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September 2007
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere!
Bastanis Atlas Loudspeakers

Climbing The Mountain And Reaching The Summit.
Review By Clive Meakins
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

 

Bastanis Atlas Loudspeaker  This review is in some ways an update to my August 2006 review of the Bastanis Prometheus mkII (reviewed here) loudspeaker kit within the Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine. The Bastanis Prometheus loudspeakers have not been replaced, far from it, but they now have a bigger brother. Indeed in Greek mythology Atlas was the brother of Prometheus and given larger size of Atlas, as in the mountains, their name seems entirely appropriate.

Bastanis Atlas are 100dB/W/m sensitivity open baffle loudspeakers for frequencies of 100Hz upwards, bass below 100Hz is provided by a pair of 150 watt solid-state amplifiers powering a pair of 15 inch bass units in sealed boxes. As with Prometheus you can supply the wood for the baffles and bass units then assemble the loudspeakers yourself, you can instead purchase pre-cut wood or fully assembled loudspeakers. There are full plans on the Bastanis site for you to take to your local supplier. As I did with Prometheus I went to Rockingham Display in the UK for my CNC cut 25mm Baltic birch plywood.

In the US, cabinet kits and assembled loudspeakers are available from Tony Landry at AudioSpecialtiesOfNM.com. In Europe contact Bastanis directly if you want pre-built woodwork. If you already have Prometheus (Airforce version) you can upgrade to Atlas in that you can re-use the two 12-inch widebands (midrange drivers, 100Hz to 11kHz), Gemini tweeters and bass amplifiers. You could choose to stick with the 12" bass units from Prometheus or you can upgrade to the 15" driver of Atlas. The driver complement per channel of Atlas comprises two 12-inch widebands connected in series, the Gemini tweeter and a very substantial 15-inch bass unit. The widebands and bass units sport paper cones, the tweeter runs as a dipole, i.e. no with back, it fires through a wooden horn supplied with the kit. As the widebands are wired in series these are 16-Ohm loudspeakers, if you run a tube amp and it doesn't have a 16-Ohm connection you can safely run these loudspeakers via an 8-Ohm connection. The loudspeakers will be better matched via a 16-Ohm output transformer tap but when I compared the difference via my 8-Ohm tap I didn't find it particularly significant.

 

Personalizing Atlas
There is no need for me to run through the construction of Atlas as I built them in much the same way as described in the Prometheus review so I refer you back to the August 2006 article. Whereas with Prometheus I used brush-on liquid wax to finish the wood, this time I used Danish Oil that gave better results. I made two modifications to the standard plans:

1) I decided it was unlikely that I would use the bass units butted up to the open baffles so I used a triangular piece of wood behind the open baffle to act as a support.

2) The Atlas baffles as standard are 1490mm high, my listening position is relatively low so I reduced the overall height of the open baffles to 1360mm take account of this. The tweeter height was set to my ear level when I am seated in my chair. If you do this make sure you reduce the baffle height from beneath the lower wideband driver. Do not reduce the baffle height above the top wideband driver as you will change upper bass performance.

 

It took me a while to organize the cutting of my wood so as soon as I received the new drivers I swapped the two new widebands into Prometheus to break them in. The break-in traumas that I suffered with Prometheus were barely noticeable now that I was exercising the new widebands with broken-in tweeters and bass drivers. Of course once I built up the new baffles and bass boxes I would need to break-in the 15-inch bass drivers.

Atlas require a little more space to breath than Prometheus, the open baffles need to be around 1m from side and rear walls. I run the bass units against the rear wall in my set up, I need to do this as if the bass units are in the same plane as the open baffles a standing wave is created such that I hear little bass in my listening position. Having the bass units separated from the open baffles is a real boon in my room. I suspect that my 18ft x 15ft room with a 7ft 3in ceiling (5.5m x 4.6m x 2.2m) is just about as small as you can run Atlas in. Bigger rooms will be accommodated and driven with ease.

 

First Impressions
As I built the open baffles first I used the twin wideband Atlas open baffles in conjunction with the 12 inch bass units from Prometheus as I couldn't wait to hear how the twin 12 inch widebands per channel would sound compared to Prometheus. Driven from Diyhifisupply LD91 300B SE (reviewed here) amplifiers I found a tonally richer sound with a stronger upper-bass and a massive soundstage, really wide, deep and high. The sound was bolder, more dynamic, and smoother – especially with CD - and somehow there was a greater sense of being at a performance.

The 12-inch bass units coped well and for smaller rooms will be adequate. I then got the 15 inch units running, breaking them in with a diet of serious bass from the likes of Goldfrapp and Rodrigo y Gabriela "Stairway to Heaven" – 12 inch version.

Looking at the 15-inch drivers tells you this is a loudspeaker with serious attitude! 12-inch drivers now look small and as for 6 inch bass/mid drivers, they are mere toys! Now with the full Atlas loudspeaker system in action there was extra "depth" with seriously deep and powerful bass available. Everything seemed to gel; speed, detail, dynamics, power, scale, atmosphere and tonality.

I've lived with Atlas now for 6 months so I can give some very considered opinions on their level of performance but first I should mention some set up details that I found helped optimize the performance delivered by Atlas.

I was supplied with long interconnect cables (5.5m) and short loudspeaker cables (2m) so that the power amplifiers could be positioned by the loudspeakers. I was also provided with Bastanis Epilog main cables for my power amplifiers. For practical reasons alone this worked well in my situation as it freed up a lot of room on my equipment racks, and given the space Atlas need to around them to breathe there is ample room for the power amplifiers behind them.

There's no question that the Bastanis cabling synergizes well with Bastanis loudspeakers. The mains cables are rather special although they are also rather chunky and stiff. I found that bass at first seemed a tad lower in level but this is because it is cleaner, the notes are more "described", there being more shape to bass notes. Mid-range, especially vocals, is more natural and clearer. High frequencies are cleaner too. The Epilog mains cables certainly make a positive contribution.

I also tried loudspeaker-level versus line-level connection of the bass units. Along with deciding where you prefer the power amplifiers to be sited you will need to try these different options to decide what works best in your situation. What I found was that:

Long interconnects / short loudspeaker cables brought more resolution to the system

Line-level connection seemed to resolve more detail even in the mid-range, the slightly cleaner bass with the line-level connection masked detail less (my preferred configuration)

 

The differences of the above changes were not profound so don't worry if for some reason you need to go a different route or that you find a different set up works for you.

When using a Transformer Volume Control (TVC) pre-amplifier I felt the frequency extremes were slightly degraded with the way I'd configured the system. Keep in mind that my sources were having to drive 2 power amplifiers per channel and 2 sets of long interconnects per channel, this is a lot to ask of most sources. I tried the Burson Audio Buffer (reviewed here) positioned downstream from the TVC. This buffer is very transparent and offers a useful 6dB of gain. I found the buffer brought the sound back to where it should have been. Those with an active preamplifier should already have good ability to drive long cables. Some with a TVC may find their sources are pushed to their driving-ability limits with the way I set up the system.

Atlas are ideal partners for SE tube amplifiers, although I have no reason to doubt that tubed push-pull, solid-state Class T or other low powered amplifiers wouldn't be a great match. Be warned that if there is something not quite right with your system these loudspeakers will tell you in the same way that looking at a picture with a stain on it would be distracting. Providing whatever problem exists does not destroy imaging you may be able to put up with it for a while but in the end you'll need to make sure you mate these loudspeakers with good electronics and sources. This does not necessarily mean you have to spend huge sums on partnering equipment.

 

Lasting Impressions
Bastanis Atlas loudspeakers are quite simply the best I have heard.

My statement above is related to my personal preferences. There are some who do not care for soundstage and imaging. I do. I crave atmosphere and emotion. Without question Atlas deliver a tremendous 3-D image both with CD and vinyl. Add to this bass that can be delicate or truly thunderous, as required, you also have a totally believable mid-range plus a top-end of crystal clarity.  Dynamics can scare you half-to-death. These loudspeakers will suit those who value SET amplifiers – BIGTIME! They have an advantage over horns of having a total absence of "horn shout". This problem with some horns can be tuned out of systems but I feel that Atlas provides amazing sounds with fewer tears and compromises than some other high-efficiency routes.

If there's a downside it is that you need to be able to accommodate Atlas in your room. They will be fine in medium to large rooms. As for their final looks, if building these loudspeakers yourself it's up to you how you finish them, your imagination is the limit.

Before I describe some more of what I've been hearing with Atlas, I will let you know what four people who have visited me have said. Each person is well acquainted with hi-fi and live music.

1) "Perfect." What this meant is that music appeared to be live, not reproduced from a stereo system. There seemed nothing that could be improved upon; this was a completely realistic experience.

2) "I've never heard anything like it before." Playing bass heavy techo there is scale and massive impact, huge power; with jazz it is like being there. "Just incredible."

3) "The best speakers I'd heard to date were the £14,000 Tag McLaren F1 AvanteGarde. Atlas betters the McLaren's, I must now build a system around Atlas."

4) "The band is in the room, if I close my eyes I'm at a gig."

 

The comments from my visitors just about say it all. I should add that going back to a more traditional setup with box loudspeakers changes the experience totally into one that is clearly a hi-fi system trying to represent real music. Atlas produce such a 3-D kaleidoscope of sound that it is hard not to believe there is a band playing on stage in front of me. There is such immersion in sound that there are some similarities to listening to high quality headphones. To make sure the full-sized images form, volume levels need to be wound up a little, not up to "loud" levels but not too quiet either.

There are some loudspeakers that throw detail at you, with Atlas detail is not in your face but it is present. There are nooks and crannies around the soundstage where I found subtle details that I'd not heard before. Because music happens around you the details are not at all in your face and due to this, detail comes across very naturally.

If you want small and super precise images you won't find them here, images are BIG scale, there is space around them but these are big, believable images. If you have a small room and want a mini-monitor direct sound listening experience then these loudspeakers won't be for you. Another word of warning, these loudspeakers don't do casual listening. You cannot avoid a musical experience when you listen to them. Forget reading while you listen to background music, it simply doesn't happen, just as you couldn't read a book at a live music venue. Strangely, whilst I cannot listen and read at the same time I do find I can sleep.

Talking about live music, I travel to Amsterdam every now and then, when there I try to visit Bourbon Street Blues Club, Atlas in my room provide an experience that is comparable to being in the club. This is not just when playing music recorded live such as Jazz at the Pawnshop which not surprisingly, comes across with bags of atmosphere, but also with studio recordings. Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus and Rollins Plays for Bird along with most other recordings do not come across as being studio based due to the 3-D space the performance produces.  I do not live solely on a diet of jazz, for example playing Rodrigo y Gabriela "Stairway to Heaven" exhibits pummeling low frequencies from those 15 inch woofers, the mid to higher frequencies from the twin 12 inch widebands also move plenty of air – yes they go loud!

It was interesting comparing 8 watts of 300B SE power versus 2 watts of 45 SE power. The 45 SE amplifier was slightly more delicate but not in anyway soft. Given that bass below 100Hz is provided by two 150-watt solid-state amplifiers, there is a powerful foundation for both of these tubed SE amplifiers. Some will want to be more purist by using dipole bass units driven by tube amplifiers but I feel the Bastanis configuration with active solid-state bass provision is a very sensible approach. A big test was to find out whether 2 watts would be enough. In my 18ft x 15ft x 7ft 3in room (5.5m x 4.6m x 2.2m) there was just enough power to play music at high levels but there was little power to spare. Unless you particularly want to run at ear damaging levels then in my size of room 2 Watts is enough, not plenty but enough. Do bear in mind that rooms with lots of soft furnishings, especially if they are behind the open baffles, will require a little extra power.

I could reel off examples of music from Coltrane to Dylan, Alison Krauss to Vivaldi, Bach to Grieg, Led Zeppelin through Cream, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, they were all played with brilliance. Bass, when present, is deep, detailed, textured and tuneful with excellent timing. Mid-range has strong, almost physical, presence – vocals, guitars and other instruments hang in space. To focus on how Atlas performs in detail would be the miss the bigger picture and they do create a BIG picture! Going back to box loudspeakers is quite a shock, a very different experience and one which somehow encourages me to listen in a more technical way rather than focusing on the music.

The 3-D kaleidoscope of sound that Atlas produce leaves me feeling I have attended a performance, leaving a sense of euphoria. There is a word that can be over-used, I'm going to use it but with my sense of British understatement – Awesome. Attack, decay and inner resolution are only very slightly off the mark, though I do not have any complaints about these areas. Small drivers with extremely lightweight moving parts possibly could do fractionally better but would they do as well overall – I doubt it! I reiterate, Atlas are the best I've heard. Are they keepers? You bet!

 

Manufacturer's Reply
Clive,

The Bastanis open baffle speaker design is "outside of the rules" in many aspects, crossing the borders of conventional speaker design. The complex but in other ways simple technical solutions allow us to take a step ahead in sound quality in combination with low wattage amps. Atlas provides the option to choose between assembled "ready to play" speakers and diy, the diy option uses identical drivers and technology to the assembled version giving diy'ers access to a sound they won't find in typical hi-fi stores.

All customers get unlimited factory support for assembly, integration and setup, so it is guaranteed that the speakers will sound optimal within the possibilities of your room and electronics. This extended support is our proven policy, beside the product-quality, the right combination of partnering equipment and speaker placement greatly enhance satisfaction.

Many thanks to Clive Meakins for his fair review, he takes time to learn a product in-depth and lives with it for a while before he starts writing, this method is superior over the common quick-checks you find in many magazines and offers very good information for the reader.

Robert Bastani

 

Specifications
Type: Open baffle loudspeaker system with powered woofers

Tweeter: 1 inch compression, horn loaded, 16 Ohms

Wideband (midrange): Two 12 inch in open baffle, 100Hz to 11kHz, 16 Ohms

Sensitivity: 100dB/W/m

Weight: 42lbs with 25mm birch ply baffles

Woofer: 15 inch in sealed cabinet

Weight: 80lbs with 25mm birch ply cabinets

Power: 1 watt minimum to 150 watt maximum

Subwoofer amplifiers: 150W, 30Hz to 160Hz crossover, 24dB/octave, 3dB boost at 40Hz, subsonic filter at 25Hz, 24dB/octave
Auto switch-on, line and loudspeaker level inputs, 115V and 230V operation, phase adjustable 0 to 180 degrees

Price:
1,300€ for the Atlas wood kit
3,400€ / $4,590for the Atlas kit (excluding baffles & cabinets)
5,200€ for fully assembled loudspeakers

 

Company Information
Robert Bastani
Am Pfaffenbrunnen 7
55296 Lörzweiler
Germany

Voice: +49 (0) 178-7117925
E-mail: info@bastanis.de
Website: www.bastanis.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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