Highly Efficient Highly Charismatic
Ocellia Calliope.21 speaker review

High efficiency speakers and conventional ones have been battling for terrain for years. Conventional speakers (notably lower in speaker efficiency) have reigned for long and audiophiles would recognize its sound from afar. It’s also easy to see when these audiophiles are first exposed to high efficiency speakers that they will be in for a surprise.

Ocellia is a dedicated, audiophile-only high-end manufacturer in France. Its range of products - loudspeakers, electronics and cables are unconventional and original, reflecting the creator’s design philosophy. 
 

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Original article in Chinese first appeared in Jan 2010 issue of:
(English translation by Modular Audio)

Beautifully Simple

Many audiophiles who have are using large power amplifiers (usually to feed demanding speakers) may come across remarks suggesting “quality sound reproduction, do not necessary mean a hefty price tag or is only domain to very expensive systems. High efficiency, full-range speakers with matching small wattage amplifiers could produce just as excellent results and is never inferior in the areas of liveliness, dynamics (forte of mammoth systems). In fact, the more complicated the design, the more headaches you could face". This is perhaps the part that is most difficult for users of conventional box speakers to comprehend.  Such remarks would usually come from a hi-fi old-hand and this author happens to know one such audiophile and he is Mr. Tan (Katong, Singapore). Mr. Tan has a long history with this hobby and has played some very high-end equipment. 

If this reflects audiophiles’ maturity in the understanding of hi-fi, when less is more – wouldn’t it make sense? In many cases, speed is murdered by the inefficiency of cross-over network of many speakers. Unfortunately, most multi-way speakers are designed like Draculas (blood (power) sucking?) with a never fulfilled appetite for power. In the region between 500 – 5kHz (cross-over point) where our ear-brain is most sensitive, crossover-less full-range speakers have an advantage of continuousness, coherence, immediacy over conventional ones. This aspect may baffle those who have never experience one before and may even be dismissed as non-issue.

One of Its Kind

The products of Ocellia (France) understand this hi-fi equation. It uses the most fundamental of tube amplifier design with emphasis on its power stage to support a high efficiency, high impedance, full-range speakers.

The cabinet design and construction method of the Ocellia loudspeakers are extraordinary. Handcrafted in the same manner like a guitar or violin, Ocellia uses rigid but light panels (top) for rapid release of cabinet vibration energy and a thicker plane for its front and sides for stability.

I found some 50 to 60% similarity (in looks) between Mr. Tan’s pair of Musical Affairs speakers vis--vis Ocellia. The key differences between the two is that Ocellia’s cabinetry is overall heavier (than Musical Affairs) and its adjustable back port (window) design in contrast to an almost bare back of Musical Affairs. The different thickness in Ocellia’s speaker walls are shaped for tuning and the innards of the speaker is free of stuffing or polyfill. In fact, the enclosures are erected with panels (think: partitions) that are crisscrossed internally by lightweight spruce braces for tuning. The bottom of the speaker is opened (unsealed). All in all, this hybrid design (between an open baffle and a bass reflex) is quite one of its kind.

The speaker in review is the Ocellia Calliope.21 Silver which uses an 8 inch full-range PHY driver in Alnico magnet. Affixed are the optional 1.5 inch paper-cone tweeter (optional at S$1,800 per pair) and bi-wire (optional at S$870). The Calliope.21 uses Ocellia’s very own anti-MDI 99.9% silver cables for internal wiring and voice coils. Other specs - nominal impedance of 16 ohm; sensitivity at 98 dB; frequency response of 45Hz – 30 KHz and weighing 24kg (without packaging) for each speaker.

Retailing at S$10,600 Ocellia Calliope.21 (copper version without adding options) you must be wondering how it competes with loudspeakers in similar price bracket? (Editor: In 2010, Ocellia is only shipping the silver-wired version of Calliope.21 retailing at S$ 12,400).

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Sound Quality

In my audition, Calliope.21 sings like Chiyi (Ed: famous Taiwan female singer) and to audiophiles who knows her would imagine what I mean. In the 300 square feet space, the Calliope.21 fills up the showroom effortlessly (in comparison, Musical Affairs is weaker in this aspect). Music floats densely in between the speakers with both voice and musical instruments solidly formed and spaced out in a true natural, highly lifelike manner. Listening to live recordings further illustrates this vividness that I am so impressed with – piano, brass, violin etc all reproduced with vibrancy and honesty that is so real that you can almost touch. There is no hardness to the highs as it elevates finely above and beyond the speakers and music flows like a natural stream.

My experience with Calliope.21 left me a deep impression that I could not get it off my head. Having listened to so many high-end speakers, this French speaker may not be the most delicate, clean, transparent or the sweetest that I’ve come across. But what sets Calliope.21 apart is that it is highly open, natural with excellent pace, beauty in rhythms and continuous in sound without being picky on music genre (it plays Michael Jackson just as well). It also scores high in its accuracy in portraying acoustic instruments. 

In today’s hi-fi scene, being 100% handmade in France coupled with its unique design could set it apart from the crowd. Its highly appealing sound and charm could compete above and beyond many of its pricier competitors.

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High in Value

To play Ocellia loudspeakers well, I have noted a few pointers. Firstly, give this speaker breathing space on the side walls so to not impede its free-flowing sound. Similarly, the back-wall should also be adequately spaced to achieve cleaner bass-lines and layering (Calliope.21 again is more superior to Musical Affairs in this regard). Secondly, is the distance from the back wall. These speakers should be placed adequately from the back wall to give a good bass definition and punch (Ocellia surely can do that). Actually, the bass performance and quality is also superior to Musical Affairs.  Thirdly, the two-front speakers bronze spike could be adjusted a tad higher than the back spike to achieve good imaging and the right height. Of course, some trial and error is necessary here. Fourthly, the adjustable back port is flexible and Ocellia advises users to experiment for different listening environment (size) settings (opening it or closing it). Fifthly, in speakers placement, start with parallel placement and then to slight toe-in to increase focus and response. You will find this loudspeaker’s nimbleness without sacrificing any of its rich and natural mid-range. Last but not least, to get the best result, match Ocellia loudspeakers with low wattage tube amplifiers.

The Ocellia Quaero stereo amplifier uses a pair of 300B to output just 7w. What’s radical in the Quaero amplifier’s approach is its use of up to 4 transformers (Quaero Signature version) giving this heavy weight amplifier some 50kg. From my experience during this audition, this Quaero Signature is nothing short of a bargain. This Ocellia lethal combo of refinement, sweetness, magical mid-range (with bottom) is not easily achieved by most full-range speakers. Bravo!

I would also suggest to use the manufacturer’s pure silver interconnect and speaker cables for perfect match. It offers you all the positives of what you want from silver but without its drawback.

Audiophiles would presume such high-end performance would come at a hefty price. By knowing the competing products out there, you would conclude Ocellia is high-end (performance) and also really high in value too.