Hong Kong-based MarkAudio-SOTA is a collaborative effort between a relative newcomer to the industry, SOTA Acoustics, and a well-established, albeit small, brand that specializes in full-range drivers, MarkAudio Loudspeakers. Even though the company entered the U.S. market fairly recently (2015), this isn't the first time MarkAudio-SOTA has appeared on HomeTheaterReview.com. We reviewed the Viotti One bookshelf speaker back in January.
At first glimpse, the Cesti T ($3,495/pair) looks to be a fairly conventional tower speaker. The cabinet is rectangular, and the driver arrangement looks like a standard three-way layout. It's actually a two-way design, though, that uses a two-inch full-range driver for higher frequencies and two 4.4-inch full-range drivers to cover the remaining lower frequencies. The company claims that this array of full-range drivers, with their identical cone profiles, combined with a minimalist crossover, gives the Cesti T the ability to reproduce "extremely realistic body and depth" that other loudspeakers struggle to reproduce. I can only assume, considering MarkAudio's specialization in full-range drivers, that the engineering team wanted to preserve the positive aspects of a single full-range driver loudspeaker while eliminating or at least mitigating the negative aspects, such as limited dynamic range and power handling.
The Cesti T's cabinet is constructed of high-density fiberboard (HDF), a pretty rare and somewhat expensive upgrade from the medium-density fiberboard (MDF) that is the industry standard. Also, the top two-inch driver is housed in its own internal chamber, while the two 4.4-inch drivers are housed in the remaining ported enclosure. This is the first time I've ever seen a speaker that is ported in the front and the rear, a fantastically convenient addition that lessens the problem of room placement in that it allows the user to take advantage of room gain by plugging the front port with the supplied plug and keeping the rear vented (or vice versa). As if that weren't enough, MarkAudio-SOTA also engineered very shallow biased waveguides into the front baffle for each driver that gently direct dispersion. This means that, in a stereo setup, there will be a left and right speaker, with each waveguide either pointing inward or away from the listener, based on preference.
I have to admit, I initially (and somewhat jadedly) took MarkAudio-SOTA's slogan "Hear Our Difference" as a challenge of sorts. To my surprise, the Cesti T was not only significantly different from any other loudspeaker I've had in my listening room, but I also found that it renewed my faith in an industry that can be very cut-and-paste.
The first thing I noticed upon receiving the Cesti T speakers was that they were the easiest speakers in the world to unbox. It would be a crime to not mention the speakers' clever tapeless packaging. Unboxing took all of 45 seconds and required zero cleanup afterward. This is worth mentioning given that certain loudspeaker manufacturers leave my living room looking like a Styrofoam mail-bomb has gone off after the unboxing process. So, with great enthusiasm, I thank you, MarkAudio-SOTA.
I was shocked at the Cesti T's downright petite dimensions. At approximately 35 inches tall and 44 pounds each, these are more like really tall stand-mount speakers than towers. For some reason, after viewing many images, I had imagined them to be at least 50 percent larger than they really are.
The Cesti T has large, high-quality binding posts on the back, with a V-shaped divider that prevents the positive and negative ends of the speaker wire from touching--a very nice touch. The speakers also come with magnetic grilles, which should be standard for a speaker in this price range. Oddly, even though they come with holes that are drilled and (appear to be) threaded for floor spikes, no floor spikes were included with my review samples--only sticky rubber semi-circular feet (although it appears that MarkAudio-SOTA has made some changes in this department; more on that deeper in the review).
Positioning the Cesti T was a unique experience. Since the drivers have identical radiating profiles, the amount of toe-in and the distance between the speakers relative to the listener will dramatically change how the speakers sound. This made experimenting with their placement much easier than usual because the effects of toeing in or widening the listening distance produced consistently predictable results. I found that they sounded their best in a relatively nearfield setup with approximately five feet between them, with slight toe-in. An unusual aberration I discovered was that, once I got up and walked around the room, the treble response was drastically reduced, similar to leaving the sweet spot when listening to electrostatic speakers--but not as severe.
Lastly, I think it's worth mentioning that I accidentally set the speakers up with the waveguides facing outward during my back-and-forth comparisons with my JBL Studio 590s, and I only noticed because the speakers started sounding annoyingly normal. In my room, the waveguides facing inward added a character to the presentation that I enjoyed. Some may disagree, but the way I see it, more options in positioning is always better.
I evaluated the Cesti T in my finished basement (roughly 18 by 23 feet), which is heavily acoustically treated with GIK Acoustics corner and wall treatments. I positioned the Cesti Ts about five feet away from the rear wall and each sidewall. I utilized my Denon PMA-A100 integrated amp (80 watts at eight ohms, 150 watts at four ohms) and the matching Denon DCD-A100 CD/SACD player for all listening. With the Cesti T's nominal impedance of six ohms, a sensitivity of 87 dB (one watt at one meter), and a recommended input power between 50 to 100 watts, the Denon gear was an ideal choice for a simple, high-performing two-channel setup.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...