estelon advises an amplifier rated to 150W, but says that amplifiers must have substantial power supplies with good driving ability into low loads.

To decrease unwanted vibrations from the floor, the company has stainless-steel stand options (with a flat bottom surface for hard floors) and spiked cones for carpeted floors in the delivered speaker road cases. These industrial-grade custom flight cases are equipped with wheels to ease transportation and setup. Pouring the loudspeakers from the road cases and into my listening room was a two-person affair; the speakers roll out on wheels, and it would be easy to be caught out as the speaker exited the road case and rolled across a hard flooring surface.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

Concerning the ever-important topic of positioning, Estelon recommends a toe-in of 7 degrees from the centreline of the parallel axis. “Additionally, we recommend positioning the speakers at a distance of no less than 1.5 metres from hard side surfaces to achieve the best soundstage and bass performance.” This approach speaks to the wide directivity of the speakers and was borne out in my listening tests as a wise recommendation. A five-year non-transferrable warranty covers all Estelon products purchased from authorised dealers.

To evaluate the Estelon XB MkII loudspeakers in my system, I streamed hi-res audio from Qobuz over Roon using an MSB Premier DAC's network renderer module. The MSB DAC fed a Hegel P30A preamplifier, and the Estelon loudspeakers were, in turn, powered by a Hegel H30A dual mono power amplifier.

THE LISTENING

In listening tests, the XB Mk II consistently demonstrated exceptional audio performance across various tracks, even delivering a sub-bass performance that was uncommonly good for a single-woofer platform. The speaker excelled in managing complex audio layers with precision, highlighting their versatility and emphasising their advanced engineering.

It was also particularly effective at creating a wide soundstage and managing dynamic shifts. Vocal clarity throughout was outstanding, with the Estelon adept at capturing the emotional depth and essence of performances, enriching every listening session. Its dynamic capabilities shone particularly during crescendos and at high intensities, maintaining sonic integrity and delivering a superior auditory experience.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

If I had any concerns about this loudspeaker's bass performance, I was immediately dissuaded by listening to Thrown Into The Dark by The Black Queen. This track, from a project involving members of Telefon Tel Aviv and Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan, features a rich tapestry of chilly electronica underscored by spectacularly recorded synthetic basslines and intricately layered sampled effects. The XB Mk II excelled in rendering these deep sub-bass frequencies, demonstrating robust performance without hinting at the anaemic sound that often plagues single-woofer speaker systems.

This speaker's sound quality is a testament to its exceptional design heritage and craftsmanship. The complex audio layers of Thrown Into The Dark were handled with precision, allowing each element to resonate fully. I typically listen to a pair of 15-inch JBL K2 S9900 as my main speakers, and in a blind bass testing contest, I'd be hard-pressed to pick the review pair of Estelons apart from my beloved JBLs. This unexpected experience highlights the speaker's ability to produce a powerful and liquid bass response, proving that it can indeed deliver a full and dynamic range of sound.

Foals' Spanish Sahara from 2010 provided an absorbing slow-burn auditory experience, starting with a rhythmic heartbeat of a drum click that sets a compelling pace. As the track unfolded, plaintive guitars and sampled atmospherics layered in, building a textured soundscape that deepened over time. The XB Mk II mapped out each element, allowing the subtleties of the slow build-up to be fully appreciated and felt. This setup highlighted the track's gradual swelling, showcasing the speaker's capability to handle dynamic shifts with flair.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

Yannis Philippakis's vocals – subdued and emotionally charged – were rendered with stark clarity, thanks to the production's minimal use of reverb and limited use of double tracking. This made his vocals feel bare and vulnerable, adding to the track's emotional impact. The midband performance of the speaker was particularly appealing, although to my ears, perhaps a little bright in the lower treble ranges. Nonetheless, as the track reached its peak and then gently receded, the Estelon captured every detail with such precision that it brought a spontaneous smile of satisfaction, underscoring the emotional experience that finely tuned, well-designed loudspeakers can provide.

The XB Mk II brought an extraordinary depth to Bob Dylan's superlative Man in the Long Black Coat, a track that surprised me with its intricate production qualities when it popped up on my Roon Radio playlist. The immaculate design of the stereo field and the impeccably recorded guitars created an enveloping soundscape that wraps around the listener, setting a vivid stage for the music. The insistent bass line and articulate harmonica added contrasting textures, enhancing the listening experience with their clear and forceful presence. This allowed for a rich, immersive experience that drew me into the very fabric of the track, eating up the great gobs of detail on offer through these speakers.

Dylan's vocals, marked by his characteristic nasal tone and unique way of phrasing that bends and stretches words, emphasised the lyrical content and brought a raw and expressive quality to the song. Producer Daniel Lanois' expertise shone through in his ability to capture the essence of the performance, not just recording it but preserving its emotive and atmospheric elements. This approach made Man in the Long Black Coat an alluring track to experience, as the speaker revealed the song's intricate details and emotional layers.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

On Low's Lullabye, the recently passed Mimi Parker's ethereal vocals were beautifully reproduced, resonating with a clarity and depth that is both haunting and poignant. Marked by a sparse and unadorned production by Kramer that allowed the song's core elements to shine, the bass sound, full and blooming, served as the anchor of the piece. Glacial guitars added a layer of colour that enriched the overall soundscape, making each note and whisper discernible in its delicate power.

As the nearly ten-minute track progressed, the XB Mk II's dynamic capabilities became increasingly apparent. The song's build-up to a frantic crescendo was masterfully handled, amplifying escalating layers of guitar and percussion. This crescendo not only showcased the speaker's ability to handle complex musical passages but also highlighted its capacity to maintain sonic integrity and detail even at high levels of intensity.

The opening track from Jellyfish's debut album The Man I Used To Be was a revelation. Previously, I had yet to fully appreciate this track's ability to create a wide soundstage. Still, combined with this speaker's picture-perfect imaging, the song delivered a stirring experience that was both unexpected and impressive. Rendered with precision and accuracy, every instrument and vocal nuance was captured, highlighting the lovely strings and the impressive vocal performance by Andy Sturmer. This track exemplifies how well-designed audio equipment can elevate music's clarity and emotional impact, making the listening experience not just auditory but almost tangible.

Estelon XB Mk II Review

THE VERDICT

In the premium segment of the loudspeaker market, buyers have many options, but the XB Mk II distinguishes itself as an especially attractive choice. Ideal for those who value a speaker that looks as good as it sounds, the Estelon does not compromise on audio performance. It delivers a robust and dynamic audio experience with pinpoint accuracy in soundstaging, which enhances the listening experience across a wide range of source materials.

Craftsmanship is top-notch, with meticulous attention to detail in the finish that speaks to the quality of the product. For those with the budget to invest in high-end audio equipment, adding this loudspeaker to your audition list is a must. Its superior design and exceptional audio performance make it a standout choice in a crowded market.

For more information visit Estelon

Craig Joyce's avatar

Craig Joyce

With an engineering degree in digital signal processing and a storied career in IT networking and cyber security, Craig loves to push the boundaries of audio technologies. An aficionado of live music with personal detours in music production and event promotion, Craig is a long time enthusiast of post punk, electronic and experimental music.

Posted in:Applause Awards 2024 Loudspeakers Floorstanding Hi-Fi StereoLUX!
Tags: estelon 

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