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A Q&A with Estelon - A Decade of Loudspeaker Excellence

12-20-2020 | By Michael Zisserson | Issue 112

The Estonian based loudspeaker company, Estelon, has helped shape the past decade of top-tier loudspeakers. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Estelon has made significant updates to six of their loudspeakers in the X and Y series, details HERE and have released ten, special edition pairs of their Forza loudspeaker HERE. These updates represent ten years of learning and growing, only to raise the bar above the top-notch they have already defined.

Estelon has earned prestigious recognition, such as the Red Dot award (Red Dot GmbH & Co. KG) for design excellence. They are also a two-time winner of the CES innovation award. It is no secret that Estelon loudspeakers are among the finest in the world. Perfection has its price. Estelon's product line starts at $17,000 for their X-Series "Centro MKII" Center Channel, and pairings start at $25,000 for their Y-Series "YB MKII." The Estelon Flagship Series "Extereme- Limited Edition," will set a buyer back $259,000/pr.

A closer look at an Estelon loudspeaker will reveal they are not just a statement piece for fancy living spaces. Estelon's pursuit of loudspeaker perfection has earned them affiliation with classical composer Arvo Pärt, who uses Estelon loudspeakers to preview his music in the Arvo Pärt Center HERE. They are also a partner with the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts club, and produce a special edition of the "Extreme" with Rolls Royce inspired intricacies.

Estelon has brought both design, and function to the top-teir of loudspeakers. They have done so through the only manner possible. Absolute, relentless attention to detail. As a loudspeaker designer/engineer myself I find one of the largest, most often missed fact about loudspeaker work is that every detail counts. These details are aggregate.

For example, the most simplistic 3-way, second order crossover (assuming a resistor on the midrange and tweeter for padding), has over 30 nodes where connections take place. It will have high current on the woofer side, and a small signal on the tweeter side. All of these nodes, and included electronic components can "talk" to each other, and if put in the wrong space can vibrate and become microphonic. Many of these components are large, and need to handle transient voltage and current spikes as dynamic changes in the music hit these filters time and time again. Even in this description, I am oversimplifying the complexity.

The complexity becomes far worse when you leave the comfort of the loudspeaker cabinet, after the electrical signal is transformed into moving air. Let's not forget that we are interfacing with a human, not another piece of electronics, and their hearing system is evolutionarily based (sound wave/vibration perception developed long before vision). Now: Imagine if your amplifier's case had to be PART of its function both inside, and out? Cabinet function is over half of a loudspeaker's perceived sound. The days of a square box littered with drivers are over if one is looking to achieve the ultimate in fidelity.

After 25 years of engineering study, Alfred Vassilkov (Chief Design and Engineer of Estelon) had an epiphany while enjoying breakfast with his astute daughters. Together they are Estelon. Unsurprisingly, the apple does not fall far from the tree in terms of intelligence and capability. Alissa Vassilkova is the CEO of Estelon, and Kristiina Koort is a Co-founder and Partner of Estelon. I digress: This epiphany was how he, they, would develop some of the most advanced loudspeakers the world has ever seen.

Estelon uses the finest loudspeaker drivers available on the market. They also have developed a sonically inert, marble composite cabinet material which assures no extraneous vibration from the cabinet will interfere with the sound. This same material is formed by Estelon to create the purposeful, but stunning exterior of their loudspeakers. Estelon claims their loudspeakers are designed for the "real world."

While most speakers are designed in "a vacuum" (my own endearing term), a room called an anechoic chamber that eliminates room reflections, Estelon has developed its own processes to integrate real-world, in-room, performance into their loudspeaker design. This is especially true for the bass response of floor standing Estelon Loudspeakers. I could make this paragraph ten sentences longer to explain this technology, however that would be oversimplifying…Again. The result of Estelon's ten years perfecting loudspeaker design has truly created beautiful loudspeakers, both inside and out.

I was humbled and surprised when Ye Ole Editor reached out to me with the opportunity to interview Estelon as part of their tenth anniversary celebration. It is not often these opportunities present themselves to, "peek behind the curtain," of excellence and understand its fine, jewel movements. In this spirit, I wanted to pick the collective brain of Estelon in three key areas: The audio community, their service to music, and their technology. Estelon was an absolute pleasure to work with during this process, and I hope you can enjoy this question and answer session, as much as I found pleasure in creating it. Happy Listening.

Interview with Alfred Vassilkov and Alissa Vassilkova of Estelon Loudspeakers

If Estelon were to share some wisdom as to selecting a loudspeaker for high fidelity use (assuming the perfection of Estelon may not be financially viable for some), what would those words of wisdom be?

Alissa: Choose what sounds natural and pleasant to your ears. Sometimes people buy something that seems impressive initially, only to find out that it does not sound as natural as it should be after all. This is an effect that made them purchase the product, but soon enough they can't really enjoy it.

Estelon is designing speakers that reproduce accurately, and as neutral as possible. Our philosophy is to recreate what was originally recorded without any additional effects or coloration of the sound. Our products are known for not causing the listener fatigue effect, so one can enjoy listening to music for hours and feel like being present at a live concert.

What advantage does the marble composite cabinet material of Estelon loudspeakers hold over competitors, who are also using specialty composite materials?

Alfred: After many years of research and testing, we developed a proprietary marble-based composite material and special molding technology that can make such advanced cabinets. This material gives us multifunctional shaping possibilities, inside and out. The combination of the high-density and solid mass of the molded marble-based composite cabinet result in dynamic stability and elimination of vibrations. The cabinet is extremely rigid, highly dense, resonant-free, and with exceptional internal dampening and acoustical control.

Estelon puts a lot of emphasis on the real-world, "in-room," performance of your loudspeakers. How do you quantify that during the design process, given the countless variables that include:
Loudspeaker placement vs. the room boundaries; varying in-room transition points of reflected sound vs. direct sound arrival; room modes; and increasing directivity in the upper treble inherent in large dome tweeters, all in consideration of the listeners distance from the loudspeaker?

Alfred: The Estelon speakers are designed to connect with the room. This is why the woofers are positioned close to the floor so they can couple with that surface maximizing their efficiency and output. Another large benefit of this design is that the lower bass is powerful, dynamic, and evenly spread throughout the room, even if the room has high ceilings or is large in overall size and volume. Conventional loudspeaker designs will typically experience bass loss in those conditions.

The rest of the drivers are grouped together and physically placed higher in the cabinets in a neutral position. Through this configuration, there is much less impact on mirroring so they can create a realistic and stable stereo image. This design reduces the reflections from the floor and thereby decreases sound coloration. It also improves the phase from the different drivers, allowing for an accurate, dynamic, and tonally balanced sound.

The design and configuration is an outcome of my own personal experience that was developed mainly while installing audio systems in various different environments like private properties, bars, restaurants as well as in large convention centers.

Both the Extreme and Forza seem to be very similar versions of the same loudspeaker. So close, I would envision the Forza to be a better performer in some situations. What were the design considerations between the two?

Alfred: The Forza does indeed carry the Extreme's technology in a more compact form. We always learn and we use previous knowledge in our newer models. The same way that the X Diamond Mk II carries the Forza technology.

The main difference between the Forza and the Extreme, other than the size, is that the Extreme is a bass reflex speaker which makes it ideal for larger rooms. It is also constructed with two modules with the upper module of each loudspeaker being adjustable in order to maintain the focus in the listening position.

Talking about the Extreme, allow me to inform you that we have now redesigned and updated our Flagship model to a Mk II version. It now sports a new diamond tweeter along with a new ceramic membrane midrange driver. We have also improved the components of the crossover and we also developed a new control system for adjusting the height of the upper module of the speaker.

It appears that the final frontier for Estelon would be developing state of the art loudspeaker drivers in-house, since every other detail has been considered. Despite the fact Estelon uses the finest drivers available today, this final detail would allow for absolute control over every aspect of the loudspeaker design. Would in-house development of loudspeaker drivers be a consideration for Estelon's future?

Alfred: This is not in our immediate plans and we do not find it necessary. We have brilliant partners that provide us custom-made drivers. For example, Accuton is providing us drivers designed and adjusted for the Extreme and Forza loudspeakers. Our partners are flexible and provide excellent drivers that are built and tested according to our standards.

It is an honor that Estelon loudspeakers bring the musical compositions of Arvo Pärt to the visitors of the Arvo Pärt Centre. What are Estelon's plans to make high fidelity music reproduction more accessible to everyone in the future?

Alissa: As Alfred mentioned, we always apply the previously learned knowledge to newer versions or new speakers. For example, the Mk II models of our Classic Series Collection have some Forza "energy" in them! We intend on bringing the high-fidelity factor in more and more audiophiles in 2021, as we are celebrating for the whole year an important milestone for us, our 10th anniversary. All I can say for now is that we are most definitely cooking something and our Mk II models announcement, along with the Forza Anniversary Edition, is just the beginning.

When Chief Designer and Engineer Alfred Vassilkov is performing the listening and voicing step of an Estelon loudspeaker, what is the associated front-end equipment, musical selection, and choice of playback format? Some music examples would be delightful.

Alfred: I always listen and test through many different musical genres as well as through many different formats. This is the standard for us here at Estelon. Our philosophy is that our speakers have to perform naturally not only in association to the listening environment but also while performing any given musical genre through whichever medium the listener has chosen to use. So yes, I will listen to hard rock music through a vinyl record or a classical composition through a CD or even contemporary electronic music through a streaming platform.

In the spirit of staying grounded in the music, where we all belong: What is the direct, musical background (I.e. playing an instrument, recording, formal education, etc.) of Estelon's leadership: Alfred Vassilkov, Alissa Vassilkova, and Kristiina Koort?

Alfred: In my family, we had many musicians. I remember my father performing in our home, as well as in bars where people would dance and have lovely evenings. Sometimes he would perform together with my aunt who was also a piano teacher in school. This is the first memory I have of myself enjoying musical experiences. So it was only natural for me to start learning a musical instrument and I remember performing once in a school concert with my accordion. I was soon drawn away from musical training, but at the same time I started listening to radio stations and I remember how excited I was searching for different radio frequencies. This was practically the very first step that led me to study electroacoustics in St. Petersburg's University.

Alissa: I remember that my days were always filled with music. My sister Kristiina and I used to do ballroom dancing as well. For me, it was a longer career, representing Estonia through our national team. This taught me to listen carefully at every nuance and every little detail of the music so that I could perform at the highest level in my dancing career. This was how I learned to listen to music, which now happens to be a very useful skill!

Estelon has secured two Innovation awards from CES, a Red Dot award, and countless other regards over the past decade of bringing some of the world's finest loudspeakers to the high-end market. What's next?

Alissa: It is actually 3 CES Innovation Awards. Both our XA & X Diamond received CES Innovation Awards, while the Extreme received the CES Best of Innovation Award.

There is certainly a promising and exciting future for Estelon. Every time that Alfred designs and develops a new speaker model, we all realize and confirm that we can always go one step further and broaden the horizons in our pursuit of sonic perfection. We challenge ourselves by raising the bar of sound reproduction quality and by always combining it with elegance and luxury.

Estelon Loudspeakers

Alfred & Partners OÜ

Kukermiidi 6 Tallinn 11216. Estonia