When it comes to loudspeakers, I like ones that are meant for a relatively small intimate setting as opposed to a large space. This is in line with my preference for attending small get-togethers as opposed to huge parties, or my preference for listening to a string quartet, or a small ensemble consisting of a handful from among a pianist, singer, bassist, cellist, guitarist and percussionist (drummer) versus a full-blown orchestra/band; it’s just the way I am, other people are different. This allows me to be very happy with the sound of my reference system in my small cozy apartment living room (16′ (W), 9′ (D), with 9.5′ high ceilings).
I know there are extraordinary sounding loudspeakers out there that are massive in size, weight and power (for example, the KEF Muon at $225,000/pair, or the Wilson Alexandria XLF at $200,000/pair), but even if I had a larger space–and mounds of money–I would not be interested in acquiring them. I certainly greatly enjoy experiencing such larger and more powerful systems once in a while, similar to watching a movie in a huge movie theater as opposed to on a moderately sized flat screen TV at home; but I would not want that all the time, it’s too much for me.
So, with the above preference in mind, I feel lucky to have had the pleasure of extensively listening to—in my own apartment—a variety of different models of Alta Audio loudspeakers that fit the bill: The 1-driver bookshelf ‘Solo’ ($1500/pair) [reviewed here], the 2-driver floorstanding ‘Rhea’ ($4500/pair) [reviewed here], the 2-driver monitor ‘IO’ ($3500/pair) and finally Alta Audio’s 2-driver ‘Celesta’ (full-range monitor FRM-2 at $15,000/pair)–which are my own reference speakers and have been so for about 2 years now, having replaced various more powerful floorstanders endowed with more drivers [reviewed here].
All of these Alta Audio models offer, in my opinion, lovely timbral accuracy and ample soundstage, transparency, natural live sound, speed, and an exceptional deep bass extension due to proprietary XTL bass tuning (sometimes not believable) that seamlessly melds with the higher frequencies. And all of this is on a clean and silent background. When you get up to the Celesta, you also get a larger soundstage, with exemplary 3D imaging, and details exposed that are remarkable. I am happy with my Celesta; I have not experienced any strong reason to replace them with something else.
Alta Audio also has a bigger, more powerful/punchy 3-way floor stander, the ‘Lelantos’ ($9,000/pair), which is meant for a larger space than mine (and also does not offer for me the detailed presentation and finesse of the Celesta sound that so attracts me), and there is even an 11-driver 7’ high Alta Audio ‘Statement Tower’ ($200,000/pair) which is more in the spirit of the Muon and Alexandria XLF mentioned earlier.
In early September 2016, Mike Levy, CEO/Founder of Alta Audio, who had been mysteriously less social and available for some months, out of the blue called me to tell me some news:
I have developed a new high-end floorstanding loudspeaker, I feel it is ready for a preliminary showing, would you like to come by my home and listen?
Well, I was intrigued, and accepted the invitation on the spot. Several days later I, and my Audiophilia colleague Martin Appel travelled to Levy’s home together. What I saw and heard was a 5-driver floorstander that was quite unique both in design and in sound. Levy announced the speaker’s name as ‘Alta Audio Titanium Hestia’, and here are some basic facts:
Configuration: D’Appolito with Open backed Di-pole
Weight: 135 lbs (each)
Height:53 3/4 inches
Width:15 inches at the bottom narrowing to 8 1/2 inches on top
Depth:18 inches at bottom
1 Titanium former 10 inch Woofer in Alta XTL bass tuning
2 Titanium former 7 inch lower midranges
1 Hex cone titanium former 6 inch upper midrange
1 Amorphous core high output ribbon tweeter
Sensitivity:90 dB / 2.83 Volts @ 1Meter
Frequency response:28Hz to 47kHz
Requirements: Minimum 50 to 400 Watts, Can be Bi-wired, or Bi-amped
The word ‘Titanium’ refers to the fact that the Titanium metal element (Ti 22) itself is used in the lower frequency drivers, as it also is in the Celesta and in the Statement Towers models. Titanium is very strong, and resistant to corrosion. As explained by Alta Audio:
All of the formers (bobbins) in these drivers are made of Titanium for smoother more extended dynamics, power handling, and frequency response. Titanium’s added stiffness also allows for a larger voice coil.
The Hestia is one of three Alta models of a ‘Titanium’ series; but we will just refer to the Hestia by name as the ‘Titanium’ in this review.
Before I explain more about the uniqueness of the design, let me get to the point: On the one hand these were an example of speakers that of course would not be appropriate for my small apartment space, but on the other hand after an initial listening, their purpose was clearly not to be ‘powerhouses’ of slam and bang and high volume that one might assume from appearance only.
Sound-wise, the Titanium had the very same character/nature as the Celesta–that intimacy was still there–but with something new: an enormous soundstage with unbelievable pinpoint accuracy in the imaging of 3D instrument location in space; and with such depth! I was flabbergasted. The depth included space both behind and in front of the speakers; I found that my favorite spot was about 2 feet behind where Levy had the couch with its traditional sweet spot.
At lunch after some listening, Levy explained some of the unique design features of the Titanium to me. Perhaps the most interesting was his designation of his D’Appolito configuration as ‘Quasi D’Appolito’. He described it as follows:
In a D’Appolito configuration a midrange is placed above and below the tweeter to create a unified wide band pulse response that most closely mimics the original sound pulse. In our configuration there are two 7 inch midranges below and one 6 inch midrange above the ribbon tweeter. In the crossover passband with the tweeter the output of the two lower midranges matches the output of the single 6 inch midrange above the tweeter, thus creating a unified pulse, but in the woofer crossover passband the two 7 inch lower midranges have the extended lower midrange response needed to meld seamlessly into the woofer.
In addition, he commented on the advantage of the dipole design:
The dipole setup gives a larger more palpable feeling of stage size with the higher midrange driver casting images realistically high and clear. Blending in the pinpoint accuracy of the monopole ribbon tweeter keeps the individual images from becoming diffuse or bloated and lays them out realistically on the sound stage.
At that initial introduction we experimented by re-positioning the speakers to optimize the aforementioned sound qualities, having noticed some anomalies that needed to be dealt with (bass sounding a bit fluffy, voices of singers not sounding clear at times, etc.). But I could tell from my previous experience working with and enjoying Alta Audio speakers this was just a typical exercise; one needs to be patient in particular with the break in of the woofers and proper positioning as the break in evolves. And the new open backed dipole configuration made that positioning harder in some ways but easier in others.
For choice of music, one piece we used was Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughn that was one of the cuts of a reference CD that Martin Appel had brought with him. It is not only great music and a very fine recording, but because of its bass frequencies, rustic singing and guitar, can be a very challenging piece for speakers to get right. It exposed some of the anomalies I mentioned above.
Together with cuts of percussion music, classical music, jazz, and other singers/voices that I brought (CD rips (16/44.1) and 24/96, 24/192 PCM digital files), we made further various adjustments after which I concluded that we had a new guy on the block. I awaited the break in.
New York Audio Show 2016
In early November 2016, Alta Audio showcased the Titanium at the New York Audio Show. They were driven by 2 Krell Solo 375 Class A Monoblock amps, with a Krell Illusion II Preamplifier, VPI Avenger for vinyl, a Solution 541 SACD Player and a Vanguard Universal DAC, and supported by Anticables highest level of cabling (interconnects, power, speaker). (The amps and preamp were the same as had been at Levy’s home.)
Because of the two months of further break in, the improvement in sound was very evident. Overall they were incredible sounding, with that enormous soundstage and pinpoint accuracy in imaging, and a vivid tightening up of things. People came in the room and played albums, CDs and digital files galore. I just sat and listened. But there was a new anomaly exposed: certain frequencies caused an unpleasant resonance, which for the most part made the bass muddy sounding and shake the room. For example, the Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughn (same CD used by Martin Appel in September) was causing it big time just in the area of Vaughn’s baritone range, mucking up the clarity of his voice, and that had not been the case in September at Levy’s home.
It was obviously the room. A small hotel room to showcase such speakers? (The space was about the size as in my apartment but lower ceilings, and thin walls.) Further re-positioning/damping helped, but as Levy pointed out himself, ‘I approximate the resonance to be between 60 and 80 Hz with a secondary resonance at twice that frequency.’ Yes, it was the room. So I knew that I had to give them another serious listen back at Levy’s home when given the chance.
Final Round at Levy’s Home
Two months later, in January 2017, I borrowed my brother’s car, and drove out to Levy’s home for another round of listening to the Titanium. Levy had let me know that he thought the speakers were now broken in, and he wanted me to come by and give them a serious work out. I did. I even brought my own amps (2 Merrill Audio Veritas Special Edition Monoblock amps) just so I could compare the sound more fairly with my Alta Audio Celesta speakers, and I also brought my own Mac Computer with digital music files and my favorite USB cable (Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7) [reviewed here] with various other peripherals.
The Titaniums were now positioned to about 4.5 feet from the back wall, and about 7 feet apart. The sweet spot was again behind the couch, about 12 feet from the speakers.
Upon Levy’s request, we first listened to A Case of You, as performed by Diana Krall from the CD Live in Paris. This song was originally written by Joni Mitchell (1971 from her album Blue) as a love song/ballad concerning Graham Nash. ‘Case’ refers to its usage (I think as I listen) as in ‘a case of wine’. This was an outstanding live recording. The textures of her voice and her emotional connection with the piece were all on display. The large soundstage exhibited by the Titanium gave her voice a most intimate presence surrounding you.
For fun I then threw on Krall’s All or Nothing at All at 24/96 from her album Love Scenes, because I know what a huge soundstage it exhibits on my system, and wanted to see what it would sound like now. Wow! There was Krall way up high in space like a giant on a stage perhaps almost twice as large as when I am at home with the Celesta.
But now it was time to get serious. The infamous Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughn on Martin's CD. Suffice to quote Martin who told me after we listened:
Well, it is immediately apparent that not only is the clarity restored and resonance abolished from what happened at the New York Show, but the soundstage has increased even further than in past listening. The Titaniums are an extraordinary achievement.
I would add to that just how smooth (no edginess anywhere) the break in had now made the overall sound.
I then moved on to several cuts of Bill Frisell, Music for the Films of Buster Keaton which I have at 24/44.1. As I typically like doing, I wandered around so as to hear the effect of Frisell’s guitar playing from different angles and even from the kitchen or dining room nearby (his playing just eerily follows you around like a ghost). It further confirmed what I originally sensed in September.
And for me here was the finale: Bill Bruford’s Earthworks live album (CD rip), Random Acts of Happiness, the two tracks, With Friends Like These (a drum solo by Bruford), and Speaking With Wooden Tongues. Never on any system have I ever heard these cuts sound like this. The depth of the soundstage and its accuracy of imaging in space allowed for example, for me to sense that Bruford was hitting one side of his cymbals versus another, and his tom toms were as if lined up (from back of speakers to front of) with each one sounding in space as if located from back to front. The timbre of each drum was spot-on accurate with astonishing attack and decay. As I said concerning my original September visit, I was flabbergasted, but now even more so.
The Titaniums are a majestic version of the Celesta. For 30 years I have happily lived in an apartment in New York City, and resisted over the years every attempt by friends, wife and family to encourage me even to think about moving into the suburbs so as to live in a house with all the more space and rooms it can provide, and to buy/drive a car (necessary then) to make it all work out.
Well, it has taken these extraordinary Alta Audio Titanium loudspeakers to get me at least thinking otherwise. The Titanium retain the intimacy and quality of sound I adore in the Celesta, but offer a significantly larger sound stage with mind-boggling imaging to go along with it. If you see me driving about soon regularly in Upstate NY or in NJ, you will know why.
Further information: Alta Audio