My affair with the Audio Exklusiv Electrostatic Panels was an unexpected one. As I have just finished reviewed on an Audio Exklusiv product earlier this year, I certainly wasn’t expecting to write another review for the same company. I’m also not fond of reviewing speakers because the thought of having to move my 280 lbs Dynaudio Temptations out of the way already turns me off.
The day when Bernard Li of Charisma Audio,North American distributor of Audio Exklusiv for North America, came to pick up the Audio Exklusiv P2 phono stage after I finished writing the review on it, he asked me whether I would accompany him to pick up a pair of electrostatics panels from a dealer up north. The drive was a rather long one, 2.5 hrs each way, but I decided to go along because I knew he needed a minivan for the job. When I saw the German redhead, the basal instinct of the promiscuous audiophile inside me took over. She was tall, slender and stunningly gorgeous. Thoughts of liquid transparency, abundance of air, and lighting fast transient response came rushing into my mind. I stopped thinking about the consequences, and words just came out of my mouth. “Bernard, why don’t we move her, I mean the speakers, back to my house instead. I’ll nurture them for two months, so when the 2012 TAVES come around they would be well broken in for you at the show.” Truth to be told, I just wanted an affair with this expensive toy. As with all affairs, this one turned out to be rather complicated.
First, a bit of history about Audio Exklusiv (from their website). The company was started in 1979 by Gerd Pütz, and originally produced a number of audio components including dynamic loudspeakers, turntables and amplifiers. In 1982, the company introduced their first Electrostatic P3 model, followed by the P6 in 1986. Unfortunately, Gerd died at the early age of 41 in 1990. His family continued with the business from 1990 until it ceased operation in 2004.
In 2009, the Pütz family sold the trademark, design and technical rights of Audio Exklusiv to a long-time family friend, Andreas Schönberg. Today, Audio Exklusiv manufactures a full line of equipment which includes turntables, phono pre, pre amp (tube and SS), power amp, CD player and the Electrostatic P3.1.
The P 3.1 is a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker: The entire frequency range is reproduced by one foil without the aid of a dynamic subwoofer, unlike hybrid designs for example, most of the models from MartinLogan, which combines an electrostatic panel with a powered woofer. The P3.1s are also special because they are probably the smallest full-range panel ever made, yet the low frequencies dip down to 37 Hz, making it a serious contender to the top of the line MartinLogan CLX Art full range panels.
|Speakers||Martin Logan CLX||Art Audio Exklusiv P3.1|
|Type:||Full Range Electrostatics||Full Range Electrostatics|
|Frequency Response:||56 Hz ~ 23,000||Hz 37 Hz ~ 22,000 kHz|
|Impedance:||6 Ohms||3.8 Ohms|
|Dimensions (approx.):||70”H x 26”W x 14.7”D||79” H x 14”W x 14.6” W|
|Weight:||110 lbs.||66 lbs.|
|>MSRP:||>$ 25,495-||>$ 15,000-|
The two shipping cartons of the P3.1 resemble two large coffins, with a combined size of approximately 4’ W x 8’ L x 2’ H. They barely fit into the back of my Honda Odyssey minivan even with the back seats removed.
The P3.1s are a few inches taller and wider than my Dynaudio Temptations, but occupy the same small foot print. The aluminum side panel comes in black; other colours can also be custom ordered, as in the very handsome Ferrari red colour shown here. Setting up the panels was a breeze, although the plasticky speaker terminals at the back are somewhat flimsy and had a hard time holding in place the spades of my anaconda-sized, 8-gauge Purist Venustas speaker cables. I would have much preferred to see connectors from Furutech or WBT.
I was forewarned by Benard Li that these speakers require a day or two to warm up before the sound comes together. When I first plugged the panels in, indeed they sounded flat and lifeless, as if entire segments of the low frequency spectrum were missing. High frequencies were unbearably bright. But after leaving them plugged in overnight, the speakers did come to life. It appeared that the power transformers need to be charged up first to sound good. The sound became much more balanced once the speakers remained plugged in for more than 12 hours. I first set them up about 10′ apart edge to edge, 8’ from the front wall and pointing straight forward without toe-in. My listening position is about 14′ from the front of the panels. My initial impression was that the sound was drastically different from what I am accustomed to. Their sound was clean, unrestricted and transparent, yet the stereo image was more of a faint haze than the solid weighty imagery of my Dynaudio Temptations. I also found the bass to be a bit flat and the midrange missing. As I was to soon find out, this was due to the speakers not having been positioned properly.
After two days of listening I decided to move the panels to see if side wall reinforcements would change the tonality of the speakers. The speakers now stood only 2` away from the side walls, and nearly 12`apart from each other with a slight toe-in. The low-to-mid frequencies became more prominent but then the stereo image seemed to have a hole in the middle.
I know power is never a problem with my two resident amplifiers: The pair of McIntosh MC2KW monoblocks can easily pump out 2000 Watts down to 2 ohms, while the MC3500 tube monoblocks can output 400 Watts into any load from 1 to 32 ohms; it even has a 1 ohm tap on the output transformer! When I played simple jazz music with one or two instruments, the sound was crisp and transparent. But as soon as I put on a couple of large scale orchestral pieces, I ran into the same problem as I did with a pair of MartinLogan Prodigy a couple of years ago, whereby as I cranked up the volume to an exceedingly high level, I would see the electrostatic elements vibrating excessively. In my room, the Audio Exklusiv panels could not deliver the level of sound pressure I sought. When the volume was cranked up, the soundstage was fragmented and disorganized, and the stereo image was more of a faint haze rather than a solid presence.
My conclusion with this exercise is that the problem lies with my room rather than with the speakers. Measuring 18`x 38`x 9.5`, with an opening to a cathedral ceiling to the side which leads to an open hallway area 2x the size, the room is simply too big for these speakers to handle. The amount of air which the speakers will have to move is demanding even for the big Dynaudio Temptations; some have even suggested to me that only a pair of Wilson Alexandria or Focal JMlab Grande Utopia would suffice. Electrostatic panels are incapable of achieving a sound pressure level high enough to provide any excitement in my large listening space with large scale orchestral performance which I often listen to.
I did not want to give up on the review so I decided to take the speakers to a friend’s place to conduct the review. His room is smaller [13.5′ x 24′] than my own, and thus hopefully, would allow me to properly evaluate these electrostatic panels. So back in their coffins they went, a job that requires two people.
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