Horns suck. That's what I maintain, that's what my ears tell me. Conversely, I'm not so stupid as to rule out the possibility that there are exceptions to my generalisation, e.g. the absurd-looking Beauhorn B2s. So, while I studiously avoid horns associated with Triodistas, I have no problem with something like Zingali's offerings, if for no other reasons than that they're 1) gorgeous and 2) Italian.
But the Zingalis before me are not the huge models that visibly exploit the company's trademark 'Omniray' technology, designs so obviously horn-like that you don't need to be told. Rather, I'm playing with the very tiny, cute and affordable Colosseum Cinema models: two pairs of the two-driver Sat S at £445 per pair, one Central S at £265 and the smaller active subwoofer, the Active S, at £495. This constitutes the company's least expensive system (although you can save even more by buying a passive subwoofer and opting for a black or silver finish). So, all-in we have a 5.1 speaker system for £1650.
Now this isn't cheap by today's standards, when famous makes will flog you a six-pack for under £600. But look at this stuff: it's mouth-watering. And the speakers are so small that you simply won't believe the performance - let alone the vanishing trick they undertake.
Maybe the use of the term 'horn' is a marketing conceit in this context, but the drivers are recessed deeply into the cabinets, the horns sculpted into slabs of solid walnut or cherry. These are miniaturised versions of the Omniray horns, the name referring to a specific shape of round horn throat with specially calculated geometry. The Sat S measures a mere 170x100x150mm (HWD), and it contains a 19mm dome tweeter and a 70mm woofer; the Central S uses the same tweeter and two woofers, in an enclosure measuring 100x250x150mm (HWD). Note that all of the Colosseum models use combinations of these two drivers; the Cinema S, for example, is a Sat S with integral floor stand, while the Cinema M uses two woofers and the Cinema L uses four.
Zingali offers two subwoofers, both in active or passive form. The one I tried contains two 140mm woofers and an 80W amplifier in a handsome, grey-sided, wooden-topped MDF enclosure standing 385x200x440mm (HWD). The larger L model boasts 100W and two 170mm woofers. While the satellites and the centre speaker use nice multi-way terminals, the subwoofer only has cheapo press-fit connectors for bare wire. It also has level and crossover controls and line inputs, so it can be used with other speakers, and it can be set for manual power-on or auto power-on when sensing a signal. You can either drive it from a subwoofer output, as I did, or from main speaker outputs running satellites off of it. I connected the satellites to the main amplifier outputs.
The small Zingalis cross over at the upper limit of the subwoofer's control, but I preferred the sound with it backed off to approximately 150Hz. Rest assured, the speakers simply will not satisfy you without the accompanying subwoofer, and they're specified quite unashamedly as good down to 180Hz (150Hz for the centre speaker).
Rated at 8 ohms, the Sat S has 90dB/1W sensitivity while the Central S enjoys an extra 2dB. Thus, they worked so well with the Denon ADV-M71 Micro DVD System that I've made this a 'shared' review with that product. I was already totally familiar with the Denon's sound thanks to many months' use of the D-M31 on which it's based, so please think of this as a system review, considering remarks about the Zingali Sat S in context of the Denon. But I used of all six speakers in my main AV system of Lexicon MC-1 processor and Theta Intrepid amplifier.
Two things to point out from the get-go. The first is that these speakers sound too sweet, un-shouty, non-agressive and euphonic to be horns. The second is that they offer such huge, convincing, three-dimensial imaging that you really have to go into Unreconstructed Audiophile Mode to fault them. And the complaints will all be about refinement - not scale, not musicality, not detail, not listenability.
Using both systems, I played pure music DVDs in the form of The Concert For George - that sublime hommage to George Harrison - and Jimi Hendrix's Wild Blue Angel. The latter was accessed as both a DVD and as conventional CDs. Other CDs included the new edition of the Allman Brothers' Live At The Fillmore East and a bunch of samplers from Uncut. Feature films consisted of Akira, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers.
Remember: I went from full height MartinLogans and a subwoofer that alone costs twice the price of the entire Zingali package. Not only was I not disappointed: I was blissfully pleased. Here, at last, was a microscopic system I could actually recommend unreservedly to Bitch Wives From Hell who were about to force their husbands to buy plastic mail-order dreck because of size alone. Don't believe me? Take three of the Sat S speakers, turn them on their sides and stack them up. The three equal, almost to the millimetre, just one LS3/5a.
After no more than a half-hour or so fiddling with the crossover and level controls, I felt I had the sat/sub relationship tuned so as not to exhibit anything in the way of a sonic gap, as with the very cool XHiFI system. The continuity between subwoofer and satellites is so smooth that you'd swear the Sat S was crossing over at 80Hz, not 180Hz. But one inescapable criticism emerged - from the sub, not the sats. And this is despite me falling in love with it.
Although I've only used a few dozen subwoofers in my life, I've been lucky enough to sample some of the best: REL, Sonus Faber, Ruark, MartinLogan and so on. I know what a good subwoofer can do. No getting away from it, the Zingali has a one-note-ness to it that can get a little ponderous if you don't have the levels set just so. Which is not to say that the Active S is a write off. On the contrary, it's so musical and rich and solid that I kept doing double takes; I even used it in place of the Descent in the all-MartinLogan system without embarrassing it. If anything, it's the star of the system, but it's better for movies than music. It just lacks that final bit of finesse to complement Mingus, let alone McCartney.
That aside, I listened to the whole system for days on end without complaint, even using just two Sats plus the sub, with the Denon in Dolby Virtual Speaker mode. They filled the listening space, and they gave no clues as to their whereabouts. Voice was clean and warm, with no sibilance, while the music off of live DVDs - especially the Harrison gig - was open and spacious; they handled the Shankar epic with total grace, convincingly reproducing sitar in every detail, and with substantial body. And they go loud enough to fill a 14x22ft room before the onset of breakup.
Confession time: I was dreading writing about these because they embody two philosophies is loathe: horns and micro-satellites. That crunching you hear is the sound of crows' bones. This little system is utterly magnifico.
Denon ADV-M71 Micro DVD System
Ain't no secret that I think Denon's D-M31 CD/Receiver is one of audio's biggest bargains. So imagine my response when Denon announced that it had shoe-horned all the fixings necessary to convert it into the heart of a home theatre! No, it doesn't boast five channels' worth of amplification, but read on:
Using the same 210x95x367 (WHD) chassis, Denon has changed the CD-only transport for one that plays every disc except DVD-A and SACD. That means Kodak/Fuji/JPEG photo CDs and assorted recordable CD types including Windows Media Player and MP3. Hell, it even has a slide show feature so you can regale friends with your digital holiday snaps without going near a computer.
For the rest of the conversion to AV, Denon added a Hammerhead SHARC DSP, for processing DTS and Dolby Digital/Pro-Logic II, and line outputs to feed a subwoofer and a three-channel amplifier for a centre and two rear channels; the unit itself only drives one pair of speakers, with 2x35W. (This unit just screams for a matching 3-channel add-on amp...)
To feed a monitor, the ADV-M71 has only a SCART connector, but this isn't about replacing the functionality or flexibility of a full-blown AV receiver. It's about size. Even so, you can add two line sources - input and output - such as the matching cassette and MiniDisc recorders, and the wee unit also has system connectors for integration with other components, as well as optical digital input and output. And the tuner is already there, as well as a 61-button remote to handle everything. Let's put it another way: the unit is so comprehensive that there's not a word wasted in its half-inch thick, 116-page manual. Which I needed to turn to when I lost the video output: page 112 tells you how to 're-boot' it.
Here's the key to the ADV-M71's appeal: something called 'Dolby Virtual Speaker', which is not related to the previous, existing Dolby Virtual (or Virtual Dolby). The baby Denon is the first to use this new technology, described thusly:
'Dolby Virtual Speaker utilises a proprietary technique that re-creates, in their entirety, the multiple, complex sonic signatures that the listener would ordinarily hear from a properly positioned 5.1 channel speaker setup. Most "virtualisers"...limit their processing to the direct sound, overlooking a significant portion of the sonic signature essential for producing a convincing 5.1 channel virtualised surround sound field. The result is often an "enhanced stereo" listening environment.
'Dolby Virtual Speaker ensures the integrity of the virtual 5.1 sound field by reproducing the entire sonic signature, and its multiple reflection tails, which can often vary significantly in level and spectral balance from the direct sound. The further addition of crosstalk cancellation maintains the integrity of each processed signal, thereby insuring a highly realistic and natural sounding 360-degree sonic environment.'
In other words, you don't lose the subtle effects of the centre and rear channels as you do with other 'mix-downs'. Of all the 'pseudo-surround' compromises and solutions I've tried, this technique was the most satisfactory. Did I hear 360 degree surround? No. But neither did I feel the loss of going from 5.1 to 2.1. As for the visuals? They were so damned close to the DVD-2900 universal player - which I ended up buying - that I'm almost aggrieved! Gorgeous colours, plenty of detail and no set-up features missing. I'm impressed.
Take all the wonderful things I've said about the D-M31, add movie enjoyment and up the price to 499. This little baby solves the home-cinema-in-cramped-conditions dilemma - end of story.