AOM Logo October 1997


Class, Eh !

Blair Roger, Anthony Kershaw, and Andrew Chasin visit John Ötvös of Waveform

The Editors of Audiophilia and I were very fortunate recently. We were invited to visit the studio and home of a truly gifted craftsman, John Ötvös, creator of the astoundingly lifelike Waveform Mach 17 speaker system. You never know what you will find at the end of a journey and in this case, we were not disappointed. We found John to be an hospitable, articulate perfectionist with an artistic vision. He's also a pragmatist who enjoys taking his immaculate emerald green 460 Cobra for a "foot stomp" on sunny days. With 520 ft-lbs of torque I boggle at the thought of what a stomp that must be.

John Ötvös and the Waveform Mach 17
John Otvos and Waveform Mach 17

John explained to us that the Mach 17 is a mature product that has been through a dozen or more generations. In appearance it is a flawlessly-finished, sophisticated, world-class design. The lower cabinet is 23 ½" square at the base, contains two 12" drivers and tapers upwards to a platform about 2 feet above the floor. It supports a detachable mid/tweeter module which is shaped like an egg, and is, in my opinion, organically integrated with the bass cabinet in a convincing fashion. The egg shape was chosen because it approaches the ideal '"infinite baffle" required by mid and treble drivers for minimal reflections and maximal dispersion without the inner cabinet resonance of the pure sphere. Talk about cabinet rigidity - have you ever tried to break an egg by squeezing it end-for-end between the palms of your hands, fingers interlaced? Now imagine how rigid a 12-inch egg cast in ¾" aluminum would be. "Just like an engine casting" says John. Did I say he was pragmatic? Of course, if you, or yours, are bothered by the egg, just slip the supplied hood over it.

Anyway, more about the visit. After a hearty welcome, we toured John's spacious, neat-as-a-pin studio, where many pairs of Mach 17s stood boxed ready for delivery, or on dollies in various stages of assembly. John tests all his drivers and matches them to ¼ dB. He then spends about seventy-five hours assembling each pair with only occasional help from his two sons. Such craftsmanship and dedication to an ideal is a rare commodity these days. I'd call it a Rolls-Royce attitude. We soon learned that there are no compromises chez Ötvös.

The Waveform Studio
Waveform Studio

John graciously invited us to visit his home. The chalet, separated from the studio by a wooded glade, was just a few steps uphill. The view from the slope, overlooking Lake Ontario and Presqu'ile Park, about a mile in the distance, was magnificent. Upon stepping into the house, I felt transported to another land, perhaps somewhere in Scandinavia. We were surrounded by John's masterful and artistic woodworking; from the huge, light oak armoire inlaid with the classic shell pattern marquetry, housing an extensive collection of CDs and audio components, to the carved Gabon ebony handles on the kitchen cabinets. A treble and bass clef motif was in evidence everywhere. John mentioned proudly that he had studied cello in his youth, but had to "retire" due to a hand injury.

An array of Philips woofers awaiting installation
Drivers Awaiting Installation

The living room doubles as listening area and is spacious indeed, at least 20' by 35' with a planked hardwood cathedral ceiling about 15' high at the apex. We relaxed while John played a wide variety of CDs for us, including some of our own. As such, were able to spend about three hours in informative and thoroughly enjoyable dialogue about audio design, recording and music. I was surprised that John distinguished the majority of his customers as music lovers as opposed to pure audiophiles. To me, this was a pivotal statement. It appears that his Mach design has evolved past the point where electronics and cables overshadow the reproducers. You may find this hard to believe so read on.

Waveform hired another Canadian company, Bryston, to design and build a premium quality custom active crossover specifically for the Mach 17 speakers. Ötvös is an unconventional thinker who never does things by half measures. The implications of going to an active outboard crossover system are many, and all to the good for those who value quality above all else. The primary impact is to ease the task of the amplifier so that instead of facing a network of passive inductors and capacitors, each channel sees the simple load of one driver; a driver with a strictly delimited frequency range. Back electromotive forces are easily controlled by the amplifier and the capacitive and inductive effects of interconnects and speaker cables are no longer part of the passive crossover equation. The result: superior transient response and greatly reduced driver distortions even at exceptionally high listening levels. In addition, the user is given the flexibility to tailor the response of the individual drivers by using potentiometers on the face of the crossover to smooth any room or source anomalies. The first thing that came to mind on seeing this feature (not having read any reviews) was "Cello Palette" and I don't believe the practical comparison to be at all far-fetched.

The Waveform Mach 17 and "hood"
Waveform Mach 17 and Hood

Now for the nitty-gritty. Yes, you need six channels of amplification. Yes, the bass drivers need at least 100 watts to do their best; the mid/treble a little less. And yes, these are the only demands placed on you, the music lover, by this extraordinary system. You don't need a balanced pre-amplifier or amplification. The Mach 17 uses XLR connectors because this is the professional standard. All you need is a set of interconnects with RCA plugs at one end and XLRs at the other. If you ever upgrade to balanced then just re-terminate your RCA plugs to XLRs. Contrary to the impression given in several reviews I read after auditioning these speakers, you are not required to purchase an all-Bryston system to go with them (although there's nothing wrong with doing that). And if you are on a real bread and water diet, give John a call and he'll clue you in to a six-channel amp that he says works just fine (hint: the name starts with a 'K'). Hide it in an armoire and impress your friends.

Ah...listening...how could I forget? During our informal audition, we realized that the Mach 17s have many arresting qualities. The bass is fast, tight and very deep. The apocryphal pant-leg-flapping nearly took place courtesy of Jean Guillou, his pipe organ, [Pictures at an Exhibition, DOR-90117],and later, just for fun, the Space Shuttle's Saturn booster and a cataclysmic wind storm recorded on CD [The Big Picture, Telarc CD-80437]. Massed vocals like Brahm's Ein Deutsches Requiem [Choral Masterpieces, Telarc CD-80119] were superb, giving one the impression of listening to a rehearsal at Kingsway Hall through a door left ajar (a pretty big door actually). Wandering about the house I was astounded by a closely-miked piano recording [Warren Bernhardt, Hands On, DMP CD-457]. Anthony Kershaw and I found ourselves in the front hallway, jaws agape at what sounded like a real piano playing in the next room. We shook our heads in astonishment.

"Hey, how about a foot stomp?"
John Otvos and his Cobra

And then there was the way the '17s unraveled every recorded acoustic, revealing them and the variety of microphone techniques used on each individual CD to which we listened. For the first time, I could hear that Bryn Terfel, baritone, and Malcolm Martineau accompanying him on piano [The Vagabond, DG 445 946-2], were recorded in different acoustic settings.

Small wonder that Telarc, Delos and Dorian use Waveform speakers as studio monitors! Speaking of Telarc, we were treated to their delicious recording of the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances conducted by David Zinman [Telarc CD-80312] which displayed depth, transparency, superlative tonal balance and the weight of a full orchestra on high cruise.

I will be following up in a few weeks with a report on an extended in-home audition of the Mach 17 system using a Sonic Frontiers Power 2 and pair of Power 1s.

Left to right: Anthony Kershaw, Blair Roger, and John Ötvös
Photo: Andrew Chasin
Anthony Kershaw, Blair Roger, and John Otvos

To say that we were impressed with the '17s would be the understatement of the decade. Apparently, one of the print audio magazines feels the same way having just added them to the coveted, no-holds-barred Class 'A' group of components (the first Canadian product to reach that exalted status). John Ötvös, go to the head of the class, eh!

The Waveform Mach 17 loudspeaker system
Manufactured by Waveform
RR # 4, Brighton, Ontario, K0K 1HO, Canada

phone: (800) 219-8808, fax: (800) 219-8810
Web: http://www.waveform.ca, E-mail: jotvos@waveform.ca

Price: US$ 6995.00 or CDN$ 9595.00, including dedicated crossover
available factory direct with 30 day return privilege (some exclusions apply)
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