Estelon Forza LOUDSPEAKER
Stereophile|November 2021
EQUIPMENT REPORT
MICHAEL FREMER

You’ve got your 2001: A Space Odyssey speaker, which of course is a tall, black, featureless mono-lith. Then there’s your wooden “Who’s buried inside?” speaker, your “R-I-C-O-L-A” speaker,1 your enema bag or double-inverted enema bag speaker, your menacing hooded-Klansman speaker, your “looks like a robot, praying mantis, or Transformer” speaker (mine), and your “Does it leave a slime trail?” speaker (looks like a snail). You’ve got your “Is that a room divider?” speaker, your “looks like you stepped on a duck’s head” speaker, and your “whipped cream dollop suspended in time” speaker.

That’s just a few of the many loudspeaker “looks” on display at your typical large hi-fi show. Some are imaginative, some are farfetched, some are just weird, and some are deadly boring. Brand names available upon request.

Some speaker designs—the drivers-in-a-rectangular box configuration, for example, especially the ones made of wood or MDF—choose not to take advantage of many design and construction innovations developed over the past few decades, happy to defiantly shout “retro!” Some combine interesting new tech with whimsical industrial design.

And then there are the unusually graceful, sculpted designs from Estonia-based Estelon, which for me were not make-funnable until my local Stop & Shop supermarket began tailing me with a creepy, green-light–blinking security robot, which looked to me like a much-less-graceful Estelon.2

That grocery store robot contains a camera that allows someone in the security office to monitor comings and goings as it moves up and down the aisles. The store says its purpose is to check stock, but everyone knows its real purpose is catching shoplifters. I love walking up to it and whispering menacingly, “I hate you.”

And that—I might as well give it away at the outset—is precisely the opposite of my reaction to Estelon’s Forza loudspeaker, although, to be clear, I have never walked up to one of them and whispered anything to it.

When I first saw an Estelon, years ago at a show, I was certain the look was designed to draw attention rather than to serve any performance-related purpose: It was too pretty. I was entirely wrong. The shapely designs found throughout much of the Estelon line are 100% about function. The form follows.

The curvaceous shape’s obvious value is that because there are no parallel surfaces, standing waves in the cabinet are much less of a problem. Notice that the speaker’s top and bottom are also not parallel.

The Forza is the latest speaker in the company’s “flagship” line, priced below the Extreme. Prices for the Forza, depending upon finish, start at $149,000/pair and go up to $163,000 for “Ocean Mystery” blue. As delivered, in Dark Silver Liquid Gloss, the cost is $150,300/pair.

According to the Forza manual, electroacoustics engineer Alfred Vassilkov founded Estelon in 2010, having spent the previous 25 years or so designing loudspeakers, during which time he is said to have received numerous unspecified patents and awards. He began research for the Estelon brand four years before its founding, analyzing materials and technologies to be used to produce streamlined cabinetry that would produce superior sonic performance and assimilate well into home interiors, esthetically and sonically.

The manual describes Estelon’s parent company, Alfred & Partners, which is based in Estonia’s picturesque capital city Tallinn, as a “design studio, think-tank”; various corporate profiles place it in the “Audio and Video Equipment Manufacturing Industry.” The company was co-founded by Mr. Vassilkov with his daughters, Alissa and Kristiina.

To form the cast enclosures, Vassilkov developed a proprietary crushed-marble composite that he claims has “excellent stiffness and anti-resonant attributes” while allowing the creation of molded cabinets. Other cabinet features include “extensive use of sub-structural stiffening spars that break up resonance nodes,” drivers mounted in separate internal enclosures, “state of the art” resonance control, and an unspecified “top quality” damping material.

The two 11 woofers mount into a single, sealed chamber in which most of the walls are curved and none are parallel. The midwoofer is housed in its own similarly constructed chamber, as is the tweeter. All are separated to reduce the transmission of vibrations from driver to driver via the cabinet and the airspace. The tapered shape eliminates corner-baffle reflections, and Vassilkov avers that the narrow top, from which the high frequencies emanate, produces “0 degrees phase [shift] at the listening position, while the cabinet’s larger radiuses create controlled directivity of the propagating soundwaves.” In other words, the lack of sharp edges and the cabinet’s soft curves eliminate cabinet diffraction. Estelon claims this results in wide directivity and uniform frequency response even as you move off-axis, as well as essentially true time-domain behavior, all of which expands the ideal listening position beyond a central “sweet spot.”

The cabinet widens at the bottom, both so it won’t tip over (good thing!) and to allow effective low-frequency reproduction. Every Estelon speaker throughout the line is hand-built. The cabinet surface is hand-sanded then sealed in a multilayer process followed by multiple coats of lacquer and a final polishing. Estelon offers the Forza in various colors, in liquid gloss, matte, and optional premium finishes. Each speaker is tuned, tested, and auditioned before being shipped out to the dealer or customer.

SPECIFICATIONS

Description Four-way, sealed-box loudspeaker. Drive-units: 1 (25mm) Accuton inverted diamond dome tweeter, 8 (203mm) CELL aluminum sandwich midwoofer, 7 (178mm) CELL ceramic membrane midrange, 2 11 (279.5mm) woofers. Crossover frequencies: N/A. Frequency range: 25Hz–60kHz. Impedance: 3 ohms (minimum 2 ohms @ 42Hz and 110Hz). Sensitivity: 88dB/2.83V/m. Recommended minimum amplifier power: 20 watts.

Dimensions 66 (1676mm) H × 24 (610mm) W × 27 (686mm) D. Weight: 330lb (150kg) each.

Finishes White or Black Pearl Gloss, Black Matte, Dark Silver Liquid Gloss, Ocean Mystery.

Serial numbers of units reviewed 016A/016B.

Price $149,000–$163,000/ pair (depending upon finish). Number of US dealers: 15. Warranty: limited 5-year, nontransferrable, parts and labor (90 days if not registered within 30 days of purchase) including return shipping and insurance.

Manufacturer Alfred & Partners OÜ Kukermiidi 6, Tallinn, 11216, Estonia. Web: estelon.com. US sales agent: Aldo Filippelli. Tel: (630) 484-7577. Email: aldo@estelon.com.

Forza particulars

66 tall, 24 wide, 27 deep, and weighing 330lb, the Forza is a large speaker that looks smaller than it is partly because of how little lateral real estate it consumes as it tapers to the top. It’s a four-way, sealed box design that uses “top-shelf” Accuton drivers manufactured to Estelon’s specifications, including a pair of 11, long-excursion, stiff membrane CELL3 aluminum sandwich woofers with voice-coils nearly the same diameter as the membrane, mounted close to the baffle bottom and angled approximately 45° to one another.

The 8 aluminum sandwich mid-woofer (also from Accuton’s “CELL” line) employs neodymium magnets, as does the 7 CELL ceramic membrane midrange driver. The tweeter is Accuton’s 1, chemical-vapor–deposited inverted diamond membrane tweeter. These three drivers are placed in a tight, vertical array with the lowest frequency driver near the baffle top and the tweeter in the lowest position, at ear height. The three upper drivers are positioned on the slightly concave baffle surface to produce distances from the listening position that are nearly identical. (One characteristic of the CELL series of drivers is that they all have the same acoustical center.)

Audiophiles critical of companies that don’t manufacture their own drivers might as well disparage automobile companies that don’t produce their own tires, which is all of them. It’s a silly distinction. You can argue for or against a company producing its own drivers or having a specialist like Accuton (parent company: Thiel & Partner) or ScanSpeak, for instance, manufacture them to its specifications, but overall, I think it’s a fatuous distinction.4

Estelon does not provide the fourway design’s crossover frequencies, nor does it divulge the components used; what they do say is that the woofer networks are third-order while second-order networks are used for the midwoofer, midrange, and tweeter.

Crossover components, the instructions say, “have been chosen from among the absolute best available” then premeasured and sorted to tight tolerances, after which they are connected together point-to-point and hand-soldered. Kubala-Sosna provides the internal wire. The crossover networks reside in their own isolated chambers to reduce microphonic effects.

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