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September 2012
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Pylon Audio Sapphire Floorstanding Speakers
Dynamic and large sound with expansive soundscape.

Review By Wojciech Pacuła

 

Pylon Audio Sapphire Floorstanding Speakers  Pylon Audio S.A. (which stands for ‘Inc.' in Polish) is a very young company, started in 2011. Yet straight from the beginning, even before the formal registration procedure was completed, they had one product ready for manufacturing, the Pylon Pearl loudspeakers which I received for a review. What you need to know is that the know-how and the people involved in Pylon Audio are not newcomers to the audio market. Pylon has its roots in another Polish company, namely Tonsil. Tonsil was established in the town of Wrzesnia (Poland) in 1945 on the initiative of the Polish Radio, to serve as a technical background for broadcasting stations. Between 1973 and 1974 Tonsil manufactured speaker drivers on license from Peerless-MB and Pioneer, used in loudspeaker designs from these two Japanese companies as well as others, all over the world.

After a democratic transition in Poland in 1989, when People's Republic of Poland changed into Republic of Poland and centrally planned economy gave way for free market, Tonsil was initially doing quite well. In addition to its core business, i.e. manufacturing of speaker drivers, the company manufactured speaker cabinets for many British companies, such as Wharfedale and Tannoy, as well as whole loudspeakers, mostly less expensive models of these and other companies. Tonsil was the largest manufacturer of drivers and speakers in Europe, boasting one of the largest (if not the largest) anechoic testing chamber in this part of the world, as well as a team of specialist and engineers. However, it could not withstand growing competition from the Far East manufacturers and was divided into separate, smaller companies. At this moment Tonsil remains in suspension – its bankruptcy was declared in 2004. Nevertheless, its daughter companies have been doing much better.

In Poland, Tonsil is best known for its very good speaker drivers and loudspeakers, which at one time used to be an object of desire for Polish music lovers. Over the years, however, it was becoming less and less competitive against world leaders – not because of inferior technical thought or components, but rather due to more old-school design and less efficient marketing. The most important, however, in this case is the know-how accumulated over almost 70 years of Tonsil operation. What's all this got to do with Pylon Audio? Well, the Pylon engineers, including Mr. Jujka, previously worked in various Tonsil sub-companies. As it seems, SPX Soundstation also has direct ties to the company from Wrzesnia, which can be seen in their drivers' design and their terminology.

 

Description
The Sapphire speakers under review have been nearly two years in the making. The first time I had them promised for a review was during the Audio Show 2011, the largest show of this type in Europe, not far behind the High End show in Munich, gathering over 9,000 people over the period of two days! It takes place every November in Warsaw and has been attracting audiophiles from all over Europe for the last fifteen years. As it turned out, the final work on the Sapphire design took longer than initially expected. I have now received for a review one of the first, if not the first production model of the speakers.

As I said, the speakers are a three-way, free-standing rear-vented design, with Polish drivers from STX. The speakers are really gorgeous and it is evident that the woofer is housed in a large chamber. The front is black lacquered and has chamfered edges that bring to mind Avalon speakers. The front baffle is quite thick, but these are still not very heavy speakers. They look very nice. Even the PVC finish is pretty cool as you need to get close to see that it is not a natural veneer. Anyway, for a small additional cost you can get the latter and to my eyes it is worth it! Then we have the specs on the Sapphire speakers:

- Chamfered front baffle to reduce harmful diffractions of the midrange/tweeter section

- Point to point wired crossover to minimize signal path length inside the loudspeaker

- High quality speaker terminals, accepting any speaker cable plugs as well as bare wire

- Sturdy cabinet made of 18 mm MDF, with the woofer and midrange sections separated by a slanted partition. The partition serves as cabinet bracing, provides optimum volume for the woofer chamber and minimizes adverse phenomena associated with the formation of standing waves inside the cabinet

- Silk dome tweeter with an enhanced magnetic system equipped with Faraday copper rings reducing harmonic distortions

- Midrange driver with a cellulose cone and a magnetic system with Faraday copper rings reducing harmonic distortions; ventilated basket

- Woofer with a cellulose cone and a basket with vent under the rear suspension to reduce power compression at larger excursion

- The drivers used in the Sapphire speaker are manufactured according to our technical specifications in cooperation with STX. The tweeter and midrange driver have been designed along our guidelines and these drivers are manufactured exclusively for our company

- The speakers are optimized for maximum phase coherence of drivers and naturalness of sound

- Internal wiring is stranded oxygen-free copper wire

- The cost is 3,100 PLN ($1000) per pair in PVC finish.

In response to numerous inquiries from our business partners and customers, from the next week we will also offer the Sapphire in natural veneer finish, priced at 3,700 PLN per pair."

 

I think that even the above short description received in an e-mail from Mr. Mateusz Jujka, head of Pylon Audio, should be enough to give away the subject of this review. It tells us that they will be loudspeakers, that it is a three-way design, that Pylon Audio designed the speaker drivers in close cooperation with another Polish manufacturer, STXSoundstation. As such, it is therefore a Polish product, nearly from A to Z. Only the wiring and crossover components are sourced from abroad.

Looking at the speakers' price it is not difficult to conclude that some corners had to be cut somewhere. The speakers are manufactured almost entirely in Poland, which naturally reduces the cost of labor and, to a certain extent, the cost of materials. Still, the price of 3,100 PLN ($1000 USD) for a pair of nice, large, three-way floorstanders coming not from China but from a European country, seems to be difficult to comprehend. Cost savings can be seen first of all in not too thick cabinet walls (18 mm at this cabinet size is really the minimum), not quite ideal fitting of the front baffle with the sides, and the used speaker terminals which, although very nice and sturdy with a WBT look, WBT they are not.

Locally manufactured drivers also helped to reduce the final price. Nevertheless, their quality is surprisingly high, supported by measurements and manufacturer's years of experience. The tweeter has a soft dome and a rather large suspension made of one piece of material – saturated carbon fiber. The front plate is made of solid cast duralumin and the coil bobbin of Kapton. The design employs a double Ferrite magnet with copper Faraday rings for the linearization of the magnetic field. The GDWK-10-250-8-awx driver custom modified by Pylon clearly indicates Tonsil legacy as it is a Tonsil designation. It is an extremely robust, technically advanced design. The modified driver is called Pylon Audio PST T-100.08.

Midrange is handled by a 14 cm Pylon Audio PSM 15-150.08 driver, with resonant frequency of 110 Hz and a multiple-impregnated cellulose cone. The large magnet also employs linearizing Faraday rings. Low frequencies are reproduced by a 22 cm Pylon Audio PSW 22-200.08 woofer with a coated paper cone, similar to that used in the midrange driver. The baskets of both drivers are made of extruded metal sheet. A more detailed description of all drivers can be found on the STX website. The manufacturer specifies the speakers' frequency range between 35 Hz to 22 kHz (-2dB), their impedance is 8 Ohms and they are rated as having a high 90dB/W/m sensitivity. The speakers' dimensions are 240 x 1000 x 300 mm and their weight is 22 kg each. They do not have grilles.

 

Testing Methodology
The speakers were auditioned in a reference system in which they replaced the Harbeth M40.1 speakers. They were also compared against the Monitor Audio Bronze BX6, the Silver SX6 and the Castle Knight 4. The primary amplifier was the Soulution 710 but I also used the Leben CS 300 XS [Custom Version] and the Music Hall a25.2. The speakers were positioned on marble plinths in a semi near field. Their midrange drivers and tweeters were around 5 cm lower than the respective Harbeths drivers. The listening room area is around 30 m2, opening onto the corridor. The Pylons were placed around 1 meter from the back wall and around 1.5 meters from the side walls. They were positioned nearly straight on, with only a slight toe-in, although in larger rooms it is worth trying a larger toe-in with drivers on-axis with the listener's ears. Testing was A-B-A comparison with A and B known. Two minutes long track samples as well as whole albums were used.

 

Sound
The Sapphire speakers are quite substantial, employing a relatively large woofer; therefore we subconsciously expect low, strong, perhaps even over-emphasized bass. This expectation comes from listening to too many speakers which sound just like that and – whatever their price – turn "dimensions" into "quantity". However, the Pylon designers came up with something different – they used a large cone woofer housed in a large chamber to create a large sound, to achieve even very high sound levels with no compression whatsoever, without a feeling that the whole system is somehow choked. The speakers sound very "easy" and "free", i.e. they seem to have no limits; they are dynamic, well-balanced and, above all, coherent. They are not the best design in the world and I know a few others in a comparable price range that also have something going for them. The Sapphire has its weaknesses as well and I will not neglect to point them out. Still, the combination of characteristics listed above makes them a very attractive proposition. Interestingly, they are not necessarily a first choice for the lovers of heavy rock or dense electronic music, although they can handle it, but will best suit people listening to jazz and classical music.

What matters most is their coherence. I could not really hear drivers' transition ranges and when I did, it was more due to a slight drop of dynamics, a slight lowering of definition, rather than any problems with tonal balance. The speakers sound very, very coherent over the whole range – from the bottom to the top. The combination of these characteristics, and others that I will soon discuss, proved very well when I auditioned the two albums: Astigmatic by Krzysztof Komeda and A Day at Jazz Spot ‘Basie' (Komeda Quintet, "Astigmatic", Polish Jazz Vol.5, PolskieNagraniaMuza, PNCD 905, CD; "A Day at Jazz Spot ‘Basie'", Stereo Sound Reference Record, SSRR6-7, SACD/CD).

The first album is Volume 5 in a prestigious Polish Jazz series, beautifully remastered in 24-bit by Mss. Marta Szeliga and Joanna Szczepanska and issued as a CD. The young Komeda (the album was recorded in 1965) who later became the much valued composer of music to 65 movies, including "Rosemary's Child" by another Pole, Roman Polanski, arguably reached the peak of his creativity on "Astigmatic", helped by Tomasz Stanko on trumpet. The album sounds remarkably lively, well-defined and focused. The Pylons showed all this admirably, equally well presenting the exceptionally recorded cymbals. It was immediately obvious that the tweeter is fantastic; such quality is usually offered by speakers costing 10,000 PLN ($3000 USD) and more. As a comparison, the companies like Wharfedale or Castle (both part of IAG group) use much lesser quality tweeters. Even Monitor Audio, with its gold dome C-CAM tweeter does not sound as good in this range. Only the expensive tweeters from Seas and Scan Speak can show something more – more weight, deeper saturation. The Polish driver's definition is really outstanding, resembling ribbon tweeters. It also has similar tonality.

The other album is a sampler. Or actually a "collection" selected by Shoji "Swifty" Sugawara for the Japanese Stereo Sound magazine. I do not usually buy samplers and when offered one, I normally put it in a box with albums "for later listens". This one is different; I personally asked Mr. Yoshi Hontai, the representative of such manufacturers as Leben, Acoustic Revive etc., to buy it for me. I have most of the original albums from which come the selected tracks, usually in beautiful Japanese re-editions, but this is really an exceptional set! Also includes a very attractive package to boot! Again, the Pylons showed similar characteristics as with the Komeda album – very fast sound attack, no sluggish bass whatsoever and good focusing. What is especially worth mentioning is the low end. Recordings from this period (1950s – 60s) do not really offer much bass. Even double basses are usually light and showed from the rear. Most of speakers do them disservice, accenting the higher bass and trying to "beef up" instruments' presence in this range. The Pylons were different. They maintained good proportions between the low end and the midrange with a smooth transition between the two and without accenting either driver separately.

At the same time, the Stereo Sound sampler revealed something that has to be a conscious choice of the Pylon designers, the consequence of using these drivers and not others, and which eventually results in them not being the ideal speakers, with alternatives within a similar price range. They do not offer a particularly saturated sound. I mean, it is not lacking anything in particular, yet listening to the Castles from the Knight line or even the Monitor Audio Bronze BX shows that higher midrange as well as midbass can be better saturated. There is no thinning out, that's not the case. As I said, the overall tonal balance seems to be exceptionally well maintained. It is more about saturation with harmonics, a more "mature" sound that can be achieved. The Pylon Sapphires are rather transparent, easy and free than fleshy. In order to verify that I used two vocal recordings, namely, "All of Me – The Debonair Mr. Hartman" by Johnny Hartman, originally issued by Bethlehem and remastered by JVC in K2HD, and Beverly Kenney's "… sings with Jimmy Jones and ‘The Basie-ites.'" The former was recorded in 1956, the latter a year later. Both are mono recordings.

The voices of Kenney and Hartman had great definition; soundstage was well differentiated and selective. However, in both cases a slight domination of the range between 2kHz to 3kHz resulted in the singers sounding lighter than on my reference speakers. The sound was very good but there was a feeling as if something needed to be tweaked in the audio system before the speakers. The coloration of the range which I described, however, can be subjective, not an objective "peak". It often happens that if some part of frequency response is slightly attenuated, the neighboring range seems accentuated. And so it is probably in this case – not fully saturated midrange makes us "hear" stronger treble.

 

Conclusion
It seems to me that the key to success will lie in a proper selection of an amplifier. The Pylons offer a lot but they also need support from a proper choice of amplification. It need not necessarily be a tube amp, although I do not dismiss that, but simply an amplifier whose sound is based on even slightly accented lower midrange – it could be a NAD, Music Hall, etc. That will make the most of the speakers' incredible freedom of delivery, their dynamics and large sound volume with an expansive, wide and deep soundstage, while simultaneously "powering-up" the lower midrange. Then we get something that is extremely rare at this price level – coherence and dynamics. The speakers can play loud without compression but they need to be driven by a fairly capable amplifier. The 8 Watts from my modified Leben CS-300 XS was simply not enough for comfortable listening.

The Pylon Sapphire speakers are moderately priced and nicely finished. They employ very cool drivers, with a special nod to the tweeter. The manufacturing quality is good; however, it might be worth paying more attention to proper fitting of the front baffle with the rest of the cabinet. On the other hand, that could be an isolated problem of the particular pair of speakers I reviewed – one of the first that had been manufactured. Poland, for many associated with Komeda, Stanko, Mozdzer, Chopin, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Gorecki, Preissner, A.P. Kaczmarek (in Polish it goes like this: Komeda, Stańko, Możdżer, Chopin, Penderecki, Lutosławski, Górecki, Preissner, A.P. Kaczmarek) – only to stay within the music circle – is also a place where a lot of audio equipment is manufactured. Some manufacturers quickly disappear. For years others "navigate" between DIY, single orders and full production. Pylon Audio is a comparatively large manufacturer, cooperating with other high productivity companies and everything indicates that its plans are more ambitious than most of boutique-like, tiny manufacturers.

 

 

Specifications
Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Tweeter: Pylon Audio PST T-100.08 
Midrange: Pylon Audio PSM 15-150.08 
Woofer: Pylon Audio PSW 22-200.08
Frequency Response: 35 Hz to 22 kHz (+/-2dB)
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m
Dimensions: 240 x 1000 x 300 mm (HxWxD)
Weight: 22 kg each
Cabinet Type: Bass-reflex
Warranty: 36 months
Available Finish / Color: Black, walnut and wenge
Price: 3,100 PLN ($1000 USD PVC finish), 3,700 PLN (natural veneer) per pair

 

Company Information
Pylon S.A.
ul. Grzybowska 80/82 lok. 716
00-844 Warszawa, Poland

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