Quadral Au­rum Mon­tan VIII Loud­speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCT REVIEW - Ge­orge de Sa

My first ex­po­sure to quadral and their flag­ship Au­rum line of prod­ucts came as an un­ex­pected ben­e­fit of at­tend­ing the Mon­treal Sa­lon Son & Im­age show, in March 2013. There within a mas­sive room oc­cu­pied by Mok & Martensen, the Cana­dian dis­trib­u­tor for quadral, I was en­thralled by the vivid and ex­pres­sive sound of the top speaker in the Au­rum line – the Ti­tan VIII ($24,000). The Ti­tan VIII, driven by Vin­cent pre­mi­umLine com­po­nents, caught my at­ten­tion as I walked by the room and reeled me in, all the way to the back of the room where the pair of Ti­tan’s sat orat­ing. More re­cently, at the sug­ges­tion of Mok & Martensen, I had the plea­sure of au­di­tion­ing a more de­mure pair of Au­rum Al­tan VIII stand­mount loud­speak­ers ($3,000), with a Vin­cent SV-237 in­te­grated am­pli­fier (see the Oc­to­ber/Novem­ber 2013 is­sue of CANADA HiFi for this re­view). Along with pro­vid­ing me won­der­ful in­sight into the SV-237, I en­joyed my time with the Au­rum Al­tan VIII. So when Mok & Martensen ap­proached me with a sug­ges­tion to try out the third-from-the-top loud­speaker in the Au­rum line, namely the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII ($7,800), I knew I couldn’t let the op­por­tu­nity pass. It’s now been a few months since the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII loud­speak­ers first ar­rived and I have to say that I’ve found the lis­ten­ing time well spent.

quadral (yes - in lower case), is a Ger­man elec­tron­ics and loud­speaker com­pany that goes back to the early 70’s. Au­rum, quadral’s flag­ship elec­tron­ics and loud­speaker brand hosts eleven dif­fer­ent loud­speaker mod­els in­clud­ing: three cen­tre speak­ers, two stand­mount speak­ers, one sub­woofer and five floor­stand­ing/tower speak­ers. The Au­rum Mon­tan VIII is the third largest and third most ex­pen­sive tower loud­speaker model within the flag­ship Au­rum line.

de­sign | fea­tures

The Au­rum Mon­tan VIII loud­speaker is a full-size and vir­tu­ally full-range 3-way, 3-driver, pres­sure/bass re­flex loud­speaker, weigh­ing in at 40 kg. The loud­speaker stands 44.1” high, 10.6” wide and 17.6”deep and there­fore, is not a speaker to be over­looked. The driver com­ple­ment con­sists of a 10.2” woofer, 6.7” midrange and most in­ter­est­ing to me, a 4.72”mag­ne­to­stat rib­bon tweeter. Nom­i­nal/mu­sic power is 200 Watts/300 Watts, with a fre­quency re­sponse of 25 Hz – 65 kHz, im­pen­dence of 4 to 8 Ohms and a sen­si­tiv­ity of 89 dB/ 1 Watt / 1 meter.

The term mag­ne­to­stat was new to me when I re­viewed the Mon­tan’s lit­tle brother – the Al­tan, so I de­cided to do a lit­tle re­search and thought I’d share what I gleaned from my read­ing. In sim­ple terms, a mag­ne­to­stat tweeter might be re­ferred to as a rib­bon tweeter, which is how Au­rum refers to it on their web­site; how­ever, mag­ne­tostats are ac­tu­ally a dif­fer­ent breed, if per­haps within the same species as rib­bon tweet­ers. A mag­ne­to­stat uses a di­aphragm made of a very thin non-con­duc­tive plas­tic (Au­rum tweet­ers use a di­aphragm made of Kapton, which is a poly­imide film de­vel­oped by DuPont) onto which con­duc­tive (metal) tracks are af­fixed. This di­aphragm sits sand­wiched, be­tween par­al­lel rows of very strong mag­nets. On the other hand a true rib­bon tweeter uses a very thin di­aphragm that is made of metal or a met­al­ized plas­tic film that it­self con­ducts cur­rent, as op­posed to us­ing con­duc­tive tracks. Rib­bon tweet­ers typ­i­cally re­quire a transformer, whereas, mag­ne­tostats do not.

Mov­ing to the midrange and woofer in the Mon­tan VIII, we find what look like typ­i­cal cone driv­ers; how­ever, the di­aphragm cones are made of a pro­pri­etary ma­te­rial called AL­TIMA. This name pro­vides a hint to the com­po­si­tion. AL­TIMA in fact is a very light metal al­loy com­prised of ALu­minum, TI­ta­nium and MAg­ne­sium, hence its name. This spe­cial al­loy had been de­vel­oped to greatly con­trol res­o­nances and en­sure the ac­cu­racy of the driv­ers in the pro­duc­tion of sound. Along with the AL­TIMA di­aphragm, the midrange and woofer driv­ers have a rub­ber sus­pen­sion and con­cave dust­cap that

fol­lows the curve of cone di­aphragm.

Look­ing at the en­clo­sure of the speaker there are a cou­ple things worth not­ing. First, as was the case with the much smaller Au­rum Al­tan VIII, the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII is built with an in­te­grated base that raises the speaker’s bot­tom panel up on four barely vis­i­ble cylin­dri­cal metal pedestals that are ap­prox­i­mately ¼” high and which sit in-turn on a 1” solid MDF base. I’ve seen sim­i­lar de­signs from a few other loud­speaker com­pa­nies but all those that I’m fa­mil­iar with use this de­sign to pro­vide clear­ance for air move­ment in con­junc­tion with a bot­tom ex­haust­ing bass-re­flex port. This though, is not the case with the Mon­tan VIII, which uses two large rear bass-re­flex ports but no bot­tom port, in its de­sign. If I had to guess, I’d say that along with the in­te­grated base be­ing a unique and at­trac­tive el­e­ment to the Mon­tan’s vis­ual form, the quadral de­sign-team most likely has uti­lized the base to re­duce / op­ti­mize cab­i­net res­o­nances as well as pro­vide a level of iso­la­tion of the speaker en­clo­sure from the floor. The se­cond note­wor­thy de­sign fea­ture of the Mon­tan is its woofer place­ment. Here, Au­rum has not mounted the Mon­tan’s AL­TIMA 10.2” woofer in tra­di­tional man­ner, i.e. on the front baf­fle. Nor has it been placed on the top, bot­tom or side. Rather, Au­rum has done some­thing quite unique with their woofer in the Mon­tan; some­thing I haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced with any home au­dio loud­speaker. Au­rum has placed the Mon­tan’s woofer on a di­ag­o­nal slant, within an al­cove that is open to the front of the speaker via a rec­tan­gu­lar breach in the front baf­fle. This open­ing is taste­fully screened with rub­ber­ized re­mov­able cords, which run top-to-bot­tom. Some­what con­cealed in the shadow be­hind these cords and sur­rounded by the black fin­ished walls of the al­cove, the woofer’s bright AL­TIMA face can be found. This woofer sits only about an inch be­hind the baf­fle on one side but just short of 8” deep on the other. The added com­plex­ity of this de­sign is not for aes­thetic pur­poses but ac­tu­ally for en­gi­neer­ing rea­sons. It turns out that by mount­ing the woofer in this man­ner, the space to the back of the woofer di­aphragm can op­er­ate in a bass re­flex man­ner, while the space within the al­cove in front of the face of the woofer, can serve as a pres­sure cham­ber. This hy­brid, bass re­flex / pres­sure cham­ber ar­range­ment is meant to pro­vide greater bass ex­ten­sion, while en­sur­ing higher-con­trol and pre­ci­sion in bass pro­duc­tion. Without spoil­ing this re­view, I will ven­ture to say that I’m now a be­liever in this de­sign ap­proach.

The re­view pair of Mon­tan VIII loud­speak­ers was fin­ished in an oak choco real-wood ve­neer, which I found to be hand­somely at­trac­tive. The fin­ish was without flaw and had a lovely au­then­tic wood grain tac­tile feel. Styling of the speaker is for the most part util­i­tar­ian with over­all build demon­strat­ing high­level of qual­ity con­trol. The sub­stan­tial alu­minum sur­round of the mag­ne­to­stat tweeter and midrange driver pro­vided a mod­ern / in­dus­trial aes­thetic re­lief to the slightly curved but tra­di­tional cab­i­net. The mag­netic grills looked and worked very well, while the front baf­fles re­vealed noth­ing of the mount­ing points. I should men­tion that the Mon­tan is also avail­able in a cou­ple other gen­uine wood ve­neers (nat­u­ral oak and cherry wood) as well as high-gloss black and white. Ad­di­tion­ally,

it can be re­quested in over 180 cus­tom colours. Con­nec­tions are by way of a dual pair of rear-mounted bind­ing posts with ca­ble jumpers. The Au­rum Mon­tan VIII is hand­made in Ger­many and has a 10year war­ranty.

per­for­mance

This brings me to the core of this re­view – my lis­ten­ing ses­sions. All my lis­ten­ing was done us­ing my ref­er­ence gear that in­cludes: a Win­dows PC, Squeeze­box Touch, ADL Esprit DAC, Brys­ton BP6 pream­pli­fier and 4B-SST2 am­pli­fier. For an ana­log source, I used my Goldring GR1.2 / Elec­tra car­tridge and Pro-Ject Phonobox II SE stage. In­ter­con­nects were Kim­ber PBJ / Hero and for speaker ca­bles, a set of Kim­ber 12VS that I’ve had for a num­ber of months, cour­tesy of Kim­ber­can (Cana­dian dis­trib­u­tor for Kim­ber Kable prod­ucts). I found the Kim­ber Kable 12VS to pair very well with the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII’s in my sys­tem.

Out of the box the Mon­tan VIII loud­speak­ers sounded a bit re­served and sim­plis­tic in their ren­der­ing of mu­sic but with a de­cent break-in (400+ hours), things changed and be­fore I knew it the Mon­tan’s be­gan to se­duce me with their au­ral magic. It was in the bass fre­quen­cies that these speak­ers were ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing like no other speaker that I’ve heard in my room to date. Here the Mon­tan’s could pro­vide ex­cep­tion­ally ex­tended bass that I not only heard but also felt. It’s funny how one can be­come ac­cus­tomed to speak­ers that are in­ca­pable of pro­vid­ing a com­plete or at least a near com­plete pic­ture on the low­est oc­tave, i.e. 20Hz to 40Hz. Though in this bot­tom oc­tave you don’t typ­i­cally find much in terms of mu­si­cal in­for­ma­tion, mainly be­cause most in­stru­ments, other than a pipe or­gan, are un­able to reach that low – for ex­am­ple a bass can only reach down to 40 Hz. How­ever, there are some record­ings that do con­tain low fre­quen­cies within this range. And, when you do lis­ten to such record­ings or more-so feel them, via a speaker such as the Mon­tan, you fi­nally be­come aware of just what you’ve been miss­ing. Take for ex­am­ple the Cowboy Junkies Trin­ity Ses­sion al­bum. Lis­ten­ing to the first cou­ple tracks pro­vided me with great in­sight on the Mon­tan VIII loud­speak­ers. Play­ing the first track, Min­ing for Gold, there are no in­stru­ments, just Margo Tim­mins’ solemn solo vo­cals; how­ever, in the back­ground, this record­ing cap­tures the sub­ter­ranean low fre­quen­cies of the sub­way res­onat­ing through the foun­da­tions of the church, where this track was recorded. On my own Au­dio Physic Si­tara 25 speak­ers, some of this you can make out; how­ever, on the Au­rum Mon­tan’s you get a much fuller ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this record­ing. By fuller, I don’t just mean hear­ing but also a much rarer phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Through the Mon­tan VIII’s, the low fre­quen­cies be­came more per­ceiv­able, pal­pa­ble and re­al­is­tic. This dif­fer­ence I might like to sniff­ing ver­sus tast­ing a fresh cup of cof­fee – both can be plea­sur­able but the first pro­vides only a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and wet­ting of ap­petite, whereas the se­cond, the tast­ing, is what gives ful­fill­ment. In the bass depart­ment, I can say that the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII’s are fulfilling. In fact, lis­ten­ing to the rum­ble of the sub­way on Min­ing for Gold, through the Mon­tan’s al­lowed me to feel as though the sub­way was trav­el­ling un­der my own lis­ten­ing room. Keep­ing with the same al­bum and mov­ing to the next track Mis­guided An­gel, the light tap­ping of the kick-drum had me mes­mer­ized. It’s not that I haven’t heard the taps of the kick drum be­fore but now I was hear­ing tune­ful bass with weight, weight that im-

parted feel­ing. The im­pres­sion went be­yond be­ing life­like in tonal ex­pres­sion and ac­tu­ally had my eardrums puls­ing gen­tly in synch with the kick of the drum – sim­i­lar to what you might ex­pect in a live and in­ti­mate set­ting. This sense of tac­tile bass con­tin­ued on the track, I’m So Lone­some I Could Cry. Here, again the kick drum im­parted a pulse-like feel but it went be­yond my ears and was now im­part­ing the real sense that my en­tire room was puls­ing with the rhyth­mic pulses of the drum hits. At no time did I ever get the feel­ing that this bass was over­done or un­nat­u­ral. In fact, at all times bass notes pro­duced by the Au­rum Mon­tan’s came across as very tight, con­trolled, ar­tic­u­late and tex­tured; hav­ing no added thick­ness or smear­ing. And, though I was un­able to mea­sure the fre­quency re­sponse of the Mon­tan, I’m con­vinced by my ex­pe­ri­ence with them that they are not only solid down to their rated 25 Hz limit but also very flat, without the typ­i­cal 60 to 80 Hz bass em­pha­sis that speak­ers of lesser size are en­gi­neered with to pro­vide the il­lu­sion of bass weight and ex­ten­sion.

I went back to the al­bum “4” by Four­play and the track Sex­ual Heal­ing, which I had lis­tened to a num­ber of times with the Mon­tan’s lit­tle brother – the Au­rum Al­tan VIII’s, some months back. This track is grounded by a very tight sound­ing elec­tric bass line, snap­ping strings and all. There are also some synth ef­fects that float al­most over­head, to­gether with the soft tin­kling of bell-like chimes. Go­ing back to my notes, I found that the Mon­tan was able to de­liver the sparkle and gen­er­ous up­per-ex­ten­sion as well as tre­ble light­ness that I’d heard in the Al­tan’s but I per­ceived just a lit­tle more mid-tre­ble full­ness with the Mon­tan’s – a lit­tle more tonal shad­ing with the tre­ble de­tail that pro­vided some ad­di­tional re­al­ism. Com­par­ing the Mon­tan’s with my Si­tara’s pro­vided more in­sight. Un­like the Al­tan’s, the Mon­tan’s were able to keep up with my Si­tara 25’s in their ap­par­ent trans­parency. The pre­sen­ta­tion of these tre­ble fre­quen­cies was dif­fer­ent though. Whereas the Si­tara’s ce­ramic coated alu­minum cone tweet­ers tend to pro­vide a sense of ease and full­ness to the tre­ble notes, the mag­ne­to­stat tweet­ers in the Mon­tan’s put more em­pha­sis on the lead­ing edge of notes, re­sult­ing in a cleaner, crisper and more for­ward pre­sen­ta­tion. In terms of sound­stage size on this track, the Mon­tan’s proved to be very ca­pa­ble, de­liv­er­ing a stage just be­yond the bounds of their outer edges and go­ing fairly deep just past my front wall. With the syn­the­sizer ef­fects, the Mon­tan’s seemed to have no trou­ble in pro­vid­ing the sense of an over­head pres­ence that I’m ac­cus­tomed to hear­ing on this record­ing. Vo­cals were clear and re­al­is­tic and in com­par­i­son with my Si­tara’s were just a lit­tle more for­ward, a lit­tle lighter, a lit­tle more fo­cused and I would say a lit­tle more trans­par­ent to the un­der­ly­ing record­ing.

Mov­ing to the al­bum Pri­vate In­ves­ti­ga­tions: The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler and the first track Sul­tans of Swing, the Mon­tan’s were able to pro­vide a sense of nim­ble­ness and speed track­ing the up­beat rhythm like a marks­man. It was quite ap­par­ent from the open­ing drum hit that the Au­rum Mon­tan’s were no slouches in terms of their abil­ity to de­liver quick tran­sient re­sponse. Mark’s voice was very clear and de­tailed and in­stru­ments in the mix re­mained dis­tinct and in­tel­li­gi­ble, al­low­ing me to eas­ily zero-in on any of them in­di­vid­u­ally. While the drum and bass are clearly ev­i­dent in this track, the Mon­tan’s did not cor­rupt the ren­di­tion by overem­pha­siz­ing or plump­ing up the bass. Drums had im­pact and de­tail; res­o­lute, with their skins com­ing through on the im­pacts of the sticks. The cym­bals on this track had a lovely clar­ity to them – pris­tine in fact, sound­ing very life­like with their metal­lic tim­bre in­tact. The Mon­tan’s were also able to bring out a sense of air around the elec­tric gui­tar strings, and en­sured that each and ev­ery pluck was eas­ily heard on the swift gui­tar play that is heard at the tail-end of the track. I got the sense that the Mon­tan’s were be­ing straight up with me, telling me just what was com­ing from the source, rather than em­bel­lish­ing the record­ing and play­back chain by im­pos­ing some spe­cific fla­vor to the sound. Imag­ing was done well, and was very sta­ble; how­ever, the Mon­tan’s are large speak­ers and with large speak­ers, sounds tend to have a hard time break­ing free. By that I mean that given the lim­its of a larger speaker, the imag­ing was good; how­ever, they were never able to defy their di­men­sion and pro­vide that spooky re­al­ness that can be achieved with speak­ers of con­sid­er­ably smaller di­men­sions.

My time with the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII’s has been rev­e­la­tory. They have pro­vided me with a re­minder of what a well-en­gi­neered large stature speaker can ac­tu­ally de­liver. If it’s not yet ev­i­dent from this re­view, I’ll say it clearly now - the Au­rum Mon­tan’s are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing mar­velous bass per­for­mance – ex­tended, flat, tune­ful, ar­tic­u­late and dy­namic. They are also im­pres­sively co­her­ent, even at a dis­tance of just 8ft, de­spite their tri-driver com­ple­ment of dis­parate sizes and con­struc­tion. I would say that if you de­sire un­com­pro­mis­ing de­tail, ac­cu­racy, speed and trans­parency, cou­pled with es­sen­tially full-range per­for­mance, the Au­rum Mon­tan’s are a speaker to be heard. At nearly $8,000 – sure, the Au­rum Mon­tan VIII loud­speak­ers have a lot of com­pe­ti­tion but I be­lieve that they of­fer a unique com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ties that once heard won’t eas­ily be for­got­ten.

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