I have read a few reviews over the years that started by saying something along these lines, “Every once in a while a product comes along that makes you rethink what you thought you believed about audio.” Well this is my first one. I didn’t even set out to review the Ikonoklast speakers; heck I hadn’t even heard of them. So let me share the story with you.
Ever since I got the Vacuum State GmbH Level 5+ mod to my SCD-777ES, and acquired the Shindo Monbrison preamp with its excellent phono stage, I’ve been making field trips to compare the SACD player with different phono setups. (I’ll share more about this with you in an upcoming Beatnik’s column.) One of these field trips was over to Warren Gregoire’s to hear his modded Thorens 124, Dynavector tonearm, and the biggest reason I was there: the latest Decca London phono cartridge.
After I left, all I could think about were the little speakers that played music so naturally, so beautifully, and I heard all this without having to crank them up. In fact, they seemed to sound better the lower in level you played them. To quote Constantine, our editor, when he came over to hear them, “they’re just so easy to like.” I like them too. Heck, the first ones I heard were not even the top of Warren’s Ikonoklast line of speakers. I called and Warren graciously agreed to bring a pair over and set them up for me. He arrived and we set up the little Ikonoklast about eighteen inches from the back wall and about two feet from the sidewalls and began to listen.
They sounded pretty good, but not quite like I remembered. Warren then asked if he could replace the speaker wire. He went out to his car and came back with a spool of insulated continuous-cast single-crystal copper wire. He burned the insulation off both ends and hooked the wire up to the amp and speakers. It was amazing, the speakers sounded better then I remembered. I guess Warren felt the same way, too, because he turned and said, “tell me about your amp, this sounds even better then my setup.” Well, Warren and I listened for a while and then he headed home. Then, my 23-year-old, non-audiophile son came downstairs and said he wanted to listen. This was a shock because he seldom wants to listen to my big rig. The next thing I knew it was way after midnight. This had never happened before. He just wanted to hear what certain music sounded like on these speakers. He couldn’t believe what he could hear so easily on them. We amazed ourselves by how low we could turn the volume (it was after midnight, after all) and still enjoy and hear all the music. It was an amazing evening for father and son; and for the amazing little Ikonoklast speakers.
Warren has selected a Single Membrane Coherent Line Source tweeter and paired it with a magnificent, ultra low mass Mid/LF driver. He claims the underlying key to the superlative sonic realism is his use of a 3/4-wave transmission line enclosure for the Mid/LF driver. He feels his advanced technology of back-loading the system does what many loudspeaker designers would consider impossible. It enables a lightweight, moving system midrange drive unit (only 7 grams mms) to operate all the way down to 30Hz with power and accuracy that defies its diminutive 5.25″ size. The stats say the speaker will provide un-rolled-off, flat response to near 30Hz, in a typical small room. According to Warren, extended low-frequency response is only part of the advantage of a triple length transmission line. He feels the use of the same driver in reproducing the midrange and low bass is significant, as it eliminates the need for what he calls a phase-distorting, stereo image-degrading, reactive crossover network. You know, the type that contains sound quality obliterating capacitors and inductors.
The Ikonoklast speakers have zero crossover components. The Tweeter’s unconventional piezoelectric motor automatically rolls off frequencies below 2kHz, while the Mid/LF driver exhibits a complementary, automatic high frequency roll-off. The output of the two drivers is thereby effortlessly blended, using absolutely zero crossover network components. This, combined with physical arrival time compensation in the mounting of the tweeter and Mid/LF driver, results in a more stable and convincing stereo image, and an engaging realness to the sound of voices and instruments.
The Ikonoklast3 has an average room sensitivity of 95dB and an average impedance of 16 ohms, giving you a speaker that is really easy to drive. The less expensive and forgiving Ikonoklast5 is 92 dB sensitive with the same average load.
Warren has designed the Ikonoklast speakers to sound clear and engaging at very low sound pressure levels; but don’t mistake this for a lack of dynamics. He refers to this concept as “downward dynamic range”. I’ll just tell you they seem like the most dynamic speakers I have ever heard in my room. Admittedly, the only horns I have had here are different from classic Klipschorn, but they were pretty dynamic. The Ikonoklast3 probably aren’t as dynamic as a horn, but their ability to let you listen to an orchestra’s low-level information at realistically low levels creates quite a startle factor when it goes from ppp to ff.
Coherent Line Source Tweeter
According to the Warren Gregoire and Associates web site, a very thin conical, metal membrane is attached at the Ikonoklast tweeter’s apex to an ultra-low mass piezoelectric motor. This basic mechanism was patented over 20 years ago by the late Lincoln Walsh who used it in larger, more massive voice-coil driven units for nearly full-range reproduction of the sonic spectrum. In the Ikonoklast tweeter, the sound waves ripple lengthwise through the surface until they reach the distance along the membrane, which corresponds to 1/2 wavelength at each particular frequency. At that point, they are launched into the air omni-directionally, like the ripples in a pond when a pebble is tossed in. The geometry of the membrane, combined with the various launch points, enable all frequencies to arrive at the listening position with virtually perfect timing (phase coherence). The frequency range the tweeter covers is 2-50kHz with a vertical dispersion pattern of 30 degrees.
Regardless of the technology, this is one of the very best tweeters I have ever heard. Warren has also pulled off a minor miracle in blending these two drivers in a way I find inaudible. I find it as coherent as any single-driver speaker I have listened to. As always, there is something just so right-sounding with both voices and instruments when speakers have no crossovers.
My room may be a little easier than some to set up for the Ikonoklast tweeter, and I found them very easy to set up. My back wall is damped at the level of the tweeter and there are drapes down one sidewall and a staircase down the other wall. I really don’t think they will be very hard to place for anyone who remembers to have some damping positioned behind the tweeters, as the speakers shouldn’t be placed too far out into the room. Warren’s documentation indicates that the best room size would be less than 350 square feet. My listening room is approximately 300 square feet, with an opening to the next level. I played around with placement and found the Ikonoklast sounded best where no other speaker has worked best before, with the back of the cabinet about a foot and a half out from the front wall and about two feet from the sidewalls, with just a little toe-in. That put them at about eight feet apart, and I sat slightly behind the apex of the equilateral triangle.
They have to be that close to the rear wall to reinforce the bass. In fact, I think the reason one of their early reviews was not as positive as it could have been was the reviewer’s desire to place the speaker out into the room. They are not designed for this and should be kept close to the walls. Even when placed close to the walls, they still produced almost the perfect soundstage. In fact, when I moved them out into the room, the soundstage did not get any better and the speaker lost volume and tonal accuracy.
Toe-in is important with the Ikonoklast3’s (not so much with the model 5). This is because of the mid/bass driver; for the tweeter, it makes no difference at all. If you toe them in too much, you can loose a little of the brilliance of the midrange, and even voices seem to soften. Likewise with no toe-in: they can have a little too much bite in the upper midrange. If you have a listening buddy, this experiment goes quickly; but even by yourself, it’d only take a few tries for you to get it right. In my system, I ended up with them firing just to the sides of my shoulders and crossing a few feet behind me. I don’t want to overstate this, because the truth is they sound spectacular wherever you sit in my room.
One other thing about setup, remember to ask yourself, “where is my listening chair?” If you have to put these speakers closer to the front wall than you are used to, then you have to move up your listening position. This is very important. You cannot be too far away from these speakers. They must be listened to in the near field, and you might even sit closer to the apex of the equilateral triangle. I sat about one foot behind the apex, but then I could see someone preferring the sound when sitting about a foot in front of the apex.
How do you describe a speaker that often sounds like it has no bass at all, and then along comes a bass instrument and you hear the best bass you’ve ever heard from recorded music? I think this is because the Ikonoklast do not store up any bass energy, nor do they add any warmth of it’s own. How do you describe a speaker that sometimes has the smallest soundstage you’ve ever heard and then on the next album it has the widest, deepest, and tallest soundstage ever?
I did not realize how wide and deep a soundstage could get via the Ikonoklast until I got the Benz Ebony L cartridge. One last example: I came in the other night from a Davies Hall concert with Brian Stokes and the San Francisco Symphony. When I got home I wanted to see how the Ikonoklast would sound just after having experienced an incredible live musical event. I came in and played three SACDs, A Chorus Line, Titanic, and the Living Stereo, Reiner’s Scheherazade.
A Chorus Line varied a lot from track to track on the Ikonoklast, but in general was thin, bass shy and I wished I had a tone control so I could add a little warmth. It did not feed my emotions at all like the live event had. In the back of my mind I began to think maybe the Ikonoklast are just too lean. Then I put on Titanic and oh my word, all of a sudden I have this incredible warm, lush, but at the same time powerful, and tuneful sound. It was the best I had ever heard in my system. It was also wonderfully, emotionally involving. Then I put on Reiner’sScheherazade. There it was again, powerful bass, huge soundstage, a violin as beautiful as I have ever heard. It was simply some of the best sound I have ever heard in my listening room. It reached down and touched me at a very deep emotional level.
A lot of you know how much I love the Audio Note E line of speakers. I have owned a pair for nearly four years. Audio Note’s proprietor, Peter Qvortrup, points out on his web site that one of the best ways to evaluate equipment is to listen to different recordings and see which one shows up the differences in recordings the most. As you would expect, Audio Note equipment excels in such a test. In fact, the Ikonoklast speakers are the first I have ever heard that are significantly better at this than Peter’s own when conducting such a test.
I would like to tell you that the Ikonoklast are low- to no-distortion speakers, but since I have no way of measuring them, I can’t. Instead, I can say these are the purest sounding and least colored speakers I have ever heard, period. Remember, I spent five years as owner of Quad 57’s. They are also omni-directional above 2kHz. This can be easily heard by the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter where you sit when listening to them. This is also really nice when you listen with others, because you don’t have to jump up and say “come sit here”. Heck, you can be gracious and let them sit in your chair, because it really doesn’t matter much where you sit.
The Ikonoklast3’s are also the most beautifully detailed speakers I have ever heard. Remember I just told you how I cut my teeth for the first five years as an audiophile on Quad 57’s, and the last four years with the unbelievably transparent and detailed Audio Notes. Not only are the Ikonoklast more detailed, but also the detail is of a significantly higher quality and more natural than any speaker I have ever listened to. This can easily be heard on the spoken voice, a stand up bass, a piano, a violin, or a guitar.
It reminds me of years ago when I was a going to Baylor.
One day a lady came into the McIntosh dealer in Waco and bought a MR 71 tuner, a Mac tube amp and preamps and a pair of Bozaks. She didn’t buy or own a turntable, but man what a FM radio. I would love to have the Ikonoklast just to listen to radio and books-on-CDs. I have never heard spoken voices sound so natural and easy to listen to. They don’t play loud enough for what most people are looking for in home theater these days, but if you want articulate voices instead of shake-the-room bass, I can’t imagine a better speaker for listening to TV and old movies with great dialogue.
Music sounds very, very special too. It’s never smeared or veiled unless the source is. One of the things that amazed my non-audiophile son was how easy it was to hear the sound of the sticks pounding on drums before you heard the drum itself. It was as clear as the drums themselves. Likewise, the sound of the fingering and bowing of stringed instruments was not only clear, but oh-so-natural. I was equally shocked when on a cut from a mono SACD I use in every review was played and I heard cymbals in certain places for the very first time. This level of detail allows performances to be enjoyed more, and to hear what the composer intended more easily.
Before I move onto the specific performance parameters is the way these speakers let you hear voices. Let me say they are oh-so-articulate and natural sounding at the same time. Listen to some of the gospel/bluegrass selections on the Alison Krauss SACDs, the Ikonoklast’s ability to reenact the harmony and the interplay of the voices is just incredible. Listen to any of the Patricia Barber SACDs and you will not believe how well recorded voices are, and for that matter, how well instruments can sound. Maybe the most revealing of all is to listen to Armstrong and Ella. It was the most beautiful performance by these two I had ever heard in my room.
With live recordings, such as Peter, Paul, and Mary at Carnegie Hall, you hear the coughs, whispers, and giggles as they emanate from somewhere other than the speaker’s soundstage, not interfering with the instruments and singers. There are so many little nuances on live recordings that I had never heard before and they add so much to the enjoyment of the performance.
The Bass: The literature included with the speakers warns that the uninitiated ear may come away “thinking the bass may be lacking.”
At first I thought this would be the case. Instead, to everyone that has come to hear the speakers, the bass emerged as the most remarkable aspect. You will find the bass shy though if the speaker is pulled too far out into the room. I don’t know any world-class speakers that you don’t have to be careful with the placement. To me the Audio Note AN/Es sound best in the corners, or if you can’t get them to work there, you have to pull them several feet out into the room. The wonderful Gershman speakers only begin to be magical when pulled almost 6 feet out into the room. So take your time, the Ikonoklast are relatively easy to place, they just don’t go way out in the room, probably no more than a foot to a foot and a half.
Positioned correctly, the bass of the Ikonoklast is just awesome, quick, fast, nimble, accurate, and natural. These qualities allow the bass transients in the lower range to have details seldom heard other than in live music. As good as the quality of the bass is, it can’t be overlooked that the speakers don’t move as much air as large speakers. These speakers are more about intimacy and accuracy. They are quick and nimble. They let you hear the sticks or mallets as they strike the drum as well as the vibrations of the drum after it is struck. They let you easily discriminate the location of each drum.
At first I thought I was missing the warmth and slam of my beloved Audio Notes, but when I put the Audio Notes back in the system I immediately noticed I had learned to listen to music in a new way. The Ikonoklast have a way of demanding that you pay attention. It’s kind of like certain performers or performances bring you to the edge of your seat. The more I listened, the more I missed the bass of the Ikonoklast. I missed the speed, the lack of added warmth, the detail, the decay, and the naturalness of the bass.
After listening for a very long time, you learn to appreciate how remarkable the bass is with this speaker. It is easy to hear all of the bass. Sometimes the bass still has a little less visceral power than I am used to, but not often. Yet, it can also be said that bass in live music almost never sounds overly warm and boxy, two faults you’ll never hear with these speakers. I had these speakers over the holidays when I get to hear a lot of live music in different venues. I believe I can safely say that the bass on the Ikonoklast more often gives you the sound of live music. Let me say it one last time. When I put the Audio Notes back in the system what I missed the most wasn’t the midrange or top-end. I missed the quick, detailed, dynamic bass most of all. I was shocked because I thought the powerful bass was what I would be most happy to get back to. Yes, there are speakers that go deeper, move more air and play louder, but I have never heard a speaker with the quality of the bass that you get from the Ikonoklast.
The Mids and Highs we have already spent a good bit of time on, but they are clean, clear, beautifully detailed, and seem to naturally extend into the heavens. Properly set up, as described above, they allow voices to sound so beautifully natural. There was no evidence of nasal tone or over-emphasis of sibilance. Pianos, like most instruments, benefit from the coherency of this speaker. They sound oh-so-engaging. It is so easy to hear both the attack and the decay for an appropriate time. You just have to hear how they play brushes and sticks as they come in contact with cymbals and drums. They sound so correct and beautiful. They also have a space all their own in the soundstage.
After setting up the new Benz Ebony L moving coil cartridge, I was just amazed at just how pretty the midrange could sound. They play music so delicately and yet with such shimmer. This is truly a speaker that plays best with vinyl and then SACD. They are not overly tolerant of redbook, though some redbook discs sound simply amazing, but many have glare, which the Ikonoklast will reveal in a heartbeat.
The Micro-dynamics are world class. As I said earlier, these speakers have a huge dynamic range.
Where it differs from most is thatit starts in very, very soft manners. There is no need to turn them up to hear the softest of passages. They are as transparent at low volumes as they are at higher volume. Thus, they have startling dynamics when the big passages come along. When listening to Muddy Waters sing the blues, I had never heard such micro-dynamics from any speaker, not an electrostatic, not a ribbon, not any other speaker. Add to this, I have never heard his voice sound so articulate and natural at the same time. And then the real bonus: My wife hasn’t come downstairs and said “turn that down I’m trying to sleep”, she usually finds Muddy Waters very hard to sleep through.
The Sound of Strings on these speakers will just make you cry with joy. They are so sweet, so extended; so beautiful, they just melt your soul. It doesn’t matter weather it’s a blues guitar, a standup bass in a jazz group, or a classical violin, they all sound so natural and so wonderful. You hear the leading edge, fast, quick and dynamic with never a sense of edginess. You then hear the decay with all the air that should be around it. It doesn’t matter whether the strings are plucked, bowed, or strung, they all sound natural and beautiful.
The Soundstage of the Ikonoklast speakers is what I always dreamed of. It is holographic and natural all at the same time. They not only have a cohesive side-to-side and back-to-front soundstage, they also have a very lifelike up-and-down soundstage. They don’t overproduce depth and width, but when it’s there, it’s there in all its glory, but so natural and realistic. It never sounds like notes coming at you from way back there, or somewhere over there to the left or right of the speakers (though plenty of music does come from outside the speakers). No, they let you hear three-dimensional instruments coming from a believable three-dimensional space.
Scale is something important to me in a system. It is here that the Ikonoklast may be the most accurate and sometimes the most disturbing. They truly let you hear what is on the recording. It can sometimes seem small, other times it is huge, sometimes distant, and other times upfront. I tell you though, on well-recorded music the sizes of instruments come through so life-sized that you almost can see the instruments. A wonderful thing is how the Ikonoklast produce such accurate scale even at very low volume.Their wonderful way of allowing you to experience an adequate, vertical soundstage adds naturally to their sense of scale when it is there. No better example could be had of this then the beautifully recorded and preformed Music for Organ Brass and Timpani on Sonoma SACD. The way the organ surrounds and towers over the brass instrument and drums is so breathtaking. The way you can hear the air moving through the organ in contrast to the brass instrument is so interesting. Well, I carried on a little, but really, they produce scale beautifully even at low volumes.
One of the interesting things about the Ikonoklast is how the music seems to enter the room. With a close-box or ported speaker the music seems to be pumped or projected into the room. Even a system with great depth still has this sensation. With the Ikonoklast, the music just seems to float up from the boxes. It is a much more relaxed sensation and allows for a natural dimensionality to be part of the soundstage. I think this especially is part of the reason they sound so good in the vertical dimension. I continue to find it shocking how they let a good pipe organ fill your room with air and music. Likewise to hear the Ikonoklast float a choir or organ in the space in front of you is just unbelievable.
The Matter of Volume
If it wasn’t for Google I would not feel this part of the review was necessary. I feel I must address this issue though because if you Google Ikonoklast speakers, you will find two older reviews of an earlier version of the Ikonoklast speaker. In these early reviews they loved the speaker, but had a hard time getting past the point that they didn’t play as loud as most full range speakers. One reviewer even went so far as to say Mr. Gregoire was trying to dictate what kind of music he listened to. Almost all speakers allow you to enjoy some category of music more than others.
Like I said, I really see no need to talk about the volume of the Ikonoklast. I mean the truth is that the Ikonoklast play considerably louder than a pair of Quad 57’s or 63’s, and I never heard any reviewer write them off over this one issue; but of course many people choose not to own Quads for that very reason. Those are the kind of choices we have to make as audiophiles all the time.
Most audiophiles are used to turning up the volume to hear things clearer. So it takes a little time to adjust to listening to a speaker that can sound so clear at lower levels. Let me tell you, though, what these speakers can do with a good SET amp is not to be believed. I grew to love their sound. I dare you though just get up and turn them down a little and be amazed. By the way, if the speaker rings or squeaks as it gets louder, then there was damage in shipping and you need to have this fixed. I have only heard this on one pair, but you need to know it’s not normal and seems to be easily fixed.
I just want to say that for neither my 23-year-old son nor me did the question of volume ever really come into the picture. We were very satisfied with the volume. As I mentioned earlier, over the holidays I went to hear a lot of live music. On the other hand, although the Cirque Du Soleil’s production of the Beatle’s Love was not live music, it was one of the greatest performances I have ever attended. The shear volume was to be expected. The clarity and lack of distortions was unusual for rock music, though. I purchased the soundtrack, but as I put it into the player, I thought, “shucks, these speakers won’t play loud enough for me to enjoy this performance.” Man, was I wrong.
Here I was less than 24 hours from hearing this loud music, and I was being blown away for a second time by “Love”, but this time without the lights, the acrobatics, the dancing, the colors, or the multimillion-dollar sound system and a theater built just for this performance. No, I was sitting in my chair in my house listening to a pair of little speakers with no crossover blowing me away with the emotions of the music, letting me hear every detail, and maybe the biggest soundstage I have ever heard. No, I could not produce the volume I had heard in Vegas, but if I could, the neighbors would call the police. What I could do was have an emotional experience that allowed me to have a musical encounter with some of the world’s greatest music.
A visit from my editor
I kept trying to find what these speakers lacked and my 23-year-old kept saying, “Dad, I don’t care, they’re the best speakers you’ve ever had.” He’s heard some pretty good ones with me over the years. This led me to make a phone call to our editor and friend Constantine. I asked him to come over and hear these speakers that he had never even heard of. I had to bribe him with some homemade Jambalaya. He came, he ate, he ate some more, he ate it all and then he listened.
It wasn’t long before he was talking about how incredibly free of the box they sounded, how unrestricted they were, how delicate the top-end was, how relaxed they sound, how articulate the voices were, what quality they had in the bass and, well, as he put it “they’re just easy to like.” He then said, “You’ve got to let people know about what this speaker can do.” At that point I hadn’t let him know just like I haven’t told you yet the price of the Ikonoklast3 . It’s not nice to embarrass your editor, so let me just say he overshot the price just a bit, well maybe more like a boulder. Let’s not be too hard on him though, because no one has guessed less than double their price.
What Amplifier to Use? They were designed to be SET friendly. Their efficiency and impedance makes them ideal for SETs. So far I have heard them with Warren’s triode tube amps, then the Kora-Eda’s, my Wavac MD300B, the Wavac MD 300B monos, and the deHavilland 845Gs. I have used the Shindo Monbrison preamplifier, the Vacuum State RTP 3D, and the UltraVerve RC. I would not hesitate to use them with amps even more expensive than these, if I had them. I also would not hesitate to use them with some of the flea-power amps if I had them. The Ikonoklast’s are truly very efficient. They are rated at 95dB efficient and my Audio Notes are rated at 94.5, but the settings on my volume control say they are significantly more efficient.
GEORGE comes to visit
If you haven’t met or at least talked on the phone to George Kielczynski of deHavilland,you have missed a treat – what a great guy. Not only does he run deHavilland Audio along with the equally nice Kara E. Chaffee; he also plays the guitar, paints and grills a mean hamburger. Well, anyway, I called George up and asked he had a pair of 845G’s that I could listen to the Ikonoklast with. He didn’t have a pair that I could keep for review at the moment, but he offered to bring a pair over for the day before he delivered them for a demo.
So I set aside the day and we just listened to music for hours. I was shocked; the Ikonoklast3 would play much louder even than I thought. I now can’t imagine why anyone would question their ability to play at loud volumes, accept for the most diehard metal heads. We played the new Beatle’s Love CD at volumes that could have brought the neighbors over. The way the deHavilland amps took hold of the Ikonoklast and drove them with such power and precision was just spectacular. I was also shocked at the clarity, soundstage size, and scale they produced with these more powerful SETs. It was simply amazing.
Equally amazing was how many times George commented on, or asked questions, about the Ikonoklast speakers. More than once he commented on how incredible the quality of the bass was. The next day when I called Kara to talk about when I could review the amps and the Mercury preamp with the new remote volume control, she had already heard from George. He had told her all about the speakers. By the way, like our dear editor, George also guessed more than double the price. Which leads us to our last section of the review.
The Matter of Price
I think this is part of the problem. The price of Ikonoklast speakers may keep some from taking them seriously enough. Even in their early reviews, I think the equipment used with them was more what was being heard than the speakers. I was dismayed to see one of the only two reviews had used an entry-level solid-state amp with them. I realize he was thinking what would people use with a $2500 speaker. The latest version of the Ikonoklast3 cost $4,000. I know at that, they’re not cheap, but how do you get people to put eight to thirty thousand dollar amps with them if they only cost $4000. I promise you, they are worthy of the best amp and preamp you can afford.
You really need to think of them as an unbelievable bargain for a cost-no-object speaker. In fact, if entry-level high-end equipment is used with them, you just end up hearing everything that is wrong with the equipment. They deserve preamps like Vacuum State GmbH’s $19,000 preamp, or one of the best Shindo’s. They deserve amps like the deHavilland, WAVACs, Shindo’s, or something in that league. They must have the best SACD or vinyl you can afford. I’m not saying you can’t play redbook on them, I have many that I have enjoyed on them, but I want to say again they are very unforgiving of digital glare. They deserve the time, effort, and cost of a room properly set up for them. If you buy them to go with an entry-level system, you will probably send them back; but if you put them in a good high-end system, especially one with a very good and very quiet SET, I think you will be amazed.
A Last Word
This by far the longest it has ever taken me to review a product, and also the longest review I have ever written. The reason is simple. The Ikonoklast3 has such little sound of its own that my opinion of it kept changing. From the first moments of listening to it, I knew how it was very special indeed; but until I got a great vinyl setup, I didn’t realize how good. At first, I thought it had some volume limitations, but then I discovered those were limitations of my amps, not the speakers, when I put the 30- watt deHavilland amps in front of them. It just took a while to get a full idea of how great this speaker is.
Over and over again I find the most telling thing about any audio component is how I react when it is taken out of the system. This was the telling point for these speakers as well. I put my Audio Note’s back in and began to review the Murata ES-103a Super Tweeters with the Audio Note’s. I was pleasantly surprised by what the Murata’s did for the system. I was comfortable with the sound that I was so used to, but as days move on to the second week without the Ikonoklast in the system, I missed them. So finally I went upstairs and brought them back down. After listening for a couple of hours, I picked up the phone and called Warren and told him he surely made a great speaker.
Although this review is about the Ikonoklast3 , the Ikonoklast5 are probably a good choice for many people. They are 3 DB less efficient, but they are sonically more forgiving and for many, that may make them a good choice. Let me close by sharing a quote that tells how I feel about these speakers. Nearing Christmas, there was an incredibly long thread on Audio Asylum posted by a fellow inmate who had decided to quit being an audiophile. I have tried this three times in the last 35 years. I want to close with a response from one of my favorite inmates who goes simply by “Norm”. He said, “After 45 years as an audiophile, the thrill of realism in music reproduction of an excellent performance still persists.”
I want to say that as a reviewer, audiophile, and music lover, discovering something special, in this case the Ikonoklast speakers, that gives realism in music reproduction, is a real thrill and thank you dear reader for giving me someone to share it with. The Ikonoklast3 , with just a little loving care about setup and associate equipment, can give you music in your room that speakers costing four times their price can’t, but you can’t get this sound if you don’t have a good enough source and amp.
After rereading and rewriting this review for the umpteenth time, I realize I didn’t share enough about their weaknesses. This is because, every time I did, something would change and it would turn out the weakness wasn’t with the speaker. I don’t want to rewrite this review again, but I do feel the need to admit that two things are obvious from this review.
I fell in love with these speakers and would love for the whole world to discover them; in fact, I’m sure to no one’s surprise, I am now the proud owner of a pair of the Ikonoklast3 .
I probably got a little carried away in the review. Of course no speaker is perfect and neither are these. They won’t play an orchestra, a big band, or rock band at full tilt. They don’t move the air that the Shindo Latours do. Lastly, while they have the finest-quality bass I have ever heard, they do in my room begin to role off below 40Hz, and while they still have output in my room at 35Hz, they are down quite a bit. I am sure that in the months to come I will find other things they do and don’t do.
Having admitted to these two things about my review, I want to say a few things to defend my enthusiasm.
My 15 by 20 foot room cannot handle speaker the size of the Latours.
My neighbors can’t handle the volume of a full tilt orchestra, big band, or rock band.
The Ikonoklast came so close to giving me the sound of the very best I’ve ever heard in rooms that I do not have, that my enthusiasm for them is, I think, justified.
I think if you give them a try in an average-sized listening room with good enough equipment, you too may just get a little carried away about them.
Designer Warren Gregoire comments on Jack Robert’s Dagogo review of the IkonoklastÒ3 and IkonoklastÒ5 speaker systems:
First, I’d like to thank Jack and Constantine for their alert and experienced ears. Not everyone who hears these speakers only briefly is able to discern their special capabilities, so readily. They simply don’t sound like the popular speakers everyone is accustomed to hearing, causing many people to react negatively or indifferently. We have gone to great lengths to design systems that have virtually no sound of their own, so they get out of the way, and let you hear the program material.
I’m not aware that anyone has previously marketed a similar ¾-wave transmission line system. Ask any educated and trained speaker design engineer if it is possible to reproduce the lowest two octaves with a lightweight midrange driver with a 65Hz free-air resonance, and likely he will inform you unequivocally that this would be impossible. Fortunately, I am not educated as a speaker design engineer, and I didn’t know this was “impossible,” so I went right ahead and did it, anyhow!
I agree with the comments in the review about the quality of the bass being the IkonoklastÒ’s most striking attribute. It is problematic that many popular source and amplification components do not reproduce bass frequencies clearly. With other speakers, it doesn’t matter much, because if clear bass was there, they would just obliterate it, anyway. Thus the need for expensive associated components, to realize the IkonoklastÒ experience (Mostly- but I’d like to point out that the only expensive items in my own system are$10K worth of arm and cartridge. My electronics are built by me, using the superb designs of Allen Wright, Vacuum State GmbH.). The IkonoklastÒ systems cannot deliver clear, real, live music bass unless it is present in the musical signal at their input terminals. If that clear bass is not present, the IkonoklastÒ would simply reproduce what’s there without any of the “help” typical speakers provide with their massive, sluggish, overshooting woofers. This would sound bland, at best, and is not recommended.
When I designed the first model, IkonoklastÒ3, I had specific plans never to market them. They were intended only for our internal use, in our reference systems. But the result was better than I had ever hoped, and many associates encouraged me to relent, and make them available for the few music lovers who are committed to hearing “the truth,” instead of the “warmth, punch, sizzle, pizzaz and slam” of typical fine speakers. (Sorry, but IkonoklastÒ bass goes way beyond “slam.”)
We have solidified our relationships with key suppliers, and feel we are adequately positioned to continue producing the small number of IkonoklastÒ systems likely to be demanded by the marketplace. We should also be able to support existing systems with a good flow of replacement drivers, if needed. To date, we have not had a report of an IkonoklastÒ driver failing in the field, and requiring replacement. Speaker companies come and go, creating a large number of “orphaned” products. This is not likely to happen to the IkonoklastÒ line, because our firm has diversified business activities that tend to isolate us, fiscally, from the vagaries of the high-end audio business.
Our heartfelt thanks to Jack Roberts and Dagogo for letting people know, at last, what IkonoklastÒ speakers really are.
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